Malcolm Kincaid stepped from the comparative cool of the West Australian School of Mines building in Egan Street, squinting against the shimmering haze. A small crowd was emerging from within, and he took Rachel's arm firmly, drawing her sideways to the edge of the throng.
It was hot that day—even for Kalgoorlie. In a place where the heat didn’t really start to bite until mid-January, Nature seemed to be forewarning of summer’s impending advance. The searing east wind, straight from the heart of the Great Victoria Desert, gave Malcolm the impression of standing before a blast furnace. Dust swirled in eddies, stinging his eyes and leaving a gritty taste in his mouth.
Heavy clouds loomed on the western horizon, their elephant-grey forms wracked by occasional thunderclaps. There would be no rain today, however; anyone familiar with the local weather patterns would know that. All that the approaching front would deliver would be a change of wind direction and more humidity—along with the ever-present possibility of lightning-induced bushfires.
Not that any of this bothered Malcolm all that much. Nothing would spoil this day. Today was the start of a whole new life, one that he knew would be exceptional. Malcolm was on the way up. Under the ever-watchful eye of their father, Colm Kincaid, he and older brother Jamie had applied themselves diligently to their studies, right up to graduating with honours from one of Australia’s premier mining academies.
Malcolm recalled, with little fondness, their father’s relentless bullying. He had to admit, though, the old Scot had done himself proud. Jamie had graduated with an Associate Diploma in Mining Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy just three years earlier. Malcolm, having completed his studies through correspondence from his home in Perth, now clutched his own graduation papers in his hands.
Colm Kincaid’s one driving ambition for both his sons was financial success; success he’d always felt was his birthright, but that the Fates had conspired to deny him. Malcolm wasn’t sure about how much fate had to do with it, but he already had plans for his own immediate future.
A familiar voice boomed from behind, jerking him from his reverie. “I suppose you feel pretty pleased with yourself. Top marks, hey?”
“Jamie!” exclaimed Malcolm, turning quickly. “I thought you hadn’t turned up!”
“That’d be the day,” grinned Jamie. “As if I’d miss my new business partner’s graduation. Well done, little brother.” He grasped Malcolm’s right hand in both fists, pumping enthusiastically. “I knew you’d ace it, Bro.”
At a shade over six feet, Jamie was taller than Malcolm—slim and wiry. Dressed in faded denims and a check sports shirt, and with a bushy black beard that Ned Kelly himself would have envied, he cast an imposing figure. He might have looked out of place in the well-dressed crowd, but he obviously didn’t feel so. His tanned face and arms—a legacy of many hours under the Australian sun—and his callused hands, bore evidence of the years already spent working on the mines.
Malcolm, by comparison, appeared plump and urbane. The younger Kincaid was clean-shaven except for a neat ginger moustache and sideburns. He was a good five kilograms heavier than his sibling, and almost as far removed from Jamie in appearance as a brother could be.
“Little brother?” Malcolm chuckled, patting his paunch. “Not unless I lose this, mate.”
“A month in the bush and you’ll be a new man,” Jamie replied. “Too much soft city living, that’s your problem.
“And what’s with the suit?” he eyed Malcolm up and down. “Did someone miss the memo about the weather up here?”
They both laughed heartily. One thing these brothers had in common, which nobody could fail to notice, was their roaring exultant laugh. When they laughed together, which they often did, they never failed to attract attention.
“A pity the old man couldn’t be here,” Malcolm said after a moment. “He was the one who wanted us both to graduate from the School of Mines. I reckon he’d be pretty pleased his browbeating has paid off.”
“That’s for sure,” said Jamie. Then, turning his gaze to the petite, demure woman at Malcolm’s side, he said, “And I suppose you’re the gorgeous young thing who’s stolen my brother’s heart?”
“Oh, sorry,” said Malcolm. “Jamie, meet Rachel. Rachel, this, as you’ve probably guessed, is my big brother Jamie.”
“Good to meet you, Jamie,” Rachel beamed. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Nice to put a face to the name at last.”
She offered her hand, which Jamie squeezed eagerly. “Likewise, Rachel. So what do you think of beautiful downtown Kalgoorlie?” He spread his arms wide to encompass the surroundings.
A smile flickered across Rachel’s lips. “Hot.”
“Better get used to it. It’ll really start to warm up after Christmas.”
Jamie turned to face his younger sibling. “So, the notorious Kincaid brothers are together again.” He nudged Mal with his elbow and added, “I never thought I’d ever get you out of the big smoke, by the way. And starting Monday, we’ll be working our own mining lease.”
“I still can’t believe you tossed in your cushy, well-paid, supervisor job with Hillfire Mines.” Malcolm shook his head, ignoring Jamie’s reference to the lease. “You worked hard for that promotion. You were set for the long haul there, I thought.”
“Mal, just wait ’til you see these latest assay reports.” Jamie brandished a sheaf of papers. “We are going to be set for the long haul.” He put special emphasis on We. “In fact, we are going to be rich, very rich.” He fixed Malcolm with his beaming grin, waiting for a response.
“You sure you really want to go down that track? Dad wasted most of his life scratching around his old claim, barely making enough to cover costs most of the time.” Jamie’s grin still didn’t waver as Malcolm continued. “I still say the best plan is to target management positions and let someone else take all the risks.”
“And all the profits!” Jamie countered. “And forget about that old school grubbing around like Dad did. Open cut! That’s the way to go. We bring in dozers, scrape away a foot or two at a time, before sweeping it with detectors. Then we repeat the process.”
“Dozers?” Malcolm took a small backward step. “Dozers, plural? And where is all the money coming from?”
“OK, OK, dozer. For now, at least. I have a D8 in mind for starters.” Malcolm was shaking his head again, but Jamie continued. “Belongs to a pal of mine. He’s prepared to do us a special deal on a short-term lease. Mate’s rates, you could say.” Jamie was clearly excited and obviously not ready to let it go. Malcolm grew silent—a resigned look taking up residence where doubt and incredulity had been a moment earlier.
“Come on, I’ll buy us a beer or three and fill you in on the details,” Jamie said. “Little brother, you are not going to believe these reports!” He waved the papers in Malcolm’s face as they walked away toward the nearest pub.
As they crossed to the shady side of the street, Rachel felt Malcolm grip her hand in his. She glanced across to the two brothers. It wasn’t just physical appearances that set them apart. How could this man—tall, rugged, good-looking, and so open and friendly—possibly be Malcolm’s brother? Under different circumstances, the smile Jamie had given her might have melted her heart on the spot!
Malcolm had provided scant details, so she hadn’t known what to expect. In the back of her mind, though, she’d had an image of simply a more senior version of Malcolm Kincaid. What she saw—and yes, felt, when she sized up the older Kincaid—made her just a little uncomfortable. Especially when she probed those penetrating hazel eyes…
As they walked, her mind drifted back over the events of the past three months; the events that had led her to accompany Malcolm Kincaid to Kalgoorlie. They had met at a friend’s dinner party and he had captivated her right away with his wit and charm. So much so, that she’d gone against her usually cautious nature and moved in with him after only a few weeks. Once their situation seemed permanent, however, he had changed subtly, becoming more demanding and less attentive. She’d considered ending the relationship more than once, yet, here she was, agreeing to relocate more than 400 kilometres with him! Rachel shook her head, wondering at the wisdom of her own actions.
What was it, she thought, this hold that Malcolm had over her? And what about Jamie? How could two brothers be so different? Malcolm was a calculated, ambitious optimist; it didn’t take a genius to work that out. Jamie, on the other hand, seemed to turn optimism into an art form. He chatted away, oblivious to the fact that his brother wasn’t paying the slightest attention to what he said, while Malcolm walked in stony silence.
The younger Kincaid was digesting the situation. When Jamie focused on an idea, there could be no reasoning with him. That’s the way it always had been, and, he supposed, always would be. He’d just have to let Jamie rave on for a while—nodding in the appropriate places—then say that he needed time to think on it. Tomorrow, he’d tell Jamie about the position he’d already decided to accept with Newmont Mining, a US corporation, who were considering expansion into Western Australia. They had head-hunted him based on his recent performance at the School of Mines.
The brothers were on their second pint, reminiscing about old times and Rachel was at the bar ordering lunch for the three of them, when Jamie turned to Malcolm:
“Rachel seems like a great catch Mal,” he said with a grin. “How did an ugly prick like you snare a looker like that? Was it witty Malcolmisms, or ‘Does this smell like chloroform’?”
“Very funny,” Malcolm answered. “Just keep your hands off this one, hey? I still remember Bernice.”
Jamie furrowed his brow before answering, “Bernice?” After a brief pause, he said, “You mean Bernie Wainwright? Hell Malcolm, that was way back in high school.”
“Maybe so,” Malcolm replied. “But I still say keep your hands off.”
Jamie sat back, raising his arms in mock surrender. “Sure thing, little brother. Consider me put in my place.”
In fact, Malcolm had long held a grudge against his older sibling over the Bernice Wainwright incident. Bernice, around a year older than Malcolm, was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Malcolm had been smitten, and Bernice, despite the age difference, was fond of Malcolm and had done nothing to discourage his advances. Until she met Jamie, that was.
Malcolm had walked in on the two of them making out on the family sofa. The younger Kincaid completely lost control and attacked his brother with the first thing that came to hand; a brass statuette of Elvis Presley. Jamie received a cut to his forehead, and Malcolm a black eye and fat lip. Elvis was left with a permanently twisted right arm. Bernice had stormed out and refused to speak to Malcolm again from that moment onwards.
This was the first time Malcolm had broached the subject in several years, and he actually found himself a little surprised that he’d mentioned it now. The two had long since agreed on a truce where Bernice Wainwright was concerned.
In the back of his mind, though, Malcolm knew the reason for his reaction. He and Rachel were having problems of their own. Nothing too serious, of course, but the relationship was on shaky ground.
Rachel had overheard him flirting with one of her work colleagues and created the usual female fuss. For fucksake, he was just being friendly, wasn’t he? Why did some women have to make such a big deal of things? She’d confronted him, and threatened to leave him, but Malcolm put her straight. She hadn’t mentioned the incident in over a week, and the bruises on her arms and back were clearing up nicely, thank you.
He also hadn’t failed to notice how Rachel had looked at Jamie when they met…
“Well?” Jamie broke his train of thought. “Are you going to look at these figures, or not?”
“OK,” sighed Malcolm, “show me what you’ve got.” He took the report from his brother and began to scan the pages with little enthusiasm. Malcolm was reading ore sample reports, but not really absorbing the information, at least not at first. He stopped, reread a section, turned back two pages, ran his hand across his moustache, then looked up at Jamie, who was watching intently with that same broad smile.
“This… this can’t be right. Are you sure there’s not been a mistake?”
“Double checked and triple checked little bro.” Jamie was beaming now. “I said you’d be blown away.”
“But… Where is this lease, anyway?”
Jamie leaned toward his younger brother conspiratorially, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” He laughed before continuing—ignoring Malcolm’s raised eyebrows at the clichéd attempt at a joke. “It’s actually just east of Dad’s old mine. I reckon it’s the mother lode Dad was looking for all those years. I went out there on one of my days off and walked around with a metal detector.” He held out a bronzed hand, with three nuggets, each bigger than a thimble, “And look what I found—in under twenty minutes!”
Malcolm was staring, open-mouthed, as Jamie continued. “I raced in to register a claim, and it turned out it was part of Dad’s lease all along! Next day I dug some rock samples and took them to be assayed. You have the results there in your hands.” He waited for Malcolm’s response, which wasn’t forthcoming. “So what do you say now, Mal, old pal?”