by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 23

The schools of the church of FUMUTIE were all built to the same ground plan — two-storied blocks of classrooms on three sides of a quadrangle, the fourth side closed off by an impressive auditorium that seated seven hundred; used as an assembly hall, gymnasium and theatre. In front of the main auditorium doors, four broad steps led from a wide patio to ground level. In the centre of the quadrangle was a waist-high circular wall of stuccoed concrete. The five-metre-diameter well thus formed, was lined with blue tiles and contained water, aquatic plants and an impressive collection of ornamental fish. The roofs of the classrooms on either side were connected by arched metal rods, over which was dragged cream canvass awnings on hot sunny days. Wide arched passageways between ground floor classrooms on all three sides side gave access to and from the quadrangle.

As there was insufficient height on the stage in the hall for Hale's performances, it was decided to cover the central circular aquarium with a solid temporary lid on which he would perform. The performers in the first half of the program were unhappy with the idea of being surrounded on all sides by an audience, so they would perform on the wide flat area at the top of the steps in front of the assembly hall. At interval, patrons would be told to turn their seats so they faced the circular stage in the middle.

Midas was delighted, because the quadrangle could hold many more people than the auditorium, thus increasing his profits; and by creating a theatre in the round, everyone's view of Hale's performances would be dramatically improved. Lighting with focussed spots mounted in the surrounding classrooms was easy to arrange, and the pool had it's own electricity outlet for a sound system. The canvass sunshields would be used to protect the audience from the unlikely possibility of rain at that time of year.

Mort turned seventeen, but decided not to mention it; sixteen sounded more romantic.

At Mort's suggestion, Hale painted the top bars of the frame matt black. They tried it one evening after dark and the effect was spectacular. When Hale shot up and did a handstand or any other activity on the top bar, he appeared to be suspended in space. During the dress rehearsal at the school they worked out where to place the lights so Hale was illuminated, but the bar wasn't, ensuring maximum effect.

During the two weeks before the first show, Mort practised hard and managed some relatively easy but impressive looking balancing acts with Hale, on the bar as well as the stage. It was decided that Mort, in street clothes, would sit with the audience next to the main entrance. When Hale asked for someone to toss him up the balls for juggling, Mort would stand and be chosen, then he'd run up onto the stage and do it so well that Hale would ask the audience if it was okay to teach Mort a couple of tricks. They would be delighted, imagining a disaster. When it was successful, there'd be amazement, disbelief and something else to talk about and attract future audiences.

The first concert was a sell-out success. After watching an amusingly incompetent magician, listening to a flute concerto, being astonished by a hypnotist, having their ears hammered by a pop band, and their heart strings painfully plucked by a bunch of girls who called themselves the Harmony Singers, they were ready for interval. Changing their seats around added to the excitement.

Everyone was seated and the only person on stage was a technician in overalls, apparently making last minute adjustments. Suddenly, total blackout, setting off giggles of excitement and hushed whispers. The spotlights gradually increased in intensity. The stage was still apparently empty when the music started — a jolly, light-hearted orchestral introduction to tinkling mandolins; an amusing, delicate, knowable melody, harmonic; calculated to make everyone feel happy, at ease and free to enjoy.

From the first gasp of astonishment at Hale's opening leap and balancing acts to the last triple somersault and his final bow, the audience was on the edge of their seats, gasping, laughing, clapping spontaneously, sighing in relief when it went well, and involving themselves totally with this beautiful man. Mort, performing in sneakers, jeans, T-shirt and a cute cap to conceal his long hair, generated laughs and applause that followed him all the way back to his seat.

After the show, Midas assisted them to dismantle the apparatus. 'One thousand and two people paid forty dollars a ticket to see you. You'll make me a millionaire. Thanks, both of you.'

It's thanks to your blanket advertising, Midas. Your PR is brilliant. How many photos were sold?'

'Those who hadn't bought some at interval insisted we re-open the souvenir shop and every single remaining photo went. Hundreds of people promised to return for the next show. We may have to extend the season. Are you up for it?'

'I'll let you know tomorrow. But probably.'

Success continued and increased, if that were possible, until the thirteenth performance. Just before it was time for Mort to go on stage, a heavy man dressed in military gear and wielding a semi-automatic rifle, burst in and fired a shot into the air from right beside Mort's chair, nearly deafening him.

'You'll all go to hell!' he shouted. 'Nudity is an offence to god!' He raised the rifle, pointed it at Hale who seemed to be transfixed on the top bar, and fired a round just as Mort dived at him, slamming a fist into the side of his head.

Hale tumbled sideways as if in slow motion, then fell to the stage with a thump and lay still.

The gunman turned groggily to face his attacker, raised his rifle, then someone grabbed him from behind and attempted to pin his arms. The gunman swung round, shook him off and slammed the butt of the rifle into his face. Mort took his chance, picked up the metal chair he'd been sitting on and slammed it onto the back of the gunman's head. The chair leg snapped off, so he stabbed furiously, opening up a fair sized hole that began to leak copious quantities of blood. Then without pausing Mort raced onto the stage where Hale was still lying, and knelt beside him. Hale opened an eye.

'Is it safe to come out?'

'You're not hurt?'

'Skimmed my shoulder, nothing serious, but I damaged something when I fell. What about you?'

'I think I killed him.'

'Then get the hell out of here! Go! No one knows you. Run all the way home — I'll see you there.'

Mort was already gone.

Three hours later when the police had completed their questioning, the dead man had been removed, the injured patched up and three conflicting descriptions of the young man who disposed of the gunman had sufficiently confused the police, Hale returned home. Mort, who was somewhat footsore after a forty-kilometre jog was only a few minutes in front of him.

And that was the end of the concerts.

A week later when Hale's broken ribs, bruises and torn ligament were on the mend he announced his retirement from the entertainment industry — at least for a while.

'I feel like going on holiday. Let's go and find your father. What was the name in your mother's book?'

'Archibald Lintel.' Mort frowned. 'Even if it's him I doubt he'd be interested.'

'Give him a ring and find out.'

'Would you really like to come with me?'

'I've nothing better to do. Go on! Where's your sense of adventure?'

'Ok. But don't listen.'

'Ring from over there.'

Ten minutes later Mort returned to the verandah where Hale was relaxing with a book.


'He said it could have been him; he knew Perdita intimately. He said we'll have to have blood tests.'


'He said to call him Arch. He's an architect; will design anything from toilet blocks to towns. Works from home. Married a couple of years ago to a younger woman called Calumnia. Didn't seem too happy.'

'About you ringing?'

'No, he was excited about that. About his marriage. It wasn't anything he said, I could just sense it. He invited us both to come and stay.'

'Me too? Did you tell him you're queer?'

'Yeah. That's when I realised he wasn't too pleased with his new wife. He said, lucky you. Then he asked if I had a boyfriend. I said I had a friend but he wasn't a boy. He said no matter, bring him along too.'

'Interesting. So where is he and when are we going?'

'He's way up in Far North Queensland. I said we'd take off tomorrow and be there in about a week, because I want to call in and see Marshall on the way.'

Hale laughed. 'You sure don't let the grass grow. You'll have to do most of the driving. Will Marshall want to see me?'

'Of course.'

'Then let's get packing.'

They took secondary roads so Mort could see the countryside he had flown blindly over two and a half years before. The sight wasn't inspiring. Endless, monotonous, unimaginative coastal suburbia followed by interchangeable towns separated by flat, dull farmland. Next time he'd take the motorway — or fly.

Marshall and Angelo were thrilled to see Mort again and demanded a run down of his life. They received an edited version that they still found unbelievably exciting. To Mort's delight they were still as obviously in love as when he left. When he mentioned this, Marshall glanced at Angelo and grinned. 'For me, every day with Angelo is the first day, and brings a wave of relief that I found him... thanks to you.'

Angelo kissed him on the cheek. 'Such sweet words.' He turned to Mort. 'Marshall is my other half without whom life would be meaningless.' He caught Mort's eye and laughed. 'Yes, I know there's no meaning in life, but I hope you find what you helped me to find.'

The politeness with which they welcomed Hale turned to genuine pleasure when they discovered he and Mort were only casual lovers bound by nothing more than friendship. The following day the four friends hiked up to the spectacular lookout where Mort had opened Angelo's inner eye, then later that evening while walking to a restaurant for a celebratory meal, Hale saw an advertisement in a Travel Agent's window. An excellent deal on an open ticket, business class return to Santiago, Chile, plus an unlimited mileage, open ticket valid for all major South American Airlines.

'I wanted you to meet my father.'

'And I will. But that's the sort of meeting where it's essential you are completely yourself with no observers to make either of you self-conscious. It's going to be difficult enough without me distracting you. I've been wanting to revisit South America and now's my chance.'

'What about the van?'

'I'm trusting you to take care of it till I get back in six weeks — or so.'

'Brilliant!' Well, you'd better get packing.'

'I'll only take an overnight bag and buy stuff as I need it.'

'Send me progress reports.'

'Of course.'

After leaving Hale at the airport, Mort discovered that four days had been exactly the right amount of time to impose himself on his guardian. His experiences had made him too independent to tolerate as much parental concern and caring as Marshall felt obliged to offer, so with their best wishes and an instruction to return and stay longer next time, Mort set off intending to spend at least two relaxed days on the road, sleeping under the stars or in the back of the van if it rained.

Meanwhile, nearly a thousand kilometres further up the coast, Archibald Lintel roared up the ramp from the basement car park and shot out onto the road narrowly missing a pedestrian. Scantily clad tourists jostled locals. Harassed mothers dragged toddlers across the road as if unaware of traffic. Females in skimpy frocks and strappy sandals queued at hole-in-the-wall sandwich bars. Their male counterparts in shoes and socks, long trousers, white shirts and ties, hovered like marsh flies waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

Ten minutes later he was speeding through a suburban wasteland of corner stores, cheap, unlined concrete-block houses, power poles, mown lawns and little else. As he drove, the mild headache that had troubled him all day morphed into an intolerable pounding in his skull. Oh for the ability to turn the clocks back!

A nervous disquiet like a malignant growth crept through him. He ground his teeth. Gripped the wheel until his knuckles turned white. Suddenly slammed on the brakes forcing the following driver to sound his horn and swerve violently. Shaken, he shook his head as if to clear it, sucked in a gigantic sigh and sagged back in his seat.

Returning home after a day in the city used to unwind his tensions, relax muscles and bring a smile. Problems with clients, builders, councils, surveyors, would slip from his mind as he relaxed at home beside the pool. But now the thought of returning to Oasis triggered a gut-level urge to smash everything and howl impotent rage.

On autopilot he drove through a shopping centre then turned down a short lane on his left, stopping at a pair of wrought iron gates at which he stared as if he'd never seen them before. With a shake of his head and spinning tyres he turned the car and sped back the way he'd come.

The guard who'd been watching his approach shook his head. 'Lintel must have forgotten something,' he muttered, entering the incident, time and date into the Oasis Gatehouse Log.

Twenty minutes later Arch was sitting on the edge of a sandstone bluff overlooking a calm sea dotted with heads wearing masks and snorkels. In his hand a scrap of paper on which he'd copied a sentence from Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence. "There is no cruelty greater than a woman's to a man who loves her and whom she does not love; she has no kindness then, no tolerance even, she has only an insane irritation."

The sea view did nothing to relieve Archibald's tensions, which had nothing to do with a contract he was pretty certain to lose, or the school holidays with noisy estate children cluttering the grounds. His reluctance to return home had deeper roots — roots from which he could see no possibility of extricating himself.

'I'm only thirty-two,' he muttered angrily. 'I can't tolerate another forty years of purgatory. The fucking bitch!' He slammed his fist into the rock, skinning his knuckles. 'The fucking cow! Fucking spiteful bitch whore…' He clenched his teeth, spat and continued the silent mental flagellation that had been gradually increasing for the past year. It wasn't as if he hadn't been warned before the marriage two years ago. He accepted it was his own fault for believing a woman instead of his friends; but that didn't help.

'Why shackle yourself to a woman who'll spend all your money and then take off?'

'Marriage is slavery.'

'You'll have a mother in law and her family hanging around instead of your friends.'

'She'll want kids and they'll just moan and complain that you're mean if you don't give them everything they want.'

'Calumnia's not your type.'

'What interests do you share? None.'

'She's only after your money.'

'You're thirty and she's only nineteen, for fuck's sake!'

'Step back and take a good look at yourself before leaping into the fire!'

Arch had taken what he thought was a good look at himself and seen a reasonably attractive, fit, thirty-year-old architect, financially successful; educated, interested in the environment and the arts, middle class and rising. Nothing had gone wrong in his life so far, so it was improbable, if not impossible for problems to arise in the future that he wouldn't be able to handle.

Considering his qualities he'd thought it perfectly natural that a beautiful, innocent young woman would fall in love with him. 'I'd fall in love with myself if I were a girl,' he had whispered smugly to his mirror, not realising he'd already done that when he was twelve.

He accepted that all work and no play for the previous fifteen years had made him somewhat set in his ways, but he got on famously with his sister and mother. Surely Calumnia's youth and inexperience was a plus? He'd be able to mold her into the perfect loving wife and mother he deserved. He'd always wanted a child, preferably a son, and it was now or never.

The first year had been pleasant — for Arch. Naively he'd assumed it was the same for Calumnia. After all she never complained — apart from the occasional grumble about his feeble sexual performances. That had hurt, as had her insistence that she didn't want a child.

'Ours is a marriage of minds,' he would state with increasing uncertainty whenever Hercules Buff, his best friend and Activities Manager, casually asked if all was well at home. 'Calumnia and I have the sort of relationship that lasts.'

His hesitant smile was that of a man who, although cynical about humanity in general, was prepared to make an exception for a beautiful young woman who said she loved him.

Hercules, who both pitied and envied his innocence, would change the subject.

Then six months ago the sky had fallen in during dinner when Arch had calmly suggested his wife cut down a little on her expenses.

'You're a selfish pig!' Calumnia shouted, jumping angrily to her feet, knocking her chair sideways and breaking his grandmother's antique vase.

There was no apology.

An icy chill descended.

In an effort to restore harmony Arch apologised as if he'd been at fault for suggesting Calumnia was a spendthrift. To his astonishment, during a veritable barrage of shouted complaints, curses and insults, he learned he had been at fault ever since their first date when he had failed to admire her hair, right up to this current insinuation that she was improvident. His wife, it became apparent, had been hoarding every perceived insult, defect, shortcoming, vice… just waiting for the right time to offload them. A deluge of hurts that boiled down to one simple fact; Arch had ruined her life by taking her away from her happy single life to this isolated prison camp, so he must be punished.

Every calming utterance he attempted, increased her fury until she began slashing at him with the carving knife. He easily held her off, but she screamed he was hurting her, raced from the room and barricaded herself in their bedroom. In miserable silence Arch did the dishes then retired to the spare room, literally too frightened to attempt to enter the one they shared.

That was the end of the fairytale. From that moment everything changed. Since that day they had slept in separate rooms and shared nothing except the dining table. It was unpleasant, but possible, and if things had remained like that he could have coped. But they hadn't.

Arch sighed and replaced the quotation in his wallet. He'd given up trying to understand his wife. Indifference he could cope with, but not war! Marriage was supposed to have ups and downs but after honest reflection he admitted his had been mostly downs. And then a few weeks ago in an effort at rapprochement he made what he thought was a joke about her tennis lessons. It backfired. Calumnia's face closed and she hurled her plate at Arch's head. It did no damage apart from splattering him with gravy.

'No one makes fun of me!' she'd shouted, retreating to her room. Arch apologised through the door. No response. He'd begun to wonder if she was crazy, flying off the handle over nothing. He wandered out to the garden and sat on a deck chair, too miserable to even think.

About half an hour later the front door chimes tinkled. He was on his way to see who it was when Calumnia appeared, wrapped her arms around him, pressed herself against his chest and took hold of his hands, then quickly ran to the door, throwing it open and sagging to the floor, sobbing incoherently, splattered with blood.

Two police officers barged in, grabbed Arch, frisked and handcuffed him, and told him to lie on the floor. A policewoman supported Calumnia who was bleeding from a wound on her head and arm and apparently on the point of collapse.

'Mr. Lintel, you are charged with attacking your wife and causing her grievous harm. You must come with us to the station.'

'I did nothing!' Arch shouted. 'She must have done it to herself!'

'Then how come you're covered in blood?'

Arch gazed in fury at the blood on his shirt and hands. 'While you were ringing the bell she came rushing at me and wrapped her arms around me… that's how!'

'Liar!' screamed Calumnia, apparently hysterical with fear as she gazed at her own bloodied hands. Blood trickled from her head, down her neck and cheek. 'You tried to murder me!'

The policewoman stepped outside to call for an ambulance.

'Who telephoned Emergencies?' the constable asked. '

'I did,' Calumnia sobbed. 'I managed to escape from him, locked myself in the bedroom and phoned from there.'

Arch was taken to the station in the police car and the policewoman accompanied Calumnia to the hospital in the ambulance. Three hours later her wounds had been bathed, dressed and pronounced superficial. She was given tranquillisers and driven home where she gave a statement and was asked if she wanted to press charges. If she did, then the courts could impose a restraining order on her husband, forbidding him to return home. Did she want that?

Calumnia decided she didn't. The police station was informed. Arch was released with a warning that should they receive another such complaint they would be pressing charges whether his wife wanted to or not. He arrived home in a taxi, exhausted but not quite defeated.

Defeat came a few weeks later when Calumnia informed him crudely that she had a lover, much better than Arch had ever been as he could keep his cock stiff for hours. Arch's offer of a divorce had been greeted with hysterical laughter. Only a fool kills the goose that lays the golden eggs. Her lover was as poor as a church mouse. And if Arch had any ideas about forcing a divorce he'd better remember the warning from the cops. One more attack and he'd be in prison for years, and the divorce settlement would bankrupt him!

Arch gazed out at the blue sky, turquoise water, and blindingly white sand. It all looked so rational and calm. He shook his head in despair at his own folly. He should have been honest with himself and left her when he first suspected all she wanted was an uncomplaining and undemanding provider of food, shelter, perpetual admiration and constant mea culpas. As a youth he'd seen older men cowering before their wives, and despised them, not realising it was a condition of wedlock. Lock indeed! And the woman has the key. Marriage might suit some men, but Arch belatedly realised he wasn't one of them. His friends had been right.

And then he'd received a phone call from a young man who said he was Perdita's son, and wondered if he might be Arch's as well. Perdita — his first fuck. The only girl he'd really liked. The first time he'd done it with her he'd been the fourth after three other guys. They called her a slut but he'd felt sorry for her. And then she'd asked him to do it alone, and they used to go to the old boat shed. He'd liked Perdita. She was tough, but they shared a similar sense of dislocation; the knowledge that they didn't really belong. And then she left school. Pregnant. Everyone except Arch, who was certain it was he who had put the baby in Perdita, seemed to forget about her.

Months later, in a fit of romantic fervour he'd told his father he loved Perdita and wanted to leave school and marry her to look after her and the baby. His father hadn't laughed, he'd looked sad and told Arch that she and the baby had died in childbirth. Arch had been inconsolable for weeks; filling the gap with study and more study, becoming a successful, confirmed and more or less contented bachelor, until Calumnia set her sights on him.

The Pacific Ocean was still there, calmly uninterested in his woes. A faint breeze ruffled the hairs on his arms. Gulls wheeled above, intent on their own wellbeing. Without warning the strongest emotion he'd ever experienced ripped through him leaving him gutted with one crystal clear thought in its place. He loathed his wife! Detested her ability to twist everything he said and did to place him in a bad light. Hated her inflexibility. Was repelled by her cunning and treachery. She had planned to get him, then stolen his life and cuckolded him, spending his money on some poor idiot with a constant hard on. He didn't want to know who. It was too degrading.

His heart pounded in neck and temples; head felt ready to burst. He took several deep slow breaths because he didn't want to die yet. Not until he'd avenged himself. But how? Was it possible that the young man really was his son? Would... could... was it likely that he might help him? He'd be seventeen. If he was anything like his mother he'd be a force to reckon with. Arch smiled for the first time in weeks. Mortaumal, he'd said his name was. Death to evil. Odd, but he liked it. Perhaps it was an omen. He grunted a soft laugh. He'd never been superstitious and wasn't about to start. The kid probably was his, but until he was sure he'd tell him nothing. See if he could work out for himself what sort of mess his presumed father was in.

Feeling pathetic and despising himself for it, he returned to his car and drove home, still thinking about Perdita's boy. Wondering if he'd want him as a son. Or more importantly if the kid would want him as a father.


[Excerpt from the brochure sent to prospective purchasers of the strata title residences.]

"Oasis ™ is a secure, forty hectare gated estate containing thirty-eight owner-designed villas, each surrounded by a high wall enclosing a private pool and two thousand square metres of well tended garden. These luxury abodes nestle into expertly maintained parklands and ancient rainforest.

The social centre of this earthly paradise is The Forum, which is comprised of five award-winning architectural gems designed to appear like ancient classical ruins. A playground and sports field contained within a mini Colosseum. An ancient Greek temple that encloses two top-class tennis courts. A large free-form swimming pool masquerading as a Roman Bathhouse in a rainforest, surrounded by smaller temples — changing rooms, sauna, and a gymnasium. And a replica of a circular Roman Temple that houses a theatre with professional lighting, stage and dressing rooms. Suites attached to the temple are ideal for social activities such as bridge and other card and board games, flower arranging, seminars or a thousand other uses.

The remaining thirty-five hectares of the estate is old growth rainforest, containing what are possibly the last examples of the forest giants that once covered almost the entire eastern seaboard of this island continent.

Two Mediterranean-styled cottages behind the Colosseum are the abodes of the Grounds Manager, Doug Verdi, and the Director of Social and Sporting Activities, Hercules Buff.

In Oasis™, security is paramount. The entire perimeter is surrounded by a three-metre high, chain-link fence topped by high-tension electric wires. It is guarded twenty-four/seven by security cameras linked to state of the art computers and constantly monitored alarms. The only entry to Oasis™ is through the main gates, which can be opened either with fingerprint touch pads, iris recognition cameras, or manually operated by the armed concierge in the gatehouse. No security personnel enter the estate unless sent for. No visitors will be admitted without the personal guarantee of a resident. Crime is unknown in Oasis. Emergency personnel and their vehicles can enter only if sent for by a resident or the concierge, once their authenticity is established.

Services: A silent electric railway runs through a secure 'tunnel' behind every house to the Forum. The single small carriage is used to convey service personnel to individual houses and/or communal buildings. All service personnel such as maids, cleaners, personal assistants etc. must undress in a special room attached to the gatehouse, be security checked, then don the required uniform before being transported by rail to the residence's tradesperson's entrance, which is connected to the train via a secure passageway. This ensures that no one but residents and their guests has access to the grounds of the estate."

[Excerpt from Archibald Lintel's unpublished memoir: A Personal & Private History of Oasis.]

"The first people to buy into Oasis were a young Sydney couple with inherited wealth, looks, intelligence and health. Until moving to Oasis the husband held a position of responsibility in the family importing company that occupied most of his time. His wife spent her days at the gym, shopping, playing tennis, boring her therapist, swimming, gossiping, having her hair and nails done, her fortune told, going to the cinema, playing golf, playing bridge, pottering in the garden. I the few hours left for recreation their social calendar was full with dinners, parties, picnics, theatre, horse racing…'.

By the age of twenty-eight the moral emptiness of their lives began to tell on their marriage. A brief flirtation with religion replaced the void with a vacuum. Alcohol and other social drugs were poisoning and depressing millions of brain and other essential cells. Wondering if a baby would improve matters, they were on their way to their isolated country cottage to make one, when the car broke down. Instead of phoning for assistance, they decided to continue on foot, taking a shortcut through a national park.

Three days later, dehydrated, exhausted but strangely euphoric they stumbled into the cottage where they assuaged monumental thirsts, ate sparingly and talked and listened to each other for several days in a genuine effort to discover the real person they'd married. To their mutual astonishment, they liked what they found and made a list of things that were essential for a good life. The list contained only two things…. to live in nature in exactly the way they wanted, not how other people expected them to live.

This meant leaving the old life behind. The family firm had an office in Far North Queensland that the husband could take over, so they drove up, and when looking for a place to live, discovered Oasis. The communal buildings were complete, and house blocks available. They loved what they saw and described the sort of house they wanted. I drew up plans, which they approved, and within weeks they were living in paradise.

The pregnant wife then took it upon herself to fill the remaining thirty-six residence blocks with compatible couples, via an attractive Internet site designed to lure people with similar interests and wealth. Within six months the remaining lots were sold and the individually designed houses were under construction.

By the end of the following year, Oasis had become a community of like-minded people who asserted their independence and difference from the usual run of human communities, by deciding at their first meeting to classify all residents as Patricians who, when in public, must always observe the Highest Standards of speech, cleanliness, and behaviour. A further requirement written into the Oasis Rule Book was that as long as the Standards were maintained, each family would be free to live as they pleased, no matter how aristocratically eccentric, without fear of ridicule."

Mort took his time, made side trips, saw most of the things the tourist brochures suggested, deliberately formed no opinions, enjoyed being alone, sorted out his ideas, hopes and plans, slept in a cane field the first night, beside a small stream in a tiny patch of preserved forest with a sign threatening extermination if caught camping, on the second, and in the low sand hills of a beach on the third.

He arrived in the city that contained his presumed father just before midday, bought a takeaway lunch and ate it on the waterfront, tossing scraps of bread to the seagulls. Nerves and hunger placated, he phoned Archibald Lintel and was given directions to a doctor's surgery where they met, shook hands, chatted easily about nothing in particular until blood tests and a DNA swab were taken, then afterwards in a cafe they got down to business.

'You're very like Perdita in looks... but…' Archibald gave a self-conscious grin, 'less aggressive.'

'You sound as if you liked her.'

'I did. She was the only person at school I felt as if I had anything in common with. We didn't talk much, neither of us were talkers, but we felt comfortable together.'

'You're the first person I've known who liked her. When I first met her I was fourteen and she was a selfish, greedy, bitch. I lived with her for a couple of years and she didn't change.'

'You said she died?'

'Yes. Fell out of a window while looking at lightning.'

'You don't sound sad.'

'I was delighted!'

'How did you get my number?'

'Perdita kept your name in a notebook of her clients. She'd surrounded it with lacy squiggles and little stars, so I guessed you were special. I did a search and, although you had moved north, you came from the right area originally and were the right age. Then I used the telephone directory and phoned. You sounded pleasant.'

Arch smiled softly. 'Perdita was special to me too. So even if you aren't my son I'm glad I've met you. But you probably are. I was the only one who had regular sex with her, and the only one she'd let do it without a condom. She said she was taking precautions, but obviously she wasn't. I wanted to marry her, but my father told me she and the baby died at birth. No one seemed to know — or to care for that matter... apart from me.'

Mort was visibly shocked. 'That's horrible. Why would he lie to you?'

'He wanted me to stay at school. Perdita had a bad reputation and he didn't want me getting involved. I was only fifteen, remember. He didn't take me seriously.'

'Adults don't. But a fifteen year-old's feelings are as valid and true as an adult's.'

'Yes. But there's no point in opening up old wounds. I thought you were bringing a friend?'

'He decided to go to South America for six weeks instead. Left me his van.'

'Must trust you.'

'We trust each other.'

'But you're not…'

'We're very good friends.'

'Well, I guess it's time for you to see where I live and meet my wife.'

'Does she know I'm coming?'


'Are you sure it isn't going to be a problem?'

'Absolutely certain. I phoned her on my way to meet you at the surgery. Said a long forgotten cousin had turned up. When I told her you were a personable young man she insisted you stay with us. So if you don't mind I'll introduce you as my cousin from Brisbane. Calumnia's a bit volatile and wouldn't take kindly to the news that I have a son.'

'That's understandable.'

'Yes.' Archibald paused. 'I'd like you and Calumnia to get along; things are a bit iffy at the moment. I don't know who's to blame. Perhaps I'm difficult and,' he shrugged apologetically. 'Already I've said too much.'

'No you haven't. I understand. You've hit a rocky patch — that's normal, and you're wondering if there's anything you can do about it. It's to your credit. Usually people start by blaming everyone except themselves. As for being your cousin, that suits me. You look far too young to be my father!' With a cheeky grin Mort reached across and stroked Arch's cheek. 'How often do you shave?'

'What an odd question. A couple of times a week.'

'When did you get pubic hair?'

'Why do you ask?'

'Because I'm yet to get any and I was wondering.'

'Not till I was about your age — eighteen or nineteen, I forget when exactly. Perdita loved that I was hairless. She always said the other boys were animals but I was an angel.'

'You do look slightly angelic. Actually, you're very good looking; a bit like a Central European porn star — a combination of innocence and knowing '

Arch grinned. 'I'll take that as a compliment. The lack of hair's possibly a coincidence so we'll wait for scientific confirmation before celebrating.'

'You won't be annoyed at discovering you're a father?'

'The opposite! I'm sad I wasn't there from the start, as I would have been if… come on, my car's parked just down the road. I'll wait in it until you come, then follow me.'

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead