Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 26


It was surprisingly quick. Or perhaps not so surprising. Anne Thrope was an intelligent woman prepared to face the devil and accept the consequences. Her methods of reclaiming self-respect after a terrible accident had been misguided, but probably seemed valid at the time. Like all extreme behaviour it had become addictive and ultimately destructive.

Consciousness returned with a jolt. Everything was hurting, especially her head. Her face was so swollen she could barely open her eyes. The broken nose hammered agonisingly. The cut in her foot felt as if someone was dragging glass through it. She seemed to be standing in mud. She was naked and cold. Every part of her body throbbed in agony. She tried to sit, but the cage was a narrow metal cylinder. Her feet were tied together, as were her hands. An eerie howl arose from deep inside her chest and disappeared into the darkness. She was thirsty.

Day took an interminable time to arrive. As the world lightened she realised she was in a sort of canyon at the base of rocky cliffs. Ants were crawling over her feet, up her legs and into her private parts. The itching and biting were intolerable. She urinated and understood why she was standing in mud. In that moment she knew with dread certainty that this was the end. There was no way out. The realisation brought a strange sense of relief and she hoped it would be soon. Her bowels relaxed and slime oozed between her thighs. She was thirsty.

At first light Frankie arrived with a flask of water. He placed a straw in her mouth and let her suck as long as she wanted.

'Do you know why you are here?' The tone was compassionate.

'Yes.' The voice betrayed exhausted submission.

'We want you to sign documents transferring ownership of my neighbours' properties back to them. I also want to make a video in which you say you do this willingly, and have decided to go away because your life has become meaningless, or any other reason that makes sense to you, if not to others.'

'If I don't sign, what will happen?'

'You will remain as you are now, with enough water and food to keep you alive. You will eventually die, of course, but it will be a protracted and excruciatingly painful death.'

'And what will you do if I sign?'

'The same as you would do in my shoes.'

'Will it be quick?'

'Quick and painless.'


'Your choice… Bullet, Nembutal or Helium bag.'

There was no hesitation. 'Helium.'

Frankie nodded and returned to the house. A few minutes later Ingenio and Constantine arrived with documents, and Karmai with tools to remove the top part of the cylinder, freeing her to the waist, then he untied her hands. She rubbed circulation back into them. Tears flowed copiously, but she didn't complain. Frankie brought a bowl of warm, soapy water and a soft cloth. She dabbed at hair, face, neck, chest and hands, wincing at the stinging. He passed her a towel.

Karmai placed a lectern in front of her as a desk, handed her a pen and paper, and Con told her to practice her signature.

'I've copies of your signature, so I will not be satisfied with anything different.'

Ten minutes later, all documents were signed and witnessed.

Frankie arrived with a video camera and Sylvan with a shirt. He looked Anne in the eyes. 'You fought well,' he said seriously. 'I wish we had been on the same side.'

With great difficulty Anne managed to put on the shirt and do up the buttons. Her short hair needed nothing but hands run through it to look presentable.

'Your nose is swollen, but now the blood's washed off it looks better,' Frankie said in a professional manner. 'If I film you slightly from the side it won't be too noticeable. Have you thought of something to say?

She nodded.

'Good.' He started filming, cropping the aperture to exclude all but head and shoulders.

'I am making this video,' Anne said softly but clearly, 'to inform those who have the right to know, that I am tired of the mean and unprincipled life I've been leading and have decided to go away. You can look for me if you like, but I doubt if you'll find me. I've long been preparing for this day, and now it has arrived I am relieved. To Marie, I leave everything I own, together with my sincerest gratitude for all those years of patient friendship.' She ended with faint a smile, and no hint of duress.

Two hours later, the documents and video had been checked and rechecked, and Miss Anne Thrope was out of her misery, deep in the bowels of the earth with four of her former minions.

The following day a courier delivered the video to her lawyer, Avarisha Louka, and Con lodged the transfer documents with the Lands Department, then made hard copies of the new digital Title Deeds, which Frankie delivered personally to their owners, explaining that he had gone to Miss Thrope regarding the heavy handed approach of her agents when trying to buy his property, and convinced her to do the decent thing for them. A brief note enclosed with the documents, apparently from Anne Thrope, apologised for the behaviour of the people she had entrusted with purchasing the properties. Frankie usually managed to leave before stunned disbelief became effusively grateful curiosity.

Sylvan's cuts were already healing, thanks to Karmai's ministrations and saline bathing. The fingertip would always be tender, but the nail was intact so it'd still be useful.

Five days after the excitement at the Thrope residence, Sylvan received an email from Marie, inviting him and his five companions to a picnic lunch in Hyde Park. She would provide the food and beverages. A hand drawn map indicated the exact time and place.

They were on time and so was she. The grassy spot was under trees; there were no other picnickers, and the slightly exposed position meant they would be neither surprised nor overheard.

She greeted Sylvan with a light kiss on each cheek, and shook hands with the others.

'You forgot to take your clothes and payment the other evening,' she said with a slight smile, passing him a plastic bag containing three thousand dollars and his clothes. 'I put them in my car as soon as I realised you'd gone without them, so I wouldn't forget to return them to you.'

'That's very civil of you,' Sylvan said also with a smile. 'I hope I caused you no other trouble?'

'Nothing a little soap and water couldn't remove in the upstairs room and balcony. Within an hour the whole place was once more spotless.'

'There is a fine view from the balcony, I was pleased to be able to go out there.'

'When I saw you were interested, I released the locks.' She turned a bland gaze on Karmai, Con and Ingenio. 'Did you catch any fish? It must have been cold on the water.'

'Only one large one,' Con replied seriously. 'You have good eyes.'

'Not particularly. But very good cameras. At least we did until I decided to spring clean and got rid of them and their contents. One can be over zealous about security, don't you think?'

'Will Miss Thrope be joining us?' Frankie asked politely.

Marie shook her head. 'It seems she's gone walkabout. That is so typical of Anne. We were best friends at school, but she disappeared without a word two days after the end of our final term, leaving me and her parents worried sick. It wasn't until several years later, after her accident in fact, that we met again and she invited me to share her house. I've notified the police who poked around for a bit, but did you know that thirty thousand people go missing every year in Australia? So they were relieved when I told them no one was worried because of her history of disappearing. They filed it, but didn't give it priority. No doubt she'll turn up again sometime. Luckily, we gave each other enduring powers of attorney several years ago, so the house and everything else is mine by default; I've no need to wait for an inheritance that may or may not arrive.'

'What'll you do with Colonial Chambers,' Karmai asked softly?'

'Pay all debts, shut down the real estate business and rent the premises to someone nice. It's too fine a building to sell, it'd only be demolished and replaced by something soulless.' She cast a sly eye on her questioner. 'You're thinking of Buddy?'

'Yes. He's one of my best friends and I was hoping…'

'Your hopes are granted. He's an excellent manager and I want to keep him. As for Anne's other money-grabbing ventures, they'll all go. I subscribe to Thucydides maxim, More than enough is too much. I have more than enough, so I'm contented.' She turned a widely innocent smile on Sylvan. 'What about you, Sylvan? What are your plans?'

'Similar to yours, I imagine, Marie.'

She raised an eyebrow and seemed amused while the others looked confused.

Sylvan had figured that the only reason an attractive woman like Marie was unmarried, was the same reason he now was, so he wrapped an arm around Karmai's shoulders and said calmly, 'I've found the best man in the world to love.'

She clapped her hands in delight. 'Oh! I am pleased. You are so nice you deserve to be happy.' The smile faded and she turned a serious face to Frankie. 'You are an extraordinary young man, Frankie; one of the few who has ever impressed Anne. Normally, she kept home and work separate, but after your visit she came and told me about it… described you perfectly.' She frowned as if wondering whether to proceed, then… 'Please tell me…'

Having anticipated the question, Frankie was ready. 'She was with us for fewer than eight hours. When she left, quickly and without discomfort, she seemed relieved—almost happy.'

'Thank you. I'm sure she was.' Marie remained silent for a few seconds, then irritably brushed a tear from an eye, took a deep breath to compose herself and smiled. 'And what are your plans, Frankie? You are so young, wise and healthy, with all your life ahead.'

'I intend to travel to see if there are any discernable variations in basic human nature.'

'And what are the characteristics of basic human nature?'

'Emotionally and intellectually shallow, self-serving and irrational. Believing what they want instead of what's real. Unable to distinguish fact from fiction, or wisdom from cant. Preferring inaction to action; war to peace. Having unfounded pride in themselves while considering all others inferior… that sort of thing.'

'And what do you expect to find?'

'Ha! You'll not catch me that easily. I have no expectations. I subscribe to the Pessimist's Beatitude. Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.'

Marie laughed delightedly. 'Oh, I am so happy to have met you all. Just knowing there are people like you has revived my pleasure in being alive.' She stood, brushed herself down and blushed slightly. 'I wasn't a willing party to Ann's darker side. In the beginning her games were rough but not dangerous, but something happened about six months ago and what had been fun became dark and dangerous. I argued and tried to stop her but she became violent. Fortunately, I have a… a friend to confide in who gave me the courage to assist you.' She looked around at sympathetic faces, then with a sigh of relief waved at someone approaching across the grass. 'My friend has arrived to help me clean away the picnic, so I wish you all a happy, contented and worry free future.' She shook each man's hand, then turned with a wide smile to greet a slim and attractive woman just on the right side of forty, whose smile matched Marie's.

The News that night was devoted to public demonstrations that had taken place that afternoon in Martin Place and in front of the State Parliament. TV screens throbbed with protesters carrying banners demanding that National Parks not be sold to private corporations for profit and housing for the rich. Other groups waved flags and placards demanding action be urgently taken to limit the damage already caused by unusually violent storms, droughts, floods, higher tides and storm surges that had recently washed away large swathes of coastline north of Sydney, and sent waves onto the esplanades and front gardens of beachside suburbs.

It began as a peaceful but persistent demonstration, by honest people who didn't want to go home without some commitment from their elected leaders. However, when they sat down and refused to budge, the cavalry arrived, followed by hundreds of police in full riot gear, wielding batons. With no discernable provocation they began spraying capsicum directly into the faces of everyone who stood up to them. At the height of the chaos, loudspeakers blared instructions to lie on their stomachs and put their hands behind heads. Failure to do so was met with violent brutality. Men, women, boys and girls were being taught who was boss in Sydney.

Suddenly it seemed as if someone had pressed the pause button. TV cameras panned over a completely still scene of scattered bodies that had been trampled by crowds unable to escape. Then slowly, some dared to raise their heads, struggled to kneel and stand, supporting each other, staring in mute incomprehension at the carnage ringed by frozen cyborgs who suddenly came to life, chanting, 'Down. Down. Down. Down….' Slamming their batons into anyone who refused to remain prostrate before the might of the law. When only the guardians of the peace remained standing, they turned as one and marched away, leaving a vast carpet of wailing, crying, screaming people whose sole crime had been a desire to save the last remnants of nature.

No ambulances arrived. It was left to those still able to move to assist those who couldn't. The walking wounded dragged themselves and their loved ones away, leaving behind those too bloodied and wounded to move, among them, it was later discovered, a hundred and sixty-three corpses.

And then the scene abruptly changed to focus on an obviously angry State Premier and his Minister for Police, standing in front of the Australian flag.

'This afternoon's riots were the worst in the state's history. It is only thanks to the brave men and women of our police force that this terrorist attack has been foiled. Don't be fooled by the reasons the terrorists gave! Today it's stopping the construction of housing for people affected by climate change, tomorrow it will be stopping everyone from pursuing their legitimate interests. Their aim is totalitarian control over everything, from what you think and say and do, to what you may eat and drink.' He turned to his Police Minister. 'On behalf of the State of New South Wales I thank you and your officers for averting this disaster. They acted with commendable restraint and we are grateful.'

The minister nodded her head. 'Thank you, Premier. I am justly proud of the officers who this afternoon protected us from those who would destroy our society, our values and our way of life. Let this be a lesson to other would-be terrorists that we, the guardians of the people, will not tolerate attempts to overturn the rule of law and bring anarchy to our fine city.'

The screen went blank and the opening sequences of 'The Big Bang Theory' began.

Karmai turned off the television, and they sat in silence.

'We caused that,' Ingenio said in an awed whisper. 'With our notices and emails and all the rest. I feel sick.'

'Were we looking at the same program, Ingenio?' Karmai asked softly, 'I formed the impression that the police caused it. Before they brought in the horses and Darth Vader's troops, it was very peaceful.'

'Karmai's right; stop beating yourself up, Ingenio. It's obvious they had orders to smash the protest and make an example of them. Poor buggers!

'But whose orders?'

'That bastard who praised them.'

'He's probably got shares in the development.'

'He's a politician. That means he's corrupt, stupid and easily manipulated by money and the expectations of the lowest common denominator. If you use a popularity poll to choose people to rule you, it's unsurprising if you get nothing but vile demagogues and arse-lickers.'

In the days that followed, both State and corporate-owned mass media supported the police and government line, abusing the protesters while praising the brave enforcers of law and order.

Dissident Internet blog and news sites kept up the calls for justice, and Frankie became worried about what would happen if there were further protests.

'They're just letting off steam, Frankie, They know they can't change anything because the true purpose of the Internet is to maintain the status quo by enabling the dissemination of every possible point of view.'

'Sounds paradoxical – but surely that's good?'

'No. All it does is encourage the creation of multitudes of single-issue splinter groups that argue amongst each other and therefore lack bargaining power. And all the time that same Internet is spying on every one of them, making revolution impossible. The banking, corporate and military establishment, however, are not so foolish, they unite in opposition to popular demands, and so they prosper. I'm surprised they haven't adopted the Ancient Roman fasces as their symbol.'

Constantine sighed deeply. 'As usual, you're right, Inge. It's the tragedy of our times that the greatest communication device ever invented, instead of freeing us from superstition is being used to enslave us.'

As none of Frankie's grateful neighbours were again approached to sell, it appeared the developers were choosing another, less contentious site. Productive agricultural land on the Darling Downs, according to rumour.

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