Miss Maree Cranley. A thirty-something single mother that's been bleeding the system for a few years now, was my next call. She will have a list of things she needs doing around the housing commission home she gets almost rent free. She has three kids from different fathers, all of which don’t contribute to her household apparently, but the widescreen TV and the plush leather couches tell another story.
"Hi, Zachary come in. I want to talk to you about this letter I received last week." No offers of coffee she's got her business glasses on today and I guess whatever it was she will probably win. I hate it when people rort the system and I hate it even more when there are kids involved.
She passed over the letter and I read it, a standard note informing her they were putting up her rent in accordance with the contract she has with the government.
"I can't afford it Zack, I have mouths to feed can you help me please?" She placed her hand to her ample bosom of which I noted her blouse buttons were undone quite considerably. She doesn’t know this won’t wash with me. I folded the letter up and said.
"I'll look into this for you, is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Well there is a curtain rail that’s come loose in my bedroom can you help me fix it?" her eyelashes flitted.
"I'm sorry Maree, I'm not allowed to do that you have to ring the housing commission they will send someone out. So if there’s nothing else I have loads of people to see today.
I will write a recommendation to the commissioner not to up your rent, but you must understand its not my area they can only take my words on board."
"Okay, then when will I see you again?"
"Maybe next month." I didn't want to see her at all I wanted to see the kids are being looked after and I won't write that recommendation either, I can’t interfere with rental issues. She will probably be turning up at the soup kitchen when it's open again, she uses every loophole to get out of her responsibilities and never passes up an opportunity.
I found a quiet park and rang Book while I had my lunch. I told him about granny Burns and her lawyer, he laughed because he thought his dad had told her he left him the farm. He said he would ring his lawyer just to make sure it was all on the up and up. He listened to me chewing my sandwich, then I listened to him sipping on his coffee, little was said after that, only that he missed me. We hung up and I finished my lunch then I had some important work to do out at the settlement.
My car was searched at the front gate then I had to sit with the elders and they would let me know if they wanted anything done. There was nothing major, but I did leave with a list as long as my arm. When I read it later it was more like a list of demands, not help. I managed to sit with old nan for a few minutes and Adoni once again brought out the lemonade. He giggled as he limped over to me and offered the cool drink. I thanked him then gave him the bag of sweets I had bought for him. He sat on the steps and proceeded to eat one. He said he would save the rest for later after he had offered his nan one.
"He's a good boy, my grandson he's always making me proud of him Mr. Zack. He makes the best drinks in the world, and not the kind that gets my people in trouble."
I smiled at her she's a great role model for him and I see no reason why he won't have a wonderful life.
"I hear the religious man is tapping at your door Mr. Zack. Beware he is dangerous to have around, and he also isn’t what he seems."
"Oh you have heard about him then; he seems to be very focussed on money for his church he's even got Granny Burns talking to his lawyers." I smiled.
"Well he's not what you think he is, that's all I'm saying, any news on the black fella murder?"
"Luke seems to think it's something to do with secret men's business," I said quietly.
She looked at me and winked her understanding.
She was communicating in riddles but I understood she didn’t want Adoni to know what we were talking about. She could get in a lot of trouble talking aboriginal business with a white man.
"I hear you nan and I am being careful, and I am also very grateful."
It was left at that, nothing more was said as eyes all over the compound were watching us. Maybe not from front porches but from closed curtained windows for sure. I hugged Adoni and nan and thanked her, then I passed over a couple of packets of cigarettes before I went to find my car, hopefully, the tires will still be attached.
The next visit I had was another compound and another pow-wow with the elders who wanted me to help a young girl in their care. Recently she had been used and beaten by her stepbrother, and they were in fear it will happen again. I promised I would put her into emergency housing far away from the abuse. They thanked me then said the usual bull shit, they said she was a temptation that had to be removed as soon as possible.
See its not only the white man that's at fault, but the stupidity in these men is also quite laughable. The young lady in question was bought before the elders she already had her suitcase in hand and I couldn’t help but notice she was almost white, you couldn’t tell except for the dark brown eyes and she was also very pretty. I heard one old man say to her that if she wanted to be white she should go and live with white people. Stuff me, its not her fault her skin is different; I get so flaming mad sometimes.
After signing her out I got her settled in the car then we drove off. I had rung my emergency foster parent and she was more than happy to have Uli at her house until she could be placed in another home permanently. On the way she spoke of her abuse at the compound, it was because her father was a white man and her mother was a half-caste she had accepted her lot, but dreamed of a better life away from it all.
I had visions of Hildy's plight and felt so sad for the young girl who had told me she was only sixteen and had limited schooling but she read a lot.
Aunt Jenny welcomed her with a big hug, and I told her I would start the process of a more permanent foster placing when I got home. I thought that because Uli was over sixteen she would find it hard to be placed in a family home. She might find it easier to find a job and rent a room until she can do something about her situation. I also knew aunty wanted the company and she would be good for the very pretty teen.
I turned into our driveway and unlatched the heavy wooden farm gate. When I pulled up outside the house I sat for a minute until I found my father persona, then I got out of the car and was greeted by my potential husband, mother and two sons who were freshly showered and waiting to sit with me on the porch for a while.
I was kissed hugged and stroked by Booker, then he made me a coffee and I sat with my little family just chilling for an hour.
"How was your day baby?" Mum always asked while Book listened. I had a kid on each knee and they were trying to tell me about their day, Lucky sat up and stopped talking then he looked at me, he was waiting for my answers.
"I met father Todd, he's younger than I imagined. I saw Luke about the murder. I talked to nan and Adoni and I fought off a vixen who wanted to bed me. Then I rescued a young girl from the Yarrawonga compound she's at Jenny's place getting a much-needed aunty pampering." The kids were bug-eyed but I don't quite know how much they understood. Book on the other hand never misses a word.
"Who tried to bed you Zack?"
"Maree Cranley again Book, she won't win and she doesn't realize it yet, she's got the wrong equipment." I laughed.
"Oh, her again. I might have a quiet word with her sometime."
"You can do that Friday she will turn up for a freebie meal, I know she will."
He laughed and I got worried, its something Book would do if I let him have his head.
"Book she will eat you alive and spit you out in food stamps, she's such a welfare fraudster, she wouldn’t even be listening to a word you said if you didn’t pay her first." I laughed.
I placed the boys on the veranda so they could play little boys games with their trucks, then I went to shower.
When I came out they were still sitting there watching the daylight dim. I made them another coffee and took some biscuits out, my boys were straight onto them and Book snaffled six before the kids got to them. Lucky started crying so Book passed one each over to them both.
"Only joking boys, no need to get upset." Mum tut-tutted and I felt sorry for them.
"Don’t do that Book you know it gets them feeling like you don’t love them." He put on a sad face then mum said.
"Bull shit Zack, they love the game he was only joking with you then or didn’t you notice that wicked smile."
I looked at Beetle butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth but he did smile.
"Did you ring your lawyer Book?"
"Yes baby, we own the farm lock stock and barrel, and if she has proof it will be fake."
"Good because she’s got the church lawyer calling tomorrow. The priest thinks she’s going to donate a shit load of money to him and his church."
"Well, he isn't getting any of it," Book replied.
It was time to start bedding the stock down for the night, Sam and young Doug came to get Booker.
"Troops, time to put the horses to bed." The kids jumped up and down then followed the men out to the barn. It was a ritual they would happily endure into their early teens.
Mum fixed dinner while I wrote up my summaries for the day while waiting for them to return, we will do the babies first then have ours.
"What's the young girl like Zack, is she capable of getting a job?"
"I don’t know mum, she said she had some schooling but didn’t say how much. I suppose aunty will get all that info out of her. I was thinking maybe if I can find the funds she might like to go back and finish it, but I will have to ask her first."
"Good idea, and if the worst comes to the worst she can give me a hand around this place. I can always find some work for her to do."
"Well she will still get the government assistance for sure so that will be a little help, in the past, her stepbrother took it all off her, she was treated very bad mum. I have to get her address changed and organize a new bank account for her tomorrow."
"Okay let me know if there’s something I can do."
Our boys came back talking their heads off and Beetle ran into my arms, he just wanted a private word with me I think. I cuddled him as I tried to distract him from the mashed veggies I was trying to feed him. I managed half a bowl then I changed him for bed. Mum did Lucky and then they get a half hour in front of the TV, then off to bed; their day is nearly over and done. I was a bit tired myself and told Book I needed an early night, he agreed then gave me one of his sleazy grins.
Sometimes when the house is all quiet and the only people awake are Book and me, we sometimes lay there just looking at each other. A million things go through our heads as we gently stroke each others bodies, but the thought that binds us is always present, our deep love for each other is always at the forefront. I watched him gently close his eyes and waited for his light snores until I deemed it safe for me to do the same.
Then sometimes there’s Lucky. His moaning started at eleven and didn’t finish until I had them both in with us, Book smiled then cuddled up to them. I tried to get back to sleep but it took me ages to settle down again. Did I just hear a snigger coming from the other side of the bed?
I had no idea what was wrong with Lucky last night, sometimes he gets frightened of the dark even though they have their night lights on. Of course, there's no show without Punch, if ones awake they both are. Maybe we had better start separating them, I will talk to mum. I closed my eyes again when I heard it, a very faint mooing sound coming from the farmhouse paddock. Maybe that's why they wake up they think the animals are awake so they should be. Lucky stirred again, I rubbed his back gently and then I heard his baby snores.
"That old Heifer was a bit crazy last night I went to have a look but saw nothing suspicious," Doug said in the morning.
"Well I think the boys heard her and that’s what woke them up." I offered my expertise.
"Tell me again boss why have we still got her around, her breeding days are long gone," Sam asked Book.
"It's her eyes they remind me of Zacks." He blushed.
"I see, so you give her a big tongue kiss whenever you pass by." Doug giggled. Book wasn’t amused but he did talk to me later before I went to work.
"When my father was working out in the paddocks she kicked him in the ass, that day was the best day of my life. I don’t know why dad didn’t kill her but I will always be grateful for what she did. So she gets to live a natural life span." He sighed.
"Good thinking Book, but we had better think about moving her further away from the house, she disturbs the boys."
"I'll move her back to the lower paddock today, and maybe give her a big tongue kiss." he laughed.
After saying my goodbyes, I started the car and drove down the road to go to work. I called into aunties place and talked to Uli, she was helping aunt Jenny with the dishes, then they were going shopping for some decent attire. I gave her a couple of vouchers and started filling out her details to open a bank account then I will get her some help from social security, also some rent assistance may be.
"My white name is Emma, my father insisted I be named after his mother. But mum always called me Uli Mr. Zack. I always liked Emma."
"Emma, it is then do you know who your father is kiddo?"
"Yes, he runs the sawmill over in Barham I think he owns it."
"Do you ever see him?"
"No, but when I was smaller I used to see a handsome man hanging around the school yard and I imagined it was him."
"Maybe that’s something you had better chase up Zack."
"I will aunty, he's got to have some sort of obligation, leave it with me." I sighed.
"So why didn't you finish school, Emma?"
"My mum wanted me to help her, I don't know why because there wasn’t a lot to do, I only sat around all day with her."
"Okay, can you do me a big favor and take this exercise book and write down everything that happened to you since you left school. I think it's important for you to do that."
"Sure I will start on it this afternoon, should I write about the abuse?"
"Especially the abuse, don’t worry I am the only one that's going to read it." I smiled at her then got her to sign some more paperwork.
"I will organize these few things and hopefully you will be receiving some more money in the coming week." I kissed them both goodbye and left to go to my next appointment.
Out of town lived a family I deemed, on the brink of collapse. The father drank all day and the mother cleaned houses to try and make some extra cash. She was looking far older than her forty-two years, a hump was appearing on her back, maybe some spine curvature. Her small house such as it was, is always spotless and orderly, and she always put her best china out when she had visitors. An old fashioned lady with three kids to feed, she told me once she went on the pill unbeknown to her husband because she couldn’t cope with another pregnancy.
Her eldest boy Andy had left home, and the two that were still at home would be leaving school in a few years. She was worried her family allowance would be cut off, she also was sporting a terrible black eye as she moved around the kitchen very gingerly. I surmised she had recently been beaten very badly.
It was a confusing arrangement, she should have left years ago, but hung around to look after her alcoholic husband and his drunken mates, I could see a lot of goodness in her eyes.
"Don't worry about the money Sarah, I can get you moved over to the dole, and I notice you’re not claiming carers allowance, you do care for your husband don't you?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Zack."
Her husband John came through the back door, he looked daggers at her then at me, then he went to the fridge and got a six pack of beer. He grunted then left to go do some drinking by the river.
"He thinks I'm plotting something Zack, he never goes too far from home. If he only knew how much I used to love him. But now there's nothing but hatred in my heart." She lowered her head, I immediately took her chin and pulled it up.
"You are not defeated yet, I still see a lot of spirit in you, don’t submit, keep all your beliefs and dreams. Your kids love you and I know why Andy left home, he couldn't stand to see you being abused." I was getting too personal.
"I would have left years ago, but they were too young we needed what little money John bought in, and I had no hope of getting a better job."
"And now?" I said.
She looked around to see if we were alone, I think.
"Andy is working towards moving us into a flat with him in the city, but he has his life to live. Hopefully much better than he had as a child. I want him to succeed, not babysit the rest of us."
"He loves you Sarah and only wants the best for you."
"He has a life Zack, as I said if he had stayed here his father would have certainly killed him when he found out what he is." Her head started falling almost to the table until she remembered my words and snapped it up again.
"Good lady, I will get the ball rolling on those extra payments seeing you are a primary carer to your husband. Maybe you might rethink Andy's offer to go live with him. You can’t keep this up." I didn’t pursue the comment I figured she would have told me if she wanted me to know, but I sort of guessed that maybe Andy was gay.
She smiled at me and thanked me. She was an educated woman; how the hell did she end up with a deadbeat husband like she has.
I left her as she started doing the washing up and when I said before this was a family on the brink of collapse, she was falling apart in front of me and I couldn’t help her any more than I did already. It was her that kept that family together, but she was hitting brick walls at every turn. I will try to ring Andy tonight because I know him from school, maybe I can help in some way.
I saw my next five appointments and then I was bushed. I went back to the office and rang Book before I got started on my write-ups.
"How are things?" I asked.
"Okay Zachy are you all right you seem a little low?"
"I'm okay baby, just wanted to hear your voice." The phone went quiet and we listened to each others breathing for a few minutes then he said.
"I took old Bessie down to the lower paddock this morning, she didn’t like it." He laughed.
"Well, maybe that will stop her waking the boys up." I smiled down the phone.
"She kicked the fence and broke it, we have to go and repair it sometime soon." He laughed again, I loved his laugh. More silence then.
"I love you."
"I love you more Booker Burns, more than you even suspect." Then we hung up.
I sat making out my reports before I had to go home to my family. The phone call from Luke wasn’t welcomed at all, he was out at Sarah's place. He told me there had been a fire and the house had partially burnt down, the fire brigade was dousing it now. He also said there was no sign of her or the kids. While he was on the phone someone shouted at him.
"I'm sorry Zack the fire has been put to rest and the firemen have found what looks like three bodies in the laundry area. It's too hot to go near them at the moment, I'm sorry Zack I have to go."
I hung onto my phone then it slipped out of my hand making a blunt thudding sound on the carpeted floor. My legs shook and I flopped into my chair not believing what he had told me. Three bodies, oh my god Sarah, you poor woman what did that man do to you and your children. I could have taken her with me I should have insisted she come and live with us, but I didn’t. No one could imagine the feelings I'm feeling now, I was there to help but I didn’t. I made small conversation I should have known trouble was brewing by the look her husband gave me.
Hildy’s words echoed in my ears, "Don't take it on board and don't take it home Zack."
I must have sat there for an hour, maybe two I had lost track of time, the computer screen blinked at me wanting me to write some sort of brilliant essay.
I vaguely remembered typing some sort of story about pride and the more I typed the sadder and angrier I got. I got angry at that Cranley woman, Sarah's husband John, Books gran and most of all myself for not seeing it. I should have seen Books pain.
I angrily picked my phone up off the floor it was ringing again.
"It was her and the two kids, we have arrested John Zack."
I didn’t answer because my mouth wouldn’t work properly my tears had arrived and my throat heaved violently trying to stave the onset of sobbing into the desk.
"Zack, please talk to me come on mate, I need to ask you something."
"Ask." I crackled out.
"What happened out there, John is raving on about you trying to take his wife and kids away. He said you were both plotting against him. Of course, I don't believe him but I would like to see your notes if I can."
"Sure," I whispered then hung up.
I wanted to be alone I wished with all my heart I could have helped her escape, and I wished I could have helped Book when he was small, it was like those poor kids didn’t have a chance and neither did Book. I heaved out another sob then the flood gates opened and my head fell onto the desk.
I felt an arm go across my shoulders then light kissing, I had fallen asleep, I was suddenly aware there were people in the room.
"Zachy, are you okay?" I heard Books sweet voice whisper in my ear, then I took a deep breath.
"Zack I need those notes if I can when you're ready."
I looked up at Luke and his deputy
"You called in the big guns I see."
"Well, who else would I call?" Luke smiled.
I searched around the computer and found my detailed report then printed it out. I also printed the essay I had written.
Luke read the write-up notes then passed it to his offsider who also read them.
Book had made me a coffee and had pulled a chair over to my side.
"Well by the looks of it she knew he was plotting something, Zack I doubt it has anything to do with your visit, he is just a mean angry person, who drank one too many beers with his pitiful mates."
"I think so Luke, I think he wasn’t a very happy soul in the end. He should have let her go years ago but I suppose when your miserable everybody else has to be too."
He left not long after complaining he had his own paperwork to fill out and it was going to be a long night. Book was still holding onto me, then when they left he kissed me deeply.
"Don't do that to me again Zack, ring me whatever state your in just ring me and let me know where you are."
I nodded my head and leaned into him. We stayed like that for ten minutes or more then I moved to get my things to go home to our family.
Book drove us in his old beat up car, I will pick up my car in the morning. On the way, he stopped at the lake where we had our first sexual experience. He pulled me over and held me, nothing much was said just him holding me made me feel a lot better inside. He kissed me then found my nipple and sucked on it, then he managed to get my jeans down around my ankles.
"Trust me, Zack, this is the best medicine you will find today, Books love."
My underwear was dropped and Booker Burns started to make me feel a lot better. I know it wasn't the thing to do when three lives had ended in that fiery madhouse, but it did take my mind off her face for a while.
When we got home I placed my essay on the kitchen table as mum hugged me. My boys were in bed but I heard them moaning. I went to their room and kissed them both a good night, at least I can do that with my children. Some people barely even acknowledge theirs, and I promise myself our kids are going to know that their parents love them unconditionally.
Mum placed my dinner in front of me then she wanted me to ring Hildy, I said I would do it tomorrow. Somehow I knew I had to go through this on my own it was my private moment to have my own private thoughts. If I ran to Hildy all the time, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly, I would still be leaning on her.
I had moved to the bedroom to try and get a good night’s sleep, all was silent in the house and Book held me in his arms.
"Zack my love." He only talks to me like that when we are alone.
"You know I have a cure for your sadness, do you want me to show you?"
"Yes, Book." He moved the blanket slowly down his muscled body and was sporting a huge boner, so I started curing myself until he spread his legs and cracked them as he gushed into my gob. I slept well, and I slept in.
He wasn’t there in the morning but I could hear him in the kitchen laughing with the boys, I heard Beetle scream "Dad's donts." I figured Book was tickling him and what was that? a few words out of his mouth. They always grunted a lot, and at best we would get a dada or dah out of them but not full words.
I threw back the blankets and put my dressing gown on then walked out to see some shocked faces staring at my number one son.
"He said words Book, mum I heard him speak."
"That you did son. I wonder how many other words he’s been hiding from us." She giggled as she kissed him telling him he's a clever boy.
I kissed Book on the lips said good morning to Sam and young Douglas then hugged mum. Sam laughed because he had his tongue out getting ready for me. They were both very cute but I don’t think Booker Burns would like me playing tonsil hockey with Sam.
"I read your essay last night son, you should send it into the newspaper to print. It's very good my boy." Mum said as she held the essay up. Book took it and started reading as I had coffee and toast.
"I don’t remember writing it mum, I suppose shock will do that sometimes."
I rested Lucky on my knees and gave him some crusts, he banged his hand on the table he wanted more.
"Mor." Well, now I'm convinced he was holding out on us because he giggled at Beetle and they both started repeating "Mor Mor Mor."
It was a game for them to play, I had no idea if they knew how wonderful their words meant to us all.
They were settled in front of the TV, the boys had left to check the farmyard stock and mum was out in her veggie garden.
"What time do you want to leave Zack?"
"In about an hour, I canceled some appointments last night so I probably will be home early."
I stood up and kissed Books head I was wanting to shower, then I undid the sash on my dressing gown and left it open at the front. When I started moving to the bathroom I let it drop to the floor and said.
"I'm going to shower want to watch me?"
He was up and sitting on the stool in the bathroom within seconds. I was swinging in the wind as I gave him a great Zachy nudie show.
"You okay baby?"
"Yes Book it was such a shock when Luke rang, I didn’t know what to do."
"Well, you wrote a brilliant essay Zack, if you don't send it to the paper I will."
"Do what you want Book, I've got to do another recording for Dexter sometime today or tonight."
"It was awesome you should read it then maybe do that for the show."
Before I left I had gotten another head job from Book, he had received my lips shortly after and I had read the essay, the one I don’t remember writing.
It was about pride, how proud some mums were of their kids, how some mums are so proud they can easily rort the system. Proud fathers that protect their kids and proud children that see the faults with their peers and try to do something about it. My pride featured and as I had written I was telling everyone how proud I was of my husband my children and my friends.
Nanna Burns featured too, she was proud she abused Book and proud of her son's brutality, she was also proud she still could control his emotions to a point. Pride always comes before a fall, and she should be aware of Book and his friends, they take real pride in knowing how gentle he is and compassionate he feels towards her. Of course, I didn't mention any names, and it could have been anyone I had written about.
I know Book hasn't let go of his gran although he says he has, he needs that final nail in the coffin to be able to let go of her completely.
That push to get him to admit she is a stupid callus woman who only cares about her pride, not anyone else's. And I saw it, I saw it between the lines and it shocked me a little, my anger at Books abuse is still festering in the background; and I wanted to kill someone, anyone anytime soon.