by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 28

On Saturday, three surveillance cameras were installed in the dining room in preparation for plan B.

On Sunday morning Arch made breakfast. Calumnia reluctantly joined him at the table.

Knowing his friends were at Herc's place watching everything, Arch announced with a firmness that impressed himself, if not them, that he'd changed his mind. He wanted a divorce because a lawyer friend was certain that Calumnia wouldn't get more than a few hundred thousand, as there was no child and she'd contributed nothing to the marriage — not even sex for the past year, and was committing adultery; Hercules was prepared to testify to that.

At first the watchers thought nothing was going to happen. Calumnia sat utterly still as the blood drained from her face. Then she stood, eyes wide in disbelief. A twisted smile dragged at her lips.

'This time, husband dear,' she snarled, exposing two rows of sharp little teeth, 'you will be going to prison for life! This time it won't be just scratches you've given me, but real damage.'

The five men watched in astonishment as the woman stood, grabbed an ornate brass candlestick and raised it over her head. Arch ducked, imagining it was about to be hurled at him. Instead, she brought it crashing down on her own skull. The unexpected weight caused it to fall with more force than intended, and the sharp, wax-catching disc at the base of the candle embedded itself in her temple. With some difficulty and obvious surprise, she pulled and heaved until it came free, releasing a river of blood that poured down her cheek, neck, and into her blouse. Staggering, she dropped the candlestick and vacantly watched it bounce on the table then roll onto the floor. She stared at Arch in shock. Opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. Slowly her knees gave way. She sagged to the floor, eyes wide, body and limbs twitching for about a minute, then lay still.

When his friends arrived Arch was still sitting at the table, an odd expression on his face.

'Are you okay, Arch?'

'Never felt better.'

'What about Calumnia?'

'What about her?'

'I think she's dead.'

'That's why I haven't moved. Did you see it all?'



'What happens now? Call the cops?'

'And we will all be done for murder, Zadig. I have a police record for domestic violence, remember? And you, my friends will be convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice by providing me with an alibi.'

'We have the video.'

'Inadmissible evidence — she was being spied on without her consent. And videos can be doctored. A good lawyer would sow enough doubt about that to have us incarcerated. Do you really want to go through all that shit? Do you honestly think justice is served in any court in this country when a woman accuses a man?'

Zadig was looking down at the body. 'That means we have a disposal problem.'

'And a clean-up problem. Who'd have thought so much blood could come out of such a small hole.'

'Let's clean up, store the body somewhere and nut this thing out.'

'That huge deep freeze,' Hale suggested. 'If it works. What have you got it for, Arch?'

'When Hercules and I first lived here, before all the construction, there were sheep grazing so we slaughtered them and bought the deep freeze. Then when Calumnia decided to become a vegetarian we had no use for it and it just sits there. I can't see why it wouldn't work.'

They turned it on and it purred away merrily, getting cold within minutes.

'Wrap her in something that'll soak up blood.'

'I've a roll of corrugated cardboard I use for protecting maquettes when visiting building sites.'


An hour later Calumnia was rolled tightly in several layers of cardboard and beginning to feel cool. The table and floor had been made as clean and devoid of evidence as possible. The bent candelabra disc was cleaned and reformed, and five men were seated thoughtfully around the table.

'Who will miss her?'

'Her mother and the friends she tells everything to.'

'Do they know you were going away tomorrow?'


'Then you have to go, and on the way you must lose her and…'

'And what about the body? Forensics can tell the time of death, where it occurred and how. We can't just dump her in the pool and say she drowned because there's no water in her lungs and she's already partially frozen. Not a good look if want the cops to believe we're innocent.'

'I can dispose of the body,' Zadig said thoughtfully. 'I've a pile of logs and branches ready for chipping. We just wrap her in branches so she looks like one, add her to the pile and feed her through the machine. But she'll have to be well frozen or else there'll be too much liquid spraying. Only so much can be absorbed by the chips. I'll set it to the finest size.'

'But even distributed among the other chips it'll start to rot and dogs will come and…'

'I've a large pit ready for noxious weeds and other useless organic stuff that can be safely buried. We'll put her in there under a couple of metres of mulch and soil.'

As there were no better offers, this was reluctantly accepted.

'What we need is a distraction,' Hale said thoughtfully. 'I've been in the circus, remember, and most performances rely to a certain extent on making the audience believe what you want, and not question what they see. Mort had a great idea with my act, for example. By painting the top bars of the frame matt black, at night it seemed as if I was standing on air.'

'Very interesting, Hale, but I can't see the relevance.'

'What do we need our potential audience to believe and not question?' Hale looked long and hard at Mort.

'Hale! I can't! I'd never convince anyone. This time it's really serious.'

'Yes... it is!'

'What are you two on about?'

Mort explained and the cloud of despond at their hopeless situation lifted slightly.

'No, Mort. I cannot ask you to risk your entire future freedom for me.'

'You didn't ask, Papa. I offered, so don't insult me by refusing. However, this is the absolutely last time I ever do this, understood?'

Relief at having found the beginnings of a solution, released the tension and everyone assured Mort he wasn't on his own; they admired him and would ensure that nothing would go wrong. He nodded and smiled and tried to hide his fear under a brave voice.

'Okay, Hale. We've got the distraction that makes people look the other way, but what happens when we get to the hotel? You know the place and the manager, our performance had better be good!'

They sat around the table, took out maps, studied distances, tide times and anything else they could think of, and formulated an impossible, far too complicated plan. But it was all they had.

'Are those cameras still on?'

'Better not be! We don't want this recorded.'

They carefully removed all trace of the cameras and deleted the death by candelabra scene.

'We'd better see if Calumnia's clothes fit Mort.'

Calumnia had already packed her bags, so they went to her room and Mort tried things on. They were rather tighter than intended, but slightly sexier as a result. Even the swimming costume was possible. Calumnia's flat chest had inspired her to buy a one-piece suit with a cleverly padded bra large enough to not disclose the falsity, but small enough to be believable. Mort did his ball disappearing trick and looked at himself in the mirror. 'Can I still get away with it?'

'If you casually hold a towel in front as you walk, it'll be fine, and keep your knees together and sit with them bent, instead of lying on your back on the beach.'

'What about his hair,' Hercules asked. 'It looks fine on a bloke, but for a woman it's a disaster. Do you chew it off, Mort?'

'My teeth can't reach, so I hack it off with a pair of scissors when it gets too long.'

'I used to cut my mother's hair,' Arch said with slight embarrassment, 'until my father feared I was going to become a hairdresser and put a stop to it. I can probably remember enough. Hang on.'

He returned with comb and scissors. 'The problem with Mort's hair is it looks sensible, therefore masculine. Women's hair must never look sensible. Sit still or I'll cut your ear off.'

A few minutes later Mort's crowning glory was neatly trimmed and shortened to just below his ears. Undercutting caused it to curl slightly towards his neck. Instead of a centre parting so the hair could be tucked behind his ears out of the way, Arch combed it diagonally forward so it fell over one eye. This restricted his view so he had to constantly flick his head, or pull strands aside with a finger to maintain binocular vision.

'This is terrible! I can't do anything if I have to be constantly shoving this bloody hair out of my eyes.'

'That's the thing that makes you look like a woman. Haven't you noticed? They love to have hair hanging over their faces so they have an excuse to keep touching and playing with it in the hope someone will say what lovely hair they have.'

'But that's stupid.'

'So are high heels, tight skirts, strapless dresses, just about every article of clothing women wear restricts some essential bodily function. They can't even get into or out of some clothes without assistance. The more ridiculous and uncomfortable their clothing, the better they like it.'

'I'm even more glad I'm not one now. Do I look like Calumnia?'

'No, even though you've similar colouring and height, so lets hope none of the guests know her.'

They revised their plan again, and again, repeating and repeating it until everything was memorised. Nothing was written down. After each man had repeated the entire plan to the others, they checked the freezer. Calumnia wasn't yet rigid so they made lunch. It wasn't a jolly meal.

By three o'clock she was cold enough to not mush too much in the shredder, so Zadig fetched the small tractor and trailer he used for carrying waste around the estate, while Arch and Hale put on running shorts and singlets. When removing Calumnia from the freezer, Arch noticed a small puddle of blood had leaked from the cardboard roll and frozen solid. He carefully lifted it out and sealed it in a small glass container.

'What's that for?' Hercules asked.

'No idea. I have a feeling it might come in useful.'

'Well don't drink it.' Hercules shook his head in disbelief and carried the bundle out to the back gate through which Mort had ventured the day he and Zadig met.

The tractor arrived with several long branches, which they placed tightly around the cardboard cylinder and tied firmly with hempen string. When she looked enough like a bundle of sticks to fool any but the most observant, Mort perched on the trailer as if hitching a ride for fun and Zadig drove to the tree shredder on the eastern boundary. It had been placed as far from the houses as possible because of the noise. His assistants jogged to the site by a different, slightly shorter route; out for a run if anyone saw them.

Tension mounted when it took several pulls to start the shredder. When empty it sounded like a mad siren, but sank to an angry roar when logs were pushed through. The essential packet was halfway through when the engine slowed markedly and the noise reduced for several seconds, causing hearts to pound, but then picked up, and ten minutes later after another dozen saplings had thoroughly cleaned out any residue of blood and flesh, Zadig fixed a small blade to the front of the tractor and bulldozed the heap of chips and sawdust into a deep hole, which he then covered with soil and pounded down by driving over it.

'That's not normal procedure, is it?'

'Hell, no. I should be aerating the shredded material and letting it compost for mulch, but no one's checking up on me — I'm the boss, so there's no danger.

After playing a high pressure hose over the running blades and machine for a couple of minutes to wash away every possible trace of blood and pulverised flesh, they returned to their homes, prepared themselves, packed bags, and tried to sleep.

The following morning, Hercules and Hale drove out in the van, informing the concierge they were going south to Cardwell for a few days' fishing. An hour later, Arch and a figure the concierge assumed was Calumnia, waved through tinted glass as they drove through the gates on their way north to a luxury holiday resort. Late that afternoon, Zadig, on his muddy but powerful BMW HP4 motorbike, saluted the concierge as he zipped through as if on the way to the shops as usual; his father was capable of handling any minor problem that probably wouldn't arise while he was away.

Residents were informed by a notice on the Activities Office door that Hercules and Mort were taking the few days holiday that were due to them.

Arch and Mort took their time; they wanted to arrive at four o'clock.

Hale and Hercules drove fast and at ten o'clock arrived in the forecourt of the Regal Rainforest Resort.

'This is an exclusive hotel?' Hercules asked in astonishment. 'It's just a collection of cheap sheds with windows. I've seen caravan parks with relocatable homes that look classier.'

Hale surveyed the low, flat-roofed reception block surrounded by what looked like a scattering of shipping containers and grinned. 'This, Hercules, is what passes for classy architecture in Australia. There's no aesthetic tradition in contemporary architecture; they adopt the Bauhaus principal that function should dictate form, but leave out the bit where style and finish are considered, because that would cost more. Foreigners think it's quaint, being so basic and crude, and the locals don't know any better. And if there's a cyclone it's easy to replace.'

'They stand out like sore thumbs. Should have asked Arch to design the place. Shouldn't have got a building permit.'

'The sole function of building permits is to augment local government coffers, they have nothing to do with ensuring well designed and attractive construction.'

They parked, then wandered into the reception area where a few potted palms failed to suggest luxury.

The receptionist shook her bleached head and sucked air through her teeth. 'I don't think we have any vacancies.'

'Then please call your boss.'

'You mean the manager?'


'The manager bustled in. 'Hale! How wonderful to see you again. Have you come to put on a show?'

'Great to see you too, Malcolm. Yes, I can manage a show if you can manage a double room for Hercules and me.'

'Of course I can.' Malcolm extended his hand to Hercules. 'Welcome. Are you part of Hale's show?'

'No, just his boyfriend.'

'Good. Good. I've been telling him for years to find himself a mate. Hercules, eh? I don't suppose you could put on a performance that included a bit of stable cleaning and monster slaying like your namesake? No? Never mind, At least the women will have fun ogling you both in the pool. Here are the keys to your cabin, number 23 just down that path. The same as you had last time if I'm not mistaken. I'm busy this morning, but come and have a drink with me this afternoon.'

'Sure thing, Malcolm. Around four o'clock?'


Their small but comfortable cabin overlooked the sea. Hercules was impressed with the view. They dropped their bags and went for a walk, taking photos, making notes and measuring distances. A check of the tides had been reassuring, for the next few days there was less than a metre difference between high and low. The weather forecast predicted no rough weather, although rain was a possibility. They kept their fingers crossed.

After a light lunch they stood on the edge of the cliff in front of the public lounge and admired the panorama. It looked as if a giant had taken a bite out of the cliff in front of them, creating a small, crescent shaped beach thirty metres below, accessed by wide, shallow steps descending to what from this distance looked to be pristine white coral sand, dotted with umbrellas and loungers. Three people were swimming close to the shore; a dozen more were walking or sitting or sunbathing. Two little paddleboats were bobbing around near colourful buoys to which a stinger net was attached. Further out, other buoys indicated the position of shark hooks.

The beach was enclosed by vertical rock walls that jutted about a hundred metres into the sea; so the only access to the bay was by sea or the steps.

Behind the hotel buildings and pool lay well-tended gardens, accommodation for staff, car parks and service structures. Beyond the gardens lay a few square kilometres of remnant rainforest — tall, dark and inhospitable. The main access to the hotel was a sealed road through this patch of forest, on which, Hale informed a despondent Hercules, careless drivers caused the deaths of the last few almost-extinct cassowaries every year. There was also an emergency road from the hotel; a seldom used, unsealed track along the cliff top that followed the sea for several kilometres until it turned inland and joined the main road where the forest ended and cattle holdings and tea plantations began.

At four o'clock, Hale and Hercules joined the manager for a drink in the lounge bar to discuss possible times for a show. The manager was relating an interminable story about some American guests when Arch's car pulled up to the entrance.

'Excuse me for a minute, guests have arrived, I must go and welcome them.'

Hale looked up. 'I think that's my friend's car.' He turned to the manager. 'You aren't expecting Arch and Calumnia Lintel, are you?'

'As a matter of fact we are,' the manager replied, proud of having his finger so securely on the pulse of his establishment.

'How bizarre! They're my best friends and we arrive at the same place on the same day. Do you know him, Hercules?'

'We've met.'

'Come on then, let's say hello.'

Arch and Mort were approaching the reception desk when Hale let out a cry of pleasure. 'Archibald Lintel! What are you doing here? And Calumnia! My god, every time I see you, you get younger and more beautiful.'

'Flattery will get you everywhere, you great galah,' Mort said in a sexy soft voice with a smile so beguiling the manager felt a slight arousal stirring his loins.

'Hale, great to see you. I've been meaning to call but... you know. Clients. Never time to do everything.'

Hale turned to the manager. 'Malcolm, allow me to introduce my best friends, Arch and his lovely wife Calumnia.'

They shook hands, assured each other they were delighted to have made each other's acquaintance, completed registration, and were given the keys to their cabin.

'You and Calumnia go and freshen up and we'll catch up in the bar in about half an hour, okay?'

Hale and Hercules wandered along the cliff top to the alternative road. It was very rough, recent rains having scoured it somewhat, but that was good as no one would willingly venture along it in their expensive cars. Beyond the bay, the track, for it was little more than that, dropped rapidly until after about half a kilometre it was only a couple of metres above sea level.

Satisfied with their reconnoitre they returned and joined Arch and Mort in the bar, where the manager had introduced them to two couples from upper Arizona whose strident praise for the scenery was countered by complaints about the heat and humidity.

After a reasonable period they detached themselves from the Americans and went for a walk that ended in Hale and Hercules's cabin for a council of war.

'The sooner the better,' Mort insisted.

'Too soon would be suspicious. You and Arch have to establish yourselves as a loving couple, and Mort a competent swimmer. Dinner isn't for another hour, so let's go for a swim. It's so hot and muggy it would be strange if we didn't. We have to seem ordinary.'

A dozen people were lying on loungers around the pool, and about the same number were splashing around in the tepid water. No one was properly swimming, and the diving board was empty. The females looked half starved in skimpy little bikinis, the men, surprisingly, were mostly in speedos or equivalent, and unsurprisingly, overweight — some grossly.

The presence of three well built, lean youngish men took attention away from Mort, who walked demurely to the edge and dived cleanly in, swimming four lengths before allowing Arch to help him out of the pool where they sat on the edge with their feet in the water watching Hercules doing acceptable dives, and Hale stunning everyone with double somersaults and twists. Arch felt slightly inferior, having a stocky, solid figure despite constant efforts to become a little more like superman.

'You should probably put your arm around me; we're supposed to be married and still in love,' Mort said with a sexy smile.

Arch did, and was slightly shocked. 'Fuck, Mort. I'm getting a hard on. This is not right. You're my son.' He withdrew his arm.

'Stop thinking that, Arch. Imagine I'm Perdita and we're in love.'

'It's difficult.'

'I dare you to go on the diving board with a hard on, that'll show them you're a real man.'

'No way!'


'If I had a body like Hale or Hercules or you, I might consider it, but I haven't.'

'Actually, I think I'd prefer your body if I was really your wife,' Mort said thoughtfully.

'Really?' The delight in Arch's voice was appealing. 'Why?'

'Because no woman would want to steal you away from me.'

'You prick,' Arch laughed. Forgetting himself he shoved Mort into the water. He surfaced, grabbed Arch's leg and dragged him in, to restrained clapping from a few females and surprised looks from their men.

After chasing each other through the water for a while, the four friends returned to their rooms to prepare for dinner. The brochure said dinners were formal, so they felt a little silly arriving in dinner suits when every other male was in slacks and open necked shirts. Their wives, though, had compensated for their partners' casual attire with what appeared to be the entire contents of their jewel boxes.

'We don't fit in,' Hercules observed. 'We're too formal and Calumnia doesn't look like a whore.'

'And neither does this food fit my idea of the type of cuisine a luxury hotel would offer.'

'But we won't complain or make a spectacle of ourselves.'

They moved to the lounge where coffee was served. Several couples smiled at Mort and Arch, but no one approached.

'There's dancing in the lounge later on, I suppose we have to go?'

'Yes, but not in these monkey suits. We'll meet in your cabin, Arch, in ten minutes.'

'You seem tense, Hercules.'

'I am, and will explain when we're certain of privacy.'

Twenty minutes later they gathered in the large and almost luxurious cabin assigned to Arch.

'What's the problem?'

'You are! You and Mort are supposed to be in love; you've only been married a couple of years. Yet you behave like a couple of mates. That business at the pool when you shoved Mort in, he dragged you in by your foot, then you chased each other around the pool like teenagers — male teenagers, not a loving, married, heterosexual couple. Two women asked me who you were. I told them your names, as that's an essential part of the plot, said you'd married late, Arch, to a girl much younger than you. All your friends had prophesied, including me, that it'd never last, but you've proved us wrong, being both still in love.'


'Hercules is right, Arch. You do not act like a loving husband. You took no notice of Mort at dinner, just chatted and left him to join in. You should have been showering him with attention, passing condiments, pouring his wine, picking up his napkin when he dropped it, instead of which he had to get down in that ridiculous tight skirt and pick it up himself.'

'The problem is I feel silly. Mort's my son. When I put my arm round his shoulders at the pool it felt wrong. When he kissed my cheek I felt like a paedophile with my son.'

'The problem, Arch, is that we have literally put our lives on the line for you! If this goes belly up we're for the chop. Sadly, it's too late for you, but it's not too late for us to back out. If at the dance this evening you do not act convincingly like a besotted lover, nibbling Mort's neck, kissing, stroking, cuddling and gazing into his eyes, dancing every dance with him, or reluctantly letting one of us have a dance, but watching us all the time because you can't take your eyes off him, then I'm out of here. Hale and I will get in his van and take off, and if Mort wants to come with us, that's fine.'


'No buts, Arch. Hercules and I are going for a walk. You and Mort must go to bed now and make passionate love to get over your stupid brainwashed notion that a father mustn't have sex with his willing adult son. At this moment thousands of fathers are screwing their daughters, and some their sons, with mutual pleasure. Scores of teenage boys fuck their mothers and their sisters. We're animals. Think of the Bonobos and come up with the goods or you're on your own! Come on, Hercules.' He turned at the door. 'And keep the light on while you're doing it!'

Without another word, they left the cabin.'

'They're right, Arch. It was embarrassing this afternoon when you refused to put your arm around me. You don't act as if we're in love. I know you feel silly, but we have to do what they said; desensitise ourselves — or you, I have no problem being sexy with you.'

'At the pool you said I was unattractive.'

'A joke Arch! Do you think Hale would be lusting after you if you weren't sexy? Come on! We've showered together, now we're going to explore a little further.'

They stripped and lay on the bed.

'Are you sure you're okay with this?'

'Arch! Do you want to be strangled? I thought you were sexy and nice the first day I set eyes on you. So shut up and enjoy.'

Soft kisses became harder, more urgent. Hands began to wander, tongues and lips to explore other parts; bodies writhed; nipples swelled; erections grew ever stiffer and in the moment of simultaneous orgasm it felt as if their two bodies had exploded then melded into one.

Reluctantly, they rolled apart and gazed into each other's eyes.

'I'm very glad you found me, Mort.'

'I'm very pleased I found you, Arch.'

'We've still got twenty minutes.'

After the second, shattering orgasm they lay silent for several minutes side by side, then as one they turned to face each other, drawing light fingers along each other's cheek. Words were superfluous. They now knew each other mentally, physically and spiritually, and liked what they knew.

When they walked into the lounge the afterglow of love seemed to follow them. Slightly idiotic smiles found on the faces of lovers who have enjoyed superior sex, lingered in secret glances and smiles, gentle touches and attentiveness, bathed in an aura of exclusivity.

'Two cats who've licked the cream,' Hercules grinned as they sat. 'You might as well have a sign round your necks saying we've just has humungous sex.'

Arch and Mort smiled, walked dreamily onto the floor and spent the evening glued together, dancing every dance, refusing with soft smiles requests to change partners — the epitome of a truly loving couple. Nothing false, no ostentation, just simple, unobtrusive affection that makes others feel better for having witnessed it.

Before going to bed, Arch used the cell phone Calumnia used when out of Oasis, to message both her friends and also her mother. He kept it brief, telling them she'd arrived, it was very pleasant, and everything was progressing as planned. 'That's vague enough to cover anything she might have said to them, and should give nothing away to whoever will be investigating her disappearance. What do you reckon?'

'Sounds good to me. Better too little than too much. I wonder, though, if you and I have had enough or too little desensitising?'

'Don't be ridiculous, Mort. How can you have too much? But not too long, you need your rest for the swim tomorrow.'

They leaped into bed and this time turned out the light.

That afternoon, three hundred kilometres south of the not so luxurious resort hotel, while Mort and the others were cavorting in the hotel pool, Zadig had arrived at a camping ground attached to a national park renowned for it's platypus viewing.

'There are two of us,' he told the Park Ranger, writing his and Mort's names in the visitor's register.

'How long are you staying?'

'One or two nights. I'll pay for two.'

'Fair enough. Where's the other bloke?'

'He couldn't wait to see the platypus, so I'll send him up later.'

'I'm off duty in an hour. Tell him to come past in the morning; Tom's on duty then.'

'No worries.'

Zadig erected his two-man tent, spread two groundsheets and sleeping bags, put a small pack at the head of each, and went for a swim and a look for the platypus, which were apparently on a break. He took a shower and spoke to a couple of other campers in the communal ablutions block, introducing himself as Zadig. Half an hour later he went for a second shower, this time telling the elderly man who seemed curious, that his name was Mort.

The following morning he introduced himself to Tom as Mort Aywun, signed the book and waited for a phone call. At nine o'clock Arch rang and told him rain had forced a postponement, probably to the following day, he'd ring at the same time tomorrow. Zadig spent the day wandering forest tracks and sleeping, exhausted after a mosquito-ridden, sleepless, nervous night, made worse by the thought of having to endure another.

Back at the hotel, the rain prompted Hale to offer to put on a show for the guests that evening if the rain stopped. He spent much of the day practising away from prying eyes, while the others borrowed hotel umbrellas and went for a walk along the cliff-top track. It was muddy, which was good as that was another deterrent to sightseers. After a few hundred metres the track descended close enough to the water's edge to permit access, and in answer to their prayers a tumbledown shack lurked behind an outcrop of rock; probably once a shelter for fishermen. They walked another two kilometres along the track, saw no signs of it's being used recently, took a few photographs, noted important details, and returned.

After lunch the weather cleared slightly, although the wind was unpleasant, so they went down to the small beach and braved the waters, carefully avoiding any display of interest in the rocks on the right of the bay. As Mort said, you never know who is watching and wondering.

'I reckon it's about a hundred metres till I'm round the point, from then on I'll be invisible to anyone here on the beach or up by the hotel, then another three hundred metres at least to where the track is low enough to climb up to it.'

'Say half a kilometre. Can you swim that far?'

'Easily, but I'd look silly just swimming straight around the point and disappearing. There has to be a reason I'd go so far.'

'You could take one of those little paddle boats and fall off without anyone noticing.'

'The fellow in charge is certain to keep a watchful eye on them in case of that. An accident would be bad for business.'

'We're going to be very bad for business. I'm starting to feel guilty. I like Malcolm.'

'Got it!' Arch nodded in satisfaction. 'In the sports room there are flippers, snorkels and masks for the use of guests; we'll get some and go snorkelling to look at coral and things. Then I'll get cramp or cut myself or something, and come back in. Then while people are fussing over me, you can disappear.'

'But the beach has to be full of people, it's no use if we're alone.'

'So let's pray for a bright day with a little cloud so those who sunburn easily will also come down.'

That night it was Hercules who phoned Zadig. 'It's on for tomorrow. He'll go in the water at eleven, so you should be here by then. I'm sending a photo of the map with an x at the spot we'll meet. Call me back when you've worked out how to get there.'

Ten minutes later Zadig phoned, said he'd checked satellite maps and found the place easily. He'd only need three hours, but would allow four to get there in case of a mishap, so would leave at seven, to arrive at ten. If the swim was cancelled, someone should phone any time after six.

Hercules reminded him to destroy and dispose of the phone and card afterwards; he would do the same.

At nine o'clock that evening the entire population of the hotel assembled on chairs in front of the lounge. Hale had set the frame up on the edge of the cliff. The air was utterly still and sensuously warm; the backdrop an almost full moon sending a wavy yellow path across the ocean. He had decided to use no music. The susurration of the sea and occasional night noises were enough. In an artificial environment music is important to set the mood. In nature at night the mood is already set — mysterious, magical, expectant.

Malcolm turned off all lights except the three spots Hale always used, and from his first magical leap — a golden streak of perfect flesh flying to the top of the frame where he remained vertical on his hands long enough for his audience to get over the shock and realise what they had seen, right through to the final dizzying triple somersault, landing on his feet in front of everyone, the atmosphere was electric with tension punctuated by gasps of astonishment, fear and relief when what seemed impossible proved the opposite.

'One of the best shows I've seen,' seemed to be the consensus.

Malcolm was delighted. Even the most difficult guest was at last satisfied with something, and he soaked up the praise for having organised such a performance.

While the hotel guests were still tucked up in their cosy beds, back in the forest Zadig rose early, swam, made himself a plate of muesli, received a phone call, packed his tent and gear and rode softly out, only to be stopped by Tom the ranger.

'Gidday Mort. Where's the bloke with the Arab name? Zad...something?'

'Zadig. It's Persian, not Arab. I think his grandparents came from there. He's waiting for me at the end of the track — I hope! He loves walking, so set off an hour ago. You must have seen him on the way in.'

'Oh, right. There was a bloke out on the highway. Too far away to see clearly. Must be pretty fit to walk so far.'

'He is.'

'Where are you off to today?'

Up the ranges to see the waterfalls, they should be good after the rain, then we'll camp at Falls National Park. I hope the camping area's as well looked after as this place.'

'Thanks. Ride safely.'

With a wave Zadig rode quietly off and was soon lost to view.

On reaching the highway he picked up speed, keeping to the speed limit for three hours until he saw Hercules sitting on a stump beside the road.

Hercules looked at his watch. 'One minute to ten — Brilliant. Great to see you.'

'And you! I'd never have noticed this track! Thank goodness you got here first. How long did it take you to walk?'

'I didn't. Hale drove me here along the track. He's gone to the shop up the road for something. He'll drive back after you leave to muddy your tracks.'

'That is so clever; when did you think of it?'

'About half an hour ago. I suddenly realised your bike would leave a very suspicious trail.' Hercules mounted the pillion seat. 'Drive on McZadig.'

Fifteen minutes later the bike and Zadig were concealed in the decrepit shed, and Hercules was sitting on a boulder staring out to sea, contemplating the cosmic absurdity of life.

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