1958

1958 was a good year for us.

My work was getting noticed, and Scotty and I were living in an apartment once part of a huge old house. Ground floor with a tiny garden inhabited by weeds that neither of us could bring ourselves to pull out. There were gaps in the wrought iron fence through which a parade of local cats and dogs would come and visit.

I wrote at all hours, but mostly at night or very early.

I’m not a big fan of mornings — it’s against my religion, or that’s how Scotty would phrase it.

On those occasions when I woke up early with words spilling out of me, I’d take a break and eat breakfast with Scotty before she would go off to be a nurse in search of a patient.

Her work kept us going while I found my feet. She did it with grace and charm and never a moment of recrimination.

She was a better writer than me, but I couldn’t get her to pursue it.

“I’m happy being a nurse and I’m happy being your wife.”

I was living in a future where I could carry the financial burden, and she could take it easy.

Scotty was living in the present, “We must live in this time now and have every moment of it.”

She didn’t say it exactly that way, but Mrs Hemingway’s words are close enough.

~oOo~

The couple living in the apartment next door were glamorous and mysterious. I made up stories about them, and Scotty would laugh and say that they were probably spies or jewel thieves.

I would say that spies and jewel thieves didn’t live in a converted mansion for six dollars a week.

We invited them for dinner one night, and they came immaculately dressed at least half an hour early.

It was cold that day, so I was working off our kitchen table, not sitting in the garden. I gathered my papers and put my typewriter on the kitchen cupboard as they wafted in.

Our kitchen/dining space was tiny, and it took a bit of inelegant dancing to move around the room with four adults in attendance.

 We were young and didn’t worry about our less than wealthy existence. 

Our guests were relaxed and unfazed by our chaotic kitchen.

Two large multi-paned doors gave us a view of our tiny garden with the wrought iron fence, giving the room the illusion of more space.

Our kitchen was warm because of the roast in the oven. Scotty can cook, and her roast lamb could tame the most unruly of souls.

We ate and drank and laughed, and the boys did the dishes. The girls whispered among themselves while occasionally looking at us in our aprons.

Our conversation was mostly about sports and work, but he didn’t give much away, and I didn’t push. Something about ‘acquisitions’.

He asked about my writing, and I was equally vague. But, of course, people always ask to be polite but rarely want to know more, which is okay with me.

After too much wine (the bottle they brought cost more than our dinner set), we said good night. They walked, arm in arm, the few steps to their apartment door. We stood and watched, and before they went inside, they turned and looked at us. She had her hands in her coat pockets, and he was smoking a cigarette I had not seen him light. We stood and stared at each other until his cigarette was finished.

They seemed to be silently summing us up, and I guess we were doing the same.

~oOo~ 

Scotty was in bed by the time I got there, and she cuddled into me as I put my arm around her.

“That was a good night,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.

“It might be the wine,” I said, “but I’m wondering why they are living here, next to us. Everyone else in these appartments are either on their way up…”

“Like us,” said Scotty.

“… or on the way down,” I said.

“Spies or jewel thieves?” said Scotty.

“Worse than that — bankers,” I said.

~oOo~

Checks from major magazines arrived with continuing regularity, and my agent found a publisher for my book. I’d lost count of the number of rejections I’d received. Still, I guess my agent had more leverage since the string of magazine articles.

Someone pushed a card under our door. An invitation to a ‘going away’ party at the little Italian restaurant on the main road – red and white checked table cloths and tiny little lamps on each table.

We went there when our budget would allow — the food made you believe that life could be worth living.

Our stylish neighbours were moving across the country and wanted to say goodbye.

It was a small gathering, and apart from having a good time (the wine seemed much better than usual), we didn’t think much about it. Tenants came and went as their circumstances or relationship status changed. This was just another one of those times.

~oOo~

I’d been writing most of the morning, but now I was lying on what we laughingly called grass playing with a black and white Cocker Spaniel of indeterminate ownership when they came to our front door.

It wasn’t the first time police officers had disturbed our tranquillity— this isn’t an upmarket part of town.

Usually, it was something like, “Did you notice a removal van here over the last few days?”

“Yes. We thought the people in number five (quiet and heavy smokers) were moving out. It isn’t uncommon here. People come and go.”

“Wife seems to have moved out while he was at work and taken everything with her,” said the young policeman who probably would have prefered to be somewhere else.

“Shit,” I remember saying.

“Yeah,” said the policeman, clearing the wax from his ear with his pen.

This time there were two of them, and from my vantage point, lying in the grass staring through the fence, I didn’t recognise their uniforms.

“Sorry about that, the door sticks,” I said, and the insignia on their uniforms said ‘Federal Police’.

“And you are?” said the male officer.

“Trying my best?” I said, and the female officer smiled, despite herself.

“The couple living nextdoor,” said the male officer, ignoring my comment.

“Moved out,” I said.

“Did you know them?”

“He was good with a teatowel and she was elegant. Apart from that we just said hello. We had them in for dinner once and they invited us to their goodbye party.”

“Did they say where they were going?”

“Western Australia, I think. Maybe Fremantle, maybe Perth?”

~oOo~

I cooked dinner that night — lasagne. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

After a second helping, I put my dishes in the sink — her turn to wash, mine to dry.

“So, how did your day go, dear?” I said, and she could tell from the tone in my voice that something was up.

“I managed to stop a doctor from killing someone,” she said.

“So, same as usual?” I said.

“How was your day, dear?” she said.

“I thought you would never ask,” I said.

“Let’s hear it.”

“Well, there were these two police officers, and not the usual kind either. These were Feds,” I said.

“I’ve never seen one of those. Do they smell nice?” Scotty said.

“Nice enough, but that’s not important right now. What do think they wanted?”

“To sell you tickets to the Policeman’s Ball?”

“Do policemen still have balls? I asked.

“I hope so,” she said with a smile.

“Anyway, only one of the police officers had balls, but I digress.”

“And you are doing it beautifully,” she said, putting the large plates in the cupboard.

“You know our recently relocated stylish neighbours?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it turns out that your guess of ‘spies’ was wrong,” I said.

“JEWEL THIEVES?” said my excited wife.

“Kind of. They took pretty much whatever they could get their hands on, but mostly jewels.”

I finished putting the cutlery away, went into our bedroom, and emerged with a small box I found lying around at the secondhand store. It was the perfect size.

I handed my amazing wife the box.

She gave me that look that made my heart melt.

She opened the box. The ring lay on the blue velvet lining. The stone was huge and green in a platinum setting.

“I was saving this for your birthday, but you might as well have it now. Someone is going to work out where it came from and they’ll probably ask for it back.”

Scotty turned pale.

“Not if I don’t wear it anywhere,” she whispered.

“There is that, I guess,” I said, and I learned something new about my wife.

At heart, she’s a bandit, just like me. 

No Ice

“I feel better as it gets dark”, said the bloke sitting next to me at the bar.

To be accurate, I sat next to him.

It had been a long day, and I needed a drink, but you don’t have to worry about me. I only drink now and again, and today was a big ‘again’.

There are rules about sitting next to someone at a bar. Something like the rules about standing next to someone when you need to pee — you don’t do it unless there is nowhere else to stand. You just don’t — end of story.

When I lurched into the bar (I’d never noticed it before, but I took a wrong turn on the way to the station and there it was), I was focused on the aroma and sting that goes with an excellent single malt scotch. I wasn’t thinking about the logistics of obtaining one (except that I expected to get stung on price, happy hour or no happy hour, and I wasn’t disappointed).

I could have tried to attract the barman’s attention, and I did try, but it seemed like a good idea to sit down — this was going to take a while.

As soon as I did, my bum said thank you, and I sank into the soft leather (soft leather barstool equals a twenty-per cent premium on drinks — you learn these things as you get older).

The bloke on my left stuck his elbow out just a little and turned slightly away — a clear ‘don’t even think about starting a conversation, and why the hell do you need to sit there?’

I got the message and the eye of the bartender. I ordered something smoky and rich, and it arrived in a flash. It was a waste of time saying, ‘no ice’ because the bartender was intent on getting through the next two hours without having to use his brain unduly. I flicked the ice onto the polished wooden bar without spilling too much golden liquid. The cubes clustered together, then slowly slid down the bar.

“Floors not level,” I said to no one in particular.

“You don’t worry about stuff like that once it gets dark,” said the bloke on my right.

Conversation alert.

“I used to be a shopfitter,” I said, knowing that any chance of having a quiet drink was well in my rearview mirror.

“In that suit?”

“No mate. A long time ago before suits were invented. I was an apprentice. We got called in when shops changed hands or when some bloke wanted to expand into the shop next door. New windows, display cases, counters, walls, stuff like that. They made me do skirting boards for six months. I got to be pretty good at it.”

The bloke on my left looked at me for a few seconds longer than was necessary.

“There’s this magic switch that goes off when it gets dark. It’s a different world,” he said.

“Do you work at night?” I said.

“Used to. Not any more. Too old.”

He didn’t look too old, but maybe night work rules differed.

I gave him a scan. His jacket was old but well kept. His trousers were even older and a bit shinny. His shoes were black leather and of indeterminate age. I couldn’t see his shirt from where I was sitting, but he had an old grey felt hat sitting on the bar in front of him. He expertly lifted the hat to let the ice cubes float by.

“Stupid bugger never listens when you say ‘no ice’,” he said, flicking his head toward the harried barman.

The manœuvre with the hat was handled with his left hand. His right hand never let go of his glass.

An experienced drinker’, I thought.

“I still sleep during the day and stay up at night. Some habits are hard to break,” he said.

Our conversation was carried out while staring at our drinks.

I’ve had conversations like this before. No eye contact means something. Usually, it denotes a tired soul.

“So, what is it about the dark?” I said.

While he gathered his thoughts, I glanced at the bar’s mirror. It was now completely dark outside, and I hadn’t noticed. A bit like going into a movie in the afternoon and coming out in the dark.

The bloke with the hat straightened up and looked over his shoulder. He tilted his head back and drained his glass. Finally, he turned and looked me in the eyes.

“You seem like a good bloke but I don’t have time to talk now, it’s dark outside. It’s my time and I don’t like to waste any of it. You look after yourself young fella. Nice suit, by the way. Shame to waste it on that job of yours.”

He grabbed his hat, adjusted it at a rakish angle and slid off his stool like a teenager.

While I was thinking of something to say, he was gone. Swallowed up by the night he purported to love.

The bar was beginning to thin out as the inaccurately named ‘happy hour’ came to a close.

The bartender looked an inch taller.

“Get you anything else mate?” he said.

“More ice would be good,” I said, and he didn’t get it, but I ended up with a glass full of ice.

“Do you know the bloke who was sitting next to me? Grey felt hat, dusty jacket?” I said.

“Seen him a few times. Someone said he used to be famous.”

“Famous for what?” I said.

“Buggered if I know. Just famous.”

And there it was, ‘just famous’.

But that’s the thing about fame. One day you’re Kate Bush, and the next day you’re Kate who?

I nursed my drink for a few more moments, then ventured out into the night. But, of course, by now, the trains will be half full, and I’ll get a seat all the way home.

The walk to the station was fresh and uneventful. I didn’t bump into anyone, and no one asked me for anything.

The bloke with the hat was right; it feels better when it gets dark.

Invisible Man With a Suitcase

Illustration credit: Franco Matticchio

It won’t take you long to work out that I exaggerate.

It’s all true, but I tend to ‘gild the lily’ as my mum would say.

My father wasn’t invisible; at least he wasn’t the way I drew him.

That drawing caused me heaps of trouble.

My teacher called my mum into a meeting.

“I’m not saying your son is strange, but this drawing is a bit disturbing.”

I’ve always been good at illustrations. It amazed me that others weren’t so good. Like everyone else on this planet, I take my gifts for granted. Don’t you?

My father travelled a lot because of his job.

He sold stuff, and that stuff seemed to change quite regularly.

He always had a suitcase full of samples.

As he went out the door on each sales trip, he had two cases — one for his clothes and one for his samples.

The upside of his job for us was that he had a car. Most of the other families around us didn’t. Only professional families could afford one.

I hated him being away, but I knew it was his job, and that’s where the food, toys, and school fees came from — even so, I wanted him to be home like the other dads.

After each trip away, there would be three or four days where he didn’t have to go into the office, and I’d get to stay home from school on at least one of those days.

Dad would wake me up way too early, and I’d stumble out of bed and eat toast with one eye open with my pyjama top unevenly buttoned. I couldn’t think straight first thing in the morning, but I was not going to miss out. My mother didn’t sleep much, even when dad was home, so she would look like she’d been up for hours and probably had.

“Move your scrawny little behind. We’ve got places to go and people to see,” my dad would say just as I was about to fall asleep on my plate of toast.

Most times, we would head for the beach, which gave me half an hour to fall asleep in the back of our big old Ford. There were no seat belts in those days, so I’d curl up on the leather seat, and the movement would lull me to sleep. It was the same routine on the way home, only I’d have sand in my shoes this time.

Once, I ended up on the floor — a rough industrial grade carpet. Some bloke pulled out of a parking spot, and dad hit him. I must have been knocked out for a few seconds because I opened my eyes and stared at a bottle of milk and a box of biscuits that mum had bought before we headed home. We all ended up on the floor of the car without a single injury. Dad was busy telling the formally parked motorist what he thought of his driving while mum peered over the front seat to see where I’d ended up.

“Are you okay little man?” she said with her delicious voice.

“Yes mum, but the bickies and a bit bent.”

“Just so long as you are okay.”

The bump on my head was the centre of many conversations when I returned to school. I was determined to tell a different story to each person who asked, but I ran out of good ones. I’m not sure that the Pirate story gained much traction.

 

After a week, sometimes two, my father would start talking about his next trip, and I’d get that sick feeling in the part of my stomach that bullies liked to punch. Whenever he left, it felt a lot like I’d been hit.

His two suitcases would be placed neatly on my parent’s bed. The case containing his clothes would be closed up first. Then, his sample case would receive a final check to ensure everything was there.

“Can’t afford to leave anything behind. It’s too far to have to come back,” he’d say.

When he wasn’t looking, I’d drop something of mine into his sample case — something of me to carry with him on his journey. Something to keep him safe — usually a shell or a stone we had collected on one of our adventurous days.

I know how a dog feels when you leave for work each day, “How can I protect you if I don’t know where you are?”

I felt the same way with my dad.

I don’t know how I thought I could protect him, but I know I would have tried.

As long as he had something of mine, I knew he would return safely.

I was a child, and the world seemed simple to me — stay close and stay safe.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but I didn’t know that back then.

My father never said anything about finding my  ‘keep safe’ objects, but he must have known.

Many years later, my mother found a shoebox under their bed with a bunch of shells, stones, and small plastic soldiers. She wondered why my father had kept them and where he had found them in the first place.

I didn’t tell her. 

It was our secret.

Whisper

“So, what did he say?” I said.

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

 “Say what?”

“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 too. 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.

Austin A40

“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?”

“Sure.”

“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’?”

“1950.”

“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.

Gotta get rid of that car.

The Christening

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SCENE:

Medium-sized bluestone church — probably Catholic, maybe Church of England, remote possibility of Episcopalian — do we have Episcopalians in Australia? It’s early afternoon. The sun is low and bright, The previous christening party have just left, reluctantly — a bit of glaring from the parents when the minister/priest has to shoo them away so that the next christening can begin. Four stone steps lead up to the large green wooden doors — which are wide open. Fake wrought iron hinges painted black.

“They pack ‘em in, don’t they?” said Sergeant Wilson.

Even though Sergeant Wilson wears a suit and a tie every working day, today, his shirt collar is bothering him.

“Religion is a business, like everything else,” said Inspector McBride. A very pretty young woman from the previous ceremony caught his eye. She held his gaze as he pivoted away from his Sergeant.

Helen, the Inspector’s wife, is cuddling her infant and trying to occupy it. She doesn’t want the tiny child to start crying any earlier than necessary.

Helen notices her husband’s interest in the young woman and her interest in him.

Women like my tall, handsome husband,’ she thinks. The thought pleases her and frightens her at the same time.

“Come inside everyone,” says the minister/priest, and the waiting group shuffle up the steps and into the place of worship. The temperature drops noticeably, and the windows cast streams of light, and as if Woody Allen had produced the scene, a shaft of coloured light strikes the baptismal font. The assembled group of friends and family head towards the light.

Gathered around the font, the minster/priest speaks the words that will bind the child and its parents to the Church forever, or at least until the child is old enough to shed these ideas.

“Do you renounce Satan?” said the celebrant.

“I do,” says Sergeant Wilson, who wonders why the answer is precisely the same as when someone marries. Did he just inadvertently marry Satan? Probably not, but who can tell with these ancient and confusing rituals.

Sergeant Wilson is now the godfather of Inspector and Helen McBride’s son and heir.

Wilson hopes that he will never have to fulfil his duties, but a policeman’s lot can be deadly.

Wilson had only met the child’s godmother once — when they went through the procedure with the celebrant about a week ago. It rained, and the church was lit dimly, but the candles gave it a golden glow. Someone had given the ancient timber pews a good going over and the aroma of furniture polish filled the air.

Wilson’s attempt at humour had fallen flat, ‘so you’re the fairy godmother’ — and now Helen’s best friend thought he was a lame policeman — no coming back from that.

What did he care? After the ceremony, he probably would not have to see her again, unless something unspeakable happened.

Wilson came to the conclusion that the whole thing was a show for Helen’s family. It didn’t make practical sense to have two people who didn’t know each other responsible for a child.

From the child’s point of view, it guaranteed at least two extra presents come birthday time.

The assembled multitude wandered outside for photos.

The smokers in the group dispersed to the downwind side — no need to draw the wrath of the grandparents.

Once the main photos had been taken, the two policemen found each other.

“Coming back to the house for a sandwich and beer?” said the Inspector.

“I’ll poke my head in, but I want to interview the neighbours one more time. Most of them were out when the plods knocked on doors,” said Sergeant Wilson.

“If we don’t get a break soon, this one is going to get away from us,” said the Inspector.

“The blood samples came back. Nothing but her’s. No smears, no footprints, no nothing. How did he get out of the room without leaving any marks?”

“Maybe the bugger had wings.”

“The photographer wants a few shots of you holding the baby,” said Helen. Neither of the men had seen her approach.

“Do I have to?” said the Inspector. His wife didn’t answer, she didn’t need to.

He took the infant from her and walked to the appointed spot.

“Just one on your own,” said the photographer trying to disguise his indifference. He did an excellent job of it, and most people thought he was genuinely in love with taking their photo. In his mind, he was on a beach with scantily clad women who all wanted an intimate portfolio.

“Now one with the grandparents.”

“Now one with the godparents.”

The Inspector and his child stood in the middle, and Wilson stood on his right. The photographer didn’t complain, so he stayed there.

The godmother, who was wondering if she looked as good as she felt, stood looking at the lens as the photographer instructed.

The finished photograph showed three adults and one child, all wondering what the future would bring.

“Now one with the aunties.”

Wilson didn’t go back to the house for a sandwich and a beer and the godmother was sorry that he didn’t. She was sad that her nerves made her react badly when she first met him. She’d let the child’s mother colour her thoughts, something she tried to avoid. She liked to make up her own mind about people. But, on the occasion of a christening rehearsal, she let her impatience show through, and the godfather had taken it as yet another rejection.

Sergeant Wilson was not ‘good with women’. He never knew what to say to them, so he usually said nothing or something that made him look a bit off.

Sergeant Wilson knocked on the doors surrounding the murder scene and found a woman who remembered the night in question. She saw a man leave the apartment.

“I know it sounds weird, but he looked like he had wings,” said the neighbour of the murder victim.

“Have you ever seen him before?”

“I’m pretty sure he delivers pizza.”

“Which pizza place?”

“Fallen Angel Pizza, on William’s road. Just near the bank.”

“Do you think you could pick him out if we arranged a line-up?”

“Yes. Especially if he’s wearing those wings.”

SCENE:

Inspector and Helen McBride’s house. A double fronted Californian bungalow. People are spilling out of the front of the house and onto the lawn. The conversation is lively. Inspector McBride is sitting on his front fence with a bunch of sandwiches in one hand and a beer in the other. When his mobile phone rings, he puts his beer on the wall and answers his phone.

Inspector McBride.”

“Inspector, it’s Wilson. I’ve found a witness. Remember when you said you thought the killer must have flown out of the scene?”

“Yes”.

“My witness says the bugger had wings!”

This was the first chapter in what became a novelette, “Dark Angel Pizza”. If you would like to binge read the rest of the chapters, here they are in order: The Christening, Flying Pizza, Position Vacant: Pizza Delivery DriverAnd Just Like That He Was Gone, Profiler. Blood and Despair

Peace Of Mind

 

“Why did you pick me? Why do you think I can help you?” I said.

I took a sip from the vodka she’d poured me when I arrived.

 “Because you found those kids when no one else could.”

I’d heard this speech before, or some version of it. There is something mystical about being able to do something that no-one else can, I guess. 

And then there’s the kidnapped kids element — tugging at the heartstrings.

 “Do you know how I pulled that off — the high point of my career?”

She looked at me over the rim of her glass. Her blond hair was still pulled back, and I wondered what she looked like first thing in the morning.

“I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t know they were there. I was banging on that door because someone had hemmed me in — parked so close that I couldn’t move my car. I was tired and pissed off from chasing the story all day — asking questions of people who didn’t want to answer, or couldn’t, and I guess I sounded angry. The fuckwit must have thought I was the police and he legged it out the back door. When the front door came open, and that little face looked up at me and said, ‘Have you come to save us?’ I just froze. I expected to get a shotgun pushed into my face.”

She never broke eye contact, and I thought she was going to say something, but she just gazed at me with those eyes. Now I was wondering what she would look like after a torrid afternoon in a hotel bedroom.

“The kids were all scared and tired and grubby, and except for the boy who opened the door, they were all silent. I sat on the old vinyl couch in the living room with the kids and waited for the police to arrive. I’m not sure that the switchboard operator believed me when I rang it in. I left the front door open to show that we were in there and we were okay, but it didn’t stop the Special Response Squad from bursting in with the familiar sound of ‘ARMED POLICE. GET ON THE GROUND.’ I still have that fuckers knee print on my back.”

She held her glass tightly, her lips slightly apart and I wondered all sorts of things about those lips.

 “They caught Stanley James Smith a few houses away, and I got a curt apology for being roughed up. You know how it is Mr Fox. We can’t be too careful. Sorry about arresting you and all the rest.” I said with my best ‘cop in charge’ accent.

 “I asked him what his name was. Commander Wilson. I was in charge of the search. He put his hand out to shake mine — for the cameras. Fuck you very much, Commander Wilson,” was my reply — or words to that effect. The Commander smiled at me and said, Fair enough. We both produced our best smiles for the camera.

About a year later I won the Walkley Award for my series of articles on the Cameron Street Primary School kidnapping. The story stretched over four Saturday editions — about twenty thousand words and not once did I mention the kidnapper’s name — didn’t give the fucker what he wanted — fame.”

“But you got yours — fame, I mean,” she said.

“Yes, I did, and every time someone mentions those kids, I feel like apologising.”

“You must have done something right in another life — the Universe likes you.”

“Maybe. The votes aren’t in yet. So exactly what is it you think I can find for you?”

“Peace of mind,” she said.

“I charge extra for peace of mind.”

Prophesy

It all started innocently enough, but by the time it was over I was very rich, lives were destroyed, and three people lay dead.

“No one should ever know their future,” she said with that lovely little smile that I remember so affectionately. By the time this all developed, my mother had been dead for more than fifteen years, but I look back now, and I remember her words. She was fearful of the future and what it may hold. Her fear was rooted in her past, and it coloured everything she saw.

I’d been attending the Meditation Circle for a couple of years. I’d ‘found my feet’ again after wandering aimlessly for many years.

“Come along one night; You’ll enjoy yourself, and you might just learn something. You’re a moody bugger, Billy. You need help. Get off your arse and get your head straight.”

He was annoying, but he was right. If I didn’t do something I was going to slip back into that black hole again. I could feel it coming on.

The lady who ran the group was friendly and warm.

“Hi, I’m Trevina, and I facilitate the group. We are all equal here. It’s a Circle and no one sits at the head of a Circle.”

‘Good luck with that,’ was what I was thinking, but I didn’t say it out loud.

“Thanks for making space for me Trevina. My mate dragged me along. There are a lot more blokes here than I expected?”

“Souls don’t know if they are male or female. We just ‘are’,” she said.

“I guess,” was all I could think of as I made a mental note of where the exit was.

Trevina glided off in the direction of a bunch of middle-aged females who were clutching coffee as though their lives depended on it. We were in the middle of spring, but the evenings were still cool. Someone had turned on the heater, and the large room had an easy, comfortable feel to it. Chairs were arranged in a circle, and each chair had a different coloured cushion on the seat.

“Those cushions could tell a story or two,” said a rather tall lady. She stood almost as tall as my six feet, and she had perfectly brushed, slightly coloured hair which could not completely disguise her seventy years of life. She had a twinkle in her eyes, and I knew I had found a friend.

“Somewhere there is an Op Shop that is completely out of cushions,” I said.

“Collected over many years, I should think. Many a bottom has compressed them, and they keep coming back for more.”

“What would you say that was a sign of?” I asked.

“Perseverance, I should think,” she said.

“So what do you do here ……..?”

“Norma. We find ourselves.”

“Sounds like something someone would have said in a 70s movie,” I said.

“If you keep coming you will find out what I mean.”

“Now you have me intrigued. I was thinking about what we were going to have for supper when we eventually get out of here and now you’ve got me thinking about hippie girls in tight jeans with free love in their hearts.”

“I used to be one of those girls. It was a lot of fun at the time.” She gave me that smile that I was to see on the face of many of the people who regularly attended this Circle. Anywhere else, and I would say that it was smug, but not here. Not in this room. Here it seemed to suggest that they knew something that the rest of us did not know. They knew that the knew. Amazingly, they were happy to share what they had discovered.

I looked to see if I could find the friend who had brought me. Ross was standing on the far side of the room talking to a skinny female. She hugged him, and he walked in my direction.

“What’s with all the hugging? Not that I want to discourage females from hugging me, but I must say that I haven’t come across so much hugging since I was in kindergarten.”

“You’ll get used to it. It comes with the philosophy.”

“You haven’t walked me into some religious cult have you, Ross?”

“No, you crazy bugger! Exactly the opposite. Everyone here takes personal responsibility for the way they live their lives. They don’t live by some old man’s dogma.”

“Okay, take it easy. I was just joking. So no religious mumbo-jumbo. So what do you do?”

“We meditate and we discuss stuff. Some of the regulars are Mediums and Psychics, and they need the mental discipline that regular meditation brings.”

“Do you have any fortune tellers?” I was winding him up, but he didn’t bite.

Someone walked past us and headed for the coffee urn, and I could have sworn that they said, “That’s why you are here.”

I turned and looked at them, but they didn’t return my gaze. The person who might have said that was a short dark haired female, probably in her late thirties. She was the only female in the room who was wearing a dress; all the others were rugged up in slacks and pants.

“She’s cute, and she’s going to find that house.”

“What house? Do you know her? What the fuck are you on about Billy? You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Never mind. Just find a seat and try not to annoy anyone.”

“Fuck you blondy. They love me here.”

“I’m not blond anymore dimwit; I’m old and grey.”

He was right. We were ‘getting on a bit’. Not exactly old, but not young anymore either.

So, the Circle settled down, and the meditation began.

Ross was right, and as the next couple of years went by he continued to be right. My mind settled down; I discovered that I could do things that most people could only dream about, and I learned to love this rag-tag bunch of misfits.

I hugged a lot of people, and I listened as the Mediums among us connected with the Spirits of dead relatives and friends. I watched the tears flow, and I saw the laughter in their eyes. I learned that I could, under certain circumstances, tell what was going to happen to people in the future. I wasn’t the only one who could do this, but I was the best.

As long as these happenings stayed within the Circle, there weren’t any problems. We all understood the unwritten rules. No lottery numbers and no bad news.

For some reason, it was impossible to read your future, only someone else’s.

Mostly, the information was vague and general, but helpful. People in the Circle loved it, and I became a bit of a minor celebrity. My ego could handle it and because I was so grateful for my deliverance from the black hole of depression I was very careful not to do anything that might jinx my luck.

If I had to put my finger on it, I would say that it all started to unravel when I switched to the daytime sessions.

Trevina ran a nighttime group which I attended, and a Friday morning group. She asked me if I would like to come to the morning group. My work schedule was flexible, so I said yes.

When we took a break for a cup of tea, I liked to sit out on the footpath in front of the old shop that was our meeting place. The building had a long and colourful history, and I’m now quite sure that its energy contributed to what was about to happen.

The group would be deep in conversation fuelled by the events of the morning and copious amounts of caffeine. I’d take a chair out into the sunlight and sit quietly with my mug of terrible coffee and gather my thoughts. It wouldn’t be long before someone would wander out and join me, but for a few moments I had the sun and the solitude, and it was wonderful.

The shop had a verandah which, in the days when it was built, would have protected the shoppers from the inclement weather that is a feature of our mountain climate.

To catch the rays of the sun I moved my chair slightly out from under the metal clad verandah and as I look back I realise that this was the final piece of the puzzle.

As the pretty lady with the coloured hair joined me and broke my solitude, I noticed a delivery van pull up. The driver got out and proceeded to open the back of his van.

“He’s going to have a hell of a headache,” I heard myself say.

Dianne, the pretty lady with the colourful hair, said, “What do you mean?”

I blinked a couple of times and tried to form an answer.

The delivery driver opened the back of his van, and a large cardboard box hit him right between the eyes. He went down hard, and a bunch of us retrieved him from under the contents of his badly packed van.

The wounds on the front and the back of his head were producing a lot of blood, and some of the bystanders were expressing their alarm.

“He’ll be fine. But in a couple of days, when the police search his house he’s going to be in a heap of trouble.”

The onlookers went quiet for a moment, and many of them were looking at me.

“A garage full of stolen white goods,” I said.

A week later, at our next Circle, someone showed me the local newspaper.

The delivery driver was arrested after the police visited him to talk about a noisy dog complaint. They had the wrong house and the wrong street, and they apologised and turned to leave when the driver’s son opened the garage door to retrieve his skateboard.

Everyone thought it was funny, but I had a sinking feeling. This premonition was way wilder than anything I had come up with before.

I took my cup of piss-weak coffee out on to the footpath and soaked up the sunlight.

When I opened my eyes, there were a bunch of people standing around me silently waiting for me to say something.

“What the bloody hell do you lot want?” I said.

“Tell us what is going to happen,” said a slightly scruffy older lady.

“You knew about the truck driver,” said a tall man in workman’s clothes.

“I’ll tell you what is going to happen. You are all going to bugger off and stop annoying me. I don’t know anything you don’t know.”

This wasn’t exactly true. As I looked at each person, I could see a scene being played out in my head.

The little boy with the scab on his knee was going to get a puppy for his birthday, and they would grow up together. The scruffy old lady would be dead before Christmas, and no one would come to her funeral. The bloke in the workman’s clothes would find a wallet and return it to its owner intact. The owner of the wallet would, in turn, facilitate the entry of the workman’s son into a private school and the experience would lead the boy into a sad life of drugs and crime.

“Don’t give the wallet back. Stick it in the mail and don’t put your address on the package.” The workman looked at me like I had just stepped on his foot.

“How did you know about the wallet. I only found it this morning?” he said.

As I looked at him, I knew he would ignore my advice. I wanted to tell him what was going to happen, but I had a strong sense that what I was seeing was going to happen no matter what I said.

The worker looked shocked as he produced the wallet from his back pocket and held it in mid-air. I had the feeling that he wanted it to fly away so that he would not have to decide.

Things escalated rather quickly from there.

My mate could see the profit potential, and I tried to talk him out of it. I like the quite life. I needed a bit more money, who doesn’t, but this seemed to me to be against the spirit of what we had learned.

I did my best to avoid the limelight, but I knew when I looked at Ross that he would eventually work out that his ability combined with the energy of this amazing old building would produce a similar result for him and anyone else with a modicum of ability.

It got crazy and dangerous, and I did my best to steer clear.

There were a few dead bodies, as a result, but I’ll tell you about them some other time.

I’ll bet you are wondering how I became rich, especially as I mentioned that I cannot read for myself.

Cast your mind back to me sitting outside the shop in the sun before anyone knew what I could do.

Across the road from our meeting place is a shop that sells newspapers, greeting cards and lottery tickets.

I was enjoying the sunlight when I noticed an agitated young man. He attracted my attention as he stood outside the shop obviously deciding whether to go in or not. It occurred to me that he thought that this was his last chance.

As I looked at him, I could see two possible futures for him, and each one hinged on his decision. As he stood frozen on the footpath, his future was nothing but misery and disappointment ending in his death from alcohol-related complications.

Eventually, he moved towards the shop door and the pictures I saw changed dramatically. The money he was destined to win would not solve all his problems, but his life certainly improved, at least, it did for the foreseeable future.

In my head, I watched him filling out the lottery form. I quickly wrote down the numbers and, needless to say; we shared the massive amount that the lottery had built up as it had remained unclaimed for several weeks.

I have never told anyone this story, and I’m counting on you to keep it to yourself.

People get a bit crazy where money is concerned, and I like a quite life.