Murphy drank his beer down in one swallow, to the cheers and applause of the cop and his co-workers. He had stopped thinking of him as “the cop” and now referred to him as “Sergeant Joe,” in reverence to the cop’s temporary promotion.
Joe was aware that he owed his promotion to Murphy, an ex-crim according to the criminal record check he had run. Joe also knew that, with this guy, there were things he just didn’t want to know. This guy was officially a civilian authority, but Joe had found that he had a law enforcement and military background. And they weren’t the sort of guys you messed around with. How did an ex-crim end up Deputy Headmaster at a high school? He was put there under cover. By some very influential people.
Murphy was a paradox, though. His past indicated a highly trained special operative, but Murphy seemed more of an academic with an attitude problem. Not a completely bad attitude, Joe mused. More of an attitude of justice against those that Murphy considered “evil men.” It appeared, though, that Murphy had rubbed some of his superiors the wrong way, because he turned jobs into crusades; to get justice at all costs.
Joe knew this could be a problem. With Aboriginal communities, the powers that be didn’t always want justice. Still, somebody powerful had pulled some strings to get this investigation going, so Joe figured the target was more important than Murphy’s crusade for justice. Joe also figured that Murphy would know this, and wondered if either of them had any idea how it would work out. He guessed that Murphy knew exactly what he was doing.
Murphy had decided Sergeant Joe was OK for a beat cop promoted to detective. And he was certainly enjoying the early morning drink with Joe and his friends. In Murphy’s line of work, he didn’t get to make many friends, because every job took him to some place new. He liked the company he was with at the moment, but knew at the end of the job, their fear would make them alienate themselves from him. Murphy usually got what he wanted, but there was a price to pay. Loneliness.
He thought back to Woora Warra, and another time he had enjoyed good beer with good company.
Murphy had met Kim when they worked together on the remote Aboriginal community in Central Queensland. Kim brought six years high school teaching experience with him. Murphy had never taught in a high school before, and found it difficult. He found the culture shock hard to deal with as well.
Murphy recalled the first week that they had started working at the school. It was eighty kilometres from the nearest town, and two hundred kilometres from the nearest city. The community had almost three thousand people in it, and only twenty-one non-Aboriginals, including Murphy.
Kim and Murphy had formed an almost instant friendship. Both recognised their need for support in dealing with the hard task ahead of them over the next year. They acknowledged each other’s professional skills, and the benefits they could offer to each other.
Kim seemed introverted when they first met. Even in his late thirties, at the beginning of the new millennium, he still found it hard to adjust to the prejudices that exist in society. His previous school, in western New South Wales, had been a bad experience for him. He believed his skin colour to be the reason for his non-acceptance by the other teachers there. He had decided to come to the community, where he felt better able to fit in.
Murphy soon learnt that Kim had a playful side. At the end of the first week, he had suggested that Murphy accompany him, and a few of the other staff, to the local social club. A few beers after work sounded good, so Murphy had agreed. As they walked into the crowded brick shed, the other three, including Kim, walked off in three different directions.
Taken aback, he realised they were having a bit of fun with him. It dawned on him that he was the only white man in the building. It also became obvious that he was the focus of attention from everyone there. He cast a quick look at each of his three workmates, and knew they were testing him. They all wore wide grins, and watched with interest to see what he would do.
He smiled, appreciating the practical joke they were playing on him. He walked without changing pace to the bar, and ordered his drink. He moved to the end of the bar, and sipped quietly on the beer. A man he’d never met before walked up to him. This man appeared extremely drunk, and spoke to Murphy in a loud and aggressive slur.
“This pub’s not for white men,” he said. For the first time, Murphy felt a little alarm. He saw that everyone had gone quiet, and were all looking at him. He felt apprehensive, but tried to keep a calm appearance.
“I’m sorry. I just came down for a few beers after work with some friends,” he said. The drunk man seemed angrier. He leaned in close to Murphy and spoke into his face.
“You’ll be even sorrier when I finish with you,” he said. Murphy felt tension surge through him, and recognised the potential danger he faced. If this crowd turned on him, he was dead. Or so he thought. Kim and the other two came back to Murphy’s side. Kim spoke to the drunk man.
“It’s OK, Campbell. He’s passed the test,” Kim said.
Campbell laughed, and put his arm around Murphy’s shoulders.
“It’s OK, brother. I’m not really pissed,” he said, ‘We was just havin’ a bit of a lend of ya.”
After that, Kim had taken him around to meet the people in the club. Murphy felt relief at the friendliness they showed, and the appreciation they had for the teachers trying to help their kids. It was the first of many such tricks that Kim had played on him. All of them had an underlying lesson.
Murphy later learnt that this test wasn’t about whether he could fit in with the community; it was more about whether he could be trusted. And whether he was the one to solve the problem the town had. Kim knew a terrible secret, that had cost at least one life, and ruined many others. There was an evil in the town, but they were Aboriginal, so no one would listen to them.
They had been told by the elders that Murphy would be coming, for many years before he got there. Long before Murphy had been chosen for the mission. The elders just seemed to know, that was all.
Murphy came back to the present, as one of the cops handed him another pint.
“Cheers,” he said, as he raised the glass in salute to his new colleagues.
“Cheers,” Joe replied, with a smile that showed concern. Murphy realised that both men knew that, even with the respect they held for each other now, the day would come when they would be on opposite sides. He smiled, and drank the beer in eight seconds flat.