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 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.

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!”

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. 

Nearmiss

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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.