I was staring at the single piece of paper when Weena got home.
"Guess what," she began.
"Great. Practice makes perfect!"
"I just had a feeling, so I had one of the girls run a test. A real one. Not one of those kits."
"I'd guess four or five weeks. So most likely May ... possibly late April."
"Wow! Can you take a few days off?"
"Fly to Queensland. Otherwise I might have to go on bivouac."
"What?" I handed her the letter.
Dear Dr. Hollister,
At the request of the Minister of Defence, the CSIRO has agreed to permit your cross-appointment to that Ministry at the brevet rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy. Said appointment shall take effect 1 September 2003.
"It's a joke ... right?"
"No, but I smell an Evans."
"Yes. Do you think this is the 'plan' he mentioned?"
"Part of it. Anyway, I don't see anything to fret about. No duties, no salary and a totally meaningless title."
"Maybe. But there's something fishy."
"Anyway, should we go out to celebrate?"
"Sure. But I'm off alcohol."
"Not entirely? I thought just not in excess."
"Current trend is none. But maybe I'll have a half-glass of something fizzy for New Year."
"By New Year you might know gender."
"Let's not get too far ahead. Anyway, today's Tuesday. I'm going to phone daddy."
She came back in ten minutes, grinning. "I asked him whether I should stop calling him 'daddy' and start calling him 'gramps.' It took about half a minute, but he figured it out. I let him babble a bit and told him to tell Mary. I told him 'probably May.' Okay?"
"Whatever you want. You're the incubator."
"I'll get fat."
"If anything, you'll put on barely more than you took off since April. I'll call my folks now. They'll be done with dinner cleanup." I did, they were both happy, of course. But they were grandparents several times over, so this wasn't overwhelming. I told them to tell David. I also asked whether we could come for a few days if Weena got leave from the Royal Perth. They were overjoyed.
We went to Matilda Bay and I drank too much. Weena drove us home.
In the morning I phoned the Commander. "Captain Evans' office. May I assist you?"
"My name is Hollister, I wanted to speak to Commander Evans."
"Yes, sir. One moment please."
"What the hell is this game?"
"Gordy? How nice of you to call."
"And what's this 'Captain' stuff?"
"Well, first, I was promoted. So I'm now a captain. I doubt whether they'll ever make me Commodore."
"Next rank up."
"And do I owe this 'brevet' letter to the former commander or the current captain?"
"The former recommended and the current confirmed."
"And it means?"
"It means that if you don't screw things up over the next four months, you're getting a 'Distinguished Service Commendation' in January."
"Are you kidding me?"
"No. I wanted something better than the PSM, but the 'distinguished' awards are reserved to the military. After your service at Monkey Mia and your instant analysis of that fellow in Queensland, I persuaded the Minister's secretary that I needed you on board as a consultant. At the New Year you'll have been in rank for four months, so you'll get an award on Australia Day, the 26th."
"Is that a way to talk to a superior officer?"
"True. How's everything else?"
"Fine. Weena's pregnant."
"Great! Wait till I tell Willy, she'll be ready to buy gifts."
"Tell her to wait till April or May."
"Of course. And you'll keep me posted?"
"And I can call upon you if and when needed?"
"Certainly. And thanks, I guess." We both laughed.
My phone buzzed. "Gordy, Chaz is on the line. He sounds worried."
"Thanks, Mona." (Mona was my combination bookkeeper and receptionist, replacing Shirl, who was happily working for Maggie.)
"Gordy, you've got to fire him!"
"Cool down. Fire whom?"
"Your friend from nearly a year ago, Watkins."
"He 'informed' me that he was filing a grievance over not being promoted."
"Let him. Where would the grievance go?"
"To my superior..." Chaz started to laugh. After a minute he said, "Right. I'll let him petition you! Boy, is he stupid!"
"Yes. And if he's unhappy with me, it'll go to Kevin. And we can guess what he'll do ... Anyway, has he done anything to justify a promotion?"
"No. He's a paragon in his own mind."
"Right. So don't worry. Incidentally, tell your wife that she's a bad influence on mine."
"Okay. But explain why."
"Great! But I see what you mean. When?"
"Late April or early May."
"Congratulations. I assume this isn't confidential?"
"Rob and my folks and Evans know."
"Okay. Lunch at the pizza place? Around noon?"
"Okay. Gotta go."
I called Janice and ran through it all again. "Do I need to call that woman?"
"The one who gave me a talking-to about the medal and the TV interview."
Janice laughed. "Oh, the media unit. No, I don't think they'd care."
"Fine, but do tell Kevin."
I tried to think of who else should be called. Charlie and Maddy, but that would have to wait till dinner time.
"Mona, am I at SciTech tomorrow?"
"Yes. 10 a.m."
"Oh. I've got to go to Floreat. I may not be back till Wednesday."
"Okay. But could I borrow another Bony?"
"No problem. I've got about two dozen of them. There are a few I don't have. But I don't have any of the other Upfield novels."
"I didn't know he'd written any."
"Four or five."
"Hold the fort!"
I tried to winkle some more information out of Chaz where Watkins was concerned, but failed. He said quite bluntly that he didn't want me to have to lie in the event it was pushed to a hearing and I was asked whether he had told me anything not in the files. I confessed that I saw his point and that I'd soon become a political bureaucrat.
I drove home after lunch. I was wondering whether I should drop a hint to Susannah Carr at Seven News, but decided against it. The woman at CSIRO Media had been clear that press contacts were her job, not mine. I sighed. Folks had been really happy with the way I came over the tube. I went into my study and looked at the Upfields.
Maybe I'd re-read Wings over the Diamantina. That took place in Queensland. I'd spent hours as a teenager trying to work out where it took place. The Diamantina flowed past Longreach, when it flowed, and ran into the Warburton, ending up at Lake Eyre. But Coolibah was east of there. Then I found out that most of the Upfield mysteries took place in places he made up. It was just like Haggard. I still had a map of Africa that I'd marked up as I followed King Solomon's Mines. And I never found Professor Challenger's sites on a map either. I must have spent nearly a dozen years adventuring with Doyle and Stevenson and Haggard and Hope and Buchan. From before I was ten till I went to University.
I must have mused for hours. Then I heard Weena's car.
"Okay. I told Janice and Evans and Chaz. But you've got to call Michiko and Maddy."
"Fine, but let me get out of this uniform."
The next day I spent the morning at SciTech, following a class of 10-year-olds. The various staff were very, very good. They responded to every question, had sheets with information to hand out and even had bibliographies of works at the appropriate level – no sense sending a 10-year-old to look at Wheeler or Wilson or Holldobler when she asks about ants.
After lunch (don't ask), I spent time with the librarian. It was quite illuminating.
After dinner, I asked Weena again about getting away to Queensland.
"When can you get away?"
"I think I've leave. It's about eight months. I must have two weeks."
"Well, let's take some of it." I looked at the calendar. Why don't we leave on Friday and come back on the fourth? That would be six days."
"How will we get there?"
"The Great Emu will take us."
"Emus can't fly."
"They used to.
In the Dreamtime the Emu was a boaster. He said, 'I can fly the fastest in the world and I can run the fastest in the world too.' But everybody knew he could not run at all.
'I will challenge you to a race in two moons.' said Dingo. 'Yes!' cried the animals. And Dingo ran off as fast as he could. 'Are you scared?' asked Emu, knowing he was scared too. 'I'm not scared, I'm going to train like you should, ' yelled Dingo. One moon later, 'Hey Croc I need your help to pull some tricks on Dingo, ' said Emu. 'Okay, ' said Croc. 'But you have to find me a new water hole.' The next day Emu and Dingo were at the starting line. 'GO, ' said Turtle. Off they went! Dingo was so fast that he knocked poor Turtle over! Then Dingo tripped over Turtle and Emu ran past him. But all of a sudden Dingo ran past Emu. Soon later a storm whipped up thunder and lightning. Emu got struck by lightning. He won the race, but he never flew again."
"That sounds like a real one, not one that you made up."
"Emu once had great wings, when she was Turkey's sister."
"Tell me that one!"
.... There is more of this story ...