Rough Justice

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 9

'How was the film?' Father and son were sharing a late breakfast; Monique had gone with Susie to the Sunday markets.

'Mushy, sentimental, banal. We left early.'

'Good on you. What are you doing today? Susie and Jeff are coming to lunch.'

'I've three assignments to complete and a couple of experiments to write up; that'll take most of the day.'

'You're looking pleased with yourself.'


'Any particular reason?'


'Bart's congenial.'


'Seeing him today?'

'Nope.' Robert began to sweat.

'We're glad you've made a friend.'


'Am I being nosy?'

'Not your style.'

'Well, I can't listen to you gossiping all day, there's a stone I have to squeeze a few drops of blood from.'

They cleared the table and washed up in companionable silence.

'See you at lunch. I'm meeting Jeff for a round of golf.'

Lunch was on the patio. Fresh food from the markets; bread, pâté, fruit, cheese and juice. Both Susie and Jeff were on diets. A friend's recent heart attack left them feeling vulnerable. Such attempts to undo sixty years of abuse occurred at least three times a year. Susie turned to Robert, 'The mother of a girl from your school goes to the same evening art class as me. She's worried. Her daughter never tells her where she's going, comes home at all hours, is rude and abusive and spends more money than her mother gives her. A right little madam.'

'Half the kids are like that!' Robert snorted in disgust, 'Anyone who becomes a teacher is nuts!'

'Bart's a teacher,' said Monique.

'And it's driving him mad.'

'Who's Bart?'

'Robert's friend. He's a PE teacher, and is teaching him to wrestle on Saturdays.'

'Who's the girl?' interrupted Robert before his mother could elaborate.

'Sorens… Mandy Sorens. She's in year eleven. A little raver, according to her mother. By the way, I hope you didn't let my nonsense with the Tarot cards upset you, I felt silly afterwards.'

Robert knew better than to be cagey. If he appeared open and at ease she mightn't start digging. 'It's bizarre!' he said, the twinkle in his eye suggesting he was taking the mickey. 'Everything you mentioned is happening. My life's changed direction and I've discovered all sorts of things about myself. Even had that revelation! I feel like the hanging man - seeing the world from a new perspective. I wonder if you're a witch?'

'Oh, I am. Ask Jeff. That's how he managed to beat Sanjay at golf this morning. Isn't that right, dear?'

'Absolutely, my love, you cast a spell on all around you.' Jeff patted his wife's cheek affectionately before turning to his hostess. 'Have you thought any more about India, Monique?'

'Last night Sanjay convinced me that Robert is a man, not a boy, and as he has Bart for company it's safe to leave him behind. So we're going.'

'India? This is news to me! When? And why aren't I going? Doesn't your son rate consulting?'

'In the school holidays, chérie. I know I'm being selfish but we can only afford two fares. We were going to tell you this evening. Sanni has some buying to do, and it may be the last time we get to see your great-grandmother.' She stopped in embarrassment. 'Would you really like to go?'

'No he wouldn't!' Sanjay turned to his son. 'This is going to be our second honeymoon and we don't need kids hanging around.'

'Yuk. A nostalgia kick for old fogies.'

'Exactly. We were hoping you and Bart would guard the house while we're away.'

'Can I use the car?'

'Of course.'

'You're on!'

'I'm dying to meet Bart.' Susie's smile was arch.

Robert frowned into his coffee cup.

'Keep your wife on a short leash, Jeff. She's getting excited.'

Everyone laughed.

'There might be waterfalls after that heavy rain last night, let's go for a walk to work off the meal.' Sanjay was a master of tactical conversation.

They drove to Mount Coot-Tha and tramped up the track, but there was only a disappointing trickle, made even more unsatisfactory by having to share it with about a thousand others. Mr Rands is right, thought Robert. Parks and reserves are already too small for the number of people who want to use them. He couldn't help wishing he had been there with Bart rather than the others.

The interiors of a few large churches and the occasional town hall auditorium built before the advent of modernism, are virtually the only large, enclosed architectural spaces which inspire one to higher thought. The school Assembly Hall was one such place. Tall, Roman-arched windows in thick, white-stuccoed walls, threw shafts of dust-spangled morning light over the assembled students. Behind the raised area where the teachers sat, an enormous Honours Board glittered with gilt-lettered memorials to past achievers. Far above, massive carved wooden trusses leaped effortlessly across the shadowy gulf - a sight to render contemplative even the most jaundiced eye.

Upstairs in the gallery, where the senior school sat in splendour, Robert waited for the teachers to process on to the platform for the morning's assembly. He wondered what it would feel like to see Bart after what had happened. Excitement, however, was tempered by a fear that his secret had leaked out and the entire school would stand up and denounce him. He wasn't a fool. He knew that although he had no problems with his actions, others would. He felt sick at the thought.

Mr Riggs struck three chords on the piano and the assembled throng joined raggedly in an inharmonious rendering of the school anthem as the teachers strode up the aisle. Robert leaned forward and was poked in the back.

'Pull your head in, curry muncher!' Lance hissed, under-awed by his surroundings.

There was Bart! Next to Miss Wybord the strange little Latin teacher. The roof didn't cave in. Everything remained the same except for a warm flutter in his chest. Someone, apart from his parents, cared about him. He grunted a laugh. What a twit he was.

At lunchtime, taking a shortcut behind the main block, Robert stumbled over Murray, bleeding and dazed in the rubbish bin enclosure.

'Can you move?'

'Yeah, I'm OK.'

'Lance again?'


Robert supported him to Bart's office, which adjoined a small sickbay accessed through an arch in the wall. He lay Murray on the bed. The boy hid his head under the pillow, sobbing quietly. Pretending it was just curiosity and a desire to be prepared, Robert called the secretary to ask which doctor the school used. He arrived within ten minutes, driving straight to the gym as Robert had instructed. Murray was suffering from a suspected rib fracture, a probably broken nose, and possible concussion. There was extensive bruising in the groin.

'Doctor, will you tell the headmaster about this?'

'Doesn't he know? Don't tell me you called off your own bat. I'm only supposed to come on official calls.'

Robert briefly explained the history of harassment. The doctor was young and inexperienced, so agreed to advise Mr Nikelseer to charge the offenders. The physical damage was not grievous; a bandage and a couple of weeks would see to the ribs, but he had to be kept under observation for twenty-four hours in case of concussion.

'I'm in a rush, so I'll telephone from the surgery.'


Midway through the afternoon the mathematics room door was flung wide. Ignoring both teacher and class, Mr Nikelseer cast narrowed eyes around until they landed on Robert.

'Karim! Come to my office immediately!' He slammed out.

A swelling chorus of ooooooohhhs accompanied Robert as he stood and looked to the teacher for permission. Mr Blampied nodded sympathetic assent.

'Who's been a naughty boy then?' chanted a voice from the back as the door closed behind him.

'Stand there!' The headmaster, lips trembling bluely, fingers clawing at the blotter, pointed to the carpet in front of his desk. 'What is the meaning of telephoning the doctor for Corso? How dare you again set yourself above the organisation of this school? Why didn't you go to the sickbay?'

Robert explained that he thought Murray might be badly hurt, didn't know where the main sickbay was, and was just trying to be a Good Samaritan. This unleashed a torrent. 'How dare you use the Bible as an excuse for your behaviour? What right have you to…'

Robert wanted to slam out of the office, but realised he would also be slamming out of school. As he waited for the anger to abate, it occurred to him that Mr Nikelseer was unhinged; so he switched off.

An envelope, embossed with the school crest and addressed to his parents, was handed to Robert by a pupil messenger during the last period. Before going home he went to the gym, but Murray had been sent home. Bart wasn't there either. Desperate to find some way of convincing the headmaster he wasn't an interfering upstart, Robert decided to pick Mr Pinot's brains. Murray had said he was useless, but things could hardly get worse.

The Guidance Room was empty. An open briefcase indicated Mr Pinot couldn't be far away, so Robert went into the storeroom, found the pile of long trousers and flicked through to see if another pair more his size had turned up. The outer door slammed and he heard voices, Pinot's and a girl's.

'I don't usually have the pleasure of your company on Mondays,' the guidance counsellor effused, reminding Robert of an oleaginous primary school teacher who'd wanted everyone to love her. 'To what do I owe this good fortune?'

'Yeah, well, just thought I'd make your day, didn't I?' The reply was slightly nasal with the hint of a voluptuous sneer.

Robert peeked out.

The girl was leaning against the desk in a pose reminiscent of Robert's at the beginning of term. She wore her hair in a couple of ponytails jutting out behind each ear, and well-developed breasts bobbed unharnessed behind the partially unbuttoned blouse. He had seen her before - she was one of the harpies shouting abuse at Murray on the day he'd stopped the bullying. Mr Pinot, his back to the storeroom, placed his hands on the young woman's shoulders. 'I'm glad you're here, it's been a difficult day.'

'D'ya wanna do it then?'

'Ever ready to succour a fair damsel.'

'You always talk stupid.' She hoisted herself onto the desk and lifted her buttocks so Mr Pinot could remove her panties. He placed them carefully on the desk and undid his zip. The girl sniggered, 'You sure are horny.'

The Guidance Councillor sank to his knees and lifted her skirt. She leaned back against the wall and slung her legs over his shoulders, enabling him to bury his head and, judging by the slurping noises, his tongue.

Robert was transfixed. A waft of perfume mixed with musky desire drifted unpleasantly on the air. The girl chewed gum and looked vacantly at the ceiling while Mr Pinot began to grunt and jerk as well as slurp. After what seemed an age, the sounds and movement ceased and Mr Pinot emerged, panting, sticky, and no longer Robert's idea of an educated gentleman. He wiped and adjusted himself without embarrassment, then rinsed his face in the hand-basin while she jumped down and replaced her knickers. Without speaking he went to his briefcase and took from it a ten-dollar bill. She gave a toss of her head and a snort of derision.

'Things have changed. I want a hundred dollars now, and in arrears! This is the seventeenth time you've done it, so you owe me fifteen hundred dollars, I'll let you off the forty.'

'You're joking! A hundred dollars for that? I don't even penetrate.'

'Your tongue does. Lance says I've been stupid and that I could get a hundred and fifty, but I'm not greedy.' Her voice had lost its dumb-chick quality and sounded altogether sharper and smarter.

Pinot looked as if he'd swallowed a bucket of vomit. 'But, Mandy, I haven't that sort of money! Surely you haven't told Lance Osbairne about us?' He was choking with alarm.

'Of course I've told Lance; he's my boyfriend. This was his idea. So listen, old man, either you pay me fifteen hundred dollars by the end of this week, or I'll tell your wife what you've been doing to one of the innocent young girls who came to you for guidance.'

'But - I thought you enjoyed it,' he wailed, his misery increasing as her confidence and contempt grew.

'You geriatric fool! If you think I enjoy having a disgusting old man slobber over my twat while he jerks himself off, you need your head examined. Get the money by Friday, or else!' A slammed door underlined the threat. Warren Pinot slumped into his chair, head in hands. After an age in which Robert feared his bladder would burst, the guidance counsellor stood, picked up his brief case, thrust his body into its coat and shuffled out.

Having read and re-read the headmaster's letter of complaint and listened carefully to her son's account of the affair, Monique dismissed the accusations out of hand. 'Forget this nonsense. Your headmaster has several screws undone. I forbid you to worry.'

Robert took her advice. He had more pressing concerns. Did he want to have lots of affairs, or only one? Not having had any so far he couldn't even begin to think. Other kids had been experimenting with girl friends and sexual activity since the onset of puberty; he had only pretended. This was his first experience - six years late and too important to muck up!

'Mum, have you ever wished you had more than one man?'

Monique shot him a quizzical look.

'I mean, you've ended up as a sort of slave - cooking, looking after us, doing Dad's books - no life of your own. Don't you sometimes wonder what it would be like to be your own boss and have several boyfriends?'

She raised an eyebrow. 'I assume you have a serious reason for asking?' A shy smile. 'Before I met your father I had several boyfriends. Nothing serious. Mostly unsatisfying. I told myself I had freedom, but all I had was an empty ache. Eventually I realised that what I really wanted was someone who wanted only me.' She looked at her son, appeared satisfied he was serious, and continued. 'When I met Sanjay the emptiness disappeared and I was full of… it is impossible to explain, but I couldn't bear to be apart from him. I felt happy, sad, everything at once.' She smiled softly and gave a light laugh. 'C'est l'amour, mon chou. La plus belle chose du monde. If ever I think about infidelity, I remember how much better your Papa is than any other man I have met, and the idea disappears.' She smiled to herself, then looked up sharply. 'I take exception, though, to being called a drudge.'


'Whatever. I do what I do for love! It is a joy, not a penance. One could think the same about you doing those boring jobs in the gymnasium for Bart.'

Robert reddened, he hadn't thought of it like that. What if the others at school thought the same thing? He'd better be careful. 'That's nothing like it,' he blustered. 'It's so he's got time to wrestle on the weekends.'

'Of course.'

'So you think it's better to have one man than many?'

'Definitely. But not everyone's like me. We each have to work out our own lives. Ah, here's Sanjay. I'm hoping he has an idea what to do about this pathetic letter.'

Sanjay's idea was to visit the headmaster and oil the waters. He re-read the letter and laughed incredulously. 'Insubordination, usurpation of responsibility, contempt for the established channels of support, traitor to the school spirit… Forget this letter.'

'Not difficult, I've more cheerful things to think about.'

'Like what?'

'I've discovered I like being me.'

'That's lucky, seeing you haven't much choice.'

'And I reckon I'll do OK in my tests.


'By the way, you're a lucky chap. Mum doesn't want any other man in her life but you.'

'Neither do I, not even another woman. What brought this on?'

'Oh.' Robert replied airily, 'I've been bouncing ideas.'


'Fidelity, sleeping around… that sort of thing.'


'I'm still bouncing.'

Before school, Robert approached Mr Rands. 'Sir, Murray Corso was bashed up badly last Friday, so I called the doctor and got a tongue lashing from Mr Nikelseer. But what should I have done? No one seems to care - not even his parents!' He flapped his hands in frustration.

'And why do you?'

'Because he doesn't deserve it! He's a good kid who can't help the way he is. It's worse than racism. At least I can go home to my black father and commiserate with him when I'm the butt of abuse, but he has no one.'

'And you want me to see the headmaster?'

'Would you?'

'Yes, but I know the result already.'

'Thanks, Sir, I can't bear injustice.'

'Justice is an ideal concept with no correspondence in the real world.'

'How depressing.'

'Not for most people. Anything else bugging you?'

'Nothing important, but… if you had to make a decision, what would you do?'

The Art teacher roared with laughter. 'I can't even decide whether to get up in the morning. If my wife didn't put out my clothes I'd spend the day in a jelly of indecision, wondering whether to wear a white or a blue shirt.' He thought for a bit. 'What would I do? I was once advised to write two lists, things for and things against, then select the longer. Never worked for me. What I usually do, after agonising for a suitable length of time, is toss a coin. If you like the result, do it. If not, do the other thing. It's not until a decision has been taken that most of us realise the consequences. The coin is like a decision, but not irrevocable.'

'What if you lack the experience to make the best choice?'

'I console myself with the idea that everything happens by chance. It would take till the end of time to weigh up all the possible consequences of lifting your right hand, so you just do it. The alternative is to remain transfixed by indecision. We cannot know what will happen, so we have to pick what seems like the best option at the time and hope we don't make things worse than they already are.'

'Don't take life too seriously, you'll never get out of it alive?'

'That's going a bit further than I suggested, but...'

'A friend of the family said almost the same thing the other day - that was her joke by the way, not mine.'

'If you ask the same question of different people you'll usually get a similar answer, providing you ask someone intelligent.'

'I ask no other type.'

'Flattery will get you everywhere.'

The assembly bell sent them scurrying.

The talk in the common room was of holidays.

'What are you going to do, Robert?'

'Chaining myself to a rainforest tree in an old-growth forest.'

They half believed him. He was still a bit of a mystery – pleasant, apparently open and straightforward, but usually appearing to inhabit a different cosmos, a world governed by priorities subtly different from their own. Rather than erecting a barrier, he left a gap. When everyone was talking, joshing and gossiping, Robert would switch off. He appeared to be either unaware of, or indifferent to, the conventions and fashions that ruled their lives. Being one of the gang, not standing out too much, knowing the popular bands, going to new clubs, using the latest slang – these things didn't interest him. He never said as much, he didn't have to; it was apparent in every unconscious act.

The others swapped believable holiday plans. Marcia, who kept an unrequited eye on Robert, asked him again why he spent so much time in the gymnasium. 'We hardly see you any more; you're always over there. Isn't it a bit chilling with Vaselly looking over your shoulder?'

'On the rare occasions our paths cross, I tell myself he's just a robot, a hunk of cyber flesh.'

They all laughed.

'That's exactly what he is, too perfect to be true,' sighed Helen, who daydreamed about being carried away in his arms.

Robert wondered guiltily if he had betrayed Bart, but what was he supposed to do? Before his 'revelation', he'd only experienced a vague sense of dislocation in groups like this when they shared experiences, hopes and plans. Since then, self-preservation alarms rang constantly. He looked at the other students – there was no one he could trust with his thoughts, his hopes and plans. It didn't worry him, life had always been like that, but now he had something precious to protect, and every stranger was a potential enemy. Lance slouched in and sprawled across the sofa.

'I do eat curry occasionally, Lance,' Robert said equably, 'but surely a dredge through the sludge of your brain could produce something more original than curry-muncher?'

The others looked mystified.

'How about 'Brown-eye'?'

'Oh come on, Lance,' Barbara protested. 'Is that how you get your thrills? Badmouthing people? I hate being called Tits Tappendon, but you don't care. You have a problem!'

'You're the one with the problem, Tits.'

The murmurings of protest were subdued; no one wanted one of Lance's verbal thrusts. He was hopeless at schoolwork, but a genius at insult. 'Bumper' for Brenda with her large breasts; 'Wets' for Philip who had apparently wet his bed as a child. How Lance had found out was anyone's guess. 'Princess' for Peter who was a touch too careful in posture, appearance and speech. Lance's names were never nice, they were calculated to destroy pleasantness.

'Can't see it matters. A rose by any other name.'

'How about you, Lance? I'll call you 'Blackmail'.

'You're the fuckin' black male, Brown-eye, not me.'

'As in extortion, dumbo.'

A quick intake of breath from Lance, silence from the others.

'From where I'm standing your only entry ticket to decent company is your tongue. The abuse you hand out is a type of blackmail. Everyone's frightened your bad-mouthing will get out of control and some of the mud will stick. Or, being the big strong man you are, you might get your thugs to bash them up.'

Lance's look was murderous.

'Where's your sense of humour now?' snapped Charlie, breaking the malignant silence. 'You're not the only one who can dish it out.'

'Yeah. Swallow a bit of your own bile for once, dick-head.' Stewart's eyes shone with daring at his first ever confrontation with Lance. It was mutiny and the hostile looks and mutterings shook Lance's confidence. He'd gone right through school with this bunch of kids, and imagined everyone had got used to his brand of humour. He'd always been one of the gang – until the smarmy black curry-muncher arrived on the scene.

Lance suffered from an inflated sense of his own importance. His early years had been spent in the spotlight of an emotional mother's love, but life had dealt her a bad hand and she lost her grip on reality. When she died, her son's sole emotion was relief. Perversely, his father's almost complete lack of interest had stimulated both admiration and an overwhelming desire for approval.

Lance's major source of satisfaction was the power of his father's money. The power that let him do what he wanted. His viciousness had nothing to do with hate - an exaggerated sense of superiority saved him from so vulnerable a state. He was seeking the approval of those he admired in the only way he knew how – by trampling over the rights of others. He fixed his gaze on the cause of the present problem. This bastard he really was beginning to hate. It was a new emotion and strangely exciting. A feeling almost akin to lust twitched at his groin as he contemplated performing nameless horrors on the greasy wog.

The school bell rang.

Robert's own alarm bells were sounding. Mr Rands was right; it was only as the words fell out of his mouth that he realised the consequences. He'd shown his hand and turned an unpleasant lout into a serious enemy.

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