Riley came out of the bush just after midday and saw the house down in the narrow valley before him. A string of smoke stood up from the roof.
When he was a hundred yards from the house, just beyond the outer sheds, a dog started barking. He saw a woman come to the back door, look at him, then go back inside. He knew she would have time to do whatever she wished. He wondered if there was a telephone.
As he passed, the dog leapt at him, straining beyond the reach of its chain. Its tail thrashed the air and its bark was shrill. But he knew it was only a brash, noisy animal. It would grant friendship to all. He thought about the warm, lean neck; how it would feel in his hands. The dog would think he was playing with it.
The woman was waiting as he came up to the back door. She greeted him easily, ignoring the rifle at his thigh.
"I thought it would be you," she said as she backed into the house before him.
His eyes swept the kitchen.
"I'm here by myself," the woman explained. "My man's gone down the valley for the day . . . help a friend pull stumps." She was anxious, her hands like heavy, nervous birds before her. Riley put the rifle down. He would give himself half an hour.
"I was almost expecting you," she continued. He looked at her. She gestured. "The radio's been talking about you all morning. . . . You must be hungry . . ."
She was a tall woman cloaked with a heavy spread of flesh. Yet her body did not droop. Her small features were gathered on a small face.
Riley stared at her. Her eyes slid away.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm hungry."
She waved at the food on the sink bench.
"There's more," she said.
Before he ate he pushed the coarse jersey away from his wrists and washed his hands carefully. Then he page 31attacked the bread and meat beside him. The woman's talk came fast.
"Most of them from down the flat are helping them look for you . . . my man isn't, of course. He was going to have nothing of it. He was a bit for you . . ." She hesitated. "Is it bad in there? Do you get it tough? You know . . .?"
Riley looked at her, his mouth thick with food. Her face was stupid, he thought. He nodded his head at her.
"Well, you're doing alright," she told him. "They were over behind Kimberly late this morning. That's a good six miles away."
"Yeah . . .," he managed.
She brightened. Her eyes found the rifle.
"Where did you get the gun?"
Flecks of food flew from his mouth.
"Huh. Say . . ." She made a show of remembering. "I suppose you could use some liquor."
She made a move further into the house. He grabbed her arm.
"Wait," he said.
He threw the half-eaten joint of meat at the sink and followed her into the interior of the house. There was a telephone hanging on the wall of the dim passage.
She went into a large bare room and crouched down in front of a cupboard. He stood behind her as she examined the bottles, and he saw the shape of her through the taut material of the frock. She was bulky.
Then as she drew back towards him, bottle in hand, he stooped and threw her on her back like a turtle. The bottle crashed over the floor. She clawed at his face.
She tried to bite him when he was on her, but when he had spent his bigness and was easy beside her, the blood was running out from her mouth over her face. Her eyes were shut.
"I had wanted that," she said.
He laughed. She was stupid alright.
Then suddenly he lifted himself up beside her and page 32ripped the rest of the material from her body. The flesh moved pale, released. Her eyes remained shut.
Clenching his hands, he bent and kneaded her breasts. His knuckles were sharp and horny, and he watched her fight the pain in her face. His knee came up into her soft, open crutch. She squealed.
Then his hands were into her neck and he was straddling the bucking body as if he was fighting a horse.
He found the bottle still intact against the wall. It was a third full of whisky. He found an old haversack in the kitchen and he stuffed it with the bottle and some food. Then he picked up the rifle and left the house.
The dog sprang at him, its body eager, eyes bright. He cursed, he had forgotten it.
Abruptly he brought the rifle to his shoulder and snapped the catch off. But the animal sprang aside as he fired.
The bullet entered its back and slammed it to the ground. Its eyes flickered, filmed, and it whimpered like a human. Its fur was splashed with blood. Riley's temper broke.
"F . . . you dog!" he screamed. "F . . . you dog!"
And with four more bullets he blasted a hole the size of a fist in the animal's head.
Then he turned and started at a run for the hills.