For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at
sunrise, if they bring with them the mist from the marshes
and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of
creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the
inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy.
— Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
(born c. 80–70 BC, died after c.BC.)
(born c. 80–70 BC, died after c.BC.)
The Biocide Conspiracy by Ann Massey
Meeting – 2.30 pm.
— extract: from the diary of Frederick Holden
Next Morning at 3.00 am
The President sighed and stared off into the distance for
a moment before replacing the phone. There was nothing
in his conversation with the Australian Prime Minister
to refresh his spirit or lighten his heart. Sorrows when they
come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. The line
was from an address he’d made at the National Cancer Unit’s
‘Dawn of Hope’ breakfast. His speech writers always used
quotes, some familiar others obscure, to underline important
points. He’d got into the habit of writing them down and later
bringing them out to enliven conversation at White House
receptions. Now the bleak words flooded into his conscience,
underscoring his dilemma.
His visitor downed his drink and reached for the crystal
decanter. ‘How’d he take it?’ the Head of NASA asked, with the
familiarity of a friendship that went back to prep school.
‘Like you’d expect any head of state, woken at three in the
morning with the news that a bio warfare agent was about
to crash into the heart of his country.’ The President’s reply
to his friend’s question was uncharacteristically terse. For a
moment he stared at the ice cubes melting in his glass, and
then he waved the decanter away. It was imperative to keep a
clear head if he was to figure out how to keep a lid on this or
he’d blow any chance of a second term. ‘You should have kept
tighter control on the whole project, Johnny.’
Inwardly John Carter groaned, perhaps he had blundered
in appointing Frederick Holden to lead the project and yet,
he’d had total confidence in entrusting decommission of the
International Space Station to the former astronaut. A folk hero
to generations of Americans, Holden had brought down dozens
of space craft and, according to his last report, dismantling the
ISS was on schedule. The last crew members had been taken
off a month ago and a shuttle was scheduled to visit the station
in three days to remove all scientific equipment. When the
wreckage came down over the desert in Western Australia
they’d be out of the woods. Those were Holden’s last words.
When his wife got back from her dance class she had discovered
The Head of Mission Control had been shot twice, through
the head and the heart. His murder and, those of the rest of the
retrieval team, looked like professional killings.
‘Let me look at those names again, Johnny. One of those
guys must have sold us out. You can bet your sweet life that
whoever is behind the assassinations knows exactly where the
space station is going to crash.’
John Carter shook his head in disbelief. There was no way
he’d ever believe that a member of his hand-picked team had
sold out his country; every one had been a firm friend and
The President frowned at the names of the dead scientists.
‘Remind me, how big of a haystack are we talking about,
‘Roughly the size of Alaska.’
‘Geez, Johnny! Is there any chance that the bacterium could
be destroyed on re-entry?’
‘Not a hope in hell. The samples are stored in thermally
controlled Dewars at minus 80 degrees. Good for at least ten
A muscle clenched in the President’s jaw as he made an effort
to control his bitter anger. His popularity was at an all time
high and he’d believed he’d be in office for another two terms.
How quickly fortunes rise and fall, he thought morosely. He
wouldn’t put it past the UN to have him hauled up before the
International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Now
shifting the blame seemed his only course of action. ‘This is a
bad business, Carter and as head of NASA, I hold you personally
Before his eyes his friend broke out in a sweat, the drops of
perspiration beading on his flushed face. ‘What do you mean?
You can’t blame me for Holden’s incompetence.’
The president cut across his bluster. ‘Ask Ruth to send in the
Secretary for Defense on your way out.’ As soon as the door
closed behind Carter, he reached for the phone. ‘Get me the
Heads of State of all the ISS partners starting with Medvedev.
Right away! Code Red!’
To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual
ways of preserving peace – opened my argument with
Washington’s words – had the entire committee in
the palm of my hand!
ways of preserving peace – opened my argument with
Washington’s words – had the entire committee in
the palm of my hand!
— extract: from the diary of Frederick Holden
Mo was the only passenger to get off the bus at the Hungry
Swagman. The Irish backpacker who’d sat next to him on the
1700 kilometre journey was continuing on to the remote Northern
Territory town of Katherine to work at the local pub before
heading off to Thailand. All the same, she’d been green with
envy when the tight-lipped teen told her that he was going to
work as a jackeroo on a remote sheep station. Now she hung
out of the window waving and yelled, ‘May the road rise up to
meet you … don’t forget my email address.’
She’d tried to get a conversation going to make the journey
pass more quickly; like her mam always said, two people
shorten the road. With three younger brothers, she was used
to talking to teenage boys but Mo had closed up when she’d
asked him questions about his family. You didn’t need to be a
rocket scientist to figure out he’d a chip on his shoulder twice
the size of his backpack.
She shivered and not from the breeze in the air conditioned
bus. Seized by a premonition of danger, she looked back at the
boy. He looked absurdly defenceless staring after the bus, his
backpack held up against his body as if for protection. For the
first time in ages, she crossed herself; the ancient defence to
ward off evil. ‘May God hold you in the hollow of his palm,’ she
whispered as the bus swept northward in a cloud of dust.
Through the rear window, Mo could see the back of the
heads of the passengers all looking straight ahead except for his
travelling companion. She was still hollering out the window.
He gave a sigh. It sounded ridiculous and pathetic to his ears.
What did it matter that his new friend was going out of his life;
he’d only known her for 48 hours. The important thing was
that she hadn’t recognized him. He knew she wouldn’t have
wanted a bar of him if she’d known who he was. But it was too
late for regrets, at least according to his case manager.
The earnest young woman in the oversized white coat and
huge glasses had told him he was getting a second chance, a
fresh start. What a crock. Mo knew she was talking shit, just
like all the other do-gooders who’d shake his hand but wouldn’t
look him in the eye, a sure give away they thought he was
garbage, same as everyone else who’d watched the news or
read the paper. Mo’s face twisted. He swallowed hard. Then
slipping his arms through the straps of his backpack, he trudged
across the gravel car park, kicking up clouds of red dust with
The Hungry Swagman, a square weatherboard and iron
roofed box stood dry and bleached as driftwood sunk into the
sand. He pushed his way through the fly-spotted breeze curtain
that hung limply from the open doorway.
Wow! Smell those onions. Mo’s mouth watered. He counted
his change. He was twenty cents short of the price of a can of
Coke. He’d spent the last of his cash on a hamburger and Coke
when they stopped to let off most of the passengers in Karratha,
the biggest mining town in the Pilbara, 1557 kilometres north
The dark haired Irish girl had dragged him round the Visitors’
Centre, where she bought a beautiful carved cowry shell and
dozens of postcards to send to her family and friends in Dublin.
All of them would be dying to know about her adventures in
Oz, she had told Mo.
‘You can have one of my cards,’ she offered, crinkling up
twinkling blue eyes.‘I’ll be guessing your mam and dad will
be wondering how you’re getting on, what with it being your
first time away from home.’
Yeah right, thought Mo.
The Juvenile Justice Department had issued him with a
voucher to cover the cost of his meals. He’d been too ashamed
to use it before, but now he was starving. Taking a serviette
off the counter, he mopped his forehead. With the heat coming
from the deep fryer and grill plate, the whirring ceiling fan had
no hope of cooling the fatty, dust impregnated air.
‘I’m just looking,’ Mo told the red-faced woman who’d came
out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron, brassy hair
frizzing in the hot humid air. He crumpled up the voucher and
dropped it in the bin, no point in handing out ammunition.
You could tell she was just the type to gossip. Look at her now
watching him like she was protecting the crown jewels. As if
I’d steal this shit. The fly spotted postcards and tired tourist
merchandise looked like it had been on the shelves for years.
No wonder, why would anyone want to come here, this place
has to be the arse hole of the earth.
All his life Mo had lived a stone’s throw from an awesome
beach. Cottesloe’s crystal clear waters and consistent swell was great for body boarding and the rocks and reefs for snorkelling. Now he’d been torn from an affluent seaside suburb to a wasteland on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. Shimmering turquoise had been replaced with baked red dust, towering shady Norfolk pines and terraced lawns by hummocks of spiky grey-green Spinifex and the beachfront café strip by a solitary ramshackle roadhouse.
I’m just like those Pommy convicts transported to Botany Bay
as slave labour that old Hammer and Tongs is always going on
about. I bet they were pissed too.
It was an easy progression from thoughts of school to thoughts of home. He’d meant it when he’d told his mother she’d seen the last of him. ‘All I want is to get the hell out of here,’ he’d yelled at her. Now he had second thoughts.
There was a blue pay phone on the wall. He knew she’d accept a
reverse charge call as long as his step-father wasn’t home.
‘What a fiasco that was,’ his step-father said when the family
returned from Mo’s hearing. ‘It’s no wonder this country’s going
downhill when no hopers like you get sent off on free holidays
at the tax payers’ expense. Well you might have taken in the
magistrate but you’re not getting round me so easily. There’s
no way you’re staying in this house another minute.’
‘But Davy, he’s not leaving until Tuesday. It’s all arranged.
They’ve even organised his ticket,’ protested his mother.
‘I don’t care he’s not staying here. I mean it. Either he goes
or I will. And I’ll be taking the girls with me and there’s not a
court in the land that won’t back me up,’ David Gow threatened,
his big beefy face red, his eyes hard and angry.
His mother smiled her weak apologetic smile and Mo
knew she was going to fold. ‘Why don’t you stay over at Mrs.
McLeod’s tonight, Mo? She’ll be glad of the company and we
can discuss it in the morning.’
‘There’s nothing to discuss.’ It was the first time Mo had ever
raised his voice to his mother. ‘I’m outta here.’
Mo replaced the receiver he didn’t want to talk, the hurt was
too raw. He lit a cigarette, his last. He’d never expected to turn into a smoker. Up until the accident, he’d only ever had the
odd fag and then only to keep in with his mates. He drew the
smoke back into his lungs and let it escape through his nose. It
was a trick he’d learned from Danny. Danny … his eyes watered
… blast the smoke!
The attendant wiped her sweaty face with the edge of her apron.
‘You can’t smoke in here,’ she snapped. ‘It’s a health hazard.’
‘Yeah right’, sneered Mo. He pushed his way through the
plastic curtain just in time to see a battered farm truck pull
into the driveway.
‘G’day, Doug McLeod and you must be must be Mel’s boy.
‘Pleased to meet you, Mo.’ He shook hands, his grip dry and
firm. Mo was taken by surprise. At first glance, he’d thought
the bushie in the faded work clobber, was just a farm hand sent
to pick him up. ‘Well don’t just stand there mate. Throw your
swag in the back and climb in. Only be a jiff. Got to pick up a
couple of things from the store.’
Not much of a family resemblance, thought Mo watching
the tall, stoop shouldered dude walk slowly across the car park
like a tired old man. He’d expected his mentor to be a younger
version of his famous father.
General Mungo McLeod was a war hero. As a young
lieutenant he’d been decorated for bravery under fire in the
first major Australian battle of World War II at Bardia in Libya,
when battalions of the 6th Australian Division had penetrated
the defences of the Italian stronghold. And yet his only son
couldn’t look less like a military man if he’d tried.
Mo could hardly believe that the shabby old bushie in washed
out navy singlet, torn black stubbies and rubber thongs was a
rich grazier who owned two vast sheep stations ‘Combined,
Douglas’s properties are bigger than some European countries,’
Mrs.McLeod had confided, sounding like a proud mother.
The general’s widow lived next door to Mo’s family. She’d
been his surrogate grandmother from the time when his
distraught mother had knocked on her new neighbour’s door
with baby Geronimo in her arms and the crumpled letter from
his father’s neurologist in her hand.
Mo didn’t remember either his father or the general both
had died before his first birthday. When he was a little boy he’d
liked to look at their medals. His father had won the Sandover
and the Brownlow. His mother told him his father was a legend.
When he was a little tyke, he’d sit on her knee and she’d show
him her scrapbooks. Mo loved looking at the photos of his
father playing football and listening to her stories. Her face
would shine when she told him how she’d shocked the WAFL’s
dignitaries when she’d worn a sexy, see through number to the
Sandover Medal ceremony.
‘I told your father I’d choose something more discreet for
the Brownlows but he just laughed and told me to go ahead
and knock their socks off.’
Mrs. McLeod kept her husband’s medals and his regimental
beret on the piano next to a photo of her husband. The General
looked stern and impressive in his ceremonial dress uniform. As a little boy, Mrs. McLeod had allowed Mo to pin on her
husbands decorations while she told him stories about his
exploits. Mo would look up and the General’s eyes would be
staring fiercely at him from the heavy silver frame. After a
while, he stopped asking if he could play with his medals.
The plump, dishevelled woman stocking the Coke fridge smiled
when she saw Doug.‘G’day, stranger. Long time no see.’
‘I’ve been short handed, Kylie. I might get down a bit more
often now I’ve taken on another jackeroo. I’d forgotten what
a looker you are.’
Kylie put her hand up to her hair and tossed back greasy
blond locks. ‘You’re not taking on another juvenile delinquent?
Didn’t you learn your lesson with the last two?
‘His mother’s a neighbour of my old lady.’
‘You’re not doing yourself any favours. The locals are dead
against you bringing more no hopers up here.’
‘Just pleasing me, old mum. She’s always had a soft spot for
him. Don’t know why. Throw in the paper, as well. What’s the
While Kylie was ringing up his purchases, Doug scanned
the headlines of the “West Australian”. I see they think that
International Space Station might come down somewhere in
the state. Could break into as many as 500 pieces. That should
light up the sky. Do you remember when Skylab came down?
Must be over thirty years ago.’
‘Just how old do you think I am?’ demanded Kylie, bristling
Doug just grinned at her. ‘Listen to this, a NASA spokesman
has predicted it could land over the desert in Western
‘I don’t like the idea of chunks of metal tumbling from the
‘I shouldn’t worry too much about it, Kylie, with NASA’s
record for correct predictions, it’s more likely to come down
over Antarctica.’ He threw his change into the tip jar. ‘Time to
hit the frog and toad,’ and, placing the paper on top of the box
of groceries, he headed for the door.
Mo was glad when they finally set off. Although he wouldn’t
admit it, he couldn’t wait to see his new home, even if it was
primitive and isolated. About a hundred metres down the highway, Doug turned off the bitumen and headed east down a gravel track. Rolling hills were faintly visible in the distance but on either side of the road, the sandy plain stretched out; fiery red under the bluest sky.
Mo was sullen and uncommunicative on the drive to
the station and Doug eventually abandoned trying to make
conversation. He wound down his window, and smoked in
silence, one hand on the wheel carelessly guiding the one
tonner, round the sharp razor bends, back wheels spinning on
the loose gravel.
‘How much further before we get there?’ asked Mo twenty
minutes later, bored with nothing to do than watch the flat,
featureless landscape flash by. He’d already spent hours and
hours on the bus staring at the red brick land.
‘About another hour, look out for the sign to Skull Springs.
That’s where we turn off.’ He lit a cigarette. Mo would have
liked one too but he didn’t dare ask.
‘What’s with the creepy name?’
‘It’s a common name in these parts for creeks where white
men murdered blackfellas,’ replied Doug.
‘That’s racist. You’re not supposed to call them blackfellas.’
Doug turned and looked at Mo silently, the fag between
his lips with the ash dangling. ‘I’ve been called a few names in
my time but racist is a first,’ he said talking out the side of his
‘I was only repeating what my teacher says. Mr. Hammarsten
always says we should challenge anyone who tries to put
someone down because of their colour or race.’
‘No offence taken, son? Mebbe, I should watch what I say.’
The corners of his mouth twitched. ‘Old habits die hard.’
‘Are you going to tell me what happened at this Skull Springs
place or leave me in suspense?
‘Hold your horses. I’ve got to have a think. It all happened
a long time ago, well before iron ore was discovered in the
Pilbara.’ Doug took a long, final drag on his cigarette and
stubbed it out in the ashtray. ‘Never throw butts out of the
window; the scrubs like tinder,’ he warned before beginning
‘From what I’ve been told,’ he continued, his deeply lined
brow wrinkled in concentration, ‘immigrants came up here
looking for gold and grazing land and ended up fighting with
the Aborigines …
‘Over land rights?’
‘Not back then, this was long before Mabo.
‘There’s some that call water, liquid gold and in my book
they’re not far wrong. Water is the most precious resource on
earth. All life depends on it; people and animals need it for
drinking and plants need it to grow. It makes me mad as cut
snake the way those city slickers flood their lawns and splash
around in their pools when stock is dying. Don’t let me catch
you taking any ten minute showers,’ he warned.
Mo sighed. Why did adults always use a story as an excuse
for a lecture?
‘Now don’t go curling your lip at me, boy. I’m not talking
Mo’s cheeks burned. He slipped down in his seat; the old
dude must be a mind reader.
‘Well at first everything was sweet and the Aborigines and
the Newcomers shared the water,’ Doug went on, ignoring
Mo’s pained expression, ‘but more and more people arrived,
graziers and prospectors. Not only did their herds drink the
billabongs dry but the miners diverted the spring that fed the
water hole to sluice boxes to wash the gold-bearing gravel. Up
here a creek may be the only water for miles so you can’t blame
the Aborigines for keeping mum about the whereabouts of
the remaining soaks when the spring that had sustained their
ancestors for thousands of years had dried up, can you?’
‘Mad if they did.’
‘Yeah, well the white men didn’t see it like that. When one
prospector threatened to kill a young fella if he didn’t take him
to his secret water supply, the boy’s father speared him. He
wasn’t seriously wounded, mind but his mates retaliated by
shooting every Aboriginal they could find. Man, woman and
child! They burned their bodies and threw their bones in the
dried up creek.’
‘Jesus,’ said Mo.
‘Legend has it that their spirits still hang round Skull Creek,
luring wanderers into the desert where they perish, calling for
water with their dying breath.’
‘Keep it real.’ Mo wasn’t taken in by the old guy’s bulldust.
‘I can’t pull the wool over your eyes. How’s a smart young
bloke like you get in so much trouble?’ asked Doug, swerving
to avoid a speeding emu trailed by three striped chicks.
‘I can’t be that smart or I’d have got out of the car when I had
the chance,’ Mo mumbled.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘Nothing to talk about … I got busted didn’t I?’
‘Okay by me,’ said Doug. A few moments later he started
whistling. Mo closed his eyes but he couldn’t block out the tune
or the memory that wouldn’t leave him alone.
* * *
Three-fifteen on a Friday, his bike had a puncture and he was
mooching along Stirling Highway, his spirits as flat as his back
tyre. The day had got off to a bad start: his stepfather had balled
him out for drinking the last of the milk and putting the empty
carton back in the fridge! Polly was the real offender but Mo
wasn’t going to dob, even though it was unlikely she’d be reprimanded. Both his half sisters knew how to wrap daddy round their perfectly manicured little fingers.
On top of that, school had been the pits. English first up and
Hammer and Tongs had gone ballistic when Mo told him he’d
left his essay at home. It was already a week late and the teacher
concluded his massive rant with a threat to phone his parents.
Mo knew Mr. Hammarsten didn’t make idle threats. He was
bound to be grounded and that meant he wouldn’t be allowed
to spend the long weekend at Rottnest Island on his friend’s
boat. He felt a sudden spurt of fury at his teacher, but most of
all himself for supplying his stepfather with the ammunition
to spoil the trip to Rotto he’d been looking forward to for
He couldn’t take any more grief and when Danny pulled up
and invited him to go for a drive he didn’t hesitate even though
he was surprised to see him driving the late model Commodore;
Mo had never seen Danny drive anything other than his father’s
battered ute. ‘What’s a few dents among friends,’ Mr Corrigan
said in his easy going way whenever his son asked if he could
Mo wished his stepfather was as laid back. The only chance
he got to sit on the oyster leather seats of David Gow’s BMW
Coupe was when he washed, waxed and vacuumed it every
Sunday morning and he knew he’d just laugh in his face if he
even mentioned taking it for a spin.
Mo opened the front passenger door. Apart from Danny, no
one greeted him. Jai was fully occupied in the back seat with
pretty, blond Bree while Taylor just gazed at them with a silly,
vacant grin on his face. Mo had seen Bree in the mall in her
skinny jeans and sleeveless tank tops always hanging round
the tough, older guys. What he’d give to change places with Jai
but he knew there was no way he’d make an impression on a
hottie in his school uniform. He yanked off his tie and jammed
it in his blazer pocket.
The back wheels span as Danny roared off down Stirling
Highway, windows open and radio blaring. He swerved to
avoid running down an old man on a mobility scooter. The
angry pensioner shook his fist and shouted something about
long-haired louts with too much money.
‘Slow down. You nearly cleaned up that old dude.’
‘No chance of that. Not with the king at the wheel. Relax,
Mojo. Let’s have some fun! What do you say Bree? Shall I open
How like Danny to show off just because there’s a girl in
the car, thought Mo, keeping an eye on the speedo and half
expecting to be pulled over by the cops.
Bree sat up, ‘Gerr off,’ and she pushed Jai’s hand away. She lit
a cigarette and inhaled deeply. ‘What did you bring him along
for,’ she asked Danny.
‘What a dork,’ added Jai, taking his frustration out on Mo.
‘Totally,’ sniggered Bree.
The back of Mo’s neck and even his ears flamed. He knew he
looked dorky in his school uniform but he didn’t need to hear
it from a girl he had a crush on. There was an ongoing feud
between public and private school students in his suburb and
any schoolie unlucky enough to be cornered by the rival faction
was dead meat. He’d gone home often enough with ripped blazer
and torn shirt, his cap thrown into a garbage bin when he was
a little kid but bullies usually thought twice about tackling him
these days. Everyone said he took after his father and he’d been
known as Big, Bad John, the roughest and toughest footballer in
All the same Mo felt uneasy. Jai was the type to have
a go at him, just to impress his girl and he knew Taylor would
get stuck in too if his mate gave him the word.
‘Easy, he’s okay’ said Danny coming to his rescue. ‘We’re
tight.’ Danny went to the local high school too but for the two
mates it had never been an issue. They’d met at the Cottesloe
Surf Life Saving Club when they were tadpoles as Mrs. Corrigan,
laughingly called them and hit it off immediately
‘If he’s your bestie, don’t you think you should tell him this
car’s hot?’ broke in Bree.
'What’s going down Danny?’ Mo was acting cool to impress
Bree but his heart was pounding, too hard and too fast. He
knew stealing a car wasn’t the same as the harmless stuff he
and Danny usually got up to: wagging school and spending the
day paddling their boards out beyond the breakers; laughing,
talking nonsense and waiting for a good ride. But he hadn’t
seen a lot of him lately. A couple of years older, Danny was
spending more time hanging round the mall than the beach,
on the perimeter of the dangerous tough guys that gravitated
towards Bree like reckless lemmings.
‘Some old dude left the keys in the ignition. It was too much
of a temptation to pass up.’
‘That’s crazy! What do you think your …
‘Don’t look so frightened, wuss,’ mocked Bree. ‘No one’s
going to tell your mummy.’
‘It’s not his mother he’s scared of, Bree. You’ve not met his
old man.’ Danny slowed down and released the door locks. ‘Get
out now if you’re not up for it Mojo.’
‘Stay … .if you dare,’ challenged Bree with a dangerous glint
in her eyes and an unnerving smile; her lips red and juicy as
fresh-cut water melon.
‘Count me in.’ Mo took his hand off the seat belt’s buckle.
‘Gun her, Danny. Let’s see what she can do.’
Bree just laughed when they were hailed by the police in the
helicopter. She rolled down the window, leaned right out and
waved at the police in the pursuit car.‘Faster, faster. Lose the
pigs,’ she screeched, eyes shining with excitement.
Too terrified to speak, Mo watched the needle approach 150.
Danny lost control at 160kph and the Commodore slammed
into the barrier of the Perth to Mandurah railway line that ran
along the centre of the Kwinana Freeway.
‘Where’s Danny, the shit? He crashes the car and I’m the
one, who ends up in hospital,’ the first words Mo spoke
when he woke up on a stretcher in a corridor in Royal Perth
Hospital’s overcrowded Emergency Department. But there
was no answering smile on the face of the harassed triage
‘I’ve read about it in books but I never realized it happened
in real life,’ she told the Duty Nurse when she returned to her
desk. ‘He literally went as white as a sheet when I told him he
was the only survivor.’
Mo hadn’t wanted to go to the Memorial Service but his step
father had been adamant.‘Little bastard needs to face up to
the consequences and take his medicine and I’m going to see
he does,’ he told his curious workmates, agog for details not
reported on the News.
The four bereaved families had decided on a combined public
service. The local Anglican Church was filled to capacity and
the funeral director had set up loud speakers in the forecourt.
Bree’ sister had stayed up all night decorating her sister’s casket.
Now Bree was lying in a wooden box painted all over with
brightly coloured butterflies and dressed in the school ball
gown she had never got to wear. Family and friends waiting
to pay their respects stood back not wanting to intrude on her
mother and sister’s goodbyes.
Her mother opened her bag and took out a minuscule mobile
phone.‘I’ve got her mobile,’ she said to her younger daughter.
‘You know how she likes to chat. There’s a phone card here
too. Put it in this envelope with the letter I wrote last night.
I had such a lot to tell her. Stuff we should have talked about
Carefully, her daughter folded back the white lace net and
placed the mobile and envelope in the coffin. Then she took a
pack of cigarettes and lighter from her own purse and pushed
them down the side out of view. ‘You’ll want these too, Sis.’
‘Bloody fools,’ whispered David Gow. ‘She’s dead. What use
has she got for a phone?’
A woman standing nearby overheard his careless, callous
remark. She looked at him in amazement and whispered to her
friend. Mo noticed the pair glaring in their direction. ‘Let’s go.
We shouldn’t be here.’
‘We’re not leaving. You’re going to see this through. Now I
want you to go up to that poor woman. Tell her who you are
and offer your condolences. It’s the least you can do.’
‘No, I don’t want to talk to her. Not here, not now.’
Angry eyes stared hard at Mo, a sure sign his stepfather was
building up to a massive rant. ‘Can’t you even behave yourself
at a time like this,’ Gow hissed and grabbing hold of Mo, he
pushed his way through the onlookers. ‘Pardon, lady, I’m sorry
to break in on your sorrow but this young man has something
to say to you.’
‘Thank you for coming.’ Bree’s mother wiped her eyes with the tissues she was clutching in her hand. ‘Are you a friend of Bree’s?’ she asked turning to Mo and attempting to smile.
‘Yes, well sort of,’ he stumbled, conscious of the scorn on
her daughter’s face.
‘Doesn’t she look lovely?’ said her mother, talking fast and
gabbling. ‘That’s her school ball gown. We went shopping for
it together. I was a bit doubtful you know. I thought it was a
bit revealing but she could always twist me round her little
finger. And then she never got to wear it. The Principal told
her she’d lost her good standing and wasn’t allowed to attend. She seemed to go off the rails after that.’
David Gow took the woman’s hand between both of his and
patted it softly.‘Please accept my condolences on your loss, and
let me apologize to you on Geronimo’s behalf.’
Geronimo? She knew that name. How could she forget the
name of the survivor of the smash that had robbed her of her
daughter? Bree’s mother lifted her downcast eyes. She stared
hard at Mo and her face seemed to crumple up.
‘C’mon,’ said Dave, looking uneasily at the woman who’d
broken down and was sobbing in her daughter’s arms.
The crowd whispered as Dave marched his step-son down
the aisle. Talking loudly to distance himself from his stepson he
said, ‘See how you’ve upset that poor girl’s mother. I was never
so ashamed in all my life. Why you were the one to come out
unscathed I’ll never know. If there was any justice it would be
you lying in the box instead of that sweet little girl. Well that’s
it. We’re not staying for the service.’
‘Mojo’, said a quiet voice. ‘We’d be pleased if you’d join us.
Move up a little. Becky, make room for Mojo.’ Daniel’s mother
spoke to David Gow coldly. ‘Sorry there’s no room left in this
row. Perhaps you can find a pew further back,’ and without
waiting for the business man, immaculately and expensively
turned out in black Armani, to reply, she turned away and
addressed her husband, ‘Give Mojo your Order of Service, love.
I’ll look on with Becky.’
Somehow Mo got through the funeral service without
breaking down; standing and sitting at the appropriate times
and making the responses to the prayers.
‘Would everyone stand.’ intoned the Minister as the music
began. Slowly, the four coffins were carried down the aisle.
Daniel’s was last, his surfboard on top of the coffin instead of
the traditional wreath.
‘The internment is private,’ whispered Mrs. Corrigan. ‘Just
us, you can understand can’t you? We need to be alone as a
family. Come and see us often. Danny would like that,’ and she
squeezed his hand. Mo nodded too choked up to speak. The
chorus resounded through the chapel:
Forever young, I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever, forever and ever.
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