Saturday, February 6, 2016

Clutch and Choke

It was a good day for fishing in the Peel River, its dry banks moistened by the receding waters. It was more of a deep creek at this time of year.  It yielded little but large carp. Too bony to eat but easy to catch. Joe Franklin and his pal Finn Riddell wandered along the bank of river gums in pursuit of such a catch. Joe, a larrikin of a lad, the perfect foil to the quieter and stumpier Finn.  His gangly legs bearing the beginnings of adult hair, yet his body lithe and thin, he was built like a streak of Pelican Shit.

"You're havin' a growth spurt!" his Nana had said as if it was something surprising for a 15 year old boy. "You'll be 6' 3" like your Grandad before you're 18!"

Finn, the smaller of the two, had yet to embrace the bum fluff moustache of his counterpart. Fresh-faced and freckled, he'd been forced to don a stripe of zinc across his fair nose. The perfect foil to the the chocolate smudge embracing the corner of his mouth.

Their hook lines and sinkers had been carefully packed in canvas packs along with a swag of Vegemite sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and tucked into brown paper lunch bags. Each had a flask of Cottees lime cordial and a small tube of Aerogard to deter biting insects. The flies that summer were in plague proportions. Not even the Australian wave was enough to deter them. Finn's mum, God bless her aproned form, had been slaving away dipping small squares of sponge cake into chocolate then covering the iconic 'bricks' with coconut. She'd popped a couple of the Lamingtons into each of their lunches but these were devoured long before the boys reached their 'secret' fishing spot. Each laughed at the other, as they extended their tongues to the sides of their mouths to salvage  remnants of chocolate. The 'lammos' were delicious.

It was hot. Christmas was over and the school holidays in full swing. It was a perfect day for casting and hooking a couple of carp. Little else swims in the Peel at this time of year. Occasionally, the local trout hatchery throws in a few tiddlers but the carp manage to out compete the little tykes and rarely can a full sized rainbow be fished in here.  The River Oaks made swishing noises in the hot breeze. Cicadas tuned in and out with their deafening song. Occasionally a cockatoo would screech its objection to the interlopers below then settle quietly among the River Oak branches happily crunching on its seeds, the husks fall noisily to the bank below.

As they approached their familiar lair, the boys peeled off their rucksacks and began grubbing around the banks for anything that might do for bait. At best, they'd find a wichetty grub or a worm. At worst, they could use the crusts from their sandwiches. Either way, it was the doing of the thing rather than the prize. Carp are poor eating so they'd throw them back anyhow.

"Finn!" yelled Joe.

The two boys had slowly separated, scrounging with deep concentration amongs the shale pebbles an deep into the soggy mud below.

"FINN!" Joe yelled again, with some urgency.

"Look what I found! Think there might be any money in it?"

Joe was waving a small clutch purse. Pink leather with a silver chain. The kind of purse he'd seen his mother take to the Masonic Hall Ball on Ladies nights. A posh purse that she saved for special occasions. Finished in now muddied satine with a small rusted pearl clasp.

Finn ran along the bank, slipping on the wet shale stones and recovering his composure after wiping more muddy smears on his shorts. No care about the scolding he'd get upon arriving home for being so dirty and having grazed his knees. By the time he reached Joe's side, the small purse had been pried open and its contents were being removed and placed on warm shale pebbles to dry.

"There's some coins!" Joe's smile of delight assured Finn that there was probably enough for an ice cream on the way home. "Not much else. A lipstick and a hankie."

A flash on the water elevated their gaze. The river being low in the height of summer was normal. What was not, was the appearance of a smooth yellow metallic form, the sun glinting blindingly from its wet surface.
"Waddaya think it is?"

Joe's head cocked from side to side trying to work out what it could possibly be. Finn shielded his eyes with a hand coated in black mud, leaving yet another smear across his forehead.

"Dunno. Might be an old car or something?"

Little went on in the country town of Nundle. A sleepy village on the outskirts of Tamworth NSW. Years ago, when gold was found at Hanging Rock and Swamp Creek, it had been a bustling town of prospectors from all over the world. But since, it had reverted into a small farming community. Everyone knew everyone. If a baby was born, everyone knew about it. If someone had an affair, everyone knew about it. If there was a prang at the corner of Gill and Oakenville, everyone knew about it. Few of the township even owned a car so it was a mighty big deal when one ends up in the drink. This latest turn of events however seemed to be the Peel's best kept secret. The boys were hell bent on solving the mystery.

Bait gathering and fishing became unimportant as both boys stripped down to their shorts, leaving shirts and shoes on the bank. They waded in to examine the object. As they forged a watery path across the shallow creek, it became clear that it was indeed the roof of a car. Snagged on an old log, probably during flood time in Spring. From the bank, only the roof could be seen but the body of the vehicle had formed a natural dam. As they rounded the object the discovery of pink fabric, flowing atop the water and a partially decomposed corpse had them terrified and excited. Still seated, her faded pink gown, remnants of brunette hair flowed gently with the current as if trying to escape their anchorage. A choker of pearls, still in place around neck.

"Bloody Hell!!" both boys spat in unison. "Better call the cops."

The whole town turned out to watch the palaver that involved retrieving the vehicle. Instructions were being yelled left right and centre as men tried to tie a sturdy rope around the  Holden 48-215. The muddy water's of the Peel barely revealing the grisly passenger within. Women raised hands to their mouths in horror, shocked at the discovery but not so much that attaining a voyeuristic position was a priority. Mumblings about how 'awful' it was, how things like this just don't happen in Nundle. It took a good 10 men to secure the vehicle and unwedge it from the sticky mud. As men hauled and harrumphed, the car began to move slowly across the river, towards the bank, leaving little eddy's and whirlpools in its wake. Harry McCormack, the most senior of the two officers on duty that day, began to wave the crowd away.

"Nothing to see here folks. Go back to what you were doing. This'll be a job for Sydney detectives."

As he shooed the reluctant audience from their viewing vantage points the car slowly emerged from it's watery grave. Water gushed from the windows as the body of the woman was slowly revealed. The men, pulling the rope had their backs to the ordeal but when Harry McCormack took a closer look, he began to laugh. Not just a snicker or a giggle, a hearty belly laugh, a guffaw in fact. He'd seen some crazy things before, but as a country cop most calls involved drunk and disorderly, an occasional kerfuffle with local Abbos and the odd domestic. Joe Curry had shot himself accidentally in the face years ago but he was an ape and most thought it poetic justice. But what appeared to be a young woman in a ball gown, in the prime of her life, now lifeless, had him clutching his belly in hysterics.

"Alright fellas, good job," he managed to stutter through his tearful giggles, "Looks like we've rescued a Mannikin!"

Continued in Part 2 A Cop of Cafe

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 7
Clutch and Choke


  1. "...he was built like a streak of Pelican Shit." I don't know what this means :P Nice start.

  2. I daresay there's a touch of Tim Winton in this. Reading him seems to be rubbing off, eh?

  3. always did like your writing, you're tops in the class

  4. Yer so good. Already sorry to know it's not finished.