If there was a better feeling he didn’t yet know it. His model Cessna moved with speed and precision across the morning sky. Andrew’s light touch on the joystick moved the plane into a high banking turn: his whole being tuned to the subtleties of aerodynamics and the joy of flight. This was as close and as far away as he could get.
On any other day the return trip from the airport would have been a happy event. Andrew’s dad peppering the conversation with lighthearted quips and offering informed opinions of long-range weather forecasts. On occasions there would be time to stop at a roadside shed where $2 tossed into a tin would fetch a punnet of ripe strawberry’s or 6 ears of fresh corn; or there could be a quick swim at Fogarty’s Bend if it was warm enough; or a scramble up to the trig station on Windlock Hill where the view of Arkefield Valley inspired deep full breaths.
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.
Andrew decided early that morning he needed to run. He needed to pound out his fears a step at a time. Lately there'd been too much inaction, too much sifting through possible scenarios and permutations relating to his father's disappearance. Andrew needed to get out of his head and into his body; running clears a mind in turmoil. He was awake and out by first light as Arkefield valley began to fill with bird-song and the sounds of morning. The air was cool against his skin and scented with the sweet aroma of spring wattle and freshly cut lucerne. Pockets of mist hung in the hollows and the grass wet with dew tracked where the dairy cows had passed on their way to milking.
Jenni drove the point. Intuition and logic had opened a trail she intended to follow. She asked Andrew directly.
Put the absence of any clue of his disappearance together with the last time you saw him, what do you get?
Andrew didn't know. He was still processing his last.
You get insight into his intention, she stated firmly. He meant to do this. He wanted to disappear.
Andrew was absorbed in details as his eye and memory studied the map. He followed the dirt track, crossed the bridge and found the spot where they parked their car. Andrew and Malcolm referred to this spot as locked gate. It was a private joke; the gate was never locked. It was typical of the reverse sense of humour they enjoyed. The spot on the map marked the beginning of many hiking expeditions. From there they would cross the flat and follow the spur line that headed north. They'd pass the old homestead that age and weather had reduced to the lonely pinnacle of clay-brick chimney and fireplace. Andrew had often imagined a family of pioneers gazing into that fire after a day's toil: a warm yellow light bathing their faces and their prayers for rain and good crops. From the homestead the two trekkers would follow the spur line, ascending for several miles.
Torture exists in many forms. Common to all is the perpetrator’s intention and the victim’s response, which includes pain, fear and suffering. Colin was the classic victim; he had the trifecta. The phone call he’d just received had delivered grave news. It had come like snakebite, injecting him with a cocktail of despair and rage.
Firebombing Deidre’s car sent a blatant message. It was certain to have come from a man capable of inflicting serious harm: a man such as Rocco Dobran. Rocco had given Colin two weeks to produce a result. That was two days ago. To him, this act of intimidation was a legitimate means of motivation. He had no intention of waiting passively for two weeks; that much was obvious.
The venetian blind clasped tightly shut, held out the last of the afternoon light. A darkened room can be a place of rest and healing for a wounded soul. But Deidre found neither as she attempted to shut the world out with the blessing of a sleep. The few hours she did manage to get each night gave her brief respite from the constant gnawing agony of loss. Every day since her husband's disappearance had been unbearable. She couldn't decide which was worse: losing her husband or not knowing why.
Twelve Days Earlier
How had it come to this he wondered? Landing a single engine plane on a disused airfield on a whim. What he was doing carried great risk. He craved breathing space: time and room to think. Malcolm Chesterman knew the airfield well; he’d used it many times flying sorties and re-supplies for the bush fire brigade. The grass covering the field was too long; he knew that. There could be any number of obstacles ready to shatter the undercarriage. But this was secondary. He’d decided to land the plane and right now he was in the middle of doing so.
In a state of semi-consciousness between wakefulness and sleep Andrew heard his name being called. A figure stood at the precipice, beckoning him forward. Andrew hesitated. At first he did not recognise the voice or the outline of the person that called to him. The figure beckoned and called again with great urgency. Trepidation and exhilaration coursed through him. For a brief heart accelerating moment he thought it was his father. He took a step closer. The figure morphed. It was his uncle. Andrew’s stomach tightened to stone, disappointment hardening to disdain. Colin’s eyes were like hot coals burning into Andrew with a shocking intensity. His uncle’s expression was one of dread and desperation. Frightened, Andrew turned to run but something caught his shoulder. He shouted as he struck out at the force that sort to tear him backwards. With one frantic and powerful twist he wrenched himself free and in that moment sat up gasping and wrestling with the twisted bedclothes. Relief washed over him as he calmed. It was only a dream.
Their decisions made, each gave the other a long and loving embrace. They moved cautiously to the rear door of the house and when all three were outside, Deidre locked the door with her key. With the front door bolted from the inside and the backdoor deadlocked the only way into the house without a key would be to break in. If Colin wanted to reenter uninvited, this would be his only option.
They gathered kindling and soon got a small fire going. Jenni poured some water from her canister into the billy and placed it on the fire. Want something to eat? She asked. I packed some fruitcake.
Sure. Andrew replied, as he rested against his pack watching the flames begin to tarnish and blacken the billy. He ate purposefully, a small piece at a time. If he had reason to stay in country for more than a few days his diet would soon be changing dramatically.
For the moment, the flat at the back of Mr Henry’s store provided sanctuary. Deirdre sat upright staring through the kitchen window. Her mobile phone lay on the table; its screen still dimming from the call she’d just made. Quietly she waited and planned. Her thoughts darkly primed with a purpose that drove her far away from an identity that once defined her. All her married life she’d supported her family, putting her own needs second. This had been her upbringing. She’d seen her mother do the same for her father. She’d known nothing else and had wanted nothing else: until now.
She too was in turmoil. She wanted to touch him; feel his skin; hold him against her. She wanted him to want that, but she had no way to express this to him. This was not who they were to each other.
They parted with their first kiss. He walked her to the edge of the field and watched her until the bend in the road. Jenni turned and waved. Andrew’s heart was sore with admiration and wonder; something in his chest was expanding so rapidly as if to crack his ribs. He contemplated the moment. Bemused and exhilarated he waved back. He wanted to shout something. Something meaningful. But nothing would leave his mouth.
They'd received a call 20 minutes earlier from a neighbour who'd heard screaming. Two detectives, Crowle and Earnshaw entered the kitchen, guns ready. On the floor of the kitchen they observed a man struggling against the bonds that held him to an upturned chair. They recognised Colin Chesterman immediately.
© 2000-2010 Martin Challis
© 2000-2010 Publication Scene4 Magazine