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THE LOST BUSHRANGER

A quiet ride in the forest sees Joe Daniels emerge as Australia ’s most wanted man. Joe then uses his bush skills to remain free, but in doing so makes his position even more precarious.  

Finally, Joe makes the heart-breaking decision to surrender his life to save those he loves.

In Store Price: $AU23.95 
Online Price:   $AU22.95

ISBN: 1-9211-1824-5
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 199
Genre:  Fiction

 

 

Author: Terry van Es 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2006
Language: English

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Acknowledgements  

 

Although partly inspired by actual events, this book is a work of fiction (some might say a deranged mind), and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.  

Real organizations and institutions mentioned in this novel are of course used fictitiously.  

By contrast the main animal characters were real and actually performed most of the feats I have depicted, plus many more that if recounted honestly would certainly have me branded a liar.  

In writing this book I received help from many people and harassed countless others. To those who helped I give my thanks; to those I harassed I can only apologise.  

My special thanks must go to Narelle Beck for her assistance, and to Katia Elst who I am sure saved this book from becoming jammed crossways in some megabyte never to be retrieved.  

Thanks also to the fellow students and teachers of my creative writing class; they put up with a lot.      

Terry van Es 

 

 

   

Chapter 1  

 DUST hung in the still air of a perfect spring day, lifted from the gravel surface of Ridge Road by the lug tyres of Joseph Daniels’ green Toyota four-wheel drive. Joe drove the familiar road with consummate ease, his hands and feet working the controls with confidence. He travelled with the window down, allowing the sweet eucalyptus-scented spring air play through his unfashionably short dark hair. Joe’s olive skin and features made it hard to pick his race, mostly Caucasian with a touch of Asian and Australian Aborigine, quantities unknown. Joe regarded himself as human, nothing more and nothing less, taking equality far beyond the limited imaginations and geographical boundaries of the politically correct.

By contrast, Joe’s front seat passenger was blond and blue eyed.  At ten years of age Reece McRay was less than a third of Joe’s thirty-three years. He watched the green countryside slip by and prattled on about his latest play station game, giving vivid descriptions of monsters and carnage. Reece was addicted. Whenever the boy paused in his narrative, the man would absentmindedly fill in the blanks.

“That sounds good,” or, “that must be scary,” Joe would answer, not easily distracted when driving. He regarded vehicles as potential weapons, and operated and maintained them with a respect most would reserve for passenger aircraft.

As the road became steeper, Joe shifted down to third gear. Reece had just finished describing a particularly gruesome decapitation when Joe thought it might be nice to change the subject.

“Hey Reece,” he began with a questioning tone, “tell me, as someone who’s particularly fond of destroying monsters, how do you think we should go about getting rid of those bloody starlings that roost in my trees and crap on everything?”

The boy sat thinking for a moment, his right index finger pressed against his lips as if making a physical attempt to still his mouth. Then he blurted excitedly, “I know! We tie bombs on all the trees and when the starlings land we blow them all to bits.” Reece threw his hands apart making his best explosion noise.

“Calm down boy, calm down,” said Joe, chuckling, “wouldn’t that be a bit hard on the trees?”

“I suppose,” answered Reece, “but it would sure piss those starlings off, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes mate I have to admit that would probably work,” replied Joe with a hint of resignation in his voice. Then a smile washed over the man’s sun-darkened features and a glint came into his calm brown eyes.

“Hey, how about we stick a fire cracker up each starling’s bum and blow them up that way?” At the word ‘bum’, Reece, like most ten-year-old boys, was in raptures. When he finally finished laughing he looked across at the man he thought of as a combination of father, brother and best friend.

“You know that wouldn’t work, Joe.”

“Why wouldn’t it?” asked Joe, trying to sound hurt. Reece shook his head and answered.

“You know we can’t buy firecrackers any more!”

“How can I argue with logic like that” laughed Joe, realising his joke had backfired.

Joe Daniels was a happy man, not because he had what others wanted, for neither wealth nor power interested him. Simple things put the smile on Joe’s face and the spring in his step. He had no need to belittle others to inflate his own ego and strived only to improve his own, without the need of audience or umpire. Joe Daniels was a content and therefore rare individual, with his own set of self-imposed standards most would find hard to understand let alone comply with. As he drove, his thoughts drifted, gently touching only what gave him pleasure. Mary, Reece’s mother, and of course Reece, were at the forefront, his small farm (cum-rifle-range) and animals were also a great enjoyment. Joe was a man many would condemn, regard as some kind of right wing radical, but secretly envy for his detached attitude and simple approach to life.

Suddenly two sharp barks came from the large yellow dog riding on the vehicle’s wooden tray, the earthly equivalent of doggy heaven.

“Knew it was to good to last,” muttered Joe as he slowed the vehicle.

“What’s the matter with Duke?” questioned Reece. After Joe the big dog was probably the boy’s best friend.

“Don’t know,” said Joe absently, “but it pays to take notice if he says something’s wrong.”

After the canine’s warning barks, which only Joe could interpret, he started paying strict attention to his surroundings. To their left, or south, was the native bush of the Fernleigh State Forest ; to the east was the land of Joe ’s friend and neighbour, Ben McLaughlin. The lush grazing land fell gently away towards the broad valley floor several hundred feet below. The road levelled around the next corner, and Joe made up his mind to stop there and check his vehicle.

As they rounded the corner the road ahead came into view and they could suddenly see what the big yellow dog had somehow sensed. Vehicles littered the road ahead, most carelessly parked and blocking traffic. Joe silently rebuked himself, for only now did he notice the unusual multitude of tyre tracks scuffing the gravel surface of the road he travelled almost every day.

“Shit, this circus even has a ring master,” muttered Joe, as a tall police officer came jogging towards them.

“What’s the matter?” asked Reece.

“I don’t know mate, but you just be quiet. This guy coming looks a little bit too eager to see us.” Joe’s voice echoed caution as he studied the man coming towards them.

◄◄◄

Constable Gary Reynolds was not impressed with his current duty. More than three hours before he had received the radio call ‘wildlife in need of assistance’. He had wrongly assumed it would be just another kangaroo with no road sense, run over and left for dead, reported by some animal lover out for a Sunday drive. He had arrived on the scene to find a growing crowd of animal lovers, including worst of all the local news team complete with cameras, all intent on the fate of one luckless wedge tail eagle. The bird had tangled its talons in light wire and in a vain attempt to free itself, had succeeded only in becoming attached to an upper limb of the oldest and most majestic gum tree in the Fernleigh area. Predictably the hapless bird was now being harassed by a growing flock of crows. Like fighter aircraft they took turns to attack their vulnerable rival.

After more than a dozen mobile phone calls, summoning among others the National Parks and Wildlife Service, fire brigade, local arborist and Wildlife Rescue Service, it was concluded there was no safe way to rescue the hapless bird. Sadly it would have to be put down.  As the bird was a protected species, it was also decided that only the National Parks and Wildlife Service had the expertise and authority to perform the task.

Fortunately for the eagle, the only on-site representative of that organisation on this beautiful Sunday morning was a young lady fresh out of university and staunchly anti-gun. Several calls later another National Parks and Wildlife Service officer complete with firearm and accreditation was summoned.

As Joe brought the vehicle to a halt the ravens fled, recognising the man who had exploded many of their unwary fellows from a remarkable distance. Joe had just enough time to exit the vehicle and silently signal Duke to stay before the dusty policeman was upon him.

“G’day, Constable Reynolds. You must be Reg,” blurted the police officer as he stopped in front of Joe offering his hand.

“Sorry, name ain’t Reg, what’s the problem?” asked Joe, not bothering to offer his hand in return.

“Aren’t you from the National Parks?” questioned the Constable, turning off the charm and resuming his superior tone. The policeman stood flat-footed looking down at Joe. He was six foot six, making him at least five inches taller than Joe, who now realised what was creating the confusion.

“When I ordered this vehicle I only got a choice of one colour and this is it. I live just up the road a piece and I’d sure appreciate if you would clear these vehicles, I’d like to get home and check my stock.” Constable Reynold’s disappointment now turned to tight-reined anger. He didn’t like being told what to do especially by some cocky who had just caught him off guard.

“Well you’ll just have to wait like everyone else till this situation is sorted out,” he said harshly, then abruptly turned and walked back to the crowd.

Joe didn’t let the policeman’s attitude bother him. He had learnt long ago to ignore such ego-driven attitudes; bullies were just cowards with an emotional membrane of social superiority. He had brought many like Constable Reynolds to heel in the past.

It wasn’t hard to see what the crowd of almost twenty people was intent on. With the aid of his binoculars Joe was able to clearly study the eagle’s predicament.

An elderly man with a tripod-mounted spotting scope and collapsible chair sat slightly away from the main group.

“G’day mate,” said Joe as he approached the seated man.

“G’day yourself young fella. We all thought you were the ranger come to shoot the bird. Want to take a look?” offered the elderly gent, pointing to the spotting scope as he flipped his eyeglasses down from his forehead.

Joe gave the speaker a startled look.

“Why the hell do they want to kill it?”

“No one can come up with a way to get it down. Poor bird’s just going to die up there anyway,” came the answer, spoken in a frank and knowing tone.

“Thanks mate,” said Joe as he walked away to find the police officer.

He found the Constable leaning against his police car, smoking a cigarette and chatting to an attractive young lady, obviously a reporter.

“Excuse me officer,” began Joe calmly, “I’ve got a rifle in the vehicle and I co…” Before Joe could finish the sentence Constable Reynolds rounded on him.

“I don’t care what you got or how much of a hurry you’re in to get home. No one but an authorised professional shall shoot that bird, end of story.” The policeman’s reply was stinging, loaded with enough venom to stop most men in their tracks. Joe Daniels was not most men and was now working hard to keep his temper in check.

“Listen,” began Joe as calmly as he could, “I just wa…” Before Joe could finish the Constable cut him off, shaking a finger aggressively in his face.

“Now you listen to me,” snarled the now red-faced police officer, “I’ve explained things to you as much as I’m going to. If you want I can book you for hindering police. Would you like that?”

Joe looked up at the sky, shook his head in resignation and turned away. He would wait and watch the eagle’s needless destruction. It wasn’t worth butting heads with someone as hard headed as Constable Reynolds, thought Joe. The policeman was obviously bullying to impress his audience, especially the attractive female reporter.

Like predators scenting blood the crowd gathered, drawn to the heated words. They drove Joe away with ugly looks, feeling safe in their numbers, righteous in their cause. Then a stinging voice sprang from the pack.

“You’re disgusting. Just wanting to shoot that poor creature for sport.” The speaker was a woman. Joe stopped and turned just quickly enough to identify the oracle and saw she wore a Wildlife Rescue Service cap over a vicious scowl. Joe cast his now cold dark eyes over the crowd then walked briskly back to his vehicle, with a new and dangerous intent.

◄◄◄

It had ridden safe and snug, its heavy twenty-six-inch, stainless steel barrel recently cleaned and lightly oiled. Less than an hour before its owner had used it on the Fernleigh rifle range and shot a score from three hundred yards of 100.15. He now made preparations to use the rifle again.

Out of sight of the crowd he covertly pushed four carefully hand loaded 223 Remington cartridges into the rifle’s magazine and adjusted the scope parallax to just under fifty yards (as low as it could go). He set the magnification to eighteen power and elevation to one hundred yards zero for the forty-grain projectile load he used mostly for shooting foxes and feral cats. He gave the side of the sight a light rap with a knuckle, just to make sure the springs had moved the mechanism into place.

“What are you going to do?” asked Reece who had been quiet all this time, sitting in the vehicle, channelling all power to ears and eyes.

“Reece, I need you to be quiet and do exactly as I say.” The tone of Joe’s voice left no doubt he meant what he said; it was not a request.

 Joe climbed into the driver’s seat, started the diesel engine and instantly began reversing. Reece did not think it wise to suggest Joe fasten his seat belt.

About two hundred yards away from the animal lovers and out of sight they came to a gate.

“Reece, hop out, open the gate and wait here. I won’t be long.” Reece did as he was bid without question, although he struggled to break the rarely used gate free from the grass weave holding it in place. As soon as the gate was open Joe drove through.

“Good boy Reece, I won’t be long,” said Joe, smiling at the bewildered youth as he drove past.

When he saw the green four-wheel drive again Constable Reynolds wanted to believe the cocky was taking an alternative route to his property, but he was wrong. The policeman watched in slack-jawed amazement as the vehicle came to a halt twenty yards from the tree where the eagle awaited its fate.

Joe knew he wouldn’t have much time. He quickly brought the vehicle to a skidding halt, thanks to the abundance of damp sheep droppings. A strange instinct drives sheep to shelter on high ground.

“Duke, off,” said Joe as he exited the vehicle. He needed the vehicle to rest the rifle on and didn’t want the dog on the tray. He might move and spoil what would have to be precise shot placement. He quickly flipped open the rifle case and took up the familiar content.

The big dog was off the tray in one powerful bound. He felt his master’s mood.

Before the police officer had negotiated the fence, urged on by the jeering crowd, Joe had the rifle on target with a cartridge in the chamber. He used the vehicle cabin as support for his left hand that held the rifle, his left hip firm against the edge of the Landcruiser tray. As the sights settled Joe touched the trigger, sending the little forty-grain projectile on a 3,600 feet per second mission of mercy. Joe didn’t hear the shouting and jeering crowd; his entire focus was on placing the projectile. The first shot was not a total success, but a second would soon be on its way. Joe’s right hand was a blur as he worked the rifle’s slick bolt, never taking the stock from his shoulder or losing his sight picture during the process.

“Stupid bastard, missed by three feet,” shouted the elderly man contemptuously, speaking to no one in particular, his eye glued to the spotting scope.

Assaulted by the whip-like crack of the rifle the eagle resumed its vain struggle for freedom, beating the air with its wings, inadvertently creating a moving and more difficult target.

The angry police officer was having problems, the smooth soles of his shiny black riding boots proving no match for the greasy surface of the sheep camp. This was another insult for which this man whose name he had already forgotten would pay. He was barely half of the thirty-odd yards to the green four-wheel drive when the second shot was unleashed.

All Joe’s concentration went to placing the second projectile alongside the first. Like the previous missile it wreaked mayhem on the target and set the struggling bird suddenly free. Feeble, weak and hindered by the still attached limb, the bird fell twenty feet before catching air and then managing an untidy glide. The bird came clumsily to earth twenty yards from the closest member of the astonished crowd. Regaining its feet, wings spread, the proud creature hissed its defiance at the suddenly shame-faced former hecklers.

Constable Reynolds, his ego suddenly torn to shreds, stood flat-footed. Right fist closed around the butt of his 38 special revolver, he hesitated, for he didn’t think he could draw and fire before the snarling dog could spring. Teeth bared, hackles up, Duke was a formidable sight. Even with his poor comprehension Constable Reynolds could interpret canine.

Instinctively Joe bolted a third cartridge into the rifle’s chamber and took in the scene as he turned.

“Duke, come off, come behind.” He spoke calmly to his bodyguard. The big dog obeyed, but walked backwards to his master sensing that the threat was not completely removed.

The Constable let go of his revolver, regaining a little of his composure and a lot of his attitude.

“You bastard! I ought to run you in for this,” but there was little conviction behind the childish threat, made by a man grasping feebly to save some of his demolished superiority.

“For what? Making you look like an idiot? You do a pretty good job of that yourself; and my parents were married. I believe mongrel would be a more appropriate form of address as I’m part Chinese part Indonesian with a little bit of Aborigine. Just so as you get it right in any report you plan on creating.” Joe spoke with the loaded and cocked rifle held across his chest, index finger resting on the forward edge of the trigger guard. Prepared in case the cop did anything stupid, but knowing full well the little forty-grain soft-nosed hollow point, intended for twenty-two magnum velocities and game no bigger than twenty pounds, would be hard pressed to stop a man. Especially one as thick as Constable Reynolds, thought Joe and grinned.

“How about trespass?” countered the Constable clutching at straws, but then bluff was a big part of police work. Joe’s grin grew broader.

“This is Ben McLaughlin’s land, my neighbour and friend. I have permission to shoot here. If anybody is guilty of trespass it’s you.” As Joe spoke he unloaded the rifle and placed it in its case.

Finally admitting defeat the Constable grunted then stomped away to be with those more intimidated by his employment. The policeman’s ego and uniform made it impossible for him to admit defeat or error.

Joe had not been expecting an apology from the cop, or anyone else for that matter. He simply had not wanted to turn his back on Reynolds, who he regarded as dangerous as a wounded animal. Joe casually waved his hand and Duke leaped onto the vehicle tray.

“Acts like a predator, don’t he mate?” Joe spoke absentmindedly to his dog, as was his habit. In response Duke stepped with tail wagging to the edge of the tray. Joe reached up and scratched behind a familiar silky ear. It was all the thanks the big dog required and he squirmed happily at his master’s touch, groaning his pleasure like a big cuddly puppy.

Back at the gate Joe picked up Reece.

“Did you see what happened?” asked Joe, once the gate was shut and Reece safely back in the cabin.

“Yep Joe, I walked along the fence until I could see. I thought you were going to shoot the bird. How did you know to shoot the branch off?”

“It’s done a lot in America to prune tall trees, harvest pine cones, things like that, and I suppose because I think differently about firearms than most people.”       

“What do you mean, Joe?” came the next obvious question.

“It’s hard to explain.” Joe thought a moment, then continued. “It’s because a firearm is a tool to deliver energy at a distance, not a weapon. Hell, most people don’t even know the proper interpretation of the word weapon, let alone anything about firearms. Except for the crap they see on TV of course and That’s just fantasy. Now That’s your last question for a while; let’s just try to enjoy the rest of the day. Okay?”

“Okay Joe,” came the boy’s half-hearted reply, as they again parked behind the roadblock.

Joe was silently angry with himself. Normally he would have avoided the confrontation and simply waited, but he would not be made a fool of, especially before the boy. Now as he watched the people he had embarrassed chase and net the angry bird, he could see only potential enemies, and one in particular had great potential.

The exhausted and handicapped eagle was quickly caged and bundled in the back of a van, the first vehicle to leave. Others quickly followed. Each in turn had to manoeuvre past the green four-wheel drive. Two drivers managed a half-hearted wave but none would make eye contact.

Shortly only the police car and news van remained. As Joe squeezed his vehicle past, he couldn’t resist giving the cameraman, reporter and surly faced policeman a friendly wave and cheesy grin. Joe guessed they were up to mischief.

◄◄◄

That night on the evening news, Constable Gary Reynolds took credit for the unusual method used to rescue the eagle. There was of course footage of the second shot setting the bird free, but the marksman, whom it was hinted was a police officer, could not be shown, or interviewed, for security reasons!

 

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