Magpies Don’t Like Tomato


The secret to surveillance is patience.

Some will tell you coffee, others will tell you having a bottle to pee in because something always happens while you are off taking a leak — and it’s true, but those things can be managed.

Without patience and a keen eye, you are just sitting on your arse ticking off the hours.

Allowing yourself to get bored is fatal. So, being in the moment keeps you sharp and wide awake.

Take the magpie drinking from the leaking tap as an example.

I see him most days around lunch time — the hottest part of the day. He lets the water fall from the sky and trickle down his throat. Birds can’t swallow like we can. I read that somewhere. It’s why they tilt their heads back after they dip their beak. This bloke has it covered — straight down his throat.

I’m a low-level operative in a big agency, and it suits me just fine. They don’t give me a lot of responsibility, and that’s fine too. I get lots of jobs like this one, “Keep an eye on Joe Blow’s apartment. Don’t follow him if he goes out just record the time and the time he comes back.”

Easy as.

The client must be well healed. One bloke to record the comings and goings and another to follow him to and fro.


I vary my vantage point. 

Sometimes in my car and other times, I sit in the cafe with the red and white table cloths.


The magpie is starting to get used to me. 

I give him some of my sandwich. 

He doesn’t like tomato.


The cafe owner is distant but friendly, and as long as I order a coffee every hour or two, he doesn’t bother me. He thinks I’m one of those people who write in cafes and that suits me.

I had ambition once. 

Then a small boy fell off a fence, and my heart sank with him. No one said it was my fault because no one knew he was helping me. All little boys can climb, right?

I went to the gravesite. There was so much grief and so many people that no one asked me why I was there.

If I sit on my arse and chronicle the comings and goings, nobody gets hurt.

For a while, I thought the magpie was keeping the leaky tap all to himself, but yesterday he turned up with a female. It was hard to tell if she was impressed with his prized secret. 


Women are hard to understand — with or without feathers. 

Cafe Hats

Claudine thought it was an unusual name for a cafe, but my mind was on other things.
“You didn’t tell me I had to wear a hat,” said Claudine. Her mouth worked faster than her brain, and at times it was endearing and at other times not so much.
“It’s not like an entry requirement or anything. It’s just a gimmick, and you know how cashed up city types are — anything for a giggle,” I said while scanning the room for potential trouble. The only potential problem was the bloke wearing braces and a belt. Probably got ‘dacked’ when he was at school, and never got over it. A six-figure salary with bonuses and he’s afraid his pants will fall down. Then again, I’m wearing a red waistcoat with stripes, so who am I to give fashion advice?
“Even so, I’ve got a cute hat I bought at a Thrift Shop. I’ve been dying to try it out.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you stop talking about hats I’ll bring you back here next Friday night and you can show off your millinery to your heart’s content — deal?”
“Deal,” said Claudine, but I could see that she still had more to contribute to the subject, but the thought of a night out ‘all expenses paid’ was too good to pass up, so she gently closed her beautiful mouth and began thinking of another subject — at least that’s what I think she was doing. I was watching the woman with the pyramid earrings.
The cafe was packed with bright young things all semi-drunk after a tough week of playing with other people’s money. The decibel level was beyond the point where a Heavy Metal Band would tell us to keep it down — no chance of hearing what Ms Earrings was saying even though I was close enough to reach out and touch her.
“Step back and bump into her. Let’s see what she does and let’s see who notices,” I said.
“Bump into who?” said Claudine.
“The woman behind you. Purple hat, big earrings.”
Claudine looked over her shoulder and took a step back. Her bump never eventuated because she stepped on the woman’s foot and in her haste to ‘unstep’ she emptied the remains of her Gin and Tonic on Purple Hat and Big Earrings dress.
Claudine was mortified, and even though I couldn’t hear over the din, it seemed that she was apologising and encouraging the woman to head for the Ladies.
I wasn’t game to follow, but I imagined them removing the dress, washing it under the tap and running it under the electric hand dryer. The whole process would take about eight to ten minutes based on my own experience of spilling soy sauce on my pants at the Chinese on the High Street last Easter. I took it as a punishment from God for eating out at a Chinese Restuarant on Good Friday.
I scanned the room, but no one except the woman she was talking to took any interest so I could relax just a bit.
Eight minutes means I have time for another drink.
Right on cue, the two women emerged from the toilets with Big Earrings giving her dress a final straighten.
When Claudine got back to where I was standing, I leaned in close and said, “That was a bit more than I expected.”
“She wears very expensive underwear, she’s not a bit shy, and the colour in her dress didn’t run, even though it should have. Purple is notoriously hard to make fast. Oh, yes, and she slipped away from her minders, ‘I can’t breathe with those goons watching me all the time. Has your fella got a friend? I’ve been living like a nun for the past few weeks, and I could really use a bloody good…
“Okay, I get the point. Lean over and tell her, yes. I’ll make a call. My boss is going to wet himself when I tell him she fell into my arms without her close support.”
I stepped outside to make the call, and I’m sure I heard my boss squeal like a little girl.
He said he could be there in ten minutes and gave a brief rundown of what he would do to me if I were winding him up. I assured him I wasn’t.
I walked back into the cafe, and the two women were gone and so was the bloke in the braces and belt.
I know Claudine will have an excellent story to tell when I catch up with her, but for now, I needed to exit the building.
I’ll explain it all to my boss once I find out where they went and when he has had time to calm down and dry off his pants.
Claudine may call me later tonight or in the morning, and she may still have Big Earrings without her escort, but I doubt it. Life is never that easy. The Universe is never that kind.
I’ll catch up to Big Earrings eventually, and I’ll find out what she knows — I’m good at my job.
In the meantime, I’m going to buy a hat.



I’d been delayed, and as I walked back to my table, the rising sun sent a soft golden glow across the Piazza.

My assistant was no longer sitting at the table. His working night had ended, and he was probably propping up the bar at Il Baccaro or wrapped around one of the night owl females who frequent this part of the city.

I love the early morning. Most of the evening people are seeking refuge in a cafe; bacon and eggs over the latest wholegrain toast, black coffee, no sugar and a bleary-eyed remembrance of an evening that will not come again.

As I approach the table I see my tally book lying where my assistant had left it. My keys lie on top of the book, undisturbed.

I like keys. I prefer an analogue solution to security wherever I can find it. I’m not disturbed by electronics; it’s just that I like the feeling of a key turning in a lock and the sound they make when they jangle in my pocket.

The huge black umbrella is not offering any shade to the two well dress gentlemen seated at my table; the sun is way too low. I have a sense that there was a third man seated where I usually sit. He hasn’t been absent from the table for very long, and I’m wondering if he is due to return.

The two well-dressed men give me a lazy glance.

I’m still in evening dress and although I’m a little dusty, well presented after a long night of keeping ‘book’ for the rich and famous. Millions of dollars and only a few slips of paper to show for all that activity.

My two ‘guests’ are dressed in expensive suits and carrying expensive guns, well concealed. The value of what they are wearing would purchase a well-kept second-hand Mercedes. Where they come from the streets are full of Mercedes and during their Civil War, a few decades ago, the news footage showed armed men, ambulances and swirling smoke. Even the taxis were Mercedes. The vehicle of choice for a Middle Eastern civil conflict.

My occupation didn’t require me to carry a concealed weapon, but I did. A large calibre two barreled Derringer strapped to my right ankle, and I’m proud to say that I’ve only needed to draw it once.

Part of my job is calculating the odds; seeing the trouble coming before it arrives. I have had to dodge the occasional closed fist and the well-aimed polished boot, but mostly I can calm a situation down before it comes to that. Sore losers are an occupational hazard.

I brushed the dust and a few flower petals off my seat before I sat down and the larger of the two well-dressed gentlemen said, “You may not want to sit there Mr Barker. In fifty seconds, it is going to be unhealthy for anyone who is sitting in that chair.”

Fifty-seconds isn’t very long to decide if he was just a smart arse and I’d used up a few of them calculating the odds.

It seemed safer to assume that he was telling the truth when he and his silent companion, who was directly in the follow-through line of fire, got slowly up from the table and walked away. The taller one had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the umbrella.

I picked up my book and my keys and left the table with as much composure as I could muster.

After I had taken a few steps, I heard the zip of the bullet and the crack of the splintering chair and table top. The bullet would have struck the quiet gentleman somewhere between the groin and the kneecap.

There was no audible bang. The shot must have come from a considerable distance. The police would work all that out at their leisure, but now I had some celebrating to do. I had ‘dodged a bullet’ and made a lot of money all over the course of an eventful evening.

Now, if I were lucky, Gilda would be home waiting for me.

I must say that’s misleading. Gilda never waits for me. She does her own thing. It’s just that we share a very expensive apartment, and we sometimes arrive there at the same time, usually early in the morning. On those occasions, we sometimes do the sorts of things that men and women like to do.

The apartment has glass walls on two sides, and I never draw the blinds. I love the view that it affords. The ancient part of the city is, by now, bathed in the golden light that this section of the world is famous for.

This morning, Gilda arrived home before I did. She is making eggs in her underwear. Her body isn’t perfect. Her torso is slightly too long when compared to her beautiful legs. I consider her breasts to be perfect, but some would say that they could be a little larger. She has long black hair, dimples on her bottom and delightful pink toes.

Last night she had been wearing a black bra and panties — lots of lace. I see the dress she was wearing hanging on the outside of her huge wardrobe.

Not including the bathroom, our apartment is one large room with a king-sized bed in the middle. I hope to be lying on that bed a little later and I’m hopeful that I will be knee-deep in Gilda, but it will depend on the type of night she has had.

My carnal ‘ace’ will be the story about nearly being shot. That kind of ‘near miss’ adventure story has given me the green light before.

Gilda gathers information and what she collects makes her a lot of money. It’s exciting and dangerous, and she loves every minute of it. She has an incredible memory and in her line of work it needs to be.

She knows I’m in the apartment, but she does not look up from her breakfast preparations. I remove my jacket, tie and Derringer and stand behind her. She smells amazing. Her scent produced over a long night’s work mixed with the remnants of her French perfume, and my equipment is on full alert.

I place my hand on her bottom and my expectations for the morning are in my hand. If she brushes me away, it means the night went badly and so will my morning.

She does not react, but neither does she dispense with my wandering hand. So far so good. My luck is holding.

“If you keep doing that you won’t get any breakfast,” she says in a voice that gives me further hope.

“That’s a tough choice for a man, food or carnal delights.”

“I didn’t say you had to choose.”

I couldn’t tell if she was smiling, because I was looking in another direction and imagining my good fortune.

A good breakfast and the delicious Gilda to follow.

I didn’t get shot, and I’m going to get laid.

It’s been an awesome day.

Tasty Pig Cafe.


Terry had been working the night shift at the Tasty Pig Cafe for the past two years. It wasn’t what he had dreamed of doing for the rest of his life but the pay was reasonable and he got the room above the shop for half rent as long as he worked at the Caf’. Terry didn’t much like daytime people. Nighttime people weren’t much better, but at least there were fewer of them. He’d been discharged from the army after surviving the entire war. He had seen and done things he didn’t want to remember and the monotonous routine of the corner cafe kept him from thinking too much about what had gone before. He had a library card, a small dog and all he could eat, which was more than most people had. Terry was practising gratefulness — it was  a slow process. Years of staying alive in a world where most people wanted to kill you had taught Terry to quickly assess people, and this well-dressed lady sitting in his front window staring across the street was not up to any good.

You Will Come Back. Won’t You?

IMG_1349Taking the dogs for a walk presents certain challenges. I like coffee. But, if I’m on my own I have to attach the dogs to something while I order. When Honey was young, and the only dog in the house, she once dragged a cafe table into a Bakery because I took too long coming back! These days, now that there are two of them, and one of them is Zed, who is part dragon, they attract a lot of attention; mostly from children and little old ladies……. and Zed hates children and little old ladies, so leaving them tied up can be a bit stressful. The photo above is one of the few place that I can leave them for a few minutes without much chance of incident. On this particular day no one died and coffee was consumed. It’s one of life’s mysteries that the best coffee is always in the places where I cannot tie the dogs up without precipitating world war three.

Breathe In The Light and Say Goodbye.


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This story is now part of ‘Slightly Spooky Stories.’

How does one test such a device?

You couldn’t take it with you, so you were stranded wherever you landed.

The equations all pointed to success, but none of it meant anything unless I could prove it had worked.

The goal was as old as modern man; move forward in time faster than a ticking clock.

The numbers said it wouldn’t work if you tried to go back in time but forward was a distinct possibility.

Logic said that the person doing the jump would not age more than a few seconds, but whatever they brought with them would probably age independently. This meant that a really long jump, say one or two hundred years, might find the ‘jumper’ in tatters at the landing point.

The jump was deceptively simple.

No whirring machinery or blinking lights.

No electrical storms or noxious chemicals.

All that was needed was to switch on the globe, breathe in the light and say goodbye.

At least, that was the theory.

Many great scientific breakthroughs have come about because some brave soul injected themselves with some experimental vaccine or strapped themselves inside some potentially explosive device and flicked a switch. If it worked, they survived and if it didn’t someone else took up the challenge and worked out where they had gone wrong.

I’m good with numbers but I’m no hero, so there was no way I was going to take the first jump.

I needed a volunteer.

I stared at my dog for the longest time, but in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to endanger his life. After all, he had more sense than most of the people I knew.

Up until this point, I had kept my work a closely guarded secret.

There were forces out there that would do drastic things to get hold of a device like mine.

I had to tell someone and because there were few people I could really trust I chose Frankie.

He was one of those rare individuals who knew how to keep his mouth shut. He didn’t care much for money; he just liked to hang out, write music and drink coffee. He didn’t have any family, but he did have friends.


One sunny Friday afternoon at the cafe on the corner of my street I told him what I had been working on. There was always the chance that someone would overhear our conversation, but if they did, they would probably think that we were a couple of stoners just making shit up.

The cafe is owned by a hard working couple, and I like them a lot. They seem to be happy to run this little cafe and enjoy their young family. Their expectations of life are small and beautiful.

The cafe, on the other hand, is medium sized and a little bit worn around the edges, but this only adds to its appeal. The walls are cream, and the trim is green.  The counter looks like it came from an old department store.

The glass front looks out of place in a cafe.

I keep expecting to see a selection of ties instead of cakes.

The tables are a mix of whatever was in the second-hand stores at the time they set the place up —- the chairs are similarly random. I turned one of the chairs over one day, and it had a few words chalked on the underside, “Tell Beryl I didn’t mean it.”

I’ve often wondered if the message was delivered.

Over the years, I have frequented many cafes, and it always pissed me off that the owners would build up the business and then ‘flip it’ for a quick profit.

The next owners would do the same, and so it would go.

I know it’s illogical, but it left me feeling betrayed.

 So much so that I stopped remembering cafe owner’s names until they had been around for at least a year; I couldn’t see the point if they were just going to bugger off.

I know I sound a little crazy, but there is something very personal about a place where you sit and dream and write and contemplate your life.

I don’t care who owns my local supermarket, and they probably would not know me from Adam, and that’s fine by me, but a cafe —— that’s something different.

Frankie and I were sitting on the old leather couch that sits in the window.

You can see the traffic going by, but it is far enough away that the sound does not travel.

The hill behind the highway rises steeply, and about halfway up there is a railway line. You can just see the trains gliding through the trees.

I’m not sure why, but I like this view best on a rainy day, and it was raining the day I told Frankie.

I was mildly surprised when he volunteered to take the first experimental jump.

He wasn’t even a slightly amazed that I was working on time travel.

He has known me for a very long time, and he knows that I’m obsessed.

Even so, I was expecting a small look of surprise; but no.

It was as though we had been working on this thing together all along.

At that moment, I was reminded why I love this guy.

So trusting, so full of life, so ready for an adventure.

I wanted to be sure that he understood so I went over it again and explained I’ d not tested the idea on any living creature and that he would be the first, and that I could not guarantee that he would survive.

He just looked at me like I was wasting time; he wanted to get on with it.

So far I had been able to move a few inanimate objects forward in time by waving them in front of the light.

The shorter the ‘wave’, the shorter the time jump.

On one test, I got distracted and the object I was testing has not reappeared, and that was several months ago.

The slightest miscalculation and the time jump could be enormous.

Because of the density of living things, it is necessary to breathe in the light so that the whole person moves evenly through time.

Just waving someone in front of the light would not have the desired effect.

In theory, if you took a deep breath you should move forward further than if you just ‘sipped’ the light. But, because I had only experimented with objects and they don’t breathe, there was no way to accurately predict what was going to happen.

My experiments had been restricted to sending a few items, including a teddy bear, forward by about 36 hours.

Breathing in the light was always going to produce a longer journey.

There was no ‘coming back’.

Whoever made the first jump would just have to wait for the rest of us to catch up in time.

The success of this project was very important to me, but I was struggling to work out a practical application for the invention. I guess that would be a challenge for others to tackle.

Our final task was to set a time for the jump, and my intention was to make its duration as short as possible so that I could find out if it worked. I needed to know if there were any side effects, and on a personal level, I wanted to know what it felt like.

I drove Frankie crazy for a couple of days by telling him over and over again that he had to remember absolutely everything.

He isn’t much of a note taker, but he did promise to try.

There was no sense putting it off any longer, so we set a date.

I’ve always liked Wednesdays, so I picked the 14th as our launch date.

Early afternoon is Frankie’s favourite time of day, so we made it 2 pm.

I bought him lunch at the Kallista Tea Rooms; it seemed only fair.

He had a steak pie, and I had those delicious chips that only the Tea Rooms seem capable of making.

Frankie had a couple of things to do before the launch, and when he arrived at my house, he had two very large suitcases with him.

They were those old fashioned ones with a leather belt tied around them.

They looked to be hefty.

We had talked about him taking a change of clothes, but this seemed like overkill, but I let it go.

I was too excited to argue.

Frankie took a parcel from his coat pocket and laid it on my kitchen table; ‘to be opened when I’m gone.’

Frankie stood in front of the light clutching the suitcases by their worn brown handles.

“Tell me one more time.”

“Simply breathe in the light and say goodbye.”

I hit the switch, and he was gone.

I just stood there.

It all seemed like a bit of an anti-climax.

My dog looked at me, and I was glad I had not sent him.

I hoped Frankie was safe, and with a bit of luck I would find out soon enough.

If my calculations were correct, I only had a few weeks to wait, and a lot of my questions would be answered.

What does one do while waiting for time to pass?

One waits.

I made myself a cup of strong Earl Grey and stared out of the window.

The sun was filtering through the trees the way that it does at this time of year.

I resolved to be at home every day at exactly 2 pm just in case Frankie re-appeared earlier than expected.

Frankie’s parcel was still sitting on my kitchen table as I put my cup in the sink.

The parcel was wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string ——— do people still wrap things in brown paper and tie them with string?

Maybe I should have worked out a way of sending Frankie back to a time when people did such things?

I undid the string and unwrapped the parcel.

I had never seen that many 100 hundred dollar bills all in one place.

The note said that there were 100 thousand dollars in the parcel ———- I wasn’t about to stop and count it ————- the letter concluded by saying that his suitcases contained the better part of three million dollars.

Time stopped for just a moment, and it was then that I decided not to be home at 2 pm ever again.

I was a bit stunned, but the sound of my dog barking at whoever it was at my front door and the flashing blue light strobing through my front windows snapped me out of it.

I could hear someone shouting, but I did not need to know what they were saying.

I grabbed my faithful dog, stuffed the money under my arm, breathed in the light and said goodbye.







Photo Credit:

The song that was the motivation for this story.


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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

He always ordered the same dish.

When you found something special why would you bother working your way through the menu?
The cafe was incredibly loud; the noise was coming mostly from the bar area.
It was one of those cafes that tried to have it both ways, and the bright young things who worked in the city were only too pleased to oblige.
Earlier in the week it had been quieter, but come Friday night and the noise registered on the Richter scale.
It hurt his ears when he first walked in but amazingly, he got used to it very quickly.
Humans can be very adaptable.
The cafe had an excellent red wine ‘by the glass.’
He got to know the staff very well after his first visit. They were friendly and looked after him really well.
For forty years he had dined as one half of a couple, but now his wife had gone away and he was dining alone.
It was a strange experience at first, but like most things in life, he got used to it.
His routine was to eat at the cafe and then go wandering through the city in search of coffee.
When he found an interesting spot he would sit, sip and read. Sometimes he would write when the mood took him.
The drive home took about an hour preceded by a short walk through the park.
Counting possums along the way was part of the ritual.
A long drive, late at night is not a hardship. There is time to think and opportunities to imagine.
At the end of the journey there would be excited fluffy white dogs and a warm bed.
Life was good.


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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

 “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” 
Marcus Aurelius

They had been meeting for a long time and he found it difficult to remember when it started.

Of course, she remembered. Girls always remember that kind of stuff; guys are usually just happy to be happy.
This was their favourite cafe and the staff knew them by name.
Alberto felt comfortable here.
The cafe was sparsely decorated but well lit. Not brightly lit but well lit. The kind of lighting that highlighted certain portions of a wall or a poster but did not hurt your eyes. The kind of lighting that made you feel special and more able to speak of intimate things.
It was still early so they had the place to themselves, and here was still a faint glow in the sky.
Palmira loved this time of day, not quite night time but with the promise that darkness brings, and not still daytime, the hustle and bustle temporarily on hold.
 Their lives were such that these brief encounters were all they had. Years ago it had been different but they had missed their chance and now they grabbed at happiness in the way a hungry child will attack a plate of chips, with both hands knowing it will end very soon.
They didn’t have a favourite table but rather they played a game whereby the first to arrive would choose. Their time together usually started early in the night so the choice was always wide.
Their propensity for arriving very early was a source of annoyance for the staff in the early days as it meant that they would have to put up with this young couple standing outside the cafe with their noses pressed up against the glass [Alberto thought this was funny and Palmira laughed so he did it as often as possible] or they could let them be seated even though they were still setting up.
On this particular evening Alberto arrived first and chose the table just to the side of the main entrance. Usually he would do the gallant thing and face the wall so Palmira could sit facing the cafe’s interior, but this time he wanted her to see only him.
They both knew that all things change but neither of them ever mentioned it. Talking about change seemed like a good way to make it happen, so silence on that subject seemed like a wise move.
Their lives were not their own and had not been so for a long time and it was only a matter of time until that part of their lives that was out of their control would come crashing in and spoil their ideal moments.
When Palmira arrived Alberto stood up to greet her and she instantly knew that something was wrong. She could feel an icy cold sensation in her neck which slowly spread down her spine. She kissed him and her embrace lasted longer than usual, she knew that when she let go he was going to tell her something that she really did not want to hear.
Whatever he was going to say they both knew that their time together was coming to an end.
This inviting little cafe might have to get along without them.


Photo Credit: