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by Hugh Morris (Dags the Drover)

Chapter 1

Becky carefully shut the sterling silver locket, held it to her left cheek, and closed her eyes, but only for a moment.  Then she gently slipped the locket and its fine silver chain into the pocket of her stretch jeans and tried to focus on the now, as she absently massaged the pain with her short rough fingers.

Although she could not see it, she knew the skin on her temples was red and dry from the regular workout.  Headache was her constant companion these days.

Her whole body tensed as she heard the throbbing V8 Holden Torana skid to a halt in the driveway.  She rehearsed her greeting one more time as she stuffed her bra into the top drawer of her bedroom dresser and buttoned up the two bottom buttons on her one clean, white, tight-fitting blouse.  Hurriedly she made her way across the lounge room as she heard the car door slam.

The thin winter light was waning.  The street lights would soon come on and a chill was growing in the air.  Even in the tension of the moment she could hear her mother in her head:  “Stomach in, chest out.”

Although her mother wouldn’t approve of her current appearance, it was just the advice she needed right now.

She stepped into the doorway.  “Hi Bundy.  A bit more rubber in the driveway.  Just the thing to keep the landlord on side ya reckon,” she said with a deceptively approving grin.

Phil Ratanbury, panel beater and spray painter extraordinaire, chop shop operator, and tattoo-parlour client, stopped just short of the bottom step of the two-bedroom fibro housing commission house they shared, lifted his gaze to meet hers, and noted that tight white blouse.

“Hey,” she said, softening her tone.  “Wanna go get us a DVD an’ a slab of Bundy at the bottle shop for tonight?”  She applied the sexiest smile she had and tugged at the undone buttons on her blouse.

Bundy, as he was known to his mates because of his ability to consume large amounts of the stuff, eyed Becky suspiciously.

At least he stopped at the bottom step, she thought.

He drilled her to the doorpost for a long moment with his eyes, took another slug on the can of Bundaberg Rum and Cola he was nursing, nonchalantly flicked his car keys into the air while spinning on his heels, caught the car keys behind his back, and headed for car without a word.

Most blokes would have pulled a flannel shirt over their blue singlet by now, but Bundy was one of a kind – and tough.  He took what he wanted regardless of whether it was being offered or not. Becky wasn’t his girl, she was one of his possessions.

She draped herself invitingly on the doorpost and leaned forward just the slightest bit as Bundy turned to look at her once more before he slid into the driver’s seat of the Torana. As usual, he smoked up the rear tyres on the driveway while reversing out and roared off down the street.

Becky breathed with relief.

She held herself in the doorway, clutching her locket with her right hand until he was completely out of sight.  Then, she turned quickly and headed straight back to the main bedroom.  She guessed she’d have twenty-five to thirty-five minutes.

There were lots of things that were confused in her mind at the moment, but one thing was clear.  If she ever saw Bundy Ratanbury again, she’d be dead.

5:28 pm

Bundy eased the Torana into the traffic on the highway near the Fire Station at Matthews and headed east.  A red and blue flashing light up ahead caught his attention straight away.  He secured his can of Bundy rum and cola between his legs, checked his rear view mirror, Speedo, and stayed with the flow.

The last thing he needed at the moment was to be pulled over by some enthusiastic young copper with a breathalyser and a car inspection.  Sydney traffic was getting  ridiculous. Bumper-to- bumper morning and night, even way out here in Western Sydney.

He flicked his blinker on before he got to the Canter Ave. intersection.  The Random Breath Test Unit that was checking homeward-bound drivers on the other side of the median strip had kept his attention until now, but once he had safely passed, his mind turned back to Bex’s invitation.  He called her Bex or Bitch, depending on his mood.  It was his own little joke.

Lately she’d been more Bitch than Bex.  He figured she was up to something.  He just wasn’t sure what.  He knew there was plenty of grog at home, but he was happy to play her little game.  He’d have a bit of a browse through the hot DVDs at Blockbusters next to the bottle shop.  That was a reasonable diversion for a hard working man like himself. And if it was a bit of fun she wanted tonight, then fun she’d get, and she’d get reminded who was boss while he was at it.

5:40 pm

Beck threw her backpack up and pulled herself into the cab.  The driver was wearing that sort of grin that said he couldn’t believe his luck.  He got the big rig rolling, and in between changing gears he turned the heater up, hoping she would be too hot to put a jumper on, if she had one in that backpack.

He checked her out one more time and smirked.  “Where you headed, love?”

She answered in a cold, flat voice.  “Just up the road, mate.  You keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel and things’ll be just fine.”

“Ahh, a feisty bit of gear, eh?”

“Yeah, and where I’m goin’s none of your business, buddy.”

She reached across and flicked the heater off.

“I just thought you might be cold . . . ”

Beck nestled back in the passenger’s seat and closed her eyes for a moment.  She’d been watching this truck for weeks now.  Every Thursday evening around 5:40 to 5:50 it pulled out of the machinery dealership beside the western rail line in the Matthews industrial area. It was always the same big white truck – sleeper cab, chrome exhaust stacks, and the name Kenworth across the bonnet and on the mud flaps.

The step-deck tri-axle trailer was always loaded with new red tractors or cultivators or some sort of farming equipment.  She was not sure it was always the same driver but she guessed the silver sign writing on the driver’s door which read “Dubbo Freight Services” meant the truck would be heading west.  She sure hoped so.

She was tired, she was hungry, and she had a thumping adrenalin headache.  But she knew she needed to keep a steely presence and stay on guard until she worked this bloke out.

5:50 pm

Bundy pulled the Torana into the driveway again, smiling to himself at all the rubber he had laid down last time out.  His mate, Greg, got out of the front passenger’s seat while his other mate, Brett, extracted himself from rear.  They waited by the side of the car while Bundy retrieved the carton of Bundaberg Rum and the couple of DVDs he had hired while at the shops at Matthews.

Bundy strode up to the still-open front door.  Something was wrong.  The TV was not on, no cooking smells wafting from the kitchen, and the place had that cold, empty feeling about it.

Bitch,” he yelled.  He marched through the lounge room and kitchen to the laundry out the back.  The laundry door was open as well, and he could see the gap in the paling fence leading into the back lane from the unshaded light globe in the laundry.

His eyes narrowed, his teeth clenched, and his lips pulled tight as he pushed back through the house to the front door and across to the garage.

“Bitch.  Stinkin’ bitch.”

In his rage, he threw the garage door up effortlessly, went straight to the grey steel Stanley cabinet behind the water heater up the back, and unlocked it.  His temper was such that he forgot to close the garage door behind himself, which was something he was usually meticulous about.

“Close that stinkin’ door and stay outside,” he yelled.

The others didn’t need to know too much and they didn’t need to be told twice.

Both rifles were there.  A .22 and a 243, both with high-powered fitted sights.  On the top shelf was a fair supply of ammo.  By law, ammunition was supposed to be locked in a separate compartment to rifles and guns, but then, Bundy had never been too fussed about what “The Law” required and didn’t have a license anyway.

He quickly pushed a couple of ammo boxes aside to reveal an unobtrusive box at the back. He pulled it out and checked its contents.

“Just as well,” he thought to himself.  “The money’s still there.  At least the stupid bitch didn’t know about that.”

He pushed the box back, rearranged the ammo in front of it, grabbed the .22 and a loaded magazine, slipped them into a long sporting bag, and pulled the zipper shut.

No one ever betrayed Bundy Ratanbury and got away with it.

6:23 pm

The traffic was rolling along the motorway leading out of Sydney to the west quite quickly now, and thinning due to the second mass exodus of vehicles at the Mulgoa road exit.  Matty’s truck approached the high kilometer-long bridge across the Nepean river. The lights of the city of Penrith came into view immediately to the right as the road rose slightly and fell again following the curvature of the pre-stressed concrete bridge across the river.

They passed suburb after suburb of red tile roofs, illuminated by streetlights, beyond the barriers of the motorway.  Then suddenly the silver ribbon of the river came into view, followed by the honeycomb-colored Sydney Sandstone, made bare by the huge cuttings carved into the mountain side.

And then the motorway began its steady assent of Lapstone hill, the gateway to the Blue Mountains and the vast Australian interior.

This river and the mountain range which rose abruptly in a blue haze from the coastal plain immediately beyond it, had for some years been a significant barrier to the first Europeans when they arrived in this country in the late 1780s.

Today however, the saddle horse and bullock wagon had been replaced by vehicles like the computer controlled, turbocharged four hundred and seventy horsepower Cummins diesel, coupled to an 18 speed gear box in Matty’s Kenworth T404.  The treacherous old trail had given way to a three-lane dual carriage, bitumen highway, carved at an easy grade into the side of the mountain. The river and the mountains were a barrier to man and progress no more.

Matty flicked the Road Ranger back a couple of gears to keep the Cummins in the torque band as they began the run up Lapstone Hill.  Ahead were a couple of older trucks pulling hard with heavy loads and their left-hand blinkers on, trying to get across to the left-hand lane for slower vehicles before they impeded his progress.

He kept the power on as they sped up the centre lane and just missed the back end of the first B-Double loaded with bricks with his bulbar. He acknowledged the truckies on the UHF.  With this relatively light load, he knew he might have to drop another half a gear, but he would be able to stay with the traffic flow with no worries.

They hadn’t been on the road long, so there was no need to make a log book stop yet, but he felt a bit peckish.  He didn’t like the plastic stuff served and sold as food at the service station just before the traffic lights, but he knew he could park the semi just off the highway in the parking bay at the Glenbrook Visitor Information Centre and walk across the park to the shops behind the VIC.  The food was better further up the Mountains but it was not so easy to park a semi up there.

Matty was wondering about this chick now, too.  When she first jumped in the truck in those tight jeans and that white shirt with no bra, he thought life was going to be good. Now he wasn’t so sure.  He pulled up Lapstone Hill to where the road leveled out past the RAAF base on the big left-hander and headed down toward the traffic lights at the village of Glenbrook.

Without thinking any more about it, he checked his mirror and flicked his left blinker on, held his line until the car in that lane had driven past, pulled his truck across the left lane, and exited the highway.  Changing down through five or six of the eighteen gears with the compression brakes on, he quickly came to a stop behind the other semis that had already pulled up.

He applied the maxi brakes and, satisfied with the big hiss of air released from the drive axles on the prime mover and the tri-axle trailer, let the Cummins idle for a few moments.

He flicked the cab light on and grabbed his official “Transport Work Diary.”  This would be his first fifteen minute break.  He usually forgot to record his loading time and driving time as required by law nowdays, but on this occasion he remembered and duly completed the paperwork.  By that time the turbo charger had cooled enough for a shut down.

Becky, who had been sitting more or less motionless and silent for the last fifteen minutes, remained slouched quite low in the passenger’s seat, and tried to look calm. They were only 30 or 40 k’s from home, which wasn’t far enough by any stretch, and she was sure she’d seen Bundy’s blue Torana flash past back down the M4 motorway.

Also, she didn’t trust this bloke.  She knew it was time to leave the pseudo security of his truck. But who would she run into next? She had to be in control of her physical surroundings to be in control of her own destiny or, or . . .

She couldn’t bear to think about failure, knowing that by now Bundy was mad as hell and maybe lurking close by.

As they had pulled into the parking area, she had noticed the aluminium tipper at the front of the line of trucks in the parking bay.  A skinny young bloke, dressed in the mandatory blue singlet and unbuttoned checked flannel shirt over jeans, strolled across the park toward it as Matt was doing his log book thing.

She decided to take her chances with Skinny and, just in case Bundy was already over at the shops quizzing truckies about any hitchhikers, she decided to give Matt a bit of incentive to keep quiet.

“Gunna come for a feed, love?” Matt asked hopefully as he prepared to climb down from the cab.

“Nah . . . not really hungry, thanks,” Beck replied in a slightly softer version of her Western Sydney working class accent.  “I might just stretch out here on the bunk if ya don’t mind, so don’t be too long getting that feed.”

She forced a smile and gave a good impression of a lusty nymph as Dickhead, which was how she thought of him now, closed the cabin door and headed off with a bit of an expectant swagger across the park.

Matt let his mind run a little ahead of itself as he stepped off the footpath to cross the street to the shops.  He failed to notice the blue Torana parked at the curb on the other side until Bundy flicked his cigarette at him.  Bundy had Matt at sixes and sevens in no time and neither of them noticed the dull taillights of the aluminium tipper disappear into the night.


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