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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Mythology · #2309978
Forgotten stage of evolution between Cro-Magnons and true humans
December 30, 2023
Terri Scott and Sheila Bennett were the top two cops in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby area of the Victorian countryside in late 2023. Terri was a tall, lean, beautiful blonde, thirty-five-year-old, and Chief Sergeant of the area. Her second in charge, Sheila, was an orange-and-black-haired Goth chick, the same age, but a little taller, and much stronger, due to spending her Saturdays at the gym weight lifting. As Chief Constable, she was superior in rank to all local cops, except Terri.

While Sheila drove, Terri and Colin Klein, a redheaded crime reporter from London, were sitting in the backseat of the police-blue Lexus, owned by Terri.

They set out on patrol that late December morning, largely to test Terri's new Lexus. Which she had recently received to replace the old one which had been crushed by a power pole falling on it.

"So, Sheils, why did you become a cop," asked Terri, having made Sheila her designated driver.

"Two reasons. Firstly my folks would have killed me if I hadn't. My four brothers are all cops. My parents are both cops and three of my grandparents were cops. Secondly, by the age of ten, I was playing with toy police cars. That doesn't mean I didn't like Barbie, but she was always policewoman Barbie in a toy cop car when I played with her. So it just seemed logical to become a cop myself."

"What about your fourth grandparent?" asked Colin.

"Oh, that was my Mum's mum, she was an old-fashioned type, didn't believe in women in the workplace. She used to say, 'You can have ladies, or you can have liberated women, but you can't have liberated ladies. Since woman's liberation is unladylike'. Alma Smale her name was. A lovely lady she was, but I don't think she approved of Mum or I being cops."

"That was man's work?" asked Colin.

"Yes," agreed Sheila: "What about you, Tare?"

"Well, my family going back eight or nine generations were all sailors. Navy men rather than cops," said Terri: "First the British navy, then the Aussie Navy. But since I get seasick at the beach sometimes, we all decided that being a cop was better for me."

"Yes, I remember the embarrassment of you throwing up all those three supermodels, Elle, Claudia, and Kate, that we were assigned to guard at the beach a few years ago."

"It wasn't my fault, Sheils. I was all right, until a hurricane gale blew across from Port Phillip Bay, bringing with it the pong of rotting seaweed, and then I just chundered everywhere."

"All over three world-famous supermodels. I remember you'd just told them all what an honour it was to meet them ... then you splattered them."

"I'll splatter you if you don't stop reminding me," said Terri.

"Hey, look up ahead," said Colin to change the subject.

Looking up, Sheila and Terri saw eight or ten Aboriginals in furs walking down Wentworth Street in Glen Hartwell, where they were driving.

"Probably friends of Bulam Bulam," Terri said. Referring to an Aboriginal Elder of the Gooladoo tribe, outside the township of Harpertown in the Victorian countryside. He was also a close friend of theirs who also was a pro-rata police tracker.

"Or notifying him of an upcoming corroboree," suggested Sheila: "Should we ask them?"

"No, that would be as bad as in America in the 1940s when they gaoled and even executed people for being black."

"How is saying, 'Hello, whatcha doing?' as bad as executing people?" demanded the orange-haired Goth chick.

"It's an invasion of their privacy," said Colin: "Like in some countries where you can be gaoled for being on the streets without any form of identification. How undemocratic is that?"

"At least let's go around to Bulam Bulam and subtly ask him what's going down in his tribe?"

"So if he's got nothing going on, we arrest them?" asked Terri: "There are more than a dozen tribes around the Glen Hartwell to Willamby area. They all have the right to walk through town without you harassing them."

"We could still pay our old mate Bulam Bulam a surprise visit?"

"And subtly grill him about his tribe? Sheils subtlety is not in your nature. He's a skilled police tracker, a highly intelligent man. He would see through us at once. He'd be offended. Then we might have lost a good mate."

"All right, you've made a good point."

"Okay, we'll go see him and ask if anything is going on ... openly, with no subterfuge," conceded Terri.

When they turned up at Chappell Street, Harpertown, Bulam Bulam was surprised:

"I don't know of any special corroborees or ceremonies going on at the moment. And as an Elder, I should know, even if it's another tribe."

"It's just that there was a group of nine or ten of them, in very old-fashioned-looking animal skin robes," said Sheila.

"That is strange," said Bulam Bulam: "Most Victorian Aborigines wear Western clothing if they come into towns."

"That's what I thought," said Sheila: "I mean I've been to your tribe and I've seen them eating store-bought fish and chips."

"If she could be certain of them having fish and chips every time, she'd go there for tea every night," teased Terri.

"Hey, fish and chips are a health food of two nations ... the U.K., and Australia."

"She's right there," said the grey-haired Elder: "All of my tribe love fish and chips."

"Hope you don't mind us asking about tribal matters?" said Terri.

"Not at all," said Bulam Bulam.

"See," said Sheila: "Tare was afraid that you'd think that I was being a sticky beak."

Patting her right shoulder, Bulam Bulam said: "Sheils, we all know that you're a sticky beak."

"Burn!" said Terri and Colin together.

At the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital in Baltimore Road, Topaz Moseley, a gorgeous platinum blonde nurse was yawning on duty at the nurses' station, when ten Aboriginals in long furs walked straight past her. All of them wearing papooses on their backs with a baby in each basket.

"Can I help you?" asked Topaz.

"No help," said one of the Almost People without stopping.

"Are you visiting someone?"

"We visit."

"All right, bye then," said Topaz, a little puzzled.

"Bye then," repeated the native woman.

The Almost People wandered through the hospital for half an hour or more, before they found the maternity ward.

They placed their babies into cribs and picked up fully human babies to put into their papooses to carry out of the hospital with them.

"Bye then," said Topaz as the Almost People walked out of the hospital again.

"Bye then," mimicked one of them as the Almost People left the hospital.

What nice people! thought Topaz, going to have a coffee break.

The Almost people then headed on foot for their hideaway nearly ten kilometres away, in a cave at the base of Mount Wanderei.

Back in their cave, the Almost People proudly showed around their human babies to replace their own babies whom they had left at the hospital.

"Beebes," said a thirty-something lubra.

Although the Almost People could interbreed with full humans, usually their babies died or were Almost People babies. But for centuries they had been swapping babies around the world and were still hoping to breed something closer to Homo Sapiens.

At the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, two mothers were being given their babies to feed.

"That's not my baby," cried Cynthia Wells, a tall thirty-something redhead.

"It must be," said Annie Colfax, the Nurse-in-Charge on that shift.

"My baby is white, with red hair," said Cynthia: "This one is black, and dressed in rags."

"Oh, my God, I'm so sorry, I'll go get your baby," said Annie. Picking up the baby, she carried it back to the nursery. She noticed that the rags, were animal fur, like the furs worn by the natives earlier.

When she reached the nursery she looked around for the Wellses' redheaded baby.

There were no redheaded babies in the nursery, but there were nine other black babies dressed in animal skins.

"Oh, my God," she said. Putting down the Almost People baby, she phoned Jesus Costello, at his home in Briarwood, since he was off duty, and told her what she had discovered. Also telling him about the ten natives who had visited the hospital before that.

"How the Hell did this happen?" demanded Jesus (pronounced Hee-Zeus), the chief surgeon and head administrator at the hospital: "And don't just give me alibis to protect yourselves."`

"They must have swapped the babies," pointed out Topaz Moseley.

"Even I, dimwit that I am, am able to work that out," said a very angry Jesus: "Why didn't you notice they had different babies when they left?"

"They had them in papooses, so I couldn't really see the babies. Also, they were polite, so I had no reason to think that they were baby snatchers."

"I said don't just give me alibis to protect yourself!"

"In fairness, sir, we're all worked off her feet at the moment," said Annie Colfax: "Due to the large number of disasters and murders that have occurred over the last ten weeks or so. It just isn't possible to keep track of everything without extra staff."

"I have brought in extras staff recently, Tilly Lombstrom and Topaz here, to name two."

"Yes, but if the death rate in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby area is going to continue at the current level, we're going to need many more," insisted Annie.

Terri and co. were still talking to Bulam Bulam, when they received a phone call from an irate Jesus Costello, telling them of the baby switch.

"We'll have to go," said Terri, shaking hands with the Aboriginal Elder. Then, as she told Sheila and Colin what had happened, Bulam Bulam said:

"I think I'd better go with you."

Looking puzzled, Terri said: "Okay, mate."

At the hospital, Jesus, a little calmer, repeated what he had told them over the phone.

Then Bulam Bulam said: "My people have a legend of wandering baby-changers, called the Almost People:

"It was once said that if you shaved Neanderthal Man and put him in a suit then people would run away in terror since he would still obviously not be human. But if you shaved a Cro-Magnon man and put him in a suit no one would scream since he could pass for Homo Sapiens.

"The Almost People, although still not fully human, are more advanced than Cro-Magnon man and could pass more easily for humans, certainly for Aboriginal Australians. Since they are not covered in hair and are more human-looking than Cro-Magnon Man.

"For millennia my people have told of the Almost People swapping human babies for their own Almost People babies. These babies have been in white European legends for many centuries also, called Changelings."

"I remember the song by the Doors," said Sheila, singing: "'I'm a change ... ling ... See me change'."

"Sheils, you're not helping," said Terri.

"Can I count on you to scour round to try to find these Changelings?" asked Jesus.

"Almost People," corrected Bulam Bulam.

"Of course," said Terri. Then to Bulam Bulam: "Can we count on your help? Even though we might not be able to pay you until next July."

"Are you that cash-strapped?"

"The Police Force's finances in this area are down to Sheils and her two-metre long handmade Redgum nightstick, and a bow and arrow," said Terri: "Which again only Sheils knows how to use."

"The Redgum nightstick is very impressive," said Colin: "She made it herself."

"I'd try to teach Tare how to use the bow and arrow," offered Sheila: "But I'd have to be wearing a full suit of armour, before I'd let her handle a bow and arrow while I'm around."

"How dare you?" said Terri as the four of them left the hospital.

After a long hard day searching without luck for the ten missing babies, Sheila, Terri, and Colin Klein returned to Deidre Morton's boarding house in Rochester Road Merridale.

"You three look positively exhausted," said Natasha Lipzing. A tall, thin, grey-haired woman, who at seventy had spent the second half of her life at the boarding house.

"Perplexed, more than exhausted," said Colin.

"How come?" asked Tommy Turner. A short obese recent retiree with longish blonde hair.

"Ten babies have been stolen from GH&DCH and replaced with changelings," said Sheila.

"I remember the song by the doors," said Freddy Kingston. A tall obese retiree, bald apart from a Larry Fine-style ruff around the sides of his head.

"That's dreadful," said Deidre Morton. A plump, sixty-something brunette, who made most Michelin chiefs seem like campfire cooks. Then to Freddy: "And it's not the subject to show levity over."

"Quite right," agreed Sheila Bennett.

"You hypocrite, Sheils," said Colin: "You actually started to sing the song earlier."

"Only one line of it."

Mary Matfield, a tall attractive ash blonde, was wheeling a triple-width pram, with her triplets, through the Glen Hartwell Mall. The first time she'd been out shopping, since giving birth a month earlier. She had had to rely upon her husband, Alistair, to do the shopping until now. She had cupboards full of 'specials' which she had no idea what they would ever do with, but no meat or milk.

Clicking the wheel locks on the pram, being careful not to have it block the entire aisle, Mary started down toward the meat trays at the back of the Mall.

At the front of the mall, five Almost People, two men, and three women entered, all wearing papooses on their backs.

Some people stopped to stare at the five fur-clad natives as they entered. But Aboriginals were so common in Glen Hartwell these days that most shoppers barely noticed them.

Slowly the Almost People walked through the store until finding the pram with the three babies in it.

"Bebees," said one of the women.

Quickly, they substituted three of their babies for the triplets, then turned and headed back toward the front of the store.

"Slow," warned one of the men, cautioning them not to draw attention to themselves.

"Change your minds," asked a pixie-cut brunette teen checkout girl as the Almost People departed.

"Found no money," said one of them.

"Oh, that is such a pain," said the girl: "When you get to the shop and find you've left your dough behind."

"No dough," said one of the men. Then the five Almost People departed the mall, trying to act as casually as possible.

Mary Matfield returned with the tray of meat and two litre-cartons of milk. Without even noticing that she now had the wrong babies, she placed the items into the back of the pram and then headed toward the front of the store.

"Finished, Mrs....?" began the pixie-cut brunette, stopping to stare at the three babies.

"What's wrong?" asked Mary.

"Those aren't the babies you bought in here ... they're black."

"What do you mean, they're...?" asked Mary. Looking around the front of the triple pram, she screamed as she saw the three Almost People babies replacing her three blonde babies.

At Deidre Morton's boarding house in Merridale, they had almost finished breakfast when Stanlee Dempsey and Jessie Baker, two local sergeants of police turned up. Stanlee was a tall, raven-haired man, Jessie Baker, a huge bull of a man with flame-red hair.

"Howdy doody one and all," said Jessie. While Stanlee did his best Arthur Askey funny walk, which wasn't remotely funny.

"Hey look, it's the last two Marx Brothers," said Sheila: "Nerdo and Geeko."

"Burn!" said Colin and Terri together.

"Is there a reason you two clowns came here?" asked Terri: "Other than not to amuse us?"

"I see we have a tough audience today, my dear Geeko," said Jessie.

"So why ya here?" persisted Sheila.

"Three more babies have been replaced."

"Oh, Lord," said Natasha Lipzing.

"Where? Who? How?" asked Terri.

"Mary Matfield's triplets were swapped when she went out before breakfast to grab a couple of quick items at the G.H. Mall," explained Stanlee.

Just under half an hour later the police-blue Lexus pulled up outside the front entrance of the Glen Hartwell Mall. Followed by the Range Rover driven by Jessie Baker.

A distressed Mary Matfield had already been taken to the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, along with the three Almost People babies.

Inside they found the pixie-cut checkout girl Luella (or Lulu as she preferred to be called), Donald Esk, Paul Bell, and Bulam Bulam all waiting for them. Paul and Don were two more local cops: Paul Bell was tall, thin with dark hair, Don Esk a powerhouse of a man, forty, but could pass for thirty, with shoulder-length dark brown hair, and a large scar down the left side of his face.

"Morning," said Terri, yawning as she approached the group of people. Then to Lulu: "I believe you know what happened?"

"Well, sort of," said Lulu. Tentatively she told of seeing Mary Matfield and her three blonde babies enter the store. Followed by the five natives, who soon departed again. "They said that they'd forgotten their money."

"I believe she hadn't noticed that her babies had been swapped."

"No, ma'am," said Lulu: "I was the one who noticed."

They continued talking to the girl without learning any more, then Terri asked Bulam Bulam: "What are your chances of tracking them from the mall?"

"Slim-ish, since a lot of cars have already passed through this morning. But I'll try my best."

He tried tracking the prints from the mall doors but lost them before they got more than fifty metres.

"What now?" asked Colin.

"What happened to the pram that Mary had her babies in?" asked Terri.

"Taken to the hospital, with the black children," said Lulu.

"Well, let's go get it," said Terri. Then to Donald: "Not you, Don. Go get your three dogs...?"

"Slap, Tickle, and Rub," he reminded her.


"But how will they know which scent to follow?"

"That's why we need something from the pram," explained Terri: "So they'll know the right scent!"

"Great thinking, Chief," said Jessie.

Half an hour later, they met at the mall again. Don with his three Alsatian crosses and Terri and co. with a baby rug from the pram.

Taking the rug from Terri, Don held it in front of Slap, Tickle, and Rub. One of which sneezed. Then he led the three dogs out into the mall car park. They sniffed around for a few moments, and then all three dogs picked up the scents and started yelping as they strained at their chains, almost pulling Donald Esk off his feet.

They followed the dogs toward the end of Glen Hartwell, then deep out into the pine and eucalyptus forest outside the township.

After what seemed like hours they were all getting ready to collapse. Even the dogs, Slap, Tickle, and Rub, were starting to pant heavily.

Finally, they found themselves at the base of Mount Wanderei midway between Glen Hartwell and Wilhelmina.

"So who's up for a quick jog up the mount?" teased Sheila.

"Who's up to being demoted to streetwalker?" counter-teased Terri.

"Ah, ya can't fool me," said Sheila: "I phoned through to Russell Street, and they confirmed that there's no such rank."

"Well, there goes the last of the department's yearly budget."

"Good thing it's December thirty-first, then!"

"Financial year."

"Meaning till June thirtieth," explained Colin.

"So, we gonna climb the mount or not?"

"Strangely enough, I dropped my mountain-climbing gear about five Kays back," said Terri, between panting.

"Don't think we'll need 'em," said Don as the dogs continued to tug on their chains: "They want us to go around the mount, not up it."

"Thank God!" said Colin and Terri together.

They followed the Alsatian crosses around the mountain for another kilometre or so.

"They want to go into the bushes," said Stanlee.

"Don't think so," said Bulam Bulam. Grabbing the dense-looking bushes, he picked them up to reveal a cave entrance.

"Who wants to lead the way?" asked Sheila.

As though by way of answer, Slap, Tickle, and Rub escaped their collars and ran yelping into the darkness.

"Slap! Tickle! Rub!" cried Stanlee. Pulling out his military-style torch, he started at a run into the darkness. Careful to duck his head as he ran.

"Well, I guess that answers that," said Sheila, grabbing her own torch to start after Don and the dogs.

The others followed suit and were soon all running, crouching, Until after a kilometre or so, the cave started to open out, becoming both higher and wider.

"Slap! Tickle! Rub!" cried Stanlee from somewhere up ahead.

"Sheils, are you staying up?" called Terri.

"Yeah, got Don and the mutts in sight."

"Mutts! How dare you?" demanded Donald Esk.

"All right the doddies," she teased.

"Sarky Goth cow," he said.

"You do know I outrank you?"

"All right, sarky Goth cow, marm."

"That's better," she said before laughing.

As they continued to run, Terri was soon relieved to hear the sound of barking increasing in volume. Which meant that the dogs had slowed or stopped. Soon Terri and Colin caught up, surprised to find that Bulam Bulam had run past them in the cavern.

Not far ahead the dogs were licking at the three blonde babies, now in papooses, along with three other babies.

"Our beebes," said an Almost Person lubra, as they ran forward to pick up the babies.

"Not your babies," corrected Bulam Bulam: "Our babies. You stole."

"No stole, need," insisted the lubra.

"No need," corrected the Elder.

"Need. Make us human!" she persisted. Behind her, gathered another eighteen or nineteen lubras and bucks. "Need. Make us human!"

"No need. Cannot make human!"

"Need. Make us human!" she repeated, almost crying. "Must become human."

"Must evolve to become human," insisted Bulam Bulam.

"No evolve. Evolve stop long time ago."

"I suspect that means they stopped evolving tens of thousands of years ago," explained the grey-haired elder.

"So what do we do?" asked Sheila.

"First thing we have to do," said Colin: "Is take all the babies back."

"No, take beebes back," pleaded the lubra.

"Must take babies back," insisted Bulam Bulam: "Not your babies to take."

"No, take beebes back," pleaded the lubra again.

"Must," repeated Bulam Bulam.

Terri signalled for three pro rata police women, plus Paul Bell to take the six babies they had so far.

"Take them outside and ring for cars to come and collect you," she said: "We'll keep looking for the others.

After they had left, despite continued pleadings from the Almost People, Terri and the others started hunting through the caverns for a couple of hours before finding the rest of the babies.

"No, take beebes back," pleaded the lubra again.

"We must," explained Bulam Bulam. Then, having an epiphany: "You come too. Take you to my tribe, the Gooladoo tribe, outside Harpertown."

"Gooladoo tribe?" asked the lubra.

"Yes, come out of caves. Come outside, join my people in the sunshine," offered Bulam Bulam.

"Join Gooladoo tribe," said lubra taking a hesitant half-step toward him.

"Yes," said the old man, holding a hand out toward her: "Come join my people."

It took over half an hour to convince her and the other twenty or so Almost people. But finally, they joined the procession of people exiting the caves.

When they finally reached the outside, Terri and co. were relieved to see half a dozen police cars waiting to take them away.

"So you take the Almost People to your tribe," said Terri: "And we'll take the babies back to the hospital."

"Fair enough," agreed Bulam Bulam.

"Beebes," said the lubra, one last time. But the grey-haired elder led to by the arm and into the back of a Land Rover with him.

"I just love it when a plan comes together," said Sheila, as she started the police-blue Lexus.

"How did I know she was going to say that?" asked Colin Klein, making them all laugh.

However, the plan had not come together as perfectly as Sheila and the others thought.

That night over at Howard Street, in Glen Hartwell, a group of a half dozen Almost People watched from a side window as Rusty Redde (pronounced 'ready') put her three young daughters to bed in the king-single that they shared.

"Weed us a bed-time torey," pleaded the three little girls: Tanya, six, a redhead like her mother, Lucy, five, a brunette like her father, and Sandy, three, an ash blonde.

"Very well," said Rusty, seating herself on the edge of their bed. She started to read them Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, their favourite...

Stopping when she heard a scratch on the bedroom window, Getting up she put down the book and asked:

"Is there anyone there?" She opened the bedroom window, looked out, and screamed as she was struck across the head by a stone axe.

"Mummy!" cried the three girls, as the Almost People pulled Rusty out of the window.

Dumping her face down on the flowers growing outside the window, the Almost People climbed in through the bedroom window, making the girls scream again.

The Almost People quickly deposited three of their own babies onto the bed and reached for the three Redde girls, as the bedroom door opened.

"What the Hell?" asked Valentino (Val) Redde: A tall muscular man, seeing the natives dressed in animal skins.

Without hesitation, three of the Almost People threw spears into his chest. Killing Val instantly and making his daughters scream again.

The Almost People hurriedly placed the three girls into their papooses and climbed out of the window. Not caring if they stepped on Rusty Redde, and headed slowly out into Howard Street. Trying their best not to draw attention to themselves as they set out on foot through Glen Hartwell township, then off into the surrounding forestland.

It was long after dark when Rusty Redde awakened in the flower patch outside the bedroom windows. With blood running down her neck from the back of her head. She tried standing, almost passed out again, and finally managed to drag herself up to a crouching position, half in and half out of the opened window.

"Girls!" she cried, seeing the Almost People babies on the bed. But no sign of Tanya, Lucy, or Sandra. Then seeing her husband's triple-speared corpse: "Val!"

She tried to pull herself back in through the window but was too weak from blood loss and almost collapsed again. Finally, with difficulty, she took off her blouse, her favourite, which she had had for ten years, and held it to the back of her head to stop the bleeding. Not caring that she now had only her bra on, on her upper body.

Then all she could do was shout for help until her neighbours finally heard her.

"What's up, Rusty?" asked Vikki Webster: A tall forty-something brunette as she and her husband, Ethan, came to investigate.

"Someone attacked me ... I think they took the girls," Rusty said before passing out again. Caught by Ethan Webster before she could hit the ground.

Grabbing her mobile, Vikki said: "Take her to our place, we don't want to soil the crime scene."

Twenty minutes later Tilly Lombstrom, an attractive fifty-something surgeon, and Jesus Costello's chief assistant was at the Webber's house, giving Rusty a blood transfusion, assisted by Topaz Moseley.

Inside the Redde house, Jesus Costello and the local coroner Elvis Green (a devote Elvis Presley fan) were examining the corpse of Valentino Redde. While Annie Colfax the Nurse-in-Charge, and Leo Laxman, a tall muscular male nurse of West Indian origin tended to the three Almost People babies.

"They're well behaved aren't they?" said Leo.

"Better than most fully human babies," admitted Annie.

"Well, it's obvious how he died," said Jesus: "the three spears in his chest."

"That will do it with most people," agreed Elvis. Known for his peculiar graveyard humour.

"Yes, but notice anything about the spears?"

"They're a bit roughly cut. Not as professional looking as the ones Bulam Bulam's tribe uses," said Leo.

"Which seems to confirm that it's these Almost People again."

"But they never hurt anyone before," pointed out Annie: "Let alone attacked or killed them."

"That's ... true," agreed Jesus, more than a little puzzled.

Twenty minutes or so later five very tired-looking cops arrived at the scene: Terri Scott, Sheila Bennett, Colin Klein, Stanlee Dempsey, and Jessie Baker.

Yawning widely, Sheila said: "If I weren't a cop, I'd arrest myself for driving while half asleep."

"If you weren't a cop, you couldn't arrest yourself," pointed out Jessie.

"I'd make a citizen's arrest on myself," she insisted.

"You're a weird person, marm," he said, remembering to salute her since she outranked him.

After interviewing everyone on site, Terri assigned Stanlee and Jessie to fingerprint the murder site and the window sill.

"How do we know they even have fingerprints if they're not quite human?" asked Stanlee.

"I don't see why not?" insisted Leo: "Monkeys and apes have fingerprints and the Almost People are probably much closer to humans than apes or monkeys are. In fact there was a case in America a decade or so back when a rare monkey was stolen from a zoo. So when they got it back it had left so many fingerprints on the outside of the cage, that they had to fingerprint the monkey first, before they could work out which prints had any importance."

"That's a very boring story, Leo," teased Annie.

"See this is why we call you the death of the party, mate," said Jessie.

"I always thought I was the life of the party!" insisted Leo.

"Okay," said Terri outside: "Let's go talk to Bulam Bulam and the Almost People."

"I can't believe the ones in his tribe would have done this," insisted Colin Klein as they walked back to Terri's police-blue Lexus.

"No way," agreed Sheila as they climbed into the car.

Forty minutes or so later they parked the Lexus just outside the Gooladoo tribe's campsite, outside the township of Harpertown. To find the tribe had gone to bed. Although Bulam Bulam and a few others had awakened at the sound of the approaching Lexus.

"What's up?" asked the grey-haired elder.

After humming and hawing a little, Terri finally blurted out what had happened earlier that night.

"It's no one from this tribe," insisted Bulam Bulam: "We have kept a close watch upon our new tribal members."

"Is it all right to just check that they are all here?" asked Sheila more forward than her boss.

"Of course," said Bulam Bulam, leading the way as more and more of the tribe awakened.

"There are twenty-three altogether, right?" asked Colin.

"Correct," agreed the Elder.

After counting the adult Almost People, Sheila and Colin both said: "Twenty-three."

"All accounted for," said Bulam Bulam.

"Apologies for..." started Terri.

"No probs.," assured the grey-haired Elder.

"Other Almost People," said one of the Almost People lubras: "Thousands round Australia. Millions round world."

"Ah-ha," said Sheila, as they returned to the Lexus: "Where to next, Tezza?"

"Firstly, it's Terri or Tare. Secondly, back to the Redde house." Taking out her mobile phone, Terri rang Donald Esk, saying: "Wakey wakey, Don. We have another case for Slap, Tickle, and Rub."

"Okey dokey," he said yawning widely.

"It's nice to see we're not the only ones who don't like working late into the night," said Sheila.

By the time that they reached Howard Street, in Glen Hartwell, Don was already there with his three dogs, who were yawning as widely as the humans. Rusty and Valentino Redde had both been transported to the Glen Hartwell Hospital by then.

"So have we got anything worn by the girls?" asked Terri Scott.

"Clothing from the laundry basket," said Alice Walker: A pro rata policewoman called into action: a forty-six-year-old brunette. An amateur weight-lifter, and gym mate of Sheila, Alice was a tall, attractive widow.

"Great work," said Terri, passing the clothes to Don Esk.

"Slap! Tickle! Rub!" he called. Holding the clothing up as the three Alsatian crosses came over to him.

Barking excitedly, the three dogs almost pulled him off his feet as they started chasing after the scent of the three little girls.

"This time we'll take a couple of cars," said Terri: "So most of us can ride in comfort, instead of hiking thirty kays."

"Very thoughtful, Marm," said Donald.

"It's not our fault that the dogs will only obey you," said Terri, trying her best not to giggle: "Otherwise you could take breaks too."

"I'm gonna have to train them to obey you and Colin. So in future, I can take rest breaks too."

"What about training them to obey me?" asked Sheila.

"No, you're too crazy, Marm. I'd never trust you with my dogs."

"He's got you there, Sheils," said Terri.

They followed the three dogs for twenty kilometres, until they reached the base of Mount Peterson, outside Glen Hartwell:

"Also known as Haunted Mountain," said Don trying to catch his breath after the long walk -- for him.

"How come?" asked Colin Klein.

"I don't know, but it's always been called that in my lifetime. Back in the 1990s a mansion built in the 1840s by convict labour suddenly slid down the mountain, shattering to pieces at the base of Mount."

"That's what you get with convict labour," joked Sheila: "They don't know how to build proper, if any, foundations. And since they're not getting paid, they couldn't care less about whether the mansion slides down the mountain a hundred and fifty years later. Long after they're dead!"

"Important safety tip," said Colin: "If you want your mansion to last more than a century and a half, without sliding down any mountains ... don't use convict labour!"

"Or you could just build it on level ground," suggested Terri as they started up the mountain in their vehicles. Donald Esk and his dogs were finally able to ride in the cars -- to the pleasure of Don and the dismay of the dogs.

They had driven nearly half of the way up the mount, when it became too steep and they had to abandon the vehicles and continue on foot.

"I knew we should have brought the climbing gear," teased Sheila.

"What climbing gear?" asked Colin and Terri together.

"Oh, that's right we don't have any climbing gear."

When they were just over three-quarters of the way up the mount, the Almost People suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, and started to pelt them with spears and stone axes.

"Get down!" cried Terri. Wishing she could say get under cover, but other than long grass, there was no cover on Mount Peterson. So where the Hell were they hiding she wondered -- just as Colin voiced the question aloud. Taking out her mobile phone, Terri called for backup and ambulances.

"Should we try firing some warning shots at them?" called Sheila.

"Can anyone see the missing babies?" asked Terri.

"No!" called Don, Sheila, and Colin as one.

"Then start firing, doing your best not to hit anyone."

They did as instructed, which only increased the rain of spears and axes flying down toward them.

After a few minutes, Terri reluctantly gave the order: "Shoot one or two of them. Then see if that stops them."

"Oh, Jesus!" cried Don, as one of the spear struck him a glancing blow on the left leg.

While Sheila backed up to see he was all right, Terri and Colin reloaded and then started shooting to kill for the first time.

To all of their dismay, they had to kill a dozen of the Almost People before the others finally surrendered.

Cautiously they stood, with Donald hobbling along, and walked up the mount, to where they found a small settlement, complete with lean-toes and tents, just on the other side of the mountain.

"Trust us to come up the wrong side of the mount," said Sheila.

After they handcuffed the remaining natives, they located the three girls.

"Auntie Tess-Tess!" cried three-year-old Sandy as Terri picked her up.

"Auntie Sheilza!" cried five-year-old Lucy.

Then as Colin approached six-year-old Sandra, she looked at him warily: "I don't know you," she said.

"That's Uncle Col-Col," said Sheila, making them all laugh.

They took the Almost People to the prison cells in Mitchell Street Glen Hartwell. Then took the three children to the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, to see their mother. Who was now sitting up in bed.

"We've got three little surprises for you, Rusty," said Topaz Moseley, beaming as Terri and co. brought the three little girls in.

"Girls!" cried Rusty.

"Mummy!" cried the girls. They struggled out of the arms of their carriers to race across to leap onto their mother's hospital bed.

"Now girls, don't be too rough, your mummy has been injured," reminded Topaz. Turning to look at Terri, the gorgeous nurse asked: "What happens to them till Rusty can be released in a week or three?"

"We can take care of them for a few weeks till Rusty can manage them," volunteered Vikki Webster, seated with her husband beside the bed.

"Cause we can," agreed Ethan Webster.

"You'll like living with Auntie Vikki, and Uncle Ethan for a few weeks, won't you?" asked Rusty.

The little girls looked uncertain until Vikki promised to bring them in to visit Rusty every day while she was in the hospital.

As Terri and co. were leaving they were met by Bulam Bulam and half a dozen elders from his tribe.

"Great to see you, mate," said Terri.

Looking solemn, the grey-haired old man said: "We are here to ask you to let us punish the Almost People through indigenous law. Not white law. Both the Aborigines and Almost People in my tribe feel this would be best."

"Well," said Terri: "It would get us off the hook with Russell Street. They're likely to ignore our claims and just let them go."

"Also Aboriginal law will be more extreme, than white law!" admitted Bulam Bulam: "No slapping them on the wrist then releasing them."

"Well, as long as Rusty Redde agrees," said Terri.

"So, if we're not reporting this to Russell Street, how do we explain Don Esk needing a week or so off with an injured leg?" asked Colin.

Whispering for effect, Terri said: "We'll cover for him." Then much louder: "That means we just won't tell them."

"That's the advantage of being four hundred kays from Melbourne," said Sheila: "Russell Street doesn't know half the stuff we get up to."

Looking astonished, Colin said: "I must try to work that into the conversation if I ever get to Russell Street!"

"Aw, you wouldn't dob us in, would you?" asked Sheila, making them all laugh.

© Copyright 2024 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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