Time To Go Home

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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?

hopper.gasI 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. 

3430504504_7a3545f5d2The 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. 

Jack Vettriano Painting 72

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.47.59 amI did exactly as he asked and paid way over the odds to an old bloke who used to be a teacher.

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.

OldDesignShop_HolidayFunCoverThe 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.

He didn’t.

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. 

“Excellent choice.”

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. 

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Paintings by Jack Vettriano, and Edward Hopper.
Enjoy my work. Then buy me a coffee?

Enjoy my work. Then buy me a coffee?

Brown Oxfords

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an excerpt from the new Sam and Scarlett mystery ‘YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS.’

“You look like you are a million miles away.”

“No, I’m here. On this tram; heading into the City. This tram is going into the city, isn’t it?” said Sam.

“Yes, it is.”

The two men were sitting opposite each other on a sparsely populated number 12 tram. Sam would get off this tram in about half an hour when it reached the top end of Collins Street — the Paris end. The man asking the questions would alight from the tram much sooner.

“What happened to you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“How do you know that something happened to me?” said Sam

“Your hair is cut very short, and it doesn’t suit you. I’d say, head injury.”

The inquisitive man was about Sam’s build, and he was probably a few years younger. He looked familiar, but these days everyone looked like someone he should know, so he didn’t ask. Much later, Sam would regret that decision.

Sam wasn’t looking directly at the man, but he had been looking at his shoes.

“Brown Oxfords. You don’t see quality shoes like those much these days,” said Sam. The rest of this man’s outfit was out of place — a bit scruffy, but again, Sam said nothing.

“They belonged to my brother. I wear them to remember him. So what happened to you?” said the man with the brown shoes.

“Some bozo T-boned me at an intersection and ran away and left me. The old me would have gone after him with a tyre iron, but the new me just sat there and bled robust, mildly honest blood. Quite a lot of it as it turned out. Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but the ambulance driver liked to talk, so he told my wife all the gory details — kind of him to do that.”

“Did they catch the bloke?”

“Not yet.”

“Would you know him again if you saw him?”

“Mate, I only recognise my wife because she has a tattoo with her name written across her arse.” Sam was suddenly aware of the little old lady who was sitting next to him. “Sorry lady, I didn’t mean to say arse.”

“That’s perfectly okay young man. You sound like you have been through a lot, and you did get hit on the head.”

“Thanks, lady. I don’t want to upset anyone. I want the world to be peaceful and calm. What do you think my chances are?”

“Not very likely, I’m afraid,” said the little old lady.

She wasn’t all that little, but she was old. Sam guessed at about seventy-five, but who can tell, especially with women? She was well dressed in that way that older people were. They dressed up when they went out. Pride in appearance. Sam wondered when her husband had died. She still wore her rings, but he could tell that she was alone, and he wondered how he knew. Sam wondered about a lot of things.

“Are you sure that you wouldn’t recognise the man driving the car that hit you?” The man in the brown shoes was still talking, but Sam had blanked him out momentarily. Brown Shoes sounded insistent.

“No mate, I wouldn’t recognise him. I was sleeping at the time. Large hole in the side of my head with a big chunk of my life leaking out.”

“It’s been nice talking to you Sam, but this is my stop.” Brown Shoes was on his feet and deftly jumped off the stationary tram as it waited for the traffic lights to turn green at Barkley Street.

“There used to be a shop that sold model cars just over there.” Sam pointed to the far street corner. “I’d get off the tram on the way home when I was a kid and spend ages in that shop. Why can I remember that so clearly and not be able to remember marrying my wife?”

“It won’t do to get yourself all worked up. People with head injuries need to be patient and calm.” The old lady put a hand on Sam’s arm. It felt nice to be touched by a caring stranger.

“You sound like you know a bit about this stuff?”

“I was a nurse in my younger days. Saw a lot of boys with head injuries during the War.”

“Did they get their memories back?” There was a touch of desperation in Sam’s question.

“Some did, but it took time. It helped if they had loved ones around them. Does your wife love you, Sam?”

“She says she does, and I want to believe her, but how did you know my name was Sam. Did I tell you?” There was that desperate tone again.

“No, the other man called you Sam. That is your name, isn’t it?”

Sam nodded.

“I didn’t like the look of that man, and I’m pretty sure that I could describe him to a police artist if I had to.”

“I believe you, lady.”

Sam did believe her. He always believed little old ladies. Most people dismissed them as ‘biddies’ or ‘nuisances’, but Sam knew better. Old people notice things and people who notice things are like nuggets of gold to a private investigator. It was an old lady who gave him his big break in the Jameson case, and it was an old professional boxer who told Sam where the Collingwood Strangler lived — not the exact house, but the right street. The rest was straightforward. These two cases helped to build his reputation and gave him excellent fodder for his two most successful novels — thinly disguised fiction based on these two instances. None of this would have happened if Sam had dismissed the observations of two elderly citizens.

“That probably won’t be necessary, but you never know. Do you have a card?” Sam was joking, but the little old lady opened her black patent leather handbag and drew out a pristine white card. The font was conservative and the content ‘to the point’.

Mrs Joanna Beed

03 97876313

“Thank you, Mrs Beed.” That was another thing that Sam had learned. Never call old ladies by their first name. They really don’t like that.

Dr Doug had asked Sam to make a list of the things that he did remember and another list of the things that he would like to remember. He got the notebook out of his inside pocket and wrote, I remember not to call old ladies Joanna. At the back of the book he wrote, I want to remember my wedding day. One list was considerably longer than the other, but over the last few weeks, the other list was catching up — ever so slowly.

The tram was slowing down and ready to stop at the Edinburgh Gardens, not far from Sam’s beloved Fitzroy Football Ground. Joanna Beed gathered her things.

“You take care of yourself Sam. A fine young man like you has lots of important things to achieve. I hope you remember your wedding day soon. I’m sure it was a special day. Don’t forget, if you need me to identify that man for you, I’m only a phone call away.”

“Thank you, Mrs Beed. I’ll be fine. I promise. Enjoy your day. You brightened up mine.” Joanna Beed smiled and stepped down from the tram after looking carefully to see if some impatient motorist was trying to sneak past the stationary tram. Every Melbournian knows that getting off a tram on St Georges Road is an adventure in dodging death.

She made it safely to the footpath, and as she did, she looked back at the tram and gave a dignified wave. Despite himself, Sam waved back.

Sam’s world had changed drastically. From dodging bullets and signing books to sitting on trams talking to old ladies while trying to piece his life back together.

~oOo~

The rest of the journey was uneventful. The tram was thinly populated, and no more conversations broke out. Sam’s half of the tram contained a young married woman, probably on a shopping expedition. Confirmation arrived when she got off at the same stop as Sam. Shopping in the expensive end of town, says her husband was ‘well healed’. Probably in RealEstate, Sam surmised.

The only other inhabitant was a man who was wearing a good suit that was poorly maintained. His expensive shoes were scuffed and dusty. The man had the air of someone who had recently lost his job. There was a caring woman in his life, but she was absent at that moment.

Writers do that — they can’t help themselves. They see interesting people, and they begin to build a backstory.

The dusty shoed gentleman stayed on the tram, and Sam wondered if he rode the tram all day for something to do — a memory of his previous daily routine.

The number 12 tram snakes its way at the top of Collins Street, so even though you may be lost in thought, you know that you have entered the City proper. As a child, this meant that the magic of a day ‘in the City’ was about to begin.

Sam stood in the doorway of the tram and looked back at his seat. So began a routine that he’d learned as a child, “Always take a look back at your place after a long journey. You may have put something down and forgotten it or something may have fallen out of your pocket.” These words rang in his ears on the frequent journies to Dr Doug’s office.

If only it were that simple: if only he could look back and see all the things that he had forgotten, lying on the seat next to him.

If only’s were a waste of time. What was needed was hard work and patience, something that he had in spades. Or, at least, that is what he had been told.

~oOo~

Crossing the road from the tram stop is always an adventure. City traffic has little regard for pedestrians and people getting off trams are considered fair game. Motorists hate trams. They see them as large green and gold obstacles sent to earth merely to annoy and make them late for wherever it was that they so desperately need to be.

Having arrived alive and in one piece, Joe, the doorman swung the large glass door open and greeted Sam.

“How are you this morning Mr Bennett?”

“I’m as fine as can be expected, Joe. How’s the wife and kids?” Because Joe’s appearance in Sam’s life had come ‘post-accident’, Sam found it easy to remember him.

“The kids are fine God bless em, but the missus is worried.” 

A severe man in a dark suit brushed past them both and grunted.

“Why worried Joe?”

“The word is that the building owner is planning to put in an automatic door, so no more Joe.”

“Don’t you worry Joe. I’ll buy the bloody building if I have to, but you are not going anywhere until you want to.”

Joe smiled and thought that Sam was trying to be supportive, but he had heard rumours about Sam’s wife’s spectacular wealth — maybe he meant it.

Sam was serious, and he put it in his notebook on the way up to Dr Doug’s floor. Scarlett knew everyone so she would know who to contact. Sam needed stability in his life, and Joe was always there. Sam needed that — someone who was always there — always where he was supposed to be.

The elevator doors opened, and Sam walked into Dr Doug’s office, smiled at his secretary and felt his pocket ensuring that he still had the three typed pages. Dreams are hard to capture, but Sam had managed it, and soon he would share them, yet again, with the man who was helping him to piece his life back together.

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illustration credit: http://www.gerasimon.com.au/collins_street_melbourne_oil_painting.htm

Concerning The Death Of A Scoundrel

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I always had a horror of being found dead in a bad suit.
The four stylish women who are standing over me are each a little bit happy that I am dead.
I was a bit of a scoundrel, but I loved them all.
It was just that they needed something from me that I wasn’t capable of giving.

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Women are like that.
They like what they see, and then they try to make you into something else. I’ve never understood that.
I had money and didn’t play by the rules, and the ladies enjoy that, it gives them a thrill.
I never pretended to be a one girl guy.
They didn’t listen, they just heard what they wanted to hear, and I guess I just let them, it was easier, or it seemed that way at the time.

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I had things I wanted to do, and most of them were more fun with a woman on my arm.
I had a little money, and usually, I could turn it into a lot more, sometimes by legal means, but if necessary I could take it from those who could afford it, but only from those who could afford it. I had been known to win money playing cards and occasionally playing chess, but only occasionally. Chess was for fun and taking money from people was only fun when I didn’t like them.
 ~~~~~~~~~~o~~~~~~~~~~
I know exactly who shot me; Billy Prentice.
He’ll swing for it, but that won’t help me.
Although, being dead isn’t all bad.
It doesn’t hurt, and my clothes don’t get wrinkled, no matter what I do.
I’m pleased I was wearing this suit.
I love this suit, and it looks like I will be wearing it for a while to come.
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I’ll miss them all, but I’ll miss Margo the most.
She’s the one on the right in the green dress.
She has a magnificent body; they all do, but Margo was very generous with hers. She never used sex as a weapon, and she excelled in the ability of pleasing a man.
She liked sex the way a man likes sex; often.
It wasn’t difficult to bring her to orgasm, and that made it fun. She could achieve orgasm as many times as she wanted and each one seemed more intense than the last.
This gave me great pleasure.
It’s a common misconception that guys are only in it for the personal pleasure, but that’s not true, at least it isn’t for me.
Being able to give pleasure over and over again is intense, it’s powerful, and it’s fun.
Margo had an easy-going air about her. She made me feel special. If I were ever to settle down, it would have been with her. She was genuine, at least in private. In public, she was a lot like the others, but I knew her secret, she was a friendly, loving person.
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But, back to Billy Prentice.
You see that brown and yellow tie I’m wearing? It’s my school tie, St Josephs College. Billy and I were classmates.
There were two ways to get into St Josephs, you were either very bright, or your family was very rich.
Billy’s family was very rich.
I had the brains and my parents damn near bankrupted themselves for me to go there.
My degree cost a small fortune, and if my parents were alive, they’d still be paying off the debt. Thank God for debt insurance.
 Billy’s family money had made it very easy for him, but in College, he was surrounded by students with money and the college didn’t care if you were rich, they only cared if you passed your exams. If you dropped out, there was always someone who would transfer in and take your place.
 Billy had a major and a minor in ‘party’, and I have to admit that he was magnificent at it. He rarely turned up to class, and he had a string of the less well off students taking notes and writing assignments for him.
He made it through the first year by paying a lot of money for an advance copy of the final exam papers.
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The second year went a lot like the first year with the single exception of him being expelled for cheating on his finals.
From what I can work out he thought I dobbed him in. I didn’t, but I was not broken up by not having to see him again.
 For a long time, I didn’t know who did drop him in it, but one of the perks of being dead is that you get the answers to all the stuff you wanted to know when you were alive.
Some guy I’d never noticed gave him up because Billy had ignored him for the better part of two years.
Hell hath no fury like a quiet guy ignored; apparently.
It was just too simple.
I was hoping for a much better story.
Like the one behind why Mary [she’s the one on the right in the red] never wore anything other than black underwear.
I asked her heaps of times, but she just kept saying, “It’s none of your business.”
Of Course, it was my business, I was the one who was looking at them, removing them, trying to find where I had thrown them, giving her money to replace the ones that went out the window on an especially passionate night.
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Would you like to know why she only wore black? OK, I’ll tell you.
She was colour blind.
Can you believe it?
She didn’t want anyone to know.
She had all her dresses labelled, but she just couldn’t be bothered with her underwear, so she just bought black.
Practical, but annoyingly simple.
Can you see what I mean?
Up to this point, it isn’t worth being dead, all I’m getting are really annoying answers to old questions.
 Back to Billy again.
I guess he thought that I had been fooling around with his woman, which I had, and mix this with believing that I was responsible for getting him sent down and his tiny little mind decided to take me out.
He never was a big thinker.
 Screw Billy, I have to make the most of the situation I find myself in.
I’m wondering if I should look up all the women I know who are dead, or should I set my sights a little higher?
Quite a few women must have died since this whole thing kicked off.
I think I’m going to like this.
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So far no sign of St Peter or a judgement day, no one is sticking me with a pitchfork, and I haven’t seen a single pair of wings.
I know these four are going to miss me, but you would not know it by the look on their faces, would you?
Did I mention that I know all the answers to all the questions?
Yes, there is food and drink and dogs and sex, and yes guys, you can go all night if you want to, no matter how old you are, and yes we do have night and day, but the best part is the conversation.
Everyone has something interesting to say especially the ones who have gone around quite a few times.
 
I’m sure you have questions.
 
What would you like to know?
 
The scoundrel is in; ask away.  

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Death of a Soundrel

Precious and the Librarian

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As a general rule, librarians consider dogs to be something that are best kept on the street side of the door.

Precious was the exception.

The library staff at the East Side Library liked their job. It wasn’t well paid, but the hours were reasonable.

The south-east corner of the building had been damaged during the war — one of the many air-raids. The town council didn’t have the funds to carry out the repairs so that part of the building had been inaccessible to the public for many years. The government engineers had reinforced the structure with massive beams of oak — one of the few things that we had in abundance after the war. So the building was safe, but there were no plans to restore it, ‘books come way down the list’, was the official reply when the head librarian sent in her yearly formal request for building repairs. It irked her that the countries that had been defeated seemed to be benefiting from reconstruction while her library lay wounded all these years after victory.

Because the damaged part of the building was not considered to be officially part of the library, Jane Delbridge did not have a problem with Terry and Precious enjoying its privacy and comfort. It was cold in this section of the building, but not as cold as sitting out on the footpath in the snow — even if she was wearing the sleeve of one of Terry’s old army jumpers as a coat.

Mrs Delbridge lost her husband in North Africa during the war, and she looked upon ex-solders with warmth and respect. Terry and Precious went to the library every Monday and Thursday — regular as clockwork. Mrs Delbridge left the side door open so Terry and Precious could enter without drawing attention to themselves. The door frame was warped from the explosion so it did not open easily. Terry thought about repairing it but decided against it — too obvious.

The room that they shared was partially open to the air, but the roof was still intact and the hole was not on the ‘bad weather side’ of the building, so water was rarely a problem. None-the-less, time was eating away at the building and Mrs Delbridge was rightly worried that the council would use the deteriorating condition of the building to justify pulling it down. It stood on prime real estate and the council could use the resultant flood of money for desperately needed projects. Fortunately, many of the library’s customers were influential members of the community and they made it clear that the building was off limits.

The room with a view as Terry called it, had an old table and a dusty couch that had been rescued from a building that was being demolished. The hole in the wall let in more than enough light to read by. Precious claimed one end of the couch while Terry sat and read at the other end. Cups of tea would mysteriously appear from time to time and the rings of countless cups were imprinted into the unpolished surface of the small table.

Choosing a book was the most difficult task. The library was well stocked from before the war and they had inherited books from libraries that were more unlucky. The library staff spent many hours repairing damaged books because they knew that just like money for building repairs, money for new books was way down the list.

Terry enjoyed detective stories and Mrs Delbridge had introduced him to Chandler and Hamett. She also headed him towards Green and Maugham. She was looking after his mind. He had been spared and now she would show him the wonders of beautiful words.

Sometimes, just for the enjoyment of it, Terry would read to Precious. She seemed to enjoy A Moon and Sixpence,  but he wasn’t sure why. She didn’t like Dickens, which was a shame, but she did like Conan Doyle. Terry did all the voices and tried to make it as exciting as possible. He worried that Precious  might get bored waiting for him each night. The truth was that Precious didn’t need to be entertained. All she needed was to be close by — close to Terry. That was enough for her.

It’s important to know how much is enough.

Read All About It

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“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.

“Ouch.”

“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.

The Sock Behind The Couch

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“Why the smile?” asked my husband as he sat at the kitchen table. Several sheets of newspaper were protecting the surface as he dismantled an old kerosene lamp.

“I’m just happy and do you have to work on that at the table?” I said without a hint of annoyance. I was too self-satisfied to be annoyed about anything at that moment. I had worked out how to get access to the secrets inside the Electrotch laboratory without setting foot in it. Worked out yes — guarantee of success? — in the lap of the gods. It was a good plan, and I’d gone over it in my head a dozen times.

I had two choices — firstly I could go ahead on my own and present the information to Barry as a neatly wrapped present — the idea appealed to me very much, but if it went wrong I would run the risk of pissing off the one person who was the key to my new exciting career. I’d dangled a huge prize in front of Barry, and he would not be well pleased if I yanked it away.

If I ran the idea past Barry, and he said no, my ego would take a big hit, but if he said yes I would be protected if it went pear shaped.

“I’m being careful, and I drained all the fuel out of it before I started,” said my husband, “besides, I want to spend some time with you. We haven’t talked much lately. What have you been up to?”

Counting out all the fifty dollar notes I have hidden in my wardrobe, stealing industrial secrets from people who would cheerfully have me killed if they knew where I was, being fucked by deranged pharmaceutical executives who like it from behind and getting my all seeing, talking doll to memorise secrets for me to sell to the highest bidder.

“Just the same old boring housewife things. I found one of your lost socks behind the couch, washed the boy’s basketball uniforms and washed the dog, and all before lunch,” I said.

“You do live an exciting life my darling,” said my husband without looking up from his task.

The lamp was fixed and the table cleared in time for dinner.

Our two ravenous teenage boys joined us in the kitchen at the usual time, and my family sat down to share a meal together. As I joined them, my mind was elsewhere, but they didn’t notice. The meal was on the table, and their world was safe and warm. They talked about their day, and I decided to ring Barry and set up a meeting. My bravado was waning, and I needed the safety of Barry’s permission.