Young Sydney journalist Pip Holmes thinks George Wimpole knows more than he's saying about her mother's gang rape. It is a bizarre subject for a sedate morning tea but Pip is willing to do a lot to find out who her father was ...
This is episode seven of my original mystery novel 'Paternity'.
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By ten Pip was in the dining room making the best of a cup of the pub’s odious instant coffee when the roustabout came in with a message that there was a phone call for her. It was Harold Staunch.
In his wheezy country gent’s voice Staunch told her that he’d got the Rouse family to agree to an interview — persuaded them that it would be good for the town’s prospects for extra health services. He would meet her at the Rouse farm at eight that night.
Pip gave the rest of the coffee a big miss and went back to her bedroom where she hauled the laptop from its hidey hole in the wardrobe.
The email she wrote was addressed to her mate Joe Black, the news editor. Could he ask his newspaper library for a photograph of the late Gerald ‘Pug” Raven, the boxing promoter?
Joe replied an hour later: ‘What’s ‘Pug’ Raven got to do with our story about a dead kid in the bush?’ She chose to ignore the question and soon there was another email, this time from the library, with an attachment.
Pip double clicked on Raven.jpg, and there in front of her was a head and shoulders pic of a good-looking man around fifty. His dark brown eyes drilled straight into her. You couldn’t ignore this guy if you were in the same room, she thought. Charisma plus.
But … no one had told her that Raven was black. The third rapist was an American Negro.
It was Saturday and Pip knew where to find Frank.
The stale smell of last night’s tobacco and alcohol dregs swept over her as she wandered into the bar and ordered two large scotches and a hot pie and sauce. She took them over to the table near the corner window, put one of the scotches in front of Frank, and told him the news.
He twisted and fixed her with a stare from his green eyes: ‘How do you feel about that?’
‘It doesn’t make it any easier.’
‘Well, it’s pretty obvious you aren’t his daughter anyway isn’t it?’
‘I don’t know … could be a throwback or something. The race thing wouldn’t worry me, but I can’t see a boxer in my genes. For that matter I can’t see a Wimpole or a Gazza either.’
‘Yeah. Not your ideal parents, any of ‘em. How are you coppin’ this kiddo? It’s all a bit rough eh?’
Pip caught Frank’s concerned gaze at that moment. It was good to have a friend you could depend on.
She turned then and looked out of the window and into the distance.
Frank spoke his thoughts: ‘This Pug Raven thing. How do these DNA tests work?’
‘As I understand it genetic fingerprinting reveals all sorts of things, including parentage and racial makeup. Just take a cheek swab, pluck a few bits of hair out by the roots, or provide some drops of semen or bits of skin, and they’ve got your deepest darkest secrets.
‘Here’s something though … Raven was cremated so it’s probably bad luck about a DNA test.’
Frank drew deeply on his roll-your-own before stubbing the butt. ‘You’ll just have to depend on the other blokes. Gazza and George,’ he said.
‘There may be some other ways …’
Frank coughed his deep cough, and she watched as he licked the edge of another Tally Ho paper and jammed stray strands of tobacco into the cylinder with a match.
‘I’ve got ten minutes to get some bets on Sydney – I’ll see you later,’ he squeezed off his stool and made it through the door to the street.
Pip drained her scotch, swirling the ice cubes in the glass, then turned to the pie that was almost cold.
The solution to her mother’s secret might still be close despite this setback.
She thought about another search she’d done on the web that morning … It brought the discovery of a law brought in only a few years ago which meant she could compel Gazza to take a DNA test.
The law was drafted in part to provide protection to single mothers battling to prove the paternity of a child. It meant natural fathers could then be called upon to provide maintenance for their offspring.
It seemed that this same law would now be useful to Pip. She could demand a DNA test of Bullfinck after providing grounds of a reasonable belief regarding paternity, and the rape court case surely made that clear enough.
Wimpole had already agreed to have a test.
The answer to her paternity puzzle might be around the corner, or it might not! Pip ordered another drink and skulled it as soon as she sat down again.
Three rapists: one who had offered to co-operate, a second who could be compelled to take part, and a third who was dead.
The crux of the matter was that if one of the first two did not provide a positive test the thing would still be up in the air.
If the first two were ruled out still she would be no further ahead. Even if she could somehow determine the third man’s DNA the matching might be negative. She would still not know who her father was.
At least she would know that her existence wasn’t the result of a gang rape, but would that be enough?
‘The kettle’s on Miss Holmes.’ George Wimpole ushered her into his house, and soon she sat, legs swinging, on the lumpy lounge chair of her previous visit. George, on the hard backed chair opposite, fixed her with a kindly and curious gaze.
‘I didn’t imagine I’d see you so soon. I’ll drive over to the hospital on Monday as arranged — so they can take some samples.’ He looked embarrassed.
Pip looked around the room. She’d been too taken up with the emotion of the moment on the first visit and hadn’t really noticed much about this man’s environment.
Everything was as neat as a pin and the choice of décor was almost feminine. Frank said George had no family except a sister in London. There was no mention of any long term relationship, so she’d have to put the décor down to George himself.
The walls were a pale pink colour and there were plumped up floral cushions everywhere, and even drapes to match. He’d arranged a fresh bunch of flowers in a cut glass bowl on the sideboard …
‘I’m sorry to take you back to painful times George, but I’d really like to get a few more details … about the men involved on that night, for instance.’
Wimpole folded his arms against her, his small frame ramrod straight.
‘Gazza is your cousin …’
‘In a way he is. That’s what I call him. But I was adopted by my parents.’
Pip could hear her own breathing. ‘So he’s really no relation?’
‘Not a blood relative, no. But that didn’t make any difference to the influence he had on my early life.’
‘I haven’t had much to do with him in recent years Miss Holmes. I can’t stand him. Never could.’
‘I can see how that could happen.’ She had made an understatement, thought Pip.
‘As a kid, he was always the bane of my life. He was a real bully, and he used to put me through a fair bit of hell. Goaded the other kids to do the same … to tease me.’
‘And that was the scene on the night of the rape. So the papers say.’
‘Yes. I really didn’t have much choice.’
Everyone has a choice. Pip realised her lips were pursed.
He didn’t seem to notice, but leant forward with an earnest expression. ‘That whole year is still a nightmare to me. I mean literally. I re-live it in my dreams.’
Pip waited for him to continue.
‘I can only imagine what your mother went through. Both that night and through the whole terrible ordeal. The pregnancy. And the trial.’
‘She didn’t seem to get much help from the town. I hope she had friends there. At the trial? Do you know?’
George was a link to her mother’s past, and she may as well learn as much as she could.
‘The prosecution was on her side of course. And I noticed a woman about her own age who sat in the court every day. I remember thinking how similar they were. Assumed they were sisters.’
The phone call with her Aunt loomed large for Pip at that moment.
So … Aunty knew more than she was letting on. She was probably quite shy about the whole thing, and to the last she was respecting Selene’s wishes not to spill the beans.
That was her generation for you. They suffered in silence and did themselves and everyone around them untold emotional harm.
‘And that night … Did you and the others — Gazza and Raven — talk about what had happened?’
‘Oh, they talked. They sat around drinking and gloating for hours. They were animals. I just waited my chance and went off to bed.’
There was a crow cawing outside in the yard, and she could hear the refrigerator humming.
Wimpole was chewing the nail on his right thumb. He moved his hand to his chair and sat on it. He looked at her intently again.
‘There’s something I can’t understand Miss Holmes …’
‘Why do you want to stir this up again, after all of these years? It must be very painful.’
Pip felt her ire rise.
‘It’s a pretty bloody basic part of my life! Of course I want to know who my father was.’
Wimpole backed off into his wooden chair. ‘I’m sorry.’
Her inner being settled again and she almost felt sorry for him.
‘Yeah. Even if the answer is horrible, I still want to know. I’ve always faced things head on George. I’m that sort of person. If there’s a problem I try to solve it. If there’s a mystery, I get to the bottom of it. Something about being a journalist I suppose.’
Why can’t people understand?
‘Even if it gets me into trouble, that’s what I do.’
‘Yes. I can see … I’ve forgotten the kettle. Let’s have that cup of tea.’
He remembered she took black tea with sugar, and proffered a plate of plain packet biscuits.
She stirred in the two heaped teaspoons and took one of the cookies.
‘I’d hate to think Gazza was my father — that’s for sure. The fact is though I can’t see me in any of you.’
‘This is a very strange conversation isn’t it … May I call you Pip, Miss Holmes?’
‘Can’t see why not George. Yes … it is a strange conversation. But the whole situation is pretty damned strange.’ And that was putting it mildly. ‘And Raven. What about him? I know he was into boxing.’
‘How long since you’ve heard from him?’
‘Once again … er … Pip, he wasn’t my cup of tea.’ Wimpole glanced at the drink on the small table at his side. ‘Pardon the pun,’ a weak smile played on his face.
Wimpole said that Pug Raven and Gazza were part of the town football club scene, and knocked around a lot together, although Raven seemed to be a superior type of character to good old Gazza. But who wouldn’t be?
‘Pug’s father was a boxing promoter. He owned one of those travelling boxing tent circuses … you know, they used to move into towns and incite all of the young men into hitting each other senseless for a few dollars.
This town spelt the end of the business when Pug’s father got into the ring himself and took a particularly heavy punch. He was never the same again, and after that the family became part of the town. The father seemed a very old man when I knew him.’
'You went to school with Pug? He was about your age?’
‘He was a year older, I’d say. Pug was good with his fists and some years ago made it in Sydney as a flyweight. He was quite a small man, of course, and I understand he later moved into promoting.’
George’s eye was smarting, and he looked past her into some unknown distance.
Pip was doing some thinking of her own: So Pug Raven was another small man, a runt like she was. Previously, she would have favoured him as the answer to her puzzle — except that he was black.
‘George, I still can’t understand how a group of supposedly sane men can turn themselves into a pack of rapists. I know it’s fairly common, but to me hunting a woman down and using her, with so many against one, is beyond belief.’
George sat back on his chair.
‘I’ve done some reading about such matters in recent years, in an attempt to settle myself about the whole episode.’
‘Yes, it was all traumatic for you too — being forced into it, as you say.’
‘Certainly. Pip, I often ask myself why it happened. These days the experts suggest that male bonding has a lot to do with men acting together in evil. They get close in something like a football team, for instance, and sometimes take the next step and go outside the law. Forming a pack …’
‘The theory sounds about right then doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, it does, especially given my knowledge of the men involved. I rarely drink, but when I was younger I made it a habit to go to the hotel at the week-ends to have a meal and to socialise, as everyone did.’
Pip watched as George fussed with his tie. Here he was — at home on his day off and he still wore a tie. She wondered if the formality was in honour of her visit.
‘In those years I heard some pretty offensive conversations. The young men often spoke about gang bangs and how the women “asked for what they got”. They thought there was no harm in it so long as the victim wasn’t knocked around too much. Horrific really.’
It seemed as though George had no idea that Pug Raven was dead. ‘George, you don’t know that Pug Raven died a few months ago?’
George’s his jaw lengthened and he became very quiet again.
‘That won’t help, will it. Your investigation?’
‘No it certainly won’t. But George, I can’t see how Pug can be my father anyway. Can you?’
A tide of colour swept George Wimpole’s face.
‘So you know he was black — an African American?’
‘Yes, I know. And I know It’s unlikely that he was my father, but I also know that I’m unlikely to be able to rule out the possibility. Not now. You see Pug was cremated and tracking down any reliable samples of his DNA would probably be very difficult indeed.’
‘Couldn’t you tell from your own blood? Or hair follicles or whatever? Couldn’t they tell whether you had African American forebears?’
‘Apparently that is a possibility and I’ll act on that. But it seems to me that I’d need to get Raven’s DNA if I am to be sure. That is, unless the results are positive for your test, or Gazza’s.'
George Wimpole’s face contorted in deep concern. She hadn’t seen him so troubled.
‘Is there something you haven’t told me?’
At long last George Wimpole turned to her. ‘Yes, Miss Holmes. There is.’
Pip noticed that a large huntsman spider crept from a corner of the room to cling to the plastic light fitting in the centre of the ceiling. It was strange the things that made an impression at intense moments.
She turned to George. His mouth muscles were working hard, and finally the words came …
‘There was a fourth man there that night.’
The sentence fell slowly from Wimpole’s prissy lips.
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.
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Do you think that Wimpole could be Pip's father? Why? Please tell me in a comment and let me know if you are enjoying 'Paternity' ...