Retired Chief Inspector Don “Dibs” Dibble had a strict notion of what constitutes good company. The Old Incorruptible now found himself in the worst conceivable company.

A jail workshop converted for winemaking went against all his instincts. As to the trustee who was in charge of the wine, and seemed to enjoy every possible privilege in this medium security prison…


“So, Dibs…Can I call you Dibs?”


“Well, anyway, you can call me Quin…”


“Okay, Mr. Dibble it is. Just step this way…mind the cases. Here we go.”

Quinlivin waved his arm across an impressive array of vats and equipment, and a venerable winepress.

“As you can see, the whole operation is secure. The grapes come in, we make the wine, all liquid levels and alcohol contents are checked electronically and constantly. Strict inventory on all chemicals, additives, tools, instruments…The only other prisoner allowed in here is Dessie over there. Dessie, say g’day to former Chief Inspector Dibble.”

A tiny, wiry, scrunch-faced con looked up from some crates he was pulling along. He raised a shy hand.


Dibs barely nodded in response.

“Dessie’s the best. I don’t go for crims as a race. In a perfect society they would have hung me long ago…but Dessie is the best.”

“So what’s the old lag doing in here?”

“That’s Dessie Saleh. Remember him? From one of the old Ghan families. His dad was one of the last cameleers. A few Darwin blokes robbed his father and belted the old bloke to death. Dessie hunted them one by one…Didn’t you Dessie? He got out of jail after fifteen, then hunted the bloke he’d missed…Didn’t you Dessie?”

The tiny man waved a hand modestly and went back to his crates.

“Ah, if we were all pure like Dessie, Mr. Dibble…”

“Look here, Quinlivin, I don’t buy into this noble con caper. I’m here because Clive asked me to visit you a bit. Since I’m living down in the Haven now, I suppose we’re neighbours. It’s not too far to come and that was his dying wish after nabbing you. So here I am. We’re stuck with each other, Quinlivin.”

“Oh, it’s a pleasure for me. If there was anyone I’d rate second to old Clive, it’s you. What a pair of Rugby League playing altar boys you must have been, back at St. Pat’s. You were in the front row? Clive was halfback? I also know a fair bit about your police career, though our paths never crossed. I’d say you’re like Dessie: straight and implacable. I like that. Coffee, Mr. Dibble?”

“Tea, thanks.”

After Quinlivin had poured out the beverages, prepared in a little kitchenette, the two men sat down on stools, facing each other across an old work bench. They were physical opposites. Dibs was a craning rockface that had lurched into life. Quinlivin – late thirties? – was the most neutral, the most average man imaginable, pleasantly beige, the kind people never succeed in describing or remembering.

“So tell me, Quinlivin, how did you manage to go from super-crim to super-trustee. Don’t tell me the authorities swallowed your promise to Clive there’d be no more escapes.”

“I made the promise. I’ll keep it. But there’s more to it than that. I think you know there’s more to it, Mr. Dibble.”

“I suppose I’ve heard things. I’ve heard how you arranged for his private room at the hospice, how a few hundred thou was left to the hospice after he died. Some favour you did for…for who?”

“Don’t have to be coy as well as pure, Mr. Ness. We both know who. But that’s not how I got my privileges.”

“Informing, eh?”

“How long would I be alive in here if that was true? Come on, Mr. Dibble, don’t play the mushroom. You’re in the know.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard yarns about how you tipped off the Vics about the Bushfire Plot back in the drought, how you know about terror threats in the bush generally…water supply, power lines, communications…Do you mention all that to the Muslim Brothers in here?”

“Dessie’s a sort of Muslim. He does all my mentioning for me. Granted, he doesn’t look terrifying. Dessie just…well, he just hunts people, doesn’t he? Dessie, don’t you just hunt people? Bad ones, I mean?”

Again the wizened little Ghan waved shyly by way of a reply.

“I suppose I’m seen as helpful to the nation in some quarters. You know what they say about patriotism: last refuge of a scoundrel. Perfect for me!”

“Listen Quinlivin. You’ve held guns on people who were just out shopping. That alone justifies locking you up in here for fifteen with the sole privilege of crapping once a day. Clive might have looked on you as a naughty son, but for me you’re a very distant nephew at best. What’s more, Clive told me that the whole myth about you being a killer of scum is something that comes from you. There’s no proof you ever topped anyone. Oh, I’ve heard of the famous Quinlinvin rule: kill anyone, but always for a reason. Clive reckoned you might never have had a reason…”

“Well, you’re never going to know…unless you read my book. You won’t have to buy it. Signed first edition for you, Mr. Dibble. Of course, I won’t be confessing directly to anything. After all, the book and this wine operation are my escape. My legal escape, that is.”

“You think people are that stupid?”

“Just the clever ones, Mr. Dibble, just the clever ones. Literature and wine! Can you imagine the sympathy, the petitions, the photo ops with Julian Assange and David Hicks? Did I mention the winery is going carbon neutral? I’ll be free in five.”

“In your bloody dreams, Quinlivin!”

“But I’ll be going straight. I owe that to old Clive. I can make plenty as a reality TV contestant – or whatever they’re doing with displaced celebs in five years time.”

“You worried Clive to an early grave, and now you talk about him like…”

Quinlivin smacked his cup hard on to the bench and reared forward. All the flippancy was gone from his face, and for a flash Dibs could see the lithe predator behind the bland veneer and steady mockery. Then Quinlivin settled back and murmured:

“You can’t say that. I kept him young, engaged. You can’t say that. Nobody can. Accuse me of what you like…not that!”

Dibs fixed him with curiosity, not certain of how to take the little outburst. Then he shrugged.

“Maybe you’re right, Quinlivin. Maybe Clive was partly right about you. But I’m not Clive.”

“Well, Mr. Dibble, I’m happy to receive your visits. However, I’ll understand if you prefer…”

“There’s something else, Quinlivin. Maybe it’s the reason I’ve visited this soon, rather than waiting a few months like I intended. Clive McGroder had a thing about you being some kind of…I dunno…”

“Bright spark?”

“More or less. Now, as far as I’m concerned, if you were some sort of, I dunno, some sort of genius, you’d be curing things, discovering things…”

“Taste the wine! Not bad for coastal grapes, won a prize or two. That takes smarts, chemistry…”

“I’ll stick to beer. Listen, Quinlivin, it was Clive who arranged for you to be in a jail close to where I live. He also wanted your brain – how did he put it? – activated in a good cause. He said if there was a problem, something that required understanding of crime, as well as observation, logic, bush knowledge and so on, then it wouldn’t hurt to…sort of…”

“Put me on the case, Mr. Dibble?”

“Clive’s notion, not mine. But, yes, I want to put you on a case. Just information, opinion, nothing more. Just what you can do by hearing and judging from where you’re sitting. Are you a starter?”

“For Clive? Why not? There’ll be one small condition…”

“No there bloody won’t!”

“It’s tiny.”


“I get to call you Dibs.”

Dibs shook his head awhile, then let out a sight of surrender.

“All right. Call me Dibs.”

“And you’ll call me Quin.”

“I’ll call you either Quinlivin or Prisoner 1816. Are you a starter or not?”

Quinlivin grinned.

“I’m a starter, Dibs. Another tea? Wine?”

“No…Actually, let me try a small glass. Are you having one?”

“I’m a prisoner! If I taste, I have to spit.”

Quinlivin got up and went to one of the vats, where he syphoned a small amount of wine into a tumbler. He handed it to Dibs, who drank a little, then raised his eyebrows approvingly.

“That’s not bad. What can I taste in there?”

“Oh, the critics have said citrus peel, vanilla, oak, blackberry…”

“Sorry I bloody asked. Now, about this matter. There’s been an accidental death. Possible suicide finally deemed an accident. The books have been shut, and, since I’m retired, I can’t re-open them. The Port Tench police are pretty good blokes and good enough operators. I can’t force their hand, and I don’t have a reason to. It’s just that I knew the young feller well – the one who died – from all the years I’ve been coming back to the Haven on holidays. When my missus was ill, toward the end, the young bloke, Michael, couldn’t do enough for her. And I’ll be buggered if Michael would kill himself, or be stupid enough to die they way they said.”

“How was that?”

“He fell from the overpass up on the Pacific Highway, the one that leads over to the industrial estate…”

“And the weigh station. Yes, I know it. That would have been a bad fall.”

“A bad fall, and a truck did the rest. Michael was backward. He enjoyed waiting on the overpass to watch for big rigs, pylon convoys, that sort of thing. And he loved the weigh station.”

“How backward was he?”

“Pretty backward. You know the type, there’s one in every town. Slurred speech, slow on the uptake, plenty of medical probs. Single mum had him late in life to a drongo who shot through to WA. Not a recipe for success, I suppose. But the mother’s a good woman, a worker, and her son had the respect of the town. He was backward, but he had sense, plenty of sense. Couldn’t do enough for my Gwen…”

“So, you don’t think he might have just leaned too far over the rail?”

“No I don’t. Those modern overpasses are designed so you’d have to be a dill to fall. You’d have to climb or use a stool. And Michael was no dill. No way that boy was a dill.”

“And suicide?”

“Don’t make me laugh. Not only was he a happy lad, he would never have caused a hazard to traffic. If that sounds funny, well…you needed to know Michael. He was…he was always looking after things. Even the Pacific flaming Highway. Especially the highway. That was his nature.”

“Unlikely to have enemies, then.”

“Don’t make me laugh.”

“So…some sort of ratbag may have pushed him? Or a group of young dickheads, out for trouble?”

“Possible. They haven’t stopped making dickheads. Ask any copper.”

“Time of day?”

“Early evening. It was dark. He was heading home. One of the globes on the overpass was out.”

Both men were silent awhile. Dibs sipped on his wine.

“Dibs, what was the young bloke doing over there?”

“What he always did. Sometimes he would wander around the industrial estate and say g’day to people – nobody minded, not with Michael – but mostly he loved trucks and truckies. More of his time was spent at the weigh station than anywhere else. Never got in the way, just watched the trucks, did meet-and-greet with the regular drivers, but never a nuisance. He could tell you most things about most trucks. Like I said…no dill.”

“Hmm. You know, Dibs, truckies and bikies…”

“I know what you’re thinking, but the answer’s no. A couple of bikies tried to leave a parcel with him to hand on to a driver. Michael knew to say no, and to mean it. A truckie offered to pay him ten bucks to pass on an envelope to the Angelitos. Michael told him no. They all got the message, up and down the coast. I’d warned him myself about being a regular on the highway, how they might want to use him for amphetamine deals. You only ever had to tell Michael something once, and that was enough. Sometimes we call the wrong people backward, Quinlivin.”

“So, just dickheads then. Not hard to believe that some young turds would lurk near the overpass, torment a kid like your Michael. Maybe they lifted him for a joke and then dropped him by mistake. Best explanation, don’t you reckon?”

“Same thing occurred to me. But there was one detail got me thinking. Maybe there’s nothing in it, but I got to thinking. Michael’s treasure was a small notebook he used for recording everything to do with trucks. Models, sizes, weights, loads, drivers, times and regularity through the station. He dreamed of making that his life, just like some blokes want to chase money and others want to chase golf balls and fish.”

“You’re about to tell me that the notebook was missing.”

“Missing from his body and from his house. His two filled up books were in a kind of shrine in his room – under a Convoy movie poster he got from Bill Collins – but the current one was missing.”

“I see. Not a lot to be concluded from that, of course.”

“No, not much at all.”

Quinlivin stared ahead, abstracted, and Dibs sipped on his tumbler of wine. The silence deepened, since both men were habitually wily players and never felt obliged to break such a silence. Both sensed the next comment would matter, would provoke, whoever made it. It was Quinlivin who spoke.

“Mr. Dibble, if Michael had been observing something dodgy, something criminal…”

“He would have reported it. He wasn’t sentimental about law-breaking, didn’t enjoy the confidence of low-life types. He was straight, my little mate…Sorry…”

“No offence taken, Dibs. I wonder…did he record truck weights religiously?”

“Yes, he loved that part. But the whole system is automated and computerised. If there were trucks coming through with overweight loads there was nobody to bribe. There was a unit that registered the weight locally – Michael liked to copy from that – but there was no way of fiddling the info, which was relayed simultaneously to Sydney.”

“He was allowed to hang about like that? All day?”

“Two days a week. Got clearance to do it as work experience under some special scheme. Monday and Friday he was there, the rest of the time he had some sort of vocational training…and he actually had a job doing dune care down in the Haven. The kid was a goer, a doer. Never stopped. I think he had some dream of getting real paid work at the weigh station. I suppose I had a vague plan to bring it about, before my all powerful friends, the Philipsons, disappeared from the map.”

“Mm. I heard about that.

More silence.

“Dibs, how do you feel about spending a day or two chatting to the truckies at the weigh station. Maybe just a Monday or a Friday?”

“You’re giving the orders now?”

“I’d do it myself, but, as you can see…”


Five days later, the two men were seated in the same place. Dessie Saleh was busy at one of the vats. Dibs was again sampling, with approval, a small tumbler of wine.

“Any chance of me taking away a bottle of this stuff?”

“This…this particular wine?”

Dessie, who had overheard, looked around nervously. Quinlivin caught his glance, gave him a quick wink.

“Ah, Dibs, I dunno. It’s raw still. A whole bottle…I dunno. Then there’s inventory, rules, all that…”

“Just asking. I’d pay, of course.”

“Well, leave it with me…So, how did it go at the weigh station? Anything interesting?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. I talked to a whole Monday mob, during the hours young Michael would have been there. I got the station master to point out the regulars who might have had contact with Michael. They told me things…Look, why can’t I just take a bottle of this away today? I’ve got friends coming for steak tonight…”

“Nah, it’s too young. Why steak? Is it true you’re the worst fisherman on the coast?”

“Who said that?”

“Oh, word gets around jails. Crims and guards talk, you know…”

“Well, it’s true I’ve never had time to hone my fishing skills, unlike some of these bludgers who’ve never had anything better to do than…”

“So what did you learn? Take me through it.”

“Michael was popular, as I’ve said. He never annoyed any of them. Some of them offered him smokes, beer, rides, but he always said no. He watched their loads, secured any flags that might be loose, often checked their tarps for them. If he fiddled with something, he knotted properly. He used to fill the water buckets and soap them, which everyone appreciated, especially the station master. He saw the odd dope deal, but who doesn’t catch some cash or amphetamines change hands on the highway?”

“One or two radar police, as I remember, used to be called speed cops for reasons other than vehicle velocity.”

“Yeah, well, if we catch em’ we’ll bundle ’em in here with rest of the low-lifes. They won’t get an easy run from me…Sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“No offence taken, Dibs.”

“There was one slight, well, I wouldn’t say conflict. Michael got a bee in his bonnet about a little thing that kept occurring with one delivery. The driver who told me about it is a good bloke. He didn’t really see any problem, since he’s the type to do his job and then go have a beer and a bet. It’s just that Michael kept noticing a discrepancy on the weight of near identical loads. Now, provided loads are legal and secured, nobody cares about that sort of thing. But Michael being obsessed with trucks and details…”

“How can loads be identical?”

“They were loads of timber from the Dark River Mill, last of the big mills up Macktown way. Standard hardwood bundles, same number of bundles on the same trucks. Mostly blackbutt, but some other species mixed in. Michael was noticing a big difference in the weight of Monday loads to Friday loads. He even came down on other days at times the timber truck came through from the mill. The weight on the other days was the same as Friday’s. Monday…”

“Dark River Mill…Dark River…Monday was lighter?”

“How did you know that?”

“Oh, just a thought that popped into my head, Dibs.”

“You don’t have thoughts, Quinlivin. You only have schemes. What scheme are you seeing here?”

“Just a question: did this Monday driver participate in loading and unloading?”

“No, as a matter of fact. The truck was loaded for him on Sunday by the owners, old Cass and his son Trevor.”

“Dibs, I used to hide out in the National Park above that mill. Nice flat little cave, dry as a bone. I’ve still got gear up there. The mill is closed on weekends and guarded by a mob of underfed dogs.”

“Probably still is. The driver told me about all the dogs and security. But apparently Cass and son have taken to working right through the weekend, minus their regular staff. They regularly have a load ready first thing Monday morning. It’s always the same driver…”

“An easy-going bloke who doesn’t worry, doesn’t get curious…So, tell me, what about unloading?”

“He parks at an old converted wool-store in Newcastle. It’s their only delivery to that place. Someone else drives the truck in. Strict rule. After an hour or so, he comes back. The truck is waiting outside. He drives back north. No back load to worry about ever. Easy work. The driver likes his Monday slot, that’s for sure.”

“And his identically sized load was much lighter on Mondays…”

“What are you thinking? Drugs? There’d be much subtler and easier ways of transporting drugs than down the highway on an open timber truck, past police checks and weigh stations.”

“No, not drugs. Something…Dibs! How much fuss did Michael make over this? He fronted the driver, who didn’t care. What else?”

“Of all things, he rang the mill. Twice! The driver told me so. He didn’t accuse the driver or anybody else – Michael wasn’t like that – he just said he’d been checking for months and the Monday loads were very light. He felt the owners should know. They told him not to worry, but Michael was back after the calls and checking. After that, as he told the driver, the Monday weight was now the same as that on all the other days. For a couple of months, no discrepancy.

“Then Michael noticed some well concealed metal railings slotted under the trailer of the Monday truck, between welded supports. I’ve seen the arrangement myself and it’s a pretty thorough job. I don’t know if it’s a legal modification but it’s not something most people would notice. He confronted the driver – nicely – who didn’t know and didn’t care, but suggested the railings may be some kind of strengthening or ballast. Maybe they were intended for delivery somewhere as cattle gridding. But Michael must have wondered if the metal railings were there to correct the weight on Monday’s loads, since they were not on the next Friday’s delivery, which used the same truck. I know this, because I was able to contact Friday’s driver, who told me Michael had, in fact, approached him and made a casual inquiry about it. When Michael noticed the rails in place on the next Monday, he bloody rang the mill again! I can only think he suspected the mill was being cheated, or that they were doing some cheating. Who can tell? He was backward, but his logic and sense of right were – how to put this? – completely inflexible. He couldn’t let it go.

“Then…then the fall from the overpass.”

“Dibs, have you…?”

“I’m way ahead of you. I’ve been able to get a mate of mine, who might be a deputy commissioner for all you know, to arrange an analysis of the computer readings and records from the Haven Valley Weigh Station.”

“Dibs, you’re not just a pretty face. And? And?”

“Monday loads, presumably all with the extra metal ballast, have been identical in weight with those of other days since Michael’s death. For two months before that, identical in weight with those on other days. But – get this – for fifteen months before he made his first calls to the mill Monday’s load was much lighter. The weigh master confirms that all the loads always looked equal in size to him. Michael had pegged it. Not a dill, my little mate. He was no dill!”

“No, he wasn’t. No, he clearly was not…”

Again one of those poker silences between the two men. Quinlivin was gazing up and at nothing when he at last murmured:


“I’m still here.”

“Dibs, you’re going to do a raid, a proper police raid.”

“You’re bloody dreaming! I can’t tell the Port Tench police what to do.”

“No, you won’t be arranging any small stuff. You’ll  be getting your Sydney and maybe Newcastle mates involved. Dog men, a chopper maybe, blokes to cut off that whole mountain and National Park adjacent to the mill. You’ll need to restrain or arrest a Park Ranger or two, maybe raid the Rangers’ offices and homes at the same time as you raid the mill. The drivers will have to be re-interviewed and kept quiet. Yep, that’s what you’ll need to do. This coming Sunday.”

“Quinlivin, you must be mad. I’m a retired C.I., not the Premier of NSW. Besides, most people may find this hilarious, but I actually go to Mass on Sundays. And what will I say to the Sydney crew and the Newcastle and Port Tench mobs? That we’re doing this because one of the biggest bandits in history thinks we should?”

“Gawd, don’t mention me, Dibs. I have to live in this place. The privilege thing is bad enough. No…you’ll organise it somehow because your little mate Michael was a very bright boy. As opposed to the clever types who are going campaign for my release, Michael used every cell of grey matter that God gave him…Dibs! Your little mate Michael was on to a multi million dollar gold operation, easily big enough to kill for.”

“Gold? Gold is heavy, Quinlivin. And they don’t pull it out of the ground up around the Dark River National Park.”

“Dibs, I wasn’t talking about the common yellow stuff.”


The following Tuesday, the two men were back and silently taking in each other’s company. The only sounds was Dessie tapping on the hoops of a spent cask and the odd lip smack as Dibs savoured what was becoming his customary tumbler of wine. In spite of the enormity of recent happenings, this poker silence would go on for too long, of course. At last:

“I could get used to this red muck…”

“Not too much of it, Dibs. It’s pretty young. How did your steak evening go? Or have you finally caught a fish?”

“As you well know, I’ve been occupied. Since it was all your suggestion! I’m guessing you saw it all on television?”

“What? You finally caught a legal size fish and CBN sent a news crew?”

“Go to buggery, Quinlivin. Did you see the bust or not?”

“Yes, I saw. Hard to miss it. The bust went well, but that press conference! Sexy Brad Ball with newer and sillier face fuzz. What’s he doing running an op?”

“Don’t ask me. Kicked upstairs, I suppose. Old Clive reckoned he was thick. You proved it with that shebang at the Coast Credit Union. Anyway, I told him if he did just as I suggested he’d be a star. It worked.”

“They’re not going to mention you?”

“I’m retired. I was there observing, with permission. My only interest was Michael. I assume you don’t want to be mentioned publicly in connection with any of this…”

“No way! But if you could leak something through to the parole people…”

“I suppose I’ll have to. You know, Quinlivin, Michael’s mother and I owe you a lot over all this. He’ll be given a posthumous award. We’ll see if we can’t get his name on the overpass so thousands see it every day. But it goes against my nature to help a bandit like you wriggle out of his sentence…”

“Dibs, only a few weeks ago you wouldn’t touch red wine. We all learn to flex, to change. This prison is a lump of butter at room temp – have I tried to escape? But, hey, that’s great news about your little mate.”

“Yeah. I call him boy and little, but he was a proper man, Quin…livin. You wouldn’t believe how he was with my Gwen toward the end…The little bloke…I picture him still alive…taking the award…all stiff with his chest puffed out…” Dibs was as near as Dibs got to tearful.

“It was young Cass who killed him?”

“Yeah. His low-life mate, the only one of the mill blokes in the know – we nabbed him in the bust, got him talking – he stood guard at the end of the overpass while Cass Junior, after putting out the globe with an airgun, just grabbed Michael and heaved him over the railing. Like my little mate was a piece of…I dunno…”

After another poker silence:

“So, Dibs, how was the operation set up? I mean the mill. How were they getting stuff down off the mountain?”

“Like you thought. The head ranger was in on it. We think the other rangers may have been, though it’s possible he managed to keep them all away from the mountain. It was pretty inaccessible, almost escarpment country. Cass and son had made narrow tracks all over, just wide enough to drag stuff with one of those special mini-tractors. Nothing that would show up on Google Earth. There was a cover of scrub at the base of the mountain so you couldn’t see how the trail network joined up at the mill. They started work on Saturday arvo, after the mill closed, and worked through to Sunday night. The loads were coated perfectly in ordinary hardwood, top and sides. Some plugs of ordinary timber covered the ends of the load, so it just looked like the usual hardwood lumber when the driver arrived on Monday morning. Except it was gold.”

“Red gold, eh?”

“Yep, Australian Red Cedar. Toona Australis. The queen of all timbers. And protected like a queen. The log they were working on when we did the bust! You would not believe it, Quin…Quinlivin.”

“Pretty choice material?”

“The choicest! You wouldn’t bloody credit it, mate. And ancient! Specimens like that you wouldn’t have seen a hundred years ago. You’d have to go back a hundred and fifty years. As to value, we reckon they could have been cutting up to a hundred grand a month, tax free. From the Newcastle mob we raided, it seems most was heading for Singapore, as a starting point. The smell of it! Red cedar, fresh cut in piles. You can almost understand how the early settlers went crazy for the stuff. It’s the smell, as much as the colour and grain and feel. And yet so light. Christ, what beautiful stuff! But you can’t let ’em just rip out the last of it, can you? Mind you, I’m no tree hugger…”

“I’d rather guessed that, Dibs.”


Dibs had gone, Quinlivin was now sitting at the same bench with Dessie. They were sipping on what looked like brandy.

“Quin, if we give him a whole bottle, will it be a problem?”

“Of course not. But I don’t feel right about it. He was a mate of old Clive’s. I just don’t feel right about it. He even called me Quin once today. I’ll get a bloke I know in the liquor game to rip the label off some Hill of Grace and send that on to him. Maybe a case of it. First time anyone ever reverse-faked Hill of Grace, but I just don’t feel right giving him my own stuff.”

“So, what’s this afternoon’s job?”

“Dessie, while I’m working on the book I’ll need you to handle the wine side almost totally now. Today I want you to make up a good mix for that end vat. Take your time, but get the proportions right. Got pen and paper?”

“I can remember.”

“No, write it down. No more mistakes. Here, use my pen. Remember everything has to be just below taste threshold, so if you make a mistake, add less, not more. Now, I want one large bottle of vanilla essence, one small bottle each of lemon essence and blackberry flavouring…get it down…A small fistful of bruised black peppercorns – they say they like peppery bouquet, we’ll give ’em pepper – two litres of grain alcohol and a half litre of glycerine for a bit more sweetness and mouthfeel. No brandy, it’s on inventory. That’s only for special batches, and for us, of course. The guards can get me a fair quantity of grain alcohol – they just bring it in as bottled water – so we’re using that in future. Don’t forget some salt, but just one spoonful for the whole vat. Just one! Now, for the all-important wood I want one small spadeful of oak dust with a fist of the fine tallowood chips – don’t use the oak chips, too expensive – and maybe half a cup of liquid smoke. What else? One level tablespoon of stevia – remember, not sugar, it ferments. A pot of strong rooibos tea, cooled. One bundle of cinnamon…nah, too expensive to waste on wine from crap coastal grapes…I can afford it, but…”


“Yes, Dessie?”

“Is this honest? I mean, do all winemakers do this to their plonk?”

“I hope not Dessie. I truly hope not…

“But if we’re ever going to get out of this place, it won’t be on the merits of pure and unadulterated Haven River Shiraz.”

About mosomoso

Growing moso bamboo on the mid-coast of NSW, Australia.
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  1. Beth Cooper says:

    Lol. Tricky ter the end, that Quinlivin. I remember my uncle,
    who could cook, or ferment, anything, telling me that you could
    smooth cheap brandy with just a dash of glycerine.

  2. Beth Cooper says:

    And other things besides … sometimes what yer don’t know doesn’t hurt yer.

    These Q stories would make a quirky television series mosomoso. Especially
    if well cast, and you could control the script.

  3. mosomoso says:

    Actually, knowing me, I’d just take the money and let ’em make any old junk. But if one could have Richard Roxburgh as Quinlivin, that would be interesting.

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