Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 30

Act of God

Massimo's edited video about hares began with Frankie firing an arrow, zoomed in to a close-up of the dead hare to show the damage done by jaw traps, followed that with a couple of stock hare photos, the scrape, debarked saplings and a brief cooking lesson. It was amateurish - neither inspiring nor well made.

Empirika said she needed accurate measurements to begin chipping away at blocks of sandstone, so she wrote numbers beside her drawings while Massimo, armed with callipers, ruler and tape measure, called out the dimensions.

'Have you thought of putting all the measurements into a computer program, buying a 3D printer, filling it with a suitable mix, then pushing a button and going for a walk?'

Empirika stared fixedly at Frankie, her face expressionless. 'Are you serious?'

'Of course not! I'm the one who wants to use the simplest archery equipment, doesn't want to rely on a mobile phone, and loathes all the computerised and other hi-tech machinery that is destroying skills and the pleasure craftsmen, gardeners, engineers, builders used to have in their work. Teachers are virtually redundant now. I loathe the mass produced superficial perfection of most things for sale. I deplore the fact that there are no longer any commercially rewarding jobs that take energy, skill, time and patience. Is that the right answer?'

'Not bad. No wonder we're all in love with you.'

Frankie frowned at the slightly sneering tone. She certainly wasn't! As for her parents? She had to be joking! Massimo was casually friendly, that was all. There was something odd about the Kwins, he decided. Nothing specific. Just a feeling that they were conning him and using Prudence. He wondered if she felt the same. It was probably paranoia because he wasn't used to sharing space with strangers. But why did everything they say and do feel like a performance? 'Can you get a block of sandstone big enough to chip out a whole man?' he asked, wondering if his silence had seemed a bit long.

'It's possible, but it's a soft rock that breaks easily, so I carve legs and torso from one block, leaving a natural looking support behind one leg so it doesn't break, then the arms, then the neck and head from other blocks, then the penis, and the final act is to glue them together invisibly with a cement made with the same sandstone crushed to coarse powder. If I started chiselling fingers at the end of an extended arm attached to a shoulder, or tried to carve a penis while attached to a groin, it would crumble. Sandstone isn't marble, and even that requires a lot of care and penises were inserted later.'

'A lot of work.'

'That's what I love. But before I start chipping away I'll make a scale model in clay that I'll fire and give you when I've finished.'

That afternoon it rained. And rained. Great solid sheets of water hurled almost horizontally before gale-force winds all through the night. In the morning the deluge stopped long enough for them to walk down to the creek, which was now a fast flowing river stretching hundreds of metres across semi-submerged trees well into the low-lying property on the far bank. Large logs, branches and pieces of what looked like sheds floated past or were wrapped around trees in the water. They walked down to the gate, which was still above the flood, then a short way back along the road to civilization until it disappeared under the swirling flood. They were cut off.

'I love it when it floods,' Prudence said cheerfully. 'The feeling of being alone in the world and dependent on ourselves. Luckily we have tinned and dry food to last a couple of months.'

'It's starting to rain again,' Frankie warned. 'I wonder if Ian's shed's gone under. I'm going to check on him.'


'I've a bad feeling.'

'He's a vandal, let him drown.'

'Do you think he's still there?'

'No idea.' She sighed. 'But I suppose we ought to make sure.'

The rain was now so heavy they had difficulty seeing ahead.

'You're a good man, Frankie,' Prudence shouted through the roar, 'but I'm going back to the house.'

'Me too.' Empirika shouted, running after Prudence.

'I'll hang around in case you need help.'

'Thanks, Massimo.'

As they approached the bottom of Ian's drive they realised something was wrong. The aluminium shed was still there, but in the wrong place. It looked as if a large tree had floated down and slammed into the side, making a giant dent and knocking it off it's concrete slab. The buckled remnants were now trapped in a stand of trees.

'Look! Over behind that pile of rubbish.'


'Isn't that Ian's truck?'

'Yeah. So he must be around somewhere.'

'If he's there he'll be up a tree or something. We might need rope.'

'And shoes because goodness knows what's under the water.'

Massimo and Frankie raced back up to the house, put on sandals and returned with two coils of rope. Down by the wrecked shed they called into the hushing, rushing, flood that stretched through the trees, flat but swirlingly alive for as far as they could see. Nothing. They called again, shouted and screamed.'

'Listen… over there.' Frankie pointed.

They waded into the water till it was up to their waists and dragging on their legs.

'Tie one end of your rope to that tree,' Frankie ordered, and stay here. I'll tie the other end round my waist and go out as far as I can to see if I can see him.'

'It's dangerous. Let me do it.'

'I'm a bit taller so can go deeper; and you're stronger than me for holding the rope and dragging me out of trouble.'

Frankie waded in the direction of the shout he thought he'd heard, grabbing hold of trunks to prevent himself from being washed away. He was up to his neck and about to give up when he heard the sound again. Slightly to the right, down river. On the far side of what used to be a small creek, draped in the fork of a eucalyptus tree was what looked very much like a body. It was only about twenty metres away, but separated from safety by a fast-flowing torrent that must have been at least fifteen metres deep. The water surged against Frankie in waves. He was at the end of Massimo's rope, so untied it from around his waist, lost balance while knotting his rope to it, and was swept off his feet. A few moments of panic until his legs wrapped around something harsh and scratchy. Fortunately he'd kept hold of his end of the rope and after several false starts managed to tie the end of the lengthened rope around his waist, then with an almighty shove pushed off into the swirling maelstrom that flung him helplessly in a large curve. Keeping his eye on the body in the tree, he swam like a madman, managing to be carried just above and beyond it, allowing himself to be swept past. When he reached the end of the rope he pulled himself back against the current to the tree, felt for foot holds, then pulled himself up until his head was on the same level as Ian, who was looking decidedly dead. But he'd shouted, so couldn't be.

Frankie undid the rope around his waist, struggled higher, leaned over and secured it firmly around Ian's waist, signalled to Massimo, who waved back, then began to lever the dead weight out of the fork and into the water. And then it hit him. If Massimo managed to haul the body back to shore, Frankie would be left without a rope. Not sensible. So he slapped and pinched Ian's face till he complained. Shivering violently, he stared vacantly into Frankie's face.

'Help' he whispered.

'I'm trying to, but you also have to help.'

Awareness and strength arrived with hope. 'Yes, yes. Anything.'

'Right. Stay where you are and keep the rope tied to your waist. I'm going to wind the excess loops around the branch until it's tight, then you must hold onto it and keep it tight while I use it to cross back to the other side. When I get there, you unwind the rope, make sure it isn't snagged on anything, then drop into the water once we've taken up the slack. Then we'll pull you back to safety. Ok?'

'I… I think so.'

'You'd fucking better do more than think so, Ian! Because if you let the rope go loose I could get dashed into a sunken log and lose my grip, and then Massimo will toss his end of the rope away and you'll be left here to die. Got it? Now, repeat the instructions!'

On the second go it was clear he understood, so the operation proceeded, was successful, and a waterlogged, nearly dead, freezing, cold and wildly shivering hungry man was carried and dragged by his exhausted rescuers up to the house.

Prudence made up a bed in the garage, plied Ian with hot water bottles, hot tea, warm porridge with brown sugar and cream, then let him sleep.

Empirika wasn't so sympathetic. 'He's a tough bugger, but an unpleasant one. If you'd got yourself killed saving him I wouldn't be impressed.'

'He must be tough,' Harley growled with as little sympathy, having listened to Massimo's account of the rescue. 'Clinging to that tree all night. With the creek as high and wild as Massimo described, he should be drowned or smashed to bits on passing flotsam. But how the hell did he get himself out there? Why didn't he save himself?'

'If the tree that demolished his shed arrived in the dark, then it's amazing he got out at all, and not surprising he was washed off his feet. As you say, he's tough.'

Ian van Dahl remained in the garage on his mattress for two days until the waters receded. He didn't want to see his place, his shed, or anything. He didn't want to think about it. When Frankie looked in, he burst into tears and mumbled, 'Thank you', over and over again. As soon as the roads were opened, Frankie drove him home to a wife who dragged herself unwillingly from the television to answer the door.

'Huh! You're back,' she remarked sourly. 'Typical. Stay away when there's trouble at home. We've had flooding in the basement, and water got into the attic when a couple of tiles blew off. But you don't care, sitting up there on your pathetic block of land leaving me to do everything.' She turned abruptly to Frankie. 'Where's his truck? Why did you bring him home?'

Frankie told her.

An unpleasant sneer disfigured an already bad tempered face. 'I won't thank you for bringing this useless lump back. You'd have done me a favour if you'd left him in the tree.'

A wave of pity for Ian swelled in Frankie's chest and he was on the point of saying something he would regret, but closed his mouth, shook his head sadly and left.

Two days later, a young woman arrived in a navy business suit, high heels, long bleached hair that she had to keep pulling aside so she could see, and too much makeup. Prudence answered the bell.

'Are you Prudence Prodijee?'

'Yes. Who are you?'

'I'm representing Mr. Ian van Dahl. He has instructed his legal advisors to sell his property, and wanted to give you first option to buy. If you wish to purchase the property, I have with me transfer documents to effect that.' She held out a business card.

Prudence read it silently. Sussan Obay. Head Clerk. Slorter, Pymp and Rippoff. Attorneys at law. 'Do you pronounce your name sussin, or soozin.'

'Soozin, of course.'

'Then why spell it sussin? Susan has only one s.'

'What are you? An English teacher?'

'No, merely a pedant.'

Sussan shrank back against the wall. 'You abuse children?'

'No, that's a paedophile. A pedant is a nitpicker.'

'You have nits? My sister got them at school, there's a shampoo that gets rid of them.'

'Thank you. I'll look into it. But tell me, why is Mr. Van Dahl in such a hurry?'

'That surely is his business!' She gazed around as if to check no one was listening. 'But… it seems his wife is not to be told.'

'Fair enough. But why didn't you phone me?'

'We couldn't find a phone number for you.'

Prudence checked the card again. 'Come in, Sussin.' She led the way into the main room where Frankie, Empirika and Massimo were drinking tea, having taken a break from posing, filming, and modelling with clay.

'This is Sussin, a legal clerk from Ian van Dahl's lawyers. He wants to sell his property and is offering me first refusal.' Prudence indicated Frankie. 'This is the man who saved his life during the flood.'

Frankie, still in his posing outfit, was leaning nonchalantly against the table. He nodded pleasantly. Sussan froze, transfixed, dragged her eyes from groin to face and whispered, 'Are you Miz Prodijee's Husband?'

'No, he's my boyfriend,' Massimo drawled.

Sussan looked at Prudence in fear.

Empirika's smile was predatory. 'Don't be sorry for Prudence, Sussan. She hasn't been left on the shelf; she's my girlfriend—we share everything!'

Something about the way she said that caused Frankie's heart to skip a beat.

'I… I would like to complete this business quickly, if you don't mind,' Sussan whispered.

'So would I,' Prudence replied. 'So Massimo will get Columbine to check that you are who you are. And you will give me all the details.'

'And Empirika will make you a nice cup of tea,' Frankie added pleasantly.

'Will I?' Empirika bristled, not pleased to be ordered around.

'Yes, if you want me to continue modelling for you,' Frankie laughed. 'I've just remembered something I have to tell Prudence.'

Massimo went out to find his mother and Empirika started rattling cups.

'Won't be a minute,' Frankie smiled at Sussan, dragging Prudence just outside the front door, which he closed. 'I don't trust the Kwins.' He whispered. 'I've no idea if you were intending to add Empirika's name to the title, but I strongly advise you not to.'

'Thank you for that unsolicited advice.' Prudence's voice was cold. She turned on her heel and marched back to Sussan to discover how much Mr. Van Dahl was asking, what caveats, encumbrances and monies were owing on the title.

By the time Columbine had checked the lawyers' website, confirmed the phone number, called the lawyer doing the conveyancing, confirmed the details and the non-negotiable price that was several thousand dollars less than Prudence was prepared to pay, Empirika had grumpily placed a cup of tea on the table.

Fifteen minutes later the transfer documents were signed and witnessed, a deposit had been transferred electronically to the lawyer's account, and a very relieved Sussan had returned to her car and driven away, leaving one thoughtful young woman, and one speechless with barely suppressed fury.

'If you hadn't saved him, his wife would have inherited the property and goodness knows what she'd have done with it,' Prudence said softy to Frankie.

'Sold it to a kennels, most likely, she looked as if she'd gone to the dogs.'

'Oohh… nasty.'

'Yes she was nasty. Very, very nasty.'

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