by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 19


At one minute to three Jarek parked the minibus outside the school. Most of the returning boys were greeted by parents and whisked away with the barest nod of thanks. Leon winked and said, 'See ya,' before dashing off. The others waved sadly and lugged their bags home, leaving Jarek with a euphoric Principal who had been kept abreast of everything Jarek thought he should know with nightly phone calls. When all ten students had been accounted for they went to Stephen's office to discuss whether the next week's program had to be modified to suit the new group of fourteen year-olds who were neither as intelligent nor as lively as the previous class. A dull lot, Jarek remembered, and therefore adored by their female teachers. It was going to be a challenge.

He drove to Edgar's where Zeno was waiting to be taken to the supermarket to restock with the same foods that had proved so successful in the first week.

'That's Cador's father, isn't it?' Zeno asked. 'He owns this supermarket according to Cador.'

'Sure is, I remember him from a parent's evening. Do us a favour. Watch his reaction when I talk to him.'

Smiling innocently, Jarek approached the solidly built, heavy-jowled man wearing an impeccable business suit.

'Good afternoon, sir, I'm the physical education teacher at the high school. We met at a parents' evening earlier in the year. Your son hasn't been to cricket practice for a few days, I hope he isn't ill?'

'With barely a pause for thought the man snapped, 'You've got the wrong person, I have no son. Good day!' He turned away to speak to a nervous employee.

'Fuck he's an angry man.'

'Did you get the feeling he's sorry about losing his son?'

'No way! He really meant that he had no son. Will we tell Cador?'

'I'll leave that to your judgement. You'll have plenty of time to see how he feels over the weekend, which, by the way, I hope you'll make the most of.'

'Without soiling the mattress,' Zeno laughed.

On returning to Edgar's, Jarek thanked Edgar again for his generosity. His host insisted that gratitude was unnecessary; he was pleased the place was being used and taken care of. When he realised Jarek was carting all his worldly possessions around in the back of his ute, he offered to store them; an offer too good to refuse. Jarek did refuse the offer of a bed, however.

After a cup of tea, Zeno and Cador drove back to the cabin in the minivan.

Cador leaped out exclaiming again at the beauty, peace and privacy. Impatiently, they unloaded the supplies, organised and secured them from predators, then raced to the swimming hole, afterwards lying together on the sand in the afternoon sunlight, rediscovering the delights of simply touching and being together. After a light meal they retired to bed where they remained until very late on Saturday morning, still intrigued, still desiring more of their lover's body.

Forty minutes after leaving Edgar's, Jarek was parked in his usual spot behind the Forest Ranger's office.

'Jarek! We hoped you'd visit. Staying the night?'

'Yes, Greg, but in the bush. I've some serious thinking to do. OK if I leave the ute here?'

'Of course.'

Turning to Greg's wife, Jarek handed her two thousand dollars.

'No! We don't want anything,' Greg insisted, taking it from his wife and handing it back. 'We love having you and are perfectly able to manage on my wages.'

'Thank you, Greg, and I love coming here. However, I don't enjoy being in your debt. You two have saved me from depression more times than I care to remember. You splashed out on a lovely lunch for twelve people a few days ago, and I'm going to ask you to do the same thing five more times. I'm living rent free, all meals paid for. I earn twice as much as you, I have no debts or responsibilities, and if you refuse what I give in love and appreciation then I'll have to leave.' He held out the money.

Reluctantly, Greg took it. 'Thanks. You're a real mate. At least stay the night with us?'

'I'd be rotten company; I need to think. On Sunday, though, I'd like to stay with you; freshen up, recharge my razor and learn to be civilized again.'

Realising it was as useless to protest this time as it had been on so many other weekends, Greg and his wife watched Jarek remove his clothes and place them in his utility truck. Then, like a sleek feral animal he slipped into the forest.

Stephen couldn't face returning to his increasingly disagreeable spouse, so spent the evening playing cards with Edgar and his friends, afterwards sleeping in one of Edgar's spare rooms.

Violet Noble did not notice her husband's absence, being in conference with Irma Medlar. Like all members of the local branch of Women's War International they had been deeply insulted by Belle Paigann's rejection of their core beliefs, so when they discovered her son, Zeno, was also behaving despicably, they decided it was time to act. Someone had to punish the youth for raping Adele Nimffo; causing her to leave town in such anguish she'd had a fatal accident. Using the bedroom telephone extension, Violet had eavesdropped on Stephen's nightly calls to the camp, and learned that instead of being taught a lesson, Zeno was completing his studies and assisting Jarek Schwartz, who had left Bindi Hussey in the lurch after promising marriage!

'I've had enough, Violet!' Irma announced. 'Neither the police, the education authorities or your pathetic husband are prepared to do anything about Paigann and Schwartz, so we must do as the bible suggests.'

'What does it say?'

'God helps those who help themselves. That means it's up to us to ensure justice prevails.'

'I agree, but what can we do?'

'We use our secret weapon.'

'What secret weapon?'


'Annie? She's insane! She's on bail for grievous bodily harm! I'm terrified of her.'

'So am I, but she learned martial arts in prison, although why they'd teach crazy people that beats me. Despite her size she's very strong.'

'You mean?'

'Yes, Violet dear. Thanks to you we know where Schwartz and the Paigann kid are, so we send her up there to put the frighteners on them—I think that's the right expression.'

Violet's pulses began to race. Already she was planning how to break the sad news of Zeno's death to Belle Paigann. 'I want more than the frighteners, Irma—I want the terminators!'

'Termination. I like it!'

'When shall we have it done?'

'The sooner the better. Tomorrow night? I'll give Annie a call now and invite her round.'

Annie was tiny and lean and proved her toughness by arriving on a motorbike—a very small and not particularly powerful one—but a motorbike nonetheless. Exactly one and a half metres tall, she wore a scuffed black leather jacket, several chains attached to a studded belt that held up her baggy camouflage trousers, army boots, and black leather gloves. Without wiping her boots she plonked herself down with her legs apart, and removed her crash helmet. Eyes that were disturbingly close together, and an exceedingly narrow face were not improved by mauve bristle cut hair, three nose rings, five earrings and several others through the eyebrows. Rumour had it that the lips of her vulva were sealed by a large silver ring, but no one dared ask for confirmation.


'We've a job for you.'

'I'm leavin' town.'

'Oh dear. It is just the sort of thing you'd be so good at.'


'Tomorrow night.'

'How much?'

'How much what?'

'How the fuck much do I get out of this?

'Oh… we hadn't thought. You're a sister so…'

'So you thought I'd be a cheap trick? Well fuck you too, sister.'

'No, no. How much do you need?'

'What's the job?'

They told her.

'A thousand.'

'Excuse us a minute.' Violet and Irma went into a huddle in the hallway. 'All we can manage is five hundred,' they apologised on their return.

Annie counted on her fingers and thought aloud. 'Fifty for that bitch in the squat, then there's the repairs for the bike, then…' she looked up. 'OK, I'll do it. Give.' She thrust out her hand.

Irma went to her room and returned with a pile of notes and coins. Violet added several and Annie counted it several times before nodding.

'OK. Where's the gig? I'll do it tomorrow night on my way out of town.'

'But how do we know you won't just scarper with the money?'

'You don't. Now again; exactly where and who the fuck is it you want skewered?'

This was more unpleasant than they had anticipated, but they had no choice. At least when it was done Annie would be out of their hair. She was a strange and unpredictable young woman and none too bright. It took thirty minutes to explain the hand drawn map. When she finally understood, Annie stomped out leaving the door open, muttering gleefully about getting her own back on all those bastard males as she puttered off.

'That leaves us free to check on Bindi, who I fear is again the victim of predatory males.'

'Surely not, Irma. Why isn't she more careful?'

'Being such a sensitive girl she has no defences. I'm reasonably certain the only reason for that drawer full of condoms was in case men force themselves on her. Over the next few weeks we must keep watch. She needs our protection because the weather's getting hotter and that's when men are at their most dangerous. Are you with me on this?'

'Oh, certainly, Irma. Certainly. If we can't protect each other, what's the point of our existence?'

'Exactly, Violet. We are of one mind.'

After leaving Greg and his wife, Jarek set off at a brisk pace to find a meal, irritated by unwelcome youthful memories that had recently been invading his thoughts. Two working parents had provided food and shelter but little in the way of affection, interest or love. He became a loner with no understanding of other boys his age. Unlike him, they eagerly replaced parents with gangs, and were content as long as they were left alone to indulge in petty theft, and experiment with the forbidden fruits of sex, alcohol, smoking and the occasional puff of marijuana. Pupils who studied and sought approval from adults were fag wankers. Bullying was rife, and self appointed tough guys regularly gave juniors they suspected of being queer, a lesson in manliness that left the boy traumatised, depressed and fearful. Jarek knew of at least one boy who had suicided.

Female teachers weren't interested, and males did nothing for fear of being labelled a queer-lover, or a queer themselves. If parents complained they were told it was just boisterous fun and their boy should get used to the real world.

Fear of becoming a victim had motivated Jarek to increase his fitness and strength so if they discovered he wasn't really one of the boys, he could defend himself. It worked. He was permitted to be a lone wolf. An addiction to superhero comics had him dreaming about giving the bullies a taste of their own medicine, but as they always worked in twos or threes he needed a weapon. There was always a body, bag, and locker search if weapons were used in school, so he had to think of something he could carry on him that would never be found.

"Papillion", the autobiography of French felon Henri Charrière, provided the answer. Needing a secure spot to hide his money and documents, Charrière rolled them tight and placed them in a metal charger that he shoved up his backside. With this in mind Jarek saw the potential of an object in a second-hand shop; a slender, ten centimetre long dull metal cylinder that could be pulled apart. He bought it. It had been used to store needles, according to his grandmother. Laborious polishing revealed the object to be silver, more valuable than either he or the shop owner had realised.

In his father's workshop Jarek took a twelve millimetre wide steel strip the length of the case, and filed it into a sharply pointed stiletto with two very sharp edges. The blunt end he securely embedded with epoxy resin in the three-centimetre-long cap. When the blade was exposed and the longer end of the case jammed on behind the cap, he had a dagger with a firm handle and a seven-centimetre blade. When sheathed it was merely a slim silver tube with rounded ends—scarcely thicker than his thumb. Lubricated with a little hand cream it slid easily into his anus, but it took a fair while to get so used to it that his sphincter remained closed and it didn't pop out when he lifted something heavy, squatted or farted. Before long he got into the habit of inserting it on leaving the house, or going anywhere alone—feeling vulnerable without it.

Jarek hated weekends when either their house was full of friends and family, or they went to one of their multitude of relations for noisy family gatherings. Unlike his parents and siblings he disliked his cousins, aunts and uncles and the weekly get togethers with their drinking, singing, smoking, eating, fighting, arguing.

He'd just turned fourteen the first time he told his parents he was going camping for the weekend. They didn't ask who he was going with, what gear he needed, or where he was going, probably because if they knew nothing they wouldn't feel obliged to stop him.

An hour's bike ride took him to a large State forest in the foothills. Large signs prohibited the public from entering or using any maintenance track apart from the seven kilometre road to a swimming hole that was popular at weekends with the locals. Large fines would be imposed on anyone camping in the forest, or lighting fires except in the places provided.

Concealing and chaining his bike a hundred metres from the road, Jarek shouldered a pack containing a bottle of water and enough bread and biscuits for two days, then spent the day trudging through dense undergrowth. Scratched, bitten, lost, exhausted, he arrived at the picnic area just before dark. He savoured the stillness, stripped and swam, exercised to dry off and warm up, ate sparingly, then found a soft patch of sand to lie on, excited at the idea of sleeping under the stars. It was October so the nights were chilly and the grass and bracken he piled on himself did little to warm him. At first he thought he would die of cold, but eventually fell asleep. During the night he got up and did press-ups to warm himself, then slept again until woken by the sun.

After an early morning swim he explored the area until he heard visitors' cars, then filled his water bottle and spent the rest of Sunday wandering back through the forest, delighted to observe the complete indifference of all life to his presence. Trees and other plants paid him no heed. Birds called to each other—not to him. Lizards scuttled after prey, ignoring him. Spiders, ants, beetles, moths butterflies went about their business with not so much as a glance at him. He startled a couple of bandicoots who ran off without asking who he was, what he was doing there or shouting at him to be more careful. He nearly trod on a basking red-bellied black snake that set his pulses racing. One bite and he'd die in agony, but the snake wouldn't have lost a second's sleep over it. It was exciting, dangerous, and he had to do it again.

No one quizzed him about his weekend, for which he was grateful. Lying came easily but always left him feeling guilty. The following weekend he was off again, unworried about dying of cold in his sleep because an internet search informed him it was impossible in the temperatures experienced locally. This time he was going to use his knife to provide at least some food. He took a slightly different route, stuffed his shoes and clothes in his pack the minute he was out of sight of the roadway, removed and prepared his knife, then padded along in increasing agony as splinters, stones, sharp grasses and other unexpected obstacles inflicted painful wounds on feet and legs.

Disheartened, he sat on a stone, dagger ready, wondering what he was doing. A rustling heralded a large skink poking its snout into view. Jarek froze. The lizard waddled forward, tongue flicking. Unaware of danger it made its cautious way between Jarek's feet. Not daring to breathe he swooped and grasped the creature round the neck. It writhed, twisted and scratched. Anaesthetised to pain by excitement, Jarek stabbed and stabbed and stabbed until the struggle ceased and the beautiful thing seemed to deflate.

Skinned and gutted it was even smaller. With no way of making a fire Jarek took bites of the raw flesh that tasted like rotten fish. He gagged, sick at the thought of killing for no purpose. Ashamed, he silently asked the reptile for forgiveness and buried it. Only once more did he kill a native animal. It was the following year. A bandicoot, heavy and solid and so tough after roasting he couldn't get his teeth into it. Accepting that he wasn't really a child of nature, merely a well-fed intruder, he determined to continue his weekend odysseys, bring his own food and leave as little trace of his visit as possible.

After a great deal of practice he could remove his knife and ready it for defence in five seconds, ten if he was wearing trousers. He practised stabbing imaginary assailants in the chest in the hope of reaching the heart, until he learned that the rib cage deflects most such attempts. A stiletto like his should be slid up under the ribs through vital organs to touch the heart, triggering a fatal reaction. That's what the Romans did when they fell on their swords.

By the summer holidays he had become addicted to the solitude and independence. His feet were tough and impervious to splinters and rough ground. He was dark brown all over, no longer scratched himself, and had gained an intimate knowledge of large tracts of the forest. Barefoot, naked and alone, each weekend he purged himself of the contamination of other people and returned to civilization brimming with self respect. If he'd been asked if he if he enjoyed himself, he'd have been at a loss what to answer. He did it because he had to. He certainly wasn't unhappy, despite it being hard, frequently unpleasant, sometimes cold and wet, almost never comfortable—because it was better than the alternative. He suspected he had been born with a sense of unworthiness that could only be assuaged by regular self-mortification.

Punishing bullies was something else he felt he needed to do to make up for his own inadequacies. There was no point, though, if he was hurt in the process, so he spied and learned and planned carefully. The out of bounds area behind the rubbish bin enclosure was where victims were taken to learn the lessons of manhood, so Jarek worked out a couple of alternative routes from there to his bolt hole—the crawl space beneath the Art room, accessed via a loose board.

Wednesday intervals were the preferred times, so Jarek excused himself from class early, went to his hideout and removed his trainers and anything else that would identify him, then barefoot in his school uniform, dagger ready, an old stocking pulled over his head, he concealed himself behind the largest bin.

A few minutes later he heard several kids arrive. They lit cigarettes and talked softly so he was just about to call it a day when a high-pitched squeal of pain caused him to look. One of the guys was pressing his burning cigarette onto a smaller boy's arm. Jarek darted forward, jabbed his dagger into the thighs of the first two and the upper arm of the third, then in the confusion leaped the fence and disappeared. There had been almost no blood so it took less than a minute to clean, sheath and replace his dagger and shoes, check the coast was clear and wander innocently back to see what all the noise was about.

The entire school was kept in the assembly hall for three hours while all bags, lockers, and students matching the sketchy descriptions the louts had given were searched. The police arrived to interview possible witnesses and lecture on the dangers of knives. The stab wounds were serious and all three bullies were away from school for a week. On their return they were fêted as heroes, invited onto the stage at assembly and became the targets of female adulation. No mention was made of bullying.

The intimidation stopped, which was good, but it was bad the bullies became martyrs. If you're going to punish someone, he realised, you have to make sure the punishment can't be turned to advantage. He was pleased he felt no remorse or pity. Defending himself against humans was no different from defending himself from wild cats in the forest, Jarek decided, knowing he would never hesitate to use the dagger again if it was needed. Human life was no more valuable than that of any sentient animal. The game of life had rules, and if you stepped outside them you had to accept the consequences.

It was nearly dark before he arrived at a small stream where he tossed memories aside, dug up a yabby, killed and secured it with a small rock in front of him in the water, squatted, extracted his knife, unsheathed it, then remained still as a stone for several long minutes. Suddenly his hand smashed into the water and came out grasping a metre long eel just behind the gills. With a practised slash the head was off, and a few seconds later the guts were on the bank—a meal for bandicoots and ants. A shake of the empty end of the charger dislodged the spark generator from a cigarette lighter, and before long a fire was burning between rocks, the eel was cooking, and for the first time in a week Jarek was at peace.

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