A Hat On A Windy Day

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The tram ride into Collins Street was marked by people trying not to be blown into traffic and girls doing their best to maintain a bit of modesty as the wind was determined to show the world what colour underwear they had chosen for that day.

Sam often wore a hat, but not today.

He remembered the Dickens’ quote, There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.

Sam had enough problems — he wasn’t about to add embarrassment to the list.

When he arrived at Collins Street, there was a noticeable absence of pretty girls sitting at tables drinking coffee.

The wind had swept them away.

They sheltered behind glass and Sam didn’t like his women under glass, he liked them out in the open.

The elevator played its familiar rattly tune, and Dr Doug’s secretary gave her usual smile.

Sam had gotten used to her over the months, but this day he rediscovered her beauty. It’s funny how we get used to things we see every day. Sam’s detective senses were out of practice. There was a time when he observed through eyes that saw everything. It was one of the things that gave his writing such a sharp edge.

“We haven’t talked much about your writing Sam. Do you remember a time when it became clear to you that you would become a writer?” Dr Doug was having a good day. His first patient of the day showed a good deal of improvement from the previous week. Dr Doug’s ego was in full flight.

“No, I don’t. And I don’t mean that it is one of my lost memories, I mean that it was just one of the things that interested me, so I thought I would give it a try. It would make a much better story if there had been a Road to Damascus moment but that’s not how I do things. I just sort of find myself in it, and when I look back, it is difficult to see where it started. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to Scarlett; that was definitely a blinding flash.”

“I should think so. She’s amazing, and I really would have been disappointed if there was not a little lightening and thunder.

“Were you a stand out in English studies at school?” asked Dr Doug.

“Not at all. I guess I did okay. Mostly my marks were around the mid-seventies, which I guess were good but everyone around me was in the mid to high eighties, and beyond, so I didn’t stand out. I remember enjoying the subject, and I’ve always had ‘the gift of the gab’ as my mother would call it.

I had excellent English teachers all the way through high school, which helped. I liked them all, and I wanted to please them, so I guess that drove me on.

I remember one year in particular.

We were in a scholarship year, which meant that at the end of that year we would sit an exam and hopefully qualify for a government scholarship which would pay for some of our expenses for the next few years of schooling.

This was a really big deal as most of us came from working class homes where our tradesmen fathers were working overtime to put us through this private school. It wasn’t a private school in the sense that you see these days. It was definitely at the bottom rung, but we had uniforms, and there were school fees and books and sports equipment and stuff like that and most households were single income back then, so a scholarship was a big deal and our families were counting on the money. If we didn’t get it, there was a chance we would be out of school and placed in a trade. Most of the parents in that era wanted more for their kids. They wanted them to better themselves. These days ‘tradies’ make more money than bank managers but back then it was about moving up in society.

Middle class trumped working class, any day.

The school I went to might have been a private school, but it was full of boys from a very rough part of Melbourne. I’m amazed that the teachers were able to control us considering all that, but the reason it worked was that we were all terrified of our fathers. Dads didn’t take any shit in those days, and we knew that they were working all hours just to keep us at school, so we didn’t dare let them down.

The teachers would merely have to suggest that they might call in our parents and we fell into line.

This was a particularly tough era, and we had a long standing dislike of Preston Technical School, and the dislike was returned. The rivalry continues to this day and every decade, or so it boils up into a pitched battle. It happened when I was a junior. A couple of our students were walking to school [no one got driven to school in those days] and got jumped by a bunch of Preston Tech boys. The word went out, and a group of seniors and a couple of teachers went in the direction of Preston Tech and beat the shit out of anyone they could find. By the time the cops arrived, there were bruised and battered teenagers as far as the eye could see. We received our seniors back at the school as the Romans would have back in the day. Those boys achieved legendary status, as did the teachers who went with them. It was an amazing time to be alive.”

“So how did the scholarship year work out?” asked Dr Doug.

“Most of us made it through and those that didn’t left the school. That was how the school maintained its academic record, and I’m sure that it happens even today. If a boy were not achieving the required marks, there would be a meeting arranged with his parents and the next thing you know he leaves school and starts work at the Railways.

I lost a lot of mates that way.

It put us all on notice that we could be next.

I worked out that in year eight, the scholarship year, I had a wide circle of friends numbering around forty boys. By the time I fronted up for the first day of year twelve, they were all gone — every single one. I was the only one left.

We had a good teacher, but I forget his name. He was a big bloke, and I mean ‘big’. Teachers were allowed to cane you in those days, and many of them did. We liked this bloke, but he would get tough if he had to and the teachers we had in the scholarship year were under pressure as well, particularly the English teacher.

I’m sure that the only reason I passed that year was because the scholarship exam was in the form of multiple choice questions. We had never seen this type of exam before, and I loved them. I guess it was the future detective in me but if I didn’t know the answer I could still work out which was the highest probability by eliminating the answers that were obviously wrong.

Worked like a charm.

I romped it in.

Our English teacher would give us a passage from a book, and we would have to know the meaning of every word in that passage. Naturally, most of us didn’t study the passage, and if you were asked to define a word and couldn’t do it, you got the cane; and it hurt.

At that time there was a student in our class who had transferred in from another school (probably a posh private school which he had most likely been kicked out of). I liked him a lot. He was incredibly bright but didn’t seem to care much. He wore shorts when the rest of us would not be seen dead in them, and he loved to play marbles, again not something that our age group did anymore. He did what he wanted to and didn’t care what we thought.

I really liked that.

I sat next to him in some of the classes, and I was fascinated that he could name every sail on a fully rigged sailing ship.

We alway sat next to each other during these define the word sessions, and we had a Kamikaze pact going whereby we would not study for this exam but would instead ‘wing it’ and try and work out what the word might mean from the context of the sentence.

We also worked out that if we appeared eager to answer, we would not be called on straight away. So we put our hand up right from the start, even if we didn’t know what the word meant.

It worked like a charm.

Some poor kid, who didn’t have his hand up would get called on, would get it wrong and would get belted. We would put our hand up and admit that we didn’t know either but we thought it sounded like it should mean ‘this’ based on the context of the sentence. Even though we may not have gotten it right, we never got walloped. I guess he didn’t want to dampen our enthusiasm or he admired our courage.

This boy and I had our own competition going on. The first to get caned would lose that round. This never happened so we would then count how many correct ‘guesses’ we got and I remember keeping pace with this kid and beating him regularly even though he was heaps brighter that I was.

His dad was a doctor, which was rare at our school. No high flying dads to be seen, strictly working and lower middle class. Although one of my mates had a dad, who drove a Jag and worked in the city. But he didn’t have a mum so in our eyes that made him someone to feel sorry for.

A couple of my mates and I tried to tutor the doctor’s son because he was so far behind due to not caring, and he did make an effort, but he didn’t pass, and his doctor dad took him away from the school, and we never saw him again.

I still think about him, and I remember those word sessions with great fondness. I hope life treated him well.”

 

I’m Getting Ahead of Myself

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I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m sorry. I didn’t want this to be confusing. Let’s go back to what the doctor said, “It’s a bit of a nuisance, but you’ll get used to it.”

“I’ve never fucking heard of it before now. How the fuck did this happen?” Apologies for the colourful language, but that was what I said, and in my own defence, I was justifiably upset.

“Just because you haven’t heard of it Mr Jenkins doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.” He was right, but he was also an opinionated arsehole, and it occurred to me that he had worked quite hard to perfect his arseholedness — probably picked it up in high school.

“Seriously Doc, this is insane. Am I the only person in the world with this disease?” I asked.

“It’s a syndrome, Mr Jenkins, not a disease.”

“Thanks for the correction Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.” Doctor Numbnuts was trying to be helpful, at least he thought he was. He’d even chosen his most helpful tie that morning. “The blue one or the green one with the spots?” he said to his wife. “The blue one says helpful, dear, the green one says I can get you a good deal on a used car.” She was right of course, so he wore the helpful blue one, but just at this moment, its magic did not seem to be working on Mr Jenkins.

“Your syndrome is progressive, so you will notice that you need to recharge more often as time goes by and the duration of the recharge will get longer as well, but on the bright side, you will probably have passed away from some serious disease by the time this gets really inconvenient. You are getting on a bit Mr Jenkins. Pretty soon you will enter that age group when men of your generation start to succumb to all sorts of fatal illnesses. So, buck up, you may not live long enough for this to bother you unduly.”

“How rare is this syndrome Doc?”

“Not very. It’s just that there is such a stigma attached to it that people tend not to discuss it. For decades, the media has been under a self-imposed ban on reporting about the effects. It’s felt that reporting it will encourage men to imitate the symptoms and take advantage of their wives.”

“What a load of bollocks!” My head was spinning from what seemed like a huge pile of horse manure masquerading as medical evidence.

“I see it all the time. Men holding their partner’s hand in public, unnecessarily.”

“Define unnecessarily.”

“I know you are angry Mr Jenkins, but this is getting us nowhere.”

“Humour me.”

“Okay, it’s Wednesday night, and I’m walking past McDonald’s, and I see an older couple walking towards me. They are taking their cute little dogs for a walk, and they are holding hands — on a Wednesday night! I ask you, do you need any more proof than that — a Wednesday night. Now, if it had been a Saturday night, I might have bought it, but a Wednesday night? I don’t think so. Obviously, the man had read about this syndrome, probably on the dark net, and had convinced his poor innocent wife that he needed to hold her hand — disgusting. Nothing but male violence in its basest form.”

“He’s holding her hand for fuck sake! Maybe she asked him to hold her hand! Did you ever think of that?”

“Ridiculous. Decent women don’t behave like that in public. You don’t have to believe me, Mr Jenkins, just read the research.”

“I’d love to. But as you so clearly pointed out, there isn’t any published research.”

“Not published for the likes of you Mr Jenkins, but for the medical profession, there are reams of the stuff. I’ll have my secretary copy some of the simpler case studies for you, but you must return them when you are finished. We can’t have this information falling into the wrong hands.”

“Men’s hands.”

“Precisely Mr Jenkins. You’re getting the hang of this, well done.”

“So what is it that I’m supposed to do in all of this?”

“Your role is very straight forward Mrs Jenkins. You hold his hand until his memories return.”

My wife had been sitting quietly listening to us talking, but she couldn’t hold her peace any longer.

“That’s it. That’s all I have to do?”

“That, and not die. If you suddenly died, he would be stranded. His memories would leak away like a bath with the plug pulled out. He would have no past. Ultimately he would forget the basics, like the need to eat and drink, brush his hair and take the rubbish out. As it got more tragic, he would forget why he loved watching reality television. When that happens, the end is not far away. Eventually, he would forget to put his lottery ticket in and, probably while abusing a politician on the television he would forget to breathe, and his life would come to an end.”

“So, hold his hand and don’t die — that’s your advice. That’s what we are paying a small fortune to hear?”

“I studied for seven years at university Mrs Jenkins, I know what I’m talking about.”

My wife gave the doctor one of those stares. She didn’t spend seven years at university, but she certainly had perfected that stare. He knew exactly what she meant  — his wife had perfected a similar look.

My wife reached over and took me by the hand, and I remembered where I’d put my spare keys. As she held tightly and squeezed my fingers, I remembered why my son no longer talks to me, and it made me sad.

“Come my darling, we’re going home,” she said.

I didn’t argue. I let her lead me out of the room, past the pretty secretary with the red hair and the green eyes and out to where the elevators stood silently waiting. As we rode down to the ground floor, still clutching each others hand, I remembered the time I sat in the hospital waiting room praying that my wife would not bleed to death. I remembered the young doctor smiling at me as he strode towards my seat. The look on his face said ‘I’m the brightest young doctor in this hospital and I saved your wife from dying. Sure, a bunch of other people helped out a bit, but in the end, I saved her.’

We caught the number twelve tram, and my wife did not let go of my hand. We sat quietly and looked at the world go by. A small boy was sitting next to his mother absentmindedly playing with a battered toy car. It was a lovely autumn afternoon, and the leaves were swirly across the footpaths and into the path of oncoming traffic — the leaves did not seem to care about their fate, and neither did I — not anymore.

It’s only a short walk from the tram stop to our house, and my wife held my hand the whole way.

“Let’s get into bed and snuggle up and try and forget this awful day,” said my wife.

“It’s only half past four. Are you sure? You know you will be wide awake in the middle of the night?”

“Get into bed Michael. Hold me tight.”

“I did as I was told. It was not a difficult chore. We had been holding each other in this way for many a long year. When my father died, she held me until there were no more tears left to shed.

“I’m not going to die, Michael. I’ll always be here, and you can hold my hand every night when you get home from work, and the memories will all come flooding back. We will be okay. I’ll keep you whole. I love you very much. You are everything to me.”

She meant it, and I knew she did.

“I love you too Mary, and as long as I can hold your hand, everything will be fine. I always loved holding your hand. I remember the first time you let me. We were just kids, and I was nervous as hell. I remember thinking how tiny your hand was, and how warm. You have always had warm hands. There are other parts of you that I like better, but your hands are definitely on my best bits list.”

“You are a devil Michael, but I love you.”

“Mary, if you do die before me, I promise that I will forget almost everything else before I forget you. You will be the second last thing I forget — I promise.”

“Let’s not think about that now. Hold me tight.”

I fell asleep in her arms, and I remember thinking, just before I drifted off, this must be what it feels like to let go of Mary’s hand. 

Bloody Big Ship

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“Why jump into a funnel?” said the red handbag.

“That way there would not be a body for anyone to find. Nice and neat — no mess. And, if you must know, it was to be my final creative act on this earth. To the best of my knowledge, and I did the research, no one has ever committed suicide by jumping into the funnel of a moving ship. I had the mathematics all worked out. I calculated the height from the bridge to the top of the funnel. The ship would be fully laden with passengers and supplies and even though she would be sitting low in the water, her funnels would only just fit under the bridge at half tide. The ship would not be allowed to exceed four knots for risk of swamping smaller boats and damaging shore facilities with her wake. I had it all worked out except for the fact that you hit a small sailing vessel,” I said.

“Two older ladies out for a sail. They told us over the public address. No need for alarm. The two ladies were picked up by the police launch. It did hold us up a bit though,” said the string of pearls.

“That explains the turn of speed. The captain would have been worried about the rising tide. The speeding fine and resultant claims would have been heaps smaller than the repair bill if he had torn off the funnels on my bridge,” I said, with a sense of satisfaction. I’ve always liked to understand why stuff happens, and now I know why I’m still here. The damn ship was going too fast. All those calculations and they go out the window because two old ladies don’t give way to a bloody big ship. I hope they throw the book at them. Better still, I hope I meet them — but then again, that is unlikely. Wherever this ship is going I’m going with it and I doubt I will see these shores again.

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.

.

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.
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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