An old linotype machine of the variety used at Frank's newspaper. The operator sits at the keyboard at front and the peculiar machinery works to produce lead 'slugs' from hot metal in a cauldron within the linotype. See videos on the sidebar to see how these contraptions worked. © 2008 photobucket inc.
This is episode nine of 'Paternity' in which outback mechanic Gazza is the suspect when Pip's car tyres are slashed. Is this act in retribution for the young journalist's efforts to find out about the rape of her mother?
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THE STEAM ON THE BATHROOM MIRROR could not blot out the purple and black of the bruise on the side of her face. It looked as though she’d been three rounds …
Pip decided to ignore the wound and bluff her way through the day.
The hall clock showed eleven as she walked downstairs. It was Sunday and the bar was supposed to be closed. However, she knew that most country pubs entertained a certain amount of unofficial drinking, Sabbath or no, and this pub was no exception.
Frank was over in the corner, a cigarette in his rust-coloured fingers. He’d been waiting for her.
Pip paused for the reaction, and got it. ‘Good god Pippin what happened?’
Frank’s face was grey as she told her story.
‘You’re nuts. You know that! You can’t go tangling with that type of person by yourself. He’s been in gaol for chrissake. Things happen to you in gaol, and he was probably a thug before he went in anyway.’
‘I see your point …’
‘You can be damned sure he doesn’t want to go back in there, and he won’t let a slip of a girl get in his way.’
‘It was a considered risk Frank. It was a way to get a bit of action going.’
‘You’ve done that all right.’
He took a long drag on his cigarette, then ashed it into a tin tray that carried an advertisement for Johnny Walker whisky.
‘You are such a mixture my girl. Cautious at one breath and fearless, even stupid, the next.’
Pip shrugged away his concern.
‘Robson’s reaction last night showed he is still very sensitive about the rape. Show’s he’s vulnerable eh?’
‘Well, he would be …’
‘How am I going to rule him out? I need to, you know. With Raven dead …’
‘Whatever you do mate, please take care …’
Pip’s mind was on a roll.
‘I suppose the next move is to get the DNA tests under way — George will be easy. But I’ll have to apply to the court for Gazza of course.’
‘That’s better done in the city … ’
‘Mmmm. Which means I have to get this assignment out of the way and take myself back home.’
Someone dropped a tray of glasses behind the bar and the crash of broken glass made the silence that followed seem as dense as a moonless night.
‘So, Pippin … You’ll be able to get the truth on Wimpole and Gazza. A test for Raven seems out of the question and Robson’s a problem.’
Frank was as solemn as she’d ever seen him. ‘Isn’t this just chasing impossible ghosts? Mate … what if … What if it was none of those blokes? What if it was someone else altogether?’
‘Frank my mum wasn’t up for one night stands …’
‘But maybe there was someone you didn’t know about?’
‘Shut up Frank – no more complications!’
She banged her hand on the table to underline her frustration.
Then Pip sat quiet a moment looking towards the cleaner gathering up the broken glass, but with her eyes out of focus.
‘It’s no use putting the horse before the cart Frank. Look - here’s something … I’ve had a thought about Con Robson …’
‘What d’ya mean?’
‘A year or so ago the government announced it would set up a data bank of DNA profiles of prisoners in gaols. Do you remember?’
‘Well yeah. I do. But how widespread would that be?’
‘I’m pretty sure that everyone with a sentence of more than five years has to comply these days.’
‘So. Robson you reckon? You’d be lucky if he was caught in the net so early in the project, wouldn’t you?’
Pip sipped an orange juice she’d ordered. ‘I suppose so.’
‘And how the hell could you get into that file anyway? You should probably get used to the idea that you’ll never solve this one …’
‘I’m going to do my damnedest Frank.’
Hungry, Pip abandoned the pub and wandered down the road to try her luck at the café. The smell of steak and eggs wafted out of the kitchen as she settled herself into one of the alcoves and ordered a serve for herself. She asked the young waiter to add some bacon and tomatoes, a couple of slices of toast and a cup of coffee.
The Greek’s moustache twitched again, along with his smile, when she told him she’d been able to get enough information from the Rouse family.
Some people in the town held high hopes for the influence her story might have on the Minister for Health. She was convinced they didn’t have much of a chance of getting their hospital back, although she intended helping if she could.
Pip was down to the bacon rind when George Wimpole slid into the seat opposite. He’d rung her mobile earlier saying he wished to see her. She was hoping he wasn’t having second thoughts about his test.
George looked worried. That morning his cousin Gazza visited him for the first time in years and told him that Con Robson was worried about her connection to Selene.
‘He threatened me Pip. Told me to keep my mouth shut or else …’ George was absentmindedly rubbing his index finger up and down the edge of the Formica table.
‘He doesn’t have to know does he? He’d only find out if you let something slip.’
‘Yes,’ George straightened himself ‘It was my decision to talk to you. It was time.’
‘We shouldn’t be seen together George.’
‘No. I just didn’t want to speak on the phone. I wouldn’t rule out phone tapping in the Robson camp.’
‘That’s a bit sophisticated isn’t it? Around here?'
‘The Robsons have been powerful people for a long time Miss Holmes, and they don’t stop short of anything that needs to be done for them to remain that way. I wish you hadn’t told him about your mother …’
‘I wanted a bit of action George and it seems I’ve got it.’
‘I hope we don’t get too much action.’ Wimpole was pulling his ear lobe, ‘I won’t let you down. I’ve made up my mind, and I’ll be going ahead with the test tomorrow. Be careful Pip.’
‘You be careful too George.’
Wimpole stepped briskly out of the café and Pip swirled the remaining contents of her coffee cup. Poor old George. She hoped she hadn’t stirred up trouble for him.
The assignment had to be wrapped up quickly now. Staunch said he had broken the ice with football club secretary Jerry Humber and the coach Jack Tripp, and promised to set up a meeting. If she twisted Harold’s arm they might be able to get that out of the way this afternoon.
She needed to visit the hospital 400km to the south for background info and maybe some statistics. That could happen on her way home.
Frank left his desk at the Guardian office when she peered through the door, and was now dragging deeply on a cigarette. That afternoon he’d written a couple of thousand words towards his latest crime thriller, and he was pleased with himself.
As they walked along the edge of the road towards the pub Pip marvelled at the effect softening shadows were having on the last of the day. The massive sky was fast losing its colour, and there was a drift of haze caressing the hills to the west.
Humber and Tripp had turned up for their arranged meeting with her in the pub lounge that afternoon. True to his word, Harold Staunch was there too, in the role of mother hen.
The shabby space was deserted apart from their group, and the men opened up and provided some good copy for her. They were in emotional knots about the death of the boy and the injustices they saw as being perpetrated on the town by the big ugly city.
Pip found herself listening to the simple and proud country men with empathy. They and their ancestors had worked hard on this land and figured the rest of the nation owed them for their efforts. Instead the world was hurtling headlong into change, and the country folk were being left behind, swamped in the slipstream.
The town didn’t want much, they told her — only simple supports that would allow their families to remain where they were, but with dignity and some of the spoils that made modern life a bit easier. They’d made their contribution they said. How would the city people have prospered without their country cousins?
She felt she could excuse these people for the angry front they presented to strangers. The men had no hidden agenda — unlike others in their town.
Pip had brought Frank up to speed by the time they breasted the bar.
‘So it’s back to the smoke tomorrow?’
‘Mmm. Early. I’ll travel via the regional hospital. I want to milk them of some statistics as background. How do you think I’ll go?’
‘They’re generally as tight as traps. But I do have a contact on the staff — Barbara Barns is the Deputy Director of Nursing. She gets sick of the rubbish that goes on with the administration and spills some beans to me now and then. She’ll probably help you. I’ll give her a bell in the morning. Let her know you’re coming.’
They wandered over to the window table, beers in hand. Men were drifting in now, beating their broad hats against muscled thighs, and eager to lay the dust.
‘You’ll keep me in touch with any antics? Of Robson and Co?’
‘Yeah, of course. ‘Though they’ll probably return to their burrows when you’re not around … How are you going to work on this now? You’re determined to keep going?’
‘While I can. George Wimpole is getting his test this week and I’ll make an application to force Gazza into it as soon as I can.’
‘That’s when the shit could hit the fan. I’m pleased you’re getting out of the place.’
Pip nodded. ‘Bloody Gazza. He’d lash out all right, if I was within cooee … I’ve no ambition to be a target for his spleen.’
She noticed her throat rasped as she spoke.
‘I’ll see what I can chase down on Raven among the boxing crowd too. You never know … '
‘Got any ideas about Con Robson? It will be hard to get the wood on him. You’ll have to ferret your way into the system somehow.’
‘You’re not the only one with contacts Frank.’
She knew this was almost pure bravado. The prison data base was fairly new and there was a stink from the privacy people when it was introduced.
The department was bound to be squeaky clean about leaks at this stage in the game, but she’d cracked harder nuts than this in the past.
Pip was already shivering with the brisk cold of morning when she got to the pub bathroom next day to find the hot water was off. She gritted her teeth and passed under the freezing shower almost on the run. The slippery plastic curtain made its usual lunge at her on the way out of the recess, and she tripped over the rubber mat.
It was a good start to the day.
As she told Frank, she had decided to make an early beginning on the trip home, and wanted to leave plenty of time for her visit to the regional hospital. She would stay overnight as far down the track as she could after that.
Rays of light were seeping over the horizon when she stepped onto the rough wooden verandah with her first lot of gear and tip toed gingerly to the steel fire stairs. These reached from the upper level down to the car park at the back of the pub. The last thing she wanted was to wake any of the old soaks and road construction workers who made the hotel their home.
The cook was waddling from the woodshed with arms full of kindling, a look of concern on her pancake face.
‘Vot happened to your car?’
‘It is damaged …’
Pip picked up her stride. Her car was standing, leaning oddly, at one end of the building. She could see two tyres had been slashed and there was a great scar in the paint work as though someone had scraped a screwdriver its full length. The bastards.
They hadn’t got inside. And the engine started at first turn of the key.
‘You have a problem.’ The cook had followed her to the car.
‘Yes, I have a problem.’
Pip carted the gear back up the fire stairs and dumped it onto the bed. She would sort out the vehicle situation after an early breakfast. The cook put in front of her a plate mounded with steaming scrambled egg on a soggy slice of white toast.
Gazza would have been the culprit, probably at the bidding of Con Robson. She could smell their involvement. It was certain she would not go to Gazza for new tyres. So what to do?
She’d been getting her petrol from a pump outside the grocery shop a couple of doors down. Could be they had some contacts …
Frank wandered into the dining room, bleary eyed, and headed for the urn. He sat opposite her with his instant coffee.
‘I thought you’d be gone by now.’
‘So did I.’
Pip told him what had happened and he jumped to the same conclusion as she had done — that Gazza and Robson were to blame. He thought old Rattray at the grocery shop would be able to get the tyres.
‘There’s no way that they’ll be here before tomorrow though. He’ll have to get them over on the bus.’
‘C’est la vie.’
Pip ordered the tyres and used the rest of the day leafing through more of the old files at the Guardian office.
The place was owned by a family who began the paper fifty years before. The matriarch was the big woman Pip had seen reading galley proofs on her first visit. She ran the business with an iron first and was by far the hardest worker around.
She looked after the tiniest details, including wiping a rag dipped in disinfenctant over the handset of the one office telephone, supposedly to ward off illnesses. Make a call in that office and you nearly gagged with the smell of eucalyptus.
The matriarch had shown a deal of tolerance and even friendship towards her, and for that Pip was thankful.
After a couple of hours with her head down and no real results Pip wandered around the print shop at the back of the office.
The little weekly tabloid was still produced old style.
In a hot and airless corner of the room a thin balding guy in a black apron and with a twinkle in his eye showed her how the linotype worked. It was a maze of moving parts clinking and gyrating around a central keyboard.
The fuss finally produced hot slugs of rectangular shaped lead, each the size of one line in a newspaper column. Inside the machine she could glimpse the cauldron of silver grey molten metal used to mould the slugs. She could feel the heat tingle on her face.
When the slugs cooled down another operator called a compositor arranged them carefully into heavy frames or formes the size of two tabloid pages. This younger man worked methodically, his big hands smeared with black ink, looking too awkward for the job.
He placed the bits of lead into patterns that were recognisable newspaper columns, and topped them off with individual pieces of type that became headlines. All of the type was mirror reverse and you had to adapt your eyes and your brain before you could read any of it.
With a grunt of satisfaction when the formes were full and the patterns making the newspaper pages complete, the compositor tightened the frame using a type of allen wrench in several holes along each side.
Then one at a time he humped his heavy burdens over to a small galley press where he used a big ink roller to blacken the formerly silver coloured slugs to obtain an impression on newsprint.
He took the proof to the matriarch who read it for mistakes.
At last when the big woman was satisfied, the printer staggered with the heavy formes over to the the big flat bed printing press that waited in silent vigil to receive them.
‘Do you go nuts turning everything inside out?’ She was speaking about the mirror reverse fonts.
‘Becomes second nature in no time.’ The compositor was a slow moving guy with a lazy grin.
Pip gazed astonished as a young apprentice fed the flat bed with separate sheets of double broadsheet size newsprint.
With a deep mechanical clunk the machine grasped each sheet, hurled it past the formes and spewed it, printed on one side, out of the rear. By this the printed type was in its traditional, readable form.
The lad then knocked the big pages into a neat heap, turned them over and did it all again to make the printed impression on the second side. Finally a hand guillotine in the corner sliced the pages in two to become the familiar tabloid size.
Shades of the French Revolution, that big shiny blade.
She thought about the contrast with the computer generated artwork and gigantic presses back at the daily ...
By the end of the day Pip had turned up several stories about the Robson family. They were apparently large land holders in the district and Robson and his late father figured prominently in court reports, invariably defending criminals.
She noticed that over the years Staunch had made statements to the paper lamenting the shortage of health facilities in the town — and that was before they closed down the hospital.
There were also occasional stories featuring George Wimpole as a spokesman for the school where he taught and Gazza got his share of headlines as a football hero. Raven faded from the columns when he left town.
She noted that her mother’s rape case proved to be a short term wonder so far as the Guardian was concerned. Pip found no reference to it in papers dated after the sentencing.
The fact that the men were to be gaoled for their crimes appeared in a small panel story on page four, in just one issue.
Frank returned from a job he’d been doing out of town and was back at his desk.
‘Thanks for everything mate.’
‘Any time, you know that. I tell you what though — you can pay me back.’
‘Just write a few letters to the editor and fax them down to me. Then we’ll be square.’
Typical. During her cadetship Letters to the Editor columns were often filled with pieces pounded out by young journalists in their spare time. There were never enough readers’ contributions.
‘Next you’ll be wanting me to write something about 34B bras.’
‘I’d forgotten that one … Why not?’
In the old days when news was short Frank would draw on office myths to fill a space. This one told about readers calling in with complaints that a thief was stealing women’s bras from backyard clotheslines.
The thief only took garments size 34B.
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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This episode illustrates that there is more than meets the eye in newspaper production - even in a little country rag. How much do you know about journalism and publishing - yesterday and today?