On a steamy summer day in 1964, sixteen-year-old Guy Harmon is drawn into a situation more dangerous than even his youthful imagination could have devised. Life in Roxborough, his rural Australian hometown, has never been this mysterious or confusing-or exciting.
On the outskirts of town, he meets Amy, the girl of his dreams, along with her mother, Ruth. Smitt en as only a teen can be, he doesn't pick up a few warning signs. Guy has no way to know that this budding love story will end poorly for all involved. Soon, he is ensnared in a web of violence and lies, and his life spins out of control. Th e summer becomes a torturous endurance race as a man is murdered and the killers recruit Guy to help dispose of the body. One of his friends, an innocent witness to the murder, wonders if he is safe. What's more, Amy and Ruth turn out to be not as trustworthy as he thought they'd be.
Now an adult, Guy returns to Roxborough to say goodbye to a dear childhood friend who has died suddenly. The past and the present swirl together as Guy struggles desperately to make sense of those senseless summer days of sixty-four.
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By ROD MCKEOUGH
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Rod McKeough
All rights reserved.
THE SUMMER OF 1964
A hot sun in a clear blue cloudless sky greeted me as I left my father's grocery store in Roxborough and wandered down the main street. Summers were usually hot and this was no exception. A heat haze shimmered above the roadway and the pavement was like a bed of hot coals. I could feel the heat rising up through my feet as I walked, prompting me to quicken my stride. There was silence—broken neither by any soft breeze to rustle the papers scattered in the gutter, nor the rumble of cars passing by. Apart from a few vehicles parked in the street and two or three people walking aimlessly by, the main street was deserted.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon and as was the custom, I was meeting my friends at the local cafeteria in the central square to discuss plans for the weekend. As I entered the café, I could hear the music from the jukebox above the incessant chatter of teenage voices. Tired ceiling fans, which had worked too hard on many searing summer days, had already lost their battle to circulate cool air in a room packed with teenagers and a few adults. I stood in the doorway, looking from right to left for a familiar body or voice.
I spun in the direction of the sound and spotted my friends in the back corner of the room. They waved to me as I grabbed a Coke and moved in and out of the tables and towards them. We were all sixteen and lived in the same street.
I sat next to Ivan, grinning inwardly at the infinite care he must have taken with his appearance: not one blond hair out of place, even his sandals were polished. I sipped on the Coke.
"Geez it's hot!" I remarked, wiping the perspiration from my forehead.
"Yeah!" he replied, as he finished downing a milkshake. He carefully wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"How come you never look hot? I'm sweating like a pig and you ... well you ... not a sign!" I remarked.
"Dunno! The heat doesn't really affect me much," he answered nonchalantly.
"I saw your dad loading the trailer. Goin' somewhere?" "Yeah! We're going away for a holiday. Dad has four weeks off work," Ivan grinned.
Ivan's dad, a Hungarian immigrant, worked at the local sawmills.
"When ya going?" I asked, as I leaned back in my chair, and placed the icy cold bottle against my forehead.
"Then why is he loading the trailer now? He's got plenty of time."
"Dad likes to be prepared. He'll load most of the gear now. The rest he'll load the day before we leave."
"My dad would wait till the last moment and then he'd get angry at everyone because he had to rush it or he'd forgotten something," I said.
"What about you, Georgie? Goin' away?" I asked my friend, sitting opposite.
"Huh?" he grunted.
Georgie Henderson had an intellectual disability and sometimes it took him a while to understand what you were saying.
"Are you going away for a holiday or staying here?" I repeated.
"My dad can't afford a holiday so I'm staying in Roxborough," he answered, running his hand through his thick, dark curly hair.
Georgie then proceeded to pick at the multitude of pimples that blemished his face. All this time, his restless, inquisitive eyes moved constantly—at once observing everything, yet comprehending little. Sometimes, it was difficult to grab and retain his attention.
"Looks like you and me, Guy!" He grinned.
I muttered, "Good to know Georgie."
I wasn't being petulant or sarcastic about spending my holidays with Georgie. In fact he was good company. I was simply frustrated because Ivan was leaving Roxborough for four weeks and I was, I had to concede, just a little jealous. I wasn't looking forward to spending another vacation at home.
At the end of the table sat the pin-up boy of our group, Billy Jenkins. He had his back turned to us as he chatted to some of his football mates. He was easily recognised as an unabashed fan of Elvis with his long, slick, black hair complemented by the mandatory blue jeans and jacket he wore like a uniform.
"How ya goin' Billy?" I asked loudly, to get his attention.
He did not reply at first, but eventually turned around, to acknowledge my presence.
"Fine! How's it goin' Harmon?" he answered with a grin.
"Hot!" I replied.
"Yeah! Too hot! I need another drink."
Like most city-bred boys, Billy moved in a manner that was different from his country peers. He carried himself across the room with a blatant swagger, exuding an air of confidence. As I watched him, I remembered when he arrived in town with his father, Jim Jenkins, the local policeman. I had helped Billy settle into the house opposite mine. He had confided in me about his mother deserting him at an early age. I didn't ask why, but assumed it was because his father transformed into an abusive, loud, foul-mouthed man when he drank—and he was a man who certainly liked a drink.
on many nights, I heard him arguing loudly with his father. Sometimes I heard Billy cry out in pain and I guessed he'd been hit. My suspicions were vindicated when I saw him with welts and bruising on his face following an argument with his father. Billy always proffered a viable excuse, so I chose to ignore both the rumours that were generated by some townsfolk and the physical evidence of his injuries. I didn't envy his life—no mother and an abusive father.
A thump on my arm followed this greeting, heralding the arrival of the last of our group, Samantha Bennett.
Without looking up and turning around I remarked, "Well! We were just saying how quiet it was without Sam. Then you turned up!" I grinned, expecting another thump but instead I got an angry retort.
"okay! I know when I'm not wanted. I'll go. See ya!"
As she turned to go I grabbed her arm and hastily apologised, realising she was angry.
"I was only joking. Sit down, silly!" I said, motioning to the chair beside me.
Sam pouted and remained standing. "only if you say 'I'm a great big girl'."
Both Ivan and Georgie giggled as I blushed. "No way!" I exclaimed.
She pulled away from my grip. I quickly mumbled, "okay! I'm a great big girl."
"Sorry! I can't hear you."
She was goading me—and it worked. Without thinking, I shouted, "I'm a great big girl."
Everyone in the room automatically stared in my direction. I could feel the blood rushing to my face as I rested my head on the table. I tried to cover my embarrassment by hiding in the crook of one arm. Ivan, Georgie and Sam laughed hysterically and soon everyone else joined in.
Sam sat alongside me, grabbed my Coke and took a swig. She enjoyed teasing me and I tolerated her antics because she was my best friend, even though she was a girl. Back then it was unusual for a sixteen-year-old boy to have a girl as a best friend but I had grown up with Sam. From an early age she had followed me around. We had done many things together and I found it difficult to imagine not having her around, even though she could be a pest at times. She took off her cap and ruffled her honey blonde hair.
She grinned and winked. "Well, You should know by now that no-one messes with Sam. Isn't that right Georgie?"
A huge smile crossed Georgie's face as he agreed, "Yep! No-one messes with Sam."
Sam lived in the same street as the rest of us. She was a tomboy.
Her father had wanted his first child to be a boy and had even picked out the name—Sam. When she was born, Sam became Samantha. She spent more time with us than with girls her own age. To look at her, you'd think she was a boy—jeans, shirt hanging out untidily and a baseball cap tucked firmly on her head hiding her hair.
Spare time in Roxborough allowed teenagers a raft of pursuits. We 'hung out' with friends, played sport and rode our motor bikes on the dirt roads and tracks on the outskirts of town. Sometimes we went hunting. Most teenagers had access to a gun and the forest areas were perfect for hunting. Many sixteen-year-old boys occupied their spare time by pursuing the local girls but Ivan, Georgie and I were rather self-conscious and shy. As a result, girls were off limits for us three, at least for the time being.
Billy Jenkins had already logged plenty of experiences with the opposite sex and compensated for our inexperience with his ever-present eagerness to regale us with his many escapades with girls from the city as well as local girls.
I looked around at the others expectantly, "What are we doing?"
"Well!" suggested Ivan, "I thought we might go to the Waterhole."
"Sounds great! Let's go! Ivan with me and Sam with Georgie."
Sam smiled sweetly at Georgie, "How about I ride your bike?" She was trying to provoke a reaction and she got it. The immediate look of disappointment on Georgie's face prompted her to add, "only joking."
We all knew how much Georgie loved riding his bike.
The Waterhole was about twenty minutes from the town, at the foot of the mountains. It was a quiet area surrounded by trees and was only accessible by bikes or off-road vehicles. Few adults used it and so it was a popular swimming hole for the youth of the town. Ivan was the only one of us who didn't have a bike, so he always rode with me.
I moved around the table to get Billy's attention and said loudly, "We're going to the Waterhole. Coming?"
He gave me a cursory glance and answered, "okay! But later ... see you there!"
We left him chatting and laughing with his friends and walked home to gather our gear and bikes. It was almost two in the afternoon when we had finally pushed our bikes to the outskirts of town.
We rode across the noisy wooden bridge traversing the Karinya River and sped up the bitumen road towards the mountains. Ten minutes later, we turned off the highway onto a winding dirt road. The road gradually disappeared and became a narrow track as it coiled its way through the forest. All I could hear above the gentle hum of the 125cc motorbikes was the crackling noises of leaves and twigs beneath our tyres, as we raced along the forest floor.
Georgie was a fearless rider but his fearlessness often ended with him lying in a ditch because he was speeding or doing something else that required more forethought than he was able to summon. Today he had to follow me so there would be no silly accidents. For once, he had to ride in the slipstream of dust rolling back from behind my bike. The further we progressed, the denser the forest became, the shade canopy of the trees shielding us from the oppressive heat of the sun.
About fifteen minutes later we arrived at the Waterhole and parked our bikes under a tree. We had our swimming gear on under our clothing so in a matter of seconds Georgie, Ivan and I were ready to dive into the water. Sam had moved away to the other side of the tree to remove her top and shorts and joined us shortly after. She smiled in amusement at our gaping mouths and transfixed eyes. Georgie gave a loud wolf whistle and smiled.
"What?" Sam asked with a grin.
She was wearing a black one-piece swimsuit and it was plain to see she had developed into a lovely young woman. The black swimsuit highlighted her curves and all we three males could do was stare. Our preoccupation was rather rude but Sam had certainly filled out in the last few months.
She repeated, "What?"
She laughed at our embarrassment as we tried to mask the fact we'd been ogling her. I knew that I could never again look at her as one of the boys—not ever. I glanced at the others and I knew instantly that they felt the same way. In a short time Sam had changed into a Samantha.
I mumbled, "Um ... you look different."
Her cheeky grin showed that she knew what I was thinking. In accord with her basic character Sam was enjoying seeing us squirm.
"The last time I saw you in swimmers you were a skinny kid just like a ..."
My voice trailed off and I looked at Ivan for support but he'd turned away and pretended to busy himself tidying up his clothes. Georgie ... well Georgie just stared, his mouth agape. Neither of them were any help.
Sam finished the sentence for me. "A boy?"
Before I could answer Georgie had recovered his vocal ability and blurted out, "You've got tits!"
Trust Georgie to be honest. Sam, Ivan and I burst out laughing. Georgie was puzzled for a moment but joined in when he realised we were laughing at his remark. He reached into a bag on the side of his bike and pulled out a bottle of beer. He tied a cord around the top of the bottle and gently lowered it into the cool water.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked, knowing full well he had stolen it from his dad's secret stash. I grabbed two packets of cigarettes from my bike and placed them on a rock under the tree. We all laughed again, in the knowledge that Georgie was not the only bandit in our midst, since I had taken them from my father's store.
"One day you two will get caught and cop it," grinned Ivan.
I scrambled down the bank and into the water. It was cool and the slippery mud oozed between my toes as I waded out to where the water was waist deep. Before I could turn to the others, I was bombarded by Georgie who threw himself into the water like an exploding bomb, quickly followed by Ivan and Sam. They stood up, shaking the water from their faces and laughing like little children. They had expected me to retaliate but I had dived under the water and disappeared temporarily, breaking the surface some five yards away. We dived and swam, enjoying the respite from the summer heat.
The Waterhole was at the base of a small waterfall that trickled down the mountainside. Oak trees stood like sentinels on all sides, their large overhanging branches protecting us from the sun. Intermittent rays of sunlight broke through and glimmered on the surface of the water that was largely shrouded by the canopy of leaves. The dark, tranquil water reflected the surrounding landscape. A tattered, worn rope hung from the branch of a gnarled oak and we used it to swing out and drop from a great height into the water. Here was a perfect spot to spend a relaxing few hours on a Saturday afternoon.
After spending almost an hour in the water we scrambled out and sat under a tree to smoke cigarettes and drink some of Georgie's cold beer. I really didn't like smoking or drinking beer but for reasons I could not deny, it made me feel more grown-up. Ivan declined both the cigarette and beer offered him.
By contrast, Georgie loved to imitate the actions of adults by dangling a cigarette from his mouth or trying, usually unsuccessfully, to blow smoke rings. Without fail, he would always deliver a loud gut wrenching belch after gulping down the beer and then look at us with a silly grin on his face, waiting for our response.
Sam was willing to try anything but after a puff on my cigarette and a mouthful of beer she screwed up her face and declared, "That's awful! My mum says kissing a man who smokes and drinks is disgusting. Now, I am sure she is right."
Ivan grinned, "So who have you kissed lately?"
"Don't be silly! Nobody ... yuck!" retorted Sam.
This was an opportunity I couldn't miss. Sam took pleasure in making fun at my expense and now was my chance, for once, to turn the tables.
I teased, "Come on ... I've seen you eyeing off Robbie Kirkland. I bet you kissed him."
"Yuck! I don't like him so there ... What about you? Who have you kissed?"
That shut me up. Trust Sam to find a weakness in my makeup. My pride was salvaged by Georgie who had returned from the water's edge.
"Where ya going on ya holidays, Ivan?" he asked, as he scratched his legs. He had splattered mud on them and let it bake dry. He took great delight in peeling off the dry mud.
"We're going to Pindimar Beach—on the coast."
He grinned as the rest of us, po-faced and envious, sat staring into the water.
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Billy and his friends. The Waterhole quickly became a noisy, frenetic place with plenty of loud squealing and laughter as members of the group dived and swam. After the beer, none of us was in the mood to join them so we sat and watched in silence. Finally, Sam decided to join a group of girls sitting near the water's edge.
Several boys dived and swam under water towards girls and tried to pull off their bikini tops, much to the delight of the other boys. Georgie revelled in this spectacle and was keen to get back into the water. Billy stood on the bank and chatted to Lauren, a beautiful blonde in a brief bikini. She had a reputation in town—the local scuttlebutt insisted that she had lost her virginity at age twelve. My outlook, albeit based only on flimsy personal experience, was that she and Billy were made for each other.
Excerpted from BURIED SECRETS by ROD MCKEOUGH. Copyright © 2013 by Rod McKeough. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The Summer of 1964.................... 1
Chapter 2. The Waterhole.................... 8
Chapter 3. The Gifts.................... 18
Chapter 4. Amy.................... 26
Chapter 5. The Explanation.................... 39
Chapter 6. Green with Envy.................... 53
Chapter 7. Best Friends.................... 66
Chapter 8. The First Incident.................... 70
Chapter 9. The Second Incident.................... 78
Chapter 10. A Lost Cause.................... 88
Chapter 11. The Aftermath.................... 96
Chapter 12. The Unwelcome Visitor.................... 105
Chapter 13. The Aftermath.................... 126
Chapter 14. The Burial.................... 134
Chapter 15. The Departure.................... 142
Chapter 16. Life after Amy.................... 149
Chapter 17. The Sawmill.................... 157
Chapter 18. Decisions.................... 163
Chapter 19. Another Twist of Fate.................... 174
Chapter 20. The Trial.................... 182
Chapter 21. The Trial Begins.................... 189
Chapter 22. New Evidence.................... 200
Chapter 23. A New Beginning.................... 209
Chapter 24. Memories.................... 215
Chapter 25. Georgie's New Love.................... 221
Chapter 26. The Present—1984.................... 225
Chapter 27. Just a Matter of Time.................... 236