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the opprobrium of gold

1942. New Guinea.

Wewak had no special place to store gold, with its masonry walls easy enough to push over. The town, poor huddle of tenements it was, was sheltering growers and plantation owners as they waited for the boats to take them off, away from the frightening advances of the Japanese. Amongst them Henry Villiers, with his black suitcase full of money.

With him, of course, was his villain, a villain of a thin little man who could make a dagger twinkle in either of his hands, in an instant.

The day they joined the long line for the Durban Castle, bound for Brisbane, two weather-hardened Australians crowded up behind Villiers and his little man, both men were carrying heavy bags and rifles.

They joked with Villiers, in their easy way, though a listener would know that they were not friends. For these two were gold-miners returning home to enlist, and Villiers, they knew, had only half his fortune with him.

Henry Villiers was a gold buyer, and now he was fleeing without it, without the iron banded chest he carried off to Singapore every month, heavy enough with gold dust for two black backs to carry.

‘Where’d you bury it you slippery little fucker?’ One of them said into the villain’s ear, ‘ then he looked up at Villiers. ‘If the Japs don’t find it, we will sport. They won’t be around here for long.’

Villiers lived in the hills, in the cooler air, with his house encircled by deep verandahs, and his rooms darkened and cool. A massive stone fireplace in the central room had fanned around it hundreds of arrows; spears, long, narrow spikes of mahogany with pointed shaves of bone slotted into their tips.

Columns of smoke rose in the hills today, as the forests around Villier’s home, and others around it, abandoned, let slip dozens of men and women who rushed at the houses and halted. Waiting for the first of them to bound up the stairs, and throw in his fire.

Villiers turned to the two Australians as they began their climb of the ship’s gangway, and he looked into the challenge he saw in their eyes. Just boys.

‘Where you would never soil your hands dirt-miner.’

The biggest of them laughed at him, two barks of ridicule and hard humour, ‘He’s dropped it down the fucken dunny, who would’ve thought that?’

None of them returned.

Henry Villiers was killed and robbed in Brisbane the day he arrived.

Both Australians served in the Pacific and survived the war, Wewak far from their minds on Victory Day.

The little man, Costello, took saloon passage from Sydney to San Francisco, then on to New York by rail, where he looked up a friend of the notorious DelCavalcante family.


The Villain had a proposition.


The Australians were right.


excerpt from the bookkeeper, chapter 1 in fact

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