Another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart. With thanks to Dana and Julie for giving me some time to work on it, and to Meredith for giving me reasons.
It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.
John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants. Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.
The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true. Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.
What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf. When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.
“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said. “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”
Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter. Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.
The golf had gone remarkably well. John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.
It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar. So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.
John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink. A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water. He was tired, though. Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging. The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring. John B. wasn’t so lucky.
The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road. It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.
It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes. Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily. When it did, all the lights went out.
John B. rummaged under the bonnet by torchlight to no avail. There was a small place a little way ahead. Less than a town, it was barely a village, but it was a destination that could be reached by driving carefully with Wilko holding the torch out the window.
That plan worked well until it started to rain. Torchlight through the wet front windscreen proved woefully inadequate to drive by.
They limped the car slowly into Bullangar and found the only hotel in the place.
“Sorry mate – we’ve only got two rooms and they’re both full tonight,” said the manager apologetically. “I’m really sorry, I wish I could help.”
“Yeah, I wish you could too,” said John B. with a sigh.
He and Wilko turned to go back out into the rain.
“Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,” said Stewart.
“Bit cramped, but I guess you’re right,” agreed Wilko.
‘Noisy, too,’ was John B.’s unspoken thought.
The manager looked after them, genuinely concerned, then called out, “Wait – you reckon you can make it down the road a little further?”
“Not keen, but what have you got in mind?” asked the driver.
“There’s a farmhouse about five minutes away, on the left. Belonged to my missus’ family. Auntie Grace passed away a few months back. Family’s still fightin’ about what to do with the property, and whatever money they can get for it.”
“You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a relative,” John B. answered with a smile.
“Bloody right,” agreed the manager. “Can’t say that in front of the missus, but. Old Bert was a funny cove but Grace was a nice old stick. I can let you have that for the night. No lights or power, but a roof over your head and you can stretch out while you sleep.”
The two golfers looked at each other and shrugged.
“What’ll it cost?” asked Wilko.
The manager looked out into the rainy night and replied, “Nah, no charge – just don’t nick anything, eh? There’s a few things the family locusts haven’t cleaned out themselves yet. Here’s the key. Just leave it in the mailbox in the morning and I’ll pick it up later.”
“Mate, you’re a champion! Thanks!” said John B. warmly.
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