William Bullpepper Won It Twice

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The award is called the John Dawson Award, and it was named after Australia’s oldest criminal, who at the age of 82 was sentenced in Adelaide to twelve months prison, concluding a criminal career lasting some sixty-eight years.

Naturally the prize is for Crime Fiction.

You have to be over 60 years of age to enter, and you need to be unpublished.

John Dawson would have been pleased as the last three winners were all over the age of seventy and at least one winner was over eighty.

This was the thirty-fifth time the award had been given, and the prestigious award went to me, Leonard Warring.

I only just make it over the required minimum age, and it is the first time since I was a teenager that I have had to produce a birth certificate to prove how old I am. The last time was to prove I was old enough to drink at my local pub.

I was mortified.

Drinking is legal in my country once you reach the age of eighteen, but despite being six feet tall, this annoying half wit was winding me up, and I just passed my twenty-second birthday. My mates thought it was hilarious, but I just wanted to gank the bloke.

These days I don’t mind looking a few years younger, it comes in handy.

I’ve been sending stories to editors for more years than I like to remember, and generally get a form rejection email, and occasionally a kind attempt to personalise the rejection, and I appreciate those.

I’ve been at this so long that I have a real rejection letter, a couple of them in fact, but mostly they fill up a folder in my email program.

I’ve thought about printing them out, but it is just too depressing.

So I win the ‘Dawson’, and everyone wants to know me.

The editorial board of the ‘Ned Kelly Award’ sent me an email asking me why I didn’t submit the story to them.

The ‘Ned Kelly’ is the top award for new crime fiction in Australia.

I didn’t ignore them, I have been submitting to them each year for the last twenty-two years.

I sent them an email reminding them of my copious previous submissions.

I haven’t had a reply.

I’ve had publishing offers coming in almost daily since the award was announced, which is nice, but I’ve been a bit distracted.

I’ve been doing a bit of research.

It is true that quite a few of us ‘old timers’ have gone on to publishing greatness after winning the ‘Dawson,’ but it’s what happened to the others that interest me.

As you would expect, with thirty-five winners [actually there are only 33; Billy Bullpepper won it twice. He hid behind the cleverly disguised pseudonym of William Bullpepper when he won it the second time] spread over thirty-five years, there would be a variety of outcomes for the various winners.

There are the mega success stories of talents hidden for decades suddenly being discovered and rocketing the author into a life of book signings and dividend cheques.

Then there is the handful who went no further.

Their dream was realised by the award, and they slipped quietly back into their old lives.

No huge surprises there until you understand that twenty-two of the winners are now dead.

They were probably old, and life caught up with them, I hear you say.

Not so.

Every death was sudden and violent, and all but a few of them had occurred in the last six months.

Someone is systematically killing off the ‘Dawson’ winners, and they are not subtle about it.

Many of the deaths could have been violent accidents but not when they are linked as award winners.

The probability is off the charts.

The cheery thought; I am now on somebody’s hit list.

You have to be kidding me!

Just when I finally make it, some jerk is going to make me a notch on his belt.

Give me a break.

Why kill writers? What the hell did we ever do to deserve that?

I’ve got a list of people who need killing and writers aren’t on that list.

My goal is to live long enough to work this out.

It’s going to make a hell of a story.

 

It All Started Innocently Enough

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It all started innocently enough, but by the time it was over I was very wealthy, lives were destroyed, and three people lay dead.
“No one should ever know their future,” she said with that lovely little smile I remember so affectionately. By the time this all developed, my mother had been dead for more than fifteen years, but I look back now, and I remember her words. She was fearful of the future and what it may hold. Her fear was rooted in her past, and it coloured everything she saw.
I’d been attending the Meditation Circle for a couple of years. I’d found my feet again after wandering aimlessly for many years.
“Come along one night — you’ll enjoy yourself, and you might just learn something. You’re a moody bugger, Billy. You need help. Get off your arse and get your head straight.”
He was annoying, but he was right. If I didn’t do something I was going to slip back into that black hole again. I could feel it coming on.
The lady who ran the group was friendly and warm.
“Hi, I’m Trevina, and I facilitate the group. We are all equal here. It’s a Circle and no one sits at the head of a Circle.”
‘Good luck with that,’ was what I was thinking, but I didn’t say it out loud.
“Thanks for making space for me Trevina. My mate dragged me along. There are a lot more blokes here than I expected?”
“Souls don’t know if they are male or female. We just are,” she said.
“I guess,” was all I could think of as I made a mental note of where the exit was.
Trevina glided off in the direction of a bunch of mature females who were clutching coffee as though their lives depended on it. We were in the middle of Spring, but the evenings were still cool. Someone had turned on the heater, and the large room had a relaxed, comfortable feel to it. Chairs were arranged in a circle, and each chair had a different coloured cushion on the seat.
“Those cushions could tell a story or two,” said a rather tall lady. She stood almost as tall as my six feet, and she had perfectly brushed, slightly coloured hair which could not completely disguise her seventy years of life. She had a twinkle in her eyes, and I knew I had found a friend.
“Somewhere there is an Op Shop that is completely out of cushions,” I said.
“Collected over many years, I should think. Many a bottom has compressed them, and they keep coming back for more.”
“What would you say that was a sign of?” I asked.
“Perseverance, I should think,” she said.
“So what do you do here ……..?”
“Norma. We find ourselves.”
“Sounds like something someone would have said in a 70’s movie,” I said.
“If you keep coming you will find out what I mean.”
“Now you have me intrigued. I was thinking about what we were going to have for supper when we eventually get out of here and now you’ve got me thinking about hippie girls in tight jeans with free love in their hearts.”
“I used to be one of those girls. It was a lot of fun at the time.” She gave me that smile that I was to see on the face of many of the people who regularly attended this Circle. Anywhere else, and I would say that it was smug, but not here. Not in this room. Here it seemed to suggest that they knew something that the rest of us did not know. They knew that they knew. Amazingly, they were happy to share what they had discovered.
I looked to see if I could find the friend who had brought me. Ross was standing on the far side of the room talking to a skinny female. She hugged him, and he walked in my direction.
“What’s with all the hugging? Not that I want to discourage females from hugging me, but I must say that I haven’t come across so much hugging since I was in kindergarten.”
“You’ll get used to it. It comes with the philosophy.”
“You haven’t walked me into some religious cult have you, Ross?”
“No, you crazy bugger! Exactly the opposite. Everyone here takes personal responsibility for the way they live their lives. They don’t live by some old man’s dogma.”
“Okay, take it easy. I was just joking. So no religious mumbo-jumbo. So what do you do?”
“We meditate and we discuss stuff. Some of the regulars are Mediums and Psychics, and they need the mental discipline that regular meditation brings.”
“Do you have any fortune tellers?” I was winding him up, but he didn’t bite.
Someone walked past us and headed for the coffee urn, and I could have sworn that they said, “That’s why you are here.”
I turned and looked at them, but they didn’t return my gaze. The person who might have said that was a short dark haired female, probably in her late thirties. She was the only woman in the room who was wearing a dress; all the others were rugged up in slacks and pants.
“She’s cute, and she’s going to find that house.”
“What house? Do you know her? What the fuck are you on about Billy? You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?”
“Never mind. Just find a seat and try not to annoy anyone.”
“Fuck you blondy. They love me here.”
“I’m not blond anymore dimwit; I’m old and grey.”
He was right. We were getting on a bit. Not exactly old, but not young anymore either.
So, the Circle settled down, and the meditation began.
Ross was right, and as the next couple of years went by he continued to be right. My mind settled down — I discovered that I could do things that most people could only dream about, and I learned to love this rag-tag bunch of misfits.
I hugged a lot of people, and I listened as the Mediums among us connected with the Spirits of dead relatives and friends. I watched the tears flow, and I saw the laughter in their eyes. I learned that I could, under certain circumstances, tell what was going to happen to people in the future. I wasn’t the only one who could do this, but I was the best.
As long as these happenings stayed within the Circle, there weren’t any problems. We all understood the unwritten rules. No lottery numbers and no bad news.
For some reason, it was impossible to read your own future, only someone else’s.
Mostly, the information was vague and general, but helpful. People in the Circle loved it, and I became a bit of a minor celebrity. My ego could handle it and because I was so grateful for my deliverance from the black hole of depression I was very careful not to do anything that might jinx my luck.
If I had to put my finger on it, I would say that it all started to unravel when I switched to the daytime sessions.
Trevina ran a nighttime group which I attended, and a Friday morning group. She asked me if I would like to come to the morning group. My work schedule was flexible, so I said yes.
When we took a break for a cup of tea, I liked to sit out on the footpath in front of the old shop which was our meeting place. The building had a long and colourful history, and I’m now quite sure that its energy contributed to what was about to happen.
The group would be deep in conversation fuelled by the events of the morning and copious amounts of caffeine. I’d take a chair out into the sunlight and sit quietly with my mug of horrendous coffee and gather my thoughts. It wouldn’t be long before someone would wander out and join me, but for a few moments I had the sun and the solitude, and it was wonderful.
The shop had a verandah which back in the day would have protected the shoppers from the inclement weather that is a feature of our mountain climate.
To catch the rays of the sun I moved my chair slightly out from under the metal clad verandah and as I look back I realise that this was the final piece of the puzzle.
As the beautiful woman with the coloured hair joined me and broke my solitude, I noticed a delivery van pull up. The driver got out and proceeded to open the back of his van.
“He’s going to have a hell of a headache,” I heard myself say.
Dianne, the beautiful woman with the colourful hair, said, “What do you mean?”
I blinked a couple of times and tried to form an answer.
The delivery driver opened the back of his van, and a large cardboard box hit him right between the eyes. He went down hard, and a bunch of us retrieved him from under the contents of his poorly packed van.
The wounds on the front and the back of his head were producing a lot of blood, and some of the bystanders were expressing their alarm.
“He’ll be fine. But in a couple of days, when the police search his house he’s going to be in a heap of trouble,” I heard myself say.
The onlookers went quiet for a moment, and many of them were looking at me.
“A garage full of stolen white goods,” I said.
A week later, at our next Circle, someone showed me the local newspaper. The delivery driver was arrested after the police visited him to talk about a noisy dog complaint. They had the wrong house and the wrong street, and they apologised and turned to leave when the driver’s son opened the garage door to retrieve his skateboard.
Everyone thought it was funny, but I had a sinking feeling. This premonition was way wilder than anything I had come up with before.
I took my cup of piss-weak coffee out on to the footpath and soaked up the sunlight.
When I opened my eyes, there were a bunch of people standing around me silently waiting for me to say something.
“What the bloody hell do you lot want?” I said.
“Tell us what is going to happen,” said a slightly scruffy older lady.
“You knew about the truck driver,” said a tall man in workman’s clothes.
“I’ll tell you what is going to happen. You are all going to bugger off and stop annoying me. I don’t know anything you don’t know.”
This wasn’t exactly true. As I looked at each person, I could see a scene being played out in my head.
The little boy with the scab on his knee was going to get a puppy for his birthday, and they would grow up together. The scruffy old lady would be dead before Christmas, and no one would come to her funeral. The bloke in the workman’s clothes would find a wallet and return it to its owner, intact. The owner of the wallet would, in turn, facilitate the entry of the workman’s son into a private school and the experience would lead the boy to a sad life of drugs and crime.
“Don’t give the wallet back. Stick it in the mail and don’t put your address on the package.” The workman looked at me like I had just stepped on his foot.
“How did you know about the wallet. I only found it this morning?” he said.
As I looked at him, I knew he would ignore my advice. I wanted to tell him what was going to happen, but I had a strong sense that what I was seeing was going to happen no matter what I said.
The worker looked shocked as he produced the wallet from his back pocket and held it in mid-air. I had the feeling that he wanted it to fly away so that he would not have to decide.
Things escalated rather quickly from there.
My mate could see the profit potential, and I tried to talk him out of it. I like the quiet life. I needed a bit more money, who doesn’t, but this seemed to me to be against the spirit of what we had learned.
I did my best to avoid the limelight, but I knew when I looked at Ross that he would eventually work out that his ability combined with the energy of this amazing old building would produce a similar result for him and anyone else with a modicum of talent.
It got crazy and dangerous, and I did my best to steer clear.
There were a few fatalities, but I’ll tell you about them some other time.
I’ll bet you are wondering how I became wealthy, especially as I mentioned that I cannot read for myself.
Cast your mind back to me sitting outside the shop in the sun before anyone knew what I could do.
Across the road from our meeting place is a shop that sells newspapers, greeting cards and lottery tickets.
I was enjoying the sunlight when I noticed an agitated young man. He attracted my attention as he stood outside the shop obviously deciding whether to go in or not. It occurred to me that he thought this was his last chance.
As I looked at him, I could see two possible futures for him, and each one hinged on his decision. As he stood frozen on the footpath, his future was nothing but misery and disappointment ending in his death from alcohol-related complications.
Eventually, he moved towards the shop door, and the pictures changed dramatically. The money he was destined to win would not solve all his problems, but his life certainly improved, at least, it did for the foreseeable future.
In my head, I watched him filling out the lottery form. I quickly wrote down the numbers and needless to say, we shared the massive jackpot, which had been building up for many weeks.
I have never told anyone this story, and I’m counting on you to keep it to yourself.
People get a bit crazy where money is concerned, and I like a quiet life. 

I Rule

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My name has never been on a ballot paper.
I’ve never run for office.
You’ve never seen my face on a campaign poster, but I am the one who makes the decisions that influence your everyday life.
I come from a long line of people, males mostly, who have performed this service. We are paid handsomely, but we do not live a lavish life, and we don’t do it for the money— I am of service.
The elected leaders of our country come to me for advice, and the advice I give them is always accurate — always. Sadly they do not always take the advice that is given — even though they know that it will benefit our people. Politics and greed get in the way. All sides of politics know that I exist and they know that my view of the world is evident, just and honest, and still they do not listen.
My training started at an early age — I’m the eldest son of an eldest son, and so it has gone for generations. Occasionally the eldest daughter carries the burden, but for many years it has been the eldest son’s obligation to take on the family business.
You probably think that myself and my family are surrounded by security guards — protected around the clock. That is not how we deal with it. We hide in plain sight — a simple suburban home in an upper-middle-class suburb. Our house sits on a hill affording us an excellent view.
All great civilisations had an Oracle — someone who the leader would consult with before making momentous decisions. “Should I go to war? Or should I form an alliance?” The Oracle would have been chosen and trained from an early age. It was a dangerous occupation because the ruler would often dislike the answer given, causing the Oracle to be replaced by someone more compliant. This was often a deadly consequence.
Political leaders come to me — usually at night in an ordinary taxicab. Business leaders sometimes arrange for me to meet them at some little cafe away from the business district.
You are probably wondering why the press hasn’t discovered my existence, or that of my ancestors — they have, but a bit of skilful obfuscation and the press is led in a predictable, but wrong direction. Over the years, when my ancestors and I have been drawn into the light, we have been passed off as meddling relatives, idiot half brothers, gay lovers or disgruntled taxpayers. The more lurid the story, the more likely it is that the members of the fifth estate will fall for it.
Earlier I mentioned Oracles. I told you that by way of giving you an idea of what role I play, but it is important for you to know that, unlike the Oracle, I do not foresee the future — I see things as they are right now — I know the best course to take in any given situation — I know that I know and I am never wrong. That is not arrogance speaking; it is a statement of fact.
Sometimes, when dealing with a challenging elected official, I will give the impression that I can foretell the future just to bring him into line, but this is rarely necessary. They are in awe of me, and this fact is usually enough for me to do my job with a minimum of fuss.
No-one in my line has ever spoken to an outsider.
You are the first person to hear about the real ruler of our people. I know from the look on your face that you are wondering why I am telling you this story, and I will get to that, but before I do, I need to tell you about last Friday.
My diary was empty for the day, so I went into the City by train. My plan was to drink coffee, meditate in the park and generally have a quiet, introspective day.
I managed to achieve all of those things, and I was sitting in a little cafe near the station waiting for my train to arrive when an average looking man in a light coloured coat approached me. He laid what looked like a copy of the Evening News on my table and said, “You’ll find page 53 particularly interesting.” He gave me an enigmatic look and walked away.
I was curious, as you would have been, so I leafed through the paper, and it contained the usual mix of poor journalism and fear mongering that most major daily newspapers provide — old news, until I got to the hinted at, page 53.
It included a Late Breaking News Item about an explosion at a petrol station that is located very close to my house. We can see the roof of the building from our front verandah. The article gave the approximate time of the accident and told of the death of the out of control vehicle’s driver and the injuries to the station attendant.
This incident and everything that was written on the remaining three pages had not yet happened. I know this because time has passed and I watched these events unfold. We stood on our verandah at the appointed hour, and I waited for the bang.
“Come and watch the fireworks,” I said to my beautiful wife. I was joking because I did not expect anything to happen — it was just a bit of fun.
The flash from the exploding petroleum lit up the sky and engulfed the surrounding houses. A gentle breeze was blowing in our faces, and the smell of burning petrol assailed our nostrils. We watched in horror as the flames leapt from one house to the next, edging ever closer to our safe haven. I turned and looked at my wife, and I could see the look in her eyes — it was time to run. I grabbed the dog, and she grabbed the photo albums, and we piled into our car and backed, somewhat dangerously, out of our driveway. We made it out of the street nearly colliding with a fire truck that was turning into ours.
We spent the night with friends and waited until the morning.
Their house was warm and inviting, and we sat in silence after the initially excited conversations had died down. Our friends were frightened, and so were we. They were in no danger, but their vivid imaginations had propelled them into a world where their haven might be threatened — no-one wants to live in that world.
“Do you want breakfast before you go, you two, or do you just want to go?”
“Breakfast would be good. The house survived, or it didn’t. Breakfast won’t hasten or delay its fate. Toast and coffee would be lovely.” For a moment there was the slightest hesitation at the mention of toast, but I just laughed, and the conversation went back to normal.
The fire crews were still mopping up when we arrived back at our street in the mid-morning.
The fire had been stopped because of our unusually wide street. Some minor damage due to flying sparks, but otherwise okay. Our dog didn’t want to get out of the car, so we left her there with the door open. She would come inside when she was ready.
My wife put the photo albums away, and we sat for the longest time and held each other. We drank coffee on the front verandah and looked out over the surreal view. The smell was terrible, but nothing was going to drive us out of our home.
The newspaper, that had been thrust under my nose on that Friday afternoon was still lying on the kitchen table, and over the next couple of days I ticked off the occurrences as they occurred — the fallen tree that temporally blocked the main road, narrowly missing the car with old lady driving to visit her husband in hospital — police arresting a local politician for misappropriating funds (I’d given him a reading about six months before and suggested that he set up an account for all the key projects whereby two signatures were required for significant withdrawals) — work began on a community playground — the government announced that it will extend the rail line to the south.
Who was the man who gave me the newspaper? Was it some sort of threat or was it a warning? Does he know what I do for a living? Why go to such lengths to get my attention, and what sort of insight does this person have that they can tell the future? Does he want my job? Does he seriously think that he would survive very long in this world if people found out that he can foretell the future?
The crowds would tear him apart.
Being right all the time causes enough complications — foretelling the future in a world where money and power are the twin gods is a formula for disaster.
I’ve been back to that cafe a few times — same day of the week, same time — no contact. Whatever he wants, he isn’t sharing that with me.
If he came to me in my official capacity I would tell him to stay hidden — his life depends on it.
He may disagree, but I’m never wrong.
I rule.