I’ve been away for a long time, and now I’m going home.
My whole life is in this bag except for the clothes I stand up in.
I couldn’t go without one last look.
I wouldn’t say that I love the sea, but I would say that it sustains me. This little coastal town took me in when I needed to be invisible.
I was expecting the usual small town attitudes, but that’s not what I found. They didn’t exactly embrace me, but they didn’t run me out-of-town on a rail either. Funny expression that; where the hell do you get a rail at short notice? And why not just chuck them in the back of a ute and dump ‘em at the city limits? Seems like a lot less trouble to me.
But what would I know?
I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so I went looking for work as soon as I arrived. I packed groceries on a Friday and Saturday, worked at the service station whenever one of the boys needed a day off and did odd jobs at the distillery during the whisky season.
Getting somewhere to live was also mysteriously easy.
Ma Weston runs a boarding house. The kind of boarding house you read about in books.
Breakfast at 6:30 am dinner at 7:00 pm, and if you were late you went hungry. Ma Weston could cook — boy, could she cook — no one was late to the table in this house. Not only was the food amazing the portions were ridiculous.
Ma Weston got her start in the boarding house business when her husband was killed working on the rigs in Bass Straight. It was one of those huge storms that Bass Straight is famous for. Someone said that it’s one of the roughest stretches of water anywhere in the world and on the night Mr Wilson was washed off the rig it was close to Armageddon. The wave that took him went over the top of the rig. Think of how high those things are and then imagine a wave big enough to go over the top of it.
And I thought that I had troubles.
The rig workers did what they could for Ma Wilson and their most practical contribution was to make sure that her boarding house was always full of rig workers. Some even stayed a night before heading home.
Now that’s loyalty.
After six weeks on a rig with a bunch of smelly, hairy men with nothing to do but work sleep and jerk off, the last thing most blokes would do would be to prolong their absence from home, but that’s what they did, and it got her through those anxious years.
These days most of the rigs have shut down, but those that are still going continue to remember Ma Wilson. I got to know a few of the regular blokes. We would share the occasional beer on a Friday night.
Landing in an oil rig town was a wise decision.
Oil rig workers are a strange lot; a bit like the Foreign Legion. They come from all over, and most of them are running away from something, so they understand a bloke who never wants to talk about his past. They don’t speak of the past, and neither do they ask.
I enjoyed my time here, but it is time to go home.
Alister McLean is dead.
I got the word a couple of days ago.
The rest of his gang are old and behind bars.
No one is looking for me anymore.
I’ve lived this way for so long I’m not sure that I can live any other way.
Never own more than you can shove into an old suitcase and be ready to go at a moments notice.
They nearly caught up to me a couple of times, but my luck held.
I remember a particularly talkative bloke on a train from Melbourne to Bendigo. Lots of annoying questions.
I’m pretty sure that he knew who I was but he wanted to make sure before he made the call.
Ten thousand reasons to dial those numbers.
He wasn’t too bright, and I gave him the slip. The second last time I saw him, he was in a phone booth gesticulation wildly. I wonder what they did to him when they found out that he’d lost sight of me?
I could see him frantically searching the platform as my train back to Melbourne pulled out.
I felt a pang of sorrow for this poor bloke. I know what it feels like to get that close to the brass ring — except in my case, I grabbed it.
I’d been giving McLean’s missus a really good time for several months.
She was discreet, I’ll give her that. She needed someone; don’t we all?
I treated her as well as I was able. She was just like the rest of us who were living this life; she was juggling a grenade with the pin pulled out. It was exciting, but if you dropped the damn thing, it was going to end very badly.
McLean was an arrogant prick, and he never thought that Agnes would be looking when he punched in the code to open the safe. She played the dumb blond to perfection; she was anything but. I liked her a lot, and I was surprised to find that she knew what I was up to.
She came right out and said it.
“Billy, I know why you’ve been so nice to me. You want to know if I know the combination to the safe?”
You could have breathed on me, and I would have fallen over.
Honesty seemed like a good idea.
I’d rarely tried it, but there had to be a first time.
“It’s not just that Agnes, we had some good times, didn’t we?”
“Yes we did, and all I ask is that you leave some of it in the summer-house, behind the books.”
“There’s a lot of books out there kid. Exactly which books do you want the money to be behind?”
I’m not sure that McLean could read, at least not complete sentences, but he had me stock the summer-house with “lot’s of books that rich people like.”
He was old, and his wife was off with the fairies, and he really needed the money.
He obviously didn’t want to sell, and he’d knocked back a heap of book dealers, and by the time I got to him, he was practically in tears. He’d spent a lifetime compiling the collection.
It was the ‘first editions’ that the dealers were after.
This bloke had one of the most amazing collections of children’s books I’ve ever seen.
The only photos of children in his house were very old, and they didn’t look like photos of grandchildren.
He looked sadly at me when I handled them.
I knew better than to ask.
I offered him five times what the dealers had bid. What did I care? McLean could afford it.
I gave the children’s books and the first editions back to the old bloke.
He didn’t say thank you, he just took the money and the books and walked back into his house.
As I loaded the boxes into the back of McLean’s Bentley, I wondered if he would notice that the books were way over-priced.
They had leather bindings with gold embossed titles.
They looked like they belonged in a posh library and that was all he cared about.
Eventually, Agnes chose the complete works of Charles Dickens as her hiding place. She thought about it for quite some time, and I smiled.
I don’t know what she was expecting me to leave her in that literary hideout, but I was impressed that she didn’t set a figure; she left it up to me.
The pile of money made the Dickens editions stick out a bit, but there was no way McLean was going to notice.
I knew he didn’t trust banks, but I have to say that even I was amazed by the amount of cash jammed into that safe.
Mostly large denominations and they fitted nicely into an old brown suitcase.
Paintings by Jack Vettriano, and Edward Hopper.