Chapter 4:

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 214

Chapter 4

As they headed off north, Jack was thinking that it would take some time before he forgot Geer. He had a photo of her nude full fontal nude on the beach.

Jack returned his mind to the present and explained the assignment to Greer. The upgrade to the farmhouse had been developed and supervised by Andy Richards, a 32-year-old whose father also was an architect, the principal of Flanagan, Richards, and Wells.

The owners, Fred and Mary Wilson, ran around 200 head of beef cattle of various ages. As the cattle matured and reached good condition - meaning optimum weight for that type of pasture grazing - they would be on-sold to farmers with lush grazing land for ‘finishing off' for their final journey.

"You mean to be killed?

"Yeah, Greer - the end. Get-it? Steak-out!"

"I wish we could be vegetarians and spare sheep, cattle, pigs and even fish," Maggie sighed, "and then the world would be a better place. Less aggression. Unfortunately I don't fancy vegetables very much."

"Here we are, Greer. There's our famous harbor bridge, one of the landmarks of our country."

The girls giggled.

"What? What did I say that is so funny?"

"That really is no a grown-up bridge, Jack. To see a real bridge you need to be in Edinburgh on the edge of the Firth."

"The what, Greer?" Jack said, knowing very well what it was.

"The Firth which means an arm of the sea, an estuary, or fjord," Maggie interjected authoritatively.

"Oh."

"There you would see two of the great bridges of the world - the steel truss railway bridge crossing the Firth of Fourth built in 1890 and the much newer suspension bridge for vehicular traffic."

"Golly, Scotland is famous for something other than the escape of dissatisfied inhabitants fleeting to the receptive shores of New Zealand with its toy-sized bridges?"

"I don't know why we laugh at these things you say, Jack," Greer said, wiping her eyes. "It would be so pathetic if we didn't find you so amusing."

"New Zealand men are very good at half-wit humor," Maggie explained. "But it's not inherited - it comes from their mothers sitting on their baby's head so their children don't attempt to begin their OE prematurely."

"OE? Is that a mating ritual?"

"Well, that seems to be one of the top activities for practitioners. I have observed that the New Zealand species seems to remain relatively docile and keep close to home where the food and money supply sustains them. This nesting period ends during late teens and so begins the great migratory flow to all corners of the world, but particularly into Europe and specifically into the United Kingdom. "Grateful parents, relieved to find their inflow of food and money is now surrounding them in overflowing quantities, speak proudly of their offspring being ‘off on their OE' which translated means away acquiring overseas experience. Parents then change the locks on the doors or move to one-bedroom apartments."

"Really, how fascinating - look at Jack, will you? If he keeps on bottling up that stupid grin on his face he'll wet himself!"

"Oh dear, but tell me, how do you decide what homes to write about?"

"Once we express interest in a letter," said Maggie, "or a formal submission or even a chatty telephone call from an architect, he or she will send us a brief summary of the client's desires, the problems faced and the outcome, along with photos and even basic ‘before and after' layouts and sketches. But with the advance of computerization, nowadays they mostly email us files or courier a CD of video clips with voice-overs."

"So you just pick up one and go?"

"No, Mag and I..."

"Our mother would bury her boot in your butt if she heard you call her little darling that abominable contraction. The agreed choice of name was Margaret, which had been her grandmother's name and the name was also in daddy's family. But when daddy saw his new daughter and said, ‘She's a Maggie, and Maggie she shall be. It took all night before our mother's tears stopped flowing."

"Oh, I do apologize for unintentionally debasing your name. You forever shall be called Margaret."

"NO! Oh Jack, not that name! I couldn't bear it!"

"OK, Greer, now we cross over this tiny four-lane bridge which is at the top end of the Firth of Weiti and after passing through the sleepy hollow of retirees and beach bums that make up most of the population of the seaside village of Orewa, we soon traverse a ridge with rivers on either sides and views to die for. Then we'll drive alongside the Firth of Waiwera and in less than 20 minutes will be at our farm. On the way home we'll test the waters at the thermal pools at the mouth of the Firth of Wairewa which is why we packed our swim suits."

"Is this the house - that one on the hill?"

"Yes," replied Maggie. "Still a run-of-mill looking farmhouse. But be prepared to have your jaw drop to the floor."

A jolly looking woman in a floral shirt, jeans struggling to contain her belly and wearing short socks and high heels, greeted them.

"My darling - will you just look at your hair!" she said to Maggie, wistfully tugging her own sun-bleached light auburn hair. She matched Maggie freckle for freckle. "To think that once I once walked through life with glory on my head like that."

"You had red hair?"

"The color of yours, dear. Enjoy it while it lasts."

"Are you from Scotland?"

"No, but mother was - from Perth. She was a war bride. Come, we'll have a cuppa."

The three visitors groaned silently, all being coffee-drinkers. But fortunately so were the Wilsons, with Mary offering to make tea if anyone wanted it.

On the table were two plates of scones - dinner size plates because the scones were almost the size of saucers. Beside the plates sat two pots of home-made raspberry jam and two large stemmed glass bowls of whipped cream.

The eyes of Greer were almost the size of saucers.

"This is country tradition, Greer. New Zealand country women are judged by the quality of morning tea," Maggie explained.

"Jesus! Oops, I'm sorry, Mary."

"One of my favorite blasphemies, my dear. Ah, here comes Fred. He's looking forward to your visit and ducked into town to get things I want for lunch. He's roaring back fast like that because he knows it's morning tea time."

Mary's light blue eyes focused on the weather-beaten and lined face of husband Fred - real name Duncan - originally a farmhand who immigrated to New Zealand as an 18-year-old with his parents from Dumfries.

"Aha," he grinned, seeing Maggie's hair. "What a right royal sight. My Mary once shone like you do, but I'm happy with what she'd got left, as least it is longer and thicker than mine. She spending our money like water has killed off most of my locks. Now Greer, a pretty name, but quite rare as a first name. That would be your father's choice, would it not?"

Greer looked very surprised. "You sound as if you have been talking to my mother. Maggie was supposed to be named Margaret - my parents were decided about that. But he walked into the room where she had arrived and he said, ‘She's a Maggie, and Maggie she shall be."

"And?"

"A parental row over spending money on my imminent arrival was finally settled hours before I was born. Mother always says that the ending of the feuding so relieved her that she over-relaxed and precipitated my early arrival. I'm the elder sister you know."

"No, I wouldn't have guessed," Bert said, revealing a sly smile. "What about your name, lass?"

Greer was delighted to tell the story. "Well, as a young teenager my father was staying with his uncle, who allowed him to go on a camping trip with some other boys to an island, Iona. The memory of that wonderful summer when the weather actually was fine and warm remains with him. In her mind mother was sure that her first born would be a daughter, and one night during their pregnancy with me when they was at a family gathering, a famous singer, Greer McKenzie, then very elderly, sang an ancient song titled ‘Skye of the Isle'. Those who'd come from the island off the north of Scotland or had been there - were weeping as the singer finished. Mother decided that her daughter would be called Skye. Well, that didn't happen. The name remained dormant until just before my birth when it was raised to initiate a reasonable debate that degenerated into trench warfare, according to mother. Daddy insisted that I would never be called after the wide blue yonder. Mother finally capitulated, saying their daughter would hate being called Skye and cried herself asleep. Daddy shook her awake during the night and offered a compromise - Greer. Mother, being half-asleep agreed. Later that same night I woke her, indicating that I was on the way to collect my name. End of story."

"What a wonderful story - you are a natural storyteller my dear," enthused Mary, wiping away a tear. "Your poor darling mother, oh how she must have suffered. You know, I thought my name was as bad as plain Jane, but when my grandmother came to visit when I was eight, she told me in that accent that I came to love, ‘Be getting away with you lass. You are named after Scotland's most famous woman - Mary, the daughter of James the fifth and he died just after she was born, and she became Queen only six days old'. I was ever so happy to be told that and perhaps it is why I married a Stewart, although not spelt Stuart as in Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

"Have another scone, girls - I know that Jack will."

Jack said to Fred, "I suppose you didn't like the name Fredrick?"

"Was never called that," came the laconic reply. "Kids at my new school teased me because of my real name, Duncan - they called me ‘Duncan the Sunken' and ‘Duncan is Bunkum' which I didn't know at my age what that last one meant, but it sounded mean. I came home battled scarred and calling myself Fred.

"After hearing my story my parents said I could call myself that name for a little while, but they certainly wouldn't. But I was stubborn. I didn't answer to any name but Fred, so they began calling me Fred. Nowadays I don't mind Duncan, but Fred came to me when I needed him, so he's stayed."

"Ooh, what nice wee stories," said Greer. "May I ask, Jack about your name? Is there a historical significance, or are you named after a person who significantly influenced your mother?"

"Nah, my old man was pissed when he went in and registered me. So lazily wrote Jack instead of Jon."

"Good heavens, how awful," cried Mary.

Nah, mum didn't really mind. In her book Jack is as good as Jon. Dad used to say she wanted Jon spelt J-o-n because she reckoned she became pregnant the night after they had been to the pictures and saw ‘The Odessa File', that she'd fallen in love with Jon Voight who played the hero, Peter something."

"Peter Miller," said Mary. "Yes, I liked him in that better in the sleazy role he had in ‘Midnight Cowboy' and as Ed Gantry in the scary ‘Deliverance'."

Maggie looked at Mary with interest. "You're just like our mother - she remembers vividly those movies of a hundred years ago."

"Steady on lassie, try 30 years ago," Mary said, patting Maggie's arm. "Don't make me older than I look. I think I'd like to go to the movies with your mother."

"Well, she'll come out to see me now that Greer has made the ground-breaking trip to report back that her baby is not wearing beads, a flax dress and has a bone through her nose chanting in gibberish."

"But our Maoris are not like that," Fred protested.

"I know," Maggie said, "but mother would not be talking about Maori - it is her impression that all New Zealanders are togged up like that except for the All Blacks."

"Togged up? I thought that was a New Zealand expression?"

"Who knows? But I've been out here for two years now, Fred."

Mary asked would Jack like to photograph the exterior of the house while they were waiting for Andy the architect who was on his way down from a job in the Bay of Islands.

"No, I'd like to do that at late afternoon and then when the sun is low in the west. The dense shadows under the verandas and overhangs will then be largely dissipated."

"Goodness, I just thought you put a camera on a tripod and pushed the trigger or whatever you do?"

"Mere mortals would do that, Mary," Maggie explained. "But here we are dealing with Mr Perfection. After watching him set up you will tire and go to bed before he's taken the first exposure."

"Good gracious."

"She's pulling your leg, Mary. But I do like doing things properly, just like you guys milking your cows."

"The cattle beasts you see out there are steers," Fred laughed. "God, you townies are priceless."

"He's dropped you into it Fred," Maggie grinned. "Jack was raised on a 120,000 acre sheep and cattle station out of Wanaka. He drove cattle, drenched cattle, castrated bull calves and goodness knows what else farm boys have to do to impress their fathers. He's sailed long voyages on yachts, worked for a fashion photographer in London, took a year out investigating why Irish lads could drink greater quantities of Guinness than he could and yet remain on their feet. Then he specialized in photographing iconic buildings of Europe and then gained a qualification in photo-journalism in England before flying back to New Zealand to crash his rental car into the back of a new BMW parked in the middle of Jack's parents' street, the driver asleep drunk at the wheel."

"Good gracious, was the driver killed?"

"Neither was injured. The neighbors who came rushing out agreed to accept Jack's story that the BMW had been properly parked, with the impact knocking it out into the road. Jack was used to this sort of thing happening in Ireland. Jack asked neighbors to help carry the drunken driver to his parent's place where he was put to bed. Next morning the grateful drunk, finding out that Jack was a photo-journalist, offered him a job taking photographs of cooking for one of the magazines he published. Jack still works for that publisher today, as I do. And he continues to drive after drinking alcohol - our boss, that is."

"Well, well. A former farm boy," Fred said, looking at Jack with new respect.

"Fashion photographer?" echoed Mary, after what Maggie had just revealed. "You mean gowns and the latest in dresses from France and Italy - that sort of thing?"

"Yes, we even traveled to the States twice a year."

"You mean, surrounded by those sensational models wandering about half-dressed?"

"Yes, and completely nude at times, Fred, and occasionally flaunting it at the likes of me. But I like women with a bit of meat on them," he said, waving an arm in the general direction of Mary, Greer and Maggie. Even the face of Mary was lit by a faint permissive flush.

"Some of them must have been very nice though," Fred said, trying to retain a fantasy intact. He waited anxiously for the reply.

"Basically, at that level they came in three categories, Fred - Super Bitch, Bitch and Trainee Bitch, though to be fair usually that was only when face to face with other women."

"Then at least some of them would smile at you - you are rather good looking?" Fred encouraged.

"Oh yes, and I would occasionally be yanked into a dressing room and the door would then be locked, although some wouldn't even bother to close the door. But it was just their version of feeding time."

"Good God," Fred said, almost bursting with excitement. "I'd always thought it would be like that."

Jack looked up. The other six pairs of eyes were fixed on him, unsmilingly. The three stoic expressions tinged with traces of disapproval indicated that he should discontinue his descriptive revelations of life behind the fashion camera.

"Er, Jack," called Fred. "Perhaps you and I should take a quick look around outside while your Maggie talks to Mary about the things she emailed us about. Our understanding is that you do the photography and descriptive text while she looks after basic research and takes the clients through it all, step by step?"

"Good, now there's something a little bit more I'd like to hear about those trying times you must have had behind the fashion camera..."

"Sorry, darling, here is Andy," Mary said with a triumphant grin. "He'll want to get back to the office because he's been away up north for three days. We must give him priority."

"Of course, dear."

Gaunt in a dark suit, Andy Richards looked as if his chosen calling could have been a mortician, and certainly he had the appropriate mannerisms. As he greeted Mary with a quick peck on the cheek, he patted her on the arm and said solicitously, "And how are you my dear?"

He was slightly less solicitous with Fred, possibly because the farmer left him almost gasping from a hearty thump on the back following by a knuckle-creaking handshake.

Then that all changed.

"My God," Jack heard Andy breathed as his friend caught sight of the two sisters standing side-by-side smiling brightly.

His response was quite funny: "You must be sisters - you look rather alike."

The young women giggled while Mary stood, mouth part-open in surprise, while Jack was left wondering what pills Andy was on. They were the two most non-alike sisters he knew. For a start, one had flaming red hair; the other's hair was brown with some fair streaks but gathered in a nice ponytail. One was white-skinned with freckles; the other had an almost blemish-free olive skin and was taller and rather less busty and thinner around the shoulders. Then Jack saw it: their eyes matched in shape and color.

"Hi Andy," Jack said, thumping him exactly where Fred's hand and forearm had landed 90-seconds earlier.

"Bastard," muttered Andy, stretching to straighten his protesting back

Jack grinned, saying Andy was going soft fiddling with his pencils and software.

"You two know each other?" Maggie asked, with a hint of Rottweiler.

"Yeah, we met in London when he was on his OE and played in a team of Kiwis versus the Brits, Aussies and South Africans in squash and our twice-yearly rowing regatta on the Thames. We meet frequently to have a pint to recall old times."

"But you didn't mention this!" The Rottweiler was scratching frantically to be set free.

"Maggie, Maggie darling," soothed Jack. "I thought it best not to say anything, allowing you to make an independent assessment, and you know I would have accepted your recommendation to ditch this visit. I wanted it selected only on merit."

Mary, Fred and Andy were fascinated by this confrontation.

Both opponents had squared off, jaws jutting forward. Jack simply looked determined mixed with a touch of missionary, as if called to administer the good word. But Maggie was something different.

Her cheeks had turned almost the color of her hair, her eyes had narrowed and her nostrils appeared to be quivering but that was difficult to determine because her top lip had pressed forward a little, not unlike the commencement of a snarl. What's more, her voice had become guttural.

Fred whispered to Mary, "Where's that lovely young woman called Maggie gone?"

Fortunately, the pious missionary touch seemed to have penetrated, and Maggie looked slightly confused.

"It was my professional decision with no attempt to deceive," Jack said, with the solemnity of a Bishop.

At that the Rottweiler popped back to doze in its kennel and Maggie said sweetly, "Please introduce us to Andy or is it Andrew?"

"No, both he and his father are Andrew, so one had to become Andy. Nothing complicated here. Andy, please meet my lively and talented teammate, Maggie MacRae, almost two years out of Edinburgh. Andy Richards, 32 and a bachelor, hence his immediate interest in you two; Maggie is one of two sisters which I had advised you were coming here with me today."

Maggie and Andy shook hands.

"You put on a fine performance a few seconds ago. Are you in amateur theatre?"

A small growl sounded from the kennel, but nothing further developed. In fact Maggie suddenly thought that her parents would approve of an architect as a son-in-law, so smiled beautifully and said, "No, but how perceptive of you. I do take minor roles in operatic productions locally."

"Oh, how interesting. You look as though you have numerous talents."

"Really, do you have any particular talent in mind?"

The sound of a dripping tap in the kitchen could be heard, as could Mary's breathing.

Gallantly, Jack allowed the pause to continue for a little longer but Andy apparently was near choking trying to frame a suitable response.

"Shall we move on?" Jack said reluctantly. This second charmer from the Edinburgh House of MacRae's is the elder of the sisters, Greer. It isn't polite to give ladies' ages so I'll not comment except to say she is exactly your age less three years. Greer, this is Andy - Andy, please say something charming to Greer."

"What a beautiful name - Greer MacRae. It sounds immensely noble."

"And that my friend sounds suspiciously like the build-up of a proposal and you've just met these two girls," laughed Jack. "Should we not press on and achieve our purpose for being here?"

"But lunch first," said Mary.

"Drinks first," said Fred.


Submitted: July 29, 2007

© Copyright 2022 Grigor McGregor. All rights reserved.

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