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.
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?
“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.
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 ..”
“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.
“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.
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.
“She’s fully clothed. At least she looks that way without checking closer.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Michael wasn’t happy about moving to another restaurant.
“Why?” he asked.
“I hate the wallpaper,” I said.
Michael looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses.
It was all I could come up with at short notice.
It worked for Oscar Wilde — people thought he was witty, but it wasn’t doing me any favours.
“They don’t have any wallpaper,” he said.
“In the ladies room.”
“You haven’t been to the ladies room; we just got here.”
“Trust me. I can’t dine at an establishment that has substandard wallpaper in the loo — I have standards!”
I’m pretty sure I stamped my foot.
I hadn’t known Michael long enough to pull this kind of stunt and not damage our relationship, but the alternative was letting my husband see me with a strange man. At the same time, I was supposed to be twisting myself into unusual shapes in a quest for enlightenment at a yoga class.
Michael and I walked for a few minutes and found another eatery that looked cozy.
“I love this place. Let’s eat here,” I said.
“Are you sure? Wouldn’t you like to check the restrooms?”
“No need — black tiles, lots of mirrors, no problem.” I gave him my biggest smile, and it worked.
Dinner went well, and we made another date.
Barry wouldn’t have been happy if I had stuffed it up; he puts in a lot of preparation before sending me out on an assignment.
“Seduce this bloke and get close to him. No ‘one night stand’, you need to be around him a lot. I’ll give you more details once you’ve hooked him,” said Barry with a mouth full of a tuna sandwich.
You may disagree with my chosen lifestyle, and I’m sure that many people would agree with you, but one thing you could not say was that I was in this life for anything other than the excitement and the money.
There’s plenty of sex. Sex with my husband has moved to another level since my new life began.
He loves the new me. “I don’t know what happened to you, but I don’t want to jinx it by asking too many questions.”
The sex in this job is merely a means to an end.
I feel foolish saying this, but I thought we were fine, my husband and I — dull, ordinary and fine. Sex is constant and delicious. No signs that anything was wrong. Two wonderful boys and a domestic set-up that most people would kill for.
What went wrong?
Who is this woman, and why was he with her in that restaurant?
The brief view I had of them both said that he isn’t bedding her — not yet.
He’s trying his luck.
She hasn’t given him the green light.
Why is she out with a married man — my married man?
I will find out — nothing is more important.
Michael, my assignment, can wait. He likes me, so I have some time.
I need Barry, and I never thought I would hear myself say that.
Barry knows everyone worth knowing.
“So what can I do for you, sweet cheeks?” said Barry.
“You have no idea how sweet my cheeks are Barry,” I said.
“True, but I live in hope.”
“Assume that my bottom is spectacular and shift your attention to my problem.”
“My husband has a girlfriend.”
“Okay. I didn’t see that coming. Do you want them both killed? I know a bloke who does a discount for doubles.”
“Let’s start with information before we progress to bloodshed.”
“We could do that. What do you want to know?” Barry was showing concern, and I found it unsettling.
“Who is she. How did he meet her and what does she want?” I said.
“Got it. I’ll get in touch when I’ve got something. How much do you want to spend? The bloke I have in mind is the best. He’s expensive, and he’s available right now.”
“How many shoeboxes full of money does he charge? I’ve got a wardrobe full of them.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Barry.
Barry got up from the table and disappeared into a back room, and I did something I have not done in all the time I have been meeting Barry at the Rising Sun Hotel — I went to the bar. Usually, I can’t wait to get out of the place, but I wanted a drink today.
“Do you have something that will make me feel better, Boris?” I asked.
Boris gave me the only facial expression he owned.
“Do you need remember or forget?” asked Boris, and I was impressed by his question — that pretty much covered it; remember or forget.
“Forget, I think Boris. Tomorrow is soon enough for remembering.”
Boris gave me a tall glass of sticky liquid approaching the colour of honey mixed with diesel fuel. I drained it and asked for another.
I don’t remember much after that.
When I awoke, it was morning, but I wasn’t sure of which day. I was in a small room that smelled of dust, beer and leather. The furniture was sparse, the door was open and considering Barry’s reputation, I checked my panties to see if I’d been interfered with. As far as I could tell, I was unmolested.
Boris appeared with a cup of tea and a couple of painkillers.
“You drink, take these, you feel better soon. I put you to bed. No look at your bum. Boris gentleman.”
“Thank you, Boris. I’ve never done that before,” I said. Boris nodded and left me to my misery.
Apart from my headache, my biggest concern was what I was going to tell my husband.
When I stumbled back to my car, it had a parking ticket — no surprise there.
My panic went for nothing because my husband had not made it home that night either. Mother and father were absent from the family home, and neither of our boys noticed — teenagers!
“I’m sorry about last night. I had a few and crashed at a mates’ place. I hope you weren’t too worried?” said my husband as he appeared, somewhat sheepishly, at dinner that night.
I was relieved and surprised that I was off the hook, and it took me a moment to adjust.
“You could have rung,” I said with a touch of annoyance.
“Phone went flat, and I was too pissed to think straight — I am sorry.”
“You are forgiven, and your dinner is in the oven,” I said, and my mind began to wonder whose bed he slept in while I was asleep in a dusty little room at the Rising Sun Hotel.
“G’day, sorry to interrupt, but I’m sure I know you?” I said.
“Don’t think so,” said the heavyset bloke squashed up against the wall of the train.
The three other bulky blokes looked at me as though I’d stepped in something.
These four sizeable male football supporters exceeded the technical design limits of the seats in our suburban train carriage.
They’d been annoying my friend and me ever since the doors opened at Richmond station.
The carriage had been half full, but now it was packed with people heading home after the game at the MCG.
From the scarves and beanies, it looked like Hawthorn and Melbourne had played each other. I have only a passing interest in the sport that dominates my city, but I knew that these two teams were evenly matched.
It was hard to tell from the general conversations which team had prevailed.
The general make up of our carriage was young families and friends all happily retelling their favourite highlights or wishing that “Robbo had hit that shot on the siren.”
It must have been a close finish.
Football crowds can be a mixed lot, but this crew were primarily easygoing.
And then there were the four fat blokes a few seats back from us.
Not easy going.
Probably three parts pissed.
Like a swirling ink stain, their influence was colouring the previously happy carriage.
Other conversations became quieter —more private — protective.
“Sorry, you look just like a bloke I used to know,” I said as I leaned over the nearest member of this quartet and offered my hand.
A universal male greeting.
A sign of friendship.
A sign that I mean you no harm.
Except I did mean him harm.
The red-faced fuckwit reluctantly took my hand and tried to crush my fingers for the amusement of his friends.
It didn’t work even though his hand was huge. I went to an all-boys school back in the day, and one of our teachers taught us how to avoid a vice-like grip.
The fuckwit held my hand way too long and looked into my eyes, waiting for my reaction.
“Well, sorry to have disturbed your conversation,” I said as I wrenched my hand free.
“Have a good night fellas,” I said with a smile.
The other three blokes sneered at me as I smiled and walked back to my seat, nearly tripping over a boy wearing an oversized jacket.
“That kid’s going to burst into flame if his dad doesn’t take his jacket off,” I said as I sat down next to my friend.
“Never mind the combustable kid. What the fuck were you doing talking to those Neanderthals? They’ve probably been drinking all day.”
“They were annoying me and pissing everyone off so I thought I’d sort it,” I said while looking out into the darkness.
“What station do you reckon they’ll get off at?” I said.
The question pushed my friend back into our regular routine for a moment.
“Boronia, maybe Bayswater. You know, cashed up bogan territory.”
“Could be,” I said.
“So what the fuck did you think you were doing?” said my friend.
We’d known each other forever, and our friendship had survived the inevitable ups and downs.
Life had been putting distance between us, but we met up over two weeks to attend the film festival every year.
“Have you ever noticed that I tend to fist bump people and rarely shake hands?” I said.
“Yeah, so what?”
I put my hand out, and he took it and shook it.
“I’ve often thought I might be gay and I’ve wondered what it would be like to have sex with you, but I didn’t want to complicate our relationship and I don’t know why I’m saying this. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to stop myself,” said my best friend, who once saved my life when we were kids.
I knew he fancied me, but I’m okay with the knowledge.
Good friends are hard to hold on to.
“If it makes you uncomfortable, just don’t speak. The effect will wear off in a little while. It was only a short hand shake. That bloke down there, on the other hand, he’s going to be telling the stark honest truth for quite a while.”
My friend clamped his lips tightly shut and turned around to stare at the commotion occurring behind him. I’d been watching as we spoke.
The bloke I’d shaken hands with — the one who wouldn’t let go — was in violent conversation with the other three.
The people seated near them had moved further away, and I could hear snatches of dialogue as things seemed to be getting out of hand.
“Yeah, I fucked her. She was begging for it. Your old lady bangs like a dunny door.”
A punch was thrown, but it’s hard to do much damage when you are wedged it tight with a bunch of drunk fat blokes.
“What’s the matter with you Billy, I thought we were mates?” said the fat bloke sitting next to the fat bloke who had been cuckolded by Billy.
“I gave your missus one as well. If you ask her nicely, she’ll bark like a dog. You should give it a try,” said Billy just before this fat bloke tightened his grip.
Someone threw an elbow, and there was a dull thud and an exhalation of air.
The four fat blokes continued to ineffectually strike each other until the train came to a halt, and I expected to see a couple of police officers come bursting in, but they didn’t.
The four portly football supporters got up and staggered off the train. The mayhem continued on the platform as the train pulled out.
“Bayswater,” I said, and my friend looked at me.
“Did you have ‘Bayswater’, I can’t remember.”
“No. I don’t think we settled on a station.” Which was very honest of my friend. Mind you, just at the moment, he didn’t have a lot of choices. So honesty was going to follow him around for the next half an hour or so.
“You did that, didn’t you?” said my friend.
“Have you always been able to make people tell the truth?” said my friend. “Fuck, that explains a lot. That time Brother Michael told us all that stuff about what it was like to be a Marist Brother. That was you.”
“He really gave me the shits. Served him right.”
“I liked him a lot.”
“I know you did, and if you had acted on your feelings, he would have eaten you alive,” I said.
“After his outburst I changed my mind about him.”
“I’m glad. It was a huge chance to take, but I couldn’t just stand by and see him take advantage of you. You were my friend.”
“I still am.”
“I know you are.”
We talked some more about the movie and what we would like our lives to be like in the coming year, and my friend didn’t notice when the urge to tell the unvarnished truth fell away.
When we got off the train and walked to our cars, we said goodnight and my friend hugged me. Hugging wasn’t one of our things, but I got the feeling that it would be from now on, and I’m okay with that.
“It doesn’t matter. We have to go home now, right now,” said my wife.
This all happened about four months ago, and it would be just another story except that it happened a few more times and with increased frequency.
I just read that back, and it sounds confusing — let me clarify.
The first time was with my wife; all the other times were random people — I just witnessed it.
All of the occurrences had the same things in common, a whisper followed by a sudden burst of action — often including a reversal of direction.
I just read that back, and it seems less confusing, but still a bit messy.
I’ll try again.
When I asked my wife, on the way home, what the tall semi-handsome man had whispered in her ear, she said that it was not so much what he said, but how he said it — the timbre of his voice.
“I know it sounds crazy, but a whole lot of my life flashed in front of my eyes, and I realised I was headed for,” she hesitated before saying, “ruin.”
“What sort of ruin,” I said, “the regular kind or a more interesting, exotic version.”
“I’m not kidding, Steven. I’m serious. Remember when Johnno gave me that tablet at that party (Helen was never big on details — it has always been my job to keep up)?”
“Yeah, I remember. You were out of it for days. You wanted me to scrape the bugs off the wallpaper and make a paste. We didn’t have wallpaper, and there weren’t any bugs.”
“Exactly. The whole thing was terrifying.”
“It didn’t stop you from taking anything Johnno put in front of you.”
“This did,” she said and slumped back in her seat as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
For the record, I’d been hanging around because I had a feeling that if I cut and ran, she would self destruct in a matter of weeks. I didn’t have a plan.
I long ago worked out that women and cats will do what they please, and men and dogs need to get used to the idea.
Johnno was and still is a good bloke, but he has a self-destructive streak you could land a plane on. So far, he has avoided death and destruction, but I have no idea why.
Let me take that back — I’m beginning to work it out.
The big bloke who whispered, ever so delicately, into my wife’s ear was wearing a long black coat, probably wool: large brass buttons, double-breasted, wide lapels.
I really wanted that coat.
The only concession to the heat inside the dance club was that he had the coat unbuttoned.
As I intimated earlier, I’ve seen him a few times since that night. Each time, he danced up to a female and whispered in her ear.
From that moment on, they were a changed person, and now I come to think about it, they were all customers of Johnno’s.
So that’s what it’s about.
“Do you realise that someone is stealing your customers? No, I don’t mean ‘stealing’, it’s more that this someone is turning your customers off your particular brand of wears.”
“I knew something was up. My customer base has halved in recent time. I figured that someone was undercutting me — it happens.”
Johnno was easily the most chilled out dealer I’d come across.
“How come you never buy from me?”
“I don’t buy from anyone. It’s against my religion to put anything in me that I don’t understand.”
“No. I’ve just ‘been there’, and it doesn’t interest me anymore. I get high watching my Helen live her life. She’s all I need.”
“Did you talk her out of buying from me,” said John. He wasn’t angry, just curious.
“No. It was this big bloke in a wool coat.”
“I’m serious. He’s been picking off your customers, one by one.”
“Holy shit. I know that bloke. He tried to talk me out of dealing a while back. Said I was wasting my life. I told him I was fine as I was — not lookin’ for a change. He leaned in and whispered in my ear. I wasn’t sure if he was going to have a go or kiss me. I’m not sure I could have taken him in a fight — big bloke.”
“What did he say when he whispered in your ear.”
“That’s the weird thing. It didn’t make any sense. It sounded like Latin or Aramaic or something.”
“You studied Aramaic?”
“Yeah and a bunch of other languages. I’ve got a bunch of degrees.”
“I remember, and you got them all while being completely off your face. While I, on the other hand, struggled through.”
“You did okay.”
“I guess I did, but I always envied your ability to easily remember stuff,” I said.
“I remember something else.”
“You remember everything Johnno.”
“The bloke in the coat looked confused after his ‘lean in’. I asked him if he was okay, and he asked me if I felt different. I told him I didn’t, and I’m pretty sure he swore in Aramaic, which was cool. The first thing you do when you learn a new language is to learn all the swear words. Icelandic swear words are the best, It sounds like you are coughing up a baby seal.”
“Johnno, this bloke is trying to put you out of business.”
Johnno thought about it, scratched his head and sat down.
“I’ve got a bit put away …”
“And a dozen degrees.”
“Yeah, that two. I could find something else to do, don’t you think?”
“Definitely,” I said, and I smiled the kind of smile you employ when you watch a video of a dog rescue — you can get back to your life knowing that the world is right again — at least for the time being.
“The bloke in the wool coat will be happy,” I said.
“I guess so.”
Johnno’s remaining customers were a bit pissed off, but he stuck to his guns. Drug addicts can always find another source — fickle bunch on the whole.
Helen’s decided to start an alternative school with all the money she isn’t spending on illegal substances, which is good. Who wouldn’t want and ex-addict as a school principal?
Last I heard, Johnno was working for the United Nations translating stuff so that annoyed diplomats could understand each other.
They gave him a car and everything.
I asked him how often he has to translate into Aramaic and he said there wasn’t a lot of call for it.
Good bloke Johnno, but not much of a sense of humour.
“My uncle had one. We used to sit in it and pretend we were driving. Anywhere really. To the moon, down to the beach and for some reason, to the shops,” I said.
“So you bought it from your uncle? He kept it in remarkable nick.”
“No, for starters, my uncle died ten years ago, and even if he was alive, he’d be old, really old. They probably would let him drive,” I said, and I was beginning to get annoyed.
“So, what’s the point?” said my soon to be ex-friend Derrick.
“The point, Derrick, is that I’ve achieved a lifelong dream. I now own a car just like the one my uncle owned.”
“Didn’t your uncle get done for offering sweets to not quite legal young women?”
“No, that was another uncle. I’ve got a whole bunch of uncles. One was an Antarctic explorer. Another one had an ice-cream shop empire, which he duly lost when the casino opened. Another one was quiet and boring and told excellent stories. I liked that one.”
“And one was a kiddie-fiddler?”
“Not technically. He never managed any sort of fiddling, but he got six months for trying. Can we get back to my car?”
“It’s true that it’s sometimes hard to start and it doesn’t like Australia’s hot weather, but apart from that …”
“It has wipers that don’t really work?”
“I’m working on that, but it does have a one-piece windscreen. It was a big deal back then.”
“When was ‘back then’?”
“Shit! That’s a long time ago.”
“Yeah, right? And here it is seventy-one years later. Chicks love old cars.”
“Do they love your old car?”
“Not as much as I’d like,” I said, and my enthusiasm was beginning to sag.
The ‘do chicks love your old car?’, was kind of the point, and I was reluctant to admit that it wasn’t working. I’d spent all the money I’d saved. Took me three years to get that money together and my sex life was just as crap as it was before I’d bought the car.
Derrick went back to wherever it is that Derrick comes from, and I was left with my thoughts.
I cast my mind back to when I was a kid and the conversations I’d had with my uncle.
It meant nothing to me then, but now I come to think about it, I do remember my uncle saying that he wasn’t getting much action at home since he’d bought that car.
He was indeed pissed at the time (I didn’t think much of that then either — most of my relatives smelled of alcohol – I thought it was probably deodorant).
“Sex is impossible once you get married boy, don’t do it!” he said, and I think he passed out.
To be honest, I didn’t know what sex was back then, and I’m beginning to forget what it is in the here and now.
Just like athletes’ foot and bad-taste Christmas jumpers, retirement comes to everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
“Raise your glasses for a good copper going out to pasture,” said Chief Inspector Spacey, who looked to be about nineteen years old.
Plastic goblets were raised, and the soon to be ex-Inspector McBride wondered how these young people came to be in charge.
Not enough arse kissing was his conclusion, and he was right.
He hadn’t ‘played the game’ in his time in the Force.
Inspector McBride was leaving the Homicide squad after two stints lasting more than twenty years.
McBride’s sixtieth birthday was not for another few months, and he could have served out his time, but now was the best time to leave.
Their beloved daughter had moved out of home to be with her university friends. Now he and his wife, Helen, could get to know each other all over again.
The nest was empty.
There was the possibility of travel, but McBride preferred the idea of sleeping in and possibly never getting out of bed except for walking the dog.
Then there was catching up on reading and spending some time in the kitchen (he loved to cook, but there never seemed enough time).
The squad room was full of people who would not give him a second thought six months after he was gone, and he knew it. It didn’t worry him — that’s the way things go. Life goes on, and most coppers are too busy to be sentimental.
This gathering would break up when the bubbly ran out. Nice of the Chief Super to lay on a spread. Most coppers didn’t get an official sendoff.
McBride had taken on legendary status.
Some of his cases were taught at the Police Training College in Melbourne.
Rumour had it that he ‘always’ got his man.
His men nicknamed him ‘the Mounty’.
Despite his reputation, it was common knowledge that ‘the winged killer’ was his Moby Dick.
Later that night, McBride and his wife would meet up with Wilson and his wife. Their friendship had spanned three decades. Wilson was now the Chief Superintendent of the entire Eastern region of Victoria. McBride was proud of his friend’s achievements and a little jealous — but not so much that it showed.
For now, there was moderately good bubbly spoilt only by the taste of plastic and the ever-present schoolboy police humour.
It was getting dark when McBride gathered up his jacket and took one last look at what was his desk. He touched the timber surface gently. He’d had to fight the logistics department to hang onto the old desk.
As he left, a chorus of, “The mounty is leaving the building,” broke out. What was left of the celebration crew looked a bit the worse for wear.
McBride smiled and gave a final wave, and what he thought a ‘Mounty’ salute might look like.
The taxi was waiting for him at the front gate.
Someone had ordered a Silver Service limo, “All paid for in advance, sir. Where would you like to go?”
“Home seems like a good idea.”
The large inflatable Canadian Mounted Policeman barely made it into the back of the limo next to ex-Inspector McBride. It made strange squeaking noises as he pushed it into position. McBride smiled in just the same way that all small boys do when someone farts.
“I’ve never seen one of those before,” said the driver who was in full uniform, including a cap with the logo of the hire company attached.
“Me either,” said McBride. “It’s a kind of joke. I was a policeman and I had a reputation for always catching the killer, which wasn’t true. But you know how the truth never gets in the way of a good nickname?”
“I’ve never had a nickname,” said the driver somewhat sadly.
“You can have mine if you want it?”
“No, sir. That wouldn’t be proper,” said the uniformed driver.
“On second thoughts, before you take me home — do you remember where Dark Angel Pizza used to be?”
“Yes sir, I do. Best pizzas in Melbourne. It was a shame when it closed down — all those years. I believe the owner died.”
“Can you drive me over there?”
“Of course sir, but I’m sure it’s just a boarded-up shop these days.”
“Let’s do it anyway. The place has a ghost that I can’t put to rest.”
The driver was intrigued, but he didn’t comment.
McBride pressed the button and rolled down the tinted window and stared at the building that, for many years, sold excellent pizzas and once employed an enigmatic pizza delivery driver who liked to be called Raphael.
The building still had its faded sign, Dark Angel Pizza.
“Do you remember the bloke who delivered pizzas from here, about twenty years ago? Rode a bicycle, had a winged helmet and wings attached to his leather jacket?”
“Before my time sir. We only migrated to Australia about ten years ago.”
“He was quite a sight and he’s the one that got away.”
“I don’t understand sir.”
“It doesn’t matter. Home now I think.”
Il Barcaro was in full swing when the two couples arrived.
The head waiter greeted them as they entered the restaurant from Little Collins Street. Construction on the tall building opposite meant that a handful of parking spaces had come back into service.
The two wives had bought new outfits for the occasion, and Chief Superintendent Wilson has blown off dinner with the Lord Mayor of Melbourne to be with his old friend.
Tony, the head waiter and part-owner, greeted them as though they were his favourite customers — that was his way.
“Treat everyone the same. Treat everyone with respect.”
He showed them to their table and asked if they would like a drink.
The ladies ordered something pink and sticky, served in a cocktail glass.
The men asked for Scotch — the good stuff.
“Anything for you Inspector,” said Mario, who had been given the responsibility of looking after the table.
The menu was heavy on seafood, which didn’t suit McBride, so he asked for a pasta starter’s larger serve.
“Ex-Inspector,” said McBride, “and how did you know?”
“You are famous Inspector. Not many honest people left in this world and you are considered to be one of the few.”
Mario put out his hand, and McBride shook hands with him.
The staff of the restaurant stopped what they were doing and applauded.
“Are you a movie star?” said the lady on the next table who was wearing a small fortune in jewellery.
“No,” said McBride, “an honest copper. Apparently, I’m a rare commodity.”
“Good for you. You go get ’em sarge.”
“Was that your doing Wilson?”
“You booked the restaurant. I thought you paid them to be nice to you,” laughed Wilson.
“You’ve been in the papers dear. Almost all of them. You’ve had a long and successful career and people are grateful.”
“I guess,” said McBride, who was a little embarrassed, but also enjoying the acknowledgement.
“Your drinks are on the house — go crazy,” said Mario.
The McBride party were among the last to leave. The City was still alive, despite the hour.
“Fancy a walk ladies?”
“Down to the river, Federation Square. Look at the water. Arrest a couple of drunks, that sort of thing.”
“Sounds good,” said Wilson and the two couples walked down the hill and turned left into Swanston Street. Along the way, a taxi got a bit close, and McBride threatened to arrest the driver.
“No warrant card, old son. You’re a civilian now. No more sword of justice for you,” said Wilson, and he was aware of how sad that all sounded.
The couples sat on the bank of the Yarra and looked at the lights reflected on the water. No one needed arresting, and the two couples ambled (because they didn’t want the evening to end) back to their car and drove home.
At the Wilson home, the old friends embraced, and the evening was over, and so was McBride’s career.
“What the hell am I going to do now?” he said to Mary.
She didn’t answer, but she did hug him very tightly.
Ex-Inspector McBride sat on his couch watching the Cricket on TV.
His wife, Helen, was making their lunch — an avocado salad.
McBride was enjoying a beer after working in the garden most of the morning.
When a knock came from the front door, McBride told his wife he would see to it. He put his beer on the coffee table then moved it to a nearby drink coaster — not worth risking the wrath of the lady of the house.
“Good afternoon Inspector,” said the young man in the leather jacket.
“I know you might be thinking about trying to arrest me, but I’m strong and young and you aren’t and I really don’t want to hurt you. No offence, it’s just the way things are. You could ring the police, I won’t stop you, but I’ll be gone before they get here.”
“What do you want?” said McBride.
“I thought you deserved an explanation.”
The young man with his chrome helmet stood waiting for McBride’s decision.
McBride weighed up his chances of overpowering the young man he remembered as Christopher Dawson, aka Raphael — the Winged Killer — his Moby Dick.
“You’d better come in.”
Raphael moved past McBride, and his wing brushed across his face leaving a tingling sensation. A sensation he’d had described to him by a young custody constable, so long ago.
Raphael stood in McBride’s lounge room with the second Test Match’s sounds between England and Australia playing in the background.
“Helen. Can you come out here? I have someone I want you to meet.”
Helen McBride stepped into the room, fixing her hair as women will do when visitors arrive unexpectedly.
She was holding a wooden spoon used for mixing cakes.
She stopped, opened her mouth slightly as the wooden spoon tumbled out of her hand and onto the floor. It made a unique sound, bounced a couple of times and came to rest in front of a tall young man with white wings protruding from his leather jacket.
Raphael stooped down and picked up the sticky spoon. He handed it to Helen, who took it, still with her mouth frozen half-open.
“This is Raphael. The winged pizza delivery driver I told you about all those years ago.”
McBride turned to Raphael and asked, “Are you still delivering pizzas?”
“Yes,” said Raphael, “but that’s not what I came to talk to you about.”
“Where have you been for the past twenty years?”
“You wouldn’t understand if I told you,” said Raphael.
By this time, Helen McBride had regained her composure. She sat on a footstool and listened to what was to become a surreal conversation.
“It’s a place called Standarderin. Obviously, it’s not around here. I was sent there because of what I did. I had to stay there and work and get my head straight, as you would say.”
“For twenty years!”
“Time doesn’t affect us the way it does you. It wasn’t long in the scheme of things. I’m just glad I was allowed to come back and continue my work.”
“What is your work, exactly?” said Helen, finding her voice.
“It’s not easy to explain, but to put it simply, I tidy up a bit.”
“You’re right, I don’t understand,” said Helen.
“Okay, look at it this way. When people decide to be human…”
“Yes you all do, but when you get here there are hundreds of things that conspire to confuse you and maybe bump you off course. My job is to help selected females to get back on track. They get into relationships with violent men and I try to coax them away. It’s harder than it sounds.”
“Why don’t you work with the violent men?” asked Helen who was really getting into the swing of this conversation.
“Because it isn’t why I’m here, and besides, these men are usually too far gone to listen.”
“So, what happened on the Hemingway Estate?” asked McBride.
“You know when I said I don’t work to persuade the men? Well, I made an exception. I knew where he was hiding and I knew that he’d killed her. I was angry. She wasn’t the first woman I was unable to influence. I’ve lost many good souls over the years, but this one got to me. I was so close. She was going to leave that day. I had a place for her to stay, but she wanted to go back for some personal things. You Humans have a lot of trouble leaving things behind.”
“So he caught her and killed her.”
“Yes, and it broke my heart. All that blood and despair. I broke our rules and I went looking for him. I found him. I tried to speak to him, but all he wanted to do was argue and fight. I warned him about how strong I am and he laughed. He said something dirty about her and me and I hit him very hard. He didn’t get up. I remembered how upset you were about her being dead and no one telling the police. I took the man’s body to the pizza shop and told the owner to tell you what had happened, which I guess he did.”
“I’ve been in terrible battles and killed many beings and I don’t want to be that person anymore, that’s one of the reasons I accepted this assignment. I want to help not hurt.”
“So what now?”
“The young man who killed his partner and in turn was killed by me is sorry that he wasted his time here and he has forgiven me as she has forgiven him. They have started again in the hope of getting it right this time, and I’m back at my old job.”
“Aren’t you worried about getting caught for that man’s murder?” asked Helen.
“It was a long time ago and most of the officers who investigated the case are dead or retired, and besides, I have powerful friends and remarkable abilities. I’ll be okay as long as I stick to my purpose.”
“I’m pleased you came, but I’m still not sure why you bothered. I can’t cause you any grief, I’m retired.”
Raphael stood up, and McBride and Helen stood up instinctively.
“This is a special assignment for me. A one-off you might say. You two have lived the life you came here to live and you should be proud that you stuck to your guns and didn’t waver. Even though you were only blessed with one child.”
Raphael looked at Helen.
“Even though you were passed over for promotion, you maintained your values and you never took the easy way out, or the easy money or the dishonest shortcut.”
Raphael beckoned the couple to come closer.
McBride watched as Raphael’s wings grew larger until they almost touched the ceiling.
Raphael wrapped his wings around them both, and they were enveloped in a fluffy white cloud.
“What you will experience, isn’t for you just yet, but I’ve been asked to show you something special.”
McBride held his wife’s hand, and she squeezed it very hard.
“Oh, my God it’s amazing!”
Neighbours reported seeing a blinding light coming from McBride’s house in the middle of the day halfway through Australia’s second innings versus England.
Ex-Inspector McBride assured the emergency services workers who arrived at his front door that all was fine.
“We were just cooking a pizza and things got out of hand.”