I eat breakfast in bed — not always, but most of the time.
When I don’t, I usually sit at our small wooden table near the only window in the kitchen.
I’m the sole ‘old person’ living in this share house.
I’ve done the share-house thing before when I was young and poor and studying.
Now I’m older and poor and not studying.
Being the last of five people to arise, I get a clear run at the bathroom.
The downside is that there probably won’t be any milk for breakfast.
Plan B is toast and Vegemite and possibly jam, depending on my mood.
My housemates are all female.
Ages range from early twenties to mid-thirties.
I’m no longer the last person admitted to the house as two of the females have moved overseas to advance their careers. In addition, two new females have been installed. I had very little say.
At the time of my admission to this house, I wondered why they let me rent a room. Now I know that I’m the token male. I’m six feet tall, and despite my age, I’m strong and handy with tools (my ute is full of them — remnants of a previous life). After I’d been living here for a few months, word got around the neighbourhood that I was good at fixing things. Being an upper-class neighbourhood, people expect to pay, so it has come in handy — beer money mostly.
Ours is the only share house in a street of multi-million dollar houses built for successful business people in the early nineteen hundreds — grand old houses.
The current owner inherited the house and lives amongst us. She’s a surgeon, but you would never know it. She’s down-to-earth, can drink the young ones under the table, but never when she on-call. She likes rock and roll and white bread.
My role here, apart from paying rent, is to be tall and robust and handy. I carry heavy stuff whenever someone moves in or out. I carry grocery bags and take out the rubbish. I’ve been called upon to escort drunken ex-boyfriends from the premises — I’m a match for drunk young men, but only just.
Spiders are my speciality — they don’t bother me, and I haven’t killed one yet. So they all live quietly outside now. I’m sure they are grateful.
The spider thing has come in handy whenever I have annoyed one of my female housemates enough to want me gone.
“But he catches spiders,” is the cry that has saved me a few times.
No one has ever said anything, but two years of Psych, back in the day, tells me that I’ve been installed because there is little chance of anyone falling in love with me and upsetting the dynamics of the house.
The realisation hurts a bit, but I can see the practical side of the argument.
By nine-thirty am,the house is all mine. The women are off being a doctor, politician, theatre manager, personal secretary.
People think that you pop a couple of pieces of bread into a toaster, and out it pops — toast.
If you don’t butter it immediately (actual salted butter), it will not taste how toast is supposed to taste. If you are interrupted (as I sometimes am) and your toast gets cold, there is no way back. I know. I’ve tried every means possible to resurrect cold toast — it cannot be done. It just sits there and turns into burnt bread. Not fit for man or beast. Although, it has to be said that the local birds will eat it reluctantly.
My male friends think I’m crazy to live in a house full of unattainable females.
I’ve learned to enjoy the experience. Females are amazing creatures, and besides, I don’t have a choice. I could not afford to live on my own.
Paydays are few and far between when you are an unrecognised writer with a ute full of tools and not much else to offer to the world.
As long as there is soft white bread cut thickly and butter and possibly jam, then there is something to look forward to, at least until my flatmates burst in at the end of the day and bring an end to my writing and a beginning to the prospect of spending time with interesting people.
“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.
I’ve been writing and publishing books and short stories for more than ten years, and in all that time, I’ve never experienced ‘writer’s block’, that is, until now.
A little over a year ago, I started experiencing unpleasant symptoms and my usual method of ignoring them, and they will go away deserted me.
So, a trip to the doctor because of constant (and I MEAN constant) migraines found me taking meds for high blood pressure and supplements of vitamin deficiencies.
Progress was slow, and the cure was as bad as the disease for several months.
I’m doing much better now, thanks for asking, but not writing has taken its toll.
Inspiration has been thin and elusive.
An audiobook sits half-finished.
Two books wait for final editing.
Short story production stopped.
Short stories have been my salvation when things get complicated, so when the ideas dried up, I sank into depression (a place I hoped never to go back to).
The signs are positive. I reread the novella I wrote a year ago, and I enjoyed it very much. I’ll publish it very soon.
I’m not seeking any sympathy; there are others worse off than I. At the moment, there is storm damage all around us and some of my neighbours are without homes and many others have been without power in the middle of winter.
My purpose in writing this is just because I can. We have power and warmth (at least for the moment – another storm is approaching), and my mental and physical state is improving by the day.
I’m eager to dive back into the worlds I have created and see what will happen next.
If you have read this far, I thank you for your patience and attention, and I promise to return to what this blog has been about for all these years — shorts stories.
“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.”
“Until this taskforce was established, Christopher Dawson had slipped under the radar,” said the moderately attractive woman.
A trained eye would have noticed that she was nervous, and the room was full of trained eyes. Fortunately for her, they just wanted the meeting to be over, so they were less than observant.
“Exhaustive research, revealed his name several times in domestic violence cases going back more than a decade. Always as a peripheral character. He has never been wanted for anything. Never been a suspect.”
“Until now,” said Inspector McBride to his Sergeant.
The speaker gave him a glance.
“Several women have stated that he helped them escape violent partners. So how is he constantly on hand in these situations? It has been hypothesised that he is receiving information from someone inside the police force.”
“First I’ve heard of it,” said the Inspector and the speaker gave up her campaign of withering looks — police officers seemed immune.
The speaker was Inspector Glenis Waters.
She had worked her way up through the ranks and had studied psychology in her own time. She specialised in criminal profiling and had spent time in the United States at the FBI’s headquarters.
She was considered a ‘rising star’, particularly after writing a profile of the Sandpit Murderer. She described him in remarkable detail, down to the unmatched socks.
“We have discounted this theory because of the widespread nature of the domestic violence cases. There is no central registry for domestic incidents.”
Inspector Waters paused. If it were blokes who were getting the shit kicked out of them, there’d be a central registry, she thought.
“So there is no-one who had access to all the incidents.”
“What we have here is a classic hero type. A guardian angel delusion. A tiny brain that needs significance. I’m not sure yet why he broke his carefully constructed mould and branched out into murder, but I do know that he now has a taste for it and we need to stop him,” said Inspector Waters.
“What’s with his costume?” said a voice from the back.
There were a variety of police officers wedged into the muster room. Some were directly involved in the task force, and a couple had invited themselves out of curiosity — curiosity about the case, and curiosity about the star profiler.
Inspector McBride and Sergeant Wilson were sitting on a desk at the back of the room.
“His winged helmet and leather jacket are a sign of his flamboyance. The wings are obvious.”
“Not to me,” said Sergeant Wilson.
Another attempt at a withering glance.
Withering glances aside, McBride and Wilson felt that they had been judged and found wanting.
The chief commissioner summoned them to his office some three weeks prior.
“I want this bozo caught! We do the police work in this state, not this nutbag. I’m getting calls from the Minister and I’m sick of reading about this bloke in the papers. Sort this out. Get a task force together.”
Inspector McBride wanted to ask where the money would come from, but his Sergeant stopped him just in time. These meeting types were traditionally one-way conversations, finished off with a “Yes Sir,” at the end.
“Christopher Dawson does not appear to exist prior to about ten years ago, which means that he probably came here from interstate. We’ve sent out a general alert and are waiting to hear back, but in the meantime, here’s what we have found out.” Inspector Waters consulted her notes.
“He’s probably from bloody Queensland,” said a voice from the back. A light smattering of laughter broke out.
Inspector Waters waited for it to die down.
“He doesn’t have a driver’s licence, which fits with why he delivers pizza on a bicycle.”
“We have people working on the idea that he might have been involved in a road accident back in the day. Maybe he was driving or was hurt by another driver,” said Sergeant Wilson. The eyes in the room were on him, but he didn’t have anything else to add.
“There aren’t many photographs of this man, with the single exception of the newspaper shot. It’s a profile shot and a bit shaky, but it shows enough to tell us that this man has not changed his appearance, in the slightest, in more than ten years.”
“Maybe he’s Dorian Grey,” said a young female, who was sitting on the window sill. She’d rather noisily opened a window before she sat down.
A young constable asked his mate who Dorian Grey was, and his friend said he was a local pimp. The young constable seemed even more confused.
The general absence of laughter made the young female feel on the outer. Either the occupants of the room were not well-read, or they just didn’t like her. She decided on a mix of the two.
“What about CCTV?”
“I was coming to that and it’s weird. The local station went looking for footage around the time of the newspaper photo. Nothing. Some of the businesses in the area delete their footage after forty eight hours, but some keep their footage on a cloud server. Every one of them reported the same situation. Whenever they should have recorded the pizza delivery driver ride by, the footage was blank. Only for a few seconds, but blank. All the stores use different storage companies so that rules out hacking. Even if this bloke was skilled enough to hack all these accounts, he should have missed one — it’s the law of averages.”
Inspector Waters banged her hand on the lectern, which was her first sign of emotion.
“Why not delete the whole file?” she added. No one had an answer.
Someone’s tummy rumbled, and the people around them laughed.
“I know it’s lunch time so I’ll sum up what I know so far. Other than what I’ve mentioned, we know that he lives a simple existence. He doesn’t have a lot of possessions. He always wears the same clothes — no one reports seeing him anywhere near a laundromat. He doesn’t eat at local cafes and doesn’t appear to eat at home. No groceries in his cupboards, either that or he stopped to gather them up when he left in a hurry after the murder — unlikely, if you ask me.”
Inspector McBride dug cellophane lollies out of his pocket and offered one to his Sergeant.
“Might stop us from starving,” said the Inspector. His Sergeant took one with a smile.
“He always rides a white bicycle. No one reports him walking any distance — possible due to an accident?” The Inspector looked in the direction of McBride and Wilson, as an acknowledgement.
“His chrome helmet seems to be homemade and the wings stuck to his leather jacket are remarkably well maintained. How does he manage this? Does he have spare sets somewhere. He has to renew them sometime. Is someone supplying them?”
“Going back to something you said earlier,” said the female sitting on the windowsill, and the room gave a groan, which increased her belief that it was her they didn’t like.
“How do we know that he hasn’t changed much in ten years.”
“Sorry, I forgot to mention, we have a photo that someone took when he was working at Bazza’s Pizza in Benalla. They had a camera and asked for what passed as a selfie, back in those days.”
A slightly out of focus photograph flashed up on the screen that had previously been showing the newspaper shot. Three smiling females and one serious man looked at the camera. The man was dressed in the same jeans and leather jacket, and he was holding his chrome winged helmet under his arm as a soldier would when standing at attention. His hair was dark and wavy and was unkempt in a way that suggested that he didn’t worry much about his appearance.
His eyes were the first thing you noticed — piercing, but kind and gentle. They made you want to hug him or buy him a beer — probably both.
“The woman on his right, is one of the women he ‘saved’. She still had the photo when we contacted her. She was reluctant to part with it. I had to take a photo of it on the spot, which explains why it’s a bit out of focus.”
“As you can see,” the photos were placed side by side by constable Perkins, who prided himself on his I.T. abilities, “he looks exactly the same. Hasn’t aged a day.”
“Blokes get it easy in the ageing department,” said the window sill.
“Piss off, you sheilas have all those wonder drugs — anti ageing shit. All we have is beer and a comfy couch,” said someone who was too hungry to care anymore.
Generous laughter, including the window sill.
The mood toward her had softened, even if she was at the end of the joke.
“Okay. I know you creatures are hungry, so I’ll ask if there are any questions?”
Sergeant Wilson hesitated before asking, “Why do you think this bloke went from saviour to killer?”
Inspector Waters stretched her arms above her head and gave a customary sigh that comes with a stretch. She put her arms by her side and looked at Sergeant Wilson.
“Maybe he just got fed up. Do you ever feel that way Sergeant?”
Sergeant Wilson didn’t answer.
The room emptied at the pace you would expect. Inspector Waters was invited to lunch by the station commander.
“There is a good Chinese restaurant close by?” he said.
“I don’t mind where we go as long as it isn’t a pizza place,” said Inspector Waters and the Commander smiled.
The holding cells at Ocean Grove Police Station. The custody sergeant is trying to explain the disappearance of a prisoner. The cells are colder than the rest of the station, and high windows are admitting light. The walls are painted in the public service green that seems reluctant to be an actual colour. The floor is old fashioned linoleum, and the custody sergeant keeps glancing down at it in the vain hope it will open and swallow him.
“I brought him to you for safekeeping. I could have stuffed him in the boot of my car and taken him back to the city, but no. I entrusted him to you,” said Inspector McBride, without a hint of anger in his voice. This seemed strange to both of the sergeants. The custody sergeant was used to being yelled at by his chronically constipated Chief Inspector.
“When did you last see him actually in the cell?”
“I saw him when he got his dinner, but constable Willis says he was still in there at lights out — ten-thirty last night.”
“So somewhere between ten-thirty and six o’clock this morning, my suspect evaporated.”
“Well, yes. As far as we can tell. The cameras are old, and they don’t work in the dark. Never needed them to, until now. The cell door was definitely locked. No other way out.”
Sergeant Wilson peaked around the open doorway just to be sure. Definitely only one way out.
Sergeant Wilson and his Inspector had spent the night at the Seaview Motel which didn’t have a view of the sea, but you could hear it when it got quiet. The rooms were small but comfortable. Their rooms were next to each other — they both smelled the same — must have been something about the cleaning products they used.
Breakfast, which was included in the price, arrived on time. Bacon and eggs with tomato and avocado. Sergeant Wilson liked avocado, and he always pronounced it correctly.
Wilson was ready first, so he waited outside the Inspector’s room. He leaned on the car and listened to the ocean between the sound of passing traffic. Small birds were ignoring him as they rifled through the native bushes.
Sergeant Wilson didn’t like being away from home.
The two policemen knew something was up when the constable on the desk wouldn’t make eye contact.
“We’ve come to speak to our prisoner,” said the Inspector.
“If you could wait here a moment, sir, I’ll get the custody sergeant.”
“They’re a bit formal for a country station,” said Sergeant Wilson.
“Something’s up,” said the Inspector.
“So, did he say anything before he disappeared into thin air?” said the Inspector.
“I had a long chat with him last night before I clocked off. He seemed like a nice bloke. Told a good yarn, said he loved his job and I said that delivering pizzas seemed like a strange occupation. He said that it gave him time to think and he enjoyed meeting new people. Like I said — he seemed like a good bloke.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“He said he was hoping that they would forgive him. I assumed he was talking about your case, but the young constable who tucked him in said something similar, only he told it that the prisoner said he HAD been forgiven. The prisoner seemed quite excited. Said he was looking forward to getting back to work. The constable brushed it off — you hear all sorts of crazy stuff down here in the cells.”
A cafe on the foreshore which did have a view of the ocean. The two policemen from the city are having lunch, fending off ambitious seagulls, and talking about their next move.
“That big bugger has designs on your ham roll, Inspector.”
“Forget about the gulls sergeant. What are we going to do about our winged pizza deliverer?”
“Nothing we can do. We didn’t lose him. Just have to wait for him to resurface. Love to know how he got out of that cell though. Didn’t seem like the kind of bloke who could walk through walls.”
The two men drove back to Melbourne, going the long way, around the coast — The Great Ocean Road — one of Australia’s wonders and a huge tourist destination for the state of Victoria.
Inspector McBride’s wife was waiting in the driveway when he got home. She hugged him and risked crushing their baby son. McBride hugged her, and the baby played with his hair.
“Did you get your man?” said Helen McBride.
“Yes and no.”
The Inspector didn’t like to bring his work home with him, but Helen was interested, so he filtered out the heinous stuff and talked to her about the details around cases’ edges. Helen was fascinated with the hunt for the pizza delivery rider. The wings on his jacket and the chrome helmet sounded exotic.
“We caught him easily enough. He didn’t try to run. Came along peacefully. He seemed tired and worn out, and I believe he would have told us everything, except …”
“Except that he disappeared out of his cell overnight. Not a trace. I would have said it was impossible, but the more I work on this case, the less likely I am to use that word.”
Helen had the dinner ready, and the Inspector played with his son until the child fell asleep in his arms. The parents watched a movie and turned in early. The baby would be awake at the crack of dawn, so sleep was a luxury.
An unremarkable double fronted house in a nondescript street in suburban Melbourne. A man opens the front door to a pizza delivery.
“What are you dressed up for? Halloween’s months away mate,” said the young man in jeans and a singlet, “how much for the pizzas?”
The young man fishes in his jeans and brings out three five-dollar notes. He straightens them out before handing them over.
“No tip,” says the young man, “no-one tips me for doing my job.”
The pizza delivery driver stares at the young man, and the young man stares back at him.
The pizza delivery driver takes off his winged helmet and punches the young man in the face. The young man staggers back into the house and lands on the carpet — out cold.
A young woman emerges from the shadows and surveys the scene.
“Are you going to hurt me?” she says dispassionately.
“No. And neither is he, anymore.”
The young woman puts her hand to her face to cover the bruise she believes he is looking at.
“You have a choice. You can stay with this reprehensible person, and continue to be his punching bag, or you can pack a few essentials, get into your car and leave. He hides his money at the back of the bathroom cabinet.”
“How do you know that?” says the young woman.
“Your car is full of petrol, and I know that your sister will be happy to see you. It’s a long drive, so you had best get started. He could wake up soon, and he won’t be happy. Don’t come back, don’t look back. Just go. I’ve done all I can for you, now it’s up to you. Go, stay, it’s your choice.”
The woman notices the wings on the pizza bloke’s jacket as he turns to leave.
“Why are you helping me. I don’t know you at all,” says the woman, who sounds like she might begin to cry.
“It’s my job. It’s what I do. Everyone needs a job.”
The light streaming through the doorway made the feathers on his jacket glow, and the breeze made them flutter.
“If you do decide to go, which I hope you will, go back and finish the science degree you started. You have things to discover that will make a difference. People are depending on you.”
“What people? Who is depending on me? No one is interested in me. It’s too hard. How do you know all this stuff? Who are you? I can’t go back. I want to sleep for a hundred years,” said the young woman clutching at her stained dress.
“You can sleep when you get there. Now go.”
The young man put his shiny helmet on and disappeared through the doorway.
The breakfast break room at a suburban police station. One man is eating a chocolate croissant, the other is working his way through a ham roll.
“This looks promising,” said Sergeant Wilson.
“This report says that a pizza delivery driver in fancy dress beat the shit out of a bloke and stole a wad of cash. The young man who was assaulted is known to us through a series of domestic violence calls and his propensity for ‘borrowing’ other people’s cars. He’s in custody. Should get at least a year. The fourth time he’s been charged. The magistrate should have lost patience with him by now. Girlfriend has gone missing as well.”
“Yep. That’s probably him, but you know that when we get there, he’ll have vanished.”
“Yeah, I know, but we have to check it out.”
“I wonder if this young bloke knows how lucky he is to be alive? Busted nose and time inside still beats being dead.”
“Probably hasn’t got a clue. What do you say to me packing the giant butterfly net in case our suspect tries to fly away?”
The Inspector didn’t answer, but he thought it was a good idea.
This story is designed to stand alone, and there is no necessity to read the first two stories in the sequence of stories, but if you would like to, you can read THE CHRISTENING and FLYING PIZZA, here and here.
“This is a very detailed CV. You do realise that you are applying for the job of a pizza delivery driver?”
“Yes, I do. I just thought that you deserved the ‘full picture’. I thought you might like to know who I am. Obviously, I haven’t put everything in there, it would take years to read everything,” said the tall young man with the chrome helmet under his arm. He hoped that the pizza shop owner would not ask about the nine-month employment time gap.
“Do you have a car?”
“Can you handle multiple deliveries on a pushbike?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
Mike, the pizza shop owner, looked at the young man and marvelled at how long a long time seemed to the young.
Mike used to work ‘nine to five’ in an office in the city. Five days a week, home by seven, dinner and a few drinks, fall asleep in front of the telly. Rinse, repeat, with a bit of alcohol oblivion on the weekends. Rinse, repeat.
It didn’t feel like it at the time, but when the racks in the storage room collapsed and crushed Mike, it was the making of him.
Mike’s union (he was the only paid-up member in the office) went to bat for him and got him a huge settlement — including pain and suffering.
Part of the deal was that Mike would not come back to the office, which was okay with Mike.
It was never his dream, but when the local pizza shop went under (the third time a pizza shop had folded at that location), he took out a lease, which included all the fixtures and fitting.
Why Mike thought he could succeed where so many others had failed, was never explained.
Mike decided that the personal touch was required, so he obtained a list of all the property owners in the area — it was a long list. He personally invited each homeowner to sample his wares — handwritten invitations.
Mike remembered names and faces, and so his business grew — quite a bit faster than he initially thought.
Home deliveries were a must for a pizza shop to thrive. Mike’s delivery drivers were loyal and hard workers.
“The job doesn’t pay much, but our customers are generous tippers if you deliver promptly. I’ll give you a week’s trial — okay with you?”
“Yes, sir. Okay with me.”
For some reason (Mike had not been sleeping well lately) Mike didn’t notice the wings stuck to the young man’s leather jacket until he turned to walk away.
Nice gimmick, he thought. The customers will love it.
Christopher Dawson (he liked to be called Raphael) had taken the last nine months off work. His previous job working for Fallen Angel Pizza had ended badly.
He was, in effect, hiding out. Two potent forces were looking for him. One force was the state police, which wasn’t as big a problem as you might think. If needs be, Raphael could deal with that problem.
The other force was the one that worried him.
Like all good, well-structured stories, Raphael’s life had always had a subplot — sometimes more than one.
In reality, the subplots were the central narrative of his life. His role as a pizza delivery driver was a cover, as the spy world would have it.
Raphael wasn’t a James Bond, he was more of a Simon Templar. Damsels in distress were his forte.
In the old days, the name and address of a woman in danger would be delivered to him, and he would do his best to save her.
Free will was his biggest enemy. He could not force anyone to leave a dangerous environment. In fact, he wasn’t allowed to.
Raphael didn’t mind these restrictions — they added an impressive ‘degree of difficulty’ to what could have become a tedious job.
All this changed when a customer of Fallen Angel Pizza was murdered by her live-in lover.
This was one death too many for Raphael. He thought he had more time to convince her to leave. He was wrong.
What Raphael did next meant that he was now on his own — no support, no new names and addresses.
He was a little surprised that they hadn’t come for him. It would have been better if they had. Being cast adrift was infinitely worse.
Raphael had spent the last nine months living in an abandoned cottage by the ocean, waiting for a knock on the door.
When the knock didn’t come, he left his comfortable hideaway and decided to reenter his old life, albeit without his usual supports.
How hard can it be to find a woman who needs help? He thought.
His chrome helmet, with the wings riveted to the side, was gathering dust on a shelf near the front door. It glinted in the light every time he walked it. His bike was in the shed at the side of the house. The old wooden doors were no match for a determined thief, but when he went out to look at his reliable steed, it was just where he’d left it. A tiny spider had built repeated webs on the frame. There were new rust spots and a lot of dust, all of which was quickly repaired.
Raphael wheeled his bike out into the light and got to work.
Raphael’s trial week went by uneventfully. His new boss never officially told him he was employed, but Raphael knew he had a new home.
By week three, he noticed that many of the delivery dockets had his name scribbled on them. He overheard the girl who took the orders, “Raphael is very busy, if you want him to deliver your pizza, it will take a bit longer — okay then as long as you understand.”
By week five, Raphael was beginning to doubt his initial confidence about finding a ‘damsel’.
One delivery address kept popping up, but the door was always answered by a male. He was gruff but always tipped. Not generously, but tipped nonetheless.
These deliveries always left Raphael feeling uneasy.
The man who took delivery always had a beer in his hand, but so what? Lots of people drink beer after work and pizza seems to demand either red wine or beer.
The uncertainty of not knowing where to look was playing on Raphael’s confidence.
On dark days he considered going back to hiding out at the oceanside cottage. It was full of books, and there was enough wood in the shed to last several winters. He never needed to go out. Maybe he could write his memoirs?
The dark days passed, as they always do, and Raphael settled into a routine. He liked his boss and enjoyed his regular customers.
He was becoming quite a celebrity in his community. People would toot their horn when they saw him zooming along on his bike — chrome winged helmet, leather jacket (in all weathers) and pristine white wings fluttering in the breeze.
Raphael’s instinct about the ‘beer in hand’ customer, was spot on.
When a human interest article appeared in the local paper, it got picked up by the national daily.
Page five had an article about a seaside town with an unusual pizza delivery rider. The report had an action shot of Raphael riding his bike — gleaming helmet, wings and all.
“I think our murder suspect has surfaced Inspector,” said Sergeant Wilson holding a copy of the newspaper that someone had left in the lunchroom.
“Get your coat, Sergeant. It gets cold down by the ocean at this time of the year,” said Inspector McBride.