The following is a scene from my debut novel The Outback. It takes place early in the story, shortly after the backpackers have arrived in Birribandi. Matt and Colin are hoping to impress sisters, Rose and Jenny, whilst also plotting to make their stay in the outback pass a little more easily, when they run into unexpected trouble...
By noon everybody was awake and out of their beds. Rose and Jenny took the lead in organising Paul’s party and were both keen on getting everything planned down to the smallest detail. They drew up a list of everything that would be needed and then coerced Colin and Matt into accompanying them to the shops to help carry it all back to camp.
The budding couples played it coyly as they followed the dusty trail into town with the girls walking side by side several paces ahead of the boys. The distance was just enough that each pair was out of earshot of the other.
‘They’re talking about us, you know,’ said Colin.
The sisters were giggling amongst themselves and every so often Rose would glance furtively over her shoulder.
‘It’s more likely that they’re talking about you,’ replied Matt.
‘They probably think that we’re talking about them too, but I wouldn’t give them that pleasure.’
‘You could have fooled me. So what are we talking about?’
Colin lit a cigarette.
‘The party, obviously. Tonight is a chance for you and I to really let go tonight. It’s all too easy to grow accustomed to the lifestyle when you’re travelling, but here we have to savour every chance that we get to have some fun.’
‘I’ve had a lot of good nights since leaving home. Somehow, I think tonight will suffer in comparison.’
Colin shook his head.
‘That’s precisely the attitude we need to change. You do realise that if all goes well tonight, it could set us up for some very good times to come.’
Matt did not follow. He began to wonder if Colin had added some of his herbal flavour to the cigarette he was smoking.
‘You’ve lost me. What’s so great about tonight aside from it being the birthday of someone that we hardly even know?’
‘Have you met Pierro yet?’
Matt had only caught brief glimpses of the man in question, but having worked alongside Celeste, he had heard more than he would like about the enigmatic chef.
‘We’ve never been formally introduced, but I have heard a lot about him. He’s supposed to be Italian, but Niall reckons he’s a local. I’m not too sure how that works though.’
‘Everyone here is descended from immigrants; except the Aboriginals, obviously. Some must cling on to their heritage more than others.’
‘I suppose that makes sense. Do you think he has ever even been to Europe?’
‘I wouldn’t have a clue about that, but Celeste seems impressed. Then again, I suppose she’s probably never been to Europe either.’
Matt often forgot that the girl was from Canada and not France. Her accent and mannerisms were so exaggeratedly Gallic that it was hard to think of her as anything else.
‘So what has all of this got to do with the party?’ asked Matt.
Colin glanced towards the girls to make sure that they were still out of earshot.
‘Your man, Pierro, has the keys to the camp’s stockroom. From what I gather, it is not only kitchen supplies that are in there, but everything for the bar too.’
‘And you think that if we can get him onside, he may siphon off a few freebies for us, is that it?’
‘Not exactly. His bird’s challenged me and the other Irish lads to a drinking contest on his behalf. I say that we get him half cut and take the keys.’
‘And what then? If you clean the place out, the theft is going to be obvious and if you don’t, it won’t be long before Pierro realises his keys are missing and has the locks changed.’
‘Don’t worry, I have it covered. Niall has found a place in town that cuts keys and it is open on Sundays. Pierro will find his “lost” keys long before he recuperates from his hangover.’
‘Sounds like you have it all planned out. You’re turning into quite the criminal kingpin in these parts.’
Colin appeared offended by the suggestion.
‘What do you mean?’
‘First you flood the market with free weed and now you’re turning to bootlegging. You’ve only been here for a week and already you have a résumé that would make Al Capone envious.’
‘I’m not profiting from any of this.’
‘Robin Hood was still an outlaw.’
A broad smile appeared on the Irishman’s face.
‘Robin Hood; I like that.’
As Colin began to view himself in a more glamorous light, the four backpackers entered the outskirts of the town. Although small, there was still a section of suburban housing that had to be traversed in order to reach the commercial main street. The area was clearly impoverished, with overgrown gardens and several boarded windows. If they had stumbled across this place at night time they would not have felt safe. A group of five Aboriginal youths were gathered on a street corner.
Matt thought that he recognised one of them as the boy whom he had seen shoplifting the previous week. He was not certain though. The group could not have been aged more than sixteen or seventeen years old. They were chatting amongst themselves and paid little attention to the passing girls. Then when Matt and Colin approached they began to disperse with only two of them remaining behind. One of these had an unlit cigarette in his hand.
‘Could you spare a fella a light?’ the youth asked.
Colin reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. He flicked the flame on with his thumb and extended it towards the youth, who lent forward with the cigarette in his mouth and took a deep inhalation to allow the flames to take hold.
‘Thanks,’ the youth said. ‘You fellas are not from around here, are you?’
‘Is it that obvious?’ replied Colin. ‘What gave it away?’
‘Your shoes. They don’t sell clobber like that in ‘Bandi.’
Colin smiled to humour the boy.
‘My shoes, eh? You’re a funny guy. You know, I’d love to stay and chat, but we don’t want to keep our lady friends waiting.’
He glanced back at Matt and nodded for him to start walking again.
‘Not so fast,’ said the Aboriginal youth, placing his free hand on Colin’s chest. ‘I said that I like your shoes.’
This time his tone had changed. It became more demanding, more aggressive.
‘You want me to give you my shoes – is that what you’re saying?’ asked Colin.
‘I’m not saying man, I’m telling.’ The youth spoke with a rhythm that seemed to be trying to mimic American street speak, which he had no doubt picked up from a movie or rap video.
‘Well, I’m telling you to fuck off,’ said Colin.
The Irishman grabbed hold of the boy’s wrist and pulled it from his chest. He then turned to say something to Matt, briefly taking his eyes off the youth. The young would-be gangster took full advantage by removing the cigarette from his mouth and pressing the lit end firmly into the back of Colin’s forearm.
The Irishman shrieked in pain and before he or Matt could react the youths had already started running away. Instinctively, they both wanted to follow, but a far more pressing concern was developing further up the path. Rose and Jenny were coming under attack from the other three gang members.
‘Shit!’ Matt cried out.
The Englishman was so angered by the surprise attack that he unconsciously shoved Colin out of the way in order to run at the remainder of the gang. He sprinted as fast as he could, but a few seconds was all the youths needed.
Rose, being the elder of the two sisters, naturally tried to protect her younger sibling. She did this by placing herself in between Jenny and the muggers. This left her dangerously exposed herself. One of the gang grabbed onto the base of her handbag and tugged violently. When she did not let go, another of the kids slapped her hard across her cheek with the back of his hand. This time she had no choice but to let go and her attackers ran off having successfully acquired what they wanted.
For Rose, the pain was supplanted by pure and unadulterated shock. She began to feel nauseous and faint. As Matt caught up with her, she fell into his arms, preventing him from giving chase.
‘Jesus Christ – what happened?’ he asked. ‘Did they have a knife?’
‘I don’t think so,’ Jenny replied, through her sobbing. ‘She hasn’t been stabbed, they just hit her. Is she going to be okay?’
‘She’ll be fine,’ Matt told her. ‘I think we should get her checked out just in case, though.’
Jenny nodded frantically, terror still controlling her every thought.
‘What the fuck just happened?’ Colin demanded, as he caught up with the rest of them.
Matt noticed his friend had a slight limp and assumed the youth with the cigarette must have kicked his shin before running away.
‘Rose has been hit,’ Matt told him. ‘One of those cowards smacked her in the face. Obviously, the plan was for that little shit to distract us whilst his friends made off with the girls’ bags. They played us for fools.’
‘Those bastards!’ Colin shouted, unable to contain his anger. ‘I’ll rip their fuckin’ heads off!’
He turned around, scanning the area for signs of where they might have ran, but was unable to pick up a trail.
‘COWARDS!’ he screamed, unsure of where even to direct his rage.
‘That’s not helping,’ said Jenny. ‘We have to help Rose.’
Matt had managed to place the elder sister down on the ground in a sitting position and she was starting to come to. As her shock subsided, the pain increased, as if some sort of equilibrium needed to be maintained. She rubbed urgently at her face, trying to soothe away the agony. Colin crouched down and delicately pulled aside her hand so that he could inspect the damage. There was already a considerable bruise forming on her cheek. Fortunately, the thug had missed her eye and though painful, there would be no lasting effects. This did little to alleviate the Irishman’s rage.
‘This is a tiny town,’ he said. ‘I say that we leave no stone unturned until we find those scumbags and beat the living shite out of them.’
‘What will that achieve?’ asked a still tearful Jenny. ‘All I care about is making sure my sister is going to be okay.’
Matt recalled seeing a police station on his previous visit to the town. This seemed to him like the best place to start. They would be sure to have medical supplies there and could also help with catching the muggers. It was a small town and chances were that there would not be too many kids matching the description that they could provide.
‘The police station is only about a five minute walk from here,’ he said. ‘We should take her there.’
The others agreed and they all helped Rose back up onto her feet. She could have walked unaided, but Colin in particular did not wish to take any chances. He placed an arm around her and supported her weight as they made the brief walk to the station. Matt led the way, all the time keeping a keen eye out should any of the youths return. Any thoughts of the planned celebration were now long forgotten.
The Outback is currently on sale for 2.99 for Kindle. A further sample can be read on the book's Amazon page here