Lisa came bustling through the doorway, her cheeks flushed. She was breathing heavily.
‘What have you been doing, Mum?’ asked Kelsie.
‘Oh, not much,’ Lisa said, with a slightly guilty look. ‘Just thought I’d shift some of those rocks in the back garden.’
Pete rolled his eyes. ‘Those rocks’ would be better described as small boulders and definitely weren’t the sort of thing that a woman in her mid-sixties should be shifting about. ‘Where’s young Mister Cook?’ he asked. ‘Get him to help.’
Lisa shook her head. ‘Ash is out fixing the fences on one of the holding paddocks. Anyway, there’s only a few rocks, and Jack brought the loader round for me so I just have to chuck them in the bucket. He was going to help, but then he thought he heard Graham’s plane, so he shot off down to the airstrip. That was half an hour ago.’
Pete grinned. ‘That was convenient of him. How about you wait till Ash gets back and Murray and Alexi arrive, and we can all give you a hand, eh?’
‘Yeah, maybe. Those rocks are a bit bigger than I thought –’ The sound of a light plane buzzing overhead made her pause. ‘That’ll be Graham bringing Alexi. With any luck he’ll be a big burly sort of a fellow and we can get that job done without Ash.’
Jack leaned back against the bonnet of his LandCruiser, staring at the horizon beyond their dirt airstrip. Graham could have driven over but, like Jack, he never missed an opportunity to fly.
A movement nearby caught Jack’s eye, and he watched as a kangaroo hopped over to graze on the edge of the strip. He’d need to look out for the roo as the plane came in, otherwise things could get messy.
Jack lit a smoke, thinking about an odd remark that his son-in-law had made the day before. Graham had called to tell them what time he expected to arrive, and then Pete had said he’d got the strong impression that Graham was hiding something about the backpacker. Jack wondered what it could be. Could Alexi be some sort of vegan, animal-loving hippy on a crusade to save poor persecuted sheep from nasty farmers? He’d once come across a bloke like that, back when they’d been on the coast, and it had taken all his self-control not to lock him in a pen with twenty wild rams and then ask him if he still thought they were defenceless.
Of course, Graham wouldn’t put up with a bloke like that either.
The buzzing of a light aircraft interrupted Jack’s thoughts. He glanced up to see Graham’s blue Cessna passing over the homestead, then circling the airstrip. No doubt Graham had one eye on the lifeless windsock. Jack checked for the roo, but it seemed to have disappeared. He waited as Graham landed the plane on the runway with only a few small bounces. As the plane taxied towards him, Jack saw two heads peering over its engine bay. From this distance and with his eyes, he couldn’t quite make out Graham’s passenger. After the propeller had come to a stop, the two of them began clambering out, and Graham ran around to help his passenger.
Jack started over towards them. Then he stopped dead in his tracks and watched the second person alight from the plane with Graham’s assistance.
‘Holy shit,’ Jack whispered.