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Pachyderm by Hugh McGinlay book extract – the crime capers continue

Pachyderm is the second novel of Melbourne writer and musician Hugh McGinlay. As part of Daily Review‘s highlighting of work by self-published writers or those produced by small publishers, this novel is published by threekookaburras.

McGinlay’s previous novel was Jinx and Pachyderm follows his characters milliner Catherine Kint and her best pal and barman Boris Shakovsky in another Melbourne crime caper.

The blurb for Pachyderm, which is out now, describes it as:

“A night at the Melbourne Zoo drinking champagne seems a fine idea, until an animal’s death throws milliner and sleuth Catherine Kint into another mystery. Before you can say ‘monkey business’ Catherine and her trusted barman Boris are annoying everyone from zoologists to police. The investigation would challenge the best detectives, but this is Catherine and Boris. Secrets, accidents, rivalries, egos and lust all set the dung flying. By the time this is finished, reputations will be tarnished, gin will be drunk and someone’s gonna get fed to the lions … or some other carnivore.” 

***

‘I didn’t really have perspective on life until my head got stuck inside an elephant’s anal tract.’

It wasn’t the worst line Catherine had heard that night, which in itself was remarkable. An unexpected line on a surprise night out in a location that would have been beautiful even without free champagne. Had it been said elsewhere it would have died a quick and painful death, yet tonight it worked.

Of course, the delivery helped the line as did the champagne, as did the deliverer who was tall, dark-haired and well versed in all things zoological. Five minutes after meeting her, Beau had taken a champagne bottle and led her from the party to see the moon rise over the gorilla cages in a zoo just north of Melbourne.

Beau had a way of saying amazing things and not seeming like he was showing off. His handsome face and sleepy eyes looked lovely and Catherine had to admit she liked his voice, his laugh and his tight zoo-keeper pants. Also the way he walked easily through the crowd of tuxedos to take a bottle whilst wearing said zoo-keeper pants. Sometimes, it’s in a man’s walk.

Confident gait aside, there’s always the moonlight to add an extra layer of enticement. As a flatterer, moonlight is the ultimate and most ancient visual aphrodisiac. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that phrases like ‘the cold light of day’ – of which Catherine was aware equivalents existed on at least three continents – came from the removal of that satellite’s soft, silvery illumination.

Perhaps it was five million years of humanity looking at the pale reflected light that made wrinkles fade, eyes glow and features soften, that has made us one of the few species that – although mostly day-dwelling – are nocturnal in our mating rituals. Tonight, that light had travelled 150 million odd kilometres to reach Beau’s face. Catherine decided it had been worth the trip. She went back to listening to his voice.

‘It’s just a reference point, one of those things you wake up to. First thoughts of the day: I’m alive, I’m tired, that alarm is loud, I probably won’t have my head up an elephant’s anal tract today. It really starts the day with a kick.’

‘And you can imagine how happy the elephant is on such mornings.’ As he laughed Catherine took a long drink of champagne and moved a few elegant dance steps on the zoo’s sandy path. She had enjoyed a haircut today and was aware of her somewhat severe bob framing her face, which she had rounded out with a silver pillbox adorned with an asymmetric swirl doubling back on itself. A boorish man with a Dutch accent and a double-barrelled name had earlier in the evening commented on her ‘delectable chocolatey eyes’. By comparison, Beau’s discussion on an elephant’s colon was well above par.

Beau rubbed the back of his neck as they walked, glancing upwards at the bamboo that lined both sides of the path. ‘Chung-de was at least twice as traumatised as I was.’

‘I remember the footage. I saw it on the news.’

‘It played here, too?’

‘After the weather,’ she said. ‘A slice of life story about the pitfalls of getting too involved in your work. Footage from Berlin Zoo. They didn’t mention you were Australian.’

‘I was quite happy to remain anonymous.’

‘True, your face was well hidden.’

They came to a small clearing near a large enclosure. Beau climbed a large rock he had chosen as their vantage point and offered Catherine a hand up.

‘Yeah, I didn’t believe in fifteen minutes of fame. It’s quite an experience.’

Catherine adjusted her pillbox, for a better rock ascending angle. ‘You’re the most famous zookeeper here.’

She climbed up to join him, ignoring his offered hand. A moment later they were seated atop the rock, watching the yellow gibbous moon slowly escaping the horizon.

‘I thought you might have mentioned Bradbury.’

‘The living legend?’

‘Oh God, who said that?’ Even in the moonlight she could see Beau’s face wrinkle, even when he snorted he looked attractive.

‘Our gracious host, when she introduced me to him.’ Catherine found the champagne and was busily filling her glass.

Beau leaned back, ‘I didn’t think he would give himself that title.’

‘I didn’t recognise him at first, though he must have been on television for most of my life.’ Catherine leaned into Beau, finding his shoulder quite comfortable. She silently toasted her millinery client, the wonderful, high maintenance Diana, who was so delighted with her broad brim hat that she rewarded Catherine with a ticket to the opening.

Below them the gorilla enclosure was quiet; of Otana and his hominid company, there was no sign. After being quiet for half a minute, Beau kissed her. Catherine had wondered about more small talk, but he had obviously decided to get it out of the way. He smelled like the outside, like grass and rock, like soil and sweat, tasted like champagne and felt like fun. She was glad she hadn’t walked away when she realised Grace was the keynote speaker.

She was serious, blonde and beautiful. She had a sheen of success clinging to her designer corporate clothes. Even if you didn’t know she was a cabinet minister at a ridiculously young age, you’d have guessed. Grace Chichester was a political tour de force with a razor sharp intellect, naked ambition and an influential family name. She used her assets to cut through traditions of age and gender with seeming ease. Like many who knew her, Catherine had followed her career, been appalled at her policies and never, ever forgotten their past. Tonight, just the sight of her had been enough to remember their first encounter.

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