by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 20

Crime and Punishment

Saturday dawned warm and wind free; a day for cleaning and preparing the cabin and bedrooms, completing school assignments and tramping in the forest. Zeno enjoyed himself initiating Cador into the ways of nature, albeit in a somewhat self-conscious tribute to Jarek. That evening, being too hot to stay inside, they took a mattress out onto the verandah and lay in the moonlight, chatting quietly.

'Do you often think of your parents, Cador?'

'Of course I do.'

'Miss them?'

'Difficult question. My mother's so under Dad's thumb she barely exists as a person. I imagine she loves me—at least she says she does, but she never sides with me against Dad. Even when I told him I was gay and he began hitting and abusing me, she just left the room although she must have known what was going to happen. I made enough noise, pleading and begging, but she never came back and I haven't seen her since.'

'Does it make you sad?'

'I imagine she's sad, so that makes me sad, but in a way it's a relief not to be there and see it.'

'What about your father?'

'He's a callous bastard. If someone owes him money he doesn't give a stuff if they're having troubles. He's thrown tenants out of houses because the guy lost his job and needed time to find another to pay the rent. Even one couple with a baby. I've been talking a lot with Edgar over the last week. He's a great guy by the way, a freethinker. That means he makes up his own mind about what to believe and think and do. He made me realise that I've been brainwashed with all this Allah stuff… invisible gods and crappy rules that say if I'm queer I have to be crushed to death under a stone wall. You know, I reckon my father would do it if he thought it would earn him brownie points with the faithful.'

'Surely not!'

'I'm pretty sure he only saw me as a trophy. If I'm no use for impressing his mates then he doesn't want me.'

'Do you want him to want you? I mean, if he asked you to come home, would you?'

'Not unless he accepted me as I am, a freethinking queer.'

'We saw him in his supermarket yesterday and Jarek said, "I haven't seen your son for a while." Guess what he answered.'

'What son?'

'Almost, he said, "I have no son." I wasn't sure if I should tell you.'

Cador turned pale as the truth he'd been avoiding sank in. It'd be bad enough if a friend dropped you, but his father? Tears welled and he couldn't speak.

Zeno reached out to comfort him, but was brushed angrily away. 'Jarek shouldn't have done that. It was too soon! Knowing my father, now he's said those words to a teacher he'll never go back on them. It's finished.' Cador stood, stared down at Zeno as if at a stranger, then ran off into the forest.

Shocked at the reaction, Zeno ran after him shouting at him to stop, but there was no response so he followed him into the forest, calling desperately, imagining everything that could go wrong. Cador was naked, bare footed and knew little of the dangers.

Zeno stopped. It was stupid to race blindly; he should go back to the cabin and try to phone Jarek, then make a loud noise so Cador would know where he was. He turned to go back but suddenly realised he had no idea which direction to walk. He was lost.

Relaxing in the quarry after the most delicious roasted snake he could remember eating, Jarek was content. It had been a fruitful day of thinking, stress-releasing exercise and winding down. He always looked too far ahead, he realised, envisaging problems that would probably never exist, imagining so many possible scenarios that he was in danger of becoming paralysed with indecision. A day alone in nature was all it usually took for him to see his life in perspective and plan the sensible path. Having sorted his thoughts on how to approach the next group of pupils and what to do about Leon, he could sleep peacefully. Tomorrow he would go and see if Greg Forté needed any work done.

He stretched out on the warm rock, but instead of sleep his heart began to pound and he had to sit up.

'Zeno and Cador,' he whispered. 'I shouldn't have left them on their own for so long. Neither have any real experience of the bush. And it's the weekend so there could be visitors…'

Silently, he slipped out of the cave and into the forest.

Annie considered herself a professional, having modelled herself on Wonder Woman and fictional female cat burglars. After stowing her meagre possessions into the motorbike's saddlebags she set off in a black leotard, hooded sweat shirt, gloves and trainers. Hugging the verge and keeping to the speed limit she attracted no unwanted attention. A few hundred metres down the rutted lane that led to the cabin she dismounted, unhitched a sawn off pump-action .22 rifle from under the frame, checked the magazine was full of hollow-nosed bullets, and tightened the string on her hood so only her eyes were visible. After pushing the bike into bushes, she jogged the remaining distance to the cabin, arriving somewhat out of breath as lifting weights only added muscles, not fitness.

The building was in darkness but there was enough moonlight to see two cups and a mattress on the verandah. She stood still and listened for a minute. Silence. A stealthy check of the bunk rooms and cabin revealed nothing. They must have gone for a walk, so she'd wait. But where? Not inside. They'd probably return to the mattress and cups. Concealed in the shadow of the cabin doorway she surveyed the scene before deciding to cross to a clump of bushes directly in front of the verandah where she could sit all night if necessary. When they returned, bang bang they'd be dead. Not that she was a crack shot, but from six metres even with the abbreviated barrel she couldn't miss. If the first shot didn't kill, at least it would explode in the flesh making such a mess she'd have all the time in the world to pick them off.

Fantasising about following two men dragging their ripped and torn bodies around the buildings in a vain attempt to escape her vengeance, was very arousing. With a smile of anticipation she slipped softly out into the night and into concealment.

Forty minutes after leaving the quarry, Jarek silently padded up the path from the swimming hole towards the cabin. Everything looked peaceful in the moonlight. Silent. It was only about eight o'clock. Surely the boys wouldn't be in bed? Intending to sneak round to their bedroom window to check, he noticed a slight movement in the shadows. Small. A child perhaps? Remaining utterly still he watched as the figure crossed the patch of open ground and concealed itself in the bushes in front of the verandah. He squatted, removed his charger, prepared the knife and silently crept forward.

Annie was not a child. She was small and strong with excellent reflexes. As Jarek's right arm wrapped around her neck she instantly dropped, escaped his grasp, swung round and fired a shot that grazed his thigh. He didn't notice.

In the split second it took to reload, Jarek's toe slammed into Annie's throat. The rifle fired harmlessly into the air as she went down, already pumping for a third shot, but Jarek stomped on her arm, grabbed her by the throat and hauled her to her feet, kicking the rifle away.

She struggled and clawed, but soft leather gloves prevented scratching. A sharp knuckle tap on the side of her head stunned her long enough for Jarek to get behind her, wrap his right arm tightly round her neck and press the point of his stiletto into the taut flesh directly beneath the lowest rib.

'Why are you here?'

'Who the fuck are you? Fucking naked savage!'

'As you said, savage, so don't tempt me. Who are you and why are you here with a loaded gun?'

'None of your business.'

'It is when you start shooting at me.'

'Pity I missed.'


'Because you're a man.'

'Who sent you?'

'Fuck off.'

Jarek pressed the dagger slightly and felt it puncture the skin. Annie hissed from pain and shock.

'This is your last chance.' His voice softly menacing. 'Who sent you and why do you want to kill me?'

'Fuck off, b...' Before she completed the sentence the stiletto slid in and up, passing easily through stomach and liver before puncturing her heart, which stopped beating.

After removing the dagger, Jarek lowered her to the ground while pressing her head forward onto her knees to close the wound. After cleaning the blade under a tap in the kitchen area he returned it to it's hiding place, then plugged the tiny hole in her chest with a lump of clay. With Annie over his shoulder he picked up the rifle and trotted down the driveway to the gate.

No vehicle. She must have left it down by the road. As he approached, moonlight reflected off the headlamp. Dropping the body he pulled the motorbike from under the bush. The key was still in it so he draped the corpse over the gas tank, secured the rifle under her sweatshirt, and rode down to the main road. After checking it was clear he took a risk and rode a hundred metres west before turning onto a narrow track that led to an electricity sub station built on the site of a disused municipal cattle dip.

There was no longer any trace of the wooden rails and holding pens, but on one of his early exploratory hikes in the area, Jarek had discovered that the dip itself, a concrete-sided hole three metres deep, ten long and two wide had never been filled in, only covered with concrete slabs, and apparently forgotten. It probably still contained chemicals long since banned. Queensland was full of unmapped toxic dumps. Despite the high fence and faded signs warning of prosecution for trespass, it took only a few seconds to lift a corner of the rusty hurricane netting, slide under and drag body and bike to the edge of the old dip.

The reinforced concrete slabs that covered it were about forty centimetres wide and just over two metres long. A star picket from a nearby telecom sign gave him enough leverage to slide the first slab back onto solid ground. Before disposing of the would-be assassin's remains he searched her belongings and discovered a wad of cash wrapped in a hand-drawn map. As it would be stupid to keep anything that might identify the woman, and finding nothing else of interest, he kept the cash and sent her on her way. A slight splash announced her arrival, and with a bit of manoeuvring the bike and gear followed. Replacing the slab was hazardous as it wanted to follow the body into the pit.

After carefully replacing soil, dirt, fallen leaves and other detritus, he backed to the fence, under it and all the way down the track to the main road, sweeping the ground as he went with a length of brushwood to remove obvious evidence of the visit. A naked man jogging along the main highway at night would attract attention, so he crossed it then headed across a couple of cow paddocks to the track, and thence to the cabin. He'd been gone nearly half an hour. Nervous voices were issuing from the verandah.

'Hi, it's Jarek,' he announced from a distance so as not to startle them.

'Jarek! What're you doing here?'

'Dunno really. Suddenly felt like a run and ended up here. Everything OK?'

'Yeah… except we heard a couple of shots and got a bit worried.'

'Just someone taking pot shots at cane toads probably. I heard them too. That's why I headed in this direction. I've been for a bit of a scout around but there's no one anywhere near here. You're not missing the bright lights, Cador?'

'No way, but I did get lost when I went for a walk half an hour ago. Luckily Zeno found me.'

'Never go into the forest on your own, that's the rule.'

'Your leg's bleeding. Are you all right?'

'It's just a graze. Slipped on a rock. Be healed in the morning.

'Shouldn't you put disinfectant on it?'

'No need. Thanks.'

'Are you staying the night?' Zeno sounded hopeful.

'No way! I've a comfortable little spot waiting in the forest. Beds give me backache. See you Monday morning early. Cheers.'

Suddenly they were alone and wishing they'd told him they'd been lost and it was the gunshots that had led them back to the cabin. But after copious apologies, declarations of affection and swearing they'd never argue again or take off without telling each other where they were going, residual fears dissipated and they discovered they were pleased to be alone. After all, if Jarek hadn't worried, why should they? He wouldn't have left them alone if he thought it was dangerous, would he? Zeno also realised it meant Jarek trusted him, and his self-respect soared. After dragging the mattress inside, they returned to their room and made up for lost time.

Jarek remained concerned. Was that mad woman a lone cannon or sent by someone? Would she be followed by the heavy artillery when she didn't report? Who would want to kill him? Bindi? No, she was far too lazy. Irma Medlar? The idea was insane. It was foolish to waste energy on speculation so he silently extracted one of the small tarpaulins from the storage area to keep off the dew, and lay down among bushes beside the entrance to the cabin's parking area so he'd be able to intercept any intruder.

When Zeno and Cador emerged soon after sunrise for a swim, Jarek had already jogged through the forest to Greg and Hazel Forté's.

'You're looking a bit rough, Jarek,' Greg greeted him. 'Keep out of sight of visitors or they'll tell the papers there's a wild man roaming the National Park.'

'That'll bring in the tourists. I feel like doing a bit of hard work, any jobs going?'.

'Had breakfast?'


'Come on then.'

A day sawing and removing fallen logs and branches from tracks was the medicine needed, and after a long hot bath, a close shave and running the clippers over his body, the shabby, sweaty, feral creature was transformed into a clean, neat, fit and sleekly attractive young man who would excite but not frighten his next class of fourteen year-olds.

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