We gazed across the back yard to where Lexy and Barty were munching on a fresh feed of hay, the rise and fall of their sleek flanks outlined in the crisp morning light. Horrific to think that these beautiful animals had been bound for the abattoir when Leonard rescued them, gave them a home where they could live out their natural lives.
I tried again.
‘Like you said to me about the ocean swimming and the snorkelling: what’s the worst that could happen?’
I felt quite pleased with myself, using Leonard’s own line of persuasion.
My friend swigged the dregs of his coffee, grimaced, set down his mug. Eyes on the horses, he enumerated carefully:
‘I could make an arse of myself … Certain people could be reminded how much they hate me … The bastards could tar and feather me and run me out of town …’
‘You’re being melodramatic,’ I objected. ‘Nobody here hates you and nobody wants to run you out of town.’
‘Really?’ he enquired with a sad smile. ‘You sure about that?’
‘You forget, I’ve lived here fifteen years, love. You’ve been here … a year?
‘Sixteen months, nearly.’
‘ … and long before that, as a kid, I spent my holidays here, exercising Uncle Jimmy’s horses on the beach, hooning up and down the dirt roads – which was most of them, back then – on his bikes. This town and I go way back. Way back. And it fucken hates me.’
‘Oh, come on! I haven’t spoken to a single person around Ocean Grove who even knows you.’
Possibly not the most tactful response, Grace. And not strictly true: there was that couple at the kiosk.
‘The blow-ins mightn’t, the sea-changers … but the locals, the old-’uns, they know who I am, all right. Whether they’d admit to it – that’s another matter.’ He chuckled humourlessly. ‘There’s folk that say I don’t deserve this place.’
‘Why would they say such a horrible thing? What on Earth has it got to do with them anyway?’
‘There’s a rumour that I forged old Jimmy’s will. Can’t trust an ex-con. A murderer at that.’ He paused. ‘Some say I did him in.’ Another grim chuckle. ‘Dunno how I gave him lung cancer, mind.’
Could it be that I’d missed this undercurrent of gossip, of ill-feeling? Or had long isolation made my friend paranoid?
‘So you see, love,’ he sighed, ‘I’d really rather not do this … But if it means so much to you, I’ll give it a shot.’
Well, that was a surprise. Under the circumstances, I didn’t know whether to be pleased or not.
I drove away in a pensive mood. Leonard was clearly deep in thought too, barely remembered to mumble goodbye. Was he regretting his sudden weakness already?
Peter was delighted. My brief text unleashed a flurry of replies.
Excellent! I can fit Leonard in at the Marine Discovery Centre – 30 min talk then Q&A?
Would he like a Friday evening or a Sunday morning slot?
Audio-visuals?? Tell him we can print up handouts – no need to do it himself.
How should I introduce him in the programme?
Does he have a title for his presentation? A working title will do.
Please pass on my contact details. Oh, and while I think of it …
I decided it was safer for now to act as intermediary, rather than exposing Leonard to the full force of this schoolmasterly enthusiasm. I didn’t want him to be overwhelmed, and Peter was a keen one.
As I walked on the Beach that evening, watching the clouds turn pink and gold over the Bluff, I turned it over and over in my mind. I had the uneasy feeling of having set something in motion which now had its own momentum – and unforeseeable consequences.
To put it another way: by wading in with my clumsy, well-meaning newcomer’s feet, had I stirred up an ancient, toxic sediment better left undisturbed?
Too late to worry about that now, Grace.
Next week in Beach Walker:
Chapter 16: A Rib in the Pope’s Eye
Grace receives a baffling invitation and needs some persuasion.
Disclaimer: The people and events described in this story are entirely the product of the author’s imagination; they bear no intentional resemblance to real-life people and events. The locations are authentic.
Now comes the mystery & old skeletons
Loving the story so far, especially as a local!