When we got home that night, Charlie was completely stuffed, so it surprised me when he offered to give us a hand the next day. Sue invited him over for a meal, but as usual, he declined.
I have no idea what we ate that night, but I will never forget the following day.
We woke to the depressing sound of torrential rain. I love the bush, but not on wet days.
After breakfast, we put on our wet weather gear and braced ourselves for the day ahead. To my amazement Charlie was waiting outside, dressed as always in his black jeans, tee-shirt and denim jacket. He was drenched.
“Bit wet bro,” he said, stating the obvious.
“Yeah, going to be pretty unpleasant up in the bush, you may as well stay home and keep dry”.
“Nah, I’m coming with you.”
We had a spare coat, but there is no way it would have fitted Charlie's big frame.
The tracks had turned to mud, and Charlie's footwear wasn’t up to much, so he took a fair pounding as he slipped and slid into trees and rocks.
We only caught one possum that morning. Around lunchtime the wind turned to the south and the rain began to ease. By the time we finished a hurried lunch we were bitterly cold, Charlie was shivering.
“You should head home”, I said,“No sense in all of us freezing our butts off.”
He shook his head. “Nah bro, we got to finish the job.”
So we did.
By the time we finished the last line we were steaming with exertion. When we got home Sue invited Charlie over for a meal. You guessed it, he said no.
I had a hot shower (the one good thing about cold wet days) and went and stood by the coal range to soak up a bit more heat.
Charlie was sitting on his stump, still in his wet gear, he wasn’t smoking because his tobacco had got soaked, but instead of looking miserable he seemed thoughtful. He seemed to be a million miles away, the faintest trace of a smile on his face.
We had just finished dinner when there was a knock at the door. It was Charlie.
“Can I have a word bro?”
“Yeah sure, come in.”
Charlie swaggered in and plonked himself down on the couch. He was still soaked, but it didn’t matter.
Sue made a brew while we talked about the day. Charlie was the most animated I had ever seen him.
I knew Charlie had something on his mind, and eventually, we got to it.
“This bloke Steve,” he asked, “you reckon he can give me some monitoring work?”
“Yeah, I can’t see why not, I’m happy to put in a good word. You’ll just need to get your hands on some traps, a compass, and a few other bits and pieces.”
“I can do that.” he grinned.
The three of us talked about the bush, possums, and monitoring over a cup of tea. Charlie was very relaxed, the hard man almost gone, but I still knew not to push any boundaries.
Then, without knowing it, I dropped a bombshell.
“You’ll need to save a few dollars to get your ticket”
“What ticket is that?”
“Your monitoring ticket”
“What, do you buy one?”
“Pretty much, you just do a 2-day course and then you sit a basic exam and give them some money”
Charlie stood up, his face masked with anger. “You didn’t tell me about no exam!”
“Don’t worry man, it’s really basic’
Charlie looked directly at me, his eyes cold and hard.
I thought he was going to punch me.
Instead, he swore, and made for the door, “I don’t read” he shouted.
He didn’t slam the door, somehow that made things worse.
Sue and I just looked at each other, both of us speechless.
It was me that eventually switched on the radio, anything was better than the silence.
Some politician was droning on about getting tough on New Zealand’s underclass.
I turned the radio off, preferring to wrestle with the silence.
Next morning Charlie was gone.
We never saw him again.