by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 19

The house looked dreary. Worse than dreary. It was one of a row of identical brick and tile bungalows built on the cheap in the nineteen sixties. A remote control on the dash opened the garage doors. They drove in and the place became dark as the door clanked into place behind them. Hale led the way through a side door into muted sunlight and Mort uttered a shout of elation. The large back yard was surrounded on both sides by a high paling fence. The rear boundary of the property was invisible behind a veritable forest of tall eucalyptus trees and assorted flowering shrubs.

'How large is this block?'

'Two thousand square metres. Twice the usual. All the blocks on this street are very long because the backs of the properties used to flood. It hasn't since I've been here, but the size and the trees are the main reasons I bought it.'

'Wonderful. I can't wait to explore. It's like living on the edge of a forest. And so quiet!'

'Just about everyone in the street's a pensioner. They also love the peace and don't want to leave. Lights out at eight o'clock, no loud radios, no kids on drums or barking dogs.'

'I want to live here!' It was obviously an exclamation of delight, not a request, but Hale smiled none the less.

On the lawn directly behind the house were arranged several metal frames that reminded Mort of his primary school jungle gym. He turned around in delight, inspecting the house. A wide, tiled verandah extended the full length of the rear of the building, with comfortable chairs, a table and several urns filled with trailing flowering plants. Three sets of French doors complete with shutters created an exotic, quasi-Mediterranean atmosphere.

'This is surreal!' Mort whispered. 'The front's horrible and the back's paradise. Why don't you change the front as well?'

'I don't want thieves to get any ideas.'

'Good thinking. Can I see inside? Does it matter that I'm naked?'

' I forbid you to wear any clothes while you are my guest.'

'Yes, Sir!' Mort's grin was smug.

'Go inside for a wander around while I throw some food on a plate. We'll eat out here. But take your shoes off first!'

Ten minutes later they were seated at the heavy wooden table on the verandah.

'I can't believe the inside of this place; it's exactly what I like. High ceilings, lots of paintings, heavy curtains, comfy chairs, table lamps instead of central lights, bookshelves full, lots of interesting carpets… things that look as if you've brought them back from other countries. It's cosy! I've always wanted a cosy house. Most houses I've seen are either bleak and poor or bleak and more or less modern. And I'm raving.'

'No, you're not. I'm flattered. But eat.'

'Mmm. The food's delicious too. What is it?'

'Imam Bayeldi. Stuffed aubergine Turkish style.'

They ate in silence, enjoying the shade, the peace and the company.

Mort paused as if he'd encountered a problem. 'Do you live here alone?'


'Seems a shame. Don't you get lonely?'

'Not lonely. But there are some things I miss.'

'Such as?'

'An open, enquiring mind on tap. Sharing a joke. Chatting. Sex when I want it.' Hale's smile was indecipherable.

'Why aren't you married?'

'Apart from the fact that I've never met anyone I'd want to spend the rest of my life with, marriage hasn't been an option for me until recently.'

'Now it is, would you marry?'

'Can't see the point. Either two people stay together because they want to, or they part. I can't see a piece of paper making any difference. Half of all marriages end in divorce despite the expensive ceremony. It's a waste of money in my opinion.'

'Yeah I agree.'

'I'm taking a wild guess here, but you aren't by any chance gay, are you?'

Mort managed to look shocked. 'No way! I'm a very serious same-sex-oriented male. There's nothing of the flibbertigibbet about me!'

Hale laughed. 'Why not gay?'

'Gay's a stupid word; makes me think of scatty queens and prancing fairies. I'm a sexual creature, like most other so-called higher animals, and as with about ten percent of them I prefer to cuddle with my own sex. What about you?'

'That pretty well describes me, and means we're both exceedingly lucky.'

'No one's ever called me lucky before. How do you arrive at that?'

'There's an old saying — Greek, I think; "A woman in the house means a storm in the house." Neither of us will have to endure that.'

'Yeah! My grandfather was always saying he wished he'd never married; reckoned men and women were too different to share anything, especially their lives. He and my Grandmother waged constant war, and the people I was living with up till today existed in a state of cool truce for twenty-six years, according to the husband.'

'Most married couples are more or less like that,' Hale said knowledgeably. 'Marriage is a trap with no exit. The woman takes over the house like a great fat spider, and if her cringing husband doesn't do as he's told she has a tantrum. If that doesn't work she cries, because het men are unable to cope with a woman crying and will do anything or promise anything to stop her. Then over the years there's a progression from the silent treatment through psychological violence when she tells him he's a useless provider, his penis is pathetic and he can't give her an orgasm; to physical violence in which she kicks, hits, punches smashes anything to hand, often against his head with no care for his health, while screaming loud enough to alert the neighbours. The only place he can do as he likes is in his shed; as long as he remains at her beck and call. And they can't divorce because she'll get everything and live like a queen, leaving him with the mortgage to pay off, the kids to provide for, and only enough money to share the rent of a crappy unit with some other poor bugger who's also lost everything.'

'Have you had experience of this?'

My brother was ruined by the bitch he married. He suicided when she reckoned he was fiddling with his children when they visited him on the weekend. He wasn't, but they believed her and he was denied further access to them.'

'That's horrible. She's the one who should have died.'

'A US Department of Justice study of murder in families contains some surprising information. An analysis of ten thousand cases showed that wives murder their husbands far more frequently than people realise, but are punished only about a third as severely. Forty percent of spousal murders are by women, and when it comes to killing children, mothers kill more often than fathers and are more likely to murder their boys.'

Mort was grinning widely. 'I'll buy you a soapbox for Christmas.'

'Don't get me started on Christmas, Mortaumal!' Hale laughed. 'Was I raving?'

'Never. Pure unadulterated rational discourse. And please call me Mort, all my friends do.'

'Thank you, Mort. Now, where was I? Oh yes, you're too intelligent to be heterosexual, that was the giveaway.'

'You mean I don't look queer?'

'You look too sexy to describe.'

'Yeah... I wank all the time.'

'Are you a virgin?'

'How can you doubt it?'

'We'll continue that line of inquiry in a minute. Are you into casual sex?'

'Nope, it's too dangerous. I'm well able to defend myself, but the idea of going back to some stranger's place would be…' Mort stopped, blushed and stared in dawning comprehension at his host. 'That's why you picked me up, isn't it? That's why this delicious lunch was already prepared? It's why your fabulous bedroom is so neat and tidy! You expected to be bringing someone home for sex!' Mort hoped his expression was deeply shocked; he wanted to seem innocent and keep Hale on his toes. It wouldn't do to seem like an easy catch.

His host, however, remained quite unabashed and grinned proudly. 'It's why I was driving slowly along that particular road — it's a known beat for rent boys, and it's the reason I returned to have a second look; but as soon as you opened your mouth I knew you weren't on the game.'

'So why'd you offer me a ride?'

'You're cute, sexy, intelligent, healthy, bright… and I hoped that you just might be…'

'You know what they say about optimists.'

'No, what do they say?'

'I've no idea. More to the point, what did you expect to pay me?'

'If we went to bed now for an hour, I'd give you a hundred and fifty dollars and send you home in a taxi.'

'Hell! That's more than I spend in a week! I'm in the wrong game.'

'It's not too late…'

'I've tried to visualise what it must be like, but I'm too ignorant. Can't begin to imagine what I'd have to do — what you'd do. I might not like it.'

'Surely there are loads of things you'd do for a hundred and fifty bucks that you might not enjoy. Or does selling your body seem perverted?'

'That's the silliest thing you've said today.'

'How do you make that out?'

'Every worker sells his or her body and brain whether it's making ice cream, washing windows, acting, dancing, playing an instrument or looking through a microscope.'

'You're not from a religious background, then.'

'What makes you think that?'

'You haven't been brainwashed to think sex is the filthy temptation of the devil.'

'The Devil, eh? No, the idea of sex being something different from all the other activities essential to life doesn't make sense. Without fucking, eating, drinking, shitting, sleeping... humans would die out. And like all those things it's pleasurable — or should be, and it acts as social glue as well as being useful. It's no more special than any other essential activity, so it should be governed by the same rule that ought to regulate all human pursuits — don't over indulge. More than enough is too much. If people obeyed that injunction we'd still be living in places with clean air and water, loads of fresh fruit and flesh for the taking, not overcrowded in stinking, poisonous cities. We'd be slim, healthy, fit, and have no time to be bored or complain about having nothing to do, therefore we'd be happier — or at least contented.'

'And you reckon I need a soapbox! I'm outclassed and impressed. I confess I've never thought of it in those terms. You're brilliant.'

'Flattery will get you just about everywhere, except turning me into a prostitute. Not because I'm frightened of sex, but because I'm nervous about other humans. I imagine many people's genitals are pretty filthy, STDs are rampant, and how do I know whoever's paying me wont hurt me or do something I don't want? Which brings me to the question, what exactly would you do to me?'

'There's no point in telling you as you don't find me attractive — even garnished with a hundred and fifty bucks.'

Mort pretended to consider. 'I guess you scrape over the attractiveness bar.'

'Huh! Damned by faint praise.'

'Better than none at all. But keep to the topic. If we ever make it to the bed, how do you intend to ravish this innocent young virgin?'

'Who mentioned a bed?'

'Me, just now. I'm certainly not going to risk ant bites and scratches on the lawn!'

'Sounds reasonable. First, I'll lick you all over.'

'As long as you don't dribble.'

'Noted. Then I'll caress your sensitive spots until you're writhing in ecstasy.'

'Or desperate to stop giggling — I'm ticklish. What if I said I didn't like something you were doing?'

'I'd cut your wages.'

'That's reasonable. Kissing?'

'If you ask nicely.'

'But you'll leave the other end alone?'

It took a few seconds to register. 'I never force entry into people's back doors.'

'Well... I suspect I'll regret this, but I'll surrender to your protestations of lust. However, I don't want the money.'

'I can afford it.'

'I'd be constantly worrying you weren't getting your money's worth.'

Hale nodded thoughtfully. 'Yes... that's looking distinctly possible.'



An hour and a half later two sweaty bodies sprawled over the bed, faces adorned with soft smiles of lingering pleasure.

'I reckon I owe you a hundred and fifty dollars.'


'Such a thorough and diverting introduction to the pleasure of the flesh. I can see, however, that I'm going to need lots more practice if I'm to attain your level of mastery.'

Mmm. It's a shame you have to go.'

'You want me to stay?'

'If you want to.'

'For how long?'

'Till we get sick of each other. But unfortunately…' Exaggerated sigh.

Mort's heart skipped a beat.

'As you told me on the way here, you're expected at home and they'll be worried if you're late.'

'Yeah. Well, that was then.'

'And now?'

'I've bought a phone, so I can let them know I'm safe in the arms of an acrobat.'

'You'll have to earn your keep.'

'By selling my pristine carcass to strangers?'

'I need an assistant.'

'For Hale Lightfoot's Amazing Acrobatics?'

'The same.'

'That'll require some powerful teaching on your part.'

'You've got powerful legs, a strong grip and are much tougher than you look. How'd you get so fit?'

'Running, lugging heavy plant pots around, carting millions of cubic metres of soil and manure in wheelbarrows. Digging gardens… you name it.'

'In a market garden?'

'A nursery.'

'When did you quit?

'This morning while I was out jogging.'

'Hence the lack of clothing. Do they know yet?'

'Probably guessed by now.'

'Will there be an Interpol alert with the Federal Police knocking on my door?'

'Don't imagine so.'

'Wanna talk about it?'

'In bed tonight?'

'That was very, very clever. Ok, follow me.'

After disentangling arms and legs, Hale led Mort out to the metal frames on the lawn and stood casually beneath a bar two and a half metres above. With no apparent preparation, in a single seamless move he swung easily up into a one handed handstand, which he held for several seconds while doing the splits as if it was the simplest trick in the book. Then, with no sense of hurry and still one handed, he swung down, executed a complicated twisting flip and landed on his feet facing Mort.

'That's amazing. Its more than amazing, it's magic! You defy gravity! I knew you were fit, but didn't realise in the bedroom what an amazingly lithe body you have! You're perfect! All those muscles yet you still look lean, not like the sacks of potatoes in muscle mags. Sleek, sexy and powerful. I can't understand why you'd want to dally with me. Seriously. You could have anyone you wanted.'

'You are what I want. A young man with an active brain and a smooth, slim, fit, and sexy body. Skin like creamy butterscotch, waist so slender it looks ready to snap, cute firm butt, excellent legs, chest wider than your hips, face… Have you started shaving yet?'

'No. And I hate being hairless. It's not manly. I loved the feel of your chest in bed, even though you've buzzed it short, really turns me on. As for my face, that you were polite enough to stop describing, not everyone can have features that look as if they've been chiselled from stone. Fuck, I'll have to stop. I'm talking myself into a depression.'

'I was going to say that your face doesn't fit your body. Especially your eyes... grey and as I mentioned earlier, far too knowing for a sixteen year-old. There's no innocence there, and neither was there in bed. This wasn't really your first time, was it?'

'It was the first time I enjoyed it so much.'


'Lucky you've got high fences or the neighbours would be getting a thrill.'

'Not lucky; I put them up before I remodelled the house. I'm a privacy freak. What the eye doesn't see and the ear doesn't hear, the brain doesn't get curious about. As far as I can tell from occasional encounters, the neighbours think I'm a boring bachelor who seldom has visitors, sometimes goes out at nights, wears dull conventional clothes and doesn't play his music too loud. In other words, I'm a treasure to be cherished and not annoyed by neighbourly nosiness. If I left, they'd probably get an unemployed family of smokers with half a dozen screaming kids playing the drums, getting drunk.'

'Very smart. So we keep the noise down and attract no attention so no one knows I'm here.'

'That's the idea.'

'And when you're sick of me you can cut off my head, stuff me in a bag and bury me in the garden with no one being the wiser.'

'Exactly! And now you've understood your role in this gothic romance, I can commence your instruction in the ancient art of acrobatics. My act is no more than a series of exercises requiring flexibility, strength and balance. I usually work solo, but I could do more impressive stuff with a partner. How much do you weigh?'

'Sixty-six kilos.'

Hale nodded, grasped the bar above his head with both hands, then pulled himself up and over until he was resting on his belly. 'Can you do this?'

'Piece of cake.'

'Hang on.' Hale dropped to the ground and ran back into the bedroom, returning with a tiny cache-sex. 'Better put this on for the first training sessions, it take a bit of practice not to squash your bits when they're hanging loose. After a week or so you'll be able to do without it.'

'Right. But why do you train bare arsed?'

'It builds up more strength and precision if you have to hold yourself a bit further from the bar, and that looks impressive in a show... as if you're flying instead of glued to the bar. And at least half my customers choose me precisely because I perform naked.'

'Understandable. Do they pay more?'

'No. I love being naked. It feels so free, and after reaching a certain skill level, performing can get boring unless there's a bit of danger. In many of my more complicated routines there's always a chance of squashing the sticking out bits and that makes it exciting. Like all performers I do it for the fun, the buzz of appreciation and applause. And being naked in front of a crowd of dressed strangers who are clapping and laughing and enjoying seeing my cods swinging in the breeze is cocking a snook at convention.'

'Cocking a what?'

'A snook.' Hale demonstrated. 'An ancient and venerable tradition that's been replaced by this.' He offered Mort an elegant finger of contempt.

'Looks stupid. The finger's better. Would you call yourself an exhibitionist?'

'No more than a concert pianist is one. An exhibitionist wants to shock unwary strangers. I don't want to shock anyone. I want to excite them, make them laugh and admire my skill. My audiences are all willing participants. It's a mutual pleasure.'

'That's a relief. I've sometimes wondered if there's something wrong with me.'

'Why? Have you…'

'Will I be expected to perform au naturel too?' Mort interrupted.

'Got a problem with that?'

'Only with the unflattering comparisons that will be made with your body.'

'Crap. If you weren't comfortable with yourself you'd not have gone jogging like that. People often ask if I'm embarrassed, I tell them I'd be embarrassed to have a fat gut, rotten teeth, stinking armpits, bad breath, dirty feet, a shitty arse, but not of my average but perfectly formed genitals. Then I ask if they're embarrassed standing there with their bare face hanging out?'

Mort laughed. 'That's good. We're pretty similar. I once went nude cross-country running with a teacher. It felt great.'

'A teacher? I never had such luck. Was he good in bed?'

'He wasn't into fourteen year-olds, became my guardian's lover though.'

'Curiouser and curiouser. You are certainly not the innocent you pretended when we met. You must have had loads of guys and girls come on to you.'

'If they did, I didn't realise because I wasn't interested. Except for a cop who's very nice. But that's history.'

'Would you want to be a video porno star?'

'You can't be serious! I've done a few live shows and the fun is knowing you're being applauded by living people who are laughing, clapping, encouraging, becoming aroused. People I can see, touch, smell. There can't be anything less sexy than performing for a camera and a handful of bored assistants who've seen it so often they'd be more interested if you had a blood nose.'

'My turn to admire your wisdom. So, I imagine you don't wank over porno flicks?'

'I always see some flaw in the actors' bodies or voices or behaviour. My imagination is a better stimulant for wanking.'

'Too much of that can turn you into a hermit. We have to accept that reality can never compete with figments of our imagination.'

'At the risk of giving you a swelled head, you're as good as anything my imagination can envisage.'

'Flatterer. Get your cods protected and follow me.' Hale jumped up and grasped the bar, then pulled himself up and draped himself over it on his belly.

When Mort was beside him, Hale slid forward, flipped his body over and dropped while maintaining his hold until his feet nearly touched the ground, arms twisted and stretched up behind. Then he drew his legs back between his arms and lifted the backs of them over the bar, hauling his buttocks up until they swung over and he was seated on top.

'Your turn.'

It took two attempts and a bit of assistance from Hale before he could manage on his own.

'Hell, I thought I'd be strong enough.'

'You are; it's only technique. Adjusting your centre of gravity and thus affecting balance. Once more.'

This time it was so easy Mort wondered why he'd had trouble before.'

They were perched side by side on top of the bar when Hale suddenly let himself fall backwards, leaving his knees hooked over the bar. At the end of the swing he straightened his legs and landed on his feet.

'Your turn.'

Mort followed but released his legs too soon and ended up on his hands and knees.


It took two repetitions before Hale was satisfied. 'You're better than I hoped.' Without appearing to jump, he suddenly seemed to fly up half a metre to stand on a solid looking box, where he stood, legs spread for stability, right hand on his hip, and his left arm held straight out over the edge. 'Now do it again using my arm instead of the bar.'

'You're joking!'

'Shhh! Too loud. No noise that might arouse interest is ever to escape our lips. Not only because of the neighbours. You see, during a performance everything you do must seem effortless. Any grunts, exclamations of pain, irritation, surprise or pleasure spoil the effect. Be careful to let your hands slide otherwise you'll tear my skin off. Better take some powder from that tin on the bench and rub a little on your hands, it helps them slide even if they're sweaty.'

To Mort's astonishment Hale's arm remained steady. His strength was prodigious.

After two hours of repetition and learning to balance on one leg while standing on top of the high bar, Mort was tired but energised and excited. They each drank two litres of water; it had been sweaty work in the heat, and washed off the dust in a shared warm shower.

There's a breeze coming up, and you're dangerously overheated, so put this on.' Hale handed Mort a large, dark blue woollen bushman's singlet that hung loosely half way down his thighs. 'This keeps vital organs, hips and thighs warm, while allowing you to cool down slowly. I don't want you getting a chill.'

Mort put it on and laughed. 'It's like a dress.'

'Yeah, but very comfortable.'

'Sure is, thanks. What about you?'

'My muscles are used to this sort of exercise so not overheated.' He checked the elegant French clock on the mantlepiece. 'It's five o'clock, time for a meal. What would you like?'

'Whatever you're having.'

'Boiled eggs, yoghurt, fruit, homemade chocolate and a handful of nuts.'

They ate out on the verandah as before, the few mosquitoes not putting a serious damper on things.

'Tomorrow I've an audition with some insanely wealthy potential clients. Do you think you'll be able to amuse yourself for a couple of hours?'

'Can't I come and watch? I'll be a good boy.'

'You'd be bored.'

'I would not! Who's the audition for?'

'The Church of Fumutie are planning fifteen fundraising concerts in greater Brisbane.'

'What's Fumutie?'

'Forgiveness, Understanding, Modernity, Unbound Tolerance and Indefinite Ethicality.'

'Makes no sense.'

'What religion does?'

'And what on earth is Indefinite Ethicality? Sounds like a recipe for doing whatever you feel like.'

'As far as I can gather that's exactly what it is. They're as wealthy as Croesus and want to put heated swimming pools in all their day-care centres and other schools, as well as professional quality lighting and staging in all assembly halls — or something equally pretentious and insane, so if they approve of me I'll be the second half of the program and the main drawcard for all fifteen shows.'

'Now that really is putting their money where their mouth is. Preach unbound tolerance and indefinite ethics, and demonstrate it with a naked performer as your major act. What a hoot! Doesn't sound anything like the religious school I went to for a couple of months. Against their wishes I played a naked Adam in a short skit I wrote, so the teacher in charge ran like a headless chook all over the stage trying to cover me.'

'This group's very different. Whereas narrow minded bigots join rabid fundies, and middle of the road middle classes join mainstream sects that espouse their mild prudery, mild sin, mild god and his gentle Jesus alter ego, the Fumuties tout for business by endorsing the internet-age obsession with free sex, pornography, nude selfies, endless consumption, egregious self promotion, the certainty that you are the centre of the universe and as good or better than everyone else, and the accumulation of wealth as desirable aims. Do all that and their god will reward you.'

'Sounds like a smart move.'

'Judging by their visible wealth, it's super smart.'

'On the other hand… Although I'd really love to go and watch, I can't help wondering if I should keep out of the public eye for a few days.'

'Ah yes. You were going to tell me about that.'


'No, now. So prepare your thoughts while I bring my accounts up to date.'

Twenty minutes later they were sitting face to face across the dining table, sipping weak tea.

'I don't think in segments,' Mort began, 'for me everything is a continuum so I'll give you a quick rundown of my whole life that'll help explain my actions today. And one day I hope you'll tell me about yourself.'

Hale smiled softly. None of the guys he'd invited home over the preceding ten years had ever asked him a personal question. He liked to learn about them and could remember lots of interesting histories, but it seemed he wasn't of interest to anyone else. 'I would like that, Mortaumal.'

Mort smiled in his turn at the use of his full name. Usually he didn't like it, but the way Hale said it — softly as if it was an intimate secret — sent tingles of pleasure through his loins.

Half an hour later, having learned what Mort considered the significant events of his sixteen years, Hale sat in silence gazing out the French doors into the darkening garden for several long minutes, then shook his head and turned to Mort. 'Whoever named you was clairvoyant.'

This wasn't the expected response. 'It was my grandfather; what do you mean?'

'Mortaumal. Mort au mal... Death to bad things in French.'

'Yeah, he used to say he hoped I would live up to the name.'

'Well you did this afternoon with those two assassins. He would have been proud.'

Mort nodded seriously. 'Yeah, he would have.'

'And the abbreviation, Mort. Death. Very apt. All those deaths. Most intriguing.'


'Not in the least. But as the last three of the nine deaths with which you've been intimately involved occurred today, I understand why you're reluctant to venture forth.' He gazed speculatively into Mort's troubled eyes. So, Mortaumal, what's the best thing to do with a problem?'

'Face it?'

'Exactly. Get your phone and call Lydia to see if she let you down.'

Mort closed the phone with a smile. 'Stephan's at the morgue and the doctor wrote a death certificate, no questions asked. Therefore no police were involved. He died a natural death and she sounds very happy to be a widow. When I said I wouldn't be returning she said, 'That's a good idea,' and asked what to do with my belongings. I said I'd let her know.' He sighed in relief. 'One down, two to go.'

'That motorcycle cop should have some idea what's happening about those two who tried to kill you, so give him a call too.'

'I didn't tell him about them, just warned him about Wiley, so he has no idea I might be involved.'

'Ah yes. That was wise. So it would be stupid to ask him; it would only create suspicion where none now exists.' He reached round and took a tablet from the sideboard. 'Here, take this and check the news headlines. '

Mort browsed ABC then Seven News and a couple of online newspapers, then shook his head. 'Not a mention. That's odd, don't your reckon?'

'Didn't you tell me those self-styled protectors said they worked for the Premier — among others. Cleansing the city of sin, or words to that effect.'

'Yeah. So?'

'So it's probably being hushed up. The law only applies to little people like you and me, not to the moneyed guys or those with political clout. They sounded like loose cannons, those two, taking on jobs their minders knew nothing about, like working for that fellow Wiley, so you've probably done some official person a favour. Looks like you're in the clear, as long as I'm the only person on the planet you've told.'

'You are.'

'Then we are safe.'

Mort's heart leaped. Hale said we are safe. Not you are safe. Crazy, but suddenly the world seemed a much more pleasant place and his burden became light enough to bear with ease.

'So, as there's no manhunt for you, you don't have to avoid the public gaze.'

At that moment the front doorbell rang loudly causing Mort to jump.

Hale frowned. 'Odd. I'm not expecting anyone.' He stood and pressed a switch beside a small monitor screen Mort hadn't noticed. A man's face appeared. 'Ah, it's Midas Geld, the chief witchdoctor of Fumutie. I hope he hasn't come to cancel.'

'Shall I go?'

'No, I'll only be a minute.' Hale pulled on a pair of shorts and went to the door.

'Mr. Lightfoot, I apologise for visiting you without an appointment.'

To Mort in the dining room, the voice sounded full and deep. Unctuous as if the witchdoctor was conferring a blessing.

'Not at all, Mr. Geld. Come in.'

'Call me Midas.'

'Thanks, Midas. Call me Hale.'

The well-lubricated voice, Mort discovered, belonged to a tall, lean, somewhat theatrical looking fellow wearing a dark green tracksuit and white joggers. He looked to be in his early forties with thick, light brown hair springing from a wide forehead, straight eyebrows overhanging deep-set pale blue eyes, and a generous mouth filled to overflowing with perfect teeth that he enjoyed displaying. If he'd said he was selling insurance Mort wouldn't have been surprised.

Midas Geld took one look at Mort, whose knees had suddenly jammed together when he remembered he was wearing nothing but a singlet, and thrust out a large, strong, hairy hand encrusted with several rings. 'Midas Geld, Miss. Do you know you are the most beautiful young lady I've seen for years?'

Mort laughed aloud and shook the hand. 'No, Midas, I wasn't aware of that, but now I am I'll record it in my little book of interesting facts.'

With a fruity chuckle, Midas turned to Hale. 'Where did you find this superb creature? Introduce us at once.'

Hale stood behind Mort and placed his hands possessively and rather more firmly than necessary on his shoulders. 'Midas Geld, allow me to introduce you to Calypso, my fiancé. Midas is the priest of his church.'

'Oh, ha, ha.' The laugh was forced. 'I'm not a priest; my full title is Facilitator of the Church of Forgiveness, Understanding, Modernity, Unbound Tolerance and Indefinite Ethicality. The word priest smacks of esoteric rites, secret codes, sacrifices and magical incantations. My church is just a simple, down to earth bunch of ordinary men and women trying to make sense of the modern world.'

Despite the discomfort of having his balls crushed between his thighs, Mort managed to sound genuinely impressed. 'How interesting. Please, won't you sit down, Facilitator Geld, so you can tell me more about yourself.' He pointed to a chair on the far side of the table, giving himself time to rescue his testicles and send Hale a look that would have shrivelled his spine if he'd known Mort longer.

'What's the problem, Midas?' Hale interjected before Mort could speak his mind.

'The problem is that our success has brought out the fire and brimstone brigade, who are denouncing us in the media as godless heathens; much as the Catholics denounced Anglicans and Protestants, and they denounce every new version of Christianity that rears it's head. Unfortunately, this criticism has created a great deal of nervousness among our female elders — my wife in particular, and as what she says is parroted by most of the females, it'll be touch and go whether or not we can employ you. They're wondering if having a naked acrobat might be counter productive when it comes to retaining and gathering members.'

'And what do you think?'

'They're crazy! Our members joined precisely because we're in favour of everything today's men, women and teenage sons and daughters love to think, watch and do. Our continued success depends on keeping ahead of the pack, on constantly introducing new and more daringly popular activities. He who stands still get's crushed by the juggernaut of conformity. Religion is big business in Australia, and we're on the way to joining the big boys. Hell, if the Catholics can make a ten billion dollar annual tax-free profit, we should be able to too.'


'The feedback supports me. Members are constantly telling me they felt dead before joining us. Now they feel alive, sane and free of all the crap posing as morality. They enjoy themselves without guilt trips.'

'It sounds as if you are doing the world a valuable service,' Mort said brightly. 'Is keeping fit and slim also part of your dogma?'

'Absolutely! How intelligent of you to realise it. One of our sub-dogmas is "Keep slim, young and beautiful, if you want to be loved by god." It works a treat. No obesity, lots of fit people — at least the men. The women do their best, but they're fickle creatures. Present company excepted, I'm sure,' he added, tossing a boyish smile at Mort, who wondered what he was getting at for a minute.

'Tell me, Midas,' Mort asked as if he cared, 'how and why did you get this church of whatever it's called, going?'

'It's a long story…'

'We've plenty of time, haven't we darling?'

Hale smiled a silent snarl.

'Caterina, my wife, spent her entire inheritance on the construction of a huge house in the country — a white elephant, a great box that ate money. My work as a white-goods salesman and lay preacher for a traditional religion left us with not enough money to pay the bills. Then I read about Ron Hubbard, a Science Fiction writer who, for a bet, started a pseudo scientific religion that tapped into the new interest in popular science in the 1950s. For a joke he called it Scientology. To his astonishment, thousands of people believed it and he became a multimillionaire. So I reckoned we should tap into the zeitgeist of today and do the same thing. To her credit Catty's been with me all the way.'

'How brave; I can't imagine how you went about it.'

'Six months with a good taxation lawyer and a journalist was all it took to invent the name and write the history, creed, dogma, beliefs and liturgy. A brilliantly planned Internet site attracted a paid up membership of thirty-seven thousand eight hundred and twenty-five people in the first two weeks! We submitted the details to the Taxation Department, claiming we are a religion and therefore a charitable trust for taxation purposes, and from then on it's been like printing money.'

'How? I mean, why? I mean what made it a religion and not just a club? And how is it like printing money?'

'It's a religion because we believe in a supernatural overlord.'

'What do you call him?'

'He's an 'it', to stop the females complaining about patriarchies. Tryadd is a triple sexed, three headed, six-armed and legged god whose invisible presence and blessing is called down upon us once a week in a devout service during which we praise It for granting us fun, sex, money and health.'

'Why has it three of everything?'

'We decided to remain in the Judeo-Christian family of sects, and they believe that god is three things in one — father, son and sacred spirit. We simply made it more obvious. To be taken seriously, we needed a new name. Jews call theirs Yahweh, or something like that, Christians simply call him god with a capital g, and Muslims have Allah. I reckon Tryadd's as good as the others. What do you reckon?'

'Utterly brilliant.'

'Thanks. As for making money, FUMUTIE is a corporation comprised of the assets of all premium members, who are directors and receive salaries. As it's a charity there's no tax on anything, their salaries are counted as losses, and there's no land tax or local body rates to pay on their properties. Add government grants to assist with upkeep and repair, and a few extra charities that attract government subsidies, and everyone's incomes and profits more than doubled overnight.'

'But it's so obvious it's not a charity if anyone looks at the books.'

Midas's laugh was almost hysterical. 'That's the best part, no one is allowed to audit, look at, or check in any way the finances of any religion. We're safe from scrutiny.'

'Unbelievable. Who are the premium members?'

'They're successful business people who will benefit from a tax-free status. The rest of our congregation, workers and other waged people with no substantial assets are Significant Members. It's important to keep their numbers high to maintain our status as a mainstream religion, and to keep the petty cash coffers full with their membership fees, attendance at concerts, filling our schools, and supporting businesses run by fellow church members, where they get a discount. The next round of concerts are part of a drive to attract new Significant Members, that's why I want it to be a slap in the eye to every traditional church, and a trumpet call to attract everyone who'd secretly like to undermine the mealy mouthed purveyors of sexually censorious middle class morality with its guilt-ridden platitudes about everything that's pleasurable. I reckon we'll double our congregation if we have Hale as the main drawcard.'

'The business plan seems rational, but not particularly charitable.'

'True, but it's no different from the other mainstream religious corporations, and not illegal.'

'So what's your wife's problem, is she opposed to nudity?'

'Goodness, no! Every believer in Tryadd holds close to their hearts the principal of total freedom of body. However, what their hearts hold dear seldom triggers the physical equivalent such as the removal of clothes in public, or random rutting. And if the fathers of the church don't do it neither will the sons and before you realise it we'll be back to banning the body.'

'What about mothers and daughters?'

'Caterina, my wife, runs intimate body sessions with groups of females who get all touchy feely and practice having orgasms and so on, but until the males start running around the place with everything hanging out, they'll keep out of sight when playing with themselves. Most of the male Elders need a kick up the crack to make them face the duties of their ideology. And I'm trusting you, Hale, to convince them that "Nude is the New Novelty", and they have to be part of it if they want their profits to continue expanding.'

'You're the preacher — you do it.'

'What do you think I've been doing? You're in search of new audiences, so it's your turn. I think part of my wife's pig-headedness is that she suspects I want to divorce her — and suspects me of devious plots.'

'Do you?'

'Yes I want to dump her; but no I'm not planning anything devious. But I have the impression that in her workshops, as well as organising awesome orgasms, they're beginning to challenge male authority and wisdom. I've a suspicion Catty's undermining the whole equality of the sexes thing. Some of the looks the women give their men are less than appreciative. Technically, we're equal, but men must remain the bosses when it comes to the crunch.' He turned to Mort. 'I suppose you disagree with that?'

'Au contraire,' Mort murmured. 'I think it is sensible. You have created an essentially masculine structure, so if you want to keep it that way it would be foolhardy to allow meddling by women.'

Midas's eyes widened. He got to his feet and knelt in front of Mort, taking his hand and gazing up into his eyes like a puppy. 'Dear, beautiful, sexy, Calypso, please come with Hale tomorrow and talk to my wife. Convince her to divorce me and support us in remaining true to our roots of total freedom. Remind her we have to keep ourselves firmly in the forefront of everyone's mind by doing things no other religion would, such as these fifteen concerts. We need the new members and we need to make a profit of at least five million when souvenir side sales are included, to pay for the new schools — three of either sex.'

'You have single sex schools?'

'Of course, do you approve?'


'What sort of souvenirs will you be selling at the concerts?' Hale was suddenly interested.

'The usual stuff, but we were hoping for half a dozen photos of you in spectacular poses. Do you have any and would you agree?'

'What's my cut?'

'Give us the photos and any details such as name and website, then we'll have them printed onto cards and sold. Say... eighty-five percent for us?'

Hale grinned. 'You're definitely not a charity! But I could do with the advertising. I'll bring some photos tomorrow.'

'Excellent.' Midas turned his puppy-dog eyes on Mort and lightly stroked her thigh. 'And you, oh magnificent Madonna of magnanimity, please come tomorrow and convince my wife of her duty.'

After carefully removing Midas's hand from his knee, Mort looked across at Hale's pleading eyes. 'Okay,' he shrugged. 'I'll be there, but I can't imagine Caterina will pay the slightest attention to me.'

'Oh, she will. She will fall in love with you and lick your feet if you ask her to. Trust me. I know my wife… you are exactly the type she drools over.'

'Hang on! I'm not…'

'Worry not dear lady. Apart from drooling, she is totally harmless.'

'I'd better take a towel.'

'Oh, very droll. Well, I'd better get back to the grind of charitable excess.'

Hale saw him to the door and returned with a grin plastered from ear to ear. 'You are superb!'

'Do I look like a girl?' Mort tried to remain calm, but failed spectacularly. He had been ambushed! His whole being was outraged. It was insupportable that he, a confirmed misogynist who'd spent his entire life being as manly as possible, should be considered effeminate enough to act a female for the third time! His whole body rebelled along with his head. 'I'm a fucking man!' he snarled. 'I've got balls and a cock. I don't have tits. I've got strong legs and shoulders that are wider than my hips! You're bloody lucky I didn't just spread my knees and let my cods hang out!'

'You've also got a sweet beardless face,' Hale interrupted serenely, 'and a soft, husky, sexy voice, and long hair and even longer eyelashes, not to mention kissable lips.' His placid smile was as tranquil as Mort's face was anguished. 'You're also a damned good actor... and that's what I'm asking of you; to act a woman — not be one. Play my fiancé just for tomorrow. Look on it as a challenge. And if by some stroke of malignant fate there happens to be secret police in the audience on the lookout for Mortaumal, they'll not see him, they'll see the irresistible Calypso.'

'Calypso! What a fuckwit of a name!'

'Desirable, seductive Calypso enchanted Odysseus with her singing, keeping him away from his wife, Penelope, for several years.'

'Do I have to sing? My voice isn't exactly enchanting.'

'With a face and body like yours you need not utter a note, although a sweet smile and the occasional agreeable utterance would not be amiss.'

'What'll I wear?'

'Excellent question.'

'And the answer is?'

'I'm thinking. This sect thinks the god Tryadd rewards good people by making them rich.'

'What happens to those who don't get rich?'

'I imagine they quietly disappear, ashamed at having fallen out of favour with their god. Tomorrow's cocktail party where I'll be strutting my stuff is for the well-heeled Elders of the Church, who consider themselves to be the crème de la crème of modern society; sophisticated and smart. It'll be a fashion show for females.'

'Then I'll wear this bush singlet and boots.'

'Unfortunately, I don't have boots, however I do have a nice little cocktail number left behind by a female who joined the troupe for a few months, then left when she realised I wouldn't turn it into a sleazy sex show and we wouldn't be fucking on stage — wouldn't be screwing ever in fact. Ran off after a performance with one of the audience, leaving everything behind. Last I heard she shoves a variety of fruit up her fanny in a peep show in the Valley.'

'A fitting reward for her perfidy.'


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