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Beat Not the Bones

BOOK: Beat Not the Bones


Charlotte Jay was born in 1919 in Adelaide, where she operated an oriental art dealing business and continued to write until her death in 1996. Her mystery and suspense novels reflect a life spent travelling and her desire to ‘frighten and mystify readers by asking them to identify themselves with a character battling for survival in a lonely, claustrophobic situation'.

She worked in 1949 for the Australian administration in Papua New Guinea, where she set
Beat Not the Bones
, for which she won the first Edgar Allan Poe award of the Mystery Writers' Association of America. The famous American critic Dorothy B. Hughes called her ‘one of the most important writers of far-off places and their mysterious qualities'.

Wakefield Press

1 The Parade West

Kent Town

South Australia 5067

First published 1952

Published in Wakefield Crime Classics in 1992

Reprinted 2000

This edition published 2012

Copyright © the estate of Geraldine Halls, 1952, 2000

Afterword copyright © Michael J. Tolley and Peter Moss, 1992, 2000

All rights reserved. This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced without written permission. Enquiries should be addressed to the publisher.

Edited by Jane Arms

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Jay, Charlotte.

Beat not the bones.

ISBN 978 1 86254 978 4 (ebook: epub).

I. Title. (Series: Wakefield Crime Classics; no. 3).


For Julian Halls

The sweet war-man is dead and rotten;
Sweet chucks, beat not the bones of the buried
Love's Labour's Lost


It is said of a young man in a popular song that he has the moon in his pocket. Alfred Jobe had two moons in his. Sickle moons. Witches' moons. Mr Jobe stroked them lovingly with his finger­tips as he walked up the wharf on his way to the town.

No one but a prophet would think of fear and death on such a morning. The little island town of Marapai glittered in the pristine sunlight of the Pacific seas. The south-east wind was lulling off into the two doldrum months that preceded the change of season and now only lightly tossed the grey fringes of the casuarina trees and flapped faded green blinds back and forth on bungalow verandahs. The grass skirts of the Papuan girls fluttered about their calves, and the harbour was dotted with the tilted, wedge-shaped sails of fishing canoes.

But though Marapai looked on this morning feckless and gay, she had her sinister side. Fear and death were no ­strangers here. The older inhabitants remembered days when they were commonplace, and were never particularly surprised when Marapai displayed again her old, cruel and terrifying nature. Such behaviour was expected of her, for though she was light-hearted, she was also savage. The arrangement by which a collection of white men had gathered here to undertake the taming and development of this wild land had not always worked. There was something now of the white man (unfortunately, some said) in the young Papuan who deserted village life, donned shirt and shorts, played hillbilly tunes on his guitar and gambled into the small hours of the morning. But there appeared to be other sinister and contrary forces at work that led in a very different direction. Frequently it was the white man who was won round.

He found himself developing tastes and traits he had known nothing of. A latent nature within him stirred and took command. People who had known him down south would barely recognise him, for he instinctively realised the ­futility of following rules of conduct that had come into being in lands where flowers were small and dim, birds were drab and seas were cold. Some worked out satisfactory substitutes for the discarded life, and some ran amok.

Certainly what happened – beginning that morning with Mr Jobe and his sickle moons – did not greatly astonish the inhabitants of Marapai. They agreed it was shocking, monstrous, terrible. But they could believe it and understand how it came about, for they were always expecting something like this from the country they lived in. The people south when they heard the truth – or that part of the truth that was made known – were incredulous. They could not accept such events. They were partly right. What happened could not have happened anywhere else.

To Alfred Jobe, Marapai had particular charms. He had just spent four months in the jungle and this primitive little town with its fifteen hundred whites was the big city, Sydney, London, New York – civilisation. Here there were cold beer and picture shows and white women, and he greeted it with all the fervour of his robust spirit. Good old Marapai! Good old Marapai! But pictures, women and beer must wait. He had more important things to do.

He had reached the end of the jetty, paused and looked around the customs sheds. There were no white people to be seen. A police boy stood aimlessly in the centre of the road, and half a dozen locals were squatting down in the shade of one of the sheds. One of them scratched in his enormous mop of hair with a long, pronged comb.

Jobe called out to the police boy, ‘Hey! You! You black bastard! Come here when I tell you!'

The boy was not black, he was brown, with a handsome, Malay-type face. He moved forward hesitantly.

What a lot of bloody useless savages! A man might be murdered, he might be robbed and they'd just stand and stare. Jobe swallowed his rage. His instinctive reaction with natives was to hit them. He had been born too late and belonged to an earlier, less disciplined age. Now there was a law against striking natives. You weren't allowed to hit them at all. It was scandalous the way things were going. But he must keep his head, he told himself. He must play his cards carefully. There must be no trouble in Marapai.

‘Government office. House paper. Where they put 'im now? Same place?' ‘House paper' was the pidgin term for ‘office', but this Papuan either did not understand or was struck dumb. He stared and looked blank.

Jobe swore at him and walked glumly on past the customs sheds. He had not been back to Marapai since the war and noted here and there signs of devastation. Bombed houses had not been cleared up and the wharf was still littered with heaps of rusty junk. Then he remembered that the government offices had all gone up in smoke, which in his opinion was the best thing that could happen to them. He hoped that his record had gone up in smoke too.

There were still a lot of Papuans about, and they were more westernised. The men wore coloured cotton ramis, or shorts and shirts; only the women had kept to their traditional grass skirts. There were more than ever, mobs of them. It seemed a pity that more hadn't been killed. Seemed all wrong that a lot of decent white men should die and leave these senseless niggers wandering around the place.

He started off down the port road that led out of the town to the other side of the harbour where the administration offices had been before the war. It was reasonable to assume that they would be rebuilt on the same site. The road dropped down to the beach where half a dozen canoes had been dragged up on the sand. The smell of burning copra drifted towards him. He sniffed and spat, then hailed a jeep, but it rattled past him. A few minutes later a car drew up behind him and a white policeman leaned out and said, ‘Want a lift?'

Instinctively, Mr Jobe recoiled. He felt caught, discovered there in the middle of the road without a house or tree to dodge behind. His hand closed protectively over the treasure in his pocket. Then he squared his shoulders, beamed and stepped forward. ‘Government offices round this way?'

‘Yes, I can drop you off.'

Jobe got in and the jeep moved off. ‘Place has shot up,' he said, looking around him. ‘I haven't been back since the war. It's spread out quite a bit. And the place is crawling with kanakas.' He leaned over to spit but thought better of it.

‘On the contrary,' said the sub-inspector. ‘The population is decreasing.'

‘You don't say?' He started to whistle and jangled the contents of his pocket. His spirits lifted. Hear that, my friend? You think that's money, but it's not. You'd be surprised if you knew what that was! Thinks it's money, the silly dumb cop. Thinks it's a bunch of keys.

‘This fella Nyall,' he said, ‘that's the bloke I've got to see. What's he like?'

‘The director of Survey?'

‘Yeah. What sort of a bloke is he? Give you a fair deal?'

‘He's well thought of,' said the sub-inspector shortly.

They were out of the town by now, still driving along by the water's edge. A bend in the road revealed a group of white buildings dotted about under coconut palms.

‘Is that the new government show?' asked Jobe, pointing.

‘That's it.'

He started to laugh. ‘Gawd! Look at it, will you. You'd think they were running Australia instead of a few thousand dirty niggers.' He stopped laughing and started to feel angry. It always made him angry when he thought of native education, hospitals, the rebuilding of native villages and all the other wild schemes that had ruined the country and squandered the taxpayer's money. Mr Jobe was not a taxpayer, but he was sensitive about the taxpayer's money.

The sub-inspector gave him a keen glance. ‘Haven't I seen you somewhere before?'

Mr Jobe beamed. His tight, round, baby face was built for affability and his eyes were so deeply set beneath ragged brows few were able to ascertain their vindictive, greedy gleam. ‘Not that I can recollect. But you more or less can't help it in this place, can you? Always rubbing up against people some time or another. People you don't want to know, what's more. Ha! Ha!'

Want to drag up the dirt, eh? Well, it won't do you any good. I'm having a chat with the director of Survey, see. All above board, all on the level.

The sub-inspector dropped him at the bottom of the road that led up into the government buildings, and he walked on through the trees, whistling and thinking of Mr Nyall, the director of Survey, and how surprised he would be. The road he followed led into a square, around which the government offices were built. Coconut palms gave way to frangipani trees, which dropped their pink and white, cream and lemon flowers on the peeling tin roofs. Wherever the eye turned, clusters of blossom and green leaf thrust up between the sheds, as poppies sprout out of a battleground.

The Department of Survey operated from a building on the far side of the square. It was made of timber and had an iron roof. The administration staff had more than doubled since the war, and these makeshift buildings were all that were available to house them. The offices were optimistically known as ‘temporary', though many of them had acquired the mouldy patina of antiques.

Mr Jobe, who had no appointment, was told to wait, and waited for an hour, sitting on a wooden chair in the general office. He did not mind; he was used to it and anyway he had plenty to think about. Every now and again he smiled to himself, because nobody looked up or took any notice. He thought how they would behave if they knew, and his smile broadened. There he was, sitting among them, quiet as a mouse, and nobody knew, nobody even guessed. The tall, thin fellow with the bright blue eyes had not looked at him again after the first casual glance. Two Papuan clerks rattled away on typewriters. Not that it would mean anything to them. Stupid,
stupid. It was a word he had heard used by a judge, and he thought well of it. He knew it covered much. He began to get angry then, thinking of the innate stupidity of natives and the enormous wages they were earning, typing in offices and ruining the country. Then a young girl with short blonde hair came out of an inner office and said, ‘Come this way, please.'

Jobe rose to his feet and followed. His anger evaporated as quickly as it had materialised. Anger had been Jobe's trouble all his life. It spouted up like a geyser. Before he knew where he was he had acted on it, and next moment was looking at his handiwork in bewilderment, wondering what on earth could have provoked him.

The yellow curls of the typist bobbed up and down just before him. He forgot the Papuans and their enormous wages and resisted instead a desire to stretch out his hand and stroke this curly head. He liked curly hair.

The director occupied the southern end of the building, which was partitioned off from the rest by a paper wall. He sat behind a large, littered desk facing a map of the Territory.

Jobe stood in the doorway, summing him up. He was a shrewd man, could hardly help being so. Shrewdness had been the inevitable product of his erratic mode of life. But about Trevor Nyall he was not sure. He was prepared on almost all counts to approve of him. He had a strong but good-natured face and arresting eyes, but he was too clean. He might have been a dummy in a Sydney shop window. There was no speck or crease in his shirt or white trousers, and he had not taken off his coat and tie, which was absurd. Mr Jobe distrusted cleanliness. It was a sign, for one thing, of education, and everyone knew that education produced dishonest men.

Dishonest, that is, in a big way. No one minded about little dishonesties. But he always felt that men as clean as this were trying to hide behind their well-laundered glory. You were supposed to be impressed and to look at the suit instead of the man.

But he was prepared to overlook this fault in Trevor Nyall. ‘Name's Jobe, Mr Nyall. Alfred Jobe,' he said in his most affable manner. ‘Just come down the coast from Kairipi.' Kairipi was one of the government stations about three hundred miles along the coast west of Marapai.

Nyall said nothing.

Jobe's affability increased. He became playful. ‘Suppose you think I've come to buy land, eh? Start growing copra down the coast, eh? There's an old washed-up plantation fifty miles east of Kairipi. Nuts rotting on the ground. Let them rot. I don't want them.'

you want?' said Nyall. ‘Let's hear it. I haven't got all day.'

Jobe turned slowly round and pulled up a chair. He was enjoying himself. So you haven't got all day. So you want to be off talking to someone more important than me. Well, there isn't anyone more important than me. You wait!

He settled himself on the edge of the chair, then drew the two moons out of his pocket and put them on the desk between them. They were about six inches long – flat, thin, new moons, with holes punched in their horns. They were made of gold and decorated with a crude design scratched by a sharp instrument.

The director's face was expressionless. Jobe chuckled to himself. He decided he liked Mr Nyall.

Nyall stretched out his hand, picked up the gold ornaments and weighed them in his palm. ‘What are they? Neck ornaments?'

Jobe nodded and leaned forward. The little game was over. Now they would get down to business. ‘Yeah, they wear them round their necks on a bit of string. Like the pearl shell. You could have knocked me down when I saw them. Never seen anything like them before.'

‘There is nothing like them,' said Nyall. ‘There is no indigenous metal work in Papua, or at least so we believe. These are Stone Age people. They never got that far.'

This was education, and Mr Jobe brushed it aside. ‘There's gold, Mr Nyall,' he began. ‘I know where it is.'


Jobe lowered his eyes, though such a precaution was unnecessary. They never gave out anything but a submerged gleam. ‘The Bava valley.'

‘You want to put in a claim?'

Jobe nodded and slapped the palms of his hands on his knees. ‘That's right,' he said. ‘That's what it all boils down to, Mr Nyall.' Then his stomach lurched uncomfortably, and he rose to his feet. His voice was truculent and querulous. ‘Heh! What's the matter now? I haven't done anything illegal. I found that stuff. There's nothing wrong in that. All fair and above board. Coming to you. That's the law. I'm not breaking the law.'

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