Friday, 21 November 2008

PATERNITY Episode 3 - Pip searches newspaper files for the answer

This is Episode 3 of my ongoing mystery novel Paternity, set in an outback Australian town and sometimes in Sydney. It's the story of Pip, a feisty young journalist out to discover the deepest secret of her dead mother.
Episodes 1 and 2 are in previous posts. Please leave a comment ...

She turned from the barstool and into the embrace of a friendly bear. Frank Rolls had been the chief of staff when Pip served her cadetship. He was a damn good journo, even though too fond of the turps. What was he doing here?

Rolls guided Pip to a table on the other side of the room and a moment later placed a fresh beer in front of her. She nodded thanks.

‘Frank, what are you doing here?’

‘I could say the same for you.’


‘Not a bleeding hearts on the downfall of country towns I hope.’

‘I’ll fill you in. I didn’t make a good start did I?’ Nodding towards Gazza.

Frank shrugged. ‘You couldn’t know that you were sitting on a stool that one of the town’s loopy types calls his own.’

‘So that was it …’

‘Yeah. Gazza has been sitting in that corner every night for fifteen years. It’s the main deal in his life. He gets to the pub at exactly six o’clock, has a rum and beer chaser at the bar and won’t say a word until he’s ensconced on that stool along with a second schooner. Interrupt the routine at your peril. He’s a psychologist’s nightmare.’

‘I wondered what hit me.’

‘I dunno. I think you were doin pretty well. Gazza might have met his match with you.’

Pip grinned: ‘The sizes were a bit uneven don’t you think?’

‘Well … you have put on weight since I saw you last.’

‘Thanks heaps.’

It was comfortable sitting there with Frank. It was a good job he’d shown up. No-one else in the place seemed inclined to help.

‘Anyway, come on. What about you?’

He looked dreadful. The sallow complexion of the confirmed alcoholic, with a beer gut to match, and his chest was as hollow as it could be. Pants baggy around the bum. Frank gave orders for others to get physical. The black head she’d known was now grey around the edges.

He drew himself tall in mockery: ‘I … I am the editor of the local rag.”

He had come a cropper.

‘It’s not such a tragedy. They gave me the heave ho in Sydney … too many long lunches.’

Pip nodded.

‘Now I can have as many lunches as I like so long as I get one twelve page rag out each week. And I can write some fiction in my spare time. No sweat.’

‘And Flo?’ Flo had been a barmaid in the press bar opposite the daily where they’d worked together. She and Frank had a stormy off-again-on-again relationship for years. You always knew that it was off again when Frank moved into a bedroom at the rear of the bar, and that it was on again when he moved back to their flat.

Frank wagged his head towards a woman walking past, tray of glasses in hand.

‘Well, you old bugger. You won.’ Flo was there all right. Just an older version.

‘Oh I dunno about winning. I’m in one of the rooms upstairs at the moment.’

Sometimes nothing much changes.

The wide staircase leading to the pub bedrooms was elegantly carved, but the carpet was frayed at the edges. Pip shivered as a wayward draught of air whistled down the long narrow hall.

She found Room 22, tossed her bag onto the faded pink chenille spread, and laid her laptop more gently on a starched doily on the oak dressing table. The bed had no backbone, and a matching crockery jug and water basin with a pattern of large red roses stood on a side table.

Half a dozen wire hangers clinked together in the wardrobe. Tobacco smoke wafted from the downstairs bar and insinuated its way along the corridor to impregnate everything in her room.

Reconciled to the lack of home comforts, Pip sauntered down the hall to the communal bathroom, clad in a towelling robe. The shower rose was broken in the first cubicle, and in the second, the plastic curtain clung disrespectfully around her legs. But the water was good and hot and plentiful.

The sun was almost overhead next day when Pip strolled down the street, the strip of tar empty still, and the only sound the cawing of a crow perched on the rusted corrugated iron roof of the grocery shop.

She could feel her jeans too tight around her waist and blamed the pub food and sitting down too long in the car.

There was the newspaper office. Guardian Printers. Pretentious. It all looked too tired to guard anything.

Its shop front windows were stuffed with hundreds of newspaper files, old and brown and curling, tumbling one upon the other. Dust danced in a shaft of light that had followed her in. Here, a large room with a heavy wooden counter and two desks. Chairs with thick legs and padded leather seats. To the right a smaller space with glass in the wall. The sound of machinery behind another door in the back of the office.

This place was a museum … clutter upon clutter. Heavy black phones, typewriters, copy paper stabbed on lethal spikes. Account books, encyclopedia c1958, dictionary. Pots of paste, scissors and steel em rulers. Rubber stamps and slugs of lead. Not a computer in sight.

A bulky woman with a hair bun and a pencil behind her ear was pouring over a pile of long galley proofs at the corner desk. Pip had only seen proofs like this in old photographs.

Frank noticed her from the inner office and yelled.

‘Come in kiddo!’ He nodded towards a substantial looking chair.

Pip whispered: ‘What a scene for a crime novel.’

‘Mmmm … Don’t steal my thunder. Now. What’s with you in this place young Pippin?’

‘I’m on a job. Yeah. But mainly it’s personal. I need your help.’

Part Five

The ageing newspaper file threatened to crumble as Pip placed it on the desk in a quiet corner of the office. With reverence she smoothed the old yellow-brown paper, and it seemed to respond to the delicacy of her touch.

There was sweat on her palms and she wiped them with a handkerchief. Could these flimsy newspapers hold her mother’s secret?

The Guardian, Friday June 11, 1975. League Hero in Doubt with Groin Injury. Police Blitz Speeding. Bus Trip for Country Women's Association.

Her sister had said that Selene made the trip west soon after her birthday. It would have been later in the month …

She could hear the rhythmic thump of the ancient flat bed press in the back room. Someone answered a phone with muffled voice. A fly buzzed around her abandoned mug of tea. Pip moved through time.

New Portable Classroom for Primary School. Preparations for District Show. Farmer Killed when Tractor Overturns.

She scoured the stories for a clue to her mother’s visit all those years ago. Why was she there? What had happened to change her life?

Friday, June 25. Picnic Races Planned for September. Pioneer Dies Age 100. School Principal Retires after Thirty Years. Three Men Detained in Rape Case.

Rape Case. The story was set in a small panel on page three. There were no names, just a bald police statement. A Sydney woman abducted and pack raped. Three local men being questioned. Police confident charges would be laid.

Pip’s knuckles whitened as she gripped the edge of the desk. She turned more pages. The paper was a weekly …

Next issue a page one spread. The 200pt Bodoni Bold screamed at her — Rape Case: Three Charged.

And there was a faded out-of-focus photograph. A very young version of her mother, cowering on a bench in front of the police station. As though she herself accused.
Pip’s eyes bored into the page, seeking more.

She read the story again and again. Selene O’Rourke 22, a virgin, had been attacked in the main street of the town and dragged off into the bush. The charged rapists were still not named. Talk about lopsided reporting! And no reporter today would dare to be so personal.

Could this be it? Her mind whirled. That would mean … this must be it!

Selene’s secret.

Pip left the newspapers where they lay and walked, stunned, into the silent street. Her mother … raped. Pack raped. Taken into bush land, alone and vulnerable.

Tears were coursing down Pip’s face. She wiped them away with her fists, smudging her cheeks with dust from the old pages.

She drifted down a side street and into a small park. Here she threw herself onto the thin grass beneath a spindly grey gum, and wept.

Eventually the tears gave way to a coldness; a numbness. Pip sat there, still, and for a very long time, cross-legged upon the hard earth. The day was fading and she could see a creamy moon beginning to make its way across the pink and blue sky.

The veil lifted
On a tragic life …
Transparent now,
A secret revealed.

Silences explained
Sadness understood
Anger spelled out
Shortcomings vindicated
And blame absolved.

Even so …
New questions raised.

The foregoing is excerpted from Paternity by June Saville. All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.


What questions does Pip need to answer now? What would you do next? Please let me know what you think in a comment.
More of the story in my next post ...


  1. that mechanic is shady. the whole town is freaky actually. just the place for a mystery. as for pip, depends on how strong she is... is she strong enough to face the possibility of such a paternity, or would it be better not to know and maybe believe, hope, will herself to believe there was someone else... the aunty's hesitance, however, would be a sure indicator of bad news, well, to me anyway.... looking forward to more.

  2. Wow Shadow - we've got you thinking ...
    Freaky town is right - made for a mystery as you say - and perhaps I'm insulting Australian towns. But fiction is fiction, as I've said before.
    Yes, it will be interesting to see if Pip is sufficiently strong for whatever ... time will tell eh?
    Thanks for the great feedback.

  3. June, it's great that you're writing what you know --making Pip a journalist. I'm learning a lot of stuff about your craft here now! Now I can tell what lopsided reporting is like.

  4. Hey, June...I finally made it over (did you doubt me???) I could smell the bar towels, see the sandy trays full of butts, and taste the cold Fosters, all the way over here in India. You said it would make me homesick...hmmm...I lived in an outback town, but I doubt I'll ever want to again. I want the big fat bastard to get his arse kicked. Can you write that in? :)

  5. well I ma getting there reading back then trying to catch up I get the sense that Pip has some strength ..and the bar remonds me of the place I hang out in..:)

  6. June, I'm new so I won't comment directly on this installment of Paternity, except to say that I started reading and was so engaged that I had to start at the beginning. Really well done! Very pleased to have found you, thanks to Pearl for listing you!

  7. After reading descriptions of the bar, Room 22, the newspapers office, I could visualize them. Pip has been strong enough to make it this far, though she may stumble and question herself as we all do. I'm enjoying this ! Cheryl

  8. Kate - it underlines the reality that you can't believe everything you read. I believe that's one of the world's biggest problems - we're not sufficiently skeptical.
    I think other areas of life carry that tinge as well - we judge others by ourselves and if we are trustworthy ...
    Have a slice of haggis for me xx

  9. Braja - welcome home!
    You must admit that outback towns aren't so larger than life as Pip's, but ...
    Pleased you're hooked.
    Hopefully all of the bastards will be dealt with by the time you get back again ...
    Did you get the sprig of wattle I sent for old time's sake? Put it next to the incense ...

  10. G'day confused - how's your truck?
    Thanks for investing time in the novel - I was going to write 'Paternity' there (instead of 'novel')but decided not to ...
    If the bar came to life for me I have succeeded.

  11. By the way confused - I see you were in such a rush to catch up on the episodes that the typos went unremarked ... And you a writer. I'm chuffed.

  12. Aria: Good ole Pearl!
    Enjoy the novel but don't forget to feed your boys ...
    Thanks for visiting 70 Plus and Still Kicking and the barbecue story. I didn't realise you had been here and left a suggestion than you may have fun on Journeys as well.

  13. Yes I Ponder I think that Pip is still human.
    Pleased you could visualize the pub - but I hope that the experience wasn't so sharp that you could smell the old chip fat?

  14. Well done June. And now, I belive that it is time for pip to put away the tears and begin her plans for revenge. In a lot of these cases, the law appears to protect the perpertrator more than the victim. Yes, Pip must skirt the law and bring justice upon those that committed this heinous act. You have a very discriptive writing style. Vivid imagery. Kudos.

  15. Oh, thanks for the wattle! How sweet!!

  16. Thanks DJ Rogue - I'm goosey with the kudos!
    Revenge eh? How? And is this the time really?
    I agree that the law is often an ass ...
    But what's better?

  17. Braja
    Thanks for the thanks. The wattle is meant as a reminder from home of course - but I hope it doesn't give you hay fever!

  18. June, I can easily visualize it all. Once when I was doing home visits when I was in social work, I had to visit a guy who lived in an old hotel here that was very dark, reeked of liquor, and had a stairway to the rooms that were rented to mostly guys back then at weekly rates. I still remember the smell and looking into the open doored rooms on my way down this upstairs hallway and the smell or body odor with only fans running and no air conditioning. Your story brought it all back. I learned to type on a typewriter exactly like the one in the picture, too. I think Gazza would be the person to get to know. He will still remember that night and her mother???? I saw yesterday where you had updated but had to wait till I had time to really enjoy and savor your story. You did not let me down, but then you never do!

  19. Thanks for the encouragement Judy - appreciated. I know the sort of place you are speaking about -dumps where homeless men live because they have nowhere else to go. Pip's pub is more your better class down-and-out Aussie hotel if you get what I mean. They're clean but the chip fat is still questionable.
    In Pip's time you couldn't escape the tobacco smoke and beer slops smells. In recent years, however something wonderful has happened in Australia - smoking is banned in almost all public and work places.
    These days it's quite easy for an asthmatic such as myself to go out to dinner or to a club without wheezing. Passive smoking has done untold damage and it's time that this invasion of others' air space was stopped.
    Your experience as a social worker would have given you a great insight into the other side of the tracks eh Judy?
    A typewriter very similar to the one pictured was directly to blame for my RSI and arthritis in my hands ... (I sound like I'm on the scrap heap!)
    Next episode of 'Paternity' coming up ...

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  21. Hi June, just finally catching up - you have written so much while I have been away. Great feedback - have you tried to get this published? Oh I so came from one of these country towns -

  22. Hi Lilly - no haven't even tried. I'm getting so much enthusiasm however, I might have a go.
    Hope they're happy memories ...

  23. It's just great, June, I love the story, the details, your description. You're a wonderful writer. Thanks again for encouraging me.

  24. G'day Sylvia
    I'm pleased you're getting into the story. Take care you don't get sunburnt!

  25. I really felt for Pip, thinking the pain her mother had gone through and had lived with all her life. Pip ached for her mother. She wished she would have known while her mother was still alive. Perhaps, she would have been able to help ease her pain. Now, Pip wants to know who those men who raped her mother, while at the same time find out who her father is.

    I'll come back another time. Sleep has descended upon me for which I'm gladly giving in.

    Good night.

  26. TASHA
    You have done so well - three episodes so late at night!
    See you soon and thanks.

  27. What a shocker for her to find out that the secret was such a violent one. And of course the next questions are obvious... Now she'll have to try to find out. And I wonder if she's actually worked out in her mind, at this point, that she's possibly the result of that rape. It's a hard thought, and I could see it maybe not coming to her right away...

  28. I am really pleased that you are taking Pip's path STEVE. She's a journalist and a daughter who doesn't know her father, so it's inevitable that she'll pursue the reality I think. Time will tell on the other points ...


Thanks for leaving a comment. Its good to know who is having a peek! I will certainly send a comment in reply.

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Also, you may like to have a look at my other blog 70 Plus and Still Kicking.

Cheers June