A Coin and an Incantation


Not every writing desk has a hidden compartment.

Not every grandfather has a colourful past.

Not every grandfather starts out as a beige, boring bloke who has nothing interesting to say and turns into a charismatic public speaker driving a classic Bentley.

Sadly, I don’t know what happened to the Bentley or any of my grandfather’s possessions, with the exception of his writing desk.

I come from a long line of dull, steady males. The family business, so to speak, is numbers. More specifically, we have a skill for managing money — other people’s’, and in recent times, our own. Despite there being nine children in my grandfather’s family, his wealth was such that all his children inherited a vast fortune, and because of the aforementioned propensity for money management, our family is extremely well off — except for Uncle Billy, but that is a whole other story.

The writing desk arrived on the back of an ancient Chevy truck — early 1950s was my guess.

“Must be a bugger trying to get parts for that,” I said pointing at the relic of a previous century.

“Not really, I’ve been collecting ‘em for forty years. Used to be everywhere once. I keep two working and cannibalise the others for parts. People love ‘em. Just seeing them driving around gets me heaps of work — more than I can handle.”

He had a point, but the big rear wheels meant that it was quite a drop from the tray — a steep ramp and an ageing furniture removalist made for an unsettling spectacle.

Jim — he didn’t like being called James, even though his name was in metre high letters on the side of the truck — survived the ride down the ramp with the trolley and my newly acquired writing desk.

“I’ll bet you paid a pretty penny for this beauty?” said Jim, who was in danger of becoming chatty.

“Inherited it. Do you think it’s worth a bit?” I said.

“I don’t see pieces like this much anymore. Mostly, hard to move chipboard crap. This is old and well made. Weighs a ton, but that’s okay. I need to move something interesting now and then, or I start to wonder why I’m still doing this at my age.”

“I noticed that your truck says, and sons,” I didn’t get to finish my thought.

“Boys aren’t interested in the business. Moving shit around is beneath them, I guess.”

I didn’t push it because he sounded sad and I understood family disappointment.

“Can you put it in the front room, the one on the left?” I asked.

“Anywhere you like mate. It’s all the same to me,” he said with the hint of a friendly smile.

From the window of my house, I watched him pack up his truck and drive away.

My Californian bungalow was built in the 1930s in a quiet working-class suburb of Melbourne — my parents’ house, back in the day. They did the predictable thing and sold up and moved to Queensland where they promptly died. They lived long enough to get a decent tan before a tourist bus, laden with people from far away, compressed their car to the size of a pizza box.

A boring life lived for just one goal — to retire. A distracted bus driver took away their dream of unlimited shopping for ugly clothes and endless games of golf and poker.

My siblings and I were bequeathed an equal share of a considerable estate, and I took some of it and bought back our family home. The planets aligned and the property was for sale. “You were lucky to get this house — I had several buyers lined up — all original features.” I waited for his lips to stop moving before asking for the keys. His blue suit did not have a single spec of dust on it — I know this because I was inspecting it while he was giving me real estate speak, at a mile a minute.

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” I said when there was a nanosecond break in his speech.


“Luck had nothing to do with it. I paid 15% over the asking price, and I slipped your colleague $10,000 to make sure that the vendors didn’t get greedy.”

The man in the dust free blue suit didn’t speak again, and I could tell that his colleague had neglected to mention the little sweetener I had provided.

I remember my father saying that the writing desk had been in the family for a long time and that my grandfather had made some alterations to it.

It had been several months since the settling of my parent’s estate, so the arrival of the writing desk came as a surprise. It was my understanding that all their possessions were to be sold at auction. There wasn’t any paperwork — no explanation, just the desk. I was glad I was home when it came — finding it on my front doorstep would not have put a smile on my face.

I let it sit for several days until my curiosity got the better of me.

There was not a lot going on at the office, so I took a few days off to organise my newly acquired house. The inside of the house was still much the same as I remembered it as a kid. Naturally, some things were different, but all the features that made it unique were still there. The beautiful doors, the wood panelling and the polished floors. The pencil marks on the inside of the linen press doors had been lacquered over, which was a shame. I remember my mum lining me up every year on my birthday and carefully checking to see that my feet were flat on the floor.

Miraculously, the ornate brass key was still in the lock of the writing desk. It had a cardboard ticket attached to it by a thin yellowing string. There was something written on it in pencil, but it was indecipherable.

I turned the key, and the lock clicked into place easily. The timber shutter rolled back smoothly revealing the many pigeon holes and the embossed writing surface. The green leather inlay had been well used and was showing signs of wear. As far as I could see, there wasn’t anything in any of the compartments, but I was determined to search thoroughly — you never know what you may find. I’ve purchased some old pieces of furniture over the years, and some have produced the occasional gem. Old receipts taped to the bottom of drawers (did the new owners plan to return the piece for a refund?)

It was a warm afternoon. An intense light came through the windows of what was once my parents’ bedroom. To this day I’m not sure why, but I was sleeping in my old room just down the hall. The writing desk had my parent’s bedroom all to itself.

I pulled the heavy desk away from the wall, prised the thin timber planks from the back and peered inside. I saw what I expected to see — the superb workmanship of a master cabinetmaker. His maker’s mark was burned into the side of the cabinet where no-one would ever see it until the unit came apart from age and neglect. I sat and looked at his name burned gently into the rich cedar boards and tried to imagine what he was thinking before he completed his work by nailing on the wide planks at the back of the unit.

The wear on the drawer runners revealed which drawers had been the most popular.

The layout was beautiful and straightforward until I came to a feature that did not make sense. For a moment, I forgot that I was looking at the reverse side of a set of drawers because I was staring at a small drawer face which could only open in my direction — a hidden drawer! Exactly what I had hoped to find.

Usually, hidden drawers are activated by a lever mechanism. They reflected the security consciousness of their owner and the skill of their creator.

On this occasion, the owner did not want anyone to stumble upon its existence — this truly was a secret drawer.

You know that my breathing changed as I reached for the finger sized hole that served as a handle. Skillfully crafted, this drawer moved with the same ease as its more used cousins. I pulled it all the way out and held it in my hand. The drawer was not much larger than a packet of cigarettes and contained a silk wrapped mystery. An adventurous and inventive moth had nibbled at the edge of the exquisite fabric, but it was still intact. I delicately unfolded the cloth. The tender care that someone had taken reminded me of Furoshiki, the ancient art of Japanese gift wrapping.

Once revealed, the contents proved to be Chinese not Japanese, which was equally intriguing. A single gold coin, about the size of a fifty cent piece wrapped in an ancient material, probably velum. The words written on the vellum were Chinese in origin and my Chinese language skills were, and still are, deplorable.

“A gold coin and a bit of cloth with Chinese characters drawn in ink.”

“Let me have a look,” said the only Chinese friend I had at that time. Linda was born in Australia, but her parents insisted that she learn their native tongue.

“I have never seen some of these symbols before, but I’m pretty sure that that one says danger and this one here means crayfish,” said Linda.

It didn’t say crayfish, but I didn’t hold it against her. Her Chinese language professor spent two days researching the script, and when he got back to Linda he handed her the piece of material as if it was infected with smallpox, and he was a Canadian Indian.

“Take my advice and burn this,” he said with his grim eyes wide open. “I don’t know where you got it and I don’t want to know. Just get rid of it. Nothing good can come of this.”

Linda said that he would not talk to her after that and a short while later he resigned and moved to the United States where he became a huge success as a television evangelist.

“The dude was an atheist, for fuck sake,” said Linda one Friday night over several gin and tonics.

“I didn’t think Chinese people drank gin and tonic,” I said, just to make conversation.

“Fuck you and your little dog, white boy,” was her reply.

“No need to pick on the dog, lady,” was my retort.

It went on like that for about another hour and then I had to go. I jumped on a number twelve tram because I was in no fit state to drive.

I’m a circumspect kind of bloke, but the time had come.

When I arrived home, I had sobered up a bit, which was just as well. I fed my small dog which Linda had threatened to penetrate and took the translation that the recently installed televangelist had provided and sat in the comfortable chair by the gas fire.

I’d been foolishly carrying the gold coin around with me since I found it. I retrieved it from my pocket and held it in my left hand.

I was sick of being average.

I wanted what my grandfather had.

I held on tightly to the elaborately carved coin and carefully recited the words.

Nothing happened.

I tried facing in different directions — nothing happened.

I tried speaking slowly, shouting until my voice hurt, whispering — nothing happened.

My small dog sat patiently as I ran through these routines — he’s cool, he doesn’t judge.

I went to bed that night and slept soundly; my little dog curled up next to me. I should have been upset or angry, but I wasn’t. I felt light and free. As unencumbered as I have ever felt — no fear, no anxiety.

When I woke, I showered and ate breakfast, fed the dog and took him for a walk. At the end of our morning journey, I found an average sized man in an expensive suit standing on my verandah.

“Good morning. Are you Michael Find?” said the expensive suit.

“Yes, I am. Can I help you?” My small dog sniffed him and decided that he was not a threat. I trust my dog’s instincts when it comes to all things human.

“We received your manuscript, and they flew me down from Sydney just to talk to you about it. I can’t remember the last time they did that. The taxi dropped me off and left me here, and I’ve been waiting for you for nearly an hour.” He didn’t sound annoyed — he sounded desperate. “They told me if I didn’t come back with your signature on a contract they would make me read young adult manuscripts from the slush pile for the next twelve months.”

“You are going to have to slow down, man. I have no idea what this is all about,” I said. Amazingly, I still wasn’t angry, annoyed or anxious — I’d been like this since I woke up — it was an awesome way to be. “Come inside, and I’ll make us some coffee.”

I opened the big old redwood front door and led him into my kitchen. The coffee didn’t take long to brew, and we sat around the green Laminex kitchen table that I found sitting on my neighbour’s lawn a few weeks ago. I gave the desperate suit owner my second favourite coffee mug. I had to glue the handle back onto it after the move. I could have thrown it out, but some things should be repaired and cherished. This was the first time it had held coffee since its resurrection, and I admit to wondering if the glue was dry.

While staring at the patterns on the surface of my coffee, I remembered sending my manuscript to a bunch of publishers — about eighteen months ago.

“Who did you say you worked for?” I asked.

“Harper Collins,” he said, and I was sure that was one of them. “You haven’t signed with anyone else, have you? My boss will kill me if you have.”

“No, it’s still up for grabs.”

Whenever I come back from walking the dog, I always check the answering machine attached to my land line — yes, I still have one of those. The only time I receive phone calls is when I go to the toilet or walk the dog — which is one of many things that I am destined never to understand.

In all the excitement, I hadn’t checked, and something told me it would be a good idea if I did that now.

The red light was blinking and by the time the man from Harper Collins had finished his coffee I’d written down fourteen numbers — all from publishers wanting me to call them back urgently — I didn’t. Harper Collins had lost sleep to catch an early flight and sit on my verandah. He would do. The contract had more zeros than I had seen in a while and I knew that when I re-signed in twelve month’s time, I could name my price. That was how it would go — I knew what this was.

The symbol that Linda thought stood for crayfish was, in fact, an ancient symbol for turning one hundred and eighty degrees. ‘A complete turn around’ in modern parlance.

That was what happened to my grandfather — he turned from being an annoying arsehole into a mega successful real estate mogul — and it all happened overnight, so to speak.

He divorced his wife and married his curvaceous secretary, bought an expensive German car and holidayed in Europe — oh, and bought an antique writing desk.

Can Someone Feed My Cat?


 No matter how hard people try, they cannot hide from me.

If this were a movie, the government would be searching for me because they had discovered my ‘gift’.

It doesn’t cause me any discomfort, and you cannot tell I have it by looking at me.

I haven’t always had it, but I’ve got it now.

I can tell by looking at you what kind of person you are.

It doesn’t sound like much, I know.

Television would have you believe that certain policemen can tell if you are lying just by watching you and observing how you answer questions. Some say that they can read your body language, and that is partially true but not to the extent that they claim.

Scientists have studied policemen and body language experts and found that they are no better than you are at picking who is lying and who is telling the truth.

So, the next time the cops have you in the hot seat and they are shining a bright light in your eyes and telling you that you are lying you can them it’s all bollocks.

On the other hand, there’s me.

I can’t tell if you are lying either but I will know what kind of person you are. I need to spend a little time with you and then it all becomes clear to me.

It’s like I have met you before.

I know how you will act in a given situation and I know how you feel about the people around you.

I’m a writer, but on the side, I do the occasional job for my friend; he’s a Detective Inspector. I owe him big time. If he had not believed my story, I would not have lived as long as I have. I try to repay his kindness by helping him out from time to time.

I like the bloke, or should I say that I liked the bloke.

I’m not completely sure, but I think I might have gotten him killed.

My policeman friend called me in to witness an interrogation. I need to be in the room to work effectively so I dressed like a detective and sat in on the questioning. I wasn’t concentrating on the suspect’s solicitor, but I think I should have been because it looks like he recognised me.

It wasn’t hard for me to tell that the suspect was a bad guy; worse than bad.

My detective friend asked me to put the man I had witnessed into a series of situations and predict his reactions.

If I’m given enough time with a subject, I can predict their reactions to a given situation with 100% accuracy.

Something I said to my detective friend must have sent him to a particular address, and he came up dead.

I’m not sure if he likes being dead; probably not, but I think I’m going to find out what it feels like, very soon.

The person being interviewed was a career criminal and a very successful one at that. My friend the D.I. asked if he was the kind of person who would do his own dirty work and I knew that he would. Despite the risks, under certain circumstances, I knew he would pull the trigger himself rather than have one of his underlings do it.

I’m hoping that if I wind up dead someone will go through my computer and find this.

Check the bullet you found in my friend’s body with the one you take from mine and then check Victor Enselmo’s gun.

I can guarantee you they will match.

Oh, and by the way, give that solicitor a good kicking for me, will you?


And, can someone feed my cat?


Always in the morning


“I’ve been working for Charlie Varick for about four years, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

The question came out of nowhere, and it really pissed me off. It’s a job, what difference does it make? When I go home, I leave work at work.

“What difference does it make? He’s a fucking private eye, and he uses you as a decoy.”

“I’m his secretary, and the decoy stuff only happens every now and then. Mostly, it isn’t dangerous, and mostly I answer the phones and make appointments. Of course, there is coffee and dry cleaning, but mostly it’s answering phones.”

My parents were in town for a couple of days, and I was glad to see them; well ‘glad’ is probably too strong a word, but it was good to see them. Parents should be kept at a distance that is directionally proportional to the amount of shit they put you through as a kid. Mine weren’t that bad but using this formula they should be at least 427 kilometres away at all times.

I’m 26 years old, gorgeous and leggy with long black wavy hair that men hold on to when they are making love to me. Not that there are that many of them.

I like men, just in small doses.

Not small in the way you are thinking, just small in the sense of time I have to spend in close proximity. Charlie’s different, but he is old, at least 47 years old, and he is taken, but he treats me like I’m someone. Like I count in the grand scheme of things. I guess he is so relaxed because he is old, and old people don’t worry so much about stuff.

My dad was wound up, but I know it was my mum who put him up to it.

“We just want you to be safe; safe and happy. That’s all your mother, and I have ever wanted.”

“I know dad.” Things seemed to be calming down now that the shouting had stopped.

It was still early. Hotel restaurants tend to wind down around 9:30 pm, and it was now way past that, so we had the room to ourselves except for the girl at the bar and the waiter who was doing a little shuffle that was Morse code for ‘they don’t pay me past 10:00 pm even if you are still here drinking coffee, and I have a home to go to, and my dog misses me’.

It was a complicated dance.

My father, mother and I talked about nothing for another fifteen minutes before my dad signed the bill and they went up to their room. I stood and watched as they walked up the staircase. My mother clung to the handrail as though it was saving her from a sinking ship. My dad negotiated the stairs easily enough because he never used elevators unless he absolutely had to.

I asked him about it once, and he said that it was his small concession to keeping fit, but I think it had more to do with the stories that his father brought home.


 His dad was a fireman, and he would be called out to rescue cats and people, and sometimes he was expected to free individuals who had been trapped — sometimes these people had been stuck in elevators, and he delighted in terrifying his children with stories of people who had gone insane after being stuck in an elevator for six hours.

“One bloke tried to chew his arm off, which seemed pointless to me. It wasn’t as though they had him in handcuffs — he was trapped in a lift for fuck sake. Now if he had tried to eat through the door, that I could understand, but his arm — that’s just nuts.”

I sat on the overstuffed couch in the hotel’s foyer and tried to collect my thoughts.

I still had half an hour before I was to meet Charlie at Bar Alfredo on Little Collins Street. I walked the short distance up Collins and turned left onto Exhibition. Little Collins was the first on the left, and the bar was about two hundred metres down.

This end of the street had been disrupted by building activities for nearly two years, which made it difficult to negotiate on foot, or by car. The street was already very narrow, and its name gave the hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the larger and more grand edifices on Collins Street. Deliveries would be made, and tradesmen would be admitted.

It was best to keep the grubby people out of sight.

These days the ‘Little’ streets were home to trendy bars and eateries as well as exclusive apartments and the occasional clothing shop.

The footpath on both sides is extremely narrow, and I was forced to step out onto the road to let a large rude man pass by. He looked vaguely familiar until I remembered I had not seen him before — he was exactly how Charlie had described the man I was supposed to ‘distract’.

 “He’s big, about 40 years old, always wears a dark suit with a red handkerchief in his top pocket, and he smells like lemons. He will be sitting at the bar because he always sits at the bar. Third stool from the far end as you come in the front door.”

I had the feeling that these instructions and this description were going to go to waste.

To get to Bar Alfredo, I first had to walk past a narrow laneway and at this time of night the laneway was in complete darkness. Being a female living in the big city, I avoided dark laneways because I wanted to go on ‘living in the big city’.

As I looked into the darkness, I saw Charlie lying in a pool of his own blood.

I say ‘saw’, but that’s not what I mean. I didn’t see him with my eyes; I saw him in a vision. The dark laneway was like a giant projector screen and on it I saw Charlie’s exact location, as though it were daylight.

I used my phone to light the way to the spot that I knew Charlie would be lying. He was behind some boxes with a single knife wound in the middle of his chest.

I would love to say that he lived long enough to look into my eyes and tell me who had killed him. I would like to tell you what his last words were and that he had smiled before he died, but I can’t.

He was gone by the time I got to him — warm but gone.

I sat next to him for what seemed like forever and thought about my life and wondered what Charlie thought when the large man in the dark suit took his life. I wondered what my life was going to be like from now on. I wondered if my mum and dad had gone to sleep yet.

I don’t remember ringing anyone, but I must have because an ambulance arrived closely followed by the police.

The weather was warm, so I was wondering why there was so much fog around and why did my voice sound funny, and why was the police officer mumbling?

When I came to I was sitting on the back step of the ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted to get him to give me a break.

“Give her a minute mate; she’s had a rough night.”

The policeman ignored the world-weary ambulance driver. The brash young policeman considered civilians to be annoying. They kept passing out or screaming or generally being uncooperative. He just wanted to get a statement so he could get back on patrol. The homicide detectives would be along very soon, and they would shoo him away like an unwanted blow-fly.

“Miss? Miss? How did you know he was in that alley? Did you hear something? Did you see anyone come out of the alley?”

I was trying to decide which question to answer first when it occurred to me that this was all very strange.

“I had a vision, which was weird. I don’t normally get visions at night-time. I always get my visions in the morning.”

The police officer stopped asking me questions after that, and he and the ambo were looking at each other with the strangest expression on their faces. I don’t think that they believed me, and I wanted them too. This was a first for me.

A pair of plain-clothed detectives arrived and scooped me up and headed me towards their car but before I got in, I gave it one last try to convince my interrogator.

“I really did see him lying there, in the dark, which was weird. I always get my visions in the morning.”   

Mr Applegate


“Good morning Mr.Williams. I noticed your advertisement, and I thought I’d come along and check out your service.”

My customer was a ‘walk in’ which was not how I usually did business, but there were almost two hours until my next client, and I was feeling magnanimous so I steered him into my office and gestured toward the big overstuffed leather chair that Doc had commissioned all those years ago. Doc was proud of that chair and even though it was showing its age the customers loved to sit in it.

“Just sit comfortably for a few moments while the chair adjusts to you. It’s very old but also quite intelligent, for a chair.” My client smiled which was a good sign. I find the stiff, awkward ones a bit much this early in the week.

“Excuse me for a moment, just sit there and think about what it is that you want me to ‘recollect’ for you.”

“Oh, I already know what that is,” he said excitedly.

“That’s excellent; I’ll just be a moment. I need to lock the front door. We wouldn’t want anyone wandering in off the street and interrupting your reading.” My client smiled at me again, and I was having difficulty reading him. It crossed my mind that he might be a bit simple, but time would tell.

I shot the old brass bolt on the front door and flicked the communication module to ‘answer mode’. The module had been playing up for the last few weeks, and I made a mental note to put it into diagnostic mode. I’d been putting it off because, like everything else in my shop, it is ancient and I have to attach a USB cable to it and dig out an old laptop computer and go through a manual connection. At least I’m old enough to remember how to upload manually. Top of the list will be its hover mode. The damn thing skates all over the desk. The clients think it is hilarious, but they don’t have to clean up the mess. Why a communication module has to hover is beyond me. Back in my day, the stupid things made video links, and that was it.

The proximity light was blinking on the security panel, but I ignored it because it always acts up during the school holidays. The damn thing is too sensitive. I’ve told the tech a dozen times to tune it down. Teenagers are a pain in the neck, but not all of them are a security threat.

“Now, are you comfortable Mr……..?”

“Applegate. William P. Applegate. 27 Blossom Lane Deepdene 3056. You can have my glidephone number as well if you like.” My client was very keen indeed.

“That’s kind of you Mr Applegate, but the Iris Scanner will record all of that information for me. Can you look into the lens for me? Thank you. That’s the housekeeping out of the way. Now down to business. How can I help you?”

He told me what he wanted me to recollect for him, and it was easy enough for me to find the memory in his mind and it was all going along well until we got to the part where he shot both of his parents and put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“What the fuck was that?” I heard myself say.

Part of being a ‘recollectionist’ means that you are in a mild trance when you retrieve and replay the requested memory. I have to be sitting very close to my client so that the energy fields that surround us are close enough to merge.

The whole thing works a lot better if the client is sitting in my lap, but you can see that this method has some practical drawbacks. Sitting close enough is good enough.

I held the image for a few moments, fully expecting the dead murderer to get up and laugh and say that it was all a joke, but he didn’t.

The scarlet red stain around his head just kept on spreading evenly.

I remember thinking that the floors in that house must have been very level for the blood not to flow in one direction. It’s a strange thought for such a moment, but this was not my first murder.

In the early days before the invention of the Hello-Motion-Brain Scanner, the police would bring me murderers who had made a confession and my job was to ‘recollect’ the exact details of the crime for the court records. I have to say that even though they paid very handsomely, I don’t miss those days.

I brought myself out of the trance a little too quickly and vomited in the waste paper basket. We haven’t used paper for many years, but I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it out, it belonged to Doc, and it came with the business, lock stock and barrel, as they say.

Mr Applegate was still sitting where I’d put him, and now he had a silly grin on his face.

“Now you know too,” he said.

“Know what?” I was aware that I was shouting, but it seemed appropriate.

“This memory has been playing in my head for a month and a half, and I’d like it to stop, please.”

“I’m not a head doctor Mr Applegate, I don’t do ‘stop it’, that’s not what I do. Have you been to the police?”

“Yes, of course, I have, but they said that both of my parents are alive. They don’t want to speak to me, but they are definitely alive, so the police will have nothing to do with me. Oh yes, they did say that they will lock me up if I keep bothering them.”

“That is your parents in that recollection, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and that’s me as well,” said Mr Applegate with that same silly grin.

“I have to say that I’ve never come across anything like this before, and I’ve been doing this for most of my life which, right now, seems like a lot of years. I don’t know how to help you, but I would say that you need help. Professional, medical help.”

Mr Appligate’s retinal scan had already deposited the fee into my account so there was nothing else to do but see him out and wish him luck.

“You will see a doctor, won’t you Mr Applegate?”

“I’ll make an appointment as soon as I get home.” Same silly grin.

He didn’t make an appointment, at least I don’t think he did. There wasn’t anything about a doctor in the note, just a brief explanation that he did it because he needed to make the memory match the deed. That’s exactly how he phrased it, ‘match the deed’. Who says stuff like that? Who kills three people just to make a cross-wired memory into a fact?

William P. Applegate, that’s who.

The police showed me the crime scene photos.

Big hole in his head, scarlet stain unevenly spread and that silly bloody grin on his face.