Saturday, 10 January 2009

Frying an Egg on a Hot Road - Episode 13 of 'Paternity' an Australian mystery novel

This is Episode Thirteen of 'Paternity' in which Pip returns to the town where her mother was pack raped. The young journalist may soon know who her father was.


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

As she humped her bag across the scalding bitumen Pip thought again of her cadetship days and another of those stand by fillers that Frank pulled out of his kit when there was a shortage of copy.

On a hot Australian summer day he’d get the newest of the photographers to crack an egg on the road outside the office and take shots as it gradually fried in the rays of the sun. Often, it was also a sort of twisted initiation for the cadet.

The city cooks in forty degrees heat the heading would scream.

Sure enough, Frank was wetting his whistle in the bar when she wandered downstairs after her shower. He caught sight of her and grinning hugely, enfolded her in a bear hug.

‘So you’re back mate.’ He held her at arms length and the smile in his eyes turned to worry.

‘You’ll have to be damned careful my girl.’

Pip shrugged with fabricated bravado. ‘Con will be the one who has to be careful. What’s the latest?’

‘Some bad news about George. He’s been flown from over at the regional hospital by helicopter to Westmead Hospital in Sydney. I’m afraid that his broken ribs have pierced his lung and there are other issues too. The doctors say he’s in a bad way.’

It seemed that George was in such a bad way that the assault charge could easily become one of murder.

It was a while before either spoke again, and Pip broke the silence.

‘This is getting out of hand … Perhaps I should let everything drop Frank.’

‘What difference would that make now mate? The damage is done. On the other hand Robson could get his comeuppance, if we’re lucky.'

Frank said the sergeant was still working on Gazza in the belief that self preservation would produce information to incriminate Robson.

‘I reckon Con is a goner,’ he said with conviction.

‘Let’s hope you’re right. Is the beer cold?’

‘They’re not game to serve it any other way … I’ll get you one.’

Frank was as good as his word. The beer was icy cold and as the fluid slipped down she could feel herself relaxing. Her old friend was looking intently towards her.

‘I don’t get why you’re here right now Pippin. What do you hope to achieve?’

Pip glanced outside the window and into the distance. The bare brown paddocks seemed to stretch forever. This land could be so impersonal. Her mind came back into the bar and her eyes met those of this kindly man.

‘It’s just a feeling that I needed to be here. It’s as though I’m looking after Selene’s interests … I can tell myself it is a holiday too.’

‘Well don’t do anything stupid.’

Pip hoped the look she gave him conveyed a confidence she didn’t really feel.

She had been given the same bedroom upstairs – Room 22 with its faded pink chenille bedspread and the swirling pattern of English-style roses embossed on the fake plaster ceiling. It was like old home week.

The trip had been long, hot and dusty and she really needed an early night. The mattress objected with a squeak when Pip threw herself full length on the sheets and opened her latest thriller at the post-it note book mark.

Tired or not, a couple of chapters were mandatory if she was to get to sleep easily.

It wasn’t too long before her eyelids drooped and the book threatened to drop to the floor. The central light still burned bright in the ceiling but she wouldn’t interrupt that dreamy feeling between waking and sleep for anything right now … right now …

The mobile shrieked her awake only half an hour later with a full blast of the William Tell Overture.

She’d left it on loudest for the trip so that she could hear any ring above the CD player.

Groggy, Pip staggered off the bed and over to the oak dressing table, and lifted the phone from where it lay on the starched doyley.

‘It’s Denzy – were you asleep? Sorry …’

‘Thatsh okay mate … wotchawant?’ She was half in dreamland.

‘I thought you’d want to know ASAP. It’s the Raven thing … They’ve ruled him out as well. Nothing like a match it seems.’

The news wasn’t a huge surprise. She had never thought that Raven was the one.

‘Pip? Still there?’

‘Yep. Sorry. And thanks Denzy. You’re a good mate. So it looks like I don’t have any African American in me eh?’

‘Seems not. Look I’ll let you get back to bed … I could do with some sleep myself.’

Pip let the phone drop on the sheets and gathered the pillow beneath her cheek. Of course she WAS awake now.

Not Raven. Not Gazza. Not Wimpole.

Surprisingly though, within five minutes Pip was lightly snoring.

Next morning Pip faced the distinct likelihood that Robson was her father. Con Robson, the sleaze who masterminded the pack rape and yet turned up for some spoils only after the others had kidnapped Selene.

Con Robson, the corrupt country solicitor who did old ladies out of their trust accounts. Robson who could have killed her that dark night out on Rouse’s farm. The guy who had the most to lose in all of this.

When Denzy rang Pip had been too sleepy to take in the reality. Now it hit her. Con Robson. But how to prove it?

She knew Frank wouldn’t be downstairs. He’d said he had to leave early to get over to the District Court before the 10am start.

The old journo would have to be told the news when he got back that night.

Someone had remembered her request to leave the newspapers outside the door, so she read them in her room. Even the front pages were full of the latest test cricket. When would they wake up that not all Australians were sports mad?

She checked her emails and then wandered down the hall for a shower and rinsed out some undies in the bath tub, rolling them in a towel so they wouldn’t drip all the way back to her room. There she spread them on the backs of two chairs near her bed.

Pip had promised herself a meal down at the Greek café. Anything but soggy toast and hard eggs at the pub. That meant a very late breakfast, so she drove the couple of doors to the petrol pump at the store and filled up before the café opened.

Irene Rouse was in the shop with her children when she went in to pay the bill, and the farmer’s wife rushed over to Pip with an anxious look on her face.

‘Miss Holmes have you heard?’

‘Heard? Mrs Rouse?’

‘The teacher just told me that George Wimpole is dead. He died just after they got him to the hospital in Sydney … George is dead.’

It was murder.

Pip gunned her car mercilessly down the main street, screeched left just past the warrior and roared down the straight dirt road that led into the bush. Here she slammed the car door and almost ran to the space of her mother’s nightmares.

In a rage of torment Pip gathered rocks. Gathered rocks and threw them in a flurry at the dusty ground and towards the trees. A dozen missiles she let fly, each one serving to lessen the pent up fury and anger that had been hers alone for too long.

Eventually, energy spent, Pip’s frame melted to the ground. A tear found its way down her cheek and became a flood. She howled with emotion.

Her rage had spoken of her mother’s years of agony. It screamed at the rapists who had lived their lives untrammelled, while others suffered. It bellowed at injustice wherever it was felt. Most of all it scarified Con Robson.

George’s death may have been the catalyst for this release, but Pip’s crisis was much more than that – it was a leap in which the past and the present melded into an understanding.

At this moment in the Australian bush the jigsaw puzzle that had been the lives of her mother and herself became one whole: an entirety that must now be cherished and nurtured; set into its own special safe place in the scheme of things; a basis that would become a springboard towards her future.

Pip now knew that life had to be lived and that the future would not look after itself. George’s death and all that went before had writ large the truth that life was no rehearsal but must be lived full the first time around. Life needed to be faced and dealt with, and the past placed gently in position ― prized yet no longer dominant.

Many minutes later, she grew quiet. She felt a relief that she had never known before.

It was still morning time, but Pip believed that she saw the moon – her mother’s moon – in the sky above. And it comforted her.

Calmed, Pip drove back to the Greek café feeling very hungry. She ordered spinach and fetta cheese pie and olives, biscotti and thick black coffee.

Cosmo, the son of the proprietor, was full of George’s death. Naturally it had by now become the talk of the town, and he was keen to chat. Even his father, the plump old Greek with the drooping moustache, seemed energised by the news.

Everyone knew Gazza was being held for the assault and it seemed the mechanic had few real friends in the town. According to the Greeks, he’d bullied too many of the locals over the years and now they had no sympathy to spare for him.

On the other hand George was well thought of, and regarded as an excellent teacher and a good bloke – even if he was believed to be rather strange.

Back at the pub, Pip walked through the rear door and along the corridor that passed the bar.

The place was just beginning to fill with thirsty workers and most were milling around the bar waiting to be served, or lighting up the first really relaxed smoke of the day.

Her eyes swept the room and came to a stop at the far corner where two figures were huddled at a small round table, sitting on tall stools. Gazza and Robson were deep in private conversation.

Pip slipped across the open door way as quickly as she could, and hoped she hadn’t been seen.

She’d imagined that Gazza would have still been in remand but of course assault wasn’t the most serious crime in the book and he’d have got bail okay – if he’d actually been charged.

The huddle put the two men together in common purpose. It was certainly unusual to see a solicitor and a mechanic like Gazza in a social situation, and showed they were reasonably sure of themselves. Although Con could always pass off the meeting as ‘legal advice’.

It was most unlikely that Gazza would have sought out Con if he’d actually dobbed him into police about the rape.

This probably meant that Gazza hadn’t split on Robson despite the police sergeant’s best efforts, and that they were comparing notes on how to face future events.

You can bet they would soon hear about George’s death – now murder.

Pip spared herself a smile as she thought that it would only be a matter of time before the sergeant put two and two together – and acted. That was good dream material, so she decided to have an hour’s sleep.

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.

Have you ever fried an egg on a hot road?

Before I sign off, may I vehemently disagree with the latest Google literary quote:
‘It seems, in fact, that the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing, but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.’ Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian novelist)

What do you think? Is this true for either man or woman?