“Thanks, kid. Every little bit helps,” I said as the paramedic I was talking to loaded the victim into the back of the ambulance.
It wasn’t going to turn into a headline story, but I thanked her all the same.
This is how the big stories come — tip-offs from cops, ambos, firemen and ordinary people.
I’m constantly rushing — heading to someplace where a bad thing just happened. I get there after the danger has passed. I watch from a distance — somewhere safe, ever vigilant for an angle, a hook, something I can hang the story on. A tug on a heartstring that makes you want to put down three dollars fifty and pick up the Saturday Argus. With a deadline every week I’m always on the lookout for the next story, good or otherwise. Sometimes the otherwise leads to somewhere exotic.
That’s why I went back to her apartment.
Her story was old news, but she was stunningly beautiful, and the reception for the newspaper’s latest owner was just an excuse for another bored millionaire to show the world how important he was — not my natural habitat.
I write a column for a major Australian newspaper — I’m an endangered species.
I used to believe that what I wrote made a difference, now all I want to do is to continue to put food on my family’s table. These days everyone with an iPhone reports the breaking news, and I bitch about it to anyone who will listen — my wife says I’m turning into my father.
As I walk away from the departing ambulance, my phone rings — I always answer my phone.
“How big was the fire?”
“Are there any bodies?”
“Thanks. I’ll get right over there.”
Traffic was heavy, which gave me the opportunity to talk to my wife when she called.
“You have your Tux for tonight?” she said.
“Yes I do,” I said. It had been hitting me in the back of the head every time I stomped on the brakes. “But I’d rather not go.”
“If they are thinking about dropping your column you’d better put in an appearance. No sense giving them an excuse,” she said, and she was right.
My wife’s a doctor, a general practitioner. She works for someone else, and that lets her have time with the kids. Between us, we do okay financially, but if I lost my job we would probably not be able to keep the house, and I love that house, peeling paint and all.
Besides, I don’t think that I have the courage it takes to be unemployed.
The wind was biting at my ears as I got out of my car so I pulled my dark blue beanie down as far as it would go. My wife says that this old woollen hat makes me look like a tuna fisherman or I’m getting ready to rob a bottle shop. The hat keeps my head warm, and it makes me look ordinary — people open up to ordinary looking reporters.
The fireman introduced me to the young girl, still clutching her dog.
“The man rushed into the fire and helped the people come out. I told him my dog was stuck in there and he ran back in. He saved my little dog, but he had to lie down because the smoke got inside him and he couldn’t breathe good. They took him away in a ambulance,” said the little girl.
Her mother had been on the phone, and she moved it away from her ear as she walked towards us.
“He didn’t make it,” she whispered to me and hugged her daughter.
I asked the little girl what she would like to say to the man who saved her dog and she said, “Thank you. I love my dog, and I hope you get better soon.”
This story will sell papers.
A little girl’s cry for help, a small dog and a bloke who didn’t hesitate and didn’t make it home that night.
The hotel ballroom was packed with famous people.
Money, jewels and ambition.
I sat at the bar trying to increase my courage levels in the only way I knew how — very old Scotch whisky. My Tux still fits, and I look good in it, but I’d rather be wearing my fisherman’s jumper and warm woollen hat. Different uniforms open different doors. Tonight it was formal attire.
Drinking expensive whisky, that someone else is paying for, demands a spot of people watching.
I didn’t think I had been staring, but maybe I was. In any case, she walked over to me at the bar carrying a half finished glass of sparkling white wine, her purse and her iPhone. Her white shimmery gown left little to the imagination and certainly did not cater to pockets.
She reproached me for staring, but there was little venom in her words.
“I was just trying to work out where I know you from,” I said.
“I know you, Mr Fox,” she said.
“How do you know me?”
“From your cheesy photo.”
“The one from my column?” I said.
“That superior look on your face is most annoying,” she said.
“That was taken a while ago. I was in the last throws of my youth and fame.”
“Before the Talkies?” she said.
“Does anyone still read your newspaper?”
“I still have a few fans who like to get ink on their fingers on a lazy Saturday morning. I get the occasional email, sometimes an actual letter. I’ve been told that I’ve been hashtagged, but it didn’t require stitches.”
“I too like to hold a newspaper, and your column is always well written, in an old-fashioned kind of way,” she said. “It must depress you seeing all those horrible things.”
“Sometimes. I’ve seen some stuff,” I said, and I was beginning to wonder where this was going.
“People seem to open up to you. Is it because you ask the right questions?”
“Usually people want to tell someone their story, and I happen to be there at the right time.”
“Now you’re being modest,” she said, and I’d had enough.
“Why are you at this party?” I said.
“My boyfriend’s bank came up with the money to make this purchase happen,” she said. “Cushy job you have, people watching all day.”
“Look lady. I have to listen to people’s crap all day. Now, I’m off the clock, so get to it or leave me in peace.”
“It’s a long story, and my apartment is close by, the Manchester Unity building. We could walk there.”
“I didn’t know anyone lived in that building,” I said.
“There are still apartments in the tower.”
“Is this about your husband’s death?” I said, but I was interrupted before she could answer.
“Mr Lubin would like to see you now Mr Fox,” said the supercilious woman in blue.
I was introduced to Lubin as the reporter who helped to free those children. Lubin looked at me for a moment then went back to his conversation, but not before pushing a cream cake into his mouth.
What a prick.
What did I care? Now I could get out of here and out of this suit.
I saw the woman in the shimmery white dress as she was leaving.
“Does that offer still stand?” I said.
“Yes, it does,” she said, and we set off on foot, and I wondered what she had in store for me. It still felt like an otherwise, but you never know.
Wendi Radin was married to Wyatt Fago, the television presenter. Fago was well known and well loved by everyone who didn’t know him. I’d met him a few times. He was the kind of bloke who treated you badly unless he thought you could be useful to his career.
He went missing and turned up several months later under the rubble of an old building that had been torched for the insurance money. Three homeless men died in that blaze along with Fago, but Fago was found under the rubble in a basement — he had been dead for some time before the blaze. The owner of the building was arrested, but the police were unaware that Fago’s body was there until the wreckers moved in months later.
The case was now stone cold.
The streets were still populated, and I love Melbourne at night. A bunch of young women dressed in pink tutus buzzed around us as we walked The hens night had been a good one from the look of the future bride.
“Good luck luv,” I said, and I meant it — marriage ain’t no picnic.
“Won’t need it, penguin. My bloke’s a diamond,” said the unsteady bride to be. One of her hens caught her just before she veered into traffic.
Wendi Radin waved her security card at the guard on duty, and he let us in through the Collins Street entrance. I got the feeling that he didn’t like the look of me and it threw me for a moment — then I remembered that I was out of uniform.We walked past the darkened cafe named after the year the building was opened, 1932, and pushed the button on the ornate elevators — top floor. The hallway was unrestored, unlike most of the rest of the Art Deco building, but you could see how good it must have looked. The light fittings were dusty and original. The door to her apartment was guarded by a modern keypad which looked out of character with the wooden panelling. She punched in four numbers, and the door opened. My mother would have been proud of me as I stood aside and let the lady enter.
Her sitting room was not large, but it did have the only window in the apartment that took advantage of the fantastic view across the city. St Pauls Cathedral was off to the right as I gazed out at the lights and activity some ten floors below. She came back into the room carrying an official looking folder.
I sat at the small writing table and leafed through the evidence statements and a grizzly set of photos. She handed me a very large glass of whisky.
“A splash of water would have been nice,” I said as the strength of the drink walloped me in the back of the throat.
“I thought you might appreciate a bit of anaesthetic while looking at those photos. Besides, I find that a drunk man reveals his true character.”
“You must have some clout lady. This is an original case file. Detectives won’t let anyone near one of these,” I said, and she didn’t answer. I expected a smile or a wink, but I got nothing. She’d be a tough poker opponent.
“You could get someone into a lot of trouble for having these,” I said.
There wasn’t much in the folder that wasn’t common knowledge. The date on the police report reminded me that some fifteen months had passed since his body was discovered. The contents of the small evidence bag were intriguing.
“Whats with the tiny keys?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said, and her poker skills were still in evidence.
She motioned for me to join her on the white leather couch. There was a scrapbook on the coffee table — all Wyatt Fago, all the time.
I read out loud a bit of an interview he did for Celebrity Magazine.
The first thing you notice about Wyatt Fago is that he can turn on his persona like a light switch. One minute he is on the phone to his agent f’ing and blinding about some stuff up and then, click, he is in interview mode. He really doesn’t care what I write about him; he is Teflon coated — the public love him and his glamorous ex-model wife. They are TV royalty, and now that Birt and Patty are getting on a bit, they are poised to wear the crown.
“Wow. Quite a review,” I said.
I leafed through the clippings and photos.
“Is that the Gold Logie?” I said.
“Yes. He smiled a lot that night, and he was pissed off when he finished runner-up the next year.”
We sat in silence for a moment before I excused myself and went to the bathroom. I hit the wall when it comes to whisky, and I was now on the other side of the wall longing for a soft pillow and horizontal disposition.
“Time for me to go,” I said when I returned.
“I hope you don’t think I wasted your time,” she said, and it was my turn to show her my poker face.
I sat on the train and tried not to fall asleep. The walk to Flinder’s Street Station and the cool night air had sobered me up somewhat, but the motion of the train was too much for my tired eyes.
I could hear the conversations as I buried my head in my rolled up coat — excited chatter about a movie I had not seen — talk of the workplace and the relief at not having to go back for two whole days — boyfriend troubles — intimate conversation between two workmates who had become lovers, only two more stops and I have to get off — the weekends are so long without seeing you.
I exchanged pleasantries with the security officers at my lonely station and wondered how they keep themselves occupied on the station with the lowest number of patrons in all of Melbourne, “We jump up and down a lot,” said the female officer. “Aren’t you the reporter who helped to free those kids?” said the tall male officer.
I smile, the way I always do and say, “Yep.”
I walk the short distance to our little house, hidden in a dead end street that didn’t have a street name until a few years ago.
My wife and I fell in love with this hidden house years before we were able to buy it.
Anywhere else, and this house would seem old fashioned and a bit run down, but to us, it was a miracle. It had survived bushfires and near misses with developers, and we felt a duty to keep it safe. The oak tree that stands outside our bedroom window predates our century-old house by several decades, and it reminds us, every day, that we too have put down roots.
This is our safe haven — my family are here and all the disturbing things I have to deal with need not touch them.
That is of course, as long as I leave it all outside the gate.