Page 18 Triple Disaster

                                 THE TRIPLE-DISASTER VACATION.                                        1-19-10

                                                                         ROY GARDE.

As is increasingly the case of late it was the two wives who got acquainted first and they then pulled in their husbands to make up a friendly foursome.

The two women had started talking – in the ladies’ restroom of the steak house where they were all having dinner – and were surprised and pleased to find that they were both teachers and taught nearly the self-same courses in State Colleges although their two States were a half a world apart. The shock of the coincidence lessened after a half-minute or so and allowed their interest to strengthen and soon they realized that they could, and would like to, talk shop and swap stories for hours on end.

Both couples had finished eating and were drinking coffee and so it wasn’t much of a task for them all to move to an empty booth that seated four.

The coincidence extended itself somewhat in that the men found out that they both worked for power companies but it stopped a bit short with them because Beth’s husband, Bill, worked as an accountant in the office of a California Power Station that was an hour’s commute from their home and Andrea’s husband, Harry, was a hands-on engineer in a Perth Power Station that he could see from the window of his living room and that he bicycled to every morning, or every afternoon when he had that shift.

When it got to be obvious that the two women weren’t going to drop their new found acquaintanceship any time soon Harry suggested, when he could get a word in, that they all go around to his favorite pub because he didn’t want to buy booze at restaurant prices and he didn’t much like the only draught beer that was on sale where they were.

They’d hardly sat down in a quiet corner in the new place before the two women went right back to comparing life styles and their student’s lamentably low – and constantly shrinking – propensities for studying, and their various curriculums and average numbers in classes and – well – on and on.

Harry went to the bar to get the drinks, when they’d all decided what they wanted, and because the place was nearly empty he returned a few minutes later with a tray that was loaded with two vodkas on the rocks and two pints of his favorite draught beer and two glasses of the house white wine.

The two men didn’t have much to talk about seeing that although they worked in the same industry their jobs were very different and the sports that they followed were close to being completely alien to each other – American football as compared to Australian rugby and baseball as compared to cricket – and so when the different seasons and the weather and the time difference in California and in Australia had been compared and discussed they fell silent and took to examining their drinks.

Bill seemed to be content with staying silent but Harry figured that seeing that they were in his pub in his city and in his country he should, as host and to keep his end up, get a conversation going so he jumped into the first pause that came up between the wives and he asked if the visiting couple had been to Sidney and Melbourne already or were they going east after seeing Perth.

“The first one,” Bill replied. “We stopped in both of those cities for a week each and this is our fourth day here in the west. We’re planning to spend the rest of the week here and then fly on to Hong Kong. We’ve got five weeks of vacation in all and so we’re flexible but we’re hoping to get to see Singapore too and maybe New Delhi.”

“Sounds good to me, mate. What have you seen here in Perth so far?”

“Well, we took a tour around the city on the morning of our second day and we checked out the local beaches that afternoon. Then, yesterday, we went out to Rottnest Island on the ferry to see the quakkas and our hotel fixed us up with a picnic basket to take with us.

“That trip was amazing. They’re cute and friendly, right? I guess you all go over there a lot?”

“I went once when the wife’s cousin from England came visiting and wanted to see them. Well, I didn’t have much of a bloody choice, really. Anyway, I liked the trip well enough but I’m not into fauna so much as flora. Apart from electrical plants nature’s plants are my main interest and that’s just as well because Andrea teaches biology – Oh! You know that already, right? Same as Beth. Is that enough of a coincidence for you or what? Bloody amazing, right? – well, it was because of our mutual interest that we met ten years ago. Our both being into botany, I mean. How it happened was we were both in the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne and we were eating in the cafeteria and I happened to hear her tell another woman at the next table that she was from Perth. Because of that I waited and I latched onto her as soon as she came out into the open again. I wanted to be able to check whether she was on her own or not and she was. Well, I introduced myself and we were both amazed that we’d never run into each other in Perth and it turned out that she’d gotten her degrees in a college in Melbourne and had been teaching there until recently when she’d switched to the one in Perth.

“Well, we struck it off right away and we got on so well, in fact, that we got married about four months after we met. Never a cross word between us ever since because I do what my old mother told me to do on the day that we got married – ‘Learn to say, “Yes dear.” a lot.’ She told me that and, as you’ve almost certainly found out for yourself, it works like a charm.

“Oh! Hello, we’re empty. I think it’s your turn to get them in, mate. A shot of vodka and a pint of dark for me, please. Ah . . . excuse me ladies . . . excuse me, can I butt in for a minute here? What are you girls having?”

When the glasses were all filled, and in situ, to end the new silence that had descended Harry turned to Bill again and asked, “Say there, mate, you know where the missus and me are going tomorrow?”

“Tell me.”

“It’s what you might call a safari but it’s a working trip that we look forward to going on all year long. Well now, let me tell you about it – we’ve got a Land Rover that we’ve fitted out for extended driving in rough country. It’s got an extra tank for petrol and another tank, a big one, under a cowl on the roof that holds a hundred and fifty gallons of water. Also, we’ve got air conditioning and refrigeration. We tow a trailer that’s got a four-wheeled ATV on it and we use that to drive out from the bases that we set up. The way we do that is the one who’s working on the site that’s farthest away drops off the other one and then goes on. D’you see? There’s also a petrol driven generator – it’s permanently mounted on the trailer – and we need that to run the air conditioner. We have to have AC ‘cause it’s bloody difficult to do precision work if sweat is constantly dripping off your nose. It also powers the lights and charges the batteries that run our other stuff all day.

“We have a canopy built into the Land Rover that functions as an extension and it lets us stretch out our sleeping pads under it. Also we’ve got – well – a whole shit-load more of other gear that lets us be completely independent for weeks on end. Every year I save up my vacation days – Andrea is a teacher and so she gets months of vacation, as you well know – and we drive north and east of here and we stay out for a month or more and our goal is to cover the whole of this territory. That is if we live long enough and stay chipper enough that is. Well then, what do you think of all that, mate?”

“Wow! That’s really something. Did you hear what he just told me, Beth? Hello! Are you with me here? Hello! Ah, yes, good – uh – sorry for breaking in like that – but did you hear what Harry just told me? Well, listen – ” He repeated most of the details that he’d just heard about the month’s safari to check out the flora, and then he said, – “How about that? If that’s not a dream vacation for you I don’t know what would be.”

His wife’s mouth hung wide open as what he was saying sank in.

She turned back to Andrea and asked, “Can that be true? How wonderful is that?”

The two women dismissed their men from consideration again and Andrea talked ten to the dozen as she related their itinerary for that year and Beth ‘Ooooh’ed’ and ‘Ahhhh’d’ as every new detail surfaced.

Harry and Bill started talking cars and ATVs and, especially, SUV’s – they both thought that they’d already adequately covered the survey trip that was set to begin the next day – so they were surprised when Andrea broke into their conversation to ask her husband if they could find a way to treat Bill and Beth like students of hers because Beth really did want to go with them. She went on to explain to the visitors that when she had particularly bright and keen students in her classes she’d invite them along for a few days to show them how it’s done.

Harry, ever pragmatic, “p’shaw’d” the idea and he sought to quash it entirely by saying, “Seeing that our Land Rover is always filled to the bloody roof with gear anybody who wants to come along with us has to hire a similarly equipped vehicle. Renting them is bloody expensive, mate, not to mention how much the extra insurance costs, which, let me tell you, is mandatory.”

“Do you know where we could hire one?” said Beth and Bill tried to not let it be obvious that he hoped for a direct ‘no’ as an answer as he looked at Harry.

“Jesus! You’re serious? Well, please allow me trot out some of the hard facts for you before you get too far into this thing.

“It gets bloody hot out there and we work through the heat from dawn to dusk and that’s for all seven days of the week.

“We eat breakfast before it gets light and we take sandwiches and a thermos with us for lunch and when it’s about to get dark we drive back to base and we eat dinner there and then spend hours writing up the day’s work. I do the numbers and the preserving and Andrea takes care of identifying and labeling whatever we collected that day. The only recreation that we get is an hour, if we’re lucky, before bedtime to drink some gin and listen to music or read, or some such.

“We’ve taken on an enormous project and the only way we have any hope at all of finishing it before we get too old is if we don’t allow anything or anybody to hold us up – in any way.

“What we’re doing is a comprehensive survey of everything in the botany line between latitudes 8 and 12 and from longitude 120 to the sea. That includes a whole bloody lot of square miles, that’s ‘miles’ not yards, and up to now we’ve done everything south of a line between Bullfinch and Watheroo which is about one tenth of the total and it’s taken us six years to get that far along although we’re always looking for, and finding, ways to cut corners to speed things up so as to keep our goal realistic.

“It wouldn’t be possible at all, of course, if a large percentage of the area wasn’t just sand or dirt and scrub but by any account it’s a huge bloody project for two people.

“There. Shall I go on?”

“No thank you,” said Bill without needing to think about it for a second, “I think that we’ll stay out of your way and let you get on with it.”

Not so his wife.

“Wait a minute, Bill, I get to vote too.” She looked at both Andrea and Harry and asked them, “You said that you sometimes take students with you. Tell us about that.”

“Well,” said Andrea, “as Harry just mentioned they have to be chipper and they have to have their own SUV with a GPS system in it so that they can find their way home after their time’s up. Also, they have to be fully self sufficient as far as supplies and water and gas are concerned and, most importantly, they have to do what we tell them to do at all times.”

“She means what ‘she’ tells them to do not ‘we’,” said Harry, “because of her PH.D she gets to run the show completely. Our trip wouldn’t be authenticated by the authorities if she didn’t have one and if she didn’t affirm that she’s going to control the whole thing. She trusts me to work on my own but only because she knows that I always flag anything that I’m not sure about. I carry a bunch of collapsible eight foot poles that have orange buntings on them and I stick one in the ground next to whatever it is and then get her to check it out when it’s convenient for her.”

“Well then, there’s hope for us yet,” said Beth. “Given that we can find an SUV to hire tomorrow, and then stock it properly, if you’ll let us come with you for whatever time is usual for your students it would really, really make this vacation trip into a dream one for me. Imagine it! A field trip in a nearly unexplored foreign country! And I won’t be a complete hindrance because I once worked on a project similar to this – much less ambitious, of course – back in my undergraduate days in college in California and I’ve taken groups on one-day field trips many times since then.”

“Wait up, mate,” said Harry, “that’s all very well for you but aren’t we forgetting something? Bill here said that he doesn’t want to go so that kind of puts the old kibosh on the whole bloody enterprise as far as you two cobbers are concerned. No?”

Beth didn’t so much as acknowledge his derisive query and she said, “Bill. Come with me please. Let’s take a little walk shall we?”

He dutifully got up and then followed her over to the door and they went out into the heat.

Andrea said to Harry, “I’ll give you long odds on who is going to win that little argument.”

“I wouldn’t take a hundred to one from you. I sure hope that they both know how to cook. Being Yanks they might only know how to handle popcorn and hot dogs and burgers. Let’s see how they cope with ‘roo steaks and racks of mutton chops, luv.”

“Come on now, Harry. Admit it. You won’t mind at all having her around for a while.  I saw your eyes light up when you first saw her and again every time that she leaned forward a bit when she was sitting across from you.”

“You’re wrong there luv, but – uh – well there is that to take into consideration, I suppose. She sure is a looker.”

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Before they set out Bill asked if he could grab a cab and get “some essentials for the trip” and when they gave him “an hour, tops” he asked the driver to take him to a liquor store where he bought three bottles of communal vodka and two of bourbon, for his own consumption, and a case of six bottles of the fancy Merlot that he’d tried and liked in Melbourne as a gift for his hosts. Then he told the cabby to take him to the nearest big bookstore where he bought the novel ‘The Conversation’ which he’d never read because of its dauntingly off-putting size and now wanted because of its dauntingly off-putting size.

Harry showed Bill on a map what their route would be up until they ran out of roads and had to head across country – at which time their GPS in conjunction with their compasses would be their only guides – to familiarize him in general with the area and because he’d need to know how to get back to town when they split up in three or four days. He also advised Beth that as navigator she should take note of any landmarks as they went along – just in case.

They convoyed their way east on a main road and turned north when they got to Merredin and they kept going until they got to Bencubbin where they spent the night in a motel that had secure parking.

It was their last chance to purchase creature comforts and they all ate well and took long showers and tried to store up memories of what sleeping in a real bed feels like.

Early the next morning they followed smaller and smaller roads north until there were none left to follow and then they headed north by northeast.

Andrea was indeed the one who made all the important decisions and she’d long decided that she wanted to go a hundred miles north of their last year’s base – in the area of the desert where their current survey was being done – and make a new base there and then cover the land in a circle that had a radius of fifty miles, which would nicely overlap their previous years effort, and then ‘square the circle’ on their last few days.

They didn’t make good time because they were forced to keep to a speed that was only a bit faster than walking and most of the driving was tedious indeed so when they got to the base site of the year before they stopped there for the night.

Harry rigged their canopy and got out some of the gear and Andrea did the cooking for them all seeing that the rookies had to get accustomed to the methods and routines and when Bill dug out two of his bottles of vodka and a bottle of Merlot they made a party of it and before they knew it they all got to be far too drunk to even think about rigging Bill and Beth’s canopy and so it was suggested to them that they sleep on the front seats of the two SUVs.

Harry and Andrea barely managed to unroll their sleeping bags and get into them on the sand in the ‘sleeping alcove.’

Harry was the only one who was seriously hung over in the morning and he showed it by waking them all up with his impressive dry-heaving. However, the others were all somewhat subdued and although none of them wanted to eat they forced down some bread and omelet and drank lots of coffee and then got on with their journey.

Andrea and Harry always shared the driving chore in their SUV and when it got to be around three o’clock Andrea was driving and Harry had just told her that their GPS was showing them that they were less than ten miles from the proposed new base site when disaster struck.

Because she’d had to stick her head out of the window often to see where she was going whenever dust covered up the windscreen – there was so much dust and dirt billowing around that when the wind was blowing directly at them it sometimes completely overwhelmed the window washer and wipers – she’d had to slip the catch of her seat belt to get enough freedom of movement to be able to lean out far enough.

The maneuvering around rocks and sand piles was almost constant and consequently every stretch of relatively flat ground that came along was greeted with a shout of relief and she’d speed up to take advantage of it.

She had accelerated up to 40 mph on one such stretch and neither she nor anyone else could have known that although the sand and dirt looked level and safe in front of them the flat rock that was buried there partially veered off and away from their intended path and what it left in its place was only loose sand. When they got to that part the passenger-side wheels stayed on the edge of the rock but the driver’s side wheels had no support and the Land Rover tipped onto its side and then it, and the trailer carrying the ATV and the auxiliary engine, rolled and tumbled down the slope.

His seat belt kept Harry from serious harm but because Andrea wasn’t wearing hers she got thrown against the already shattered windscreen and her upper body went on through and consequently the rolling of the vehicle churned her in broken metal and glass and dirt and rocks.

When a rock outcrop stopped them from rolling any further the trailer ‘caught up’ with the SUV and, because it had broken free from its hitch early on but was still attached by a safety chain, the extra couple of feet of play allowed it to go over the top and then the ATV that had been tied to it broke free and went off to one side but the generator came straight down and it mashed Andrea’s head as thoroughly as if it had been a ripe melon.

Harry lost consciousness and that was partially due to the fact that he didn’t want to deal with the horror of what he’d been forced to witness.

Bill was driving the rented Land Rover and was a hundred feet behind when he was horrified to see their lead vehicle go hurtling down a slope. He had driven the whole way because when, after much badgering, Beth had reluctantly agreed to take over from him she did so for only a few minutes and then, after experiencing for herself the mad scrambling that was required to stay in the tracks and keep up, she braked to a halt and got out and walked around to the passenger side and waited there, without saying a word, until he moved back into the driver’s seat.

He stopped well short of the treacherous, now half-exposed, rock and the two of them got out of their SUV and slipped and slid their way down to the smashed vehicle.

They both saw at once that Andrea was very, very dead already and so they left her body where it was, partially under the auxiliary motor, to work together to get Harry out of the tangled wreck.

They laid him on the ground and he came too when they splashed water onto his face and seemed to be all right as far as broken bones were concerned but was too groggy to stand up so they put one blanket underneath him and another one over him and then they left him so that he was facing away from the carnage.

It was grisly work getting Andrea free but, as often happens in life, knowing that they had to do the disagreeable job gave them the strength to get through it and they were eventually able to lay her out on the ground too and they covered her completely with a sheet that had been with the blankets that they’d used to cover Harry.

As soon as they’d done that they both had to sit down because their legs wouldn’t support them any longer and then they both did some gasping for breath, in shock, and Jane started in on doing a whole lot of crying.

Bill recovered first and he walked back up to their vehicle and took out a bottle of bourbon. He took a good shot of it and then carried it back to his wife who drank some gratefully even though she didn’t much care for liquor in general and cared even less for raw bourbon.

When they heard Harry stop sobbing and begin calling out semi-rational questions they took the bottle over to him and they made him take a stiff drink from it before they answered his main question.

After a decent interval, when his sobbing had lessened and he’d gotten it set in his mind, Bill tried asking Harry for some practical advice as to how best deal with their situation but he just glared at him for a second and then went right back into private despair so Bill decided that the best thing to do was to start setting up camp where they were.

His rented SUV also had an extension canopy built in and he kept worrying it until he learned how to deploy it, and the side wall nets, into a kind of sleeping alcove and then he searched out their two rolled up sleeping bags and laid them out inside it.

He looked through their stores and when he located the butane stove he experimented until he got it working and he left it on low. Then he located the same type of collapsible table that he’d seen Harry use the night before and he set it up with its two chairs. He had been the one who’d packed the food that they’d bought and so he knew where to find a large can of beef stew and another of French-cut green beans and he opened them both. There were only two dinner plates so he made use of a smaller one and, full of hope, he set three places complete with utensils.

After doing all that he swapped places with his wife, who, of course, had stayed close to Harry who would have drunk all that was left in the bottle of bourbon if she’d let him.

Bill gave up trying to persuade him to come to the table to eat something after a few minutes of getting nothing but snarling requests that he was to, “Leave me alone and go fuck yourself, you useless bloody Yankee  arsehole.”

When Beth called down that dinner was ready he tried to help Harry get up off the ground but he wanted nothing to do with food and he handed him another tirade of colorful cussing and was consequently allowed to stay where he was.

Just before it started to get dark Harry managed to get out the only semi-polite request that he’d given to Bill since he’d regained consciousness and it was, “Hey, go and bring me some more of this Yankee shit, will you? You Yanks may know how to do a whole lot of bloody marvelous things but you sure as Jesus Saves don’t know how to make bloody whiskey. Although, truth be told, I think that I’m beginning to get the hang of the bloody awful stuff.”

Bill dutifully went and got the bottle – he figured that any man who’d experienced what Harry just had should be indulged fully – but when he got back with it he found that he’d passed out so he rigged a piece of broken cowling over him and then went over and placed other pieces of the wreck over and around Andrea’s body – he didn’t know why he did it exactly but he’d heard about roving bands of feral dogs and he wasn’t completely sure whether kangaroos ate meat or not – and then he went back up and had to do some serious work on the bottle himself before he could eat anything.

Harry woke them both up in the morning by throwing up so loudly that they ran down to him because they figured that he was harming himself.

“This Yankee shit of yours tastes bad going down and tastes worse coming up,” he complained when the heaving had lessened somewhat. When he could stand up unsupported he insisted on looking at his wife’s body and when Bill had reluctantly uncovered it for him he collapsed again and then did what the Irish call ‘keening’ as he lay on his back in the dirt.

Bill covered the body up again and Beth went up to make breakfast and after a while she brought it to the men in the form of clumsily put together sandwiches along with mugs of coffee. Again Harry wouldn’t so much as look at the food but he did drink some of the coffee.

Bill decided to give him until noon to get himself together but knew that after that he’d have to be brought back to the land of the living because many decisions had to be made and not least was what to do about poor Andrea seeing that the temperature would be over a 100 degrees by then and the thought of leaving her where she was for much longer in that heat was insupportable.

Beth cooked up another beef stew for lunch and then she, cleverly, brought it down in a pot, with chunks of bread and three spoons, for communal eating.  They were both highly relieved when the smell of it got through to Harry and made him sit up. The two of them started in on eating and soon he came over to where they were sitting and he pulled over a box to sit on and then accepted the spoon that she offered. He took his turn dipping it into the pot and he took up a hunk of bread but he didn’t lift his eyes to meet theirs throughout the meal.

When Beth had taken the pot and spoons away to be washed – she had assumed her domestic role submissively because she didn’t know what else to do and thinking about Harry’s enormous hurt scared her so she was trying to occupy her mind by doing all the chores – Harry said to Bill, “You know something, mate, it doesn’t much matter to me where they bury me when I’m dead but Andrea’s family has lived in Perth for generations and they have a big plot reserved for themselves in a place that’s just outside the city and I know that she’d like to be buried there. So would her family, of course.”

He did some more sobbing and then he said, “I’ve been thinking about it and seeing that we’re only two days away from Bencubbin what I want to do is to make up a body bag and a bier for her and take her with us. When we get there we can go to the undertaker and get them to put her in a casket and they’ll transport her the rest of the way.

“What do you think, mate?”

“Sure. Of course. Whatever you say. What will you use for the – uh – the body bag?”

“I’ve already thought that out too. We can use two plastic garbage bags and then duct tape them together in the middle. I can fashion a make-use bier for her out of some of the pieces of the trailer – I made the trailer so it stands to bloody reason that I know how to take it apart again – and then we can tie the whole thing to the rack on top of your Land Rover. Problem is that by the time we get to Bencubbin it will be more than three days since the – uh, since it happened – and in this heat – well, you know as well as I do that it’ll be bloody rough for all of us. But I sure would like to do this, mate. For her and for her family, you know? What do you say?”

“Of course. Goes without saying. When do you want to start?”

“Right this bloody minute, mate, and – you know what Yank? – thanks a million.”

– – – – –

“Let’s go then. I’ll find the box of garbage bags and if you’ll be good enough to – Jesus – to fit them on her and then tape them together I’ll take the trailer apart for the lengths of angle iron that we’ll need. OK?”

When he was fashioning the bier Bill and Beth, to get out of his way, and not incidentally, to stay out of his way, started in on removing all of the contents of the smashed up SUV and then they spread them out on the ground to let Harry decide what he wanted to salvage.

All of the electronic gear was in shambles and clearly had to be written off as a total loss.

The water tank that had been on the roof had gotten smashed but both fuel tanks had survived intact. However, fuel wasn’t their problem nor was water seeing that they’d brought their own supply and so when they found three cases of it, each containing three one-gallon plastic bottles, that were sitting nicely in line in a well under the floor in the back that had probably been made for them, they left them where they were.

They left the food supplies where they were too – they were in cleverly designed cabinets similar to what sailboats have in their cabins – because food wasn’t their problem either. They forced open the smashed refrigerator and what didn’t look spoiled already they transferred to the one in their own SUV.

They put the personal items like clothing and cosmetics and books and toiletries to one side so that Harry could deal with them when he was ready.

They found two leather-bound boxes that were securely anchored. One of them was shaped like a violin case and inside, Chicago gangster style, was an old lever-action rifle along with a box of bullets for it and also one of those stainless steel automatic pistols that look lethal and intriguing at the same time and there was a box of bullets for that too. The other box had three cameras in it that were sitting in form-fitting foam rubber and two of them were digital and highly complicated and the other one was an old Olympus 35 with a flash.

There were piles of sample cases and envelopes and vials and a microscope and writing materials and ledgers, and – on and on – and when they’d emptied nearly everything out of the vehicle it was difficult for them to believe that all of it could possibly have been packed inside.

It was close to getting dark again before Harry finished getting the bier ready and when it was done he called to Bill and together they put Andrea’s body, which was already in the joined up plastic bags, inside it and then closed it up and covered it and left it on top of the wreck to await loading in the morning.

When Harry came into the alcove he went straight to the bourbon bottle and he poured himself a hefty amount in a water glass without asking permission.

He was trying to look ‘chipper’ and a large swallow of whiskey helped him with that but neither of them had ever seen such deep-set despair in a person’s eyes before.

He cleared his throat and then said, “I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you both for being so churlish with you earlier. I think that I was blaming you for – for what happened – but when I came to my senses I realized that far from it being your fault if you hadn’t been along I would probably be dead now too, or soon would be. I might have never been able to get out of the wreck on my own and if I had managed to do so I think that I would have lost my mind if I’d been here alone with – uh – with Andrea looking like that. All smashed up.”

He tried hard to not crumble again and then he went out and away with his glass of bourbon and he didn’t come back for an hour and then it was to pour more whiskey.

“One thing is certain” he said when they’d eaten dinner and had drunk another  bottle of Bill’s Merlot with it, “we have to leave here as soon as it’s light enough. I saw that you’ve kindly emptied the wreck and so it won’t take much time in the morning for me to load up what I want to take with us and then add whatever I can find space for.

“We won’t need any of the canned food stores nor the sample cases and stuff like that so I’ll put them back inside and I’ll come back for them sometime in the future.

“Well, I think I’ll try to get some sleep now if I can so if it’s all right with you I’ll lie down on the front seat in there.”

“Sure. Of course. Go ahead. I’ll get you a blanket and we’ll stay quiet. We’ve both got books that we want to read. Right Beth?”

“Yes. Exactly. If you need anything at all Harry, just call out. You hear? Anything at all.”

He took a half full glass of bourbon with him.

When Harry got up, just after dawn, and had walked away fifty feet to do some retching he came back and woke them up and they got busy rolling up their sleeping bags and then loading everything and then taking up the netting and making the canopy disappear into the overhead while Harry went down and sorted out his stores and equipment.

Beth busied herself with getting breakfast while the two men took the bier off the wreck’s roof and then up the slope and then on top of the SUV. When they’d secured it they rigged a sunshade for it using another sheet that they raised a little by using short branches that they’d broken off some shrubs.

They made better time on their way back because they could follow their old tracks and they felt a bit safer because of it which let them speed up a little. The two men spelled each other behind the wheel – they stopped every half hour or so to change seats – and they made good time and got to within ten miles of Harry and Andrea’s old central site before the second disaster of the trip struck.

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Harry was driving at the time and had worked up to a good speed when there came a loud, nasty, ominous scrape and then a crack from underneath.

It shouldn’t have happened by all logic because both SUV’s had passed that way before and had done so unscathed but whether it was because they were loaded down with an extra 600 pounds, or so, or because they’d been going in the opposite direction and the rock was shaped in a way that had allowed passage over it only one way or because they were going faster than before, or whatever, everybody on board knew that no matter what the reason for it was it meant big trouble for them.

Harry braked hard and he switched the engine off as soon as the brakes didn’t need its assistance anymore. They got out and looked underneath and they saw that the crankcase cover had a nasty L shaped tear in it. As they looked on the last of the car’s engine oil ran out and into the sand.

Beth was surprised to hear her husband add earthy cuss words – some of them truly vile and that that she hadn’t known that he was capable of using – to Harry’s more colorful, more inventive and somewhat less abrasive ones that – strangely, she thought – never invoked his mother nor anyone else’s.

They all knew one thing for sure and that was that their stopping place for the night had picked itself.

They rigged the canopy and its netting walls and then they set up the little table and its two chairs and a box for the needed third seat.

Bill mustered the last of his vodka and bourbon supplies and the men tried to not do any more cussing and the woman made herself not let out a single word of complaint about anything in the whole world as they joined forces to empty all the bottles.

An hour or so after it got dark – they’d lit a Kincaid lantern to save their battery – Harry taught both of the bloody foreigners all the words of Waltzing Matilda and then he’d intended to do the same with some rugby songs but he had to give up on that almost as soon as he’d started because he realized that while they were witty, for the most part, they were all far too crude for use in front of a woman and, besides that, as he was running them through his head, beforehand, he was surprised and unhappy to realize that few of the verses and none of the choruses could stand analysis on the logical front.

Harry woke everybody up with what they were getting to suspect was his customary spectacular way of greeting the day after over-imbibing the night before and none of them felt very ‘chipper’, which was fast becoming a favorite Aussie word for them seeing that it is so easily adopted.

Harry needed water to flush out his system and he went looking for the cases of it that he’d had in his own Land Rover. When he couldn’t find them he asked Bill where he’d put them and he had to tell him that they’d decided that seeing that they figured that they’d be in Bencubbin in a couple of days and seeing that space was at a premium they’d left it back at the wreck.

When Harry heard that his lips tightened and, not trusting himself to stay civil in face of such basically inane behavior in a desert, he took up a shovel and wandered off to find a private spot to converse with nature and to do some inventive cussing about guests in general and Yankee guests in particular.

Bill and Beth sensed that they’d done something stupid but excused themselves with shrugs that said, “What do we know? What do you expect? We’re just tourists way out of our depth.”

That aside, they knew that Harry was in charge and that he would make the decisions but they worried about that too because he was clearly still in mourning and wasn’t volunteering any advice nor telling them what he had in mind as to the immediate future.

They knew already that it was way too far to walk to the nearest town, which was called Bencubbin, and that no purpose would be served now by making for the site that they’d been heading for. The plain truth was that the place where they were at right then was every bit as good as any other one for a hundred miles around. There was no water here nor there and ‘there’ was in any direction that anyone cared to point a finger. So, what to do? They didn’t have the slightest idea and they both knew it.

The horrible stink of putrefaction got to be too strong to be ignored any more once the sun climbed in the sky again the next morning but knowing that it was Andrea who was causing it didn’t help as far as motivation to do something permanent about it was concerned.

Nevertheless, it had to be done and it had to be done right then and so, finally and reluctantly because he really did want to bury her in her family plot, Harry accepted the inevitable and he stood up and asked Bill if he’d help him with the digging and then he pointed to some high ground that was a hundred yards away. He said that he’d get Andrea out of her bier and carry her himself and would Bill be good enough to bring the shovel.

When they got going Beth followed ten steps behind, sobbing the whole way.

When the job was done Harry told them that neither he nor Andrea had been religious but if they wanted to say something they could go ahead and do it. Both Beth and Bill decided on a moment of silence – they hardly knew her, after all – and when that was over Harry asked if they’d be kind enough to leave him alone for a while.

When they looked back, as they were making their way down to the SUV, they saw that he’d begun to gather heavy stones, which he was putting on the grave.

From the shelter of their canopy they saw him keep at it until it was, evidently, completely covered and then they saw him sit on the ground at the head of the pile and they could see his shoulders shaking as he wept.

Bill guessed that the one big thing that had to be done right away was an immediate inventory of their food and water supplies and so they got on with making a complete list.

Harry didn’t come back for lunch but at around three in the afternoon he walked back to them and he saw the list that they’d made sitting on the table.

He read it and applauded their initiative and then he sat down and drew up a plan for the strict rationing of supplies that would start at once. He didn’t know in which category to put the Merlot but he was dubious about counting it on the plus side because he figured that the alcohol in it would make the imbiber need more water in the long run. “Perhaps it can be used to cook with, that is, if we ever catch anything to cook.”

Bill and Beth tried hard to not think about the three cases of bottled water as he spoke.

Only Harry appreciated the irony present in the fact that their GPS told them exactly where they were, to within ten feet or so, but they had no way of passing that information onto anybody else seeing that the rented SUV didn’t have any of the communication gear that Harry had put into his own vehicle.

He showed them on a map where they were – around 100 miles from the nearest water, which was itself a lake that he knew for a fact could only sometimes provide drinkable water – and he also showed them where they were relative to the site of the crash.

He depressed them further when he told them that nobody, not his friends nor family nor any officials, would come looking for him for at least two months seeing that they’d been doing their disappearing act for years and had always shown up more or less on time and in fairly good health.

When Harry had quieted down some back at the grave, after he’d piled the rocks on it to make it safe from wandering bands of dingoes and other cadaver eating animals which was a fact that he didn’t think that guests in his country needed to know about, he’d made a solemn promise to Andrea that he’d come back for her soon and after that, logically, he’d had to push aside his despair and think up what would be the best way to make sure that he could keep his promise.

He’d decided that before telling Bill and Beth what his plan was he had to first get them into the correct frame of mind relative to their desperate situation and know that they weren’t merely on a vacation on which something drastic and unpleasant had happened but would soon be over. He knew that getting them convinced of the dire straits that they were in was essential because their full co-operation was necessary to make his plan have even a half chance of working.

His reason for that was that he knew that what he was proposing would, at first sight, appear to them to be against logic and also too difficult a thing to bring off but he was convinced that it was the only plan that would work if they wanted to get out of there alive.

He was able to start their indoctrination just before it got to be dinnertime.

Beth knew that she had to co-ordinate with him so she asked him if what she planned to make for their dinner that night was OK. She said that she was thinking of opening a can of chicken stew and boiling up a cup of rice to go with it.

Harry said, “Go ahead but hear this first – if you do that then the two cups of water that you’ll need for the rice will have to come out of our water rations for tomorrow. As it is, there’ll only be one cup-full in the morning for each of us and another one at sunset.  Not a drop more, and even at that we’ll only have enough for three days. That’s the minimum amount needed to keep our various organs functioning and less would be counter-productive because it would leave us too weak to do much worthwhile work or able to do enough walking.

“Oh yes, in that same vein, I want to advise you that none of us will be doing much in the way of urinating for a while, after tomorrow morning, because we’ll all sweat so much through the day that there’ll be no fluid left for our kidneys to deal with in the normal way.

 “So, please remember that it’s all important that you both re-examine your life-long interaction with water and the consumption of it. Out here water is life, literally. It’s precious and it’s very scarce.

“Now, let me tell you what I want to do and what, I’m afraid, is also what we bloody well have to do if we want to get back to Perth still on our feet.

“We’re going back to the wreck. Yes. You heard right. It will take us three full days to get back there and we have around fifteen cups of water left which is enough for only two and a half days and that includes the rest of this one. Before I tell you why we have to go back let me tell you what getting there will entail.

“We’ll have to walk twenty-two bloody miles every day to get there, it’s close to seventy miles away, and in this heat – it often gets up to 35 degrees out here, that’s, well, I forget what it would be in your Fahrenheit but it’s way over a hundred – and, remembering how difficult the terrain is, what we’re going to have to do is what is called, in the army, a ‘forced march.’ Our lives will depend on our meeting the twenty-two mile goal before nightfall on all three days.

“We’ll have to carefully select the gear that we’ll need to carry with us, the absolute minimum, and that will include a blanket and a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag. We’ll all have to wear long pants and a shirt with long sleeves and a hat, of course, and a face net because the flies are desperate for moisture too and good boots and thick socks. Also be sure to take plenty of repellant and – uh, let’s see, what else? – ah yes, sunglasses. I’ll split the food that we’ll need into three parts that we’ll carry in our back packs and we’ll all have water flasks but there’s to be no drinking of it until I say so and that’ll be with breakfast and dinner only.

“Now. I guess you want to ask, ‘Why do we all have to go all the way back to the wreck?’

“Well, I’ll tell you. There are several good reasons.

“First, we are way more than three days walk from the nearest town and so we’d never bloody-well make it with the amount of water that we have left.

“Second, we know that there’s plenty of water there. Nine bloody gallons of it!

“Third, the only thing wrong with this here Land Rover is that its crank case/sump cover is gashed and we could, at a pinch, take it off and hammer the gash closed and then seal it with something and I would have done that already except for one big problem – we don’t have any oil to replace what ran out. It needs eight quarts, which is, of course, two gallons and all that we have here, in the toolbox, is the quart that was intended for topping up purposes. Well now, you’ll remember that the engine of the wreck is full of oil and that its crank case cover is intact. So, what we’re going to do is this – I’m going to take the exact measurements of this busted cover and make a drawing of its – uh, contours – and when we get to the other one I’ll check to see if they match exactly and if they do I’ll take it off – after draining the oil into containers, of course, – and we’ll bring it back here and – well – Bob’s your bloody uncle.

“The reason why we all have to go together is two fold – one, there’s not enough water to leave one of you here to wait for us to get back, and anyway doing that would limit our options because something might come up that would necessitate a change of plans – and two, we’ll need all three of us to carry the cover back here along with the oil and the water.

“The chances of the other cover being the right size are pretty good. I know that they’re both V8s and the tag on this one says that the engine was made in the UK and so was mine but even so you just can’t be sure of anything these days because there’s so much of what they call ‘out-sourcing’ going on that either or both of the engines could have been made in Japan or some place else like – well – Canada, or even Mexico. It won’t matter what type of threads they have, metric or BSW, because even if they’re different we have a full set of both.

“Now, the next thing. If the covers are mismatched then there’d be no point in walking back here with the oil because even if we managed to seal this one up somehow there’s rugged ground between here and Bebcubbin, as you well know, and driving with a repaired crankcase cover would be like walking on eggs and that would be for close to a hundred miles, right?

“Also, if the other cover does turn out to be useless, well, we’ll have plenty of water while we decide on a new plan. OK?”

“I guess so,” said Bill, “ ‘sounds like a plan to me’ as kids say nowadays. When are we going to start?”

“It’s way too late to start to day, of course, and I have to make the drawing of the cover so why don’t you two start getting your gear together while it’s still light and that way we’ll be ready for an early start tomorrow?”

When they were alone Bill whispered to Beth that she should hurry with her packing because this was the first time that they’d had a chance to make love since they’d left the Bencubbin motel. She was very aware of that too and she was so eager to get some for herself that she whispered right back that they should go right then and that they could easily pack later by the light of the Kincaid lantern.

They checked to see that Harry was still safely underneath the SUV with his ruler and a pad and pencil and then they wandered off until they found a dune that would shield them from his sight and they got on with it.

She was extra pleased at the chance to legitimately assuage her libido because although she hadn’t been drawn to Harry when she first met him – indeed she remembered feeling sorry for the diminutive Andrea, or any woman, for having to suffer through taking his weight on top of her regularly because he was over six feet tall and around 250 pounds which was close to being twice her weight – but her sorrow for his tremendous loss had wiped away trivial considerations and she’d automatically accepted him into her circle of care. Also, to complicate matters no end, after hearing him explain how their lives were in very real danger and then seeing how he’d coped and planned so well, she’d found that she got a tingling feeling across her shoulders and upper back whenever he came within ten feet of her. She’d heard about the phenomenon before – an automatic response to the strongest member of a pack or a tribe – but she was surprised to find that, when he got closer to her than ten feet, the tingling sensation would spread down her front too and she felt pulling sensations and twinges at her center and she had to suppress the little thrusting movement that her hips wanted to make in his direction. That was something that she’d never experienced before in her entire life and it was scary while being exciting at the same time.

She didn’t have to fake enthusiasm for Bill when they were lying down behind the sand dune even though his sweat was dripping and/or running down onto her at the same time that her own sweat was pouring out from every pore and every drop of moisture attracted and retained the disturbed sand and dirt particles that added themselves to the ones that had already infiltrated just about every nook and cranny of her body. When he entered her for real she felt a whole lot of sand and dirt and grass, and, she guessed, perhaps a few lizards and a vole or two, get pushed deep into her body.

However, her own built-up needs saw to it that she willingly and enthusiastically accepted anything and everything that he could summon up for her and so, far from having to force groans and moans and gasps and the rest of it that she often had to do when he was the only one who was enjoying the act, she could, and did, let them happen naturally but she had to stifle the shouts of joy that he generated in her because Harry was only just outside normal hearing range.

“Wow!” said Bill, when he’d recovered from being given the extra degree of delight that comes when the woman who a guy is familiar with cooperates far more enthusiastically than usual, “We must do in it in the sand and dirt more often, babe. Hell! Let’s build a house out here, shall we?”

She was content in that his efforts had served her fundamentally, and because of that she was confident that she wouldn’t betray herself the next time that Harry came near her, but she was already wondering how she could get the irritating grains of sand and bits of dirt and whatever else out of her seeing that a douche followed by a shower was completely out of the question.

They got dressed and tried to look casual as they walked back to the SUV but her problem stopped being theoretical before they’d gotten half way to it because she felt severe irritation inside herself and she knew that she’d have to do something drastic to solve her problem because if a walk of fifty feet hurt her this much she wouldn’t be able to even think of walking twenty-odd miles the next day.

She got on with her usual chores to prepare dinner for them all but the irritating foreign substances kept her aware of her problem and it wasn’t until Bill hazarded, “Harry. What say we drink the last bottle of merlot?” and was told, “No way, mate. It would make us as thirsty as hell tomorrow morning.” did she know how to solve her dilemma.

When it was time to sleep she chose a spot for herself that was near the flap in the netting and when they were all in their sleeping bags she stayed awake and by isolating each man’s snores she got to be able to recognize each one’s cadence and when she was sure that they were both deep into the REM phase she crept out and she took up the wine bottle and a corkscrew and a flashlight from where she’d cached them earlier and she went back to the dune where she had been injected with the sand in the first place.

She opened the bottle and then she lay down on the slope so that her head was lower than her hips and she experimented until she’d mastered the art of getting the bottle’s neck inside herself without spilling much of the wine and then she pushed it in as far as it would go.

The result wasn’t up to much because there was no air in there that could replace the wine in the bottle and allow it to flow so she pushed one of her fingers in at the side of the bottle’s neck and succeeded in getting a jet of wine to pour into her and she then pulled the bottle out and away and then used her internal muscles in an attempt to swish around what was in her and when she figured that it was enough she got up and then squatted and let it pour back out and into the sand.

She was thankful to know that she’d found a way to solve her problem and she laid back down and did the same thing again but as she was about to push her finger in she thought to herself, “Hold on here. It will work just as well if I push it in along the top,” and she did that and it was a mistake as far as efficiency was concerned but a howling success from the pleasure aspect.

She rapidly got a working system going and between caressing her clitoris and receiving a column of wine that felt like a solid rod, when she’d learned how to control the air intake properly, and had found out how to force the wine back up and into the bottle for further use, the novelty of it let her give herself two orgasms before she thought it was time to take a break and empty herself out again and one more the next time around and another one as she used the last of the wine.

She buried the bottle and walked back to the SUV and on the way she felt ashamed because she knew that she’d just mentally cuckolded Bill in that during all of her orgasms she’d phantasized that it was Harry who was with her and it had progressed to the point where she’d actually felt his heavy body on top of her the last few times.

When Harry woke everybody up in the morning they put their equipment together and Beth made breakfast for them all. Bill took care of clearing up afterwards which left her free to go behind the SUV, for privacy, and she squatted and controlled her urine flow to be able to flush her lower belly and her thighs and center with it. She knew how seriously her possible future discomfit could mess up the journey for them all so she used some of the precious water ration that she’d saved to wash her more tender parts and then she rubbed lotion into the whole area.

When she rejoined the men she saw that they’d already housed the canopy and its netting and had closed the windows and locked all of the doors against blowing sand.

They set off to the northeast in file so that only one of them would have to pick places to put his or her feet and the idea was that the person in the lead would swap places regularly with the others.

They eventually came up to and passed a large, dried up and mineral-encrusted, lake that, Harry told them, filled with water only after heavy rains as did all of the other ones in the area. After passing the once and future lake all that they saw for the rest of the day were sand dunes and shrubs and hummock and mulga grass except for several geckos and other lizards and what Harry named to be a Great Desert Skink. He told them that there were many other animals like goannas and feral cats and foxes but they rarely let themselves be seen and that there were also many mice and voles that hid underground during the day to escape the heat.

They rested for an hour at around three in the afternoon in the shade of a lone eucalyptus tree – Harry said that they could afford to do so because they’d made good time up to then – but he wouldn’t let them drink any of their water. He told them that they’d rapidly lose whatever they drank because their bodies would use it to try to cool itself down by sweating and afterwards they’d be in the same position as far as hydration was concerned.

It was at that point that his two ‘guests’ got to fully understand what thirst was and the importance of the proper conservation of every drop of water while in a desert. It was difficult for them because it was the first time in their sheltered lives that they’d ever been really thirsty just as they’d never experienced real hunger.

They went on, slogging away at putting one foot in front of the other for the rest of the afternoon, and Harry picked a spot to spend the night and he did most of the preparations for dinner because it was easier to get on with it himself than it would have been to direct the others.

When they were ready to eat he took charge of the water ration distribution and explained the best way to drink it to get maximum benefit.

They both watched his every move and when they saw how he made little depressions in the sand for his buttocks to fit in and then made a backrest out of his backpack they did the exact same things.

After eating they scrubbed out their mess cans with sand and then wiped them with a paper towel and then they returned to the fire and sat around it and let Harry do most of the talking. He told about some of the things that he had come up against in his expeditions over the years and some of it was of interest only to Beth – like when he got around to telling them about once finding a completely new species of grass and like when he listed other rare grasses and lichen, etc, that he and his wife had located.

Beth was relieved to find out that her libido was so low, due to the combination of all of the appeasing that it had been given recently by Bill and by herself with the aid of the bottle of Merlot – she’d already determined that that wine, from then on, was going to be her favorite – and through being exhausted from the hike in the heat, that she felt not even one tingle despite being just a few feet from Harry for around two hours as they sat around the fire. But then, when she was feeling secure and pleased with herself for having been so clever, he used her shoulder for balance as he got up off the ground and, with his touch, she knew from the unmistakable reaction that she got at her center that her attraction for him hadn’t retreated very far and was going to make trouble for her in the not so distant future.

The next day was pretty much like the first one except that both Beth and Bill felt fitter, after they’d worked out their little cramps, and could cope better.

They walked for a while along what Harry called a Gibber plain, which was mostly loose pebbles, and he said that after heavy rain the whole area would get to be covered with wild flowers.

There was no shade anywhere along their route that day and so there was no point in resting and so they kept moving from sun up to just before sun down.

Again Harry was allowed to do some reminiscing after their evening meal and when it got to be necessary to mention Andrea’s name that time he didn’t try to avoid doing so.

Beth began to feel distinct twinges again in her center whenever Harry’s relative position to hers changed for the worse – although, “for the better,” was what her body was telling her.

She was also disconcerted to see that Bill was getting irritable – above and apart from his exhaustion – which was a sure sign that he wanted her to be a wife for him again. They both knew that he’d have to wait because there was zero privacy obtainable by day and it would be sleazy to try anything by night with Bill being so close.

They drank the last of their water the next morning, which was as good an incentive as there is to get them to walk non-stop over the last twenty odd miles that separated them from the wreck and its ample supply.

They got there an hour before sun down and after rousting out one of the gallon jugs of water, and drinking all that they wanted for once, Beth got on with dinner and Bill and Harry got under the wreck and she heard them whooping with joy a little later and knew from that that the sump cover would serve.

That night and through the next morning she saw that Bill had gotten so obviously antsy that it became imperative, besides being her wifely duty, to help him out, so, when Harry was taking the bolts out under the Land Rover after they’d drained all of the oil into containers, she gave him the signal that all couples develop to indicate to each other that the game’s afoot. They went and sat behind the busted up ATV so that Harry wouldn’t be able to see them from where he was but because there was the distinct possibility that he could pop out at any minute for any one of a dozen reasons and also, not incidentally, because she was reluctant to get injected by any more sand, Bill had to be content with getting some heavy groping in for few minutes – left hand only because the other one stank of oil – before leaning back to give her plenty of room to operate in and he helped himself to some friendly feels of whatever came within reach as she dutifully gave him head.

She’d never liked doing that for him – except when they were in the 69 position when, after all, reciprocation is only fair – and she’d never ever taken his ejaculate into her mouth but that time, because the little time that they had to get it done in forced her to go all out, she couldn’t take heed of his progress properly and she found out the hard way how metallically pungent and nasty semen tastes.

She didn’t know what she would have done if they’d still been on strict water rations.

Her unpleasant ordeal had taken care of Bill’s needs but not her own and because she was rested and not de-hydrated any more her own libido came back in full force.

She cooked dinner for them all and when she brought the tray with the package of crackers – she guessed that she wouldn’t be able to make rice again, by far her favorite staple, until she got back home – and the bowl of beef stew and the plates to the table, where both men were already sitting and waiting, Harry wanted to help her so he put his hand over hers on one of handles of the tray with the idea that she was to relinquish that side of it to him. She didn’t let go because the rush of tingling across her arms and shoulders that came with his touch was too disconcerting for her to co-ordinate her actions.

When they’d put the tray down safely he took his hand away and that should have been that except that he felt her hand press into his and follow it up in the air for a few inches.

He glanced over to see if her husband had seen and was relieved to find that he was concentrating fully on wielding the ladle to put stew on plates. Then he looked up at Beth’s face and he saw what he’d figured he would and he knew that it wasn’t a question of ‘whether or not’ but of  ‘would they ever get an opportunity to do it?’

The next morning, after breakfast, Harry was fashioning special harnesses for them all and because they had already chosen and separated the things that they wanted to take on their journey they had nothing else to do and Bill felt horny again so, naturally, he wanted to take advantage of the interval of inactivity knowing that he was looking at maybe three and perhaps four days of forced abstinence. He gave her the signal and they both drifted, ever so casually, over to the ATV again.

It was a nearly exact repeat of what they’d done the afternoon before except for her being more adroit in getting her mouth and head out of the way the second time. She’d also remembered, from her high school days in the backseats of her boyfriends’ fathers’ cars, that it was a good idea to keep a paper towel handy.

They were, of course, taking all of the water with them – after experiencing their very real scare Bill and Beth now wondered how they could have been stupid enough to have left it the last time – and two one-gallon jars of engine oil, along with the two extra quarts of it that had been in the tool bay, and, of course, the sump cover.

Harry wanted to distribute the full load fairly among them all – he’d made the harnesses appropriately – and he’d decided that he’d carry the cover and two bottles of water and the rifle and Bill would have three bottles of water and one of engine oil and Beth would have two bottles of water and one of oil. The two extra quarts were to be fitted into Harry and Bill’s cargo pants’ pockets.

They set out just after nine o’clock and they made good time because they could drink whenever they wanted to and so none of them had to get into the zombie mode of simply following the one in front and putting one foot in front of the other and keep on doing so until it got to be time to take over the lead.

Because of the new spirit in his charges Harry was able to comment on their surroundings and get real responses instead of “Yeah?” and “Well!” and “Who’d have thunk it?” and, worse, “Is that so? Are we nearly there yet?” and “Well, imagine that. How much further?”

They decided to stop for the night in the same place that they’d used on their way up and there was enough wood and charcoal left from that stop for all their needs.

All through the next day’s march Beth got to be dismayed with the habits of men because her husband would sneak a feel, for a divertissement, when Harry was in the lead and again on their infrequent stops to take a drink when he turned away for a minute. She figured that it had to be the heat and the danger that made him act like a teenager and as she dutifully positioned her body to help him get better access to whatever part of her that he’d picked out for attention she thrust away from her mind any thoughts that it could have anything to do with his harboring suspicious thoughts regarding her and their ‘pack leader’ that made him want to remind her frequently that he retained proprietary rights over her.

They were coming up on their last stopover site, the eucalyptus tree that they’d taken shelter under previously, when the third disaster of their trip struck.

Harry was in the lead and Beth was bringing up the rear when Bill looked through some shrubs and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A herd of camels was moving slowly and deliberately in the same direction that they were going but far enough away to be unconcerned with their presence.

He stopped in awe and he dropped his burdens and after watching for a few seconds he shouted and then ran to get to Harry’s side to tell him and be able to point out to him what surely had to be an illusion.

To do that he had to veer off the path and when he did so his foot dropped into a crevice and Jane saw his foot get to be bent at the ankle to an impossible angle relative to his shin and she knew instantly that, at best, he’d strained it badly. It was such a strange and hurtful thing to see that for a second or two she felt almost as much pain as he did.

Bill fell down and started crying out and cussing and Harry turned back and sized up the situation and then went to him and checked his leg.

He told them both that he didn’t think that any bones were broken and then he moved all of their backpacks, and the rest of the stuff that they were carrying, to one side and then told Beth that he was going to carry Bill over to the tree and that she was to collect the sleeping bags and the pads and then follow him.

When they’d made Bill as comfortable as was possible Harry went back and collected all of the other gear.

By the time that it was getting dark Bill, in his sleeping bag, had stopped moaning, and was cursing his bad luck instead. He was lying inside a tent that was made from wood poles and blankets. His ankle had swollen up alarmingly and they all knew that he wouldn’t be able to walk anywhere on it the next day nor for many days after that.

Harry made up a fire while Beth opened cans and they all ate and drank something but were either in too much pain or were too worried or were too concerned with making new plans to register what they were putting in their mouths.

When everything was cleared away and Beth was holding her husband’s hand Harry told them what he’d figured out to be the best plan to follow.

After breakfast, Beth and he would leave Bill, with plenty of food and water and the rifle, and they’d walk on and then fix the Land Rover so as to be able to drive back and pick him up. He explained quickly, before either of them could protest, that he thought it was essential that Beth went with him to help with carrying the motor oil and some water and the crank-case cover and, also, in case he needed help with the repair because fixing their transportation was clearly the number one priority. He said that if he found that he couldn’t do it by himself, for some reason, and she wasn’t with him he’d have to walk all the way back to get her and they’d have lost a whole lot of time.

The others clearly saw the logic in his plan and didn’t raise any objections and with that they all tried to get some sleep.

In the morning they put everything that the invalid would need within his reach and after eating breakfast Harry and Beth loaded up and left him in his makeshift tent, still muttering curses.

They didn’t stop for anything on their way back to the SUV and when they got there Harry didn’t even wait to eat something before he took tools and the replacement cover with him underneath the vehicle.

When he came out, with a smile on his face that told her that every thing had gone well, she had food ready for him but he wanted to finish the job before it got too dark and so he fashioned a funnel from the cardboard that backs up a yellow pad and she held it in place as he poured oil through it into the engine.

When the dip-rod showed him that the level was correct he reconnected the battery cable and then he climbed up into the driver’s seat and inserted the key and made a silent prayer to he knew not what God and then turned it.

Beth was looking dubiously at the up-to-then frustratingly useless but impressively complicated hunk of metal and when the engine roared into life, and then dropped down to a reassuring purr, she shrieked with heartfelt joy and then climbed up next to Harry.

He let the engine run until the gage confirmed that the battery was fully charged and then he reached to switch it off and as he turned the key tremendous fatigue settled onto his shoulders and he realized that he’d been on the go for fifteen hours straight and the responsibility of seeing to the safety of his two foreign guests, that had been worrying him for a lot longer than that, hadn’t helped at all.

He told her that the thought of having to fix his sleeping pad and bag and then getting undressed was too much for him and that he was going to sleep where he was. He lowered the back of his seat until it got to be almost flat and he lay back and was fast asleep in a matter of seconds.

“What’s good for the goose – ” Beth said to herself and she searched for the lever of her own seat and then she lay back and followed his lead.

Harry woke at dawn, as he always did in the desert, and he saw that Beth was sleeping next to him so he tried to stay where he was for a while but his bladder had other ideas and when he had to obey it he eased his door open and got out and then he left it open so as to not make more noise. He opened his zipper as he walked to the rear of the SUV.

It was his healthy stream of urine hitting the ground that woke Beth up and she stirred and then turned to investigate and when she’d located and identified the sound she realized that it melded nicely, if not charmingly, with the dream that she’d had about being chased by the woodsman of Little Red Riding Hood fame who was, contrary to his usual role of being a protector, brandishing both his axe and the battering ram that he had between his legs and was closing on her rapidly. When he’d gotten so near that she could feel his breath on her neck she decided to stop and meet her fate bravely and when she turned she saw that he’d thrown down his axe and that his other weapon was only of average size and was no longer threatening and so she told herself that this was an entirely different kettle of fish and she was about to call out another clichéd phrase – “Take me, I’m yours” – when she heard a waterfall in the near distance and after that the whole scene dissolved.

Her libido was already aroused because of her dream and it kicked into high when she realized what Harry had to be holding in his hand at that very minute. Consequently that made her brazen and when he’d finished and had zippered up and was moving around the vehicle she slid across to his seat and then got out and she easily located the wet circle that he’d created in the sand.

She undid her pants as she was moving towards it and she let them fall to her ankles when she got there. Her panties followed suit and then, unencumbered, she half squatted and then irrigated the self-same circle of sand some more.

Harry watched in awe as she was uncovering herself and he kept watching as she was getting on with relieving herself and he didn’t know what to make of it although he was alarmed to feel a vague, deeply embedded reaction to the ritual that was very nearly one of arousal.

When she’d finished she stood up and blatantly held the tales of her shirt up and she half turned towards him and she was careful to keep her eyes pointed down to the ground, to allow him to look all that he wanted, and then she let go of her shirt to be able to stoop and pull her panties up, to signal that that particular use of her center was now done with, and then she slowly pulled up her pants and when they were all the way up she held the belt buckle in one hand and the loose end in her other one and she didn’t bring the two together as she lifted her head and looked at him.

She was happy to see that his face was already a mask of lust and she gave him a quizzical look that told him that it was now his move.

By then he’d persuaded himself that, as far as he was concerned, her actions had been as clearly an invitation as would have been the case if she’d been holding a sign that read, “Excuse me mate, but how about a friendly bonk?” so he closed with her and he picked her up and without a word being said he carried her around the SUV to the flap in the netting of the alcove and after pushing on through it he put her down on her feet and then he put the two pads on top of each other and then started to get undressed.

She hurried to follow suit and he gasped when he saw her marvelous figure. He’d known all along that she was well built, and had delighted in being able to look at her splendid cleavage several times, but hadn’t come close to imagining the splendor of what he saw when she’d taken her shirt and bra off. When she leaned forward to take her pants off, at exactly the most advantageous angle for allowing for some profitable ogling on his part, her perfect breasts swung heavily free and did some wobbling and he gasped again and then let out moans from sheer need.

She did some gasping of her own when she saw what she was going to have to contend with and she then remembered, with a little shame, that the wood cutter, at the end of her dream, had sported a penis that was her husband’s size.

He sat down and she sat next to him and waited, and waited, and it became obvious to her that he was locked in a dilemma and had to establish something in his mind before making the next move.

What was holding things up for him was that he was trying to get his priorities straight due to having heard her, twice, making slurping noises, back at the wreck site, that could only mean one thing and the fact that it was her husband who was the beneficiary was neither here nor there in his eyes. What she’d been doing back there was the act of a whore, as had been her strangely erotic spoor melding caper a few minutes earlier and her studied slowness at covering herself afterwards, and while he knew that he shouldn’t even touch her if he wanted to stay true to Andrea, conversely, if she was indeed a loose woman then it didn’t count nearly as much and could be construed as merely a friendly transaction.

All through that time of conjecture he was bursting with raw desire and knew that she was a melting mass of a woman who clearly wanted to lie down and open up for him but he held back and tried to work out what to do.

It came to him from somewhere that a further act of whorishness by her was what was needed to tip the balance and so he put his hand on top of her head and pull it in the direction of his lap.

She was bemused but also intrigued, and still needy beyond all accounting, so she went along with his directions and even though she saw that he was too big to comfortably fit into her mouth she gamely tried and she nearly dislocated her jaw to accomplish the task. When she finally succeeded in taking it in her teeth slowly but surely raked the sides of its swollen, purple head.

It was the kind of pain that a man delights to suffer through and so he stayed still while it was happening and then he leaned back on his arms and let out long sighs of approval when she’d found the correct rhythm.

When she’d progressed enough to start making the ‘slurp, slurp, slurp,’ noises that he needed to hear that was good enough for his purpose and he gently lifted her head until it was clear and then he laid her down on the blankets and mounted her.

From long habit he hovered where he was and kept a space open for her hands to move down between their bodies and she caught on after a moment or two and she used the fingers of one of her hands to open herself while the other hand guided him in.

Being considerate, he tried to go slowly but he couldn’t not hurt her no matter how mindful of her welfare he was but it was the kind of pain that a woman as far along in need as she was delights in and so she suffered it stoically and after he got to be well inside her she found herself to be so far gone in raw desire that she started to encourage him to lose his inhibitions about hurting her.

That first time, his urge was so intense that he came after about two minutes and when he did so he roared in triumph so loudly that she feared that her husband, who was better than twenty miles away, would hear him.

However, she was vague about her concern because her vagina was filled to within a fraction of an inch from being split open and she was still almost completely lost in the lovely lust that was pervading her entire body and was slow to dissipate because it hadn’t been fully slaked.


They stayed where they were and delighted in each other all morning and forgot all else until they felt hungry and then he got up and went into the SUV.

When he opened the refrigerator he quickly closed it again. The stink had almost overwhelmed him. Beth and Bill had told him that they’d emptied it and that made him want to investigate but then it came to him that that would be a far too off-putting thing to do in light of the present circumstances so he left it closed.

He found a can of pork sausages and another one of tomatoes and he reconstituted some dried eggs and made what he called a ‘fry-up.’

When he’d brought the dish to the table he went back to find a box of crackers and then he called Beth over and they both, still naked, sat down and ate their brunch – mostly with one hand.

When she brought coffee for them both the sight of her lovely body in motion made him pull her to him when she got in range and they did some more kissing and caressing but they quit after a while, on her insistence to drink their coffee before it got cold, and in that interval he admitted to himself that he was guilty of using a nasty ruse to let himself lie down with her and he had to admit that he’d known all along that she was nowhere near being a whore and never had been. To clear a part of it up in his mind he summoned up enough courage to ask her, tentatively, about her predilection for practicing fellatio.

She nearly fell off his knee through laughing but then she realized that he must have heard her doing it for Bill, twice, and she blushed and apologized and then she told him how much she disliked having to do it – except reciprocally – and explained that she’d been forced to practice it recently to service her horny husband because by doing it that way she wouldn’t have any more sand forced up and into her. Also, she’d figured that there’d be very little noise generated if she did it that way and so he, Harry, wouldn’t hear her go at it even though he wasn’t all that far away.

On hearing that he knew that he had been way out of line before but as soon as he did so guilt descended on him as if it had been poured from a gourd.

He lifted her off his knees and he got dressed and as he was putting his hat on he told her that he’d be back shortly and that there was something that he had to do.

When he’d gone – after pausing to rummage in his backpack for a second or two – she put a shirt on and some pants and shoes and after she’d cleared the table and had scoured the plates and the frying pan with sand and had wiped them with a paper towel, she got up onto the hood of the Land Rover to see if she could spot him.

She saw that he was lying spread eagled on top of a large rock with the center axis of his body lined up with the setting sun and with his head propped up so that it was shining full in his face.

She figured that that made for a picture that did not bode well for her but she also knew that there was nothing that she could do about it so she philosophically threw up her hands and then got down to the ground and went back into the blessed fly-free area inside the netting to try to read a book.

When he came back to her, she’d lit a Kincaid lantern to be able to read, she’d dozed off and he woke her up with his whooping and hollering and when she queried him about it he astounded her by saying, “It’s all right, lil’ darling. When I was lying up there on a rock it came to me that love is both absolute and irreducible which means that I’ll always love Andrea totally and so my making love to you can’t ever diminish that. It’s like parents with their children in that while they think that they love their first born with their whole beings when the second one comes along they find that love is infinite and so they can love that one just as much. D’you hear me, cobber? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

She said that she did and was happy for him and, she murmured under her breath, was happy for herself too when she saw him start to take his clothes off again.

She hurried to follow suit and when he saw her marvelous body get to be uncovered again he, now blessedly guilt free, closed with it and he used it and let it generate a whole lot of borderline-savage love-play in which they competed to show the other one her/his full repertory.

They ate again when they got hungry and after that they spent the rest of the evening smooching and then slept locked up in each other’s arms and they murmured nice-to-hear-nonsense to each other whenever one of them made a restless move that partially woke the other one up.

He woke up fully, at dawn, and they repeated their indefensibly silly ritual of combining spoors but, nevertheless, watching her do her part had an immediate effect on him again and he was driven to carry her back to the blankets where he laid her down and entered her without ceremony.

They both knew that it was to be only a friendly, frantic fuck that he had to get out of his system and she fully accepted the fact that he was going to just pound away at her so, to help him achieve that end, she stayed alert and dutiful. While it was going on she realized, more clearly than she had during all of their love making the day before, that she’d been very wrong to waste her sympathy on Andrea for having to take his full weight on top of her because she was relishing having the full body/skin contact – and, yes, the pummeling that it entailed – and it was at that moment that she got a revelation.

It came to her that she couldn’t possibly have been in the position that she was in right at that moment – and there was no place else on earth that she’d rather have been – if she’d hadn’t been born with equipment that meshed perfectly with his.

For her, as never before with any man, being penetrated by Harry was about sharing and joining without a hint of unfairness or of domination.

It felt perfectly natural.

In sum, it came to her that, for the first time in her life, she was happy to her very core about having been born female.

She could never forget having to defer to her brothers early on in her life – mostly in small things like who was going to get the last rasher of bacon or the last new potato or the biggest piece of cake, but even so, it rankled – and later to have to take a back seat to the boys in grade school because they could run faster and throw farther and were stronger all around and how, in middle school and high school, she’d had to accept the hard truth of the fact that boys were drawn to her mainly for her prettiness and her developing figure and that she had to learn to use all of that to stay popular and then to brazenly exploit that same attraction to get good and plenty dates in college and how she’d carried out her task well enough to successively get a fellow graduate, Bill, to invite her to walk it all down the aisle with him as escort to it and to her.

And then, immediately after the honeymoon – Wham! – to have to learn to accept being expected to take charge of all the purchasing and preparation and cooking and serving and washing the dishes and doing the laundry and cleaning and still try to show gratitude if her husband took the garbage out once in a while and to smile as if she loved the idea every time that he gave her the signal that he wanted a quickie no matter how inconvenient it was for her and to learn that it was silly to wear pajamas to bed because he always wanted access to her body besides wanting to have sex every night of the week – that had become an iron-clad invariable because he’d picked up the habit early on in their marriage and consequently couldn’t go to sleep until they’d done it, or so he said – and, worst of all, to be woken up at all hours because he’d been woken up himself by getting an erection that demanded appeasement at that very minute and knowing from bitter experience that there’d be zero foreplay and no sweet talk beforehand, nor during, and not even a ‘thank you, Ma’am’ afterwards which, for her, turned the act into something that was disconcertingly close to being rape although she’d taken good care to remain ever alert to avoid certain disaster by seeing to it that that thought was never allowed to find a place to settle in her brain.

That amazing, very welcome, revelation came to her seconds before Harry finished and when she felt his fluids jet into her innermost regions she wanted to thank her parents and her God and him and every living thing in the world for having been born a girl but what came out of her was a scream of joy that was uttered a half second after his shout of triumph.

When she’d calmed and was being lovingly cocooned it occurred to her that their combined outburst might well have been heard by her husband who was still twenty cruel – for him – miles away.

To her chagrin she soon realized that her concern was fleeting.

When Harry got some strength back he disentangled his limbs and stood up and asked her what she wanted for breakfast.

She’d turned onto her back as soon as he’d allowed her to, by vacating his space, and she told him that one of his fry-ups would suit the bill perfectly. She went on to say that she was going to stay where she was for a few minutes if that was all right with him.

When he was getting on with preparing the meal she surreptitiously, because she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, positioned both pillows under her hips. She didn’t want to conceive a child – indeed it would have been impossible and folly to try because she was still protected against that by the last pill that she’d taken – but what she did want was to see to it that the essence of him stayed inside her body until it had been fully absorbed.

When they’d packed their stuff and had stowed it properly Harry went on a little ‘walk-about’ to be sure that they’d not left anything – nor any trash because he had a strong phobia that drove him to see that he was leaving the desert as he’d found it – and when he came up to where the almost completely dried up circle of their twice laid commingled spoors was he shook his head at the foolishness but then he remembered that if she hadn’t done it – amazingly, it had worked not once but twice – he might not have enjoyed the most satisfying sex of his entire life.

He carefully walked around the circle so as to not disturb it, just in case.

As he was reaching with his hand to turn the key to start the motor Beth put her hand on his to make him pause.

“What are we going to tell Bill as to why we’re a full day late getting back to him?”

“Jumping Jesus!” he said, “that completely slipped my mind. Wow, is that a compliment to you and to the power of Nature or what? Well, give me a minute to think something up.”

 – – – – – – – – –

“Ah. I know what’ll serve. We’ll say that when we started off yesterday as soon as we made the first left turn we heard a nasty bloody scraping noise and when we investigated we saw that the brake guard plate had been hit by something and was way out of bloody line.

“That should do nicely. I’ll go down right now and cover our tracks.”

He took a box wrench (spanner) and a hammer from the toolbox and then selected a rock from the ground and he took them all with him when he crawled under the front, left hand side.

He broke the bolts holding the plate in question and then tightened them back up and then he bruised the back of the metal plate with the hammer and then he hit the front of it, low down, with the rock so that it left a mark.

When he was back in the driver’s seat he again reached to turn the key but this time it was a thought of his own that stopped it from happening. He put his hand on her knee instead and then turned to face her.

“What’s going to happen, Beth?”

“What’s going to happen? You mean as opposed to what I want to happen which is to go back and lie down with you again and stay here for a month? – – – Yes, well, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. We’re going to drive back to that tree to pick up Bill and we’re going to take him to a doctor in Perth and when he is mobile, or even semi-mobile, we’re going to get on a plane and we’re going home to California ‘cause our vacation is now effectively over.

“That’s what’s going to happen, Harry. What else?”

                                      //                                                                            //

Six days later Harry invited Beth and Bill, and his wheelchair, to Andrea’s funeral service in a chapel and afterwards to the ceremony at her family’s burial plot.

They hardly spoke because there were crowds of people and students at both events.

Two days after that Beth called Harry and told him that they were catching a plane the next day at noon and asked if he wanted to come and say goodbye at the airport.

His answer was to insist that he be allowed to pick them up at their hotel and drive them there.

When they all got to the departure gate a rep of the airline took Bill’s passport and ticket from Beth and then pushed him in his wheelchair through a special gate on the way to the ramp so as to get him properly settled up front before any other passengers boarded.

When Bill was out of sight Harry took her hand in his own and, full of trepidation, he tried to make his feelings known to her with his touch but it was the look on his face that gave him away and it made her breathe easy and feel content.

When she was fourth in line to present her passport and be allowed to go into the ‘passengers only’ lounge she beckoned to Harry that he was to bend down so that she could tell him something quietly.

“You’ll need the coming year to observe the proprieties, won’t you? Seeing that this is your hometown, right? Well, as for me, I’ll need a whole year too so that I can nail down my doctorate and get enough time to find a way to let Bill down easy and help him get settled. D’you understand me? Oh, but wait – uh – I’m sorry. I’m assuming that you want me to come back here to you. Do you?”

“I do indeed, Beth. Wow. I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear you ask me that.”

“Yes? Well, it’s good to know for certain – I was pretty sure but I had to be completely sure, didn’t I? So, will you write your e-mail address down on the stub of this ticket please? I’ve got your telephone number already.”

– – – – –

“Good. Uh, listen to me, dear. I’m really happy to know that you want me to come back but you know something? It’s got nothing to do with what happened between us out there in the desert.

“It’s solely because you need a chipper bloody cobber like me to help you get on with your bloody survey, mate.”