Copyright© Katzmarek 2005
Laurie had one last look over the old place. If they used that much Native timber in a house these days, he thought, they'd need special legislation in Parliament. But in those days the forest came down to the river. Stands of tall Totara and Beech trees that hummed and twittered with wildlife.
His ancestors had cleared the land with the axe and two-man hand saws. There used to be a sawmill by the river in those days. At first they had a waterwheel then a steam engine to drive the bandsaws and rollers. It closed sometime in the 1920s when all the timber ran out.
His Grandfather had built the old house by hand in the early 20th century. It stood through fire, flood and the occasional earthquake. It had been extended, modified and generally buggered around with but the front was original. The slash windows were narrow and retangular and now looked incongruous alongside the later additions.
Laurie watched the demo people set up their gear. Much of the timber, of course, would be salvaged and sold off at a grossly inflated price. That's the way it is, he thought, everyone making a fortune out of the hard manual work of folks long dead. The old farm was going to be sub-divided into 30 acre blocks and sold off to city folks at half a million bucks apiece. That means the developers stood to walk away with around 8 million, he figured, net!
Still, as the sole surviving family member he'd done alright out of the deal. The family farm had been freehold for years so he didn't have to share the 6 million sale price with any financial institution. What with his own farm, worth about 4 million in today's market, he had more money than he knew what to do with.
"See ya, Laurie," one of the demo people waved as Laurie headed back to his brand new Isuzu Bighorn. He nodded at the man before climbing in. Despite himself, his eyes watered as he drove down the familiar driveway to the main road.
"A bastard," he told his old dog, "but that's the way it is, I suppose. I hope they don't pollute the creek." Then he remembered the tons of Superphosphate, Urea, Lime, weedkillers and sheepdip that must have washed down that river over the years and smiled.
He drove on into town to the pub. Te Kiako had been a busy port once, but that had been a great many years ago. Flax and timber used to come down the river to be loaded onto ships bound for Australia and the World. There was no-more timber and the flax swamps had been drained for farmland. The Railway had finally killed the port in the 1890s. Now there was just a few commercial fishing boats and a ramp for the weekend sailors.
The town reflected its disuse by all the old derelict buildings, stone chimneys in fields from long demolished houses and the run-down community hall. It was just a pub, a farm supply store and Mr Lee's Superette, where one of his sons followed the customers around the shop lest one slipped a bottle of Worcester Sauce under their woollen jumper. Laurie pulled into the pub carpark and went in the back door.
"Hey, Laurie!" one of the old regulars called, "been up to the old place? Bring a bit of life into town, eh? All them city folks..." Foot propped on a stool, John Hargood sounded unconvinced. "Ernies goin' to turn the place into one of them cocktail bars," he continued, "gettin' some sheilas to serve in short skirts..."
"That'll be the day," grumbled Ernie from the bar, "me missus'll want cameras behind the bar to keep an eye on me. If those folks want a beer they have to take the place as they find it," he announced.
"They won't, not with your grizzly mug scouring at them."
"Fuck off if you don't like it," Ernie whipped back.
Laurie collected a handle of Tui from the bar and sat down at John's table. He silently watched the pool players for a while. New people in town will spell the end of all this, he thought, and good riddance.
He didn't really like pubs anyway, but there was nothing else to do during the slow part of the year. He was tired of the predictable banter, the faded, beer-soaked carpet, the scuffed woodwork with a thousand cigarette scars. Most of all he was tired of the stale, blokey atmosphere stuck in some 1950s timewarp. He almost expected 6pm closing and men carrying jugs of beer out to the carpark for a final guzzle before staggering into their '47 Chevys. It all reeked of stifling decay.
"So how are you and this Russian sheila?" John asked. His face betrayed smug skepticism.
"Good," Laurie answered. He'd learned not to say too much.
"Bloody mug!" John told him, "y'know, all them websites are ripoffs... owned by the Mafia... true!" He drained his glass and looked at Laurie questioningly.
"Another handle for John," Laurie called across the bar to Ernie.
"Them sheilas are not real... models, all of them. They hook you in, see and them Mafia agents ask you for money or get your credit card number. I read all about it."
"Yeah. You get an Email asking you to send money for the airfare. When you do you never see the sheila nor the money again... I read about it."
"Yeah. What's her name?"
"Made up... She ain't real... just some model... you'll see!"
"She's coming in three weeks," Laurie told him absently.
"Lay you 20 ewes she won't show?" he challenged.
"You're on! Those fat Romneys, not that shagged out old mutton you keep in the back paddock."
"Done," John said scratching his jaw. Those ewes were worth a fair bit of money.
Laurie left shortly after a trio of deerstalkers crashed boisterously through the door. Blood soaked their backs where they'd carried the meat out of the bush. They began to regale the regulars about the one that got away and the 16 pointer they'd shot over the back of the ridge. Laurie wasn't in the mood for noise and bragging. At least it stalled John's teasing over his Internet lady.
She was 33 with a 15 year old son called Igor. She lived in Moscow, she'd told him, in a shabby, one room apartment in the suburb of Vladimir. She'd described acres of run-down Soviet-era apartment blocks where the elevators had long-since broken down and never repaired. She lived with her Mother and her son, sleeping in divan beds and collapsible stretchers. The State paid a meagre pension, she'd explained, which she supplemented by working part-time in a Kindergarten.
The 'Russian Connexion' website had featured a beautiful slim woman with dark eyes and an alluring smile. The not-quite professional photograph was carefully posed, the woman finely made-up with dark auburn hair cascading down to her shoulders. She'd been No .3 on his list of possibles and the only one who'd replied with any enthusiasm. Most of the woman, it seemed, wanted to go to America.
He'd sent her money to buy a computer so they could Email each other. The Agency charged a hefty fee to use their service and it seemed a logical thing to do. There had been more money over the past year. Little things for the household, a modern TV, microwave and some private English tuition for Igor. Eventually it had cost him over 40 grand.
It had crossed his mind that he was being suckered, that Svetlana and Igor were not real and his money was going into some mobster's pocket. If so, it was a very skillful con for it had him convinced.
'WHERE IS NEW ZEALAND?' she'd Emailed him.
'SOUTH PACIFIC, 2000 KILOMETRES FROM AUSTRALIA, ' he'd replied.
'IS IT HOT THERE? DO YOU HAVE SNOW?'
'WARM SUMMERS, MILD WINTERS, SOME SNOW BUT ONLY IN THE HIGH COUNTRY AND IN THE VERY SOUTH.'
'DO YOU LIVE IN A BIG HOUSE? DO YOU HAVE A CAR?'
'FIVE BEDROOMS, CONSERVATORY, SWIMMING POOL, CAR, SUV, 2 QUAD BIKES AND A TRACTOR.'
'YOU LIVE BY YOURSELF?'
'JUST ME AND THE DOGS.'
'CAN I HAVE A DOG?'
'DOG, PET LAMB, A CALF, WHATEVER YOU LIKE.'
Igor wrote the Emails because his Mother had little English. Laurie had taken some Russian lessons by correspondence but he wasn't a natural with languages. He found the language daunting and the Cyrillic alphabet impossible.
It occurred to him that what he was describing to Svetlana was nothing short of Paradise. Green fields and rolling hills, empty beachs with only the seabirds for company must seem like a fantasy. He knew he was embroidering the truth a little but how much would one need to exaggerate to someone in Svetlana's circumstances?
Laurie had been married but it hadn't gone the distance. She'd been a neighbour whom he'd known since school. In three years it had been all over and she'd gone to Australia to 'find herself.' Laurie hung on for another two years before finally admitting she was never coming back. Two years ago she'd sent him a letter asking for a dissolution. It was the one and only communication he'd had with her since their separation.
Judith had looked at the rest of her life and saw isolation, Laurie supposed. She hankered after the bright lights and opportunity, Night Clubs, boutiques, coffee bars and all that only the city could provide. She'd wanted to go to University and do a Degree before time and children made it too difficult. He understood how she felt, but cities made him claustrophobic. He liked that you could count the cars going past on one hand and wake up to the squawking of the Starlings and Minahs.
His farm was a good hour out of town down unsealed roads. The house sat on rising ground just below a Pine plantation. He'd planted mature Kowhais and other Native trees to provide shade in summer and to encourage the birds. At the side of the house was a Sheoak where he and Judith had made love one Summer's afternoon. He missed that. Imaginative she was, game for anything.
.... There is more of this story ...