Saturday, 14 March 2009

Stop Press! Ep. 17 'Paternity' - an Australian Mystery Novel

Better late than never! Here is the next episode in Pip's story. You'll remember that our young journalist is again in the town where her late mother was raped and seems to be getting closer to finding out who her father was.

Links to earlier episodes are on the side bar.

The sun had been up only a short time when Pip opened her eyes to the next morning.

She was lying, dreamy, the embossed rose patterns still out of focus on the ceiling when there was a soft knock on the door of her room.
She felt relaxed for the first time in days and wished to hell whoever it was out there in the hall. They might go away she thought, and lay quiet.

The knob rattled and the door moved inwards, even though she had felt sure she’d locked it before going to bed, as usual. Who could it be?

Joe was there, standing in the open space.

Then he moved into the room and closed the door.
Softly, he said: ‘Did you get my rose Magee?’

The pink rose on her pillow had been Joe’s gift …
Pip raised herself on one elbow, and Joe came over to her, and sat on the side of the bed.

She seldom saw him without a tie these days … He looked wonderful, with a day’s growth of beard emphasising the shape of his jaw line.

‘I am so pleased to see that you are okay. I got in last night and couldn’t find you anywhere in the pub. Didn’t know where else to look. I couldn’t wait to check you out this morning. I’ve been worried sick that those blokes may be planning some revenge or other …

'Knowing you is some responsibility my girl.’

It was just so good to see Joe.

‘I did have a scare …’

‘You what? Scare?’

‘Yeah. But that’s all it was.’ Pip told him about the ambush in the darkness near the ruined house.

She hadn’t taken the time to process that scare properly, and now the memories came back … the proximity of Gazza’s breath, the laughter floating towards her as she ran. Her own strangled breathing.
She recounted it all, and realised for the first time how very frightened she had been.

Joe leaned forward to take her in his arms.

‘There there. There there Magee…’

Pip realised tears were coursing down her face and she buried herself in the soft space between his arm and his chest.

Two hours later Pip and Joe walked hand in hand down the carved staircase and into the dining room where breakfast was still being served.

The waitress was laying a corner table with fresh cloth and cutlery, and looked up with surprise.

Pip could see that an explanation was called for: ‘We’re old friends,” she said.

‘Oh. Oh, that’s nice.’

Frank was helping himself to cereal and turned around to see the two of them, still holding hands.
His eyes sparkled.

‘Well, you’re fast workers. Where did you spring from young Joe? Haven’t seen you for a millennium.’

Joe surrendered Pip’s hand to take Frank’s in a solid handshake. It was very obvious the two still held each other in great respect.

Joe had been a second year cadet when Pip joined the Daily and they had both worked under Frank’s tutelage for years. They were among the many Sydney journalists who later shared a general disappointment at the slow disintegration of Frank’s powers.

The three old friends shared a meal of cardboard cereal followed by mixed grills of chops, sausages eggs and bacon, slightly seared at the edges, and were now sipping pub instant coffee and planning their day.

It was deadline afternoon at the Guardian for Frank, and he had still to complete page one so that the press could roll.

Pip looked across at her old boss and reminded herself how strange life could be, and how it seemed often to move in circles.

Here they were, all together again, but this time in the town of Selene’s nemesis. She hadn’t let Joe in on the secret of the picnic yet, and wondered how he’d take it.

Could Frank be her father? She would soon know if he was. The DNA test should be through very soon now ...

Pip watched as Frank lit up one of his roll-your-owns, having neatened his creation, as usual, with the end of a match.

She was struck by Frank’s purposeful demeanour and his obvious enthusiasm about seeing Joe again.
He was facing the food servery, sideways to her, silhouetted against the mottled glass of the dining room window.

Pip gazed idly, happy with her lot. Then her eyes focussed.

She focussed on that silhouette, so familiar in its entirety as to be almost unknown at the level of detail.

She’d never really noticed the shape of Frank’s nose.

Pip became aware that Joe was watching her intently.

‘You’re deep in thought Magee.’


She forced herself back into the dining room.

‘I wonder how the police sergeant is getting on with Gazza. Whether he’s got through to him that he’d be better off spilling the beans on Robson than sticking to his silence about his involvement in the murder, and the rape.’

‘What’s that all about?’ asked Joe.

It hadn’t occurred to her that there had been no time to bring Joe up to speed on the latest details about her rape investigation. She’d talked about the scare last night in the main street, and he knew George was dead …

Frank turned to Joe.

‘The local copper has banged up Gazza the mechanic for George Wimpole’s death, and we think he’s working on him in the hope of implicating an accomplice in both the murder and the rape.’


‘We think a bloke called Con Robson was egging him on in George's bashing, hoping to silence him. Con is a solicitor in town and George told Pippin he had been part of the rape.’

‘Yes Joe,’ Pip said. ‘George reckoned that Con Robson there. You know I suspect that four rapists were involved with Selene that night …’


‘Well. One was George Wimpole, now dead after Gazza assaulted him.

‘The second was Gazza himself, now being questioned about the murder, and another was a Sydney boxing promoter ‘Pug’ Raven also dead, but of natural causes.’

‘And rapist number four?’

‘We’re pretty sure it was Robson, the solicitor who George says was also in on the rape, but we have no way of proving it yet. And Con is still very much alive.’

‘Well. How …?’

‘George told us that Robson had been there that night and threatened the rest of the rapists into secrecy about his presence. We think that George was killed because he knew too much. They feared he had talked to me.’

‘You mean Robson got away with the rape scot free?’

‘Yes, so far anyway, but we want to change that for him.
And once Robson is implicated in the rape I can apply for a DNA test on him.’

‘Yes. The local copper had always been uneasy about the case and now he is out to prove he was right,’ Frank said, ‘He’s working on Gazza to come clean and get Robson put behind bars too.’

‘Let’s hope he’s successful.’ It was Joe’s turn to be deep in thought.

Then he said quietly: ‘It’s the only way this thing can be put to rest, and it’s the only way you will be truly safe again Magee.’

Pip knew that Joe was right. She hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Frank had gone off to work and Joe and Pip set off on foot down the long main street towards the cenotaph. Joe had wanted to feel the town for himself, a little like a dog marking out his territory.

Every one of Joe’s actions now spelled out for Pip that he was determined to protect her, and to join in her quest. It was obvious that he appreciated her deep desire to understand the events of Selene’s night of torture, and to put right what she could.

Strangely for Pip, so independent and with such a mind of her own, she found the prospect of Joe’s help something of a comfort.

As they walked, they talked, and Pip went through the events since she had first arrived in town.
She told him about the people she had met: Harold Staunch the GP, Jim Rouse and his wife and children, the football coach, the Greek café owner.

They stopped and peered through the grime of the front windows at the Guardian office, glimpsing Frank at his typewriter, and they chatted about the obvious changes that had come to their industry.

When they came to the soldier on his plinth, Pip turned right, down a narrow gravel road she hadn’t travelled before. Something stopped her from going left, to the scene of her mother’s torture. She didn’t want to face that today.

She wanted the gentle morning with Joe to continue on in its peaceful way.

This little by-way turned out to be greener, with occasional tall trees replacing the straggly growth of the other side of town.

Pip and Joe were holding hands again.

Pip drew a word picture of the picnic with Frank, and the story of the old journalist’s theory unfolded. To say that Joe was astonished at the possibilities would be an understatement.

‘It’s too much like a novel, Magee.’

‘Perhaps. But stranger things have happened. Frank was a real charmer in his younger days, as you know … I could see my Mum falling for him.’

They climbed through a wire fence and made their way down an embankment to a tiny stream, to on a patch of soft grass, under a gum tree.

The sun was high now, and the birds had gone wherever birds go in the middle of the day. It was all very quiet.

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.

This all looks very cosy. Will Pip and Joe get it together? Leave me a comment ...