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!"
"Not now. Another day. But tomorrow you must ask about leave and I will ask Captain Evans about the great emu."
"Oh, I forgot. He's been promoted."
"What else did you forget to tell me?"
"Lots. I'm going to treat you like a mushroom and keep you in the dark."
In the morning I reminded Weena to ask about taking holiday. When I got to the office Mona had the usual litter of phone messages, but none of them looked even remotely important. I called Evans.
"This is Hollister, is the Captain in?"
"Yes, Mr. Hollister – uh – Dr. Hollister, he said you were to be put through if you called."
"Morning, Gordy. What's up?"
"I was wondering whether I could extract a favour from the Royal Navy."
"Well, as we've paid nothing for your two services, I think it might be arranged. What is it?"
"I want to fly to Roma next Thursday or Friday and back to Perth on the 4th. My parents haven't seen us since the wedding last November."
"Give me an hour. Are you in your office?"
"That's PER to RMA?"
"Okay. About an hour."
I went next door for coffee – unfortunately, Mona drank tea so it wasn't what Shirl would brew – and asked what the next week looked like. "Nothing much," was the response.
"Weena's got next week off. I thought we might visit my folks in Queensland. We haven't seen them since our wedding."
Oh, what a pity. And it's quite far, isn't it?"
"About 4000 kilometres – 2500 miles."
"My. I suppose you'll fly."
"I hope so. It would take over a week to drive each way and only a bit less to take the train. Actually, three or four trains. And we still wouldn't be 'home'."
Mona was quiet. "I've never been to Queensland," she sighed. The phone rang.
"CSIRO. Yes, sir. He's here." She handed me the phone.
"I think I've got a solution. But you'll have to return on the 3rd, not the 4th."
"We can cope."
"You know Willy? Well, she's supposed to do a training flight in the Boeing Business Jet. It'll be in Perth on Thursday with a full crew. Willy's taking a copter down and will pilot the jet from Perth to Roma. Officially, that will be her short-strip landing and take-off. Then she'll take it to Melbourne. She'll do other flights the next week and pick you up the next Thursday, around noon. Don't have more than five tonnes of luggage." He laughed. "Got that?"
"Yes. How about my picking up Willy on Thursday? She can sleep in a real bed."
"I'll have her call you."
"Great. And thank you."
"Just happened to work out."
I debated whether to call Weena at the Royal Perth and decided against it. So I called my mother.
"Gordy! Are you all right? Is Weena okay? What's the matter?"
"Ma, slow down. We're both fine. But we have an opportunity to fly to Roma, so I was wondering whether you'd like a visit."
"Fly to Roma? When? Of course you can visit! Why are you so stupid?"
"We'd fly out of here on Friday morning and return next Thursday. I'll most likely rent a Land Rover at the airport. I'd guess we'd get to you between noon and three."
"What flight? Only Qantas comes here from Brisbane."
"It's a long story, but we're flying courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy and the Air Force. So I'm not certain that we're on an airline schedule."
"The military is flying you here?"
"Yes. An acquaintance of ours has to fly from Perth to Melbourne and is giving us a lift. I'll tell you all about it on Friday."
"You'd better! No dinner without a story!"
"Right. You'll tell dad and let David know?"
"Of course. Incidentally, your old friend Jacky is working for us again."
"Wow! I haven't seen him in years. Maybe ten years."
"I'll make sure he knows. For 15 years I thought the two of you were attached!"
"Too true. Anyway, need anything from Perth?"
"Just the two of you. See you on Friday."
I got off. There was something to recollect. Jacky's band lived on the eastern edge of my dad's station. He'd give them a steer or a sheep every so often. Jacky was exactly my age and we played in the dust and stole eggs and caught goannas and crayfish together ... and fish, when we got older. And I got to listen to the stories of the Dreamtime and learn about bush tucker because I was Jacky's "fren." But as I got near to finishing high school and got ready to go to University, we saw each other less and less. It would be good to see him again.
I went next door.
"Mona, I may have to leave early on Thursday and I will be away all the following week. We'll be at my parents' station. The number should be in the file. And I'll have my mobile with me."
"Should I call Qantas?"
"No, Captain Evans' Jet Taxi Service is taking us."
"What?" (Damn! I did it again. Mona was a bookkeeper; she just didn't see jokes.)
"The Captain's moving an airplane from Perth to Canberra and they'll stop at Roma to let us off."
I told Weena about our air-limo as soon as she got home. She squealed and gave me a hug. She didn't seem to mind putting Willy up for the night. We munched our way through a "nutritious" salad (I had asked what a non-nutritious salad might be and gotten my head handed to me). We also had some store-bought sliced ham and seven-grain buns. I was going to ask which seven grains, but thought better of it.
She told me that she hadn't felt well in the morning, but that she hadn't vomited. I suggested that this was clearly the onset morning sickness. She agreed.
"I spoke to Alice, the chief gynaecological sister, this morning."
"She said to try to eat something every three hours. She suggested salted biscuits in the morning before I get out of bed and potato crisps in the mid-afternoon. She said that ginger ale seemed to help people, as did lemon juice. She said to avoid strong-smelling foods, too."
"We can do all of that. Would you like me to do a supermarket run?"
"No problem. Why don't you log in and see what the weather is like in Roma while I'm gone?"
When I got back with the supplies Weena said, "Dry and about ten degrees warmer than here."
"That's good news. I was getting tired of rain and chilly mornings. Tea and crisps?"
"No, ginger ale and no ice."
"I'll bring it upstairs."
"Thanks. You're so good to me."
"To both of you."
Weena ate a few biscuits before getting up in the morning. When she got downstairs I had made both coffee and tea and had a bowl of fruit on the table.
"You're so sweet. Can you keep it up for nine months?"
"Don't have to. Morning sickness is supposed to occur only in the first trimester – when it occurs. So you may be half done with no serious symptoms. Call me on the mobile if you need to."
"Okay. I love you."
"You do? I never knew."
At about 10 Willy called. "We've an ETA of 15:30 at Perth. There's supposed to be a 'military' gate. I'll make sure they've got your name. See you then."
Efficient and curt. Well, we'd find out what she's really like today.
I spent some time with Mona going over the budget documents that Janice had sent from Canberra. I understood nearly nothing about them. Mona appeared to have a handle on the whole thing. I asked her whether she could pull out all the stuff that concerned the West and the NT while I was away.
"No problem, Gordy. But there are things that would be relevant that aren't here."
"Really? No, don't tell me. Call Janice first thing tomorrow and see whether she can help."
"Okay. She'll know, I'm certain."
"Oh, and I've a sack of books for you. But please don't toss them or pass them on."
"I'll care for them as though they were my own."
Around 2:30 I told Mona that I was on my way to the airport and that she should behave herself in my absence. She blushed vividly.
I was right to leave early. It took three different people to tell me where the "military" gate was. It was not marked as short-term or long-term parking or terminals were. At the gate an attendant in uniform consulted a clipboard, looked at my photo ID, and waved me towards a parking space. I waited a while and a large jet taxied over and stopped. Two men chocked the wheels and then pushed a stair on wheels over. The third person down waved at me.
"Let me have ten minutes to get out of my flight suit and file my report," Willy said. I nodded. She was back, in uniform, in little more than that.
"Is that all your baggage?" I asked.
"Yes. I'll wear this uniform in the morning and my flightsuit is in a locker. I don't need much."
"We'll go to our place and wait for Weena. She's working."
"Right. How about coffee?"
"My pleasure. Did you get promoted, too?"
"No. I'm just a well-schooled peon. The brass gets extra for fancier tucker."
"Okay." I looked at her. "How did you get into the service?"
"You're supposed to ask 'What's a pretty girl like you doing in uniform?' I was a student at Adelaide and decided I wanted to serve the country."
"Well, you know you're more than just pretty. You're really beautiful. No, don't worry, Weena's all I want. What were you studying?"
"I've a degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace."
"So you went into the Royal Navy."
"Yes, not realising that all they've got is helicopters. But, as you can see, I'm being allowed to train on nearly everything."
"So Evans treats you well?"
"Let's not get into that!"
I fell silent for a bit. "Here we are!" I announced.
"Come in. This will be your room. The bath's there. I'll start coffee."
She was sitting at the table a few minutes later. "It smells good already."
"Sumatra's finest." She laughed. "I'm not sure when Weena'll be in, might be soon as we're taking off tomorrow. By the way, when do you want to be in the air?"
"My flight plan says 08:30, but it could be changed. You're the VIP."
"Oh, yeah. Me a VIP! But 8:30 should be fine. I'll wake Weena at 6:30, so she can acclimate herself."
"Oh, didn't Evans tell you? She's pregnant."
"Damn idiot! No, he didn't tell me."
"Only about six weeks; but she has some nausea."
"No real morning sickness?"
"Not so far." The timing was good. I heard Weena's car. "Here she is."
"Weena, Willy; Willy, Weena," I said.
"Hi! Welcome to our shambles. Let me get this off and we can talk. Or come upstairs while I change." Weena looked at the table. "Bring your coffee. Gordy, can you pour me more of that ginger ale? Are we eating in or going out?" And they went upstairs. I could hear them talking. I looked at the most recent issue of Parasitology, borrowed from SciTech's librarian. It was nearly a half hour before they came downstairs. Willy didn't look happy.
"Are you okay?"
"Don't worry about her," said Weena. "Are we going out?"
"Sure. What do you like, Willy?"
"Anything. Preferably not hash or burgers."
"Seafood or grill?"
"Let's go. It's early, but that means we're sure to get a table."
We had a nice dinner. Weena and Willy chattered about student life in Adelaide Though it turned out that Willy was about two years 'behind' Weena, there was much they had in common. Weena had a seafood salad with just lemon juice, which appeared to agree with her stomach.
Back home I set my alarm for 6:30 and made sure that Willy knew where everything was. When we were alone, Weena said: "I never realized how gorgeous she is!"
Yes, I guess she's quite beautiful. But she seems sad to me."
"Very acute. Yes, she's really stuck on the Captain."
"Are you sure?"
"A genuine crush. Apparently, his wife was killed in an auto pileup three years ago. She tended him through that. But he thanks her and smiles and..."
"Mmmm. Will you play matchmaker again?"
"That may be your job. You talk to him."
"True. Let me think about it. And now, my pretty..."
She giggled. "I won't be pretty much longer. I'll be 'very like a whale'."
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion
Even when you get larger."
Willy came into the luxury cabin once we were in the air. "Want to sit in front for a bit?" she asked.
"Not me," Weena responded.
"Okay. Come with me." I did. She introduced me to the pilot, who looked to be well in his forties, and told me to strap in and not touch anything. Then she had to show me how the over-the-shoulder harness worked. She went to the back to sit with Weena. I was introduced to the two crewmen. The pilot, who turned out to be an instructor, told me what everything was. I recall none of it. But then he pointed out some features and I realised that we were already over the desert. After about half an hour, Willy returned. I thanked the pilot and returned to Weena.
"I think I may have gotten the thin end of the wedge started."
"Be careful. It's easy to ruin things for both of them."
At about 11:00 am Willy reappeared and said we'd be landing in 20 minutes or so and that we should remember to reset our watches. "This is the toughest part for me," she said. "I've never landed something this size on so short a strip."
"You'll do fine," Weena said. "We've got confidence in you."
She did do fine. We taxied to the small terminal, collected our things from one of the crew, and confirmed that Willy would phone my mobile on Wednesday about Thursday's return flight. The car rental took longer than usual as I'd made no booking. But by (the second) 11 am we were in a Land Rover and on our way. Weena had phoned mum while I was filling out paperwork, so everyone was ready to greet us when we drove up just before noon.
We got greeted and went inside. Mum immediately asked what was new. Weena began telling her about the Royal Perth and my new unpaid appointment in the Navy and then paused... "Oh, yes. And I'm going to make you grandparents."
Mum screamed and grabbed Weena's hand. "When? When?"
"Most likely end of April or beginning of May."
"Are you sick? What can't you eat? What would you like?"
"I've only had a bit of nausea, not much. I eat some biscuits or crisps before getting up. Ginger ale fizz and lemon tea seem to be okay. Nothing fried, please. Otherwise, I'm as fit as can be."
"Well, I've only a simple salad lunch, mostly out of the garden. I'll make a lemon dressing. Are eggs okay? I'll hardboil some eggs."
I looked at my dad. He just shrugged. "Girl stuff. Let's go outside." We did.
"I understand you've hired Jacky."
"Yes. He turned up around the end of January. I've had him riding the fence line. I was going to ask him to lunch, but I've not seen him today. I told him you were coming, though. Yesterday afternoon."
Weena called us from the doorway. There was cold beef and yesterday's bread as well as salad. I ate too much, as I always do at 'home.' We were just done when there was a knock at the door. I kicked over my chair when I saw who it was. Jacky was older – so was I – but I would have recognised him anywhere. I gave him a big hug and introduced him to Weena. "Heya, missus," he said.
"Weena. And I'll call you Jacky. You've known Gordy about twenty years longer than I have."
"Too right, Weena. Gordy, can you come with me? I got a problem."
"Let's go. I hope I can help. Where are you camped?"
"Boundary fence near where Womalilla Road makes the sharp turn."
"By the water?"
He laughed. "Yep. Lotsa yabbies."
"Let me drive." I turned to the others. "Back soon, I hope."
When we were in the car, I asked Jacky what was up.
"My brother Jimmy, he Kalchut, he sick. He visit yesterday."
"Okay. I'll look at him. But you may need Weena."
"She's a nurse. A sister."
"No nurse. Kalchut won't take pills."
"Don't worry. Weena knows bush medicine."
Jacky was quiet. Jimmy wasn't his brother, but his blood-brother bonded from a tribe in southwest Queensland. When we got to the campsite I parked and we walked over to where Jimmy was on a pile of grass under a blanket.
"You crook, Jimmy?"
I touched his forehead. I looked at his wrists. "Bin on walkabout, Jimmy?"
"North. Up Cape York." He shivered.
"Get bit there?"
"Jacky. Drive back fast and get Weena. Tell her Jimmy's got dengue."
"Right." He was off.
"Jimmy, you'll be Okay, I think. My wife, Weena, is a bush nurse. Just be still. They'll be here soon."
"Okay, boss." I sat on my heels, wished for a cigarette and was glad I hadn't any.
Dengue is the most important viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes afflicting humans in a world context. Clinical symptoms range from mild fevers, to a severe and potentially life threatening haemorrhagic disease. In Australia, dengue only occurs in north Queensland. Dengue is not endemic (i.e. naturally occurring in north Queensland). The dengue mosquito is common in north Queensland and outbreaks can occur when the virus is transmitted to the local mosquito population in north Queensland by infected international travellers or residents returning home from overseas.
They roared up in a cloud of dust.
"He's got dengue. He needs an analgesic, but he won't take pills. Is there something that contains something like salicylic acid?"
"Let me look at him. Yes, you're right. Good diagnosis, Dr. Hollister."
"Thanks, Nurse Hollister."
"You know lemongrass?"
"Good. Look on top of that ridge if there is any. Bring me a handful of dry malhanggaa."
"Right, Weena." He took off running.
"Yes? Start a billy of water on that fire. I'll brew tea when Jacky gets back. We'll keep up Jimmy's fluids and ease his fever and joint pain. That's about all I can do. Oh, does the bloodwood bush grow around here?"
"I don't know. Is there another name?"
"Rings no bell. But here comes Jacky."
Weena broke of the dirty roots and tossed the handful of dry grass into the billy I'd moved from the fire. "Jacky, when this cools, Jimmy must drink it. As much of it as he can. He needs lots of water or this tea. Do you know bunaangu?"
"Yes. Is there some near here?"
"Maybe three or four miles."
"We'll see in the morning. Jimmy may not need it. He isn't haemorrhaging, so it's most likely a mild case. And if it was severe, there's nothing we could do." She walked over and picked up the billy. "Jimmy, I want you to drink this. It will taste bad, but it will make you feel better. Jacky will make you more when I'm gone. I'll come to see you in the morning."
"Will he be okay?" I asked.
"Probably. Dengue is rarely fatal. It's enervating and produces fever and joint ache. But he's neither aged nor an infant. Jacky, when Jimmy feels a little better, you go and get more dry grass and make him more tea. I'll be here in the morning."