Not From Around Here

“Why did you have to go and show me that?” I said, and I meant it.

“I wanted you to know. You’re my best friend. You told me where your family came from. I wanted you to know where I came from,” said Henry James Occalshaw.

We, my mates and I, had always known him as Oh. As in ‘Oh My God’. I don’t remember when it started, it just always was, and he never complained — it isn’t the worse ‘handle’ in the world.

Me? I’m ‘professor’.

That started at Primary school. I’m an only child, and my parents didn’t baby-talk me. They spoke to me as an equal, so I picked up a lot of adult language before other kids did. Dad was top of his class before his dad died, and my dad had to leave school and help feed his family. My mum never made it past sixth grade, but she read everything she could get her hands on, and the local library knew her on a first-name basis. She loved words.

“I told you my family came from Tasmania after emigrating from England and before that they were Vikings. A short history of the Holmyards. You, on the other hand, are definitely not from around here,” I said.

I was trying to take it all in — sorry for the cliche, but sometimes they’re necessary.

“Everyone comes from somewhere else in Australia, except Ernie. His mob has been here for centuries, but even his mob walked here from somewhere else, it’s just that it was so long ago that he and his mob got first dibs on the place.”

 “I’m not sure that Ernie’s mum and dad would see it like that,” I said, and I remembered some of the names the kids used to call that gentle brown skin boy who could play footy better than all of us combined. He got us to the State School Victorian Premiership Game. Kicked the winning goal. Played a dozen games for Essendon when he was only eighteen. Sadly, the ‘names’ got to him. He stopped playing, but I still see him around sometimes.

“Don’t look at me like that. I’m still me. I didn’t tease you for being from Tasmania,” he said.

“I’m not teasing you either, but you must admit that you come from a lot further away than Tassie.”

“So what? Is this a distance thing. Like the time you found out that your cock wasn’t as big as mine?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to laugh, but I’m not sure what I wanted to do in its place.

“Nothin’ wrong with my cock, horse boy,” I said, and he smiled.

It’s true that at a certain age, boys tend to compare sizes. Not overtly, but the occasional sideways glance after swimming sports. I admit to being a bit concerned until, a few years later, Joany Mac told me mine was ‘perfectly adequate’ and ‘up to scratch’. She ought to know, so I relaxed a bit. ‘It’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it that counts’ became my mantra.

“So, are you planning to go back and visit?” I said, “like Spiro did?”

“Spiro went back to Greece with his parents. This is a bit different,” he said.

“Are there Travel Agents who specialise in where you come from?”

I was thinking of the people who live up the street from us, in the blue house. They organise trips to Egypt. Pyramids, desert, Pharos, that sort of thing. It’s not their actual job, but it gives them a chance to visit and not have to live there, or at least that’s what my father said. Dad doesn’t say much, so it was strange to hear him offer an opinion.

“I think you have the wrong idea. We’re here to stay. There’s no going back. My parents made that decision and I was too young to understand what it meant. This is the life I have and I’m happy with it.”

“That’s because your best friend came from Tasmania and no one thinks twice about it?” I said.

“My parents still write to the people they knew and they send a report once a year. Just like the report that your probation officer wrote after your year.”

“You had to bring that up. You were with me when we ‘borrowed’ that car. You were just a faster runner than I was. You didn’t get caught.”

“And you didn’t dob. If you’d dropped me in it, they would have gone easier on you. As it was, it made it impossible for you to be a cop. I know you always wanted to. You know I never forgot that.”

“You had too many strikes against you. If they got you, you’d have gone to Youth Prison. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I didn’t think it would stop me from being a cop. You don’t think much at that age, do you? Even so, I would never have given you up,” I said.

“So do you see why I wanted to tell you? You are the only person outside of my family who knows. My parents trusted my judgement when I told them what I was going to do.”

“Always liked your folks. They treated me like one of theirs. And your mum still makes the best cheese sandwiches on the planet. No pun intended,” I said.

“So, what do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think,” I said.

But, it was true what he said. Pretty much everyone in Australia came from somewhere else. If they didn’t, their parents or grandparents did.

“Is that why your folks chose this country? Because it’s full of ‘everywhere else’ people?”

“No. It was just the first place on the map,” he said, and I could see his smile before he’d finished the sentence.

“Smart arse,” I said.

“I don’t know how they worked it out, but I know they are happy that they did. It seems it was a lot harder at first. They never told me much about the early years. I was just a kid, being a kid. I didn’t notice. I remember the operation on my ears. Mum said that the other kids made fun of them so they thought it best to have them done.”

“I meant to ask about that. Everyone in that video you showed me had long hair, but I did notice that some people had unusual ears. Is that a thing?”

“Yeah. Dad had his done when he began to loose his hair. Mum still has hers.”

“I have to ask. What was with the beautiful blue light at the beginning of the video?”

“Apparently, it’s a special frequency of light that calms people to the point where they can accept ideas that might disturb them. The film comes from ‘home’. It’s been passed around for centuries. Someone made a digital copy and dad got hold of it so I could show you.”

“I wouldn’t mind having a copy, but I guess that would be asking a lot?”

“Yeah. Not going to happen,” he said.

“Any chance of just having that blue bit at the start?”

“I’ll ask,” he said, and I knew he meant it. It’s that kind of friendship.

“So what the fuck am I supposed to do now? Now that I know.”

“Nothing in particular. I just wanted you to know.”

“Will you tell me if your people decide to take over the world or something?”

He laughed.

“What makes you think we haven’t?” He winked at me. I hate it when he does that.

“I’m serious,” I said.

“I know you are,” he said, and he put his arm around me.

“We want what every person wants when they come to this country. We want a job and a family and a chance at some kind of happiness — and the chance to feast on your soul,” he said in his best Vincent Price voice.

I punched him on the arm. He hates that, and we went out to his driveway and played some one on one basketball.

He’s better at it than I am.

His family nearly ran us over when they got back from netball.

His wife invited me to stay for dinner, but I said I needed to get back.

My family was waiting when I walked home.

My wife looked at me inquisitively when I hugged her for longer than usual. I had a kid attacked to each leg, and I dragged them into the house.

“What have you boys been up to today?” said my wife. I think I loved that woman more at that moment than I ever have.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said.

She just smiled and hugged me.

She’s like that, and I’m a lucky man.

Quick On The Draw

“When the pencil hits the paper, you’ll know.”

My Occupation Therapist was losing patience with me.

In retrospect, I’m amazed that it took him so long to suggest the simple act of drawing.

I’d tried basketweaving until I accidentally poked Alister in the eye with a bit of bamboo. Didn’t mean to, not really, but he does give everyone the shits.

Gardening didn’t work out too well either. Gardeners are very possessive, and old Mr Jones was sure I was using his tools. The wound on the back of my head gave me a couple of days off from ‘activities’, and Mr Jones got the padded room. My head hurt like fuck, but I still managed to give him the finger as they dragged him off.

“Stay away from my peas,” the old bastard said.

Why would I want to interfere with his peas?

“The residents don’t like blood on their produce,” was the parting comment from Derek, our OT.

No more gardening for me.

Woodworking was out of the question, “until you can show that you won’t hurt yourself or anyone else.”

I’m a good woodworker, but I wasn’t going to tell them that. I spent a couple of summer holidays working for an old-time cabinetmaker. Grumpy old bloke, but I liked him. I made a perfect dovetailed miniature drawer and put it in his grave. I got a few strange looks from the other mourners, but I know he would have liked it.

Derek was right; when the pencil hit the paper, I knew.

I started doing lightening portraits of the staff, then my fellow inmates. Not everyone liked them, which was fair enough. Caricatures are not for everyone.

I quickly found that I had a gift for drawing, not that I cared.

The important thing was that it calmed me down and took away the anxiety.

I’ll make it out of here soon. I have to believe that; otherwise, why bother?

When I make it out, I doubt that I’ll go back to teaching. They have to take me back if I want to, but I just make them uncomfortable. No one likes to be reminded of weakness.

They wouldn’t say anything, but I’d know. I wouldn’t be the brash young teacher who thought anything was possible as long as he threw enough energy at it. Instead, I’d be the loser who burst into tears and cried for four hours on the last day of school. Not sure my ego could take it.

I’ll miss the kids. But, hopefully, they don’t know what happened to me.

I’ve got a bit of money saved up. I can look for another job. Maybe I’ll make furniture or fix old bits. There’s a lot of satisfaction in bringing a piece of furniture back to life.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Firstly, I have to get out of here.

My shrink won’t say what it is, but there’s something wrong with me.

I’ll do a portrait of him.

Maybe that’ll soften him up.

Suicide Note: part six -final- you can’t always get what you want

This is the FINAL CHAPTER in the Suicide Note series. To catch up, you can visit Part One,  Part Two,  Part Three,  Part Four.,   Part Five

“If you don’t mind me asking,” is a statement that is usually followed by me thinking, ‘yes, I do mind’.
“What happened to you and why do they seem to be out to get you?”
I should have told the little shit to mind his own business, but I answered anyway.
“I’ve pissed off a few people along the way,” I said.
“Are you the only good cop in a sea of losers?”
I looked at Egg to see if he was taking the piss.
“Bloody hell no. I’m just as useless as they are. Well, maybe a bit less useless. I’m not a cliche, and neither are they. Most of the brass are bastards, but they do it with a bit of style. I seem to have lost mine — style, that is. I had no way of knowing that bloke’s gun wasn’t loaded. You point a shooter at me, and I’m assuming you mean me harm, and if I get the chance, I’ll do you before you get the chance to punch my ticket. If it had been anyone else but me, we wouldn’t be talking about it. Sure he was an ex-cop, but I didn’t know that. It was a routine call out. I was close by, I took the call even though I wasn’t next up. By rights, uniform should have taken it. The call sounded like a domestic — loud music and a bit of screaming. I knock on the door, and there he is. Blood trickling down his face. A tiny stream, nothing much, but it distracted me. I should have seen the gun, but the drop of blood was mesmerising. When I did see it, I tried to distract him with a question. ‘Any chance you could turn down the music, pal? Your neighbours are none too pleased.’ The thing was, he was an ex-cop, so he knew that I knew, and he knew what I was doing. The music had blanked out the gunshots. Holes in the walls. The bugger probably couldn’t count, so we’ll never know if he believed that he still had ammo. I remember the click, and I assumed that the round was a dud. He looked at me, then looked at the gun. I drew mine and shot the bastard. It was him or me.”

Egg nodded. The kid had probably never fired a gun in anger, but I’ll bet he’s thought about it.

“I called it in, the ambos arrived but he was dead and I knew it. Dead blokes don’t get up and shoot you in the arse and that’s the way I like it. Professional Standards turned up and took my gun and told me I was on leave until they finished their investigation. That took about a week. They gave me back my gun, sent me for counselling, and I thought that the whole dirty business was over with. Turned out that the halfwit I shot was connected to a long line of coppers and someone decided to kick up a stink. I’m sure that if I’d had a partner and he’s heard the gun click, this really would be over with.”
“Why were you there alone?”
“I was coming back from an interview. It seemed like a straightforward call.”
I took a sip of my coffee and tried not to remember looking down that barrel.
“You shoot a civilian and everyone is supportive. You shoot an ex-cop and everyone stays away from you like they might catch something. I’m pretty sure they’ll move me sideways if they think they can get away with it. I stink up the place — at least as far as the bosses are concerned. This could be the last murder I work on.”
Egg didn’t say anything. I think he was a bit shocked that I had laid it all out for him instead of telling him to get stuffed.
I’m not sure why I told him.
Nothing good could come from it.
I guess I wanted the kid to know that I’d done the right thing and that I wasn’t trigger happy.
“We’d better solve this case then. Don’t want you to go out on an asterix,” said Egg.
“Okay. If you say so,” I said with a smile.
“I’ve got an appointment to talk to Debra’s boss tomorrow,” said Egg.
“Where was he when you went the first time?”
“Had to rush out, apparently.”
“I think we might talk to this bloke together,” I said.

~oOo~

Debra’s boss was a walking cliche.

Slightly crumpled white shirt (for some reason, his wife had stopped ironing them), a tie someone had given him for his birthday and ink stains on his inside finger, right hand. He couldn’t get his wedding ring off if he tried, and he was sweating profusely even though the AC was blowing icy cold air.
We asked all the usual questions, and he was ‘only too happy to help’.
“Do you think he knows?” I said when we got back to the car.
“I think so. What do you think he will do?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think he’ll run. He hasn’t got anywhere to go. Once we’ve spoken to his wife he’ll know for sure and so will his wife. She won’t run with him. Why would she? He’s stuffed. It’s only a matter of time before he cracks. We’ll give it a day or two and pull him in for more questions.”

Egg went back and talked to Debra’s friend, and she had calmed down and wanted to speak. Yes, she believed that her boss and Debra had been having an affair and that Debra was trying to end it. No, she didn’t think that Debra would tell her boss’s wife — she wasn’t that kind of person.

We sent a couple of uniforms around to Debra’s boss’s house on Saturday.

The sight of uniforms in a domestic setting tends to stir things up.
He wasn’t there.
His wife hadn’t seen him since early that morning when he went out to walk the dog.


The dog came home later that afternoon.
It didn’t take long to find the body, hanging from a tree not far from the river where we found Debra’s body.
What we had would not have convinced the CPS to prosecute, but our bosses agreed that we had the right bloke.
The case stays open, but a note at the head of the file outlines our findings and the suicide of Debra’s boss before we could interview him a second time.
Sometimes that’s all you get — a note at the beginning of a still open file.
Not a lot of closure for those who loved her.

~oOo~

I didn’t have to. There was no official reason to, but I did it anyway.

I knocked on the door of flat number six, and her cat talked to me through the crack when she opened the door.
“I didn’t expect to see you again,” she said.
She looked like she had been sleeping, and I imagined waking up next to her and seeing her like that — pleasantly tousled.
“I wanted you to know that we got him. sort of. Debra’s killer. He killed himself before we could charge him. But it was him. Fucking coward. Sorry, shouldn’t swear in front of a lady.”
She smiled.
“I’ve heard a lot worse, and thank you for the ‘lady’. It’s been a while since anyone accused me of that.”
“Anyway, just wanted you to know. No need for you to worry. It was someone she knew. Not some random arsehole.”
“Would you like to come in?” she said.
“Not a good idea. It’s not that I don’t want too, it’s just that I might get lost in there — with you. You are quite something kid. Have a happy life,” I said.
“I will. Don’t get yourself killed or anything. I like to think of you out there keeping us all safe,” she said as she gently shut the door.

I leaned on the warm bricks when I got outside, and their warmth reminded me of when I was a kid.

Suicide Note: Part Five – two kids under five

Catchup?  Part One,  Part Two,  Part Three,  Part Four.

The next thirty hours yielded nothing of any value, and I found myself walking through the city late in the day.
I try to avoid walking.
My body doesn’t like it, but sometimes my mind insists.


The need to sit down saw me turn into a tiny bar in one of the eponymous laneways of Melbourne. It wasn’t much bigger than a garden shed with narrow tables and chairs along one wall and a bar on the other. Mirrors made the place look bigger than it was.
“Long day mate?” said the barman who had been born somewhere other than Melbourne.
“Regulation number of hours, but it seemed longer,” I said.
Does the ‘Responsible Serving Of Alcohol’ certificate include a module on ‘how to chat with customers’, or does it come naturally.
“Something Scottish, single malt, lots of smoke please — neat,” I said.
I didn’t go up to the bar. I wanted to see how he was going to get out from behind it. It seemed impossible from where I was sitting.
Of course, he could have put my drink on the bar and made me come and get it, but he didn’t. The end of the bar hinged up and away from the wall as the bottom panel swung in, allowing the barman to escape his prison.
“That’s a neat setup. How does it work?”
“No idea,” said the barman, “the bloke who set the place up invented it. Said he saw it in Paris years ago. Always remembered how it worked.”
I waved my debit card at the barman, and he gestured in the time-honoured way.
“Catch me when you’re done,” he said, and I thought he was very trusting considering the prices in his bar. Doing a runner after a couple of drinks would pay your rent for a week.
My drink smelled terrific, and when I added a splash of water (generously supplied without being asked for), the space around me filled with smoky goodness.
I still had to make it home to my bed, so I drank slowly. Good whisky is meant to be drunk that way, so I wasn’t pressured.
After two drinks, I was warm and significantly poorer, but none the wiser.
Cop movies will tell you that the first three days after a murder are critical, and they are, but a lot depends on hard work and blind luck.
This case was shaping up to be a lot of the former and not a lot of the latter.

~oOo~

Egg had spent an enjoyable time (as pleasant as it gets when you tell someone’s workmates that their friend is dead in suspicious circumstances) talking to the fellow inmates at Debra’s workplace. He checked the make and model of her computer and the office printer.
They did not match the printing on the ‘suicide’ note.
Strike two for me.
We already knew that this was most likely a murder, but I do enjoy being right.

~oOo~

There has been way too much going on for me to focus on my problems.
As a child, I subscribed to the theory that if you ignored something, there was a good chance it would go away.
Statistically, the jury is still out, but in this case, ignoring the problem is my only choice. What’s done is done, and the longer it goes where I don’t hear any more about it, the better it will get.
If the ‘higher ups’ had made up their minds about me and my perceived misdeed, I’d be filling out unemployment benefit papers instead of working on a murder case.
Do you remember the meeting I told you about? The one behind the glass wall?
Well, it turns out that I had a friend in that room.
I knew who all the people were.
Every one of them could decide my fate by speaking ill of me. So it was a no-brainer that some of them did exactly that.
Naturally, the Chief Inspector had the final say.
He’s a strange bird, and we have never had a meaningful conversation, and I’m not sure if that is him or me. Influential people don’t intimidate me, but I like this job, so staying away from people who can make my life harder seems like a wise idea. For his part, I’m just another loose cannon who can make his job harder.
I can’t say for sure, but I think it was he who sent the word down for me to do that weekend refresher course. He did me a favour there. I met Ms Carter, and I got laid. Which reminds me, I must ring her. It’s been a while.


It wasn’t his wife I was giving a seeing to in the back of that Bentley, but I guess he thought that standards had to be upheld.
I found out later that the two constables never intended to make a report.
I showed them my warrant card, and they had fun with me, which was to be the end of it. Unfortunately, one of them got done for drink driving, and he traded the information for a clean record. It didn’t work. He got done and, after a long process, lost his job. As with all cover-ups, it got uncovered, and by default, I ended up in the shit.
Penelope was an excellent lover, and the things she could do in the back of that vintage Bentley were amazing. I still tingle when I think about it.
Not unsurprisingly, our back seat trysts came to a screaming halt (no pun intended) when word got out.

The meeting behind the glass wall had nothing to do with me being caught with my pants down. Of course, that all happened ages ago, but somehow I had acquired a defender, and I’m yet to understand why.
I wouldn’t call him a friend — we barely know each other, but word got back that he stood up for me, mentioned my meagre achievements, and suggested that they see how I handle this case before any decisions are made.
The reason for this glass-encased meeting was indeed way more severe than my fucking a senior officer’s missus, but there we are, and the knowledge only increases the pressure on me to solve this murder.
It does occur to me that someone, more senior to me, knew this was not a suicide way before I did.
The thought makes me very uneasy, but I don’t have time for paranoia — that can come later when this case is done and my tenuous grip on this job is reestablished.
I have to admit to feeling expendable, but that’s nothing new.

“Go back over the details of your visit to Debra’s workplace. Don’t leave anything out. I want to know what colour nail polish they were wearing,” I said as the waitress delivered two BLTs with avocado on the side (say ‘avo’ anywhere near me, and you’ll need dental work).
Egg and I were having what passed for a breakfast meeting at the cafe near the wholesale vegetable market. My family has a long history with ‘the Markets’, but that’s a story for another time.
“There were two long blacks to go with these, Luv,” I said as the waitress turned to walk back to the counter.
“They’re on their way. I didn’t forget and please don’t call me ‘Luv’. We’re two decades into the twenty-first century,” said our waitress, who had had a hard morning. She wasn’t really having a go, just tired.
“I apologise sweetheart (she winced). Are you okay? You look all tuckered out,” I said, and my brain reminded me that you NEVER tell a woman that she looks tired. But, on the whole, she took it well.
The waitress put her hand on the back of my chair, and for a split second, I thought she might give me a clip over the ear.
“I’ve got two kids under five and neither of them sleep through the night. I’ve been on since four this morning and I’m buggered.”
I wondered about the four o’clock start when I remembered that the fruit and veggie market opens about then. Lots of sleepy blokes needing a cuppa.
“Would you like to sit down?” I said, moving out one of our spare chairs.
“Can’t,” she said, “got another hour to go before I sit down.”
No longer a girl and with two kids to think about, she was doing her best. One minor disaster and she would fall over the edge.
So much of life is a tightrope walk.
We watched her walk back to the counter.
I glanced at the bill sitting under my plate.


We each put a twenty-dollar note down, not wanting any change.
When the coffees arrived, I slid the bill and the notes in her direction.
“Keep the change kid,” I said. She looked at us, and somewhere inside, I think she was smiling, but it didn’t show on the outside. Tip or no tip, there were still two kids at home who wouldn’t sleep. A bloody big tip glosses over the problem.
You cannot save everyone.

Through a mouthful of BLT, Egg recounted his visit.
“About what you would expect really. As soon as I told the woman in charge, she got the staff together and told them Debra was dead. It was hard to get any of them to make sense. I was patient, I promise. Eventually I got the picture of a happy young woman who kept up with the office conversation but rarely added to the gossip. She was well liked and no hint of jealousy – from them or her. Her desk was tidy with only a few personal items. I asked and the boss said they didn’t restrict personal items. No photos on her desk or in her drawers. No personal photos on her computer. The security there is terrible. Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s computer password. I copied her hard drive and gave it to Tech. They’re a bit snowed under but they said they would have something by the end of the week. Her best friend in the office was basically incoherent. I’ll talk to her again tomorrow. Maybe she can shed some light on who Debra was seeing.”
“That’s good work,” I said, and I meant it. The kid has good instincts.

Usually, by now, I’d have a bit of an idea who might have killed who. But, unfortunately, this case was starting to drag.

Suicide Note: Part Four – a bit of a bounder

It’s been a while, so if you want to catch up, part one is here, part two is here and part three is here.

The smell is the first thing that hits you.

It’s not the usual hospital smell.

This is more specific.

You feel like it is coating the inside of your nasal cavities.

The digital clock in the morgue said I was right on time.

Not my usual form.

Doctor Death didn’t glance at the time, which pissed me off. I would have copped an earful if I’d been late.

She was hunched over some poor soul while talking into a portable recorder — probably digital.

The lab assistants looked up, saw it was me, nodded, and returned to what they were doing. I guess word had gotten out that I was working with a young officer, and they were prepared with all the usual gallows humour. I noticed the wastepaper basket sitting in the corner. When the kid arrived, someone would hand it to him, and he would ask what it was for.

“You’ll find out.”

Doctor Death disapproved of such ‘goings on’, but she turned a blind eye as long as it didn’t upset the smooth flow of her department.

She is of average height for a woman. Shoulder length brown hair pulled back into a kind of ponytail, although she wouldn’t call it that. Sensible shoes that would give way to expensive ones at the end of the day. No jewellery at work. Sparkling blue eyes that stared into mine when she tried to kiss me — I told you about that.

I knew she was drunk, but those eyes said, ‘I’m fully aware of what I’m doing and you can take me right now, in that cupboard, if you want to. Don’t worry about you being younger than me, I don’t mind if you don’t.’

I had to move my hips as you do when you hug a female, and you don’t want her to think that you are coming on to her.

I held that erection for quite some time.

I’d asked around about her — her sudden reappearance.

The information was sketchy, but apparently, her marriage hit a bad patch while living in London.

“I’m going to be a lady of leisure,” she’d said, waving an expensive half-empty bottle of bubbly. “I’m going to be kept in the manner to which I’m soon to be accustomed,” she said, promptly dropping the bottle.

“You deserve it DD. Give those Poms some hell for me,” I said.

“Won’t have time. Too busy being pampered by my amazing husband.” She pointed her now empty hand in the direction of a tallish handsome man who I instantly disliked. Looked like a wanker to my trained eye, but what did it matter what I thought? She was happy, and that was all that mattered.

A lovely female PC who worked in the records office told me that someone had said to her that Mr Doctor Death turned out to be a ‘bit of a bounder’ as the Poms like to say. He needed a high profile wife, a reverse ‘handbag’ if you will, to keep up appearances. He preferred men in bed, something to do with a boarding school upbringing. She found out after a couple of years.

A couple of years!

This is a brilliant woman, and it takes her a couple of years to work out that this bloke prefers men?

What the actual fuck!

And you are sitting there wondering why people kill each other?

Someone famous (at least I think he was famous) said that love doth make fools of us all. It’s the ‘doth’ that makes it real.

Being a practical bloke, I consoled myself with the thought that she would have made a bundle out of the divorce.

Sex and money. Love and money.

Money doesn’t quite cut it when compared to love.

~oOo~

Egg arrived on time, and the wastepaper ritual played out. He put it by his feet, and I rubbed a smidgeon of Vicks Vapor rub under my nose. I didn’t offer him any, and I noticed him noticing my ritual.

Dr Death began her autopsy by listing everyone present, which would come in handy if one of us decided to kill or maim someone else while the autopsy was being performed. Or if there was a sudden outbreak of a deadly virus. My head goes to strange places at times of tension.

Egg lasted until a few minutes after Dr Death made her first incision. It wasn’t a record, but it put him in the top ten and cost the younger lab assistant ten dollars.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that a lack of a significant amount of river water in the lungs meant that we probably had an actual murder on our well-worn hands.

“I’ll have the tox-screen by late tomorrow. No obvious signs of violence other than the minor contusions, probably post mortem, that she might have received from bobbing around in the river.”

“Bobbing around? Is that different to floating about and lazing around?” I said, and Dr Death did not rise to the occasion.

The autopsy was over, and that was that. It felt like all the air had gone out of the room.

I found Egg in the corridor.

“Don’t worry about it, you lasted longer than most and you made an old lab assistant ten dollars. So, all in all, a good morning’s work. Breakfast?”

“Yes,” said Egg, still clutching the basket. I expected him to add to the contents, but he is tougher than I thought.

“Just leave that there. The loser will be out to collect it later — all part of the bet.”

We walked past two cafes, and Egg looked at me inquiringly.

“Nothing but Kale on wholemeal with a side something that used to be attached to a tree in the Amazon.”

We found a decent cafe and had a hearty meal of stuff that would eventually stop both of our hearts long after we had retired.

The cafe still had the peeled remnants of a gold leaf sign on the window. It must have been there for decades — no one does gold leaf anymore. I was impressed by the apostrophe. Also notable is that the window hadn’t been broken over those many years. The window in question could have used a good clean by someone who knew what they were doing.

The smoky window probably hadn’t been cleaned since you were allowed to smoke in cafes. Watching the world go by was an experience not unlike an old movie where Vaseline had been smeared on the lens to make an ageing star look younger.

The bloke who served us wasn’t named Cassell, and neither was the cook. I asked, but no one seemed to know who the original Cassell was.

“Too expensive to change the sign,” said the current owner. I liked his practical sense. I doubt that the health department had visited recently, but I didn’t care at that moment.

“She’d recently had sex, but Dr Death said she couldn’t definitely say if it was forced or not. She hadn’t been having intercourse for very long according to the Doc and I wasn’t going to ask how she knew that — took her word for it,” I said.

“Blood stream?” said Egg.

“Find out tomorrow. My back teeth are telling me that she will have something predictable in her blood.”

It’s common sense for a homicide policeman to not get emotionally involved in a case he is working on. Common sense, yes, practical — not always possible.

Office workers taking an early lunch walked purposefully past the window of the tiny cafe. I watched the young women and thought that any one of them could be our dead Debra. They weren’t, of course, and that’s how life goes — it goes on. These girls are oblivious to the death of our young woman. Maybe they will read about it or hear about it on radio or television, and then their life will go on. Debra is forever frozen in time. Her clock stopped when someone decided that she was expendable.

Message in a Bottle

“This is the exact spot,” I said, but the kids had already wandered off.

“Right here. It was a day just like this one.”

By now, I was talking to myself. My wife was standing not far away, but she wasn’t listening — not really.

She was listening in the way that wives do when their husbands talk a lot — not really listening.

It amazes me when I hear women complain that their husbands never tell them anything. If he suddenly started talking to her, she’d be over it in about a fortnight.

“Sorry dear, what were you saying?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

No reaction.

Usually, when I say, ‘it doesn’t matter’, I get a disgusted sound that says, ‘why say it if it doesn’t matter?’ Which is a fair point, I guess.

“I thought a lot about what to write, what with the size restriction and all.”

By now, my wife was making a bum shaped hole in the sand. Positioning herself so that the sun wasn’t in her eyes and where she could still see the kids. The kids were knee-deep in rock pools. I told them to wear old runners to protect their feet from the sharp rocks, and they did. Which is amazing. They rarely listen to me. I guess they thought it would get them to the beach a lot faster if they didn’t put up their usual fight — the usual arguments.

“I dug the bottle out of the garbage. We didn’t have recycling bins in those days so I had to scrape the bacon fat off the bottle and wash it. It was a Haig’s bottle. Someone gave it to my dad for Christmas. We never had booze in the house but mum looked the other way when it was Christmas. I never saw dad drink it, but by late January the bottle was empty. I hid the bottle under my bed and got to work on the note. Such a small space for me to unburden my soul.”

One of the boys held up a hermit crab, shell and all. He waved it around a bit until the crab bit him, and he dropped the creature. I could hear his yell over the sound of the waves. His younger brother had to restrain him from stomping on the tiny creature.

“Serves you right you little shit. A bit of your own medicine,” I said softly, and the breeze carried the words from my clenched lips and wafted them away.

My wife offered consoling words from her bum comfortable position, and his wounded finger became an afterthought as he began to beat his restraining younger brother.

“Knock it off you little bastards,” I said, just a little too loudly, and the older couple with the small dog looked at me as though I’d shot their dog and left it to die. The dog, on the other hand, was delighted that there was another loud human close by — it hadn’t noticed me up to that point. So it bounded in my direction, tripped and face planted into the warm sand, recovered itself and continued to bound my way.

I was impressed with its resilience.

I squatted and mentally put down the bottle I had been describing and embraced the wiggling mass of fur.

“Dougal! Come away from that nasty man!”

I ignored the insult and continued to rough up the happy fluff ball.

“If you head over that way you can continue the fun. Those two boys love dogs. Feel free to bite the bigger one if it takes your fancy,” I said, and the dog rushed off in the direction of the two brawling boys.

“Dougal! Come back.”

Small smelly boys trump annoying older owners every time.

“So where was I? Oh, yes,” I said as I picked up the imaginary bottle with the imagined note enclosed.

“I chose the paper very carefully. It was hard to find, as I recall. It had to be thick but not too think to fit through the neck. I made several attempts at the text. I don’t think I ever put in that much preparation to any of my school work.”

“What was that dear?”

“Nothing. You go back to whatever it was you were doing.”

The dog had reached the boys. All of them seemed to be watching the hermit crab making its way out of the kill zone.

The youngest (why did we name him Reginald?) said something to the eldest, and the fight started all over again. This time the dog joined in. The dog had hold of one of my eldest’s shoes and was giving it a good shake. Beelzebub, as I like to call him, flicked the small dog high in the air, and it landed on a sandy patch with a yelp. It shook itself and immediately rejoined the fray.

“I really like your dog,” I said. “Can I take him home with us?”

“No you can not,” said the furious lady who was halfway towards the melee.

The woman detached her dog from my son’s shoe (he’d reattached himself) and gave Beelzebub a clip over the ear. Beelzebub put his hand to his head and said, “Ouch.”

“Are you going to do something about that?” said my wife.

“What would you suggest?” I said. “I’d give the woman and the dog a medal, but I left the box of medals I usually carry around in the car.”

“Typical,” said my wife.

“You should be ashamed to call yourself a parent,” said the older woman with the wriggling dog under her arm.

“I am lady. Deeply. But, at least your dog likes me,” I said.

“He doesn’t know any better,” was her reply, and I’m sure she will think of a much better comeback line halfway home in the car.

“So,” I said to an audience of none, “I studied the tide times in the newspaper to work out the best time to launch the bottle. No sense floating it if it was just going to wash back up again. I remember my mum was impressed that I was taking an interest in something ‘scientific’. ‘It’s oceanography, mum,’ I said and she was even more impressed. I don’t think she thought I was as bright as I might be.”

A seagull flew down and sat on the sand in front of me. I wondered why until I noticed that I was holding my hands as though I had something in them — a bottle.

“Sorry mate. I don’t have anything for you,” I said and showed my hands like I was a blackjack dealer. The seagull got the point and flew off.

“My parents were sitting down there.”

I pointed unnecessarily.

“I wandered up here and took the bottle out of my beach bag, and stepped to the water’s edge. I couldn’t decide whether to throw it in, which might draw attention or just float it out. In the end, I decided on the latter and pushed the bottle gently towards Bass Strait. It bobbed around for a while, and I thought it might beach itself, but ever so slowly, it floated away on the tide. I sat and watched it for a couple of hours. My eyes hurt, and eventually, dad called me to come so we could go home. I lay in bed that night and every night for the rest of our holidays, wondering if I had attached the cork correctly and wondering where my bottle headed. Where would it make landfall?”

“Shouldn’t we gather up the kids and go and buy some lunch?” said my wife wiping the last of the sand off her well-rounded bottom. “I must do something about that when we get home,” I said.

“What was that dear?”

“Nothing,” I said.

I called the boys, and we all ate lunch, listening to the waves on the other side of the trees.

“What happened to your bottle dad?” said my youngest.

“Don’t know. It just floated away, never to be heard from again,” I said.

“So, why do you keep going on about it,” said my oldest with a mouth full of chips.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

~oOo~

The woman who found the bottle, thirty-one years after I launched it understood.

“Everything you wrote in that note, I was feeling the same way at the same time,” she said.

“I still can’t believe you tracked me down. After all these years.”

“When you sold your mum’s house the new owners kept the same phone number. They gave me your number and here we are.”

The current holder of the bottle was a little weather-beaten (aren’t we all), but she has eyes that look right into me.

We talked about our teenage selves. Our late-in-life marriages. Her divorce. The death of close friends and our total surprise at our ages, considering we felt we could still be sitting on the beach wondering what our lives would be like when we got to be our age.

The sun was going down, and I excused myself and rang home with a thin excuse. I’d be back as soon as I could – boozy meeting.

“What were you doing that day? The day you found the bottle,” I said.

“Do you really want to know?”

I knew that tone. Did I? Really?

“Yes.”

“It’s not as dramatic as it sounds and I wasn’t going to do it there and then, but I was taking a last walk along the beach. I’d planned to take my life that night.”

She looked down at her drink, and I took a breath.

“But you didn’t. Kill yourself, that is.”

“Oh, I did. I’m just a ghost these days.”

“And a very attractive one if I may say so.”

She put her hand up and moved a stray hair back into place.

“The bottle and its contents distracted me. I took it home, opened it and fell into your teenaged embrace. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I believed, at that time, that the universe sent me this gift. A way of saying, ‘give it another go – there’s magic out there’. Everyone wants a reason to hang around, don’t you think?”

I thought about my dark times.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I didn’t ring straight away. I knew it was a long shot that you would be at that number after such a long time. I wanted to sit in the glow of possibility before the bubble burst. And besides, what if I found you and you’d grown up to be a prick, or worse still, happily married with kids. I’m not sure I could have handled that then. I’m okay with any outcome now, but not then.”

“I’ve dreamt about this day. I won’t pretend I haven’t. But I’d given up. Sure, I’ve told my kids the story about the bottle so many times that they glaze over now when I tell it. I thought that some beachcomber from some far off island in the South Pacific might pick it up and cash in the bottle and discard the note. There was a type of comfort it that. I never thought that an attractive (that’s the second time I’ve used that word) woman from Melbourne would find my message and tell me that it changed her life.”

 “Don’t get too smug. The night is young. I may still top myself.”

I smiled. She smiled, and I wondered.

We had grown up and grown middle-aged through all the same world history. We listened to the same music, watched the same movies, endured the same politicians.

We drank a bit more, and my cheeks were glowing. Driving home was looking like a dangerous idea.

We stopped talking. I guess we knew. All that shared history lived separately but at the same time.

“I’m not saying you would want to, but if you did, I live quite close to here. You probably shouldn’t be driving. You could get a taxi, of course, but my place is cosy. Small but cosy. If I open the bedroom window I can hear the waves. Do you like waves? Do they help you sleep?”

“I fear that sleeping would be the last thing on my mind if I came back to yours,” I said.

She stood up and took my hand, and we walked up the hill to her tiny flat — one half of an old weatherboard house with a glimpse of the bay.

She turned the key, and we stepped inside.

The bottle was perched on the mantlepiece in her lounge room. There was wood in the fireplace and logs stacked next to it.

I lit the fire, and that night we made up for all the years we had lived apart.

Tomorrow would be early enough to make sense of this.

For now, there was the fire and her body and all the dreams I had all those years ago.

Suicide Note: Part Three –In the darkness of the late of day

If you are so inclined, Part One is here, and Part Two is here.

I didn’t have long to wait for a tram.

It wasn’t raining, and the wind was gentle.

The tram was built in the 1940s (I know these things), and the driver had never been a passenger in his life. He was obsessed with the tram’s ability to out-accelerate the cars trying to pass it. I’m well built, but it took all of my strength to stop from being thrown out of my seat. I looked around me, and the faces of the other passengers said that if I had could organise a rope, they would gladly join in and strangle their driver.

His ability to accelerate was matched only by his skill with the brake.

I stood up and someone gasped at my foolhardiness.

I struggled my way to the front of the tram as it approached my stop.

I felt like a pole dancer as my feet left the ground.

When we came to a halt, I let go of the pole and leaned into the driver’s cabin.

“You seem to be in a bit of a hurry, pal?” I said.

“Have to make up time. Anyway, what do you care. You getting off or what?”

“Not much fun back there, Jack Brabham. Slow the fuck down a bit. Some of us are fragile.”

An old lady seated towards the front of the tram said, “and brittle, young man.”

Most passengers looked in our direction, wondering why we weren’t hurtling towards the next stop.

“Public safety officer,” I said as I moved my suit jacket to one side, revealing my detectives’ badge and my shoulder holster.

The driver’s eyes widened.

“Have a nice day, officer,” said the driver.

I stood and watched as the tram pulled slowly away.

“That bloke won’t need a laxative today,” I said to myself.

~oOo~

Most people think that murders happen in the morning, which isn’t true, but don’t let the truth get in the way of a story intended to make people laugh.

I don’t remember how it goes, but it has something to do with not getting a morning coffee or making the coffee poorly, causing a homicidal situation.

It usually gets a laugh — in a homicide squad.

Crap humour makes me homicidal, but I get the joke. Coffee or the lack of it equals anger.

The reality is somewhat darker.

People tend to kill each other in the darkness of the late of day.

I guess that all the hope has gone out of the day. Maybe all sane resolutions are exhausted, so you belt whoever it is that is getting in your way over the head with a lump of pipe that is conveniently lying around.

Sex and money, or a combination of both.

He/she will/won’t fuck me.

He/she took all my money.

You might think that domestic violence is different, but it isn’t. It looks different, I’ll grant you that, but when you scratch away at it, it comes down to sex and money.

But there’s the rub.

It isn’t the sex, and it isn’t the money — it’s the lack of love that kills people and induces people to kill. The sex and the money are just external symbols.

“My wife leaves me and takes the kids so I don’t get my conjugals, Your Honour, so naturally I teach them a lesson and kill them.”

 “My wife and kids don’t love me anymore because of the arsehole I’ve become, so I have to strike out at them. Me mates will think I’m a wimp if I don’t do something.”

Who did Debra piss off?

Did she threaten someones financial security?

~oOo~

“Nothing to do today Sarge?” said the only member of the squad who was allowed to be a smart arse in my presence and live through it — we had ‘history’, we’d been through a bit together.

“I am doing something Kellerman. I’m planning your demise. I’m up to the part where I dispose of your body in a unique and imaginative way.”

“Wouldn’t help. Everyone knows that if I went missing you’d be the one who did it,” said Kellerman on his way to the stationery cupboard.

“Count on it,” I said.

If we had a couch in the squad room, I’d lie on it, but we don’t, so I sit in my chair and think. It looks like I’m ‘out to lunch’, and I sort of am, but not the way they mean.

Some detectives get their inspiration over a glass of beer, others from wading through paperwork. I knew one bloke who used to bang his head up against the tiles in the Gents. He always had a Band Aide on his forehead, but he had an enviable clear-up rate. I tried it once — you get desperate sometimes. All I got was a headache and a lump on my head.

I looked like a de-horned unicorn.

I watched the second hand on the office clock.

I’ve always loved second hands.

You don’t see many of them these days, what with digital this and digital that.

The clock in our squad room had been there since they hung Ronald Ryan, and come to think of it, I’ve never seen anyone adjust it. The bloody thing is ancient, so there is no way it has crystals or whatever it is that keeps good time.

I checked the time on my phone, and it was only a few seconds faster than the mains electric dinosaur clock hanging on the wall. Flies had pooped on it, and dust weighed it down, but round and round it went, refusing to tell bad time.

I’m going to shoot anyone who tries to remove that clock.

The thought reminded me.

I took my gun out of the top draw and put it in its holster.

I’m old enough to remember when we carried revolvers, but someone worked out that automatics were better in a sustained gunfight.

I preferred the revolver.

I’ve never been in a ‘sustained’ anything.

I usually find that the first two bullets tend to resolve the issue.

Anyway, it made the Chief commissioner look good, waving around an automatic.

A sign of the times, I guess.

The lovely thin sweep hand glided past the twelve, and the big black hand said it was two minutes past ten.

I rose from my’ thinking chair’, and within a few minutes, I’d successfully negotiated the traffic outside our building (no mean feat) and was taking the stairs, two at a time, down to the morgue.

Doctor Death was waiting.

Suicide Note: Part Two – ‘never trust a suicide note that isn’t handwritten’

You can read Part One of this story here

The apartment block is red brick, and someone had done a decent job of construction during a period in our city’s history when any idiot was allowed to slap up some monstrosity and make a fortune.

The brick walls were still warm, and the effect reminded me of my aunty’s house when we were kids. I loved leaning up against the warm bricks in the cool of the evening.

Our floater’s name was Debra, and she lived in flat number six. A cute policewoman used keys to let us in.

“Have you been in there Tiger?” I said.

“No sir. Been waiting out here for you.”

Egg gave her a smile, but she didn’t return it.

The flat was neat and tidy and smelled of orange blossoms.

There were photos on the mantlepiece, and the sounds of traffic leaked through the thick brick walls.

Walking into someone’s world like this always makes me slightly dizzy.

The air was thick in this warm room. The cool air from the open doorway was welcome.

The only thing out of place in the tiny flat was a single sheet of paper lying on the kitchen bench.

The paper set out a list of reasons why Debra had decided to take her life.

“Kind of puts paid to your theory, Sarge,” said Egg, the expert.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s a suicide note. She killed herself.”

“Never trust a suicide note that isn’t hand written. The bloody thing isn’t even signed.”

“But there it is,” said Egg triumphantly.

“The note was produced by a computer printer. Do you see a printer or a computer anywhere?”

Egg looked around.

“She might have printed it at work.”

“Might have, but didn’t.”

We knocked on the other five doors in the block, not expecting any answers. We’d send local plods back after dark to do another run.

Number three answered the door just as I turned away.

“Hello,” said an attractive woman in her early forties. Shoulder length brown hair, slightly dishevelled.

“Sorry to disturb you Mam ..”

“Miss.”

“Sorry to disturb you Miss,” I smiled involuntarily. It was something about the way she said it, ‘Miss’.

“We were wondering if you could tell us something about the woman who lives in number six?”

“We? Are there more of you?” The question took me off guard.

Police officers do a lot of these.

“Do you know, have you seen, etc.”

There’s a finite number of responses. You hear them all eventually. Many of them are rude, insulting, judgemental, homophobic, racist and boring.

Despite her ruffled exterior (most of us look a bit under the weather when we answer the door), her eyes sparkled with life.

“My partner and I,” I said self-consciously. I was losing the upper hand. The hand that said, I’m a copper, and I need information, so don’t piss me about I haven’t had my lunch yet.

The forty-something craned her neck to see past me in both directions.

Egg hove into view, and forty-something smiled.

“He’s too young for you,” I said as softly as I could.

“Pardon,” said forty-something.

“Number six? How old would you say she was?”

“Debra? No idea. Twenty something?”

“Do you know where she worked?” asked Egg, and I realised we were talking through the forty-something’s screen door. Inviting ourselves into her flat seemed like a bad idea. Might not make it out in one piece.

Forty-something told us where she worked, and I sent Egg off to talk to her workmates.

“Take the car. I’ll catch a tram back,” I said as I handed him the keys. Egg momentarily turned into a sixteen-year-old being allowed to drive dad’s car.

“You do have a licence?” I said and instantly regretted it. His face sank.

“Yes Sarge. Top of my class.”

I resisted the urge to ask him how many people were in his class and handed him the keys.

“Scratch it and I’ll take out your appendix with a spoon.”

“Nice young man,” said forty-something.

“Yeah, but he isn’t waterproof,” I said.

Forty-something looked bemused before asking, “Has something happened to Debra?”

I ignored her question. I wasn’t sure if her relatives had been informed.

“Did she ever discuss serious stuff with you? Did you have that kind of relationship?”

“No. Not really. She watered my plants for me if I was going to be away, that sort of thing, but no ‘deep and meaningfuls’. Is she okay?”

“Not really,” I said, “we have a body, but it hasn’t been formally identified as yet.”

Forty-something reached for her phone and showed me a photo. Two women with goofy smiles leaning up against the red brick wall of the apartment block.

I nodded.

“Not allowed to say until she’s been identified,” I said.

A cat walked up and sat next to me, and forty-something opened the screen door just enough to let it in.

“Nietzsche,” she said.

Never trust a thought that occurs to you indoors,” I said.

“Pardon?” she said.

“Nothing. Just something a cat once told me.”

Forty-something was used to me by now, so she didn’t raise an eyebrow.

“Was Debra the sort of person who would do herself harm?” I said.

Forty-something took a moment before answering.

“I might, but I don’t think she would. Drove me crazy with her smiling and optimism.”

I thanked her and half turned to go when she said, ”When you come to these doors after they find me one day, tell them I wasn’t as bad as they thought. My cat would speak up for me. At least I hope he would.”

“Nietzsche loved horses and cats do too. Anyone who likes cats can’t be too bad. Don’t make me knock on these doors on your account any time soon. Okay?” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

Suicide Note: Part One – An Unexpected Death

When I started out, I had shiny buttons, and I wanted to make a difference.

This delusion afflicts a lot of young people.

You get a bit older, and you realise that making a difference is not what you thought it was.

I’m not complaining, just explaining.

My buttons are less shiny, but the uniform still fits, and I get it out for formal occasions — when someone dies, that’s about as formal as it gets, wouldn’t you say?

An unexpected death brought me here.

I’m kneeling in the mud, spoiling my suit pants. I hardly notice. Things that used to be important seem irrelevant — muddy pants included.

There was a time when I would have burst into the commander’s office and demanded to know why I was being assigned to such a lowly case — an apparent suicide.

My ‘bursting in’ days are over, at least for a while — maybe forever?

The conversation went on behind closed doors.

Behind the glass wall.

Occasionally someone would glance over their shoulder in my direction. I considered giving them the finger — thought better of it.

I’m in enough shit.

“Piss off and sort this shit out,” said our second in charge. I think he likes me. At the very least, he doesn’t hate me. Either way, at this moment, I’m beyond caring.

The folder landed on my desk as softly as a feather falling out of the arse of a large bird of prey.

I took it as a moderately good sign that I hadn’t been summoned into the commander’s office.

“Take Egg with you. He needs the experience.”

I opened my mouth to complain.

“Shut it and get it sorted!”

I shut it and shot a look in Egg’s direction. He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and bounded across the office knocking over two wastepaper baskets. He picked them up and deftly flipped them back into position with the heel of his shoe. Nicely done, I thought, and I hoped my face didn’t show it. You cannot afford to encourage the little shit — never get rid of him. I didn’t want him thinking that he could ride with the big boys.

Egg is on the fast track.

Someone, somewhere, thinks he will grow up to be somebody someday.

The two owners of the wastepaper baskets glared at Egg. Johnson picked up some of the litter, balled it up and threw it at the rapidly moving target.

Egg got his nickname on his first day in the squad, presumably because of his extreme youth, and it stuck.

“Don’t get in my way and don’t get used to the idea of riding with me. This is a one-off,” I said.

“Am I working with you because of what happened?”

“How the fuck should I know. No wait. Yes, that’s it. You are my punishment. A half boiled egg, right up the arse.”

A few of the lads laughed, and someone hit him with a giant ball of former wastepaper basket contents.

“Don’t get anyone killed, you little shit,” said the suit from the Fraud Squad who is on secondment — I think his name’s Wilson, but he’ll be gone soon, so why bother remembering his name?

The comment came because Egg had been riding in a Divisional van when it went into the Yarra River after misjudging a turn. The uniformed copper behind the wheel hit his head on the driver’s door and drowned as the van sunk in the murky brown water. The arseholes they were pursuing got away and abandoned their stolen car. It’s only a matter of time before we catch up with them, but rumour has it that their parents sent them both overseas to escape arrest. So now the long process of extradition begins.

We buried Constable Billy Higgins with full honours. Shiny buttons as far as the eye could see. Egg was still in hospital, which was probably just as well. He doesn’t remember much, but apparently, he has dreams about flying through the air.

After attending a false alarm, he hitched a ride back to the station on that day, and I’ll bet he wished he’d taken the tram. And I’ll bet his senior partner wished he hadn’t left him there to go off to the pub for lunch. I heard his chances of promotion went faster than his pub lunch — that kind of shit sticks for a long time.

A couple of young blokes out for a run dragged Egg out before the rig went under. They dived a heap of times but couldn’t free Higgins. I remember seeing newspaper photos of the young men sitting on the river bank when the divers retrieved Higgin’s body.

A long lens shot from the other side of the river.

Both men looking bereft.

Being half a hero is a bit like being half pregnant — it doesn’t make sense. Never heard anything more about the two runners after the funeral. I wonder what happened to them? Most of us only get one or two moments in life to make our mark. This one is going to haunt them.

When a new case comes in, it’s given to the next name on the list, no matter who that may be. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but in reality, I get the tough cases. The murders that look like they might be challenging to solve. That was, until recently.

I guess I should be pleased that I still have a job, but that’s not how my head works.

“This is where the bodies wash up after they throw themselves off the bridge,” said Egg, and he sounded like he knew what he was talking about, which confused me. Of course, he was right, but how the fuck did he know that?

My pant’s leg was wicking up the river water, and pretty soon, it would reach my balls, so I switched to a squatting position. My shoes were now soaked, and my dodgy knee was reminding me of the weeks of rehab after the reconstruction. That knee ruined my jump shot.

“How the hell did you know that bodies wash up here?” I said.

“That PC over there,” he pointed back up the hill at the officer guarding the blue and white tape, “he told me. Thought I might find it useful.”

“Did he happen to mention when the coroner might be arriving?”

“No, sarge. Should I ask?”

“Don’t worry about it. What do you see?”

“A dead girl.”

“Woman,” I said.

Egg grunted. He didn’t see my point.

“What else?”

“She’s fully clothed. At least she looks that way without checking closer.”

“Anything else?”

“Long hair, nice clothes, shoes missing, manicured nails, no rings.”

“She’s wearing glasses,” I said.

“Not really,” said Egg. He leaned in closer and saw the horned rimmed glasses that had snagged her cardigan. “Oh, yeah.”

“Probably not a suicide then,” I said.

“How do you figure that?” said Egg.

“When I was in uniform, I got a lot of floaters. Most of them were suicides. I wanted to be good at this job so I did a lot of research. Suicides will often take off their shoes. They take off their glasses too before they jump. Uniform will tell you that they find, neatly placed shoes with eye glasses tucked inside. I used to do that when I went swimming as a kid — hide my glasses in my shoes for safekeeping.”

“You don’t wear glasses, Sarge.”

“Contact lenses,” I said, pointing unnecessarily at my face.

I could hear fresh voices behind me.

“What are you doing here Catastrophe?”

“Not a word from you,” I said as I shot Egg a look. I thought I’d gotten away from that moniker.

“Doctor Death. How nice to see you again,” I said, and she shot me a look to match the one I’d shot at Egg.

“I don’t like that name, Sergeant.”

“I’ll try and remember that doctor,” and the old battle of wills came flooding back.

“Any idea of the time and cause of death?” I said. I knew the question would annoy her. I’m permanently in that frame of mind these days.

“I only just got here Sergeant. You’ll know when I know and that won’t be until tomorrow morning. Let’s say 10:15?”

And the dance resumed. I’d missed Doctor Death. I wonder where she’s been? I remember her farewell party. She tried to kiss me several times. It freaked me out just a bit.

I straightened up, and my knee made a strange noise. The river water dribbled down my leg and into my sock. I gave that foot an involuntary shake, a bit like a cat that has something stuck to its paw.

We walked up the hill towards the helpful PC. He held the tape up for us.

“Were you FOS, constable?” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you move the body?”

The young constable broke eye contact.

“I didn’t think I should leave her like that. It didn’t seem right. I dragged her up onto the bank and pulled her dress down. I’ve got sisters.”

I waited a few moments before answering. Then, finally, the angry words drifted away.

I leaned in close so that Egg and the others couldn’t hear.

“It probably won’t jeopardise the investigation this time, but if Doctor Death works it out, you’re for the high jump. Don’t ever do that again. I don’t care how many sisters you’ve got,” I said, and my final words were softer than you would have expected. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he nodded at me.

We were almost back at the office when a call came through. The plods doing a search had turned up a handbag that probably belonged to my floater. The handbag had an address.

She Took My Arm

I walked while the sun was trying to shine.

A thick haze defused the sunlight giving the day an otherworldly glow.

It must have been the weekend, probably a Saturday. The footpaths were thickly populated with people happier than they would be on a weekday.

Everyone was going somewhere, but it was non-combative, easy-going, almost joyful.

I was walking and had been for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I had to keep track of where I was so I could get back.

The City of Melbourne is laid out on a grid like many significant cities, so as long as you don’t mind walking, you will come across a street you recognise sooner or later.

I’m not a fan of crowds, but I can tolerate them on certain occasions. This was one of those times, though I reached my limit when I arrived at a crossroads. The traffic lights were against me, so I worked my way to the front of the crowd — a chance to give my unease a bit of room to breathe.

The crowd I had been travelling with thinned out. Most of them turned left and strode up the hill.

The sun was burning off the morning mist, and the warmth soaked into my jacket and warmed my face.

She came up on my left-hand side and put her arm through mine, precisely the way a wife or a lover might.

I turned my head to see who this person was. I didn’t recognise her — I thought I might.

She was just below my eye level in heels, and her ponytail, set high on her head, made her appear taller than she was.

She looked at me with a combination of mild recognition and anticipation. I expected her to smile. She didn’t.

“So, where are we going?” I heard myself say.

I had been facing straight ahead, but now I was turning to the right as the lights changed to green.

“Oh, so we are going this way,” I said, and she moved in step with me or did she lead me in that direction — I’m not sure.

It was then that I realised I was doing all the talking. I could have sworn that she was talking to me, but her lips weren’t moving. Either way, I could hear her.

She was dressed conservatively in a light coloured blouse, skirt and a cardigan. All of her colours were subdued, but they suited her there and then.

Come to think of it, everyone around me seemed to be dressed a bit old fashioned.

As we walked, arm in arm, we turned up a minor road, and the footpath was narrow, but we had it all to ourselves.

I could smell the dust in the air and the faint smell of animals, something like visiting the Zoo or the Showgrounds. The aromas were familiar in my childhood but now strangely out of place.

The path we were on led to a small hotel.

The foyer was tiny with wood panelling and a mosaic tiled floor.

There was a lone concierge behind a polished wooden counter. He didn’t speak.

He turned and took a key from the green felt-lined pigeon holes. The key had a brass tag — number twenty-two.

Initially, he offered the key to the lady who was still holding my arm, but a look from her made him show it to me.

I took the key, and she led me to the steep stairs — built before modern building regulations. The carpet runner was held in place by ornate brass stair rods.

The stairs were just wide enough for us to walk on them together.

Our room was at the top of the stairs. The key turned smoothly in the lock, and the room’s aroma was not unpleasant — fresh soap, clean towels and possibly coffee from the morning just passed.

Being in what amounted to a full-service bedroom seemed luxurious and slightly forbidden in the middle of the day.

I watched her silently undress.

She stood in her slip and looked at me. I expected her to demand that I match her undressed state. She didn’t.

From what I could see, her breasts were average, and her hips were neither wide nor slim. Her stomach had that distinctive bump that all females have. I love that part of a woman.

She shed her shoes and carefully lined them up next to the bed.

She didn’t let her hair down, and I didn’t mind.

Her eyes were clear and bright, and I didn’t get the feeling that she did this kind of thing often. Maybe that was naive of me, but there it was. I’ve travelled for business, and I know what it feels like when you are approached by a woman who flatters a man for money. This was not that. I have no idea what this was, but it wasn’t that, which made me a little nervous.

I ran my hands over her still partially clothed body, and she watched me with that same look. To her, I could have been a puppy or a knight; her gaze would have suited both.

For the first time, she broke her gaze, turned away from me and removed the rest of her clothes, laying them neatly on the chair at the side of the bed.

I undressed quickly and slid into bed after discarding the heavy quilt.

The sheets were cold but comforting — another memory from childhood.

We explored each other’s bodies. No rush, no sign of haste. Each movement electric.

The smell of her was driving me crazy, but I held my composure.

She rolled her body against mine, and where she touched my skin, it felt like fire.

I’m not inexperienced in making love, but I have to say that I was taking my lead from her on this occasion. I always want to please the woman I’m with, it’s a point of honour, but this was something else.

I was intoxicated by being close to her.

I could tell that time was passing because the shadows in the room were moving across the floor.

I’m in good shape, but I was feeling fatigued and hungry, but I was not going to stop what we were doing to each other, not until she had had enough of me.

I’m tempted to say that it was the best sex I’ve ever had, but it was not like that. It wasn’t an occasion for a schoolboy boast.

Being with her, inside her, made me feel like I was home. Home and safe and powerful and wise and worthy.

I never wanted the experience to end, but it did, and I watched her walk across the room and into the shower, her body silhouetted against the harsh light of the bathroom.

“Great bum,” I said, but she didn’t answer.

I watched her dress and then sit demurely as I showered and dressed.

“Food?” I said as I tied my shoelaces. I’ve been good at shoelaces since I was six years old — my mum taught me how to do it.

She smiled.

I offered her my arm, and she took it.

We walked down the stairs together, and my legs felt like rubber; she seemed fine. I’m going to have to hit the gym if I’m going to keep up with this woman.

I gave the night porter the key, and he thanked me.

The street lights were on, but it wasn’t completely dark. There was still an amber glow low in the sky.

“We just made love for an entire afternoon and I don’t know your name,” I said.

We were walking next to a bench, and she put her handbag down, took out her purse, and produced a card. The card read ‘Alice Ayres’ and nothing else.

“I know that name,” I said, “but I’m not sure where I know it from.”

“Burger and chips or something a bit more upmarket?” I said. She didn’t answer. She retook my arm and led me along the street until we came to an old fashioned Italian restaurant.

The owner greeted us warmly, almost as though we were regulars.

We drank a lot of wine, and the food came straight from heaven.

“I remember where I know your name from,” I said, ‘it’s one of the plaques on the wall at Postman’s Park in London. Have you ever been to London?”

She shook her head.

After that, I have no idea what happened.

“We went to the hotel you described Mr Wilson,” said the uniformed officer sitting across the metal table from me.

“And?” I said.

The sign on the door says ‘closed’, and it doesn’t look like it has taken in guests for a long time.

“I was just there this afternoon. All afternoon,” I said.

“You mean yesterday afternoon,” said the officer.

“Yes. Yesterday. You know what I mean. Yesterday afternoon,” I said.

My head hurt, and my clothes smelled like I’d spent the night in an alley, which is where I was, apparently. That’s where the Chinese cook found me when he turned up to prep for the morning rush. Nice bloke. He gave me a coffee before noticing the bump on my head.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have given you coffee. It’s probably not good for concussion,” he said.

I assured him that coffee was good for everything.

The lump on my head was in a spot that made it unlikely that I’d done it to myself.

The police officer and the ambulance driver concurred.

“Someones walloped you on the head mate,” said the paramedic.

I felt the lump, and it felt numb and painful all at the same time.

“None of this makes any sense to me,” I said.

“Me either,” said the police officer.

“Why hit me over the head and not take anything?” I said.

“It’s a first for me too sir.”

“I’m worried about the woman I was with. Did the restaurant say what happened to her. Was she with me when I left. I don’t remember leaving,” I said.

“The restaurant is closed for a month. Big sign on the door. Thanking all their patrons. No one answers when we ring. No one with the name you gave us has turned up at any of the city hospitals and no reports from other police stations. I’d say that no news is good news. Do you have a number for her?”

“No. We’d only just met.”

The police officer gave me a look that said, ‘you’re a fast worker mate’, but I ignored it.

“We have your number and we’ll let you know if anything comes up,” he said, which was shorthand for saying, ‘we have better things to be getting on with than a bloke who got lucky and then got knocked on the head without getting robbed’. I could see his point.

I stepped out onto the street, and light rain was falling. Yesterday’s balmy weather had given way to a grey day of wet pavements and flowing gutters.

I walked for a while, not knowing where to go next.

I stopped to buy a paper. My wallet had way more money in it than I remembered. Add that to the list of things I don’t understand.

I walked to the Treasury Gardens after buying some sandwiches. I read the paper and ate the sandwiches. They tasted better than they should.

Reading the paper left me none the wiser.

I walked to the top of Bourke Street and waited for the lights to change. The rain had left the streets relatively empty.

I felt her slip her arm through mine.

I didn’t look at her. I didn’t want to jinx it.

She didn’t speak, but I knew what she wanted.

When the lights changed, we walked, arm in arm, across the street back in the direction of our hotel.