The groves of peppercorn trees soon filled the farmland from one end to the other. It didn’t take long for them to take off and not long after that the Helling brothers were making a small fortune.
As demand for the local peppercorns increased, so did production, and Robert and Edward Helling soon had to expand their farm. They bought up adjacent blocks of land and, with additional peppercorn tree groves, the business continued to boom.
Expansion of their business also meant that Robert and Edward needed more labour to help out. Before long a small community was established in and around the farmland. Labourers and their families came to live and work close by.
Within 5 years of establishing their business, Robert and Edward Helling had built large factories and the small community had grown into a lively little village. The river was renamed in honour of the brothers to Helling River and the little township was born.
Robert married and had children, living in a part of the factory which was converted into living quarters while Edward, the younger brother, built himself a house overlooking the farm and township on the highest hill.
The Great Depression of 1929 hit the Helling Bros. business hard. The township soon halved in numbers as many of the workers left to find employment elsewhere. The Helling brothers were losing money, and fast.
To make matters worse, the peppercorn tree groves were hit by a bushfire which destroyed most, if not all, the precious trees.
Robert Helling himself spiralled into depression as he struggled to make ends meet for his own family. It came as no surprise to many the day that Robert Helling disappeared. He left a letter to his wife and children apologising for abandoning them. He wrote of his inability to continue living with the constant pressures of caring for them. He too had packed his bags and left town.
It was Edward Helling who stepped in to take care of his brother’s family. He took on the role of family man and became a father figure to Robert’s two children. Robert’s wife, Gretel, had also maintained hope that Robert would someday return to his family. But he never did. Gretel fell in love with Edward and they were married soon after. They lived as a happy family in the house on the hill that Edward had built.
After the fires which had destroyed most of the farmland, the peppercorn trees did begin to grow back. Before long Edward and Gretel Helling had turned around the struggling business and it was once more successful.
Looking down from their house high up on the hill one day, Edward could see the town down below him. The town had grown significantly since his business had started booming again and his farmland had also continued to grow along with it. He felt like the king of the castle up on the hill overlooking the villagers going about their daily lives. Gretel was his queen.
“I think I have it,” Gretel said as she placed her hand on Edward’s shoulder and they both peered down over the town.
“What’s that?” Edward asked.
“A name for the town,” Gretel smiled. “Peppercorn Patch. Don’t you think it’s quaint?”
The body bag is placed onto the surface of the steel table. Peppercorn Patch Hospital is small and only has one small autopsy room. Crowded around Doctor Peter Smith is Sergeant Michael Anders and Constable Kyle Cook.
“So the body was found at the site of the fire?” asks Doctor Smith.
“Yes, my crew found the body this morning. Constable Cook here was one of the first on scene,” Sergeant Anders replies. “Richard Evans is still missing.”
Doctor Smith looks down at the body bag and back to Sergeant Anders. “Joanne. That poor girl,” he shakes his head. “I can’t believe that someone would have attacked her like that.”
“She says it was Thomas,” Sergeant Anders adds.
“Thomas?” Doctor Smith is confused. “I thought he’d left town years ago.”
“He had. He’s apparently returned. There’s no sign of him either.”
“So you’re thinking that this body could be Richard? Or even Thomas?” asks the doctor.
“Who knows, Doc. I was hoping you could tell me.”
“What about Joanne and Richard’s house? I heard that went up in smoke too. Any sign of anyone there?”
“I’ve got a crew looking out there at this very moment. No reports of anything or anyone yet,” answers Sergeant Anders.
“Well, only one way to find out who this is.”
Doctor Peter Smith slowly unzips the bag and black ash escapes and falls over the table. He parts the sides of the bag so that he can more clearly see the body inside. All three men lean over the table, peer inside and simultaneously gasp in horror.
Next Episode – Monday 16th February
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