Wungurra, Central Queensland
The old man leaned against the front post. A grey cattle dog came sprinting from the back shed and halted to a stop. She sat, looked up and panted with gaze fixed on the metal dish in her master’s hand.
“Come on, girl! Come get your tucker!”
Duncan set the dish on the planks and gave the dog a scratch on the back as she dived nose first into it. He smiled and shook his head; she was the same old pup she ever was, even though she’d outlived every one of her litter.
How old would she be now? Seven dog years to every human year made too many to count, not that it mattered. There was no better friend in the world and he wasn’t going to number her days this far down the track.
Inside the homestead the television blared with the matter-of-fact tone of newsreaders.
“The Prime Minister stated in a press conference this afternoon the importance of border protection, emphasizing the need to focus on internal issues within Australia.”
“Look, I hear what you’re saying,” the bureaucrat lamented, “but we don’t have the resources to provide for every sob story that hops on a boat. Nor can we be lax in screening for potential radicals who use refugee status as a cover to invade this great nation.”
Duncan leaned his head in the door and murmured, “turn that racket down, would you, Les?”
The volume dropped and was replaced by the droning chirp of crickets. Over the distant town the sun cooled to orange and stained the clouds with hues of pink; one-hundred and eighty degrees over darkness drew across the sky, and between the two horizons Venus twinkled along with the first of the stars.
Once upon a time it would have been all the old man wanted, but there he lingered, restless; something itched between his bones, deeper than the touch of arthritis he’d been working against. Something told him there would be another restless night ahead.
Floorboards creaked as another man stepped onto the porch. He leaned on his cane, not needing to look his friend up and down, and joined him in stargazing.
“You right, Dunc?”
Leslie Jagirra was a respected elder in the community, and one considered to be of great wisdom. Some attributed his insight to stories of his walking in the land of spirits, talking with them, eating with them, and even making love to them; whether it was true or not was anyone’s guess, but none dared to speak against him.
The old man knew better than to lie to his friend. “Yeah, mate… except I can’t shake this feeling there’s something wrong out there.”
“It’s a big world,” Leslie shrugged. “There’s bound to be something wrong somewhere.”
“Yeah, but, it’s more than that. This feels tied to me somehow, like I should be doing something.”
“Or,” his friend reasoned, “you’re just paranoid.”
Duncan leaned down to give Rip a scratch behind the ear and forced a smile. “That could be it, mate. Too many years punching blokes and waving off bullets. Do that for enough years and you forget what it’s like to relax, I reckon.”
Old Les set himself down on the step and welcomed the dog to his side. He scratched behind her ear after she licked her plate clean and turned back to her human companions.
“Or maybe you should be doing something,” he said. “The spirits have called to you all your life, Dunc. Maybe you’re not done.”
A smirk cracked the aged soldier’s lip. “I was twenty-seven when they asked me to be a ‘superhero’,” Duncan mused, “thirty-one when the great war ended, and I’ve been fighting ever since. How many more innings do they reckon I’ve got in me?”
“They’d know better than you or me,” Leslie shrugged. “I’m just an old fart who drinks beer and collects stamps.”
Duncan chuckled and patted his mate on the back.
From down the dusty track a pair of headlights appeared and kicked clouds as it raced toward the homestead. The two old men stood as the four wheel drive tore into the front yard and ground to a halt.
A haggard woman with dirty hair and a tank shirt leapt from the front seat and fell over herself to talk. Her name was Cath, and she was a hard woman; the eldest grandchild of Les’ brother, Colin.
“Blue, thank god,” she rasped. “We need you in town. There’s trouble.”
The former superhero wasted no time in opening the back door of the car allowing his dog to climb inside. After, he climbed into the passenger seat. In seconds the vehicle turned and was moving toward the distant streetlights.
“What’s going on?” the old man pressed.
Cath wiped tears from her eyes and scowled at the road. “It’s a bloody mess, Blue, a whole bloody mess.” She inhaled and sharpened her focus. “Keith and his mates had just got off work and went to the hotel for a drink when a pack of white fellas, miners I reckon, thought they’d start some trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“The kind that’s landed Keith with a broken jaw and god knows how many stitches,” she huffed. “I mean Jesus, Blue, you should have seen them! Shouting this, that and the other, throwing glasses across the bar. They even put Jamie through a table! Cops did nothing, as per bloody usual.”
Duncan leaned back and stared at the road. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“They’re still out there,” Cath said. “Last I heard they were in a ute, chasing kids and yelling racist names. We need to catch them and stop them before someone else gets hurt.”
The superhuman inhaled and rolled his shoulders.
“Nobody else is getting hurt tonight, Cath. I promise.”
To be continued…