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Devil’s Choice

Book 3

Old Balmain House Series

Graham Wilson


Devil’s Choice

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2017

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

ISBN 9781370406586

Reader Reviews

Reviews of Book

If I could give it six stars I would!!! – it is not often a book will bring actual tears to my eyes but this one did as well as keep me up way past bedtime. If it does not touch you similarly I would be very surprised.

I liked this novel - I thought it was well tied in with the two previous novels in the series and was a fitting conclusion to the series. In a similar fashion as the other two novels I enjoyed the author's exploration of themes in this novel such as rehabilitation, homosexuality and realities of prison life done in an open non-judgemental way leaving the reader to form their own conclusion.

Reviews of Series

Five Stars - I'm so glad I got these books in a set. Each book reached further into the story, always going forward, but also bringing the past as the story unfolded. Well-written characters, and such detail that I felt I was walking alongside them as I read. No imagination is needed to see the people and places in your mind. Vivid descriptions brought the time and place to mind easily. Kindle said it would take more than 9 hours to read it. I did it over two days...I could not put it down! I've always dreamed of visiting Australia, and these books just increased that dream. Well worth reading!!!

Absolutely loved this series - I could not put it down, it held me riveted to each story looking for more. I could vividly imagine each tale and description of the places even though I haven't been there. I would recommend this collection to anyone who wants to read about the settlers in Australia passing through generations and the fast paced tale that goes with all the books in the collection. Well Done Graham Wilson.

Wonderful - I couldn’t bear to put them down.......wishing there were more in the series. The people were so real it’s almost like I’ve met them.

Five stars – A brilliant read, very interesting.

Five Stars - Another fabulous Australian saga from Graham Wilson

I didn't realise at first this was by the writer of the 5 book Crocodile Dreaming Series. It all makes sense now the way this book rolls along painting out the rich history of 19th Century settlers carving out lives creating history. A huge amount of information to handle. Highly enjoyable read.


Thanks to the many people of Balmain who continue to tell me their stories and share their memories which give the foundation for this book. Also thanks to those who have commented on earlier books in the series and encouraged me to keep writing.

Specific thanks to K J Eyre for a structural review of this book and to Nada Backovic for the new covers for this Second Series Edition.

Author Note

I get a range of reader inquiries on the factual accuracy of this book series. To assist I describe real information on which the story is based in Book 1.

In summary all the books in this series are works of fiction and unless stated as fact the characters are not real people and the events are not real events. When I describe locations I know I try to do so accurately. However there are locations I do not know in detail, such as Long Bay Jail, in which some of this story is set. In this case, while I am familiar with the features of the jail visible from outside, I have no real knowledge of its inside or operations. And even if I did know about how it is today I have set events within it in the 1980s when it was substantially different. So, to get a feel for this institution in this period, I read accounts by those who worked there or were inmates at this time, then used this sense of place to help create my story. It is obviously not an accurate reflection however the intent is to create a general sense of a place not to reproduce specific detail. I hope I have achieved this.

In this story some people have objected to my rehabilitation of a hardened criminal, a character who is both a rapist and a murderer, but in later life shows kindness and compassion. I make no apologies for this. I do not think people can be stereotyped into totally good or totally bad. Even those who have done awful things have potential for goodness and redemption, and they may also gain forgiveness from those they have harmed. If you don’t subscribe to this view then that is your choice, but I do.

I have also been criticised by some for the paranormal elements of this story, in particular that it is not possible for a child 50 years dead to communicate with the living and befriend a child of similar age many years later. Again I respect the views of those who don’t believe such things. But my life has taught me there are many strange and wonderful things that cannot fit within our simple understanding of our physical world. So I accept the possibility that parts of people or their spirits may continue on. Throughout history many have shared my view. It is not something I know for certain but I believe it could be true.

Synopsis of Little Lost Girl and Lizzie’s Tale

Little Lost Girl, the first book in this series, is the story of an old house in Balmain and the successive generations of a family who lived in this locality and house. At the centre of this story, is the story of Sophie, an eight year old girl who, in the early 1900s, went missing one day with a school friend and was never found. Little Lost Girl concludes with a modern day search to determine the fate of this long lost girl. Its story is set within the early settlement of Sydney from the 1840s until the early 1900s and, in particular, in the inner city suburb of Balmain. Real Balmain localities form a major part of the story’s background.

Lizzie’s Tale, Book 2, moves the story forward to the 1950s and 1960s when another family lives in this same Balmain house. Lizzie has the bedroom where Sophie once lived half a century earlier. This unknown Sophie becomes her childhood friend. However Lizzie’s own father dies when she is eight and it is just her and her small brother being raised by their mother. So Lizzie must make the incredibly difficult journey from childhood to adulthood as a poor working class girl who becomes pregnant but is determined not to surrender her child for adoption. Instead she runs away to the remotest part of Australia to build a new life for herself, with her small daughter, Catherine.

It is half a love story, half a suspense story, set in remote parts of Australia and it is particularly the story of a courageous young girl, Lizzie, who triumphs over adversity.

The story ends with Lizzie gaining a measure of retribution for the awful things which were done to her when little more than a child.


The room has windows with iron bars, a metal door and four empty chairs facing a metal table.

The door opens. A man walks in, hands shackled together, dressed in prison uniform. He looks middle aged, dark hair with flecks of grey, powerful shoulders and hard features. The softening of age is starting to round his body. A warder follows close behind, baton at the ready. The warder points to the seat. The man sits down, wordless.

The door opens again. A second warder enters, baton also in hand. He moves to stand beside his colleague at the end of the table. A few steps behind comes a slip of a girl. She walks inside and looks around, eyes darting from person to person, face awash with anxiety, taking in the seated man with a searching look. She is small and slender. She first looks like a teenager, but is older, perhaps mid-twenties.

The man looks for an instant as if he recognises her, but this passes. He leers at her; it is a long time since he has seen a pretty girl even if her face is drawn and white. The man speaks, unbidden. “Well, well, look what the fairy godmother had brought me; a luscious crumpet for my pleasure.”

The girl recoils as if struck. She steadies herself, takes a chair opposite and sits down. She stares at the man intently, loathing and desperation in her eyes. She wrings her hand together, as if to gather courage. Finally she speaks.

“Please, I need to know if you are my father?”

The man leers again. “Who knows or cares about that. I am happy to father any brats you want me to sire. Is that what you are looking for, a new stud?”

She is silent so he continues. “I have had many sluts in my time; perhaps your mother was one of them. Most could not wait to spread their legs for me. A few needed serious persuasion.”

The girl’s face struggles for control, expressions of outrage, loathing and fear swirling around. She closes her eyes and puts her hands to her face. It seems she is trying to will her hands to mould control back into her features. At last her face becomes is blank.

She gathers her words. “You are one of three men who raped my mother more than twenty years ago. I am the result of that rape. Now I have my own daughter. I need to find my own father, my daughter’s grandfather. He is the only person who has a chance to save her life. I hoped you would help me.”

The man looks at her, face inscrutable, appearing to think. At last recognition comes into his eyes. “Yes I see it, the face of little Lizzie, Luscious Lizzie. It is true; she spread her legs for me. She was a good if unwilling piece of crumpet, less of a slut than many.”

He pauses. The silence continues. The girl keeps her face blank.

At last he speaks. “I will consider your request. But I have a condition of my own if you want my help. You must all visit, you with your own mother, Lizzie, and with your daughter, only you three. Then I will decide.”

Now anguish comes over her face. “My daughter is in hospital, fighting for her life. She cannot be moved. But I will ask my mother to come and bring my daughter’s photo. Do you agree?”

A longer silence ensues. “I agree.”

The girl stands. “I will ring my mother; ask her to come at once. Time is short.”

She walks from the room. The door slams closed.


Chapter 1 - Ten Years Alone

William sat alone in his cell in Long Bay Jail, Sydney. It was what he did most hours of every day.

The room was a bare shell of concrete, floor and walls a mottled grey-brown, unpainted surfaces imbued with dirt and other unnamed noxious things. It smelt of stale sweat mixed with a vile smell from a refuse bucket in the corner. A steel bedframe bolted to the floor with a thin mattress and a steel table and bench seat bolted in their place, the room’s only furniture. A bare light bulb attached to the roof, high up out of reach, gave sharp edged light.

Twice each day William would do push-ups on the floor and chin-ups on the cell bars, though of late he could feel his motivation flagging. Once each day he had an hour to exercise and walk around a small yard on his own. He was deemed too dangerous to be left alone with other inmates so mostly he was left alone by himself. That suited him just fine. Since he had got rid of Martin and turned Dan into a blathering idiot he preferred his own company. Not that he had ever much liked either of them, truth be told. But he had gone along with them over the years and enjoyed the fruits of their success.

But one day he had woken up, knowing he had lived enough of the slime and lies. So he had decided to give evidence against them. The lawyers had promised a light sentence if he named them, particularly Martin, as the instigators of several rapes. They had suggested he say he had gone along for the ride, which was part true.

But that was not the reason he had turned against them. It was because their bullshit and deception finally got to him. They thought they were having a great time screwing underage school girls, taking advantage of those who were weak and could not complain. And he had gone along with it for a while and enjoyed the element of danger.

But it was really a game for rich boys, those with too much money, those who could buy their way out of trouble. Not much courage there. He had found himself sickened when they had tried to wriggle off the hook on those first three trials and had almost got away with it. It had cost them all, cost them plenty. The company Martin had set up had folded and they were all out of work. But, for Martin, it was only a paper loss. Martin and his family had plenty of money salted away, money the shareholders could not get to.

So other people had taken a haircut for Martin’s deeds. Most of them were scum, like Martin, so he did not feel sorry for them. But there were some decent people too, people like his own mother, amongst them. She had worked hard all her life and, thinking this business her son was part of was a good investment, she had bought shares, more than ten thousand dollars’ worth, bought in small parcels over a decade, using all her spare cash, marvelling at her son’s success.

So, when the company went belly up, she took more than a haircut, she had lost all her nest egg, money saved for a time coming when she was on a pension. It was not much money to a rich person like Martin, but to her it mattered. It would have given her a decent life in retirement; now she could barely afford to eat baked beans.

William said it to Martin, hoping Martin might help his mother out.

Martin laughed, saying, “Times are tough for lots of people, so who cares. Surely you can make it up to her from all the money the business gave you over the good years, if it bothers you enough.”

William had blown his money on good living as it came in. So he did not have much of his own to help his mother with, whereas he knew that Martin had millions he could afford to give away.

That was what really pissed him off, that Martin did not give a toss about people like his mother; there were plenty other battlers like her who had done all their cash too. Martin treated it like a school boy joke. He heard Martin laughing about it with Dan later that day. Dan thought it was a great joke. Which just proved what a scummy slime ball Dan was too!

In that callous moment his eyes were opened. He felt disgust towards these people he thought were his mates; it was disgust at them and all they represented, and it was disgust at himself for his part. He had always felt a bit cowardly at the way they preyed upon school girls, not that he minded using force to get what he wanted and they had been sweet young things to fuck. But for him it was more about him being a man who took what he wanted than bravery. Whereas Martin and Dan strutted and gloated as if these actions were somehow courageous.

But until the thing with his mother and the money he had never thought enough about it to act. In a flash, on that day, he realised their whole life together was one sick joke. It shamed him they had come to a place where they could steal from poor people without caring.

So he had named them and they had both got twenty years. Despite the prosecutor’s promises to go easy, William got fifteen years.

William had never asked for protection because he knew Martin and Dan were cowards underneath. Although he was not as big and strong as Martin he was a match for Dan. He let it be known that if they came after him he would play dirty, real dirty and, if they hurt him, they would get hurt real bad in return. So Martin took the typical coward’s way, getting others to help do the dirty work, no doubt for money or other favours.

One day, Martin, Dan and three other big guys who were in on it, grabbed him. Four had held him. The others, Martin first, had fucked him up the arse like a chook, each taking a turn. They were rough and had hurt. When they finished they promised more was to come, day after day. He guessed they meant to frighten him talking tough. But, instead, that place inside him which hated them from before, when he snitched, got a whole lot bigger.

Afterwards he was madder than he had ever been; he could feel the rage burning a hole inside his guts, he would get even, no matter what happened to him. But he had not let on.

He found an old piece of steel rod, the stuff used for concrete reinforcing. It was a foot long and as thick as his index finger, with rough ridges along it. He had spent two days carefully sharpening one end to a point, grinding it against the concrete floor of his cell.

A week later Martin was lording it over him in the shower; having self-importantly told him, William, to wash his back. So he had come up behind him, the steel rod out of sight. He had grabbed Martin around the waist with one arm to stop him running away. With the other hand he had arse fucked him with the steel rod, jammed it in with all his strength. He had felt the tearing and ripping as it went in, loving the feel as it tore its way through Martin’s soft flesh.

Martin was bigger and stronger than him. But William held him in a vice grip from behind and, even though Martin squirmed like a stuck pig, he could not get away. While one arm kept his grip tightly around Martin’s waist, his other hand had shoved the metal rod backwards, forwards and around, several times, feeling it tear its way through lots of places.

Martin was screaming by then. Within a minute the others pulled William away, leaving Martin lying on the floor, half whimpering, half howling. Then the guards had come and dragged him away and locked him into a cell by himself. He could still hear Martin’s screams coming down the corridor as they pulled him along. It had sounded so good and it still made him smile inside.

Two days later Martin was dead, peritonitis they called it. They tried to sew the mess he had made inside Martin back together, but it was futile. Martin died hard and bad. William was glad.

So he had been tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

After that, whenever he saw Dan, he would call out to him, “Your turn next.”

Dan was already coming apart at the seams in prison; he was everyone’s regular bum boy. Twice, since his murder rap, William had managed to get close enough to Dan to stick him. He used a sharp skewer which he kept hidden away for his own protection, once into Dan’s bum and once into his leg.

William had made the weapon out of a fragment of a broken hacksaw blade when he worked in the workshop. Now it lived out of sight, pushed into a hole in his boot sole. It was three inches long and a quarter inch wide. It had razor sharp edges which would cut through if you gave it a twist. One quick stab would barely leave a skin mark but inside would be a mess of damage. By the time people realised what was done it would be hidden again. He had it still. One day he would put it into one of those guys eye’s just to see what happened. His mouth watered at the thought.

After that he had only to look at Dan and tell him his eye was next and Dan would become a mass of terrified blubbering jelly. Finally, nearly five years ago, Dan was taken to the looney bin. Last he heard Dan was kept tied to his bed all day in a padded room, crazy, crazy.

With a bit of luck Dan would find a way to top himself one day and that would be that. He must think how he could help him do it, the sooner dead the better.

He never felt a moment of regret over what he had done to those two miserable bastards. But he still felt he had let his mother down even though she disowned him once the rape then murder charges came in, unable to bear the shame of what her son had done.

So he had never seen her or any of his family since he had gone to jail, but he understood that. He knew he could never mend the pain he had caused her, but that only made him madder. Still, in his heart, he was glad he had taken one small step towards setting things to rights, even though it was no help to his mother and never would be.

But it was something towards evening the score and tipping the balance back and for this he was glad. Not to mention that the world was a better place now that that piece of sewer scum was dead.

Chapter 2 - Boredom

At first, after the murder rap, William had lived his life fuelled by rage. It had driven him to keep fit; it had been kept alive by the desire to fix up Dan and the other three blokes who had joined in when they took turns raping him.

So, after Martin was dead, he spent many hours, days and weeks making plans to get at them. His first desire was to injure, incapacitate or kill them, whatever caused pain. But now that they were warned that was easier said than done. Until this chance came he made plans to terrorise them instead, thinking of any ways he could to instil fear and the more unpredictable the better.

Dan had never dobbed on him when he stabbed him, the fear was too powerful. Instead he walked half crippled for months after each time. If William could have got closer maybe he could have put the skewer into Dan or another one’s guts or face, but the bum and leg stabs had worked well enough and had been easier to get a shot at.

Since then Dan and the other three blokes had hung together whenever William was around. They all kept themselves at least two body lengths away from him. So he dreamed and schemed endlessly about how to catch them out and get close. If he got within range he really would take out someone’s eye or rip a hole in their guts.

But then, as time passed, he had watched as Dan had gone to bits and been taken away to the prison hospital. William knew, deep down, that the others had only been Martin’s patsies as well; they did not have it inside them to do real stuff on their own. So his anger slowly slid away, replaced by something much flatter, apathy.

He knew he was in this prison for life and he was determined he would not be broken. He would keep reminding people how dangerous he was every chance he got, that was his main source of pride. But he was starting to find it hard to care.

The days began to drift by in a meaningless maze. Then one day he realised ten years had gone by since he had come inside. That day it was like a red light went off in his brain. I need to do something more than this before a second ten years goes by.

Ten years for anger and hatred was fine but he needed the next ten years to be different or he would go crazy too. Perhaps he could try to go back to school and learn something new.

The next week he got permission to visit the jail library and look up courses of study, like TAFE Courses. Some places had lessons they would send to people in jail. He would have liked to do a University Course but he had left school at fifteen and needed his HSC to enrol in one. The TAFE Courses only half interested him, they taught manual skills, things like woodwork and metal work. He needed to learn something that would force him to use his brain.

When he was a little kid he did good at school and people had always told him he was smart. But when he dropped out of school the lessons got left aside. While he could read and write he had fallen out of reading much except girlie magazines, and they were all crap really.

Finally he settled on the idea of doing his Higher School Certificate. This would allow him to enrol for university courses. It was supposed to take two years, but time was one thing he had plenty of and he could not see anything that said he could not try and fit it all into one year. He reckoned he could finish the subjects into one year and he sure as hell intended to give it his best shot.

So he enrolled and began his year of study. Now he read lessons and text books in his cell. Twice a week he was allowed to go to the library for an hour to look up things. He had even almost stopped trying to frighten all the other prisoners. Not that he liked them any better but he figured that his study would be easier if he did not spend almost all his life locked away.

He was not sure what he would study at University but courses like law and medicine appealed to him. He found he had a thirst for knowledge along with the sense that he had wasted the first half of his life. He realised study would only be mental exercise; parole was at best a remote distant possibility in a decade or more. He could not find a place inside himself where there was regret or remorse for what he had done, and he was too proud to pretend something he did not feel. So he would not suck up and become a good behaviour boy, no medals for prisoner of the year.

But still, if he could gain a University Degree doing things of interest, that would be an improvement on the last decade of his life, and it would make the passage of time more enjoyable. His only concern was that he did not want guards or other prisoners to think he had gone soft.

So he needed to maintain an edge of crazed terror to keep others in the jail in line, just enough fear to keep respect alive. There was still a hard angry part buried deep inside which could easily break out in a murderous rage if he was pushed. That part had become so essential to his sense of self that he could not bear to lose it.

He decided that for now he would only exercise it from time to time with random acts of rage, violence and verbal abuse, but he would not really hurt anyone, at least not enough to kill or cripple them. That would keep everyone fully on guard and nervous of him. He grinned at the thought.

So he had a goal, a boredom cure. Within ten years he was determined to be a doctor or lawyer or something such, at least on paper, and doing it would keep the boredom at bay. So now it was time for books and learning.

Chapter 3 - Beginning to Learn

William had nothing else to do except study, he was solitary by nature and even though he had not injured or threatened anyone in months, and had started to moderate his behaviour, he had not been deemed anything but a slightly less extreme version of his previous self. He knew that deep down inside him the violent, uncompromising part of his nature was still there.

The one person who had started to talk to him in a more civil way was the librarian, an elderly man who had retired from regular warder duties but was deemed to be of use in this place. The library he minded was not a large building, only the size of couple cells joined together, but it had a mix of donated books and occasional purchases, including a fairly complete set of school books for those prisoners who had decided they wanted to get a qualification starting with their Higher School Certificate.

William knew of three other prisoners were doing the same as him, but only by name and distant sight, he never spent hours in the library with them, as he was only let in for an hour twice a week when no one else but the librarian warden was there. He was allowed to borrow up to five books at a time, and mostly chose books for his school lessons, but each time would pick out one book about something else.

He discovered in himself an almost morbid fascination about medical things and started to wonder if he might one day do a degree in something related to medicine, perhaps nursing or psychology, as he had become interested in both the processes of mental illness and how to treat people with it. He also found medical and biology subjects, like the study of cells, how the immune system worked and how diseases acted, to be of great fascination. So, almost always, he took out one extra book on a medical subject and, each evening after he had finished his dinner, he would use the time to study the contents of this book, sometimes looking at the detailed pictures but most often reading and trying to understand the words of description and explanation. Gradually he found it beginning to make sense to him, as his brain joined the ideas together. This only increased his desire for more knowledge.

During the day he studied for his Higher School Certificate. He had picked science focused subjects, chemistry, physics and biology, along with the required English and Mathematics. His final elective was Geography to allow him to learn about the places and peoples of the world. He had a particular fascination with the Pacific and with the Melanesian and Polynesian people who lived there. He loved the stories from their history about the way they sailed their canoes across huge expanses and navigated, he read about their customs and the varied speculation about their origins.

He had a vague recollection of his mother telling him once that his great grandfather’s, a man who had died long before he was born, was a “kanaka”, a Pacific Islander from somewhere out there. He had always felt something of affection for the Pacific islanders he had known, partly for their strength, but also because they lived hard and played hard. He had played a bit of football with some of them as a boy, up until his early teenage years. But that got forgotten once he had got tied up with Martin and Dan. Since then he had always enjoyed watching footy matches with islander players who had come to the Sydney Rugby League competition and made good.

He did not much like blackfellas; there were lots of them around Newcastle when he was growing up. They often hung out in gangs like he had. Sometimes they got into fights with him and his mates, often when they had the numbers; he had got a couple good hidings and given a couple in return. But he looked at the islanders differently and reckoned they were kind of OK.

Now, as well as reading lots of things about diseases and medicine, he also actively searched out any books he could find about the Pacific, the early voyages of discovery, the people of New Guinea, the different islands and groups of people spread out across the Pacific. He had no idea if the great grandfather kanaka was a real story or just something he thought he had remembered, but it gave him an interest and a vague desire, if he ever got out of jail, to go off and work or travel somewhere out there. He always looked east when he had that thought, knowing his cell was less than a mile from where the Pacific Ocean began, alongside the coast in Sydney’s east.

Sometimes on stormy days or when a strong wind was blowing from the south east he could hear a distant roar like ocean breakers hitting the cliffs, and at times the tang of ocean, a half brine, half seaweed smell would register in his nostrils, reminding him of the vast, ever present ocean just beyond his vision.

Occasionally he thought about breaking out, getting a little boat from somewhere and heading out that way. But first he wanted to finish his learning, get his HSC and then, hopefully, get a degree in something which seemed useful to him.

He decided that he would park all his thoughts of a break out until at least after that. He was pushing forty now so, with a bit of luck and if he pulled back on the aggression, he would be out of here by the time he was about fifty and still have plenty of time to go off and see these places.

So now he applied himself fully to his learning. Within six months, as the hot weather at the end of the year came round, he had pretty much mastered his HSC subjects. He found the learning was easy, the hardest thing was making himself stop to eat and exercise, when his mind was in the zone. He loved the way his mind could now live in other places through letting his imagination run, though he always kept coming back to absorb and understand one more detail, then yet another detail again.

He thought of his mind as having been like an empty warehouse when he began this learning. At first it only had a few remnants of rubbish scattered around on the floor of an empty building shell. Now he had built shelves and the shelves had spaces for storing boxes of objects from across the world and folders of information about these things. The building still had lots of empty spaces but more and of the storage space was being organised and filled. This mass of new organised information gave him a deep satisfaction.

Then it was time for the exams, sitting in the library under the watchful eye of the librarian with a couple of the other students. He left all his exams feeling good about how it had gone, particularly the Science and Geography ones.

He decided that next year, if he got OK marks, he would enrol in a University Degree. In the meantime he would spend his free time reading about his two new interests, the Pacific Islands and the study of medicine. That way if he got into a course about one of these things he would already have a head start.

One day as he was sitting in his cell he got a call from a warder to go to the library. It was just before Christmas, not that he celebrated Christmas, but he had found in the last week, when a few people had put up some decorations around the prison that it had got him to thinking about his mother and his sister and her children. It made him wonder how they were all getting on, wanting to see the little faces, perhaps no longer little. It was such a clear memory of another life, these children holding his hand and sitting on his lap and calling him Uncle Will. He followed the warder down the corridors to the library, feeling a pang for a life lost.

The librarian greeted him with a huge smile, holding a sheet of paper in his hands. He handed this to Will. It was the results from the exams, a list of subject titles with the results running down the other side of the page. He could see that they were all good.

“Well that’s one for the record books,” the librarian said. “You have got the best marks of anyone who has ever studied here. They are saying next year you should easily get into University and have a choice of courses. Even the big boss, the prison governor sends his congratulations.”

“You are certainly a dark horse, William; some of the other screws are starting to say the study has made you soft in the head, turning you into one of those soft handed faggots.

“But me I say, ‘Well done!’ I know you have put in the hours to learn what you have. Now you don’t want to waste the chance to make a better life for yourself one day. They reckon your science marks were right up there near the top for all of NSW, even above all those students whose rich parents pay them to go to fancy schools.

“Considering you had only yourself and a few books to teach you, that is pretty amazing. Pity you did not do your learning right the first time when you were at school. Maybe, by now, you’d be a University Professor if you had.”

William found himself grinning back at this man like he was a kid at school. He could not remember feeling really pleased about something and as good with himself for a very long time. He nodded his head and gave the man a gruff, “Thanks.”

Still he thought, Better watch my step, can’t have them saying I am soft or something like that; time to nip that idea in the bud.

He decided that it was time to scare the blokes who had been with Dan and Martin that night years ago, lest the word get around that he had gone soft with his study. There were still two of them in jail. The third had got out on good behaviour last year. He needed to think of how to do something suitable to hurt them a good bit and scare them even more. He might be enjoying learning new things but he was not yet ready to let all the sleeping dogs lie.

He chewed the ideas over in his mind for a couple days. Then it came to him. With his new-found knowledge he knew something that would give them both the most excruciating gut pains and convulsions, but it was treatable and they would not die. He would slip a dose into their food, he knew he would get a chance to do that with all the coming and going and pushing and shoving in the dining room. And their guard was down now that he had left them alone for a bit.

He just needed to work out the dose carefully to make sure he did not kill them, that way no one would look too hard after the event. Then, a few days later, he would let them and their friends know whom they had to thank. From there the word would soon get around the rest of the place.

That would kill off any idea he was soft and keep everyone on their toes. Much better that way as people would be too busy watching him to cause trouble for him.

He acted three days later, getting into the meal line a few places behind them and bumping into each as they came back past, plates full, to sit down. That allowed him to drop a squirt of his medicine, mixed with some sugar to hide the taste, onto each plate.

Sure enough, later that night, they were both screaming in their cells and emptying their guts all over the place. Both spent three days in hospital with a diagnosis of food poisoning. On their return he said to one of their other faggot mates, “You should ask your mates if they enjoyed the medicine I gave them the other night that knotted up their guts. I enjoyed their screams until they carted them off. Plenty more for them or anyone else who gets smart with me. Perhaps one day I will give them a real big dose and they will leave in a box. It would be good riddance to your bum boy scum mates.”


Chapter 4- Six Years Earlier : Sydney School

Catherine was sixteen and a half when she first came to Sydney to live. She had lived all the life she could remember between Broome and the desert south of Halls Creek. School was in Broome, but her real life was with her aboriginal friends out in the desert. It was where her Mum and Dad mostly lived.

That small place, not really a town, was a clutch of simple houses and one open sided bigger building, with a tin roof like a shed, but with side screens to keep away the insects. It served as occasional school, occasional store or medical clinic, and regular meeting place.

Apart from that there were about ten houses of various sizes and levels of refinement, some with grass and leaf rooves, some with tin roofs and walls. People lived lives mostly spent outside.

Their house was better than some; it had cement floors, windows and doors and a proper bathroom and toilet. It had a solar panel on the roof that charged a battery and gave power for a couple lights. They also had a gas stove and fridge for cooking and keeping food. It had two bedrooms, one with bunk beds for children and the other with a double bed for her parents. The other space was a living area with a kitchen in the corner, a table and chairs in the middle and three comfy chairs at the other end for sitting and reading. There was one bookshelf where her mother kept her treasured books but that was about it. The walls were decorated with a mix of Aboriginal art and some family and community photos.

Her family also spent a lot of time in Broome and Derby where they had a restaurant and food supply business. But, like her, their first love was the desert, the place where their own love for each other had finally come together. Her mother had started the business in Broome when Catherine was a little girl. Now it was run by those who worked for them and her parents did not need to be around it so much. So, for at least two weeks of every month, they would leave Broome behind and head south to the end of the road, where it became lost in the sand hills at the northern end of the Great Sandy Desert.

There was a variable group of between fifty and a hundred other people living there, some who stayed all the time and others who came and went. All except her family had black skins to her white. But they were her brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins just as much as her own family were. Even though Catherine was a scrawny kid who was just developing a proper woman’s body she could chase and spear a goanna or a kangaroo, or bring down a bird with a throwing stick just as well as any of the others.

But, half way through last year, the year when most kids in Broome left school, what her Mum called her Intermediate Certificate Year, her Mum and Dad had sat her down one day in their house in Broome. It had an ominous feel to it, her Mum and Dad with serious faces sitting opposite.

They pulled out a booklet for a school in Sydney, actually two booklets for two schools, to give her a choice.

She had hoped the choice would be whether to go or not but the choice was only between two schools, which one she would choose.

The first was Presbyterian Ladies College in Croydon where her Mum’s best friend in Sydney, Julie, had finished her school. Her Mum had told her before that day that it was a finishing school to help the rich spoilt girls of Sydney learn manners and find husbands. Now she had changed her tune and said it was a really good school. Julie had vouched for it too and was happy to pull a few strings to get Catherine a place as a boarder. So if she went there she would have lots of other girls her own age for company. Julie had written a letter to her, Catherine, which her mother handed her. It was encouraging, telling of all the fun she had there.

The second choice was Balmain High School, where her Mum had gone until her Intermediate Certificate. Her Mum had left then to get a job because the family needed the money. Also her Mum was pregnant very soon after she left school, but that was another story. Her Dad and Julie boasted that her Mum had got the top marks that year, was school dux in her Intermediate Exam. But then, as everyone said, her Mum was super brainy; she could do amazing sums in her head and she knew words that no one else had ever heard of, so it was no surprise that she was so clever at school.

That day, as she sat there, her parents told her that, while school in Broome was fine up to the end of this year, Cathy was too smart to finish there. Instead her final two years would be in a school with lots of other smart kids who would go on to University, so as to stretch her mind and build up her own ability.

That sounded like classic parent gobbledygook. But she realised this argument was futile. Instead she had to decide on the choice she did have, which school to go to. In the end she had decided on Balmain High. It would let her stay with her Grandma, Patsy.

She loved her Grandma; she had this really cute house in Balmain, the place where her and her Mum’s own childhood friend, Sophie, had lived, even though Sophie had been dead for years and years before either of them lived there. A part of her felt it was weird-crazy to have a long dead friend. But deep down she knew it was true, Sophie had saved her own and her mother’s life that time when they got lost in the desert. The memory was bit faded around the edges now, but at its centre it was just as true and real as ever. So she liked the idea of staying in Sophie and her Mum’s old bedroom. She hoped that at times Sophie would still visit her, remembering her as the mind friend of her earliest childhood.

She remembered other visits to this place, a timber weatherboard cottage with an old world feel; bright light from the morning sun to a front bedroom with a view to the street and a scent which wafted in from an old gnarled frangipani tree in the front yard, an attic bedroom with a view of distant harbour and city vistas. But the thing she best remembered was the massive gum tree in the back yard which shaded the house and gave a sheltered place for her and her brother and sister to play and from where a kookaburra called each morning and evening in a raucous voice.

So the choice was made, Balmain High School it was. Her Mum wrote a letter to her Grandma, asking if Cathy could stay with her. When the end of January came round the next year she was booked on the plane which took her to Sydney with an overnight stopover in Darwin. She felt very grown up walking around the streets of Darwin on her own. It was now being rebuilt after a cyclone a few years before, much like the ones they got most wet seasons in Broome.

Her Grandma met her off the plane in Sydney. They went back to her house in a taxi. Now that her Mum’s younger brother David was grown up and gone off, working in the mines, her Grandma was living alone. So Cathy knew she was pleased to have her come and stay.

Cathy found she liked living with her Grandma; she was sort of cool about lots of grown up things and was a great cook. She found she could have deep and meaningful conversations with her Grandma she could never have with her Mum and Dad. There was something very open and understanding about Grandma. Hers had been a hard life, but she had lived through it and come out the other side. She was incredibly proud of her daughter who had made good on her own, and she loved Cathy’s Dad, Robbie, like a son, even though he was not Cathy’s real father. Cathy felt just the same about Robbie, too, even though she could remember a time before he was there. From the moment he had arrived he had become the Dad she had never known. Now he was like a grown up best friend, but who loved her just as much as any other Dad.

When she thought about him, her Mum and her brother and sister still at home, at times she got really homesick. But, after a month in Sydney, she had new friends at school, and she decided she really liked living in Balmain even though she could barely wait for the end of term holidays when she and her Grandma would fly home for two weeks together with her Mum, Dad, brother and sister, a week in Broome, then a week in the desert with her other family.

Balmain had begun to feel like a new home where she belonged. It had something about it that felt like Broome, a village feel, as well as views of the harbour here that were not so different from seeing the ocean there. Both had a community where people knew each other and were friends who had the time to stop and chat.

A jumble of houses and streets made up Balmain, big wide tree lined streets with grand terraces, little laneways jammed full of workers cottages and all sorts in between. Altogether they gave the place a good vibe. Some of friends lived in grand houses that were clearly worth a lot of money, others lived in small shabby shacks, but all mixed together without caring much about their social status and she felt she could equally be friends of all.

The year flew by and soon it was time to go home for Christmas holidays. This time it was just her on the plane. Her Gran would come across in a fortnight, just in time for Christmas. She knew this might be her last proper holiday at home and was determined to enjoy it. Everyone was telling her how hard she would have to study next year for her Higher School Certificate, so she could get into University and have her choice of courses.

She supposed they were right and she had got good marks in her end of year exams, considering that Broome High School was much easier. But, for now, she would enjoy her holidays and freedom.

The six weeks of holidays was over too soon and she was on a plane back to Sydney. The worst thing about the holidays was that she could see her Broome friends were starting to go their own way, boys meeting girls and getting together, others with jobs so they no longer got holidays when she was there. And many of the things she had done in Sydney did not seem to interest these friends much. So they had less to talk about than before. Still they were longstanding friends and she would never forget them and did not want to say goodbye.

But another part of her was also looking forward to seeing her Sydney friends again, hearing what they had done over their holidays, what had they got for Christmas, who had been dating boys, who had been on trips overseas and things like that. So she was half sad and half happy as she caught the plane back to Sydney.

In the end her final year at school was not such a hard year as everyone told her. She found, as she returned to classes, that she had caught up with the others in her first year in Sydney. So in this second year she only had to keep up, not learn twice as much. Julie was great too; she would come around at least once a fortnight and quiz her on what she had learned. Julie was super smart, just like her Mum, and now a corporate lawyer in a big firm that paid her lots. She still worked on women’s rights issues in her free time and was always revving Cathy up to get involved.

Julie had never married. But she now shared a nice house with another woman and, even though it was not talked about much, Cathy had seen them holding hands and understood they were like a married couple, doing lots of things together. When Cathy had free time she would sometimes go and stay for a couple nights with them. There was a good feeling in how they were together, like they really loved each other, just the same way her Mum and Dad did.

She was glad Julie had found someone too. She knew how bad Julie had felt about what had happened to her mother, Lizzie, when the men raped her. It had happened when Lizzie was younger than Cathy was now, and she had got pregnant. That thing had made Julie hate all men for a long time. Even now it seemed there were few men that Julie trusted.

Lizzie was long over it. As she said, without it happening there would have never been her, Cathy, and her Mum would have never met Robbie. So Lizzie would say, “Even though it was bad when it happened and for a while after, I would not change places with anyone, not for all the tea in China,” whatever that meant.

Cathy had yet to find a man who really interested her, most of the ones at school seemed like boys who had yet to grow up. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to do it with a man and sometimes she wondered what it would be like with a girl that way instead of a boy, like Julie did. But she was not very curious about it and, as her Grandma said, there was plenty of time to find out about that yet and first she had to finish school.

So she studied away, but not too hard. One day she woke up in the morning and realised that today was the day of her final exam. As she sat in the exam, writing out the answers, it seemed pretty easy and she finished half an hour early. She waited around outside for her friends to come out, not quite knowing what to do with herself.

Finally they were all gathered, sitting on the brick wall that ran along the street at the edge of the school grounds. No one seemed to have any good idea what to do with the rest of the day, but they needed to do something to celebrate the end of school. Eventually two of the boys turned up with a whole lot of bottles of beer and everyone went and sat in the local park just down the road and took turns having mouthfuls of beer.

She was used to having tastes of her Dad’s beer and did not mind the taste. So she found, each time a bottle came her way, she would have a good mouthful. Eventually all the beer was gone.

It was mid-afternoon and they were all hungry. So they wandered up to the main street of the town where they bought hamburgers, taking ages for everyone to be served. By this time about half the kids had gone home, but Cathy was in a happy mood and not ready to go home so soon. So about twenty of them found themselves in a bar in the main street of the town, most sipping beers though a couple of the girls had gin and tonics and a couple had glasses of wine.

It was all good fun, laughing and telling jokes about all the crazy things they had done at school and wondering what the next year would hold. A few already had jobs to go to, but most were hoping their marks would let them go to University next year, a mix of courses and places.

Cathy herself had no idea what she wanted to do, she was only half interested in University, but she had no other good ideas either, so she had filled out the enrolment forms for a range of places to make sure that she got offered something.

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