The man in the brown suit retired to his room at a little after midnight.
At 12:02 I was out the door heading to my apartment.
It had been a long boring day following ‘Mr Brown Suit’.
I enjoyed spending time with Joe the bartender, but now I was tired.
Too tired for wine.
Too tired, even for a bath.
I was visualising the cool cotton sheets against my exhausted, naked body.
My apartment is a short distance from where I park my car.
I don’t like drawing attention to myself so I didn’t apply for a resident’s parking permit when I moved in. Instead, I broke into a Merc’ parked a couple of streets away, and stole his. I’m assuming the owner was a ‘him’, a woman wouldn’t leave her Cricket gear on the back seat and her copy of Playboy under the driver’s seat.
Wasn’t I clever?
No, not really.
I didn’t realise at the time that my street was on the border of two councils, so the parking permit didn’t work in my street.
Every night, rain, hail or moonshine, I have to park my car two streets over and walk. It’s mildly annoying, especially in the rain, but it helps to keep me off the radar. Fortunately I have an unusual surname so people often spell it incorrectly, which also helps with my anonymity.
I know that you think I’m being unduly cautious, but in my game you don’t want unexpected visitors.
I could see my building in the streetlight. It’s old; probably Art Deco and would not look out-of-place in an episode of ‘Poirot’. One of my neighbours looks old enough to have been at school with Agatha Christie; but she does make excellent scones and she loves to mother me. Fortunately, she doesn’t know what I do for a living or she might not be so friendly.
As I approach my building, Billy is waiting for me in the shadow of the huge oak tree that grows in the front yard of the apartment building.
“Hope I didn’t frighten you kid?”
Billy always calls me kid and I don’t mind.
“No. No worries. What brings you out at this hour Billy?”
“Actually, I’ve been here for hours.”
“I’ve got a phone Billy, and you’ve got the number.”
“I know, but those things give me the ‘willies’.”
“Must be important for you to hang around for so long?”
“It is. You are going to want to hear this. That bloke you have been following around? Brown Suit? He’s bad news.”
“So what Billy? What do I care? I just get paid to follow him around; and how did you know I was on that job?”
“I know stuff. You know that.”
It was true.
Billy knew stuff.
Though, heaven know how.
No phone, no computer.
Billy was ‘old school’.
Knocking on doors, listening in pubs, pulling in favours.
No one actually knew where Billy lived. Some said he was homeless, but more likely he was a squatter. Not because he couldn’t afford his own place but because he valued his privacy even more than I did. Apparently Billy was a soldier during the Vietnam War. Maybe not a soldier in the conventional sense; more likely an intelligence officer. Billy never talked much about that time, in fact Billy didn’t give away much at all; especially about himself. That’s what made his visit so strange. Billy didn’t give stuff away, so why was he here warning me?
Maybe Billy had a soft spot for me, ‘the dark haired lady from the Preston Agency’. He knows that I don’t take any shit and I’m dangerous, but I do have a code. It’s true that I don’t let men push me around and I tell it like it is, even if that means trouble. I don’t go looking for it but it has a way of finding me.
I first met Billy a little over a decade ago.
I was a bit green and way too cocky and I’d walked into a bit of bother in a lane-way in Fitzroy. My mark had tumbled to me and led me into a potential kicking. Billy was on his way home but he hung around long enough to dispatch the two thugs and waited with me while the police and the ambulance came to investigate the ruckus.
I was only half conscious but I was talking at nineteen to the dozen. I was angry at falling into a trap and Billy did his best to calm me down. I guess I reminded him of someone from another life; someone special. I don’t remember much about this encounter but it doesn’t matter; I have a guardian angel, whether I like it or not.
Maybe I’ve underestimated the ‘man in the brown suit’, but Billy’s words now have me on my guard.
It’s the boring cases that are likely to get you killed.
Billy’s warning didn’t disturb my sleep. I’d been warned. I was on my guard and sleep was too important to waste on sleazy blokes in brown suits.
I was up with the first rays of daylight, dined on stale bread toast and Vegemite.
Coffee makes everything okay.
I was at his hotel before he’d cleaned his teeth. Another day of shadowing the ‘The Man In The Brown Suit’, only now there was a little spice to the proceedings.
My handbag weighed a little more than it did yesterday, and if I was silly enough to shake it up it would make a clinking sound. Small calibre pistols tend to make that sound if you bang them up against a lipstick and a compact and a switch blade.
I’d made the mistake of thinking this was a boring little assignment, and I had lived through that mistake.
Now, I was on my guard and anything that came my way would not be met with a look of surprise.
Painting by Jack Vettriano