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HE MADE the decision at two in the morning. There'd been no serious car crashes in the last few hours. No appendices or aneurisms, no ruptures, assaults or dramas. Night shift at City Central was deathly quiet.
He wanted it to be more so. No less than four nurses and one intern had used the lull to ask him how he was coping. "No, really, Dr Reynard, if you'd like to talk about it..."
He didn't. He glowered at everyone who came close, he settled himself in the staff lounge, and he concentrated on his reading. Specifically, he concentrated on reading the 'Appointments Vacant' in this month's medical journal.
"Where's Dimboola?" 'My aunty lives in Dimboola," one of the theatre nurses ventured. "It's in North West Victoria. Aunty Liz says it's a great little town."
"Right,'he said, and struck a line through Dimboola. There was silence while he checked a few more ads. Then: 'Where's Mission Beach?"
"North Queensland," the same nurse told him. "You remember Joe and Jodie?"
"Joe and Jodie?" 'Joe was the paediatric intern here last year. Big, blond guy almost as hunky as you. Six feet tall and yummy--every sensible woman's dream." She grinned, but in a way that said her compliment wasn't idle banter but was designed to cheer him up. As was everything anyone said to him at the moment. Let's look after Fergus...
"Joe married Jodie Walters from ICU," she continued, as she failed to elicit a smile. "They took a job at Port Douglas last year and that's close to Mission Beach."
OK. Fergus sorted the dross and came up with the information he needed. There were people he knew close to Mission Beach.
Heknew the next place in the list of advertisements, and the next, and the next. More advertisements were consigned to oblivion. Then: 'Where's Cradle Lake?"
This was hopeful. He gazed around, checking each of his colleagues for any sign of recognition. "Does anyone know where Cradle Lake is?"
"Never heard of it," Graham, his anaesthetist, told him. "Cradle Mountain's in Tasmania. Is it near there?"
"Apparently not. It has a New South Wales postcode"
"Never heard of it, then." 'No one knows it?" Fergus demanded, and received four shakes of four heads in reply.
"Great,'he said, and the line became a circle. "That's where I'm going."
Ginny got the phone call at two in the morning. She'd known it had been coming, but it didn't make it any less appalling.
Richard was ringing from his hospital bed. He hadn't wanted her with him when he was told, and he'd waited until now to call.
Who could blame him? Where could anyone find the courage to face news like this, much less pass it on?
"They can't do another transplant,'he said, in a voice devoid of all emotion. "The specialists say there's no hope it'll work."
"I guessed it must be that," she whispered. "When you didn't call earlier, I thought it must be bad news. Oh, Richard." She sat up in bed, trying not to cry. "I'll come." 'No. Not now." 'What are you doing?" 'Staring at the ceiling. Wondering how I'm going to face what's coming. And whether I have the right to ask..."
"To ask what?" 'Ginny, I want to go home. Back to Cradle Lake."
She drew in her breath at that. She hadn't been near Cradle Lake for years.
Richard had referred to Cradle Lake as home. Home was where the heart was, she thought dumbly. Home surely wasn't at Cradle Lake.
"Richard, there are no medical facilities at Cradle Lake. I don't think there's even a doctor there any more."
"The time for the clever stuff is over,'he said, so roughly that he made himself gasp for breath. It took him a moment or two to recover, gaining strength for the next thought. "I just need... I just need to know it'll be OK. Surely having a doctor for a sister has to count for something.You can do what's necessary."
"I don't know that I can." 'You can keep me pain-free?"
There was only one answer to that. The medical part was the least of what she was facing, and it wasn't her medical skills she was doubting. "Yes."
"Well, then." 'Richard, the house..." Her mind was spinning at tangents, trying to find a way out of what was inescapable. "It's been neglected for years."
"You can get it fit for us. If I stay in hospital for a few more days, you'll have time to organise it. We don't need luxury. I'm prepared to stay here until the weekend."
Gee, thanks, she thought, her mind churning through grief, through shock and confusion, surfacing suddenly with anger. He'd wait while she quit the job she loved. While she packed up her apartment. While she salvaged the wreck of a house she hated, and while she moved her life back to a place she loathed.
But at least she had a life. She closed her eyes, willing anger to retreat. She knew from experience that anger made pain recede. That was why she was feeling it now, but in the long term anger didn't help anything. Pain would always surface.
She couldn't let her anger show. Nor her pain. "Are you sure you want to do this?" she managed, and was thankful she was on the end of the phone and not by her brother's bedside. She didn't want him to see her like this. She was trembling all over, shaking as if she'd been placed on ice.
"I'm sure," he said, more strongly. "I'm going to sit on our back veranda and..."
His voice broke off. He didn't have to finish. They both knew the word that would finish the sentence. This was a family song, sung over and over.
"Will you do this for me, Ginny?" he asked in a voice that had changed, and once again there was only one reply.
"Of course I will," she managed. "You know I will."
She always had, she thought, but she didn't say it. There was no point in saying what they both knew.
The cost of life was losing.
SHE was lying where he wanted to drive.
Dr Fergus Reynard was lost. He'd been given a map of sealed roads, but sealed roads accounted for about one per cent of the tracks around here. Take the second track left over the ridge, the district nurse had told him, and he'd stared at wheel marks and tried to decide which was a track and which was just the place where some obscure vehicle had taken a jaunt through the mud after the last rain.
Somewhere around here, someone called Oscar Bentley, was lying on his kitchen floor with a suspected broken hip. Oscar needed a doctor. Him. The hospital Land Cruiser had lost traction on the last turn. He'd spun and when he'd corrected there had been a woman lying across the road.
The woman wasn't moving. She was face down over some sort of cattle grid. He could see tight jeans--so tight he knew it was definitely a woman. He could see ancient boots. She was wearing an even more ancient windcheater, and her caramel-blonde, shoulder-length curls were sprawled out around her.
Why was she lying on the road? He was out of the truck, reaching her in half a dozen strides, expecting the worst. Had she collapsed? Had she been hit before he'd arrived? He knelt, his medical training switching into overdrive.
"At last," she muttered, as he touched her shoulder. "Whoever you are, can you grab its other ear?"
Medical training took a step back. "Um... Pardon?" 'Its ear," she said. Her voice was muffled but she still managed to sound exasperated. "My arm's not long enough to get a decent hold. I can reach one ear but not the other. I've been lying here for half an hour waiting for the football to finish, and if you think I'm letting go now you've another think coming."
He needed to take in the whole situation. Woman lying face down over a cattle grid. Arm down through the grid.
He stared down through the bars.
She was holding what looked like a newborn lamb by the tip of one ear. The ear was almost two feet down, underneath the row of steel rails.
The pit was designed to stop livestock passing from one property to another. A full-grown sheep couldn't cross this grid. A newborn lamb couldn't cross the grid either, but this one had obviously tried. It was so small it had simply slipped through to the pit below.
OK. Trapped lamb. Girl lying on road. Fergus's training was asserting itself. In an emergency he'd been taught to take in the whole situation before doing anything.
Make sure there's no surrounding danger before moving into help mode.
On top of the ridge stood a ewe, bleating helplessly. She was staring down at them as if they were enemies--as if she'd like to ram them.
Did sheep ram anyone?
The girl obviously wasn't worried about ramming sheep, so maybe he shouldn't either. But maybe continuing to lie in the middle of the road wasn't such a great idea.
"I could have hit you," he said. Then, as she didn't answer, anxiety gave way to anger. "I could have run you over. Are you out of your mind?"
"No one drives fast on this track unless they're lunatics," she muttered, still clutching the lamb's ear. "Sane drivers always slow down at cattle grids."
That pretty much put him in his place. "Do you intend to stand there whinging about where I should or shouldn't lie, or are you going to help me?" the woman demanded, and he decided maybe he should do something.
"What do you want me to do?" 'Squeeze your arm through the bars and catch the other ear." 'Right." Maybe that was easier said than done. The woman was finely built, which was why she'd been able to reach the lamb. It'd be a harder call for someone heavier. Someone with a thicker arm. Like him. "Then what?'he said cautiously.
"I can't get my other arm into position. If I release this ear, he'll bolt to the other side of the pit and it'll take me ages to catch him again. If you can grab his other ear and pull him up for a moment, I reckon I can reach further down and get him by the scruff of the neck."
"And pull him out?"
She sighed. "That's the idea, Einstein." 'There's no need--" 'To be rude. No," she agreed. "Neither is there any need for me to rescue this stupid lamb. It's not even my lamb. But I just walked out to catch some bucolic air and I heard him bleating. It's taken ages to catch him and he'll die if I leave him. I've been in the one spot for half an hour waiting for the footy to finish so someone would come along this damned road--and the iron's digging into my face--so can we cut it out with the niceties and grab the stupid ear?"
"Right," he said, and rolled up his sleeves.
It was even harder than he'd thought. He had muscles, built from years of gym work at his well-equipped city hospital, and those muscles didn't help now. Up to his elbow was easy but then he had to shove hard and it hurt, and even then he could only just touch.
"Jump!" the woman yelled, and he and the lamb both jumped--which gave him access to an extra inch of ear. He got a hold.
They were now lying sprawled over the cattle grid with a lamb's ear each. Neat, Fergus thought, and turned to grin at her.
She wasn't grinning. She was pressed hard against him, her body warm against his, and she was concentrating solely on sheep.
"Let go and you're dead meat,'she muttered. "On the count of three, we pull our ears up."
"We'll break its neck." 'I only want to pull him up a couple of inches or so, in a nice smooth pull--no jerking--and then I'll grab his neck. If I try and pull by one ear, I'll break his neck. Ready, set... Now!"
What happened to the one, two, three? But he was ready and he'd gone beyond arguing. He tugged the lamb upward, she grabbed--and somehow she had a handful of wool at the back of the little creature's neck.
Then she had more orders. "Shove your hand under its belly,'she gasped, as she tugged the creature higher, and he did and thirty seconds later they had a shivery, skinny, still damply newborn lamb rising out of the pit into the late afternoon sun.
"Oh, hooray," the woman whispered. She struggled to her feet, cradling the lamb against her, and for the first time Fergus managed to get a proper look at her.
She was in her late twenties, he thought, deciding she wasn't a whole lot younger than his thirty-four years. She was five feet four or five, dressed in ancient jeans and an even more ancient windcheater. Her tousled curls were blowing everywhere. Freckles were smattered over a pert and pretty nose. She was liberally mud-spattered, but somehow the mud didn't matter. She was patting the lamb, but her clear brown eyes were assessing him with a candour that made him feel disconcerted.
She was some package. "You're not a local," she said, and he realised she'd been doing the same assessment as him.
"I'm the local doctor."
She'd been trying to stop the lamb from struggling as she ran her hands expertly over its body. She was doing an assessment for damage, he thought, but now her hand stopped in mid-stroke. "The local doctor's dead." 'Old Doc Beaverstock died five years ago," he agreed. "The people who run the hospital seem to think they need a replacement. That's me. Speaking of which, can you tell me--?"
"You're working here?" 'As of yesterday, yes."
Her eyes closed and when they opened again he saw a wash of pain. And something more. Relief?
"Oh, thank God," she said. Then she set the lamb onto its feet and let it go.