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ABERNETHY

abernethy cover

For fourteen-year-old Billy Alexander, things can’t get much worse. His father’s in gaol awaiting the outcome of his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and he and his mother have had to move to a new town. He’s having trouble dealing with his feelings towards his father, and hasn’t made any friends at his new school yet. Even worse, the class Over-Achieving-Golden-Boy-And-Bully has targeted him as the next victim. Billy really needs a genuine friend and some guidance.

Enter Abernethy, a beagle who, by virtue of having worked as a witch’s familiar, has been blessed with the power to communicate with certain people. One of those people is Billy. Abernethy becomes Billy’s mentor and friend, and helps him cope with his father’s incarceration, the bullying, his attempts to make new friends, and his mother’s suspected infidelity.

An enjoyable and heart warming story that should appeal to both young and not-as-young adults, and will make you wish you had a friend just like Abernethy, canine or otherwise.

In Store Price: $24.95 
Online Price:   $23.95

ISBN: 978-1-921574-95-5   
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 211
Genre: Fiction


 Buy as a pdf  Ebook version - $AUD9.00
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Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Simone Bailey
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English

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Author Bio.

 

Simone Bailey was born in Merriwa, in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales. As a young child she loved to write stories and as an adult found her niche as a paralegal/assistant in the Sydney legal industry, specialising in criminal law. She did contemplate undergoing a law degree but knew her heart lay elsewhere and instead undertook a pre-admission English literature course, and various courses in creative writing. After receiving several awards for short stories, she decided to tackle the novel. Her first novel, Calumny While Reading Irvine Welsh, was published by Zeus Publications in 2008. Abernethy is her second novel, and her first foray into writing young adult fiction, an experience she has enjoyed. She is currently at work on her third novel. 

When not wearing her author’s hat Simone is a wannabe actor with her local theatrical society and does casual stints as a legal secretary. She enjoys sketching, reading, cryptic crosswords, cooking, cinema, playing trivia, and is a music tragic. Upon publication of her first novel she started a blog for spruiking purposes. She has since embraced blogging to the point of zealotry, and well as publicity, uses her blog to voice her opinions on topics ranging from what’s currently making news, to dissing on songs she cannot stand (case in point: Ebony & Ivory). Her blog address is: www.bingellsblog.bigblog.com.au

She makes her home in Muswellbrook, Upper Hunter Valley, which she shares with her husband and their two sons, as well as an affectionate German shepherd/kelpie cross and a bad-tempered cockatiel.

Acknowledgements

  

Ever heard the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? It’s a bit like that with writing a book. Sure, I came up with the idea and characters and narrative, but I could not have done it without some help and support. Without the benefit of an Oscars ceremony type of orchestra to intervene when I get too long winded, I shall now start with the thank yous.

To my husband Peter, and our sons Aaron and Michael for believing in me. I’m a colossal pain in the proverbial when I’m in the ‘writing zone’, but you’ve tolerated me and somehow understood. If I could find the formula for a great family like you guys, I’d bottle and sell it, and we’d be millionaires. But you could never buy what we have.

To my past family members, I wish I could share this with you. To my present immediate family members: my father Les, my siblings Bronwynne and Jeremy, their spouses Peter and Kerrie, and the children they have brought to our family: Jade (now one half of Jade-and-Russ), Rodney (now one half of Rod-and-Nicky), Jacob, Ellie, Callum and Millie, 1 am thrilled and proud that I can share this with you. Clear another spot on the bookshelf, guys.

To the Bailey and Feneley families for their support and encouragement. No way am I going to list you all. As it stands, my total of first cousins adds up to about thirty, and then we start getting into the new wonderful cousins created by their respective spouses, and their children. I don’t have a family tree; I have a family forest. But let me tell you this: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some years ago I acquired another family forest when I married Peter, also the product of a large clan. The Cooper and Nolan families are always there for us. To them, family is everything. They have a point.

To my wonderful coterie of friends: thank you for your support and friendship. Getting back to the Oscars night analogy if I start listing you I’m bound to miss somebody and you all know who you are. How blessed I am to be able to draw support and inspiration from you all.

To the team at Zeus Publications: Bruce, Sandra, Marilyn, Shelley, Clive, and the others, how can I ever thank you enough?

To Jane Passfield, who took the time to answer my questions, and lent credence to my long-held theory that nurses don’t get paid or thanked enough. Also to Hamish Fibbins, whom I met when we were acting in an amateur production (although with professional attitude!), and who stoically bore my questions about playing Kenickie in a high school production of Grease. How fortunate I was to know you guys, and how grateful I am to you. Any errors contained herein pertaining to either Jane’s or Hamish’s field of expertise are mine and mine only. Don’t blame them.

So many people lend their time for high school productions such as the one contained herein. So many teachers, parents and citizens direct, choreograph numbers, coach, sew costumes, apply make up, or apply their lighting and sound know-how. You are very much appreciated. One person in particular always gave her time and incredible talent to local school productions in her own inimitable style. Denise Folpp gave her time to everybody, including me when I needed someone with a bit of nous to check some scenes I had written for this novel. She took the time to read the relevant manuscript, and help me. Tragically, she was taken too soon. Denise, I wish like crazy you were here to share this. You were a combination of angel and diva, a reservoir of talent, and an ocean of love. You will never be forgotten.

 

Chapter 1

 

T

here was much crunching as fourteen-year-old Billy Alexander rolled through the dried bushes and tumbled into the shallow creek, where the water was cold. But his backpack had not been swept away, thank whoever; the water was not deep enough for that. One strap was wrapped around a large stone. He rescued his backpack, and stood shivering in the crisp early autumn air, then stumbled back to the bank where he gratefully collapsed and caught his breath. As he pushed strands of his blonde hair from his face he noticed the ripped sleeve of his school jacket, and started to cry. Just softly, though. What if that gorilla Clayton Anderson and his jerk mates were still around?

What was his mother going to say when she saw the jacket? She might go postal and head straight to the school and report Clayton to the principal. Maybe he had better say he fell over, down the bank, and into the river. At least there would be no repercussions from Clayton. But how was he going to explain his watch? He would have to say he struck it on a small boulder as he was falling down the bank. That was almost true, but it had happened when he was wrestling Clayton. He sat up, unclasped the wide metal band, and slipped the watch into his pocket. He must look terrible, he thought. He decided to wait until the redness he was certain clouded his eyes was gone, and his nose was no longer runny.

The bushes rustled and crackled and trembled. What could that be? Please don’t let it be Clayton, Kyle, Harry, and Jack returning to inflict further harm.

It was not Clayton, Kyle, Harry and Jack. It was a rather handsome beagle with glossy tan ears, and eyes like melted Jamaican chocolate. The dog sat beside Billy and regarded him with some kind of doggy compassion. Billy smiled and scratched behind the dog’s ear.

‘Hey there,’ he said.

‘Hey, yourself,’ replied the beagle.

Eyes huge and jaw hanging, Billy scrambled to stand and his heels skidded on loose stones. He landed hard on his buttocks.

‘Careful,’ the dog warned. ‘You’ll end up going head over turkey back into the creek.’

Looking around wildly, Billy called, ‘Who’s there?’

‘Nobody’s there,’ said the dog. ‘It’s just us.’

‘Oh, come off it. Someone’s doing a ventriloquist act, or they’ve got a mike on your collar, or – ’

‘I’m not wearing a collar,’ interrupted the dog. ‘And I’m not a ventriloquist’s figure either. Trust me, there’s no hand up my backside. You can walk up to the top of the bank and look for yourself. I’ll mind your stuff for you.’

Billy staggered to the top of the bank and looked around. He looked one way; all he could see was the track of dark brown dirt winding and meandering through the bushes towards the tarred road. He looked the other way, and saw nothing but more dirt track, willow trees, bank, and water. There were no cars, nobody was fishing, and certainly nobody was ducking down in the bushes over their audio equipment sniggering at him.

He returned to the dog and sat down.

‘I don’t understand. I must be unconscious, or something. Clayton must have knocked me out.’

‘You’re not unconscious. You’re perfectly cognizant, and no, you are not going insane.’

‘But you’re talking!’

‘Well, observed, young man.’

‘Dogs don’t talk!’

‘Well, I do. I must be the exception to the rule, wouldn’t you say?’

‘This is unbelievable!’

‘Believe it, young man. It’s happening right before your eyes and ears. You are not silly, and presumably you have perfect hearing and vision. So therefore you must accept you are in the presence of a talking dog.’

‘But how come you can talk? Why aren’t you in the circus?’

‘I can talk because I formerly worked as a witch’s familiar.’

‘You worked for a witch? Witches don’t have magic powers, that’s just…’ he floundered around for the right word.

‘Bunkum? Is that the word you were looking for?’ Billy nodded, and the dog nodded too, before continuing, ‘Yes, you’ve no doubt always been told witches have no power. Well, my witch did, or else I wouldn’t be able to talk, would I?’

‘Well, where is she now? Was she burned at the stake?’

‘It’s not the middle ages. No, she decided to go and live in California. I said I’d be okay on my own. Not that she really cared.’

Billy asked scornfully, ‘I suppose she went on a broomstick?’

‘Of course not,’ said the dog. ‘She flew Qantas. Could you imagine the hue and cry when she asked air traffic control to allow clearance for her to land a broomstick into LAX? She’d have the FBI and the CIA and all manner of alphabetical agencies after her. No, she decided on anonymity. In answer to your other question: I’m not in the circus because they wouldn’t be able to hear me talk.’

‘But I can hear you.’

‘Yes, I was drawn to you. I knew you’d hear me.’

‘But why can I hear you?’

‘You’re special.’

‘Why am I special?’

‘You just are. You’re obviously very special.’

‘Um, do you have a name?’

‘Yes, it’s Abernethy.’ The dog lifted its paw.

‘My name’s Billy. Billy Alexander,’ said Billy as he shook the dog’s paw.

‘I’m very pleased to meet you, Billy,’ said Abernethy. ‘Now, I guess we’d best be getting home.’

‘Can you do magic tricks?’ asked Billy as he stood and shouldered his backpack.

‘No, I’m not particularly magical myself,’ explained Abernethy as they walked up the bank and onto the dirt track. ‘I was more some kind of conduit for my witch to operate through. Does that make sense?’

‘Yeah, it does, sort of.’

‘Good. Now, Billy, I would suggest we do not converse as we walk to your home. The townsfolk are going to think you certifiably insane because they will perceive an adolescent boy having a one-sided conversation with a dog, albeit a remarkably good-looking dog. Do you get my drift?’

‘Yeah. Let’s get going. It’s only about a ten minute walk.’

 

Once home, Billy found the remains of last night’s spaghetti bolognaise and tipped it into a plastic bowl, which he placed on the kitchen floor.

‘You might not like it,’ he warned Abernethy. ‘My auntie cooked it. She came up on the weekend with all this home cooked spag bol thinking we’d be real stoked, and she’s the worst cook in the world. She’d burn a salad.’

‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ said Abernethy, and tucked in.

‘How was it?’ asked Billy, when Abernethy finished the last mouthful.

‘Vile.’

‘It didn’t stop you eating it.’

‘I was hungry. Now why don’t you tell me why you were sitting near the creek, crying?’

‘This guy called Clayton Anderson’s got it in for me. I haven’t done anything to him. Ever since I started at that stupid school he’s been in my face.’

‘You the new boy, are you? How long have you been there?’

‘Two months. We had to move here after, after some trouble happened. My mum got a job at the hospital. She’s a nurse.’

‘I see.’

Abernethy sat back on his haunches and started to lick his nether regions. Billy screwed up his face.

‘Oh, man! You’re gross!’

Abernethy stopped what he was doing and regarded Billy with exaggerated patience.

‘I’m a dog. It’s what I do.’

‘It’s still gross.’

‘Hey,’ shrugged the dog. ‘You’d do the same if you could. Tell me more about this, what did you say his name was?’

‘Clayton Anderson. Come and have a look at his blog.’

Billy led Abernethy through to the study. The computer desk was arranged so the chair faced the door. There was a second chair in the study, and Billy moved it next to the computer and indicated Abernethy should climb on. Billy sat in his own chair and started the computer. They heard a beep and several heraldic synthesised chords.

‘It always does that,’ explained Billy.

‘I know,’ said Abernethy. ‘My witch booked her airline ticket over the Internet.’

‘She couldn’t just zap one up like that?’ asked Billy sceptically, clicking his fingers.

‘She also believed in the physical world,’ said Abernethy in a tone that should explain everything.

Billy moved his cursor arrow and double-clicked on the Internet icon. He scrolled down his list of favourites, stopping at the third one.

‘This is Clayton’s blog,’ he said. ‘I check it a lot.’

‘I see. A bit like keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer.’

‘I don’t know about that. Here it is. Have a look.’

Abernethy leaned in closer to the screen, and said, ‘Handsome devil, isn’t he? Looks a little like Orlando Bloom. Does his blog receive lots of viewers?’

‘I’d say so,’ scowled Billy. ‘He’s the most popular kid in Year 9.’

‘Yet he’s a complete reprobate.’

‘Whatever that is. Let’s see if he’s uploaded the stuff from that mobile phone yet.’ Billy clicked on Video, and slumped as the jerky footage materialised: Billy rolling around on the dirt track near the creek, fending off punches and kicks; Clayton grabbing Billy’s wrist as Billy parried a blow; Clayton pushing Billy’s arm hard onto the ground with Billy’s watch face smashing against the rock. Next was Billy being forced to his feet and his backpack pulled from him and tossed to the water. A pair of hands (Billy remembered they were Kyle’s) forced Billy through the bushes and down the embankment. That was when the footage stopped.

‘Woeful camera work,’ said Abernethy. ‘Whoever filmed this will never a cinematographer be.’

Billy didn’t answer; he was crying again. Abernethy rubbed his head against Billy’s shoulder.

‘Cheer up, Billy. If he’s bothering you like this, you’re letting him own you.’

‘How can he not bother me?’ demanded Billy. ‘Everybody’s going to see his blog and think what a loser I am…’

‘They will most likely think, ‘thank God it wasn’t me’,’ said Abernethy. ‘This type of creep always has a victim, only the identity changes.’

‘Why can’t he just leave me alone?’ cried Billy. ‘I’ve never done anything to him. He’s been in my face ever since I started there.’

‘Well, maybe you have something he wants,’ Abernethy suggested.

‘What could I have that he’d possibly want?’ Billy was incredulous. ‘He’s good in class…’

‘What about you?’

‘Well, yeah. I’m pretty good at English and history and drama. Not that good at maths, but so what? Clayton’s good at maths, though.’

‘Tell me more about him.’

‘He’s good at sports. Everyone’s always talking about the goal he scored in the last few seconds of the basketball grand final which won the game for the school – you’d think he’d found a cure for cancer or something! The girls all have the hots for him. His family’s got stacks of money. What would he be jealous of me for?’

‘That’s what we have to work out. Maybe he’s not jealous of you, Billy. Maybe he just looks for a victim because he’s insecure himself.’

‘Not Clayton. You’ve seen his blog. He’s so far up himself he’d need a miner’s helmet to find his way out.’

The dog laughed heartily.

‘That’s so funny, Billy. Why don’t you tell him that?’

‘I like my skin on the outside and my kidneys and liver on the inside, thanks.’

‘Then we will have to find his Achilles heel. Everybody has one, no matter how big or small, or strange or obscure. Once we find that Achilles heel, exploit it for all it’s worth.’

‘I don’t think Clayton has one.’

‘Nobody is invincible,’ countered Abernethy. ‘But for what it’s worth, bullies are more likely to become antisocial adults and have a criminal record by the time they reach the age of thirty.’

‘It won’t happen to Clayton,’ said Billy sourly. ‘Nothing bad ever happens to him. And he won’t get a criminal record because his old man’s the local solicitor.’

‘Local solicitor?’ snorted Abernethy. ‘Wills and probate and property purchases are not going to stand him in much stead when his precious offspring is hauled before The Beak.’

‘The way Clayton tells it, his father’s got the most brilliant, um, talent to get someone let free.’

‘The way Clayton tells it is probably all bluff and bluster.’

‘Maybe. I’d better get changed out of my school clothes.’ Billy rose and removed his jacket. After retrieving the ruined watch from the pocket, he explained it had belonged to his grandfather. ‘I never knew him, but my dad wore it after his father died, and he gave it to me the night before the jury went out.’

‘Jury?’ The dog’s brow furrowed, and his ears twitched upwards slightly.

‘Yeah, my dad’s in gaol,’ Billy said defensively.

‘May I ask why?’

‘Yeah, you can ask why,’ said Billy as he walked to his bedroom, with Abernethy following. He placed the watch on his bedside table, and stepped from his trousers. Underneath he wore powder blue boxers. As he pulled on blue jeans, he continued, ‘Dad was an investment advisor, and we were pretty well off. Well, compared to how we are now, we were pretty well off.’ He unbuttoned his shirt. ‘I’m not sure exactly what the crime’s called – something really complicated like, publishing a document or something, to get financial advantage – they have the stupidest names for these things. Dad screwed up big time; he drew a cheque and used it for another business he had going. Well, one of his customers got a bit suspicious, and then the next thing we know ASIC was looking into Dad’s affairs, and well, he’s in gaol, and Mum and me had to move to this crappy place.’ Billy had by now removed his shirt and pulled on a sloppy-joe. He sat on his bed, a faraway expression on his face.

Abernethy clambered up beside him.

‘The night before the jury was due to retire; that’s what they call it, Dad came into my room and gave me his watch. It belonged to his father, like I said before. He told me he didn’t know if the watch would be safe if he went to gaol, and that he wanted me to have it. He’d be real stoked to know what happened today,’ Billy finished with moody sarcasm.

‘Maybe he’d understand. A watch is just a collection of integrated circuits and quartz crystal. I’m sure he cares more about you than some ancient timepiece.’

‘Yeah, but I promised I’d take care of it, and look what happens.’

‘What was the length of the sentence handed down by the judge?’

‘Five years. The solicitor we had reckoned that was a bit on the hefty side, you know, first time offence and some other things. I don’t understand it at all. Anyway, I do understand that because we’ve got no money, we’ve had to ask the Legal Aid Commission if it’s okay for Dad to go to the Court of Criminal Appeal. From what I heard Mum saying, he’s in with a chance. A psychologist saw him and said he wasn’t too likely to do it again.’

‘Do you think your father is likely to do it again?’

‘No. Actually, I don’t know. I suppose that sounds really rank of me – ’

‘Not at all,’ Abernethy reassured him. ‘You’ve been hurt and your trust has been shaken.’

‘Exactly. I don’t know if he’s sorry he did it, or, you know.’

‘Sorry he did it, or sorry he got caught?’ offered Abernethy.

‘Yeah.’

‘Do you love your father?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Do you resent him at the moment?’

‘How do you mean, resent him?’

‘Well, if it hadn’t been for his actions, you would not be living in relative poverty. You would not have had to move away from your old school. You would not have to put up with this Clayton Anderson character.’

‘Yeah, I guess I do resent him, if I’m honest.’

‘You’re only human,’ soothed Abernethy. ‘Unlike me.’

They heard a door slam, and a woman’s voice called, ‘Billy!

‘Oh, crud!’ hissed Billy. ‘It’s Mum.’

Billy’s mother hurried into his room. She was a slight woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair. She wore her uniform: navy slacks, and a light blue shirt pinned to which was a watch on a chain. There was a letter in her hand.

‘Great news, darling! I’ve got a letter from Mr Burrows and it says that the Legal Aid Commission will give funding for Dad’s appeal! Remember how Mr Burrows said there was merit, that was the word he used – ’  she broke off, and stared at Billy’s bed.

‘Where did this dog come from?’

Billy placed a protective arm around Abernethy, and said in a cheesy manner, ‘He followed me home, Ma. Can I keep him?’

‘No!’

‘Oh, why? You don’t understand. He’s special.’

‘But look at him, Billy. He’s obviously well fed; he must belong to somebody.’

‘Maybe his owner went to California and dumped him.’

‘Why would you say something like that? Is there something you’re not telling me? Did somebody try and palm him off on you with some sob story about the owner deserting him?’

‘No, Mum! But it happens; you’ve got to agree. People do dump their pets. See, he’s not wearing a collar.’

Abernethy whimpered appealingly and held up his paw. With light-hearted exasperation, Julie Alexander said, ‘Oh, all right.’ She shook hands with him, and admitted, ‘He is cute.’

Your mother’s got taste,’ Abernethy told Billy.

‘I know she’s got taste,’ replied Billy.

‘Who’s got taste?’ asked Billy’s mother. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘Oh!’ Billy reddened, remembering his mother would not hear the dog speak. ‘I’m just assuring him that you’ll like him.’

‘I do like him, Billy. He’s a gorgeous dog. But he must belong to somebody. Maybe his collar came off.’

‘Tell her that you’ll check with the vet to see if I’m micro-chipped and place an ad on the radio’s lost and founds.’

‘I’ll take him to the vet and see if he’s micro-chipped, and place an ad over the air – you know, the lost and founds,’ said Billy obediently.

‘Mmmm-hmmmm.’ His mother stood with her hands in a prayer-like position, fingertips to her lips. Billy knew she adopted this stance when she pondered things.

If no-one claims me in a week, we should assume I’m a stray, and that you’ll look after me and feed me and walk me.’

‘If no-one claims him in a week, we should assume he’s a stray, and I’ll look after him, and feed him, and walk him.’ Billy’s eyes were wide and beseeching.

In the meantime, you can get me a collar and leash to take me for walks – not that I’m going to wander off, but just for appearance’s sake.’

‘In the meantime,’ Billy repeated, ‘I can get him a collar and leash and take him for walks – not that he’s going to wander off – ’

Don’t go overboard!’ warned Abernethy.

‘Billy, I don’t know. A dog is a huge responsibility. What about when we have to visit Dad and we’re staying overnight?’

There’s boarding facilities at the vet.’

‘There’s boarding facilities at the vet,’ parroted Billy, and of his own volition added, ‘Maybe someone at your work could come over and feed him? Or what about someone from netball?’

‘I don’t know,’ sighed his mother. ‘I’m not trying to be mean. Honestly I’m not.’

‘I know, Mum. But you like dogs. And he’s good company for me.’

‘All right, we’ll give it a week. Has he had anything to eat?’

‘I gave him the left over spag bol.’

‘And he survived? He’s a tough nut, isn’t he? Oh, I shouldn’t laugh about Auntie Debbie’s spaghetti bolognaise. Not after it was so kind of her to bring it up.’

‘I nearly brought it up after I ate it!’

‘Yes, it’s pretty awful, isn’t it? Now how about you put some of these things away?’ She gestured around the room, and jolted. ‘What happened…’ and she strode over to Billy’s nightstand, atop which sat the broken watch, looking as incriminating as the final piece of evidence in any crime mystery.

‘I’m sorry, Mum.’

‘Don’t tell me you’re sorry,’ she cried. ‘Tell your father!’

‘Don’t you think I feel bad enough about it?’

‘How did this happen?’

‘I was – I fell over.’

Julie Alexander’s eyes narrowed. ‘You fell over.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Were you in a fight?’

‘No!’

‘Billy, is someone picking on you?’

‘No. I was just fart-arsing around with some of the guys and fell over. I feel terrible about Dad’s watch, Mum. But I bet Dad cares more about us than some ancient timepiece.’

‘“Ancient timepiece”? You sound like a character in one of those books you like.’

‘Well, maybe it can be fixed.’

‘Maybe,’ shrugged his mother. ‘Perhaps it’s only the glass.’

‘Tell me what the letter said, you know, the one about Dad’s appeal.’

‘Oh!’ she exclaimed, as though she had forgotten completely. ‘Yes. Well, let’s sit down.’

They sat on the bed together, Billy between his mother and Abernethy.

‘Okay, well the barrister who looked at Dad’s appeal apparently reckons it has a chance, so the Legal Aid Commission will give money to run it!’

‘That’s great!’ Billy’s eyes were shining. ‘Will Mr Burrows be in it again?’

‘Yes! Mr Burrows has been given the case.’

‘I liked Mr Burrows. Is it the same barrister?’

‘No. The letter says they have to use the barrister who did the opinion on the merit of Dad’s appeal. God, they talk such mumbo-jumbo, don’t they?’

‘Heap bad magic, b’wana,’ smiled Billy.

‘Oh, you!’ Julie gave her son’s shoulder an affectionate light slap. ‘If we win the appeal, Dad will be out soon!’

‘Let’s tell him when we see him!’

‘Oh,’ said Julie cagily. ‘I’d say he already knows. Mr Burrows would have written to him.’

‘Yeah, but it’ll still be great to tell him.’

‘Well, it’s just that he’d already know by the time we got there.’

‘But aren’t we going this weekend?’ Billy felt alarmed.

‘No, we can’t. I’m so sorry.’

‘Why? You said we were going!’

‘That was before I got a disconnection notice from the electricity people.’ She slapped her hand over her mouth. ‘Damn! I hadn’t wanted to tell you that.’

‘Well, you’d have to tell me something,’ reasoned Billy. ‘You know, to explain why we weren’t going to see Dad. Are you sure we can’t see Dad?’

‘It’s either see Dad, or have no power,’ said Julie.

‘Is there a lot on the bill?’

‘That’s not for you to worry about.’

‘Mu-uum!’

‘Don’t whine at me like that. It’s not just the power bill. There’s the cost of petrol driving to where the gaol is.’

‘But what about the train? Is that cheaper?’

‘There’s no point taking the train because of that stupid timetable. The only train out leaves before we’d have a chance to see Dad.’

‘What about a motel?’

‘Billy. If we can’t afford petrol, we can’t afford a motel. I wish to God Corrective Services would move him somewhere closer. But they haven’t. We can’t see him this weekend. But if we don’t see him, he’ll book a phone call. You can have a chat to him on the phone. Next best thing, right?’

‘I guess.’

The dog, who had all but been forgotten by Billy until now, admonished him, ‘Stop complaining. It’s very hard on your mother, too. Can’t you see that?’

‘Yeah, I know.’

‘What do you know?’ asked Julie.

‘Oh! I know a phone call will be great.’

‘Of course it will. Oh for God’s sake, look at your jacket. The sleeve’s ripped. Was this when you were mucking around?’

‘Yeah. Sorry, Mum.’

‘I’ll have to take it to Imelda and get it fixed. I know she’s got a few things on her plate at the moment, what with costumes for some school play.’

‘What school play?’

‘Oh, the Catholic school are doing something. So you’ll have to get around with a ripped sleeve for a few days.’

‘I don’t mind.’

‘Well, I do! Please be more careful in future.’

‘I will. I promise.’

‘Good,’ said Julie, and rose. ‘I’m going to make a start on dinner. Are you sure you’re okay, Billy?’

‘Yeah. I reckon I’ll take Abernethy for a walk.’

‘What did you call him?’

‘Abernethy. That’s his name.’

‘Abernethy,’ his mother repeated. ‘Well, that’s as good a name as any, I suppose. It’s certainly different. Why don’t you take him to the vet and see if he’s micro-chipped?’

 

The vet was a large woman with a mass of frizzy auburn hair and wire-rimmed round spectacles. When she spoke or smiled, her teeth looked like a row of tiny pebbles. She scanned Abernethy, and confirmed what they already knew: there was no microchip for anybody to base any claim of ownership on.

After a week of hearing from nobody regarding a lost dog, Abernethy was declared a member of the Alexander family.

 

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