The white-foamed spray leapt up in a shower as the blunt bows of the dingy thumped into the swell. Robbie knew he had to put a couple of kilometres between himself and the point. Otherwise the in-rushing tide will trap him inside the reef.
He'd come to Blackner's beach now for three summers. The beach was a wee bit of an open secret in the area. Secluded, remote and only accessable by sea or farm track, it had all the qualities Robbie desired.
Old man Blackner would have closed the track anyway, Robbie knew. He didn't want visitors disturbing his ewes during lambing. The farmer can do that, of course. He can ask for a restriction of public access from the Regional Authorities for farm management purposes.
This meant that only boaties could possibly be visiting the beach. Locals doing a bit of fishing, perhaps. Only at high tide, though, it was waste of time otherwise.
"Bugger!" Robbie muttered upon rounding the point.
There on the beach, beyond the high tide mark were a couple of caravans, huge tandem-axled things.
"What the hell are they doing there!" he said aloud.
Clearly they couldn't have come by sea. Obviously they must have come via Blackner's old track, but how? It was barely wide enough for a farm tractor let alone those bloody great houses-on-wheels.
As the little 10 horse Yamaha outboard pushed the aluminium dingy towards the beach, Robbie saw a number of figures around the 'vans. An awning was spread and under it several deck chairs and a table. Cables ran from the 'vans to somewhere in the push.
"They've got a bloody generator too!" Robbie announced to himself, "what next, TV, hot and cold?" He could scarcely believe it.
The surf carried the little craft over the pebbles and the last few metres to the beach. Robbie leapt into the knee-deep water to pull the dingy onto the beach and unload his camping gear.
He figured he'd camp in his usual spot at the other end of the beach under the Pines. He was disappointed to find strangers on 'his' little beach, but he was here for a week and maybe they'd be leaving before that. He was determined to enjoy himself regardless.
Robbie saw a man approaching. He was dark, at first Robbie thought the guy was local Maori but, as he got closer, he saw he was far too dark for a Polynesian. 'Melanesian, perhaps, African?' thought Robbie as the guy strode near.
He was enormous, rather like a mahogany dining table stood on end. 'Fully 7 foot in bare feet, at least' Robbie thought. He wore dark 'wrap 'round' shades and trunks large enough to make a tent with, decorated Hawaian fashion.
"I'm sorry sir," man mountain spoke, "the beach is closed, you have to move on."
He spoke with an American accent, like one who's used to getting his own way. Robbie wasn't surprised, clearly not many people would care to argue with the guy. He was, though, impeccably polite.
"Excuse me?" said Robbie, not sure of what he heard.
"This is a private party, sir. You have to move on," he repeated.
"Eh? Where?" Robbie asked in surprise.
"Anywhere, sir. Not here!"
Outrage began to form slowly in Robbie's gut. 'How dare some Yank tell him he can't stay on a public beach!'
"You can't do that!" Robbie protested, "there's no such thing as 'private' beaches in this country. Only the Regional Council can close a beach, and that's only for health and..."
"I don't know anything about that," the stranger continued, "all I know is that you can't stay here, so would you move on... please!"
"The fuck I will!" Robbie told the huge man, "I'm within my rights. Have you permission from Iwi?"
"From who, sir?"
Robbie knew local Maori had no customary rights to the beach. He didn't figure the stranger would know that.
"The local tribe," Robbie told him, "the Ko-matua need to give permission for you to camp. The Tribal elders, you'll be in big trouble if you haven't got it."
The stranger looked uncertainly at Robbie. He'd finally pierced a chink in the guy's demeanour. Emboldened, Robbie continued.
"Yes sir. When they find out, there'll be a dozen canoes coming around the point full of warriors..."
"There will?" the Black man asked, clearly troubled.
"Yep, you can't just take over a beach..."
"Wait a minute!" the guy told him and padded back towards the 'vans up the beach.
Robbie chuckled to himself. 'Damn, what a sucker.' There hadn't been a war party for 150 years.
Presently the guy returned accompanied by a woman. She was bikini clad, 30's, well-tanned, eyes shaded with long black hair tied in a pony tail.
"Now what's the problem?" she asked, "what's this stuff about tribes and canoes?"
She had the bored tone of a professional damage-controller. Like, 'here's another problem that needs sorting out with a bit of negotiation.' She was controlled and wary.
"You can't close a beach," Robbie explained, "I come here every summer to camp. You can't do that!"
"I see," she replied, interested, "Ok, Charles," he addressed the Black man, "I'll resolve this. You'd better go back and keep... our client company."
"Sure Adelle," he replied.
The man gave Robbie a long stare before he turned to go. Robbie could sense the menace behind the dark glasses.
"My name is Adelle," she explained, unnecessariy, "that's Charles," she said, looking behind her, "and you are?"
"Robbie. Well, Robbie we have an understanding from the local farmer that we'll have complete privacy here. There's obviously been some kind of misunderstanding..."
Robbie grated at the woman's patronising tone. He took an instant dislike to her, and to her pal Charles.
"He has no right to guarantee that," Robbie explained, pointedly.
Like every country person, he knew the rights of property backwards and forwards. Who could and couldn't come onto your land. The 'Queens chain' guaranteeing access to foreshore and rivers.
He explained to her that old man Blackner could restrict who could come across his land, particularly at lambing time. But that no-one could legally stop him from landing on the beach in a boat.
"I see!" the woman nodded, irritatingly.
Robbie still felt he was being humoured. He hated it. The woman considered for a moment before making up her mind.
"Ok," she finally said, "I guess we can live with it. You'll be camping where?"
Robbie pointed down the beach, away from the 'vans.
"Ok," the woman brightened, "I guess that won't be a problem. You'll be here how long?"
Robbie explained that he'll be here a week. Adelle asked him if he had a cellphone, or camera, and when he assured her he hadn't, she smiled and left him to bring his things ashore. He noticed, though, Charles standing staring at him the whole time.
It didn't take him long to pitch his tent and set up his campsite under the Pines. He was of two minds about staying. He felt the Americans were invading his little patch of heaven. Some bloody-minded obstinacy told him, however, that it would be as good as backing down. In the end he decided to stay, just to piss them off if for no other reason.
The water was lapping near the high tide mark when Robbie put together his rod for a little surf-casting. A fresh Kahawai was way better eating than the tin food he'd brought with him.
He noticed the fresh sea-breeze had driven the Americans inside their caravans. All except Charles, who appeared to be keeping watch. Robbie had already snagged a nice 6 kilo wriggling fish when the black man approached.
"Any luck?" he asked.
"Yep!" Robbie said, indicating his plastic bucket.
He asked about the species and Robbie told him it was a variety of Sea Bass. Charles explained he used to go fishing off San Diego as a kid. The ice was breaking down a little, over fishing.
Robbie gave the American a turn at casting, offered some pointers, and soon they were getting along just fine. As the sun waned, together they had caught a half dozen good sized fish, unusual at this end of the season. Charles clapped Robbie around the shoulders, trapping him vice-like, and told him he hadn't had that much fun in years. Rubbing his shoulder, Robbie thanked him before dividing up the catch.
"You sure you don't want to gut and scale them for us?" the American asked, grinning.
"What, you Yanks want to fish them out of the sea wrapped and filleted?" Robbie teased.
"Sure," he replied, laughing," and on a plate with basil and a squeeze of lemon!"
They went their separate ways having become instant friends.
Charles visited Robbie's camp first thing in the morning. Robbie shared some of his breakfast, beans and coffee, brewed in a billy.
"Damn!" Charles said, spitting away from the fire, "you call that coffee? I call it shit!"
"Instant," Robbie explained, "and powdered milk. Keeps longer."
"I don't want to keep that shit at all," Charles laughed, "you come back to the trailer. I'll make you proper coffee."
Robbie agreed and followed Charles back to the 'van. He explained he had it all to himself, Adelle, apparently, 'roomed' with their 'client'.
"So who the hell is this mystery client?" Robbie asked.
"Can't say," he replied, "someone big... in the entertainment world. She don't get up until noon, so I'll make you a real breakfast, with real coffee. Instant... shit!" he added, in mock disgust.
The coffee was certainly better than Robbie's. They sat under the awning of Charle's 'trailer' watching the bluer than blue ocean heave gently in the morning swell.
"It's sure a picture out there, ain't it?" Charles commented.
"Best spot on the coast," Robbie agreed, "say, how did you guys find this place?" he asked, "it's hardly on the tourist map!"
"Ah," said Charles, "we were staying at this lodge back over there," he pointed, "and they said there was this beach. Goddamn farmer had to bulldoze us a road, can you believe that? Hehe, she paid," he said nodding at the other 'trailer'. "Bulldoze us a road, just so we can camp on the beach for a few days. Sure wouldn't happen in the States."
"Old man Blackner's been talking about doing that for years," Robbie explained, "he wanted the County to pay and they refused. I guess he found a solution."
"That so?" Charles said, rubbing his chin, "hehe, I guess we've been screwed."
"Sure have," Robbie confirmed.
They both chuckled.
After a while Adelle appeared out of her 'trailer.' Blinking, she looked around her before spotting Charles and Robbie.
"Sure is bright," she said, "is that fresh coffee?"
She crossed the short distance to the table and poured herself a cup from the jug. She wore a sort of robe that she hugged around her. Her eyes appeared tired beneath her permanently fixed dark glasses.
"So what time did you get to bed?" Charles asked her grinning.
Sighing she replied it was early in the morning.
"'She' wanted to 'talk'," she explained.
Charles nodded, all-knowingly.
"Don't blame her, really," Adelle continued, "how can anyone remain normal with all that crazy circus. And so young too," she added.
"Sure Adelle," replied Charles, "but hey, she's been trained for this since Elementary School. She ought to know all about fame and stardom and all that shit."
"Maybe," replied Adelle, "but how can anyone prepare for what she's been through?"
"Ain't no-one around her now," Charles shrugged, "'cept, you, me and Robbie here. And he won't say nothin', will ya Robbie?"
"I don't fucking know what you're talking about," Robbie replied, genuinely.
"See, he don't know nothin'," confirmed Charles, giving Robbie a slap on the back.
Wincing in pain, Robbie asked him to stop hitting.
"It's like being belted with a cricket bat," he added.
"Damn, you play cricket?" he asked laughing, "it sure don't make sense to me, that game..."
Robbie's curiosity had been sharpened, however.
Around mid-morning, Robbie and Charles took a walk along the beach while Adelle stumbled around their trailer. They talked about themselves, Charles explained he'd been in the army, Special Forces, before becoming a professional bodyguard. Adelle, had been an 'intern' lawyer before becoming a personal assistant. Together, Charles insisted, they were the best in the business.
Robbie explained that he was 19 and his parents were 'sharemilkers.'
"We rent the herd and the land from the landowner," he explained to Charles' puzzled expression, "for a fixed price per year. When prices for milk's good, you can make a lot of money."
"And when it's low?"
"You don't make any money at all," he explained, "it's a risk."
Later on, Charles explained that he was in the 'confidence' business.
"If a client doesn't have any confidence in either Adelle or me, then 'we' don't make any money either."
Robbie told him he wanted to go on to University and get an agricultural degree. He hoped to have his own farm one day, but prices were ridiculous in this part of the country.
"Too many foreigners buying land and pushing up the price," he explained, "cutting the locals out. Except for the big companies, of course."
"I guess it's the way everything's going everywhere," Charles shrugged, "crushing the little guy. Destroying the 'country' way of life."
"I mean, an 18 year old girl appears on a TV show, right? Suddenly she's making a fortune and everyone recognises her everywhere. Just for working six months in a fucking studio. My daddy worked his guts out for 30 years at the San Diego Navy Yard, and what for? Peanuts! They keep cutting his overtime till he retired. Then he dies six months later, worn out and his health broken. It ain't right! Welder, he was, best in the business."
"Is that who you're protecting?" Robbie asked, "some TV star?"
"She got real big all of a sudden. Her previous management should have guarded her better. The press started to feed on her, big mistake. They should have called us in sooner, but there you go..."
Charles explained that both he and Adelle worked for one of the top Talent Management Companies in the States. They recommended that their client be taken out of circulation for a while, away from the press and public.
"You got to have a plan," he told Robbie, "always got to have a plan. Her old management didn't, they were only after the money."
"Sounds like a fuckup!" Robbie suggested.
"Oh it sure was," Charles agreed.
As they rounded the rocks at the end of the beach on their return, they saw a figure walking towards them.
"Shit, she's up early."
"Is that her?" Robbie asked.
"Yeah," said Charles, "you watch your mouth now, you hear!"
"Always," he replied, grinning, "always!"
Charles eyed him suspiciously.
As they drew near, Charles asked Robbie in a low voice,
"Say, all that stuff about warriors and canoes. That was a load of bull, right?"
"Damn you fucker!" he laughed, punching him in the arm.
"Ow, shit, that hurts!"
The hooded figure looked up as they approached. Crouched down, Charles and Adelle's client was looking at something in the sand.
"What are these little holes?" she asked, "is it an animal or something?"
"Paua probably," Robbie explained, "what do you call them... um, Abalone, perhaps?"
"Abalone?" she replied, "right, like shellfish."
"Yeah, we call them Paua."
"Paua," she repeated, "hey, thanks for the fish last night. The best I've ever tasted."
"No worries," Robbie told her, "my name's Robbie."
"Robbie," she replied, looking up, "Sheree, hi."
Like the other Americans, she wore sunglasses. She was bare-footed and wore khaki 'long' short pants and a hooded sweatshirt. She smiled weakly and held up her hand. Taking it, Robbie stood while she pulled herself up.
"You live around here," she said, looking around.
"Down the coast and inland about 12 kilometres," Robbie told her.
"12 kilometres?" she asked.
"About 8 miles, I think," Robbie converted the distance for her.
"Ah! Did you come by boat?"
"Yeah, 2 metre... um... 6 foot dingy. It's down the beach."
"Right. Can you take me for a ride?"
"Sure, why not!"
"Great, it's so boring here, nothing to do."
However when the plans were presented to Adelle, she hit the roof.
"No way, Sheree, are you going anywere in a boat that small. That's a god damn big ocean out there..." she told them.
"Charles can come with us," Sheree insisted.
"Hey, no way," said Charles, horrified, "that's smaller than my bath!"
"I bet!" grinned Robbie.
"Hey, are you dissin' me man?"
However Sheree insisted and, after Robbie assured her they had, life jackets, flares and emergency oars, she reluctantly gave her permission.
Charles and Adelle were on hand to help Robbie push the boat out. He and Sheree climbed in and Robbie started the outboard. The protectors followed them along the beach until Robbie powered the dingy around the point and out of sight.
Sheree looked around uncertainly, sitting stiffly on the middle bench of the boat. She winced as the salt spray swiped her over the face. Gradually she began to relax.
"It's not as hot here as I thought it would be," she declared.
"I guess everyone thinks Pacific island, tropical. If you look at the map, we're a lot further South than people think, more sub-tropical than tropical, I think."
"Right... it's ok. More beautiful than I thought," she considered, "like, we stayed at this lodge..."
"Yeah, that's it, Dodson's Lodge. Well it was surrounded by this bush and there were birds in the trees. The night smelled so sweet..."
"The bird call at night," he mimicked, "the hooting, that's the native Owl, the Morepork."
"Morepork, right, funny names..."
"... And the bird you see in the trees with the yellow flowers?" he told her, "always in pairs... that's the Parson bird, the Tui is it's local name."
"Tui, right, with the white bib on it's throat," she cried excitedly.
As they made their way South beyond the headland, Sheree suddenly halted in mid sentence.
"Holy shit! It's a mountain! Out of the sea!"
"Not quite," he grinned, "that's Mount Taranaki. The land is low-lying and it's a long way off. Therefore it appears to be coming out of the sea. It's a perfect cone, like Mount Fuji in Japan."
"Wow!" she stared in wonder.
Robbie enjoyed the wide-eyed wonder displayed by the young American girl. He didn't recognise her, despite her 'fame'. He didn't watch much TV in any case.
She told him about her home town, Sacremento in California. About being groomed since she was a little girl to become an actress, baby shows, child fashion shows. Anything at all to gain a 'name' in the business.
"I've always wanted to work in film or television," she said, "I've never thought of anything else."
"Yeah, I guess it's the same with me and farming," he told her, "sort of grew up with it."
"Exactly," she confirmed.
Robbie powered the little boat in towards an inlet. A little pebble beach had green bush tumbling down to it, practically to the water's edge.
"I'll show you the springs," he told her, "up that gully a little ways."
He brought the boat to shore and lashed it to a rock. Taking Sheree's hand, he assisted her from the boat and towards a bush track to the left.
The way was thick with ferns and native shrubs. Robbie pointed out each plant in turn and gave it it's native name. Sheree was impressed by his knowledge, by the lush density of the bush.
Presently they came to a grotto at the bottom of the rock cliff. The water bubbled up into a pool, ferns dipped down and dunked their fronds in the water.
"Maidenhairs," Robbie explained as he caught her looking.
The pool reflected the green of the surrounding bush. The damp coolness contrasted with the heat of the day. They found a nest of rye grass and clover and settled into it. After a while, the conversation petered out and they just stared at the filtered light, and the ripples in the pool.
It was well into the afternoon before they returned to the beach. Charles and Adelle walked hurriedly down to the water to assist them ashore. Adelle castigated them for being so long. She told them they could have drowned, then where would they be?
"Under the water, I expect," grinned Robbie, to Charles' delight.
"Oh, don't be such a smartass!" she told him, before stumping off.
Sheree invited Robbie back to her trailer for dinner. He accepted, he'd enjoyed the day, her company. He wanted to hang out with her some more.
Robbie liked the girl. She was exotic, different from the usual girls he'd met, the country girls. When she'd finally taken off her dark glasses, however, he discovered something else, she was pretty.
Faintly Mediterranean in appearance, Robbie took her for Italian or Spanish ancestry. Sherie had told him, however, that her grandmother was Puerto Rican and grandfather Columbian. It all sounded wonderfully strange to Robbie.
Her Latino influences blessed her with an olive complexion and dark eyes. Her smile could melt snow, no doubt a proven asset on screen. Her body was too-perfect trim, like she'd been arranged by some designer surgeon to a media-led ideal. She told him she'd worked out a little, but she'd had no cosmetic surgery. Her boobs and butt, she said, were absolutely home-constructed.
She'd volunteered this information without any enquiry from Robbie. He was hardly one to ask a girl he'd just met whether she'd been put together my medical science. Clearly she'd been asked the question before, probably by the nosey press, and wanted to allay his curiosity.
Robbie took a while to decide in what he should arrive for dinner. He was smitten, he had to admit to himself, and wanted to give a good impression. He didn't want Sheree to think he was just a country bumpkin.