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Excerpt for Riding the Whirlpool by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Riding the Whirlpool

Return of the Breaker Part 2

Prequel to Crocodile Dreaming Series


Author

Graham Wilson




Copyright

Riding the Whirlpool

Return of the Breaker Part 2

Graham Wilson 2019

Published by Smashwords

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

Crocodile Dreaming Series

ISBN:


Smashwords Edition Licence Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior approval of the author. For permission to use contact Graham Wilson by email at grahambbbooks@gmail.com




Author’s Note

This is a novel set in Australia’s outback, a place where I lived and worked for four decades; travelling to many places including in large and small towns, cattle stations, aboriginal communities and among remote, rugged and beautiful natural places for which it is famous, places with names like Uluru, Kakadu and Arnhem Land. These provide the background to this story.

This novel is a work of fiction. The characters are not real people. However, elements of stories have a real basis, as experienced by myself, or as stories of the bush, told around campfires or over bars, somewhere in the Australian Outback. While general locations described around the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia exist, many details are not accurate; they are created as a canvass on which to paint the story.

Backpackers are part of outback Australia. Occasional horror stories occur and get wide coverage. Some, like the Joanna Lees story, or the awful deeds of Ivan Milat contributed ideas to this novel. However these are rare events, as likely to happen in cities or other countries. They do not typify most people’s experiences of these places.

The setting of this novel is an external frame for the story. It tells of a journey of a person through places and within himself. In bad situations he does awful things. This reflects human experience. We all have the ability to make terrible choices and do great evil if we cease to value life, but even the worst of people may have parts that are good and decent. So, as to the man at the centre of this story, the question of whether he is evil or just a victim of bad circumstances, that is a judgement that only you can make. The question I ask myself is if, in the same set of circumstances, I would have behaved differently. We each can only answer that honestly for ourselves.

Alongside that personal story this book seeks to capture the essence of a place called the Northern Territory of Australia, the centre and north of the Australian continent. This land remains alive in my imagination from when I lived and worked in it. Despite the coming of modern civilisation; with roads, air transport, communication and comfort; the intrinsic character of this place, the ‘Territory’, remains little altered. It is what Ernestine Hill called, in her famous book of that name, ‘a land too vast for human imagination.’ Wildlife remains abundant. Stations still muster cattle and buffalo for a living. Aboriginal people live off the land, as they have done for untold millennia past. Stockmen tell tales around campfires, gazing in awe at immense star filled skies. This is a place where life moves slowly, as befits a land where time is driven by nature. Brilliant desert colours, huge tropical storms and endless emptiness live on.

My heartfelt thanks to innumerable real characters of the Northern Territory who contributed parts to this story. They did this by lighting creative fires in my imagination through sharing their own stories and memories.


This is a prequel to the Crocodile Dreaming Series of 5 novels also published by this author. It provides the back story before the original series begins.


Books in this series which follow are:

Book 1 – An English Visitor (Ed 1 – Just Visiting)

Book 2 – Crocodile Man (Ed 1 – The Diary)

Book 3 – Girl in an Empty Cage (Ed 1 – The Empty Place)

Book 4 – Lost Girl Diary (Ed 1 – Lost Girls)

Book 5 – Dance of Shadows (Ed 1 – Sunlit Shadow Dance)




Reader Reviews of Books and Series

Just Visiting - Excellent !!!!!! : So good! So impressed with this this story, can’t wait to read the whole series. This book has it all, romance, suspense, danger, secrets beauty culture, family, travel and so much more! The description of the country of Australia is wonderful, so many times writers get carried away with too much description of scenery etc. I found this author made the reader visualise the whole picture which is very important to this particular book. I hope everyone who comes across this book will read it, you won’t be disappointed. Highly recommend!!!!


An English Visitor

Really liked this book and want to read the series. Eerie story from Australia about a young English girl off on an adventure to Australia. She meets up with a young Australian man and they take off together so he can show her the outback. She starts noticing things a bit off with him and the story unfolds involving crocodiles, aborigines etc. Don’t read before going to sleep!


Series Reviews

I highly recommend this series; if you enjoy suspense novels or reading about Australia and especially both, you'll be happy you got a hold of this.


You must read this series ….. the content is excellent


It's superb... So sorry to finish it!


I read this series one volume at a time, over the last two years. It's very entertaining, well-written and really makes you feel like you're there with the characters. I can't praise it highly enough!


What a good series, so many stories, so many lives, growing darker with a thread of hope


A compelling story, told with sincerity. It would make a good plot for a television mini-series! 


I thoroughly enjoyed this combined series. It is a nicely composed, thrilling script with essentially a fairy tale goodness. With this book I had my virtual tour through Australia. 




Prologue

It’s Susan again.


For three years now this half told story has driven me mad, eating into my restored sanity, consuming me. It began with what I tell in the Epilogue of the previous half of this book, variously known as ‘Crocodile’s Child’ or ‘Return of the Breaker’, based on Mark’s two assigned titles of the story.

When I discovered it, a notebook hidden in a space in the wall of a place where the man who I remembered a Mark Bennet, but who was called by most, ‘MB’ used to sometimes live, I thought this was the real story of his life, self-told, the good and bad, warts and all.

And so it was, in part. But that was the problem: it was only a part.

When I started it and saw the 200 pages of dense hand-writing, written in the hand I knew so well, it seemed like it would be the full story.

So I immersed myself in it, reading with relish and imbibing a mix of joy, sorrow, love and horror. It was not a pretty story; three parts horror to each part good, but it was one I needed to read and one that deserved to be told.

I would not allow myself to read ahead, to skip or preview. I was firmly determined to read it line by line, to taste and fully know it only as each part unfolded. But as the pages unread dwindled, until but a bare handful were left, and then none remained, I knew this story went on far, far further.

This I knew from my own personal knowledge of parts unwritten that this man, my once upon a time lover, had told me directly or of which his diary gave glimpses.

I started to feel short changed, conned. In my mind I called him a bastard for fooling me yet again, giving me something to whet my lips but nothing at the end of which I could find understanding, nowhere near enough to give me real meaning, to satisfy my need to know and try to comprehend.

I began to wonder whether, rather than the man I still held to be a good man I had loved, but who had become bitter and twisted as luck ran against him, he was in fact the monster that others claimed, one who most delighted in delivering torment to his victims as a form of vengeance.

Of course my most beloved Vic, the man I thank God for every morning and night, and most especially when a smile lights his face, told me it was not so, that whatever parts of bad he had in him, he did not deliberately torment, and that he finished things he begun. So, if he had set himself to tell a story, he would finish it unless fate intervened.

Of course fate did intervene, but this fate was in a time and place of his choosing, a time when he had decided to end it of his own volition, even if the manner of its ending was not his exact plan. And that ending was at least two weeks after he could have left the first part of this story in Alice Springs where I found it. That was because for those last two weeks I travelled with him, day and night, to other far-away places, right until the very bitter end.

So there was clearly enough time for him to write more. I even had an inkling of seeing him with a second book in addition to his diary, that book which he had bequeathed to me as a parting gift.

In our weeks together there were times when he would go off alone with binoculars and a notebook or two, sometimes carrying a rifle. I understood this was part of his need to commune with the empty places and spaces that fed his soul. I had seen his diary in his hand at times thus, the one that I have since read. I also recalled seeing a second notebook too, though when or how often I could not be sure. That notebook was a thing akin to the one I found which gave me the first half of this story. I assumed back then it was an extra place he used to make notes. Perhaps it was. But, in hindsight, perhaps it was much more: a second unfinished part of this story.

So, three years on, I am determined to make one final effort to find the last part of the story of the second Breaker, the one known to most as MB.


***

My mind has been replaying those last few days I was with him; days after we went mustering on the VRD, beginning with the night on the boat in the big river of tides. When running the tides was done I remember how we sat still together in the small hours and talked. I am almost sure he had this notebook then, resting in his lap. I think once or twice he had it in his hands; his finger touched it as if to draw a thing from it.

I do not think he wrote in it, but he had put it in his briefcase with papers which he took to the meeting the next morning. As we drew close to the end of our boat journey, just as I was waking, I am nearly sure that he had this notebook and his diary resting on his knee. As I looked at him, half asleep, I remember he was sorting through papers for the meeting and when it was done he returned these papers to one compartment and these two books to the other of that leather briefcase. The diary was there a day later when I opened it, along with some other papers, but the other notebook was not. Not that I specifically looked for it but, if it was there I would have found it, and I am sure there was no other book there on that final day.

If this is so then it could be he left it at Timber Creek, in a safe place or with friends there. It is something to check, though I doubt he did so.

And, if it did not remain at Timber Creek, then it must have come on with us to the place of the crocodiles. I did not find it in the car or with his things. I took out everything I could find and checked each item, one by one, before burning or throwing each in the river.

The memories of that day, of all his things I held and discarded, are stamped like diamonds in my mind, sharp edged and blazing in cold light.

Could I have missed it and thrown it away. I doubt it. I know I did not burn it. Perhaps one of his boxes I threw in the river had a false bottom; perhaps it was within the lining of a gun case I threw in the river.

I cannot say for sure but it does not seem right.

But, if not there, then where, where, where?

Could he have been writing it yet when I disturbed him on that last early morning? It seems it was important to him to finish the story, his recording of a singular destiny. So I can imagine him sitting up these last few hours, when I slept my sleep of terror, to finish what was told. I know he told about me in a final diary chapter and wrote me a letter which he left in my passport. But those two things were the work of a bare half an hour. There were perhaps three hours from when he left me to when I woke.

If this other notebook was left somewhere at the site the police would have surely found it. I am told they combed the site for days, searching for clues as to his fate and that of the other who was with him on that last day.

It was me of course but they did not know it then. Their site search was done just after Charlie found that first part and then divers found more bits remaining of him in the lair of the crocodiles.

So, if it was left somewhere on the site, they would have surely found it!

But then, perhaps not!

I am told that, once they had found the things from the water, the car track and footprint, they packed up and left the site. Then, soon after this, they discovered his car where I left it and found my identity. So it appears that after this they lost interest in the site. They had all that they needed to tie me to him and me to the site, a tyre track, my footprint, my DNA in the car, and of course all the evidence of my deception. And to make it really easy for them I did not contest it. I pled guilty, knowing what I had done and carrying the shame.

So their evidence was not tested, I made it simple by admission.

Perhaps, after they had found these first things at the billabong that told of a murder, they only half looked further. It could be so.

All at once it comes to me in a rush, like a flaming fire of vision. In a flash I know it is so, it truly is so. A memory, unbidden leaps into my mind.

It is of Alan, as he later told it to Vic and others. He was searching for a better explanation after I had given the clue, that momentary lapse when I admitted there was another thing hidden there that they had not found. My part was but a word or two and a gesture that slipped out in my desire for cleverness. It was about the box of passports I had taken and buried at the foot of a little hill nearby.

Of course I did not say it in so many words, but my reaction to a question gave a clue, even though he did not know for what or where to look. In the end that search was futile, the clue was for a thing unknown in an uncertain place. It was like a needle in a haystack, the task was too big and the one day allowed was too short. It ended as a day of failure. He searched but found no treasure trove, then went on to Katherine where he found the vital clue.

But I recall now that he did make a finding on that day, one then deemed to be of no importance, one that slipped past notice amongst greater events. It was finding the crocodile totem, Mark’s most beloved possession.

On that day, after the main search was done, and before he left the site, Alan squatted in the grass beside the billabong, trying to place himself inside the mind of MB, to see it as his murder victim saw it on that fateful day.

And, as Alan was there, resting on his haunches, beside still water, trying to share MB’s same vision, his hand touched the ground beside him; a place hidden under a bush, far away from prying eyes. As his hand rested there it touched the crocodile totem, a fluke but strangely directed. Alan had pulled it out and put it in a bag for later checking. But of course that checking did not happen, the trial was done and then I was gone. And, when I fled I took the bag holding the totem. It was returned by a strange turn of fate to a place near where it was first found. Here Charlie found it once again.

They searched the site again, better this time, with nothing more found. But this was months later, after a wet season passed, taking with it whatever traces may once have been there.

I see again that crocodile totem, the thing most special to MB. Why was it left there? Was it dropped by mistake and found by accident?

Mark would not have left his special totem untended; never would he have dropped it by mistake. It was too important to him for that. It was his mark of belonging, a connection to the only real family he ever had, a thing he valued above all others.

In all the time I knew him I never saw him do a thing without purpose. If it was there it was because he intended, the leaving was intended and the place too was intended, perhaps even the finding was intended.

In that instant I know my search is now almost over. I know where to go. His crocodile totem was placed just there in order to guard and mark this place for others who would later know it and understand its meaning.

Who are these others to whom it was left? There are Buck and Vic, guardians of his will. There is Charlie who knew him not but to whom the spirit of the crocodile spoke. There are Alan with Sandy, who together searched for and found the truth.

But it was not left there for them to find. None of them saw him with my clear unshadowed eyes. None of them knew him as did I. In fact there is only one, it is me, the custodian of his future in all its parts, his things, his children, his name, his memory. It was left for me. It is now mine alone to find.

At last I know where to look.

***


A week has passed. Today it is just Alan and I by the waterhole. I decided that, even though I am sure it will be here, I want no others to share my disappointment if I am wrong. And, if it is true as I think, that the last of his story lies buried here, I need my own private space to commune with his spirit before I decide what to do.

I think this story must be told to its bitter end. But, until I have held it in my own hand and felt its life force, I cannot know for sure.

So Alan takes me to the place he found it, as best he can remember it. He stands back to leave me to look on my own. And he stands guard, in a clear place with an open view out over the water, perhaps five meters away, revolver in hand. He watches with high alert lest some denizen of the deep would seek to do me harm, knowing that his gun must be my saviour.

But nothing stirs. No spirits of the place are about, walking on the land or moving beneath the water. Today is not their day.

I settle on my haunches as others have before. And with my hand tool I scrape and probe the soil, as others have before, but now with clear purpose. A few minutes pass of nothingness. I have scraped a centimetre from the top of all the soil within reach, removing leaves, sticks and flaky soil, looking for any discontinuities. I move a half step to my left to widen the circle. Amongst the loose stuff my tool hits a thing which gives a small metallic clink.

I look towards the noise and see the place. It flashes a glimpse of blue, In that instant it reminds me of the wing of a fairy wren dipped in milk.

As my eyes focus I know it. It is the sister stone of the one he gave me all those years ago, to place between my breasts and give him an uninterrupted view, third sister to the one he placed on my finger.

It is a place marker put there for only me to find. So I scape and dig a few inches down. It is there, not a metal box, just a package in heavy canvass, as if from an old oilskin, wrapped tight to keep out any water or other creature.

Within it is a solid thing, the size and shape of the other book.

I unwrap it slowly and with great care.

A single sheet of paper sits outside of the notebook, faded but clear;


Susan, with all my love!!! XXX MB


The rest of my story that was beyond me to tell to you last night.

I am trusting your smarts to find it sometime, along with the other half hidden in my desert home. I feel it is your destiny to know.

You can do with it as you wish, tell it or hide it as seems most fit.”


I open the front cover of the notebook.


On the first sheet is written: “Riding the Whirlpool.”

Without reading more I know this final story must be told.


Good reading to you all!


Susan.




Chapter 2 – Place without Name

I am lying in what feels like a bed, unable to move, speak or see. I have no memory of how I came to be here, no knowledge of where ‘here’ is or any sense of a recent past. My mind is like a foggy thing of half awareness, not quite asleep, not quite awake, somewhere in a twilight land.

I try to sort out the things I know in my mind. They are distant and feel unreal, but I can gather and hold to a few half things. I am lying on my back. I am sure I am in a bed. I have a distant awareness of pain, but it is not sharp, more like a thing belonging to another me, as if I am drugged and out of it. I try to move my tongue. It seems to work but it is pressed down by an object in my mouth, something like a hosepipe, I try to move my head, but cannot, I do not know if is held in place or my neck does not work. I trying to open my mouth or close it fully but cannot do these things either. I try to open my eyes but there is something pressing down on them and encasing them. I try and determine if I have a connection to arms and legs but it is beyond me, they are too far away and it is all too hard. I give in and surrender to more dreamless sleep.


***


Some hours, days or even weeks have passed, time is an immeasurable quantum in this half world. I am still encased in something white, my head bound, eyes covered and a tube in my mouth so I cannot speak or see.

But now I have one sense returned. My hearing is clear; the underwater fog of mufflement is gone. My last clear memory is being somewhere in the heart of Australia, riding a horse that twists and turns as it bucks below me, and of a muted roar as the packed people cheer from the stands.

Now my brain has new information to process. It is a voice, talking about me, not to me. It is a male of indeterminate accent, a northern voice of posh clipped culture perhaps English or American, not Australian, Kiwi or South African, perhaps Bostonian or Canadian or expatriate Pom. This voice is now talking about an object using the indeterminate it; I know the object is me!

“Well last week it was a smashed up pulp of bits and bones, this week it is beginning to take human form again. It seems that some of the bits are at last beginning to work. What did you say its name was?

There is a rustling of paper. A female replies in a nasal southern drawl, pure Texas, saying, “Well aint that something, the broken bits belong to a man with no name, it’s amazing he was even brought here rather than thrown in a hole and covered, the way he looked. The only distinguishing mark is a small M, followed by a tiny heart shaped dot, then B tattooed to the side of his head, just behind his right ear, a bit like a prisoner identification mark you hear of in concentration camps, though putting it behind his ear seems a bit more personal as if it was to talk to him.”

Boston voice replies, “OK, give me a run through of the injuries and their up to date status.”

Texas replies in a precise voice, “Fractured skull, fractured jaw, several cervical and thoracic spinal fractures, four broken ribs, but amazingly no broken arms of legs. Then there are the soft tissue injuries, ruptured liver and spleen, torn diaphragm, punctured lung, pneumothorax, innumerable cuts and contusions to the head and upper torso, and a big laceration along the back, between the shoulder blades but no deep penetrating wounds. It is almost like someone took to the head and body with a sledgehammer and machete but left the arms and legs alone. There is an old healed fracture to a forearm but it happened many years ago. Though I would not be surprised if it was an old gunshot wound as there are flecks of metal, like lead around that site, they look like old bullet fragments.”

Gradually my brain processes this barrage of information. I guess they are talking about me and I am not pretty to behold.

The voices continue, “What about vital organ and nervous function,” asks Boston. “What do we know about those?”

Texas drawls, “Yair well, kidneys are fine, the undamaged bits of the liver still seem to work, the lung function seems OK now that we have repaired the diaphragm and realigned the broken rib that caused the puncture. No clear evidence of brain damage beyond contusion on the MRI. Spinal damage is hard to say, no obvious displacement, however a lot of contusion around the cervical cord and sensory and motor functions to the limbs are difficult to assess right now – perhaps fifty-fifty whether he ends up in a wheelchair or something worse.

Boston, “If they don’t know who he is how did he end up here, I mean this place costs real money and last time I looked they did not do charity, only hard cold cash.”

Texas, “Yair well, that part is a bit amazing. The only thing that came in with him was a small backpack. But when they opened it up it had a hundred big ones in hard cold cash, used notes, not traceable. Some talk about a drug gang victim but it does not really gel, if that was the cause then why did they leave him with all the dosh. They surely would have looked, don’t you think?

“What we reckon is he was found lying somewhere with his bag, some good neighbour rang in without looking too hard and the ambos picked him up with a pack next to him figuring it belonged to him and no-one looked at what was in it until he came in. They brought him first to the emergency across the road but when they found the money they transferred him here as we are better equipped to deal with these spinal cases.

“They say that at first the cops were real keen to talk to him, something about a bull ride gone wrong and lots of people losing money. But the cops seem to lose interest when we told them that it was unlikely he would ever talk or walk again or know what happened and even if he does it will be at least a month before we can unwrap him enough to communicate.

“So that is the limit of the knowledge, but I suppose we may as well call him MB. There is a theory he is South African as he has some antibodies in his blood that fit with diseases there. But that is just a guess; he could be from anywhere really.




Chapter 3 – Mystery Writer

So here I am in my flat in Katherine, looking at the note my hand holds that I have just retrieved from my letter box, addressed to Breaker MB and signed, ‘Friend of Fred!’ From a place behind my boredom comes curiosity.

How many, of the small handful of people who could find me here know me as Breaker MB? Most people call me Mark or MB. I have broken horses for a living, perhaps that is it though I think not. It was a name barely used; just a couple times at Carrington Rodeo when I rode time on my first two real buckjumpers and won the big prize. To my best knowledge it has never been properly used to refer to me since, save for the time I was in Alice Springs and a mate of Vic’s challenged me about it.

Then I agreed to another ride only on the strictest condition that nothing be said about the time before, or of that name. It was a 100% non-negotiable condition on my part, that I ride with just my then name, Mark Butler, and no nicknames, certainly not with Breaker attached to my initials. Back then the deal seemed to hold with no whispers of what had come before. I do not think any connections could have come from there.

And that place and time gave no links to Fred. So how and where did a ‘Friend of Fred’ emerge? Mystery on mystery!!

Sure my MB initials get bandied about a bit. But now I am nearly thirty. There is little resemblance to that scrawny youth about whom those words were shouted for one night more than a decade ago. Even more remote is my connection to Fred, the old fella who once taught me most of my riding, shooting and other knockabout skills even longer ago, when I was a callow kid in my mid-teens.

I try to guess how many people could join these distant dots of past lives and link them to me. Only one I can think of as a ‘Maybe’. I last saw him that night at Carrieton, almost longer ago than I can remember. Back then I called him JJ and he called me Mark BB Brown or sometimes MB. He was a good guy back then and I think he would be a good guy still. He taught me the first principles of horsemanship for which I will be forever in his debt.

But then I needed to fade away and, even though it was long, long ago and I can see nothing to fear, I am still cautious of being linked to that place.

Yet JJ was a good guy and I am curious. So I resist the inclination to go the other way. I sit and ponder, looking once more at this inscrutable note. It gives no clue. I wonder what I shall do.

In the end curiosity wins. I cannot close this out with a no-show. I must go and see, even if only to sit quietly in a corner and wait and watch to see who else shows, if anyone.

So I sit in a corner, nursing a whisky, barely sipping, while I watch and wait and see who else arrives. I have taken the other chairs away from my space. That way anyone who wishes to approach me must do so directly, not sidle up and grab a convenient nearby seat. An hour passes, then two, my whisky is gone along with two soda waters. I am bored, time to go. I rise to leave, an empty glass the only sign of my sojourn. As I pass through the doors someone brushes past, going the opposite way. It feels like a random touch but my senses are heightened. I look at the retreating back which gives no signal and then to my side where the brush contact was made. I see the white edge of an envelope above the pocket of my light jacket. It was not there before. Now I am really curious.

I think to chase the man who placed it there, the cloak and dagger act seems excessive. But when I cast an eye around the room, he is no longer there; no one new is in sight.

Was he a phantom, am I seeing shadows? Still the envelope is real.

I take it out and walk into the night, checking and double checking to ensure an absence of followers. Finally I go to a place under a street light with a pool of light and scrutinise this object carefully. Sealed, unmarked, unnamed. I walk home to read it in seclusion.


It has taken a while to run you to ground, Friend of Fred. After he died you just vanished, no surprises there. In early days Fred and I were partners. Then I went off to seek fame and fortune in another land. He did the same at home. He wrote me once and told me of you; he said, ‘Of all the Johnny Come Latelys you were the best he had seen.’ Then he was gone, just a grave in red Cloncurry dust. You were gone too. Maybe a year later I got a small packet of things from Fred left in safety deposit box, saying, if aught happened to him, could I keep an eye on you? So I tried then, but you were long gone.

Over the years since I kept a half eye open, but nothing until one day, a Sunday not too far away. I ran into an old friend, JJ, at Carrieton. He gave me a story, back a few years past, of the lad called MB who rode a Whirlpool. It sounded something like the lad Fred wrote of.

Since then each time I return to the land of Oz I scan all the riders of the events, mainly outback Saddle Bronc. What should I find but your MB name in an old list of winners from the Alice Springs Rodeo. The MB initials were enough to get the link. When I showed your photo from that time to JJ he assured me it was you. He too knew Fred a little; he had half joined the dots by himself. When you did a runner from Carrieton that time he thought on it a bit and reckoned it was best to leave old dogs lie.

Anyhow you know how I found you. Now I’m a mite curious to meet you over a beer, see if what Fred reckoned back then still holds true. But I’m a tad shy of company, and with the Darwin Cup next weekend, I figure a good way to meet without observation is if we both put $100 on horse 2 of Race 3, Cup Day next weekend. Do it with the bookie Billy Carmody, say ten minutes from the start. That way we can note our common pick and share a drink at the bar to discuss the form in a way that would seem like nothing at all.”

Hope to see you there.

JP

So it was that a week later I stood at the bookie’s stall and placed my bet then waited. Five minutes passed, then ten. The race was called then won by another horse, a little fancied outsider with odds of one hundred to one.

I stood and waited for a bit, not sure as to whether this cloak and dagger thing was real. There were not many punters on the winning horse and they drifted in slowly to take their bit, a ton to one dollar seemed a good payout. New punters were starting to lay increasing bets on the next race where it seemed like a local horse with a local trainer and jockey was all the rage.

After a bit longer a smallish non-descript man came along and handed over his chit for $100 on the horse in the last race. By my calculation he was due a big ten grand for his long shot. The man looked half familiar but it was not the horse I backed so I gave him little mind.

There was a bit of muttering and grumbling by the bookie as he sent one of his men off to get some extra cash to make up the ten thousand, but then it was duly paid, with 200 fifty dollar notes counted out. You could hear a pin drop when the man took the cash and walked off. It seemed a strange if lucky diversion. This day was starting to feel like a non-event. I drifted towards the bar, weighing what to do, to stay and have a serious look at the horse flesh so as to make some informed bets or to head away before it was too late. There were odd people I half knew in the crowd, some who I could share a chat and pint with, but no obviously close mates, so I could go either way.

As I was working my way into the bar queue, there was a tap on my left elbow and a waiter handed me a beer. I looked at him questioningly and he flicked his head to indicate the donor. It was the small man who had cleaned up on the last race. He was perched on a bar stool at a corner table.

He gave me a salute so I wandered over to give my thanks. I still paid him little mind, just a punter flush with winnings spreading out some good cheer, that was how I labelled him. As I placed my beer on the coaster indicated I noticed a betting chit on the table next to it which this man was pointing to. It was an identical bet to my own, placed two minutes after my bet. A bell went off in my brain. I looked up at him with sharp focus. Suddenly he did not seem so old, decrepit and nothing looking. A tough wiriness was clear to see.

“Don’t tell me I got that one past you? The word is you are sharp.”

I raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue, “It seemed a bit too obvious to put two back to back bets for $100 on the same horse in front of all the other five and ten dollar punters. It might have seemed we were onto something or in cahoots. So I figured it was best if my main bet was on the longshot, and that drew the attention because it was a big payout number. As that bet was being processed I slipped them another hundred and said: ‘Same again on two.’ They wrote a second ticket that passed below everyone else’s watching eyes.

After it was done I thought of chucking that ticket for the long shot in the tin can. But, bugger me dead, it ups and wins. I only chose it cause I liked its look in the mounting yard and I liked the green silks, colour of Ireland, home of my grandfather. So, even though I was not looking to win, I thought a payout of ten big ones was too good to pass by. So I went back to collect on it and wondered if you had picked me out. I had you spotted from the start, but then I had the advantage, I knew who you were.

He stuck out a surprisingly strong hand, “Name today, Jake Prendergast, AKA Friend of Fred. I have a few other names too which I may tell you later. And you are the MB man of many names too, but amongst them a few have called you Breaker MB, known as a handy rough rider.

It all seemed so absurd, this meeting with all its attendant secrecy, that I burst out laughing, saying with my own return salute; “And your real name is JB, short for James Bond, 007, I must presume!”

So we fell to talking and gradually the real back story slid out. Jake was the assumed name on a dodgy passport, as there were a few things against him in the Oz tied to his real name, Paddy something, he mumbled it so fast I only half heard. These days his main home address was the US but he also had South American and Swedish passports to hand for use if required. So, in Australia, these days he needed to keep below the official radar and dressed and acted accordingly.

Of course once I shook his hand the power of the real Paddy, it was there for me to see, the strong lean frame hidden under those ill-fitting clothes. He had clearly seen the other side of sixty but this was no soft man. Like Fred, I could picture him riding a mongrel horse or holding his own in a boxing ring, using native cunning to beat the odds, even if his best days were behind him.

His story was that, after the early days where Fred and were comrades in arms on the Australian Rodeo Circuit and each had won a good share of cash and prizes, that he had set his mind on going international, particularly in the US and Canada where the best money was to be made. Along the way he also dabbled with some events in Europe and South America, places like Chile were it was a main national sport, Brazil and Argentina where it was also part of national culture even if the events were different, and places like Germany and Hungary where the sport was smaller but there was still a loyal following. It had been a natural progression for him to move from competitor to event organiser and promoter. That was where the best money lay.

This man, Jake as I called him then, was nothing if not sharp in that space, as shown by his cleaning up of the bookies on a long odds racehorse today. Finally, when the rodeo call faded, he had married a Chilean girl. For several years they had settled on a ranch in its far south, a place of lakes, snow and high mountains, so he told me. There had never been children but they had a good life with their ranch, cattle and horses, until the cancer took her five years ago.

Then, at a loose end, he had returned to his former business and had quickly picked up the threads and started to organise high end exhibition rodeos, with a select group of horses, cattle and riders and, as backers and spectators, high wealth people who wanted the best of the sport that money could buy. This new life had worked out pretty well, except a couple years ago, in Victoria, when he was waylaid by Animal Rights activists wanting to shut his business down. When a couple had got in his face he had rearranged their faces. He was now wanted on two assault charges which, according to his lawyer, were likely to result in a stretch in jail.

So he was not keen to be recognised or have authorities in Australia know his real name, even though he still thought of himself as an Aussie. However, on the trip that caused the problems a couple of years ago, he had also got the information about who I was from JJ. So he had wanted to meet me. It had taken a couple years to arrange but here he was.

I liked this man and his story intrigued me, though it would be a stretch to say I entirely trusted him, but still he was a once mate of Fred and that was a good enough introduction for me.

It was clear he had done his research on me pretty well and knew a fair smattering of the stories that had done the rounds about me. He did not hint at knowing anything darker but did say. “When I finally got that letter from Fred, some years after he penned it, it seemed the time to help you already had passed. It appears from what I have since found out about you that you have done well for yourself without any help from others. That comes as no surprise as Fred obviously saw the potential in you then added his own bit to your raw skills.

So I doubt you are needing anything from me. But still, having gone to an effort to run you to ground, I thought I should put a business proposition to you, should it be of interest.

Those who have seen you ride lately tell me that you still have it in you to ride a wild horse better than most and to look pretty as you do it, even if you have not done any serious buckjumping events of late.

What I want is a dozen class riders, one or two from each of a range of rodeo countries, Aussie, Kiwi, Yank, Canadian, Chile, Brazil, maybe a couple other South Americans, and three or four Europeans. Then I will put together a championship event that is part an individual rider event and part a country and region championship; the boys from Down Under versus the best of the Europeans, the North versus the South Americans, that sort of thing.

The tour would be held in key places in North and South America with maybe one European event in somewhere like Spain, or the East, where the activists have no sway. I would pay each rider a retainer, something per week and something per ride as well as prize money. It is really a show for rich lovers of the sport who have fat wallets which they will open wide for an exclusive experience of seeing and mixing it with the best of the best.

So my proposition to you is to be one of my Down Under Team, to take on a riding name something like, ‘the new Breaker M, come again’.

As well I need a bit of help with the organising, getting the right stock, training, setting up events, paying local contractors, that sort of thing. I think, following in Fred’s footsteps, it is something that would fit you.

I am doing the circuit of various countries scouting talent. I need to know who I have got within a couple weeks. It will be organised with Chile and the States, maybe Texas, as the main bases for the North and South Americas. If you are in then I need a commitment for a year. It is not something to do year after year, but the idea is for a one off international completion, a bit like a World Cup of Rodeo that someone would put on every few years.

I reckon if I do the first one, someone else might pick up the next. I have five M cash from a rich backer to put the show on and anything else we raise from ticket sales and other backers is a bonus. So while we are not rolling in cash for a big event it puts us in a good place to get underway. We will need about six months to put it together then three or four months for the events to run including heats and finals in the various countries and a month or two to tidy up afterwards.




Chapter 4 - Chile

So it was that a month later I was in Santiago, Chile, a country of which until my arrival, I knew almost nothing. The deal, done on a handshake was that Paddy, as I had begun to call him, would pay me $100,000 for my contract services to help him set up and manage the event over a year, another hundred as a riding retainer, and a fee of $10,000 a ride along with half of any prize money I won. The cash was of minor importance but the terms seemed more than fair. I would ride under a name still to be determined but with the name Breaker M as a part, and the promo would link my name to the famous Breaker of 100 years past.

I was OK with the M for Mark but did not want the B, and also did not want it directly said that I was the Breaker returned again, that seemed too presumptuous. If I rode well enough it may be that some others would make that claim, but I did not want it coming from me as a boast. At the end of the day, the rides I did would be what told any tale to be told, good or bad.

After three days in the city meeting the business backers, we flew out in a small plane along the spine of the Andes. First we went north, leaving the fields and farms surrounding Santiago behind, heading into an increasingly arid place of of barreness below beetling mountains. We landed at a mid sized city called Calama, which had boasted a copper mine in the past from which huge wealth had come. In this town lived a former major shareholder of the mine, Enrico, with a huge love of the Rodeo. He was our main sponsor and for a night he entertained us like royalty and listened to all our stories and told a few of his own. He had aspired in his early years to be one of the great riders until his father and uncle had brought him into the business and told him of his family obligation to more serious matters. Now in his seventies, but still fit and active he had conceived with Paddy the original idea for this grand event to showcase Chile to the world, and was bursting with enthusiasm now it was finally becoming reality. He would come to Paddy’s Ranch in a month to watch it all take shape once the main riders were assembled. In part he was like a school boy bubbling with enthusiasm and in part he was a powerful business man, but after that day I mainly thought of him as a friend and ally in this grand venture.

I could feel his affection for Paddy was real and he told me, in an almost shy way, that the proudest day in his life was when he had presented Paddy with a national champion’s medal a couple decades earlier, in his days as a great rider. With that story, more than anything he bought my loyalty.

Next day we were heading south for the Ranch, tracking the edge of the mountains as we passed by Santiago and continued on our way. To say this country was beautiful was an understatement. Snow covered mountains rose far above our plane and, as we tracked southwards, the low country became an ever more rich and fertile series of valleys, a mix of crops and stock, and towns in an obvious Spanish style. Further south, it was a land of lakes and snow covered hills, lying near to a dark and brooding ocean.

We landed after flying more than a thousand miles in a perfect valley ringed by hills, and settled onto a grassy strip. A man with a big hat on a small horse, galloped over and called on the two way radio for a car to collect us and soon we were settled into the front of a roaring fire in a big house that looked like a Spanish hacienda. That night we drank whiskey and ate steak while on the morrow the real work would begin.




Chapter 5 - Band of Brothers

I had always been an amateur in this game up until that time. Sure Fred had taught me a whole lot of skills and tricks to put on top of my earlier training by JJ, and I had plenty of practice in riding the crazier horses I had broken in. And I had ridden time in a few rodeo rides and collected a few prizes. But it had never been something I was really committed to, really just an occasional occupation to pass the time between other things.

But now it was a deadly serious occupation at two levels, one as a lead on ground organiser of a huge event, one with a big five plus million dollars attached to it, and a second as a serious competitor, one of a hand-picked few. I found myself seriously impressed by the calibre of others in this club, our dirty dozen, more or less as Paddy called us.

Each of us was a serious professional who wanted to be the best at what he did, not so much to beat the others, but for the skill involved in riding the best ever ride. Sure, we would be competitors, but much more we were all in this together and all wanted to help the whole become better than each part. It was as if I had found a family in comrades at arms that I had never really known before, I had close friends like Vic and odd others, but not ever really felt part of a team of the like-minded, a sort of band of brothers.

And over and above that this country lived, breathed and dreamed horses and riding and I was living in that dream. Rodeo was the official national sport and a bigger national obsession in most parts than football and the passion and dedication of even the average riders was huge, as was the celebrity status of the best.

I was an unknown but I rubbed shoulders with giants and walked a foot taller in that space. And Paddy was one of them; his hard riding days were past but a level of hero status still lived on, which I saw through old films of his rides. Fred was good but if anything Paddy was better, that lean wiry body that twisted and turned and yet remained balanced astride an animal below. I did not see him a lot as we were both very busy with our parts but we now had a real and trusted friendship, and I told him a couple times I was glad he had run me to ground and he admitted to a similar satisfaction.

When I had come back with Paddy to Chile it was just him and me, and then Enrico, though he had half a dozen riders of great promise lined up to start in a month. They did not get the same instant terms as me but had to prove themselves whereas he regarded the fact I had done an apprenticeship under Fred as proof enough.

His idea was to find recognised riders of undoubted brilliance but either relatively early in their career, or where, for some reason, the fates had intervened and limited their chance to make a name. He would use them as the foundation of a team. He hoped these riders would be keen to be a part of what we were planning as it would give them the chance to shine in a heavily promoted event and thus make a big name and some real money.

So in effect we were hand picking our main team of riders on the basis of a mix of potential and demonstrated ability. We only had space for a select few and wanted those who we picked to bring something really memorable to the event. And we did not want those with over big egos or a high sense of self-importance as they would be hard to manage and likely to lead to friction with other riders if they considered themselves as too special.

The one exception was Chile where he wanted his riders to emerge as national champions from a national competition. So he was running a special event here where he would allow entries from those who had won classes in other national rodeos and then select those who won provided they showed a willingness to be part of his team and concept. The strange thing here was that this country’s national rodeo was a different event, one where men on horses called huasos, had to cut our and manage a steer through a whole lot of moves where the horse and rider pushed its body into the outside fence.


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