P i a n d O
We set off to follow the course of the plastic gutter. The ground cover close to the half pipe was green and in some places slowed the water flow but did not stop it. In a few places, it disappeared under a cover of fallen twigs and leaves, only to emerge a little further on. A few times Frances squatted down to have a closer look at the way nature’s gift was being used.
“It’s been here for years.”
We went on for the best part of half a mile before coming into more re-growth where the trees had long since been cleared. Once more I followed the lead of Frances as we pushed through.
“Hold it,” she ordered, sharply. “This is the end of the line.”
She immediately stepped back two paces and bumped into me before I had the chance to stop.
“Careful. We should not be here.”
Not for one moment did I doubt that Frances was serious. The expression on her lovely face told me that. We were at the rear of the Consalvi property. This was the back paddock and through the bush I could see the Chambourcin vines. When I came across Greg Consalvi on patrol, it was the boundary running at right angles to the fence line we had now reached.
“Just carefully edge forward and look to the left,” Frances said in a whisper.
I did exactly as she told me and, what little I saw, was more than enough for me. “I’ll be buggered.”
“I wouldn’t bet much on our life expectancy if we were to be found here,” Frances whispered. I could see she was eager to move on and quickly.
“Agreed. Let’s go. We’ll head straight up to the top of the ridge.”
We hurried away, pushing through the undergrowth in our haste to be somewhere else. The crop of marijuana was thriving on the gently sloping rise. The elaborate conduit from the spring high above was contributing to the lush growth and, although I am no expert, the almost two acres of crop was close to harvest. The suspicions harbored by a large portion of the community were justified. I can’t really say it came as a surprise but, as a shock, yes.
The ground rose steadily toward the crest of the range. When we were back into the timber it was rockier and we slipped as stones rolled under our feet. Frances used her arms to balance as walking became difficult. I was holding the bag with the food and thermos flask close to my body.
We did not speak nor did we pause until the ground leveled off and we were at the top of the ridge. I think I was more puffed than Frances when we reached the top, far enough away from the Consalvi property to feel safe. When I regained my breath, I said that now I knew why Greg Consalvi carried a firearm and patrolled the perimeter fence.
“The shot that grazed Dad was meant to warn you off. There is big money riding on what they are doing.”
We found a spot to take a seat and I flung myself flat on my back to recover completely from our rush up the hill. Frances took time to look out across the Gulf, only about five miles from where we rested. Vineyards and farmland filled the landscape almost like a green sea. It was peaceful, giving no indication of the dangerous enterprise taking place among the orderly rows of grapes far below us.
“Ross Harper,” she gave me a look that almost asked me if that was my real name. “Until today, you’re the greatest mystery ever to have hit Harbour Vale. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot more I would like to know about you. What you’ve got me into today is another thing altogether.”
“I’m sorry it had to be brought to your attention this way,” I told Frances, not without a lot of sympathy.
“What do you mean?” she gave me a look of suspicious appraisal.
“It’s difficult to accept that someone you care about is involved in shifty work.”
“Ross, if you mean Greg and me, forget it. Greg has had a thing for me for a long time, but come on,” she rolled her eyes to the sky. “I would have to be fat and dress in black to be accepted by Mama Consalvi. Yes, Greg and I have been friends, sort of, since childhood. We’ve had some fun times and probably done a few stupid things. But there’s no way I could be serious about him.”