Sunday, 28 December 2008

Pip Stalks a Ghost - Episode 11 of 'Paternity' an original Australian mystery novel.

This is Episode Eleven of 'Paternity' in which Pip stalks the ghost of one of the men who raped her mother ...


And please leave feedback in a comment at the end of this instalment.

A branch from a jacaranda tree slapped the window outside her third floor apartment and feathered the shadows moving on the wall near her desk.

They pirouetted on her arm, lying there on the teak veneer.
Her skin was so fair. In the summer it coloured up a bit with a few visits to the beach, like now, but in the winter, it was very pale.

Pip threw on a pair of shorts and T shirt, stuffed her wallet and light jacket into a small leather back pack and took a bus east — to Balmoral where Pug Raven had lived until his accident. She felt as though she was a stalker.

She wanted to spy on Pug, even though he was dead.

She wanted to see where he had lived; watch his family and dredge the environment for clues.

The bus groaned its way into the distance along Bradleys Head Road and, now on foot, Pip descended the Raglan Street hill, heading towards the water. Respectable houses spilled down the slope.

Balmoral, the suburb, nestled around a bay not far from where Sydney Harbour met the sea. Proximity to water made Balmoral what it was — a place where trendy couples in joggers power walked along the Esplanade or lolled for al fresco breakfasts.

Matrons showed off their poodles and elderly grey haired gentlemen pulled down felt hats against the cold. Others in business suits slammed the doors of BMW cars to get themselves on the way to the office.

Pip bought a bagel and coffee in a disposable cup and rounded a corner into a prosperous though unpretentious and leafy neighbourhood. Joe had discovered that Pug's family still lived in the same place.

Pip rounded a corner and found herself standing in front of the rapist's former home.

Indistinguishable from the others, it too was surrounded by mature trees in a not-quite-manicured garden. Opposite there was a small park with a decrepit bench under a fig tree.

The large green leaves rustled in the stiff breeze, fanning her coffee as she settled down onto the splintery wood. She could just see his house through the shrubbery …

This was crazy stuff she told herself. What would a shrink say to her? Would she offer medication?

Pip finished the drink and squashed the cardboard cup against the rough timber of the seat.

But surely this need of hers was understandable. Raven had been one of the men charged with the gang rape of her mother just months before her birth. And Pip had never known who her father was …

As she watched, two children clattered across the verandah at the front of his house and ran down the front path. A boy and girl around 11 and 13 years.

The smaller of the two, the boy, wore a straw boater and a grey suit with a private school crest on its pocket. The girl’s uniform also placed her as a pupil of one of Sydney’s finest.

They made Pip think back to her own childhood – when she’d wished for a sibling of her own. Preferably a sister. Everyone else seemed to have a brother or a sister. For her though there was never anyone just there, on tap.

The boy and girl had hurled the front gate closed and were running down the road before Pip’s brain registered that they each had a dark complexion.

Ten minutes later the plump bagel still lay unopened in its paper bag and Pip came back from her reverie to notice that a tall attractive blonde woman had come out onto the verandah.

The woman locked his front door and walked to a garage at the rear of the garden.
The garden where Pug Raven spent his Sundays and played with his kids.

Garage doors and the double gates closed automatically after the near-new black sedan sped around the corner with a screeching of tyres.
The woman was fair and their children were dark skinned …

Pip tore the paper from the bagel and bit into its crust.

The tortured trees were trimmed into geometric shapes and the rose bushes stood in disciplined lines as though in a statement of victory over nature, defying the reality of surrounding death.

She’d been to several other funerals at Northern Suburbs Crematorium and always felt how artificial it was. Why couldn’t people rest among gum trees and banksias?

Why not allow emotions easy rein instead of imposing the strait jacket of such overwhelming order? Was it something to do with the supposed comfort of tradition?

Pip asked at the office and discovered that Pug Raven’s ashes were interred in one of many harsh brick walls dividing the northern slope of the grounds.

Some wayward leaves crunched beneath her feet as she moved along the bricks. There were so many bricks and there was little room between each wall. She felt claustrophobic and her back was aching.

She moved around another wall and there he was: Gerald Raven 5th November 1955 — 2nd March 2000. Farewelled with Love.

That was it.

The tiny plaque sat there defiant, offering nothing. Once again Pip had hoped for a sign, an indication, to help in her search. A feeling … anything.

Instead she stood before that damned plaque set there in a concentration camp of other plaques with a tiny sliver of blue sky above … and frustration as her only companion.

Pip’s credit card balance was making demands and work became a necessity.

She leafed through her writing journal for ideas and found some notes she’d made months before: Quarantine Station and the Great Plague.

The quarantine station at North Head was situated on one of Sydney’s grandest pieces of real estate, yet had meant horror and exile for many who spent time there.

Pip decided to write about the station’s role as a place of banishment in 1900 when bubonic plague brought panic to the city.

She thought the story might give a boost to a battle currently being fought to save the site for posterity.
She did some work on the net and continued her research in the library at the newspaper office.

Here she turned up the story of a small green launch that flew a yellow flag and brought corpses for quarantine from a depot at Woolloomooloo.

As the boat rounded into the jetty she whistled … Pip read.

On her way out of the building she dropped into Editorial to see Joe. He’d have news about when her country health story would go to press ...

The news editor’s body signalled pleasure when he saw her.

She was surprised to realise her own was making subtle signals as well …

‘The health story? Ah …’ Joe’s face clouded, ‘I have some news on that score.’

Pip didn’t like the sound of that.

‘The boss rang down this morning. Some bush solicitor has filed an injunction against publication. On the grounds that it could create problems for his clients who are suing the soccer club’s insurance company in the matter of the boy’s death. Alleging negligence …’

Pip felt something explode inside her. Con Robson again.

Joe tapped some buttons on his computer keyboard.

‘Robson. He’s your rapist friend?’

‘Yeah. Cute isn’t it. He thinks he’s demonstrating who’s boss.’

‘So he thinks. The paper’s going to fight it Magee. There’ll be a hearing this afternoon. The legal eagles reckon he’s got Buckley’s …’

Pip watched a young cadet struggling under a load of documents as he walked across the big space, cluttered with desks and chairs and occasional partitions. Phones rang and conversations hummed.

‘Probably. Probably he’s got Buckley’s chance. But he’s achieved his object already. To let me know he’s around. It’s a Con Robson power play … that’s what it is.’

Joe stuck a pen in his shirt pocket.

‘Well. He’ll probably cop the costs …’

‘He couldn’t give a damn. He’ll clock it up on the boys’ parents’ bill, you bet.’

Joe rang that night to say the court had lifted the injunction and that costs were awarded to the newspaper. Pip’s story would be printed next day.

‘The paper is making a point,’ Joe laughed.

Next morning Pip bought a paper on the last leg of her jogging session and flopped under a tree on the river bank. She battled with the broadsheet against a stiffening breeze …

The story was on page three — a much more prominent position than it deserved. That wouldn’t do any harm to the town’s cause.

Pip realised she had just raised her thumb in the air in that most contemptuous of gestures.

‘Fuck you Con Robson,’ she muttered.

Pip lay on a pile of cushions on the living room floor in her apartment nibbling at a stick of celery, and saturating herself in the Mozart concerto for clarinet.
She was thinking about Selene.

She thought of the days of sunshine when the two of them often wandered hand in hand around the rocks of a nearby beach.

She was the little girl who occasionally broke the link to explore magical pools with their star fish, drifting pink feelers of anemones, tiny shells.
The child was sufficiently sure of herself, and encouraged, to take her leave for a short while before returning to the mother — the figure who defined her world.

Pip remembered looking up, past the hand that enfolded her small one, to the steady encompassing smile framed against the sky. She felt again the sense of comfort and security.

From her child's viewpoint Pip could recall no hint of the confusion that would gradually overtake her mother, suppressing her personality and her life.

When it mattered most, and at whatever personal cost in those very early years, Pip's mother was always there — her daughter’s personal rock.

Despite Selene's inner hurts.

I know you were there Aunty.

The day before her aunt had sat in her meticulous kitchen, twisting a handkerchief until it knotted in her hands.

Pip had decided to face her with some direct questions.

Her distressed face was so unlike Selene’s in many ways, but at the same time her sister was there in the fleeting expressions, the way her mouth turned upwards at one corner, the general cut of her frame.

The women had always been close friends …

‘I know her secret. I know you were there at the trial, helping her. I have been to that town and I have even met some of the people who were involved. At last I know …’

‘She asked me to respect her confidence. She wanted it that way. I couldn’t … I couldn’t say anything.’

‘I understand … I do understand.’

Pip leaned down and took her aunt in her arms and they swayed there, sobbing together.

At last they drew apart, but they were still joined by pain.

In time, her aunt spoke: ‘Pip, she suffered so. And yet she was so very strong …’

‘Yeah. I know that now. I mean, I know why … I know the why to so many things now …’

The refrigerator in the corner turned itself off, leaving an intense silence that stretched interminably.

‘Aunty … I went there to discover my dad.’

She nodded.

'The thing is, I still don’t know …’

‘Well … perhaps that might be for the best…’

‘I do want to know. I hate secrets. Even if the answer is something horrific, I still want to know …

'It’s perhaps crazy, but I feel lighter just knowing what I do now. That’s me. That’s just me.’

Pip buried her face in her hands, feeling the comfort of the comparative darkness.

‘They were such horrible people …’ her aunt murmured.

Pip looked up. ‘Yes. Horrible people.’

‘And that town and the court and the police and everyone watching her … watching us. Horrible.’

‘Thanks for helping her.’

Aunty managed a smile through a stream of tears.

‘Of course I’d help her.’

‘Yes. Of course you would.’

The fridge began humming again.

‘Aunty, the thing is, I think there is more to discover … Did Selene ever talk about details … to you? Did she say there seemed to be something missing? Missing from the accounts given in the evidence and different from the events of that night?’

‘Well no ... That was perhaps her big problem. She didn’t talk about it. It was as though she couldn’t remember … locked it all inside herself. I think it festered away inside … gave her those problems.’


‘I was just there for her. Trying to protect her … She had no-one else. The way they treated her — it was as though she was to blame.’

'Did she ever get help … counselling?’

‘No … we didn’t know about those things. There was certainly nothing like that in that … that place.’

‘Makes sense … No wonder she had such a battle … Well … I’ve found out a few things myself.’

And Pip sat there with her aunt and told her what she knew. She wasn’t letting the secret lie fallow any longer. She was determined to bring everything into the open if she could.

They drank cups of tea and talked until darkness closed in.

Next day Pip fired up her computer and began exploring links on the Human Genome web site.

When the father is unavailable for DNA testing … Grandpaternity is a straightforward test when both of his parents are available and there is no doubt as to his parentage …

Bad luck about that.

She’s also thought about Pug’s children’s DNA but ruled the idea out as unworkable and possibly unreliable as well.

Deceased individuals can be tested using medical, funerary, or abandoned biological materials.

Now we’re talking.

Tests can be performed on some very unusual samples such as envelope flaps, cigarette butts, and very old blood stains.

Another web link … What every law enforcement officer should know about DNA evidence.

Aha …

'A few cells can be sufficient to obtain useful DNA information to help your case … just because you cannot see a stain does not mean that there are not enough cells for DNA typing … DNA collected from the perspiration on a baseball cap discarded by a rapist …

Once again the internet had won through for her.

Pip closed down her laptop and poured herself a large celebratory scotch.

The place was in an old building in a side street of Rushcutters Bay.

Pip walked under a sign that said ‘The Bay Gym’ and began climbing some wooden stairs that showed wear from thousands of feet over dozens of years on their way to dance in the squared ring.

She could hear the smack of leather against leather and flesh as soon as the narrow stairwell gave way to a large and dingy space that was the gym.

A wall opposite held a poster proclaiming a quote of Mike Tyson’s: I won my last few fights on brute strength and intimidation.

The boxing ring itself was set above the surrounding area, flooded with light.

Two guys in head guards were apparently doing their best to knock each other senseless, with one notching up more success than the other, and already pinning his opponent on the ropes.
Half a dozen others stood around yelling encouragement, and Benny Dale extracted himself from this group and walked towards her through the gloom outside the ring.

‘Howdy Pip. Found us okay?’

‘No worries.’

Benny was a boxing writer attached to a ring magazine in the same stable as Joe’s daily. His bent nose and cauliflower ears demonstrated a long term interest. Joe got him to agree to smooth Pip’s way into the scene.

She hadn’t been to a boxing gym before and peered around with fascination. Men were everywhere, skipping rope, punching bags and lifting weights.

She noticed two muscular women kitted up and shadow boxing on the other side of the ring. It looked as though they were warming up for the next bout.

Pip nodded in their direction: ‘I read they were trying to stamp out women in the boxing game. They reckon it’s too dangerous for them.’

‘Not having much luck. Don’t forget it’s the land of equal opportunity. You dames want to be in everythin these days.’

‘And fair enough too. Blokes have had it good for too long.’

‘So you’re doin a story about Pug Raven?’

‘Well, we’ll see. You can say a bit of research anyway.’

Benny said Pug was a partner in the gymnasium over five years and was well liked.

‘He was real good in the ring himself, even though he was a little fella. Won a flyweight title a few years ago. As a promoter he was fair and ran a bloody good gym. Grown men cried the day word came through that he’d been killed.’

Raven must have turned over a new leaf … took his punishment for the rape and began anew. Or maybe being a pack rapist and a gaol bird was of no account in the boxing world …

‘He did pretty well for himself money wise too didn’t he? Got a house in Balmoral …’

‘Oh yeah. These days people like to work out. This place is a fitness centre as much as anything.’

‘So grown men cried …’

‘They did. They even got together a bit of a memorial for him over there. Some of his boxing stuff. Trophies, his title belt …’

‘Can we have a look?’

The smell of sweat was profound as they moved to the back of the room. The memorial was in a long glass case against the wall — stuffed with all sorts of memorabilia, topped off with a large photograph of the dead man.

The pic looked like a copy of the one the paper emailed to her at the pub, but this big clear print was even more flattering. The eyes were hypnotic, and set in a finely chiselled face.

The boxing bric-a-brac itself was strangely moving. Remnants of a person’s existence. Such inanimate objects seemed to have an element of life about them when they were in use, and took on a different character once abandoned.

In this case, Pug’s mates had invested the odds and ends with a new status altogether. As museum pieces.

Pip’s own purpose in this seemed tawdry somehow. But she had to keep her eye on the big picture — and Selene’s tortures were the centre of that.

The words from the genome web site eddied in her brain: A few cells can be sufficient to obtain useful DNA information to help your case … just because you cannot see a stain does not mean that there are not enough cells for DNA typing.

‘Benny, is all this old, or gear he had late in his life?’

‘A mixture, I think. I know the manager put aside the stuff he’d been using when he worked out that morning. The morning he died. In memory of, sort of thing …’

Pip leaned forward eagerly. Gloves. Boots. Mouth piece. Head guard, protection cup, shorts.

‘That stuff there you mean?’

Benny nodded.

‘What are those strips of cloth in the little mesh bag Ben?’

‘His hand wraps. The ones he’d been wearing ...’

‘So they use hand wraps under their gloves? And they saved the ones he’d been wearing?’

‘Mmmm. You wouldn’t think such tough critters could be so sentimental.’

‘And he’d have unwound them from his hands and put them straight in that bag … the bag with a zipper.’

‘Yeah. Pug might use his wraps for a couple of sparring sessions and then you could toss them in a washing machine in the bag and use them some more. The bag stops them tangling.’

‘And the bag would allow in fresh air.’

Pip couldn’t believe her luck.

‘And the head guard. What about the head guard? Would anyone have used it since?’

‘The same. All this stuff was in his locker and then it became part of the memorial. What’s with the detail Pip?’

'It’s just that this is a new world for me … never heard of hand wraps.’
Pip pulled at her ear lobe.

‘Benny … any chance I might borrow a couple of these things? For a picture. These aren’t ideal circumstances for pix. Do you reckon they’ll let me take them back to the paper, for just a few hours? We could get them done in the studio, under lights.’

‘What were you thinkin of? Wouldn’t be much of a picture …’

‘I’ll get them to stooge something up. What do you reckon?’

‘I’ll give it a go …’

Half an hour later Pip walked down the wooden steps with a big brown paper bag containing a boxing head guard, hand wraps and a mouth piece.

All used.

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.


DNA forensics is a fascinating field and could have far reaching implications. Does anyone have some views on this?