This is the 52nd Instalment of the series on the life and times of Detective Four Joseph Lind.
The eastern half of Australia is suffering its most severe drought ever recorded. The vast swathe of land in four eastern states has not experienced worthwhile rain in around several years. The very land is parched and bone dry with stock being sold off as the cost of feed and water to keep them alive becomes unsustainable during this very bleak period.
Many Farmers have walked away from their Properties, many have committed suicide.
This story describes the desperate needs of our Farmers while showing the bravery and resilience of the man and woman on the land. The story interweaves into the next Novella ‘The Last Step’ as the events out west is a concurrent investigation for our pair of Detectives.
The suicide rate out west peaks during a severe drought. A popular farmer dies in a back paddock of his property with the initial prognosis being that he had a heart attack. Upon completion of the autopsy, that belief is altered to one of suicide.
The country town folk and other neighbouring Cockies do not believe this much loved and respected farmer capable of taking his own life.
Detective Joseph Lind and his partner Detective Shelley Shields are allocated the Case of the sudden death of the farmer, presumably by his own hands. Their investigations soon becomes mired in the complications of outback living with Detective Lind working solo due to the sudden hospitalisation of Detective Shields. Lind is convinced there is more to this case than first thought. That is a simple suicide which requires a Report from him to present to the Coroner.
Who has the means and the reason to see this popular and loved man dead?
He stamped his feet to rid his boots of the covering of dust, ran each boot sole across the ‘boot scrapper’, wondering as he did, why he should. ‘Out of habit,’ he suggested softly to himself for as sure as shitting, there wasn’t a skerrick of mud on the soles of his boots, just more bloody dust!
With an effort and a grunt signifying his attempt, he heel-toed them off and placed them neatly side by side to one side of the front door. He padded in his woollen socks into the dimness of the homestead taking a key from on top of a door opening architrave. Walking purposefully into the neat Study, he opened a small Gun Cabinet with the key. He was a careful man. He took out the barrel and stock of a large-bore rifle. Closing up and again locking the Gun Cabinet, he double-checked that the door was again locked. He walked out into the Stock Room where Gumboots lined a wall, sitting neatly in line hard against the wall and floor junction. Above the gumboots were six ‘Dry-as-a-Bone’ full length coats and a couple of waist-length ones. He always preferred the full-length coat especially when sitting on his favourite horse, his Akubra pulled well down and the collar of the coat sitting up tight against his neck.
He ran his hands down his ‘Dry-as-a-Bone’ wondering when was the last time he wore the wet-weather gear. He had actually forgotten it was so long ago. He gave a sniffle as he picked out his broad-brimmed hat that hung with a row of hats hanging neatly along the length of the wall.
The ‘Dry as a Bone’ ensembles had not been used for several years. No need as no useful rain had fallen for that long. Things were grim, getting past the catastrophic stage…and by what all the Weather Forecasts were predicting, the wet weather ensembles wouldn’t be needed until at least mid-summer…some six months into the future.
In one corner, he bent down to unlock another Gun Cabinet, taking out the Breach Block, and an empty magazine and half a dozen bullets. He again closed and locked the door, replacing the key for this cabinet back above the door frame and retraced his steps into the Study.
He took a gun cloth and cleaning kit from one of the desk drawers and broke down the Breach Block to clean and oil it. He re-assembled the rifle expertly and loaded the magazine with the six bullets, placing the magazine into his pants pocket.
He walked out of the house, closing the front door behind him. The front door was never locked. The house dog barked its annoyance at being left inside, too stupid perhaps to flip out through the ‘doggy-door’ on the back door and trot around the veranda to sit beside its mate. He would figure it out by the time its master was driving away. That being the case, the small dog would either sit where it was at the edge of the veranda or make its way back inside where it was a lot cooler. To lay under the Study Desk waiting patiently for its master to return. The dog would never venture past that point out onto the vastness of the dirt. Once upon a time it would jump from the veranda edge to frolic gleefully in the depth of the green grass that was the Home Paddock…now it was just inches of dust and dirt.
He carefully leaned the rifle against the outside wall and sat on an old sofa that everyone sat on to have their early morning coffee. He wrestled into his elastic sided boots and plopped his broad-brimmed hat back on. He picked up the rifle, whistled to his two farm dogs who jumped into the cabin of the 4WD Ute as the man placed the rifle in a lockable cradle behind his head but well below the sill height of the rear window.
He eased slowly away from the beautiful old farmhouse. This and his fifty-thousand-acre farm and two other adjacent properties that trebled the holdings had been in the family by marriage for over one hundred years. The surname of Cowdrey almost an institution around these parts. The Prendergast family line was less known but still he was a prominent citizen in these parts. The Prendergast Holdings north of town was sold during the Millennium Drought around eighteen years ago. The sale still left the man a very sizable amount as an only child on the death of his mother and father not long after the sale had been finalised. Some say that old man Prendergast had deliberately steered into an oncoming Roadtrain…others poo-pooing the suggestion, but the rumours continued even to this day.
Archie had digitised the weather records that had been kept from the early days. This was the worst drought that had been recorded in those pages. Not a blade of grass. Water tanked in. His herd drastically reduced to minimise hay and grain trucked in that involved ever increasing prices. It seemed that they were trading in dust. They had a million tonnes of it at least!