Chapter Three – Darkening
Rocco Dobran was not a naturally patient man. His preferred modus operandi: ‘think it – do it’. When circumstances went beyond his domain of control he had learned to discipline himself to wait, watch and stalk like the hunter. He felt like a hunter now as he ordered and processed events of the past ten days. His mind working in a heightened state honed on a whetstone of suspicion and malice.
Rocco sipped his short black as he read the morning paper. He faced the entrance of Marcello’s Café-Trattoria as he waited for his appointment to arrive. The morning paper lay folded on the table next to his coffee, beside that, a glass of blood orange and an ashtray and an unsmoked corona. Rocco read a report of the missing plane, which contained a map of the search area. He noted that much of the area was uninhabited, forested and mountainous. This observation provided impetus to a serious and disturbing question. Had Mal Chesterman deliberately crashed his plane? For Rocco there was only one answer.
Rocco’s typically brutish expression darkened. He was well practiced at concealing his feelings however at this moment there was no need to do so. There’d been many occasions in the past when Rocco projected alternate personas. When he needed he could be charming and charismatic, as he could be beguiling and mysterious as he could be intimidating and frightening.
Rocco was the son of a migrant worker from Greece who had immigrated to Australia in 1954 to work on the Snowy Mountains River Scheme. He had grown up in an ethnocentric Australia where Europeans were unkindly derided as “dago’s” or “wogs”. He felt permanently displaced, out of rhythm with a country that had wanted him but never welcomed him. Rocco had made his own welcome. From a young age he’d worked hard to earn his place, to find his voice and to build his business. He had drawn power from ownership: it had given him status and an ability to get things done. Rocco was relentless when he wanted something done. And when he felt cheated, as he did now, his resolve grew exponentially. He was an armed force; prepared to fight for an outcome that would sate his enmity, his business interests and his sense of justice.
Colin entered the café and moved to sit opposite Rocco. The two men had history and were well acquainted. Rocco raised his head, deliberately taking in his associate as he read for nuance and the telltale signs of concealment. Colin acknowledged Rocco and waited as the man opposite completed his inspection. Rocco always commanded attention, and today gravity was denser.
Your brother has my plane, he said.
Speaking with the hint of a cultivated southern European accent, Rocco’s choice of words sent a chill through Colin’s blood. He chose not to remind Rocco that the plane was jointly owned; Mal and Colin holding a minority interest in the Cessna Cargomaster. It was a mute point under the circumstances.
Colin replied as he attempted to control his anxiety:
My brother is missing presumed dead.
I do not presume anything of the sort my friend. He has my plane. He has my packages. And all I have is your guarantee that he will deliver. I intend to hold you to that guarantee, my friend.
Choking down a throat-full of fear, Colin attempted: I have lost a bother Rocco.
If that is indeed true it is none of my concern. You will use your ability to find my packages.
This is unreasonable Rocco. A whole search and rescue effort did not find one trace of the plane; I wouldn’t know where to start.
You and I both know this is not true. Do not take me for some wet fool. I will give you two weeks to produce a result. Every day you are late you will lose something you value. You know me well enough. Do not test me.
Rocco’s ultimatum was delivered with the precision of a man well versed in the skills of manipulation. Colin was losing any ground he may once have stood on. If he were to have any chance of completing this task he would need a plane. He had spent a sleepless and unsuccessful night seeking assistance from some of the local operators. They’d been reluctant to lease a plane for costs. Their books were full and although sympathetic they did not see that Mal had any chance of being found.
I’ll need a plane, Colin requested.
You know the fee, said Rocco.
Colin’s debt to Rocco just got bigger.
Colin’s nausea percolated with deep resentment as he left Marcello’s. He had to accept the hypothesis that Mal had intentionally ditched the plane. And if this were true Colin knew Mal’s reasons more than anyone. Colin’s older brother kept a disturbing secret and none knew of it aside from Mal, Colin and Rocco. What others did know was that the Chesterman brothers had purchased a share in one of the planes owned by Western Carriers for whom they both flew. Colin had taken the idea to Mal after Rocco had approached him two years earlier. Colin had seen it as a sound investment offering returns above the contract fees they would earn for flying. Mal had agreed to support Colin and had raised some capital along with Colin; enough to own a 40% share in the Cessna.
What Mal did not know was that the sale of part ownership was conditional. From time to time they would be asked to carry certain “packages” for Rocco. While the return on their investment was appreciably high, in signing the deal the Chesterman bothers had effectively become drug runners. When Mal eventually learned the truth he was devastated. He had insisted that Colin buy him out. But it was too late, Mal was implicated and there was no way Colin could raise any more capital. Mal felt completely duped by his brother. A deep rift developed between them. Not only could he not understand how Colin intentionally set him up, he would never understand how Colin even remotely imagined Mal would willingly engage in criminal activity.
It was beyond comprehension for Mal; it flew in the face of everything he valued, it stood to ruin his reputation and break his family. The groaning heartbreak of it all was that Mal never saw it coming.
If Mal had designed his own disappearance Colin knew he could never come back. This had been Mal’s desperate attempt at saving his family from disgrace and ruin. Colin hated his brother for his heroism. Had Mal ditched the plane with the intention of surviving or had he wrecked it at high speed with the idea of ruining all incriminating evidence? In either scenario Colin was firmly jammed between a rock and a hard place. He felt the weight of all the bad decisions he’d ever made bare down on him. Colin just made it to his car in the side street. He managed to sit before the wheel when all the emotion he’d held in check over recent days came spilling out. He howled and sobbed with the grief of a man who’d ruined everything he had ever loved or ever wanted.
Mal had always been the hero, the golden child, and Colin the one who constantly needed propping up. Colin was the one who followed, not the one who led. He’d followed Mal all his life. He’d followed his reputation as a footballer at school but had never lived up to expectations. He’d followed his brother’s academic achievements but never quite so successfully. He’d followed him into the Air Cadets but was never recognised for possessing the skills or the flair of Mal Chesterman.
Brokering the deal for co-ownership of the plane had been his idea, his chance to create an opportunity to make some real money, to show Mal he could take initiative. He had rationalised that Rocco’s packages were simply additional items of freight and beyond that there was no need to be involved. Enthusiasm had fed his naivety and rivalry his greed. Like his brother he had never contemplated the circumstances he now faced.
Colin collected himself and started the car. There was no point in just taking off in one of Rocco’s planes and simply flying around. He would have to look for clues. Get some idea of Mal’s plans. He would start at Mal’s house and make up some story why he needed to go through Mal’s records. The last thing he wanted was for Deidre to become suspicious. He would start in the study where Mal did most of his work when he wasn’t flying. He knew how many maps there were in Mal’s study, not only because of his flying but also because of his love for the bush. Either way, if Mal had planned a ditching or an accelerated burnout there might be some clue that would give Colin a starting point.
Colin’s deep shame and resentment hardened with dark intent. He did not wish to consider exactly what he would do if he found Mal. He was sure however that if his brother was still alive, somewhere in the wilderness, he would hunt him down. When that happened they would make their choices. Whichever way it went, from here on it was all about survival.