and The Ice-Angel of Death
Chapter 6 - Henry's birthday weekend.
Harry was barking furiously at the door when Priscilla and Monique
finally arrived on the front porch of 222A Silverglade
(It's the doggie's bow-wow!)
'Guess we don't need to ring the bell,' said Priscilla, dropping her
bag onto the tessellated tiles, 'somebody's bound to hear our dear
little black dog going off his head.'
'I am so glad to be here again for the weekend,' said Monique. 'It will
be good to have a break before I go to see Miss Poe on Monday. Although
I really have nothing to fear. All that I did was to try to help
Boefhead when she seemed to be in trouble.'
Priscilla pulled a lemony face. 'As I've already told you, I think you got sucked in. Roseanne's such a bitc... '
But before she could continue, the front door was wrenched open and
Henry was throwing wide the security door. 'Monique! Cilla! What took
you so long?'
Harry bounded out, barking up a storm and dancing around the ankles of the two girls until Monique bent to pick him up.
'Long story little Brother, can we just get inside first?' said
Priscilla, dragging their bags in. 'How's Dad getting on? Is Mum home?
Where's Granny? Are we still in time for lunch?'
'Late lunch!' stormed Amelia Black, barging down the hallway like a
looming battleship. 'Exactly where have you two been? You were both
expected early this morning. Mathew was just about to get on the phone
to school. If you're going to tell us that you detoured over to Tsuang
Tsu or Tsu Tsuang, or whatever her name is, then kindly explain why you
didn't think to ring? Another hour and we'd have had the police out for
'Oh Granny Black, it is all my fault,' said Monique, stepping forward,
'I was kept overnight in the School Infirmary. It was only for their
observation of me. You see there was an accident... non... an
incident... Oh! I do not really know what it was, but it happened in
the pool yesterday afternoon... '
'We're both O.K. No problem,' Priscilla broke in. 'Monique helped to
get a girl who was cramping out of the water, that's all. She swallowed
a bit herself and Sister Menzies just wanted to be sure she was
alright. Sorry we're late but we had to wait for Moni to pass go first.
Should have rung but... ' Priscilla left the rest hanging, and before
Amelia Black could launch into a further tirade her daughter-in-law
appeared behind her.
'It's the bee's knees, it's the kitten on the keys. It's the doggie's
bow-wow. It's the cat's meow! It's the kitty's pink bow! It's just like
woh! It's the Ant's Pants in song and dance! It's the cat's
pyjamas.Take a bow! It's the cat's... It's the cat's... it's the cat's
meowww!' crooned Rachael Black, tripping up the hallway and ending on
one knee, clasping both Priscilla and Monique to her. 'Girls. We were
all so concerned! And now that you're here let me tell you my news, I'm
going to be in a stage show! Yes Cilla, Mummy's going to be in 'The
Ant's Pants' at the Big Theatre in South Yarra! Isn't that exciting?'
'Oh! That does sound so wonderful!' said Monique, stepping into the
breach before Priscilla could make any gagging sounds from her
Granny Black gave Priscilla a look that, roughly translated said, 'Here we go again. And with ants in her pants!'
Harry broke in, wriggling free from Monique and yapping into Henry's
grasping arms. 'I don't think Harry reckons it's a big deal Mum,' said
Henry, 'he just wants a bit of what's going for lunch. After all he's
had to wait for silly Cilla and Moni, and Dad's still got the barbeque
going out the back. Hamburger coming Harry! Come on boy!' Setting Harry
to the tiles, Henry took off down the hall with the little black dog
barking at his heels.
Rachael lowered her arms despondently. 'Oh yes, well of course, do go
through girls. You must be starving, my news can wait, and after all it
is Henry's birthday this weekend.'
Outside in the rear garden Henry and Louis, who had arrived home from a
Hopewell field-camp assignment earlier that morning, were sending Harry
into a frenzy of throw-the-ball-and-bring-it-back. Harry, positively
rocketing up and down between the azaleas and across the beds of
winter-crop, was in turn driving them frantic with his instant
return-do-it-again routine. The sound of the brother's laughter,
combined with Harry's raucous yapping, filled the wintry afternoon with
Mathew Black stood, propped against a retaining rockery wall where
small, hardy flowers were beginning to peep their heads into the light
of day. He turned, somewhat awkwardly in his plaster cast, as Priscilla
and Monique rushed out into the watery sunlight of the garden. 'Hey
girls! Alright! How's my Princess?' he exclaimed, sweeping Priscilla to
his side and offering his other arm to Monique. 'Good to see you both
and about time! I was just going to send for the cavalry!'
Monique gave him a big group-hug along with Priscilla, as Harry danced
and barked about their legs, and then out of nowhere behind them a
voice spoke. 'Well Darlings, fancy meeting you here! How fabulous! It's
The two girls turned to find the spritely figure of Stefan Mans standing before them.
'Wow, Mister Mans, how come you're here?' said Priscilla. 'We thought
you were in Tasmania with Moni's Mum and Dad working on tha... ' she
stopped in mid-sentence as Monica and Jean-Michael Bateleur appeared,
arm-in-arm, strolling up from behind the hedge that backed the leafless
fruit trees at the far end of the garden.
'Moni! It's your M... '
But Monique had already seen them and with a yelp of joy, went racing down to meet their welcoming embrace.
'It is so good to be here with everybody once again,' sighed
Jean-Michael, lounging back in a comfortable fold-up director's chair,
his arms about his wife on one side and his kneeling daughter on the
other; the afternoon sun still strong enough to keep them all outside.
'And, of course, we come to celebrate our good friend's son Henry and
his arrival at his next birthday. That is for tomorrow and yes, I will
have another glass of your wonderful Australian wine, my host...
Thankyou so much... And now, perhaps a word from Monsieur Mans, who has
also made a point of leaving 'The Apple Isle' for this weekend. And
believe me, we three will all have to return swiftly, for there is a
great deal left to be done before we can bring our quarry back, bagged
'Umm, our Quarry,' said Stefan Mans, taking up the lead. 'Well my Dears
there is much to tell and most of it is for Mathew's ears, since even
though he is laid up and has still to await the hammer to crack his
plastered leg, he remains the Producer of the venture; and so that tale
will be told later. Let me simply say that from what we have been able
to observe so far, there has been a great deal of damage to pristine
areas such as the Tarkine, that may not easily be undone. Lots of that
comes from ignorant people going in there, riding trail bikes and
buggies, chewing up the forest floor, leaving rubbish behind and
generally disturbing the wildlife. We've managed to get into some areas
where the authorities and those with vested interests would prefer us
to keep out of. But also you have to look at the situation from the
other side. There are people; whole families, small communities, who
depend on logging and associated businesses for their livelihood. How
can they be induced to stop what they're doing? How else can they make
a living that will keep a roof over their heads and food on the table?'
'Couldn't they just run a petrol station or something?' suggested Priscilla.
'Ah yes, more petrol for more people to fuel their dune buggies and
bush motorbikes, more fast-food outlets to feed tourists who are happy
to spend dollars and leave their rubbish all through the wilderness,
more bed-and-breakfast homesteads pushing ever closer to the edges of
the wilds, driving the creatures that live within ever closer to the
edge of extinction,' said Jean-Michael, a hint of cynicism creeping
into his words.
'We have also interviewed and filmed other people who have a stake in
what happens in Tasmania,' offered Monique's mother Monica. 'Fishermen,
Politicians, Tour Guides, Greenies and Forestry Rangers, and we haven't
nearly finished yet...'
'No, not nearly,' said Stefan, 'not if we want to get a total picture
of what is really happening down there. It's all so complicated, and I
suspect,' he added, 'that the eventual result will be just as ruinous
in that last bastion of Australia as anywhere else in the world.'
'That sounds very pessimistic, Mister Mans,' remarked Granny Black,
working away oiling, scraping and smearing a lemon across the barbeque
'I know it does Missus Black, and please do call me Stefan,' he replied
with a sweep of his arm, 'Debt Collectors and Real Estate people call
me Mister Mans.'
'Only if you will call me Amelia,' she said with a slight incline of
her head, 'and why do you think this way? About the ruination of our
'Human nature, I expect. Trees are beautiful while they're standing,
and worth a lot of money when they're felled. Too many people, rich
people, see dollar signs. Little by little, they'll make it their
business to take the old forest down, covering it with fast-growing
pine until there is nothing left. All the original wild-life will be
gone. And when it's too late, there will be the lament of those who
warned of such a terrible mistake. In the meantime, new wood will have
grown, covering all the devastated land with green, but even that will
be relentlessly harvested and people will forget. It only takes a few
generations for people to forget. In a hundred years from now, nobody
will care and greed, cloaked as progress, will have done its work.'
'Oui,' nodded Jean-Michael, 'I think that may be the way of it. You
have only to look back in history to the vast, ancient forests that
once covered much of Europe. Now most of them are gone.' Beside him,
Monique suppressed a sudden shiver. 'My little girl seems to be feeling
the descending chill. Perhaps we should all go indoors, non?'
'Ho-boy! That was D and M to the Enth!' said Priscilla, perching on a
stool in Henry's bedroom whilst the two boys flopped onto Henry's bed
and Monique squatted on the floor beside Gizard's enclosure. The little
lizard lay flat-out along the broken portion of the brass house-name,
peering out at them with unblinking emerald eyes.
'This D and M and Enth. I do not understand what it is that they mean?' said Monique, puzzled.
'Oh sorry, duh!' Priscilla answered, absently slapping the side of her head, and wincing slightly at the soft blow.
'Cilla? Does your head still hurt you?' asked Monique, concerned.
'Nah! It's fine, just a bit tender. Anyway,' Priscilla hurried on, 'the
D and M stands for Deep and Meaningful and like 'Enth' sort of means
'Extreme?' suggested Louis.
'Check, big Brother,' Priscilla nodded.
'Oui! Now I see what you mean,' Monique replied, her face brightening,
'but of course the adults talk of serious things that will come to
concern us all one day.'
'One day,' Priscilla answered, as if her mind had wandered off the
subject, 'but what about now?' She withdrew a crumpled, clear plastic
bag from her pocket and held it out towards her brothers. 'Does this
mean anything to either of you?'
Henry leaned forward to examine it. 'Yeah! Definitely a ripped plastic bag!' he said triumphantly.
'Thanks,' said Priscilla, sarcastically. 'I knew that much.'
'Looks like a SplatterPac to me,' offered Louis.
'A splatter what?'
'SplatterPac. Plasma SplatterPac,' said Louis, matter-of-factly.
'Bursting blood simulators, used all the time in gaming and horror
stuff. You see all kinds of variations: ghost masks with blood draining
through them, fake twitching hands the same, blood-pulsing hearts,
eye-balls, but SplatterPacs get used for a different ... '
'What are you talking about?' asked Monique, clearly mystified.
'Special effects, Monique, is what I'm talking about,' he answered
evenly. 'They're basically bursting bags filled with fake blood. Some
are tear-open or crush-open, others are impact-open, the really cool
ones can be remotely detonated... '
'Are you attempting to... umm... kid us?' said Monique.
'Aw Moni, where have you been?' said Henry, a big grin spreading over his face. 'This stuff's really ace. Better than far... '
Harry, who had suddenly appeared in the doorway, set up an insistent bark that drowned Henry out.
'I think Harry's right Henry, we do not want to know about your
abominable stink gas,' said Monique, somewhat haughtily, as she stood
'Just a sec Moni,' said Priscilla, also standing, 'Louis, are you telling us that bags of phoney blood are easy to get?'
'Of course Sis, there are blood capsules and small burst-bags for your
mouth, but this one looks like the large sort that get used on shock
dummies for target practice in war games; flat like this to tape onto
targets, and see the centre here,' he pointed to the torn area, 'this
is a sort of diaphragm that bursts when struck or squeezed.'
'That bitch!' muttered Priscilla. 'I bet she had it under her bathers. I kind of guessed as much! Does this fake blood stain?'
'No, it's harmless and designed to break down and can be washed out in soapy water, why?'
'Why? Because it's just the sort of thing Roseanne would dare to use to
get back at Moni and me, and the bit that really gets up my nose is
that I had the evidence taken away from the pool,' Priscilla replied,
shaking her head in frustration.
'Hold on Sis,' said Louis. 'Maybe you'd better start off by telling me and Little Brother exactly what this is all about.'
'So this Marge Turnbull went back to find the bag?' said Henry,
twisting his lips in the characteristic way he had when confronted by
some puzzle or dilemma.
'I'm sure that's what she was looking for. And it would have been
there, floating in the water if it wasn't sucked through the pool
filtration system, except that it was pulled out by that strange
white-haired kid, who looked at it and then threw it away, which
doesn't make sense either,' said Priscilla somewhat uncertainly.
'Well, I suppose he didn't know what it was,' said Louis patting Harry,
who had somehow sneaked up between the two boys on the bed and was now
gazing alertly at Priscilla and Monique, 'and that "strange
white-haired kid" is a forth former who failed to make fifth and was
kept back along with a few others to do the year again. I think his
name is Dennis... Whitely or Whiteford? Anyway, he's part of the
voluntary staff up at the Infirmary.'
'Yeah, but somehow I think he fits into all this, I just can't work out where,' Priscilla answered, shaking her head.
'Anyway, I reckon it's a safe bet that Roseanne has conned everyone into thinking that Monique tried to hurt her... '
'But what could she gain from such a... how do you say it? Errm, trick, ruse? Sleight of hand?'
'Who knows how her mind works? She sure as hell tried to get a lot of
people into trouble with her game on the roof when she pretended to be
abducted and left up there. She's got it in for us, for anybody who
doesn't think the way she does. Maybe she figured that if you or Karen
looked like beating her, she could pull this stunt and get the race
called off and when you turned back to help, that just made things even
better for her plan. Whatever, I reckon Marge was meant to remove the
'Well at least you short-circuited that,' remarked Louis, rolling Harry onto his side and tickling his tummy.'
'Aw! He just loves that, don't ya Pal', said Henry, joining in the
general rough-up as the little dog kicked out with all four legs. 'But
Monique, what are you gonna do on Monday when you front the Head
'I will just tell her the truth. I have nothing to hide. I tried to help, that's all.'
'No!' said Priscilla emphatically, flourishing the torn plastic bag,
'that's not all! And I'll be there with you to show Miss Poe this!'
'Any of you kids want dinner?' called Amelia's voice from downstairs.
'Harry! Yours is in your bowl! Come on! Tucker-time for my best-boy!
Left-over chop surprise!'
Harry, proving his allegiance was only governed by his appetite,
immediately righted himself and flipped onto the floor, skidding and
scrabbling to get traction before taking off in the direction of the
'Whoh! See him go! You'd think he hadn't had food for a month!' yelled Henry, leaping to his feet and racing off.
'Beat ya all down there! Don't forget ta wash ya hands! Hah!'
'Smart little B. I just hope he can work out a way that we don't have
to listen to Mum's newest career triumph all night,' muttered Louis, as
he and the two girls scrambled for the bathroom.
'Yeah, and what about his own hands? Bring on GRANNY BLACK!' shouted Priscilla, getting through the door first.
'And then Peter said to me, "Can you sing?" and I said, "Well of
course I can, especially these songs", and I warbled off "A walk in the
park, a lark after dark", and promptly sold him. It was all so
theatrey. Move over Julie Andrews and Babs Streisand. Would you like to
hear a few songs? Of course I won't have accompaniment and I'm still a
bit foggy on some of the lyrics... '
'Theatrey? Perhaps Theatrical?' suggested Stefan Mans, finishing off
the last of desert, 'unless you've just created a new word.'
'Theatrey? Yes,' said Rachael, as if examining it, 'Perhaps I have. I'll have to diarise that!'
'As well you should Darling, but I fear the night is getting on and the kids look like they want to leave the table,'
said Mathew, reaching over to take her hand.
'Can we Mum?' said Henry in his best whining croon, 'besides, before
you can sing at your best, you'll need the music tapes and plenty of
practice with them.'
Granny Black bowed her head solemnly. 'Thankyou Henry, you'll be at
school when rehearsals at home begin, but I won't be so...
'Well that's right of course,' said Rachael cheerily, seeming to miss
the point altogether. 'I shouldn't give you all a hard time tonight
before I've got it down perfectly, and I know that your Tasmania Thing
needs discussion. Perhaps Amelia and I will clear the table and go and
do the... ' she seemed to almost choke... 'menial things. And
children!' The four, who were already out of their seats, halted
expecting to be apprehended for some dreary task like putting out the
garbage, 'because we adults will be up for some time yet, you can go
upstairs and amuse yourselves until bedtime. Which is eleven o'clock.
You have a big day tomorrow. Henry's birthday.'
'Yere, and I've got my own special surprise for everybody and we're rehearsed and everything, right Dad?'
'Er, yes, right Son,' said Mathew, looking slightly embarrassed.
'Dad and me have been working on a radio story. Seeing how good Mum is
at writing, like what she did with "Child's Play" on television, I
thought I'd have a go at writing too. So that's the main event for
tomorrow afternoon. Mister Mans, will you be here again with Monique's
Mum and Dad?'
'Well Laddie, I believe that they're staying over, but I expect that I
could make it. I do have to be off later tonight to see a friend... or
two,' said Stefan. 'But I don't have much on tomorrow afternoon.'
'Well Stefan dear, now you have more on. Do come along for Henry's
play,' said Rachael gaily, offering her glass to Mathew for a refill.
"Moron" popped into Priscilla's head as she and the others vanished upstairs.
'Psst! Psssst! Are you two still awake?'
'Of course we are dummy! What took you so long?' hissed Priscilla out of the darkness.
'Had to wait until everybody started pushing out the zeds,' whispered
Harry in a husky tone. 'Sorry to be whispering in a husky
tone, and I'm not even a Husky, but I needed to do the rounds. Lucky
'What do you mean "lucky"?' asked Monique.
'There were still a few glowing coals that had fallen through from the
barbeque, smouldering away outside, but I managed to put them out.'
'You're a dog,' rasped Priscilla, 'how could you put... No never mind, we don't need to know.'
'Anyway it sounds like a barnyard around the house, what with Granny up here and Rachael downstairs... '
'Mum? Are you sure it's not Dad?'
'Not unless he snores in soprano.'
'Mum just likes a few glasses of wine,' muttered Priscilla defensively, 'to unwind.'
'She's pretty unwound now,' said Harry, leaping onto the foot of Monique's bed and doing a circle before curling up.
'Harry! Where are you?' demanded Priscilla.
'He's with me,' whispered Monique.
' 'S cool, chill out Priscilla, I'll just kick in here for a few hours
and then come over to keep your feet warm too. Big day tomorrow,
although I wonder if Henry's play will be any better than your Mum's
singing. I've had to listen to them both for the last week. Owww, time
for night-nights, phhnummph.'
'But Harry, we have to tell you about school and what's been happening,' insisted Priscilla.
'Yeah, yeah, I know already. Terri and Tsu keep me up to speed. Annie
Sole is one big nasty lady, but you two can handle her. It's the others
I'm not so sure of... '
'What others?' said Monique.
'Oh, just some players who'll reveal themselves soon,' Harry answered
evasively. 'Trust me. Do I look like I'd send you up the wrong path?'
'The lights are off, how do we know what you look like!'
'I was speaking metaphorically... '
'Well stop it!' said Priscilla, peeved. 'And anyway you just look black, even in daylight.'
'I think you mean "Do I sound like,"' whispered Monique, reaching down to stoke Harry's fur.
'Whatever!' he exclaimed. 'Boy! Every time I get into bed with you two
I get stereo complaints. At least with Henry I only have to contend
with biscuit crumbs, marbles and some of those magazines he keeps
tucked away... '
There was silence for a few moments before Priscilla said, 'Tucked away where exactly?'
'That's between me and the bedpost,' Harry muttered before breaking
into a yowling yawn. 'Anyway, there I go speaking metaphorically again.
Nightie night... '
Chapter 7 [next]