Sheep in Open Fields
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   Guest Author

 Adrian Blackburn

Adrian Blackburn has been an international journalist for decades, with both his work and personal wanderlust taking him to close to 80 countries. Most of his writing has been non-fiction, including a best-selling history of NZ's pirate Radio Hauraki, now in its fourth edition as Radio Pirates: How Hauraki Rocked the Boat. In recent years he has concentrated on short stories. Here is the title story of his new collection, Mates and other stories, due for publication early in 2022.

Mates by Adrian Blackburn

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I spotted the sign on the other side of the road. It was big and sun-bleached. The faded red paint said Rarakia Dairy.

 

I parked the old brown Rover around the next corner, just up the road but out of sight.

 

It was hot, the road was dusty and by the time I’d walked back to the low, ramshackle building I was dying for something cold to drink.

 

The older couple inside were friendly, as relaxed as John Key.

 

“Hitching?” said the man. He’d spotted the day pack I’d taken care to grab from the car. “Not a lot of traffic up this road. Heard a car just a few minutes ago.”

 

“That’d be me. I saw your sign, asked to be dropped off.”

 

I’d spotted an old-fashioned, light green machine back of the counter.

 

“I could murder a milk shake.”

 

“Can do,” said the man. “What would you like?”

 

“Chocolate. And you don’t happen to do malt? Great, a chocolate malted, maybe a double dose of ice cream.”

 

I was suddenly a teenager again, pimples and a temper, back at the local milk bar in Hastings.

 

As the machine whizzed up its milky foam the woman said: “There was a young guy through here a few days back. Bought some supplies. Was a bit like you.”

 

That would be Jimmy, I thought. But I didn’t let on, just grinned.

 

“Long hair you mean?”

 

“Not just that.”

 

“There’s a few of us old hippies still around. Hey, you don’t mind if I go outside, drink it from the metal container. Hate those cardboard ones with the giraffe on the outside. And just one straw. I want to make it last.”

 

“Go for it,” said the man. “We’d need to wash it anyway. Nothing much else to do.”

 

I sat on the bench outside, in the verandah’s shade. A few wide wooden steps down to the road. Across it the bay’s shining sea. Just behind the store, as I’d been aware, driving, the dark green bush, the steep hills’ rise.

 

A brief time out. A chance to look back, not so much in anger, as regret.

 

Guess it was my idea, a change from the drugs deals, a road trip down south, an old time sort of a job. Not exactly Bonny and Clyde. Just me, Jimmy and Jazza.

 

I’d never been to Gore. But there were three things I already knew I loved about it.

 

One, the way the locals apparently said the name. Go-ore. As in talking like a pirate day.

 

Two. I’d heard somewhere years ago that Gore was the richest locality in the country. And I’d bet those Southland cow cockies hadn’t yet taken to novelties like pay wave, would still like to have a wad of cash in their wallets.

 

And three. The annual Golden Guitar country music festival. Three more long haired strangers in town wouldn’t stand out. We could time our raid to catch some of the best acts first. And with all the Golden Guitar business activity there’d likely be even more cash in the banks than usual.

 

Which bank to hit? That was easy. “All the Aussie banks are bastards. And the ANZ is the biggest bastard of them all.” So it was the ANZ, corner of Mersey and Main.

 

The hit itself was ludicrously easy. Opening time, two young female tellers and a male manager. We left Jazza around the corner in the rental Camry reading an ODT.

 

 Beanies and sunnies on. And the staff were so shit-scared when I waved around the big Colt .44 Magnum I’d scored from the ex-cop in Hastings I almost laughed. LOL.

 

“Okay. Contact anyone in under 30 minutes and I’ll be back ready to use this mother.” And I waved the revolver again for emphasis.

 

Back at the motel we counted $122,000 in used notes, four times what I’d expected. Courtesy of a scraggy blonde he’d struck up with, Jazza had arranged a lift within the hour to Invercargill with a band flying out to another gig. Good cover.

 

Jimmy and I grabbed about a grand each for expenses and the rest went with Jazza in a big zippered sports bag. Too heavy for an overhead locker and too risky to entrust to baggage handlers, so he was to take the Magic Bus from Invercargill to Christchurch, then the train up the coast to meet up with us in Picton.

 

Jimmy and I got on the road the morning after the final act. Some great music, by the way.

 

Though we’d heard them exercising their sirens for a while the southern cops were showing the same sort of urgency and expertise as when they dealt with the Bain murders. Not a lot. But we figured that by now there’d at least be road blocks on the main exits from town.

 

Our guitars on the back seat were passport enough. “Sorry, gents, but perhaps you could pop the boot.” Idiots …

 

A gently circuitous route back to the smoke, West Coast, Nelson, Picton. Jazza was waiting. It was a nice gentle crossing so we raised a few bevvies to Cook Strait.

 

Back in the big smoke we made the deal clear. “Don’t flash the cash.” Jimmy and I were flatting in Grey Lynn so Jazza’s old family shack out in the Waitaks was obvious to hide the loot.

 

But the bastard couldn’t resist the temptation to spend up large, impress his flaky mates. Pretty soon, we reckoned, Jimmy would draw the pigs’ attention. Too dangerous to us..

 

I made the call and we met up with him late at night in a deserted car park at Bethells, the westerly and the waves roaring.

 

“Mate. We’ve got to talk.”

 

The only real talking was done by the Colt. Hell, those .44s make a big hole. Jazza fitted nicely in the Rover’s boot, scrunched up a bit on a blue Warehouse tarp I’d thoughtfully spread out.

 

Jimmy followed me back through the ranges in Jazza’s new pride and joy Skyline. Jazza’s pad featured a real old-fashioned garage, earth floor and a lengthwise pit dug in the middle to make oil changes easy.

 

Not classy enough for Jazza’s rocketship so we’d agreed already to help him fill in the pit and lay a proper concrete floor. All the materials for the job right there. And the job went just as planned, except Jazza was in the pit when we filled it in.

 

I was just screeding off the new floor when Jimmy went outside for what I guess in his case you would call a Jimmy-riddle.

 

When I heard the Skyline fire up and saw its headlights disappearing up the track I just knew I’d been screwed. And the rest of the ANZ cash was disappearing with him. Mates …

 

I sucked the last bit of ice cream from the bottom of the stainless steel cup and went back inside the store.

 

“Thanks, that was great.”

 

“No worries. You were only our third customer today. Want to buy a business?”

 

“Not until my sister gets work.”

 

I parked the Rover by the beach a bit further on and waited for nightfall. Deep darkness and another ten kays on I turned the Rover up the track. Jimmy had told me all about his rural retreat way back when he probably thought I was too wasted to remember. Not this muppet …

 

The Skyline was backed into the bush, just a glint in my headlights. I parked the Rover, knowing Jimmy’s old possum hunting hut was around 10 minutes’ walk further into the bush.

 

Through the open door I could see a Camping Gaz lamp and Jimmy at a square table dealing to a stubby.

 

I stepped inside. “Gidday, mate…”

 

He sat straight up.

 

“Shit. You scared me. How’d you get up here?”

 

“Because I’m a bit brighter than you are, mate.”

 

He looked shit scared. But still cheeky.

 

“Anyway, good to see you mate. Grab a brew. They’re cold.”

 

“Not interested. You know why I’m here.”

 

He started gabbling. “Look, I got frightened. It was all too heavy. And I was only taking care of the money till we had a chance to get together. It’s all here, mate.”

 

“Had your chance, mate. Driving Jazza’s car you’ll have been spotted all around the North Island. Prime suspect when they finally get round to digging him up.

 

“It might take a while longer before they find the Skyline up here. Only your prints and Jazza’s in it. But I’ll be across a few time zones by then. Don’t reckon they’ll have as much luck finding you where you’re going.”

 

“No. No. You can’t …”

 

He was standing now, arms out towards me, a dark stain growing on the front of his jeans.

 

“Sorry, Jimmy, time to say hi again to my good friend Colt.”

 

I raised the Magnum.

 

“And try not to shit yourself, like Jazza did.”

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