‘Bloody Mundy Gully pub again’ Jake Mulligan growled striding in, the front door slamming behind him, and tossing the paper to the couch in disgust.
‘What are you on about?’ Pete Flanders called from the kitchen where he was rescuing what smelt to be burnt toast from the temperamental toaster. ‘Don’t forget I want you gone for tonight and I want you to clean the crap you’ve left in the bathroom. I have Holly coming over and a bath is not to be out of the question!’
‘Eew please don’t tell me about your sordid sexual plans!’ Jake grimaced ‘I have to wash my feet in that bath at times!’
Pete emerged from the kitchen in time to see Jake pull his trainers off his feet and toss them to the door of his bedroom. ‘Thanks mate that just fills my mind with your stinking big feet in my bath!’
However it didn’t interrupt him biting into one rather black slice of toast lathered in vegemite, nothing got between colossal Private Pete and his food! There were three more slices piled on a plate in his other massive hand to prove it. Pete Flanders was not fat, his bulk was all muscle and he was over six foot four with shoulders and fists to make the hardiest bouncer think twice. But it was all for show, unless riled up, as the ladies quickly found out just how much of a softy he really was. Jake felt a smile creep to the corners of his mouth remembering how pathetic bunches of flowers looked strangled in his massive paw!
‘Gawd man how can you eat it like that? Vegemite is only to be a scraping not plastered on like peanut butter!’ Jake almost gagged at the thought! Like most Australians he liked vegemite but not by the spoonful! ‘That much will kill you!’
Baffled Private Pete looked at Jake then at his toast then back at Jake and finally decided the smaller man must be teasing him and frowned.
‘Shut up; you sound like my mother!’ Pete glared at his flat mate then launched himself onto the couch and landed bottom first, legs already out straight and crossed at the ankles, elbows ready for position on the back and the arm rest. The toast, stuck together with the spread, went air-born for a moment before landing back on the plate. He balanced the plate on his stomach and collected the remote from the floor. ‘Oh cool “Rage”!’ he announced half muffled by toast as the TV warmed up to his push button command ‘Love watching all those corny crappy eighties music clips!’
‘One day you’ll have everything digitally programmed like the rest of us.’ Jake muttered walking back into his room hauling a sweaty singlet from his fit torso, kicking his trainers into the neat room as he entered it.
‘Did that; got sick of redoing it every time the power surged!’ Pete called back ‘Man! I couldn’t even boil the kettle ’cause the fridge wouldn’t let me ’til we had milk!’
‘So that’s why you ripped the IT chip out of it?’ Jake called from the bathroom over the noise of the shower.
‘Damned straight! Not into having all these machines rule my existence!’ Pete ate on ‘Next thing we’ll have robots working at McDonald’s!’
‘Haven’t you heard? In the city they already do!’ Jake called back. ‘The kitchens are all one big automotive vending machine now!’
The shower turned off and rubbing his hair and neck with a towel, Jake moved from the steaming room back to his bedroom to pull on old commando pants and boots.
‘And that’s why I get woken up in the middle of the night?’ he called to his munching flat mate ‘With you bellowing “Who the fuck drank all the milk?” because you didn’t bother to check if we had any first before you started making yourself coffee to go with your midnight munchies.’ He stood at the door of the lounge looking for something.
‘Yeah well I fixed that problem too I drink it black now!’ Pete smiled impishly, vegemite smeared on each cheek like a child.
Jake rolled his eyes annoyed that he’d been dragged into another of Pete’s inane conversations. With a wriggle Pete reached under his butt and pulled out the newspaper and threw it onto the messy, filthy carpeted floor in Jake’s direction.
‘Oi, Mr Digital here! Still getting the local paper after your morning jog I see!’ Pete smiled at him. He took another slice and demolished half in one bite, his mind returning to the TV again.
Jake walked back into his room ignoring his mate. The training of boot camp infiltrated his living unlike with his mate. Bed made neatly with chocolate doona and fawn pillows and sheets, desk neatly empty with just laptop and fax / printer machine at the ready, all clothes out of sight either in robe, drawer or hamper, only a pair of laminated bush landscapes hung above the bed and one simply framed photo of his family, beside the fluorescent green numbers of his bedside clock blinking in the gloom, as any sign of personalisation. Little did anyone know of his love of photography for the beauty of what he saw in the lens. The few images he had indulged in were safely stored on a USB stick, well hidden. He needed to practise this level of identification enigma if he were to be selected for the SAS training in November.
‘What was in that anyway that got you so pissed?’ Pete called finishing the slice in another bite.
‘Another murder out at the Mundy Gully Pub’ Jake announced from his bedroom and emerging puling a tee shirt on over his naked chest. ‘Bloody copy cat murders; you think they’d get inventive by now!’
‘Why aren’t you a dick?’ Pete asked stuffing the rest of his toast into his mouth and coughing crumbs out. ‘Well you are, but I mean a Dick Tracey … Investigator … Private detective…’
‘I know what you mean but you know you can’t be when you’re in the military, well you can if you go in the MPs but no one likes those pricks!’
‘You goner go check it out?’
‘Good you can clean your crap in the bathroom now then!’
Grunting with annoyance Jake went back into the bathroom.
Half an hour later Jake collected the paper from the floor folded it and pushed it into the day-pack slung over his shoulder. Then he left Pete, still snoring and splayed out on the couch, to tidy the rest of the unit. As it was Pete who wanted to date this Holly chick, he could clean the lounge and kitchen; that was the deal. The fact that Pete was the one to mess it up most of the time and Jake the one that rarely dated, just made life easier.
Jake drove his pride and joy, a crimson 2008 Navarra TD40 Ute, eastward through the bush. The day promised to be glorious and he drove happily basking in the late morning light, out to the Goulburn River; windows down and “Crowded House” blaring from the ute’s original CD deck, much to the disgust of his more up to date technology mates. But like Pete, Jake had the attitude if it works why waste money updating it? In the back tray, as per usual, were his swag and the tucker box; always kept prepared for his frequent overnight sojourns.
Truth be told Jake had no problem with getting out of the unit, he usually preferred to stay outdoors. Ever since his grandfather took him up the high country, as a boy, Jake developed a mild case of feeling claustrophobic, almost trapped, when forced to stay inside. Joining the army and being posted to Pucka was a godsend as it was less than an hour’s drive to the cabin! Moving into the flat in Seymour with Pete was even closer!
Having no idea where his father ended up, he was close to his grandfather but the old man’s sudden death, while Jake was in boot camp, had been a severe blow! His father didn’t even show for the funeral of his own father and so Jake decided to stop hoping he’d ever see the man again! But it meant the inheritance of the old man’s belongings went straight to Jake and he was grateful to be left the mountain cabin where so many precious lessons and memories were created. That’s where he usually took off to for full weekends or longer away. He would have been up there this weekend had he not needed to swap duties with Alan who’d just become a father and wanted to see his newborn son.
Passing a house where the mother was out hanging sheets in the sunshine her children playing about her. It could be his sister Jenifer and her three kids that he loved visiting regularly. Jake wondered if he’d ever become a father, and doubted it. He’d never been one to fancy the girls. He’d had a few attempts but they always ended up moving on, usually before he was ready to. His gentle mother would console him with “The special one is out there waiting for you to rescue her”. He wanted to believe that but somehow he really didn’t think he’d ever find her. Not even the women on base enticed him to share more than duties. Oh he wasn’t completely devoid of lustful feelings, there were some who infiltrated his imagination at the right moments but he’d never jeopardise his career to act upon the fantasies, and he’d not met any in town, or even in the city, to entice him to bring them to his bed, or explore theirs. Sharing with Pete, who shagged anything in lipstick, helped him to keep his standards high.
He thought back to the article he’d read that morning;
“Woman found stabbed in the Mundy Gully Creek, not fifty yards from the 150yo Mundy Gully Pub : Similarities reminded locals of the unsolved Mundy Gully Murders of a dozen years before.”
There had been some old reports of the Mundy Murders in March of the turn of the millennium. Jake frowned at that; his father and uncle had been questioned about those murders. He’d only been a boy of twelve at the time and had no comprehension of why his father had been taken into the police station for questioning. But his father had disappeared soon after and Jake was left to hold his family together.
Jake smiled at the mental image of his mother now. Earth mother, cross witch, cross dreamer; there wasn’t just one tag for his mother. Her hair flowing about like a cape still as auburn as the day she was abandoned. Her clothing a mixture of masculine fleece shirts and feminine full flowing skirts, had grown with her as she gave up on her appearance gradually like she gave up on the return of her husband and subsequently on love and happiness.
But Jake got his innate sense of community and consideration from her and coupled with the bushcraft from his grandfather obviously went into defence service. He could have picked police but the call of the bush was too strong.
Pulling up at the bridge over the Goulburn River just out of Seymour, Jake considered ignoring the murders up the Mundy Gully a few hundred meters further down. But knew he wouldn’t settle if he didn’t go look at least. Sighing he turned back onto the main road and headed over the bridge further east. Five minutes later he pulled up before the tape the police had barricaded the road with. There was no one in sight. So Jake killed the Navarra’s motor and got out. The stroll up the track past the tape was short and sweet before the markers came into view. Just cones with numbers on them, nothing to tell him exactly why the points were important but he bent and touched the earth beside each one. Images flashed into mind. Poor quality film clip style memories that he’d never had; rearing horses, baying dogs, whistles, a woman’s pleading. On the last cone he saw, transposed over the bright sunlight grass, there was hair long dark all over whiteness; lots of it!
Suddenly his fingers shot stinging pain messages to his brain and he recoiled his hand as if burnt.
What had all that been about? Jake stood looking back at the staggered straggling row of bright yellow cones on the ground and heard it all replay in his mind again.
“NO! Jake PLEASE NO! I LOVE YOU!!!!”
Jake grabbed his ears and spun about, certain someone was there playing tricks on him. He felt ill gut wrenching ill! That voice, that pleading tone, that last declaration! Never had a woman declared that to him so who was this woman declaring it to him now? And why now? And why here? And why did he suddenly feel so hot as if he was about to……