the cow in the culvert
Neville Tees isn’t one for talking. He would rather drink Beenleigh dark rum and leave all the trouble to the talkative ones further down in the bar. So he sits in his usual position with his back to the wall, his smokes on the table and a large double OP * and ice sitting at his elbow.
Monday night, the Sydney game is on the wall and someone is losing and someone is winning, outside the rain belts down as it has been for the last eight days. Two inches in the last hour. The river is in flood and all the creeks that feed it are choked solid with debris. There is little difference between the tides lately with the flood water wanting to get out at the bar and the seas wanting to get in. Nature’s checkmate.
Neville’s hand is a little ripped up from the barbed wire that had been swept into the culvert up by Mangrove Island where the highway crosses the river. If he had a wife she would worry. The cuts aren’t deep but they hold solid lines of mangrove mud and already he can feel a heat coming off them. More grief.
Another rum, neat this time, a splash over the cuts.
Two yards away the O’Keefe twins are drinking – Jeremy and Dave – demonstrable proof that a crowd of two can be a pack of bastards. The brothers run a few bone and sinew beef cows up at Mangrove Island and the floods have done them real harm, twenty lost into the creeks and another five to the wild dogs.
The twins usually satisfy themselves by smacking around visiting surfers in the carpark after closing, out of town boofheads who think that Maori tattoes and big shoulders means you can fight.
Three years ago, in the same carpark Jeremy and Neville elevated a long standing grievance when they fought to a near bloody standstill that was only ended when Nev bit the end off the twin’s nose.
Chewed it off.
Spat it out.
Trod on it.
Four days ago the floodwater caught two of the twins beef cattle and swept them into the main creek and down towards the highway crossing. The culvert under the road there is about a metre round and full of rubbish including the wire and both beasts were strangled up and drowned.
Coincidence, the salvation of story tellers, had Neville dealing with a flat tyre just past the bridge and the corrupt smell of decomposed meat lead him over to the bridge and then down the bank and into the depths of the culvert. His motives pure.
A car over the bridge and bodies inside?
A local murder and the hurried disposition of the carcase?
‘ Couldn’t help meself, ‘ said Neville. ‘ That’s a saltwater creek up there and the beef had been stuck under the road for a couple of days, a bloke doesn’t have to be Einstein to work out what to do next.’
You may wonder how come Neville is talking to me, this is understandable, we do however go way back.
He continues –
‘ I bolted back to the farm and grabbed a good length of steel rod, about a metre, and went back to the spot where the beef had been trapped. By then the stink was pretty fierce and there was holes all over the hides, well, what you could see of them that was out of the water.’
He laughs here and throws a mocking glance at the twins who are straining to hear the conversation.
He continues –
‘ It was a fair job getting back into the drain with all that wire and rubbish but when I was able to get over the beast and jam the rod down into the hole and into its guts I came up with a big muddie every time, there must have been dozens of ’em inside there cleaning the stuff up, them mudcrabs don’t like dirty water. Now I’m scoring ten bucks a pop at the co-op, and that’s just for the ones I’m not eating.’
Neville looks over at the twins, they have heard every word, and he throws back his big head and laughs, he laughs loud and hard and they finish their drinks and walk outside.
– where they will wait for him.
* overproof dark rum – over 60% proof