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a novel by

Colin G. Crump

To Taumalai

Author ’s Quote

Whatever anybody thinks about me is none of my business

All characters appearing in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

eBook Edition: ISBN 978 1 370 98817 4

eBook edition converted and published by Intrepid Sparks, 2017

Print Edition: ISBN 978-0-473-22198-0

Print edition published September 2012 by CopyPress Books

Copyright © Colin Crump, 2012

Except for the purpose of fair reviewing, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from the publisher.

Printed by The Copy Press, Nelson, New Zealand

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26


About the author

Other books by Colin Crump

Chapter 1

Peter Crowley had been hunting around for a job for a half year or more, scored a few days here, a couple more there, with no real definite prospects showing up at all. The problem was although he was handy enough as well as being highly versatile and totally reliable, these attributes were not true qualifications for a full-time job. Without formally documented references or certificates and a complete absence of a ‘proper’ job history, the chances for employment were very slim. His only real money came from the work benefit scheme that had at least paid the rent over the recent down time. Unemployment was rife and job prospects for the not so well educated were few and far between. Boiling stones to make soup was now a distinct future prospect.

He didn’t like barman’s duties which he had tried several times, couldn’t handle the money end of retail and he had no time whatsoever for inside work and since his new found girlfriend Liz came on the scene, the situation was getting serious. Life was fast developing into a ‘no job – no Liz’ scenario.

Liz Feynman, a year older than Peter at twenty-five, did have a job herself – in a downtown warehouse. She could afford to dress smartly and go out shopping or to lunch and dinners with her friends. She was making out just fine and had already received two wage increases inside six months, along with a strong vote of approval from Howard, the boss (everyone called him Howard), who obviously enjoyed a pretty girl with nice manners and a pleasing telephone voice that helped keep the business flowing and the increasing number of customers happy. Howard Walters had scored his own position with records and glowing references that showed he had spent five years as a very successful purchasing officer for Woolworth’s and his appointment to the post of divisional manager had been a foregone conclusion.

It had been on one of the regular Friday nights when the girls congregated down at ‘The Thirsty Rooster’ for drinks that Peter first sighted (and was totally smitten by) Liz. The problem was, that with no regular income, there was no chance of a lasting relationship with the elegant, worldly Liz, mainly because he could not afford the drinks, let alone dates and dinners in fancy restaurants. There were other young bucks hovering about this bubbly young lady who, as far as Peter knew, were well employed or in business on their own account and quite well able to afford the luxuries of wining and dining. Two such decked-out-in-suit characters also made their play for Liz at The Thirsty Rooster – showering her with fancy cocktails, compliments, and courteous comments. She was a magnet to these hungry hunks and not normally slow in exploiting such opportunities to further her taste for the good life. However, Liz had a soft spot for Peter, and she saw potential in him. She had decided to give him six months to ‘make good’. Not that she would tell him that, of course. She wanted to keep him on his toes.

Yes. Peter Crowley had fallen for Liz and with this new found romance came the besotted desire to wine, dine and ultimately win the girl of his dreams. Along with that desire came the greater determination to find full-time employment – all in the name of love.

He started out earlier each day, vigorously searching for work, studying the early morning papers for job vacancies and registering with the local employment agencies. He made up stories about his skills and began to lie outrageously to his would-be employers until, as luck would have it, an old school chum, Bobby Whitmore, now a fairly successful landscape contractor, called around to see him at his ‘el cheapo’ flat one Sunday and asked if he could work the long Easter weekend – twelve to fourteen hours each day – to help complete a job deadline and avoid a penalty clause that was written into a fairly large landscaping contract.

Bobby was more than keen to fulfill these contractual terms, as a strong potential existed to continue on to several other subdivisions, involving a retirement village, a shopping complex, a school, a fire station, and a hundred-plus upmarket homes.

“What do I have to do?” asked Peter, who was thrilled, yet trying not to look too desperate.

“Anything I bloody well tell you. We’re starting tonight to plan the next three months’ work.” Bobby told him. “Are you in?”

“You bet I’m in. Just give me a shovel, show me the ditch and I’ll start digging,” said Peter with a huge feeling of relief and a vision of showering his beloved with gifts that would make her forget those suited suitors who hung around her like flies around a dunny.

Bobby warmed to his willingness and arranged for an all-day training session with his number one machine operator to teach him how to drive the tip truck, with a view to getting his heavy-duty traffic licence the following week.

Peter made up the team of five in Bobby Whitmore’s newly formed company, registered as ‘Landscape Love Ltd’. With great gusto he ventured into each and every task – much to the amusement of his fellow workers who were all older and so much more experienced than him. He took to truck driving like a rat up a drainpipe and within three weeks he was fully licensed and driving on his own – working through lunch breaks, weekends and late hours and of course receiving the desired funding not only to vastly improve his own standard of living but also, and – to his mind more importantly – sufficient to take Liz out to dinners and shows and pay for all the drinks himself. Peter Crowley was indeed a happy chappy and Liz, to say the least, was blissfully fitting into his newly acquired affluence, thank you very much. The Thirsty Rooster sold many more drinks and ‘Michael’s Restaurant’, their favourite eatery, enjoyed the regular business from the happy couple and their circle of friends. Life was great. Old and irritating debts were gradually settled and Peter’s credit card, that had been vastly overdrawn, began to be accepted once again.

When Peter opened a bank statement that showed not only was he no longer overdrawn but nicely in credit he began to think about the future. The idea of living together seemed to be the next obvious step towards a committed partnership. He could imagine himself and Liz, with a nice house, a couple of kids, and maybe a dog or a cat, and a boat – a boat would be sweet. Yes, Peter Crowley had dreams, maybe not very original ones, but they were very real to him and there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do to realise them. But first he had to get Liz on side and he wasn’t sure she was quite as ready as he to settle down.

Liz, in fact, was sharing a big house with three of her friends and not thinking of changing her living arrangements just yet. For, although their individual housekeeping habits occasionally ground down each other’s patience, the foursome somehow stayed together – with far more periods of fun than failure.

There was Susan, a would-be actress, who when ‘resting’ worked in the same company as Liz, though in a different department. Susan was in and out of love so regularly that she kept the others entertained with tales of romance and heartbreak. She had a very interesting social circle and each of the other girls had dated at least one of Susan’s theatrical friends at one time or another. Susan always slept in, was always late getting away to her job and therefore always left her bed unmade, her dishes in the sink and the toothpaste tube with the cap off, badly squeezed from the top and overflowing from hasty use, fouling the opening and the tap, that was never properly turned off.

Dallas, Liz’s most favoured flatmate, was just the opposite: she dusted when no one else did; she vacuumed when no one saw the need; she defrosted the fridge, when no one else would even think of such an exercise. The windows were cleaned; the toilet was brushed, disinfected and left sparkling clean with carefully chosen, fresh smelling fragrances; clean towels and soap were laid out on the ready. The washing machine was unloaded with whoever’s washing hung out to dry. The whole place was nicely housekept, all by Dallas, willingly, without any expectations and seldom a ‘thank you’ for her efforts. If she knew when the girls were due home she would always throw some more veges into the pot, or another lamb chop into the oven. When they did have a meal together it was always Dallas who got up first to clear the table and start the dishes. She was just so willing. A vase of perfectly arranged fresh flowers on the dining room table, collected and paid for of course by herself, was a Friday ritual. Sweet smelling devices freshened up the entire house, all this to have a pleasant place for the weekend. On washdays – when all their laundry was returned – it was Dallas who would sort it all out, and each pile was left neatly on the foot of each girl’s own bed for her to put away.

Dallas worked only part-time as a tele-marketing operator. She made good hourly rates with attractive bonuses for new sales – but her hours were short and sometimes evening and weekend work was the downside of the deal.

Dallas, at twenty-two years, was a real country girl from a high country cattle station where drudgery was the norm and the declining relationship with her ever-demanding parents finally persuaded her to leave the family home in favour of a free life in the city, and that is when she ran into Liz. They had both applied for the same job at a retail warehouse and started talking together while waiting for their interviews with Howard the manager.

On the day it was Liz who got the job, so Dallas returned to her tele-marketing, not really too disappointed – her job was not too bad and she had just made a new friend in Liz.

The youngest flatmate, twenty-year-old Angela – a little bit over-weight though very pretty, bubbly, sometimes a bit loud – was averse to housework but a miracle-worker with a sewing machine or even a needle and thread. This talent got her off most of the house-hold chores for she not only mended anything that needed mending both for the house and for the girls, she also ran each of them up new clothes at various times, including some very special outfits. When she wasn’t sewing or working as a barmaid in a rather exclusive nightclub she spent much of her spare time on the casino poker machines, often arriving home with a half dozen bottles of good red wine or a full dozen of Lindauer Gold Label champagne. Angela’s generosity was immense. Whenever the odd comment of ill-feeling, because so and so had, as usual, forgotten the peanut butter, or the milk, or the toilet paper, would arise, you could always be sure, that very same day Angela would arrive home with a double supply of whatever they were short of, or had failed to put on the weekly shopping list; that’s why she was such a good friend of Dallas. No one knew much about Angela – she just arrived and somehow succeeded in fitting in with everyone and everything; always endeavouring to do her part and usually paying more than the share expected of her. She always seemed to have a healthy bank balance to boot.

Despite each girl’s shortcomings, everybody accepted everyone else as one of the team. And, thanks to the efforts of Dallas and Angela, a congenial flatting arrangement prevailed.

Most evenings the girls would arrive home, eat, do their chores and sleep – until Friday, when they each had their individual friends to see and places to go. By ‘arrangement’ no one ever brought her boyfriend home for more than ten minutes. It was tough enough sharing with three other females, let alone allowing the males in to start marking out their territory. Although the girls sometimes talked about how nice it would be if Tom or Dick could call and stay for dinner or maybe sleep the night, it stayed as talk. The rule was: bring your man home, then make sure he goes or you leave with him. These girls were no fools – that’s why they laughed and lived with the ‘Rules for the Boys’.

The flat phone never seemed to stop ringing and the day diary beside the phone was overflowing with memos: Dallas, your mother phoned – again. Please ring her.

Angela – Alistair rang about next Friday night, he will ring again at 9 tonight – or phone him at work.

Liz, that guy in the Landscape truck called in and left a box of apples – they’re in the laundry. He’s a hunk!

Susan, your agent rang – you didn’t get the part. Sorry, love!

Message for Liz – Peter somebody rang about thirsty chooks, or something this Friday at 6pm. He wants to know if you’ve got a mobile phone yet.

Liz, Peter rang again. And again.

Christmas was not far away. Holidays were on the horizon. Everyone was doing something. Susan was off to Europe, skiing with her new (much older) producer boyfriend; Angela was booked for a working holiday on a cruise ship; Dallas was back home with Mum and Dad and ‘catchup’ with the family on the farm. As for Liz, she had three weeks off and, for the most part, she planned to stay right where she was, sunbathing in the garden with her radio, listening in to F.M., catching up on a pile of unanswered letters, maybe relaxing the ‘no boyfriends in the house’ rule once the others had all left; but most exciting of all was the expected arrival of her girlfriend from the big smoke, whom she hadn’t seen for nearly three years. Maggie was coming to see her towards the end of the holiday and together they would spend a few days on the coast at her parents’ homestead. Liz couldn’t wait to see her again.

Maggie Thomas, twenty-six and gorgeous, had so far stayed single and ever so happy. Thanks to a well-managed trust fund set up by her late grandfather and some interesting and fortuitous business dealings of her own, she drove a late model sports car and wore the classiest gear imaginable. She usually dressed in black, which enhanced her long blond hair, sky blue eyes and naturally flawless complexion. She was impeccably presented for every possible occasion. Yes, Maggie was a picture of loveliness, and was great fun. Why some rich guy or switched on businessman hadn’t snaffled her up in marriage was a mystery to all those who knew her. She could sing and dance, as well as drink most of the lads under the table night after night. Acquaintances speculated that perhaps it was just this factor that protected her from entering into any heavy relationships. Friends thought simply that no one could keep up with her.

The day Maggie was due to arrive, Liz reminisced on their past experiences, starting at age fourteen when she and her brother Andrew were alone with Maggie and her brother, Josh; they had swapped partners to experiment and practice their first real kisses. Amidst their trials and laughter, Maggie’s little brother got somewhat carried away with the kissing and started fondling elsewhere and the trials were swiftly called off. Good behaviour was called for and the lessons ended with four very frustrated but most learned subjects. It was all pretty good, natural stuff and Maggie and Liz would relive these occasions of fun with affection for many years to come.

“Come on, Maggie. If you don’t come soon I’ll have no time to go with you to see your parents; I’ll be back at work,” Liz mused.

By now Liz had a splendid tan and was looking forward to showing off her new designer bikini; an extra Christmas present from Peter, who had been allowed to stay over for several nights – on condition he never let on to the other girls that the ‘no boyfriend’ rule had been well and truly broken.

“Come on, Maggie, WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?”

The following afternoon, Liz was moving back out of the high noon sun that had become just too hot. She had her extra large beach towel, a gift from Howard – one of quite a few goodies from Howard in fact – who had ready access to redundant stock and warehouse samples and, like most human males, was of the opinion that the female of the species who doesn’t like receiving gifts is yet to be discovered. With a half-litre of sunblock, along with a variety of tanning lotions, two of the latest Mills and Boons and a plastic bag full of the usual female occupational paraphernalia in hand, she turned on hearing a car on the gravel driveway. The door to the shiny, late model, open top Porsche swung wide and there was Maggie, dressed in impeccable grandeur, all in black, with a single string of cultured pearls. A hint of designer lipstick highlighted an intriguing pair of sweetheart lips, guarding two rows of pearly-white teeth of perfect proportions, save for a tiny gap in the front that set her smile apart. And above all else, a beautiful blouse revealed an exquisite expose of cleavage. It had been said of her cleavage that it was, ‘…divinely stationed, like two freshly set jellies that vibrated their message to mankind with her each and every step.’ Luckily for the speaker, it hadn’t been said in Maggie’s hearing. When Maggie entered a room – everyone paid attention and all eyes surrendered to the view. What a lady.



They laughed in unison, embraced, laughed and yes, cried just a little too.

Two bottles of an excellent, local Sauvignon Blanc later, the happy pair were still engrossed in a conversation that brought them up to date with the halcyon events they could recall since their last meeting, almost three years ago.

Susan, who had fallen out with her new man and cut short her holiday, poked her head around the door. “Hi, Liz! It’s just me,” she said, not noticing their guest.

“Hey, Susan love, pop the cork of another one would you? Maggie’s here you know!”

Susan was quick to oblige. A chilly-bin with four bottles of champagne generously covered with party ice (they always kept several bags in the deep freeze for such occasions), extra glasses along with a packet of fags for Liz quickly appeared. Looked very much like a party was about to kick off.

“I’m going to ring Peter and invite him over,” Liz decided. “You’ll like Peter,” she told Maggie mischievously. It was a pity about the ‘no men’ rule, she mused. Maybe the others wouldn’t notice if just this once….

A short time passed. More rubber tyres crunched their way down the drive announcing the arrival of Dallas and Angela (also back from their respective trips) who had just had a long lunch celebrating their good luck on the Lotto where a lucky dip had produced a six thousand dollar windfall. These two girls had shared a ticket every week since they first met, and made up their selection of lotto numbers from their birth dates. This was not the first time these lucky lotto numbers had produced results and the opportunity to celebrate was seized upon with festive joy.

The driveway crunched again, this time under the tyres of a service van delivering a new music centre set up that the lucky lucky-dippers had bought earlier in the day: a present for ‘the house’. The girls had also picked up some CDs: The latest Cranberries album for Liz and Crowded House for Susan. They also had Split Enz, Pearl Jam and Bryan Adams – something for everyone.

The guy in the delivery van was soon conned into setting it all up and before another cork was popped the music was resonating through the house and well beyond. A party was definitely underway.

The drive was soon filled by the arrival of two more cars – friends of Angela’s on their way to a wedding, who just happened to drop by, and Peter Crowley, answering the unexpected call from Liz, came bearing gifts of flowers for his sweetheart and two big boxes of apples which he invited the girls to give to their friends after taking what they might like for themselves.

“Why all the apples?” asked Liz.

“Well, in the subdivision we have just started there’s an orchard full of them and our first job is to rip out all the trees, so there is more to come – that’s if you would like to have them. There’s still about three acres left,” Peter told her.

He glanced at Maggie as she emerged from the house. “That your friend?” he asked.

“Uh huh,” Liz affirmed, waiting for the usual male reaction Maggie elicited.

To her delight, Peter made no other comment. Maggie wasn’t really his type.

A barbeque that Dallas had won in a pub raffle at The Thirsty Rooster the previous summer was dragged out from behind the garden shed, given a quick clean up and checked out for gas; and Peter became the chef of the day. Before he could start cooking it was his task to get back into town to secure the required provisions for the party. There was a quick whip-round for cash and he drove off. An hour or so later he returned with all the usual: steaks, sausages, French bread, salads and sauces, along with six bottles of red, six bottles of white and several cartons of beer. This gathering would not be short of anything. The weather was warm – people were happy and the music was getting louder as they all became just a little more tipsy with the abundance of fine wine, fun and loud music.

It was just before dusk when a new face appeared. Liz was more than a little surprised to see Howard who, ever so casually, said, “Hi. Liz, thought you might like your holiday pay. I know you’re planning on going away for a couple of days so I thought you might need it sooner rather than later. I did try to ring you but the phone was engaged. I see you’re busy, I won’t disturb you, anyway, here’s your money.”

Liz stood bewildered for just a moment before realising the rationale of his story and accepting his unexpected arrival.

“Oh – of course, Howard. Thank you so much. Oh, this is my friend Maggie and you know Susan of course and, please, stay and have a drink.”

“Thanks, I will.” He smirked at Maggie, who ignored him.

Howard was in although he wasn’t really wanted, but sure enough he stayed and even helped out with the drinks and generally played a cheerful part in the occasion.

Several times he tried, unsuccessfully, to engage Maggie in conversation; in between he nosed around the house and, with glass in hand, spent some time closely viewing the rear of the house and the sizeable section with its tall, unkempt hedges across the rear boundary and a very large shed completely shrouded by trees. The old joinery shop was sound and leak-proof; very secure; very private and unused, apart from some old machinery and gear that had been left behind. Howard was well pleased with his find and before the party was over he had taken careful stock of the property and its potential. He was astute enough not to outstay his welcome and after making his fond farewells to most everyone there, he politely excused himself and left in a gentlemanly manner, leaving Liz not so disappointed with his intrusion and now quite forgiven, if not totally accepted among her friends and in her home. Yes, Howard had wormed his way in with his casual stealth and cunning – very professional. He seemed to have been welcomed – for the time being anyway.

The sun eventually slipped below the horizon. The moon came up and Bryan Adam’s voice was at maximum volume, gradually destroying the new speakers. The party continued on through the night. The verandah’s old floorboards creaked with the jarring stomp of the party dancers yet managed to sustain the torture without someone falling through. More wine flowed amidst raucous laughter, while all present achieved another level of joyous hype – heavily laced with over-consumption of alcoholic goodies.

The house was somewhat isolated with a good surrounding of forty-year-old trees which shut out neighbours (who never mentioned anything about the noise next door) just down the road. Indeed Liz – the rightful occupier – had never even met any of the neighbours at any time. Yes it was indeed a good place for a party. Even a noisy one – if you so wished.

At around five o’clock the first call of a local rooster signalled the arrival of a new day and stirred Peter Crowley, who had spent the last two hours curled up on the driver’s seat of his old Utility, quite drunk and nowhere near recovered from a series of ‘unwellness’ where he was observed on hands and knees under the old backyard plum tree – dealing with his stomach’s contents. He wasn’t a happy chappy at all.

(The following day, when Bobby Whitmore asked him, “And how was the party, Peter?” he responded, “You know Bobby, I was spewing things I never ate.” And walked away carrying his head in a used shopping bag.)

Maggie and Liz stirred from the night’s events, fully clothed, from under the covers of Liz’s big double bed. There would be no sunbathing for Liz this day.

Maggie, on the other hand, would be spending a half hour in the shower, using most of the hot water, and at just one hour before midday she would be calling out to Liz, “Come on, Liz – open one, will you?” She’d be refreshed as ever and ready for more.

For everyone else it was fortunate that it was Saturday and there was time to sober up, rather than facing the horrors of having to go off to work with a punishing headache.

A full three days passed before the partygoers had all returned to normal. The aftermath was gathered up along with several cartons of empty bottles. The barbeque was cleaned up and returned to its resting place behind the garden shed. Liz loaded her kit in the back of Maggie’s fancy Porsche and off they went to the coast.

With the hood down and a refreshing wind in their faces, the trip was indeed a reviving experience and helped to blow out the cobwebs in preparation for the ‘welcome home’ now waiting. The usual family greetings took place with Maggie reintroducing Liz to her taciturn father, Kevin, her over-chatty mother, Michelle, and her much quieter younger brother, Josh, none of whom Liz had seen for some ten years. They had hardly time to unpack and wash up before the family headed for the beach and a wonderful picnic lunch prepared by Michelle, who Liz remembered was an excellent cook. That evening they played cards and board games and drank some excellent local wines. Liz made excuses about being tired and went to bed fairly early to give Maggie a little time alone with her family.

The next day, after a lazy morning, Kevin saddled up two horses. The girls were going out to ride the range. This would be the best three hours in three years for Maggie as she re-acquainted herself with Tabetha, her favourite horse; Liz was mounted up on a kindly and slightly older mare called Nanny, that was cautiously selected by Kevin after checking out Liz’s riding experience.

The ride would take them through to the end of the property – a good one and a half hour’s ride in the midsummer heat – where the trail linked up with their neighbour’s ranch, separated by a swampy lake that had, in earlier days, been a favourite swimming place for the family and friends.

Michelle stood watching as the two young women moved out, and couldn’t help notice Liz almost fall out of the saddle as they rounded the corner and disappeared from view.

Kevin also noticed the same event and the concern on his wife’s face led him to say, “Well I guess she’s not as good as I thought and that horse hasn’t been ridden at all for six months – but she’s quiet, so don’t worry, dear.”

Michelle sighed, “I know, but I’d hate anything to happen. They’ve always been such close friends, I feel we need to look out for Liz.”

“I’ll saddle up and follow them and check to see that they’re okay,” Josh offered. “Look – they’ve left their water bottles behind. It’ll get hotter than hell out there soon, so they’ll be pleased to see me. They won’t realise I’m checking up on them!”

The idea was settled. Kevin roped in the big red for his son who saddled up and rode out, some twenty minutes behind the girls.

“You’ll have to hurry, Josh. They’re headed for the lake – I suspect they’ll be going for a swim. Try to catch up with them before they get there, won’t you?”

“Yes, Mother! I hardly want to surprise my sister skinny dipping, do I?” Josh laughed. “Seeing Liz riding, I reckon they’ll be walking all the way. I’ll probably catch them up before they’re half-way there.”

He left the yard at a canter and rode hard until he was out of sight. Then he slowed the red horse down to a casual walk. No, he didn’t have any desire to see his sister in the lake but Liz, now Liz was another matter altogether – well he remembered Liz when she was fourteen and he was thirteen and the occasion of their first kiss.

The lake at the end of the trail was well overgrown. Josh hadn’t seen it in years and noticed that the lake itself had encouraged a great deal of surrounding growth. As he approached he sighted the two horses tethered and grazing quietly on a grassy patch in the shade of a large tree, which was surrounded by secondary growth of native bush.

He tied his own horse on a low branch alongside the others, took the three bottles of water from his saddlebag and moved toward the lake’s edge.

Laughter and giggles greeted him before he actually saw them, their clothing neatly spread out on a bush of wild roses. He grinned broadly.

Three steps further and there they were, a few yards out from the lake’s edge, oblivious to his presence; totally naked … and firmly locked in each other’s arms – in the midst of a deep and passionate kiss and obviously enjoying the coolness of the fresh mountain water.

Shocked and embarrassed, he silently backed away. So, his sister was gay! His mother had suspected the possibility and even mentioned it to him on several occasions, but Josh had just laughed at the idea. And Liz, oh, Liz. What a disappointment!

Three bottles of filtered mineral water were placed alongside the rosebush of clothing, next to their picnic basket and he quietly remounted the big red and headed back. At least he was satisfied that the girls, Liz in particular, had survived the ride.

On arriving home all he said was, “Well, they’re all right. Sore arses, that’s all.”

For Liz and Maggie the return ride to the homestead was ever more exhilarating than the ride out. Liz had got her confidence and they let the horses take the bit between their teeth and gallop flat out for the final leg.

As the exhausted couple dismounted, Maggie exploded, “What a ride! That’s the best fun we’ve had in years!”

Josh glanced at her and shook his head.

“This is the sorest arse I’ve ever had in my life. No more horses for me!” Liz exclaimed.

She limped off into the house where Michelle had a hot bath running for them and a varied range of massage oils to help quell the only-too-well known aches and pains that accompany a pounding horse ride for the first time in years. All good fun but oh the pain!

There was a lot to do on the farm. The following day they played tennis on a beautifully prepared grass court and had another skinny dip, this time unobserved in the icy waters of the old swimming hole in the creek, and finally teary eyes, hugs and kisses with fond farewells and promises to return next Christmas and further commitments to write and ring. The Porsche was loaded and the joyful, exhausted pair passed through the big double gates of the homestead, tooting and waving as they made the first bend and out of sight from Maggie’s parents who were so pleased to see their only daughter and yet saddened to see her go so soon.

The three hours back to the flat passed mostly in silence as the satisfied weariness of all the activities took their toll and all that was required now was sleep.

To Liz’s dismay, the gravel driveway was host to another vehicle. It was an unmarked police car and, just as Maggie cut the engine, Dallas, who was still on leave, came forward to greet Liz and her friend, and reveal the bad news.

“Oh, Liz! We’ve been robbed. They broke in through the bathroom window and came out by the front door. There’s still some stuff out there on the lawn that they dropped while loading up!”

“What do you mean – loading up?”

“The whole place has been ransacked – it’s a terrible mess,” Dallas told her. “We don’t know how to add up what’s missing. The new music centre has gone, along with all that grog that was left over from the party. They took their time and ate most of the food out of the fridge, which was disconnected at the wall. Detective Finnegan says they were preparing to take it with them, but for some reason changed their minds – guess it was too heavy.”

Liz sighed. She really didn’t need this right now.

“I was going to go on home, but I can stay, if you want me to,” Maggie offered.

“No, it’s okay,” Liz told her. “But don’t be a stranger. I don’t want to go so long without seeing you.”

Maggie kissed her cheek. “Same here. Miss you already.”

And she was gone – leaving Liz to deal with the burglary.

“They think it was kids, in an old yellow van,” Dallas told her.

Liz glanced at the policeman.

“Oh, sorry,” Dallas apologised. “This is Detective Sergeant Finnegan. His assistant, Eugene, is still inside looking for fingerprints.”

Detective Finnegan (those on the beat all knew him as ‘Fingers’) had a sheet full of jottings of what had happened and what was missing and who the most recent visitors were. He had quite a list but did make the comment that the police were overburdened with more serious crimes, including two recent murders, and he doubted if any more police time could be justified, however he had noted the event, provided an ‘offence number’ and said it was okay to seek insurance.

Eugene, the fingerprint guy, could find nothing of use and he too departed, mumbling, “Get a dog, stick some bars on the windows and get your alarm fixed.”

Chapter 2

Back at work, Liz explained to Howard what had happened. He was very sympathetic and supportive. More helpfully, he sent the firm’s delivery van around to Liz’s house and had a replacement music system set up ready to go as soon as the girls returned home the same day. What a good fellow Howard seemed to be – the extra box of CDs was also appreciated, along with the thought that Howard had remembered most of the songs that were getting such a pounding at the party. Split Enz new disc helped quell the shock and loss, and Crowded House’s triple disc put the icing on the cake, restoring some faith back into the house.

Indeed the alarm was fixed – thanks again to Howard – and security screens were fitted on a friendly payback deal, thanks to a referral from ‘Fingers’ who, of course, had personal contacts in the business. The advice to get a dog fell on deaf ears – the rules for the house were no pets.

Within a week or so life at the house was back on an even keel, but the ever-increasing list of missing items was depressing. There was little hope of ever getting them back, or the insurance company accepting the additional late claims. The feeling of defilement – of some stranger entering ‘your home’ and going through ‘your things’, stealing ‘your property’ was to hang around for a long time to come.

Elsewhere, Landscape Love Ltd was busy. Bobby Whitmore had another important meeting with Big Ben, the guy who had fitted him so nicely with his present landscape contract. Development on such a scale was not really one of Big Ben’s usual undertakings. He was more into cheap houses – re-mortgaging and generally assisting young couples into their first home. Although he did have several small industrial interests, it was not generally known to what extent he was involved in anything.

Outside his immediate circle, hardly a soul knew his surname. Big Ben it was. There were several other well known ‘Rooster Perchers’ named Ben so it was pretty obvious that sooner or later Benjamin Bates would become Big Ben because he was a big guy with a very big voice that could always be heard above the general bar room crowd – especially when he laughed. His booming mirth turned many a head at The Thirsty Rooster. There was Ben the Barman, Ben the Drainlayer and Ben the local school custodian. Ben the bookie was yet another Ben of some note during the Saturday racing at the tele bar at The Thirsty Rooster. The place seemed to be full of Bens, but indeed there was only one Big Ben, and they all knew it. Big Ben could, in the most casual way, use the hubbub and din of a bar-room full of jostling, shouting patrons to sell a house, buy a car, close a deal or conduct any business discussion that would normally be concluded behind closed doors or in the privacy of a lawyer’s office. He himself was something of a ‘bush lawyer’ and his skills as such were often utilised. His voice could be heard above all others yet when it came to discussing something confidential his voice was only ever heard by the intended recipient. Business discussions and deals were arranged and concluded on the way to the toilet, getting a round of drinks at the bar or sometimes in the pub’s car park or in the three minute commercial breaks on the tele during the live footy match. The subcontractors that served him were all well used to dealing with Big Ben’s methods and that’s how it was.

Big Ben was so astute – no ‘other person’ came to know of any business affairs of a third party. If he made a deal in the bar it would have the same seal of confidentiality as any legal office, or indeed the court, and each of those who knew him from their own separate encounters accepted and respected his methods. He was hugely skilled in delegating – making the best use of other people – and he was also duly noted for rewarding the ones so used, accordingly and with favour.

Clive Johnston, his accountant, was always impressed and likewise bemused by the fact that – unlike most of his clients – Big Ben never ever had any bad debts – none – ever, and this for Clive, who usually spent a great deal of his time chasing overdue accounts and preparing court cases for bankruptcy procedures and small court hearings, was an ongoing mystery.

Big Ben’s success in this area had Clive and his colleagues totally intrigued, yet, out of respect, he never questioned Big Ben’s methods, let alone revealed the slightest hint of his nil list of bad debts.

A great deal of Big Ben’s business was via the cell-phone which was mostly overloaded with so many answer-phone messages that they would take two men with shovels two hours to clear. Yet all his business activities and commitments were seemingly dealt with in a thorough and professional manner (though Clive was never to learn exactly how this was achieved from a Life Style and Business Practice so diverse as that of Big Ben’s … for which, as it turned out, he should have been grateful.)

Another side to Big Ben was his high level of generosity, equalled only by his perpetual sense of humour that kept most of his acquaintances constantly amused.

This thirty-three year old, rough diamond was quite capable of dressing to the occasion and wining and dining the elite. He would open doors, send flowers and converse in the Queen’s English with a clear and natural speech. He could remember a thousand jokes and was the life of any gathering he chose to be with, be it corporate boardrooms or the lads down at The Thirsty Rooster – they were always pleased enough to keep his company.

He wasn’t exactly out delivering meals on wheels on the long weekends – yet he made up for it in different ways. His Way. World Vision and other charities had most certainly benefited from generous donations to help feed the hungry. The more cynical among his acquaintances might have suggested that these financial donations were conscience money – squaring off for his own good fortune in life if you like, and maybe for other things too.

A favourite story told among his friends was of a kid who had his new bike stolen and was unable to take up his first job delivering newspapers. This miserable event made the local TV news, however, that same night, a sparkling new bike was mysteriously discovered on his front porch. Ben could afford to do anonymous things like this, so he did, but if anyone ever crossed him or failed to settle his debts, then the tougher side of Big Ben would be equally effective. Meantime, congenial and successful encounters prevailed, much to the satisfaction of Bobby Whitmore – who owed his current contract for Landscape Love to Big Ben.

“There’s more to come you know,” said Big Ben as he rolled out an armful of spreadsheets and plans for even more extensions to the work now in progress. “A new investor with piles of off-shore money is keen to proceed.”

“That’s just fine, Ben,” replied Bobby as he poured them both a drink. “But I’ll have to double up on staff and I’ll definitely need more equipment for the extra drainage and, if your previous offer stands, I’d like to use the old farm cottage with the high fenced orchard – that would be perfect for housing the nursery. It should take a thousand or more trees without the risk of theft.” He handed Ben a shot of scotch with ice, which was accepted with a nod of thanks, “The cottage could be used as an on-site office as well, or as a sleep-out for the watchman who guards all our gear.”

“I told you – the cottage is yours for the asking. I’d rather see it used than lying empty and attracting squatters or the like.”

“Thanks, Ben. Then all we need is a review of the progress payments – say a hundred thousand to kick off the extensions – and we’ll just proceed on the same ‘charge up’ deal as it now stands.”

“No trouble, Bobby,” said Ben. “I’ll see the bank – you better do the same – and the investor’s money will be available as soon as the lawyers can draw up the contracts that have already been agreed to.”

There was a pregnant pause of mutual understanding followed by a handshake.

“I’ll see you up at the Rooster on Friday night and give you the nod from there.”

With that, Ben got into his new Mercedes and drove off, leaving Bobby alone to ponder his extended good fortune. This addition was worth over a million and definitely called for a celebration – it would be champagne tonight for sure.

It was a really happy chappy that phoned Peter Crowley to set up a meeting to share the good news.

“Okay, Bobby. I’ll make the bookings for seven at Michael’s. And oh, by the way, if it’s okay with you – can I bring Liz? I’ve hardly seen her over the last couple of weeks.”

“Sure, sure, Peter, that’s fine, of course, look forward to seeing you both tonight. It should be a good one. Cheers.”

Michael’s restaurant did have a quiet corner where privacy was pretty much assured, and the group toasted their future with high expectations. Liz, ever so patiently, sat and listened, never interfering; pouring the drinks and tactfully fitting in with the seriousness of the discussion along with the joy of the occasion. It sounded as if Peter was going to ‘come good’ financially, well within the six months she had allowed him. She had her own reasons for celebrating.

“I’ll start hiring more men and I’d like you to get alongside of that new guy – what’s his name? You know the fellow – he reckons he worked with his father in some big nursery and has nearly ten years landscaping, won some sort of an award – glossy magazine stuff. We definitely need him.”

“Yeah – his name’s Martin, isn’t it? Very clean and particular, they say. I think we could trust him,” said Peter.

“The big scrapers have just about finished and as soon as the surveyors have pegged out the new sections on the first block we can start planting and, believe it or not, we also have the additional job of fencing off every new house as soon as the builders move out. You might be interested in one of them yourself, Peter. Surely it’s time you moved out of that grotty flat of yours?” Bobby glanced meaningfully at Liz who raised her glass towards him, ever so slightly.

It was all a bit too much too soon for everyone, but the opportunity was there and these guys were not about to mishandle such a chance. The efforts were put behind the plans and the project proceeded accordingly.

Bobby set up an old caravan with an outside dunny for the staff, and the oldest hand, Charlie, was appointed foreman. Peter was sent off to recruit more men and sort out ‘the short list’ from the employment agency and get back to work himself as soon as possible. The extended work and the extra staff were already indicating the need to organise and control each day’s work for each and every man. Pressure was beginning to build, yet so was progress.

New roads and footpaths were created and underground power and phone lines were installed along with street lighting. The first ‘for sale’ signs went up on the first two ‘open homes’, along with a bigger sign showing this particular phase of the development of forty-one houses.

Big Ben’s name and number were boldly stated on every sale sign and all the relative documents. This was his Baby.

Big Ben definitely intended to keep all the sales in his own hands for as long as was possible and, so long as he could proof up his ability to ‘sell all’, all was his to sell – the new investors were quite happy with his seemingly remarkable ability to deal with everything. Indeed, he managed all the inquiries that follow such a project with only one assistant, Margey, who did the typing and title preparations for Ben’s solicitors as each house was sold. The business simply flowed.

An outside contractor, brought in on the recommendation of a new employee, attracted Peter Crowley’s attention. This fellow arrived with an old Massey Ferguson tractor fitted with a hydraulic ‘back hoe’ that was really only an attachment for digging drains. This rickety old gear was certainly helping towards the drainage programme that was embarrassingly slipping behind and annoying other sub-contractors who wanted to get on with their own work.

Peter introduced himself to the operator and stood and watched with fascination as the trench was ever so neatly cut to the precise depth, with the fill accurately stacked to one side ready for backfilling as soon as the pipes were laid. Peter’s interest was noted and the contractor stopped and asked if he would like to ‘give it a go’ while he shot off to get some more diesel, as fuel was getting very low. Of course Peter obliged and off went the contractor with two empty drums. Within ten minutes the unfinished ditch was somewhat different to the contractor’s efforts. It was too deep or too shallow. It wasn’t straight and the edges had been broken away by the bucket’s not very accurate re-entry after unloading. Somehow, Peter was unable to get it right at all; in fact, he was making such a mess of it that the plumbers waiting to lay the drains were in fits of laughter at such a miserable effort. They were jeering and putting him off from any hope of improvement. And then, to top it off, the machine suddenly coughed out loud and stopped, right out of fuel. It was four o’clock. The contractor had not returned with his two drums of diesel and the plumbers were more than just a little displeased. Peter was deeply frustrated with his efforts but he wasn’t about to be beaten. He took the company’s Utility, drove down to the local garage and bought two twenty-litre cans of diesel, came back and refuelled the old back hoe tractor. Of course it still wouldn’t start because of running out in the first place. The injectors needed to be bled and Peter simply didn’t know how to do this. Fortunately, one of the irate plumber’s assistants came to the party with his own tools and was only too pleased to bleed the injectors with a step by step explanation as to how and why you must never run out of diesel, or else this is what you face. Peter listened and watched and learned a valuable lesson from a plumber’s assistant, who he later discovered to be a diesel motor mechanic who was in-between jobs at the time. Oh – and by the way – don’t hurry – let the damn thing do it for you – you are over-correcting – slow down. Peter listened and spent the next two hours practising on the trench, until the fading light prevented any further attempts. In that time he managed to complete the ditch. At least it was usable and ready, at last, for the drainlayers to complete their part and lay the pipes.

The following morning, Peter was back on the job an hour or so earlier than usual. He had a spade and was endeavouring to tidy up his trench work when the plumbers also arrived early, to catch up on the time already lost.

Peter was about to leave when the foreman called, “Hey. Where do you think you’re going? There’s two more trenches down the other side of the section and unless they’re dug out now we’re leaving.”

‘’’Nothing to do with me, mate. I was just helping out. The old contractor never came back; that’s why I was trying to help you guys get your pipes laid so I can come in and lay the lawns and plant all the trees you see lying here, dying of thirst and no place to grow.”

“Well, unless we have the trenches dug we can’t lay the pipes. Don’t you get paid just the same?”

“S’pose you’re right,” Peter agreed after a pause. “Okay, I’ll start the next trench. Maybe the operator will turn up soon.”

He didn’t. The poor fellow had had a heart attack and lay in the hospital for five days, unfit to work any further.

Peter completed the two trenches, improving with every scoop of the bucket. He then applied a padlock to the old Massey Ferguson and waited for the old man to return for his equipment.

A few days later, Bobby Whitmore went out of town to select a truck and trailer load of trees in readiness for the subdivision and left instructions with Peter to ‘just keep it going, Peter, you know, whatever is needed, just do it – get it done, or have it done. We can’t afford delays.’

So Peter obliged, unpadlocked the tractor, and spent the next three days trench digging on someone else’s machine. But boy did he enjoy the new occupation. Better than driving the tip truck day in and day out.

By the third day he could string out and dig a trench to the correct width and the correct depth, and the fill was ever so neatly stacked ready for replacement. Self-satisfaction overwhelmed him. He was refuelling and locking the tractor up for the night when a car pulled up and the lady driver helped out the old guy who owned it.

“Sorry about that, mate!” the old fellow wheezed. “It’s my ticker you know. Thanks for completing the job. How much do I owe you?”

Peter was shocked at his appearance and offered him a fuel drum to sit on while they spoke. The lady stood there and listened.

The old man was thinking of retiring and the machine might be for sale. Was Peter interested? Indeed he was!

“You can have the machine for two thousand dollars, if you like. Give the money to Adrienne.” He indicated the lady. “She’s my daughter and she can show you where she lives and you can pick up the rest of the gear that goes with it. There’s quite a bit, you’ll need a truck,” he suggested.

“We best get going now,” Adrienne told Peter. “Dad’s very frail. Here’s my number if you decide to take over the digger. He’s far too old for this now. Anyway, he doesn’t need it. C’mon, Dad, let’s get going. It’s bed for you.”

The old man mumbled his thanks as he was assisted back to his daughter’s car and Peter Crowley stood back dumbfounded as he viewed his own Digger Business. He had a spare thousand in his account; he knew Liz had more. He could borrow a thousand off Liz and repay her in a fortnight’s time when he received his monthly cheque.

The parts at Adrienne’s place indeed required a truck to carry them off. There was a huge pile of spare parts and hydraulic extras for the old Massey Ferguson, probably worth as much as he had paid for the machine.

PETER CROWLEY DIGGERS came to mind as Peter slipped one thousand dollars plus an extra hundred back into Liz’s hand a fortnight later.

Bobby Whitmore returned with a huge stock of plants, and the new ‘clean guy’, Martin, took over the nursery and planting programme with absolute authority.

He was better than good and Bobby and Peter were quick to notice not only his skills with landscaping and design, but also his quite incredible work effort. Within a month, Martin was offered the unrestricted use of the firm’s Ute, a handsome increase in his pay was immediate and back-dated from the day he started and yet another happy chappy made the team.

Much speculation took place as to where he came from and why he was out of a job, he could so easily be self-employed. A bonus offer was put in place for fear of losing this patently very special person.

Martin was always super-clean and wore gardener’s gloves at all times, possibly to protect his almost feminine hands with their perfectly manicured nails. He wore fresh and neatly pressed clothing every day, his boots were polished and his immaculate teeth seemed to flash in a perpetual grin. It was soon noted in the worker’s caravan, come smoko room, that Martin did not like foul language at all and as for taking God’s name in vain, which everyone there seemed to be programmed for, he flinched, said nothing but his immense disapproval of such chatter was obvious to all present. Martin was also very fussy about hygiene. He always cleaned the caravan, washed up the dirty old workmen’s mugs and placed them neatly away. He also cleaned the dunny without any expectations, or thanks. Due mainly to the ‘lunchroom language’, Martin would take his tea outside, under the awning or up at the farm cottage where he spent many hours tending his plants with loving care.

The weeks ticked by, progress was on target, and the bills were paid – which was a huge relief to everyone on the job who for so long had been without work during the economic lull of the previous three years. The lads were paying off their debts, upgrading their cars and generally living a better lifestyle with much more contented wives and girlfriends.

Peter was ecstatic with his new tractor and within a short time his trenching skills were gathering small crowds who seemed to find a high level of fascination with mechanical dirt shifting.

Unfortunately the old digger was showing its age and Peter was soon to learn why the old guy had such a stock of spare parts. Repairs and maintenance bills were becoming more and more aggravating and the down time was hampering the required progress. It was on one such occasion when Peter was yet again waiting for spare parts that Big Ben called in on the site asking for him.

He’s over there, signalled one of the lads.

“Hi there, Peter – having some trouble, are we?” Ben asked.

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