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Clement's Corner: The Beachcomber And The Bag

So what is in the black bag which Brett buries on the island? And is the beachcomber who sees him do it a friend or a foe? Owen Clement tells a tense intriguing tale.

Brett Sloan rode up the overgrown seldom used track. Lantana branches snagged at his clothes. With difficulty he managed to prevent the heavy-duty black plastic garbage bag he clutched to his chest from being ripped.

Reaching the edge of the sand dune, he pushed his mountain bike out of sight behind some Bitu bushes. Throwing the bag over his shoulder he trudged over the dune and across the stretch of fine white sand to the small island accessible only at low tide.

With only an hour before the tide’s return he trod cautiously over the sharp craggy volcanic rocky shelf and up the grassy slope alert for the myriad of Mutton bird burrows dotting the island. A twisted ankle, or worse a broken leg, could prove disastrous, if not fatal, as the chance of being spotted by anyone was nil, or so he thought. That was why he chose this island to secretly hide the bag and its contents. Unknown to him though, he was being secretly watched by Sandy Hancock.

Sandy covertly watched Brett through a different clump of Bitu bushes. Tired of travelling along highways, living off road-kills and handouts, he decided to squat in a disused fishing shack. Brett was the only person he had seen in weeks. He watched the muscular youth disappear over the other side of the slope of the small island carrying a bag and then re-emerge about a half-an-hour later without it. Sandy saw him stand on the crest and scan the beach carefully; apparently satisfied that no one had seen him, Sandy saw him retrace his steps and leave.

Sandy decided to investigate at the next low tide early the next day.

When Brett had stood on the crest of the island scouring the beach, something seemed amiss. He could not say what, but he was convinced that he was being watched. He too decided to return for the next low tide.

His pre-dawn ride through the thorny lantana the next morning proved more hazardous. Sporting scratches on his arms and face he parked his bike before carefully made his way up the dune to where he could secretly observe the beach and the island through the greenery.

His prediction proved right as there, waiting for the sea to stop swirling over the rocky shelf, was a heavily-built scruffy looking beachcomber. Brett ducked down when the man turned to look his way.

Satisfied that he was alone, Sandy crossed the causeway and cautiously made his way up and over the top of the island. Brett saw his head reappear and look around, apparently satisfied that he had not been seen, he disappeared once again. Brett took off, collecting a large chunk of driftwood on the way. He quickly made his way up to the top of the hill and looking down saw the man searching around.

Out of the corner of his eye Sandy caught sight of Brett looking down at him legs astride brandishing a club. Standing his ground he waited for Brett’s next move.

Making his way down, Brett approached the middle-aged man. “What are you doing here?” His voice boomed.

“Nothing.”

“Don’t lie to me old man.”

“Just lookin’ around.”

“You saw me yesterday didn’t you?”

“Yeh, so what, I never touched anything.“

“What’s your name?”

“Sandy, what’s yours?”

Brett laughed, “Sandy for a beachcomber, are you having me on?”

“No, that’s my name, Sandy Hancock.”

“Mine’s Brett. It’s not treasure you know.”

“Treasure?”

“What I’ve stashed away.”

Sandy said nothing.

“Over here.” Brett indicated with a jerk of his head as he moved about twenty metres to a recently disturbed area and began clearing away the sand with his hands. Finally he pulled out the large black bag. Dusting off the sand, he undid the knot and pulled out a photograph album, a bundle of letters, some books and a few of his childhood mementoes. “Not safe around the house, you see – my bastard of a stepfather would dispose of the lot given half a chance.’’

Sandy nodded - his expression indicated that he understood Brett’s fears only too well. “Put it back, I won’t touch it,’’ he said gruffly. He stood by while Brett reburied the precious bundle. He then took over studiously camouflaging the site by brushing the sand with his fingertips and tossing around bits of dried seaweed and broken shells. Gripping Brett’s arm he said earnestly, “I hereby put a curse on anyone, other than you, who puts a hand on it.”

Brett grinned.

“You may smile kid, but my curses have worked before, believe me.”

Noticing the boy’s cuts and scratches Brett’s step-father secretly followed Brett’s tracks by car on the boy’s next visit to the island. He arrived in time to see Brett clamber over Mutton Bird Island. Grinning, he turned back and drove off.

Brett had heard the car come and go.

At the next low tide at dusk that evening, Sandy was not surprised to see a fat-gutted man dressed in stubbies, T-shirt and thongs appear from the sand dunes and cross the beach to the island. As soon as he began his climb, Sandy saw Brett appear and make his way down to the island. Sandy decided to join the lad.

“Hey !”, Brett called out.

Alarmed at being caught out by Brett and a rough looking character, he stepped back accidentally going into a Mutton bird burrow. He toppled over awkwardly severely twisting his ankle.

Both Brett and Sandy looked at each other, turned and moved back up the beach: Brett collected his bike and rode off; Sandy returned to his shack.
.
Realizing his perilous situation of being on the island without food or water for hours, the injured man dragged his body down the slope and over the craggy rock shelf badly scraping his hands and legs in the process.

The next day the police, alerted by his absence, found him in an extremely distressed state.

Brett returned to collect his bag and to thank and say goodbye to Sandy, as the time had arrived for him to leave home.

The shack was deserted except for Brett’s stepfather’s thongs placed neatly outside the door.


© Clement 2006


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