Suicide Note: Part One – An Unexpected Death

When I started out, I had shiny buttons, and I wanted to make a difference.

This delusion afflicts a lot of young people.

You get a bit older, and you realise that making a difference is not what you thought it was.

I’m not complaining, just explaining.

My buttons are less shiny, but the uniform still fits, and I get it out for formal occasions — when someone dies, that’s about as formal as it gets, wouldn’t you say?

An unexpected death brought me here.

I’m kneeling in the mud, spoiling my suit pants. I hardly notice. Things that used to be important seem irrelevant — muddy pants included.

There was a time when I would have burst into the commander’s office and demanded to know why I was being assigned to such a lowly case — an apparent suicide.

My ‘bursting in’ days are over, at least for a while — maybe forever?

The conversation went on behind closed doors.

Behind the glass wall.

Occasionally someone would glance over their shoulder in my direction. I considered giving them the finger — thought better of it.

I’m in enough shit.

“Piss off and sort this shit out,” said our second in charge. I think he likes me. At the very least, he doesn’t hate me. Either way, at this moment, I’m beyond caring.

The folder landed on my desk as softly as a feather falling out of the arse of a large bird of prey.

I took it as a moderately good sign that I hadn’t been summoned into the commander’s office.

“Take Egg with you. He needs the experience.”

I opened my mouth to complain.

“Shut it and get it sorted!”

I shut it and shot a look in Egg’s direction. He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and bounded across the office knocking over two wastepaper baskets. He picked them up and deftly flipped them back into position with the heel of his shoe. Nicely done, I thought, and I hoped my face didn’t show it. You cannot afford to encourage the little shit — never get rid of him. I didn’t want him thinking that he could ride with the big boys.

Egg is on the fast track.

Someone, somewhere, thinks he will grow up to be somebody someday.

The two owners of the wastepaper baskets glared at Egg. Johnson picked up some of the litter, balled it up and threw it at the rapidly moving target.

Egg got his nickname on his first day in the squad, presumably because of his extreme youth, and it stuck.

“Don’t get in my way and don’t get used to the idea of riding with me. This is a one-off,” I said.

“Am I working with you because of what happened?”

“How the fuck should I know. No wait. Yes, that’s it. You are my punishment. A half boiled egg, right up the arse.”

A few of the lads laughed, and someone hit him with a giant ball of former wastepaper basket contents.

“Don’t get anyone killed, you little shit,” said the suit from the Fraud Squad who is on secondment — I think his name’s Wilson, but he’ll be gone soon, so why bother remembering his name?

The comment came because Egg had been riding in a Divisional van when it went into the Yarra River after misjudging a turn. The uniformed copper behind the wheel hit his head on the driver’s door and drowned as the van sunk in the murky brown water. The arseholes they were pursuing got away and abandoned their stolen car. It’s only a matter of time before we catch up with them, but rumour has it that their parents sent them both overseas to escape arrest. So now the long process of extradition begins.

We buried Constable Billy Higgins with full honours. Shiny buttons as far as the eye could see. Egg was still in hospital, which was probably just as well. He doesn’t remember much, but apparently, he has dreams about flying through the air.

After attending a false alarm, he hitched a ride back to the station on that day, and I’ll bet he wished he’d taken the tram. And I’ll bet his senior partner wished he hadn’t left him there to go off to the pub for lunch. I heard his chances of promotion went faster than his pub lunch — that kind of shit sticks for a long time.

A couple of young blokes out for a run dragged Egg out before the rig went under. They dived a heap of times but couldn’t free Higgins. I remember seeing newspaper photos of the young men sitting on the river bank when the divers retrieved Higgin’s body.

A long lens shot from the other side of the river.

Both men looking bereft.

Being half a hero is a bit like being half pregnant — it doesn’t make sense. Never heard anything more about the two runners after the funeral. I wonder what happened to them? Most of us only get one or two moments in life to make our mark. This one is going to haunt them.

When a new case comes in, it’s given to the next name on the list, no matter who that may be. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but in reality, I get the tough cases. The murders that look like they might be challenging to solve. That was, until recently.

I guess I should be pleased that I still have a job, but that’s not how my head works.

“This is where the bodies wash up after they throw themselves off the bridge,” said Egg, and he sounded like he knew what he was talking about, which confused me. Of course, he was right, but how the fuck did he know that?

My pant’s leg was wicking up the river water, and pretty soon, it would reach my balls, so I switched to a squatting position. My shoes were now soaked, and my dodgy knee was reminding me of the weeks of rehab after the reconstruction. That knee ruined my jump shot.

“How the hell did you know that bodies wash up here?” I said.

“That PC over there,” he pointed back up the hill at the officer guarding the blue and white tape, “he told me. Thought I might find it useful.”

“Did he happen to mention when the coroner might be arriving?”

“No, sarge. Should I ask?”

“Don’t worry about it. What do you see?”

“A dead girl.”

“Woman,” I said.

Egg grunted. He didn’t see my point.

“What else?”

“She’s fully clothed. At least she looks that way without checking closer.”

“Anything else?”

“Long hair, nice clothes, shoes missing, manicured nails, no rings.”

“She’s wearing glasses,” I said.

“Not really,” said Egg. He leaned in closer and saw the horned rimmed glasses that had snagged her cardigan. “Oh, yeah.”

“Probably not a suicide then,” I said.

“How do you figure that?” said Egg.

“When I was in uniform, I got a lot of floaters. Most of them were suicides. I wanted to be good at this job so I did a lot of research. Suicides will often take off their shoes. They take off their glasses too before they jump. Uniform will tell you that they find, neatly placed shoes with eye glasses tucked inside. I used to do that when I went swimming as a kid — hide my glasses in my shoes for safekeeping.”

“You don’t wear glasses, Sarge.”

“Contact lenses,” I said, pointing unnecessarily at my face.

I could hear fresh voices behind me.

“What are you doing here Catastrophe?”

“Not a word from you,” I said as I shot Egg a look. I thought I’d gotten away from that moniker.

“Doctor Death. How nice to see you again,” I said, and she shot me a look to match the one I’d shot at Egg.

“I don’t like that name, Sergeant.”

“I’ll try and remember that doctor,” and the old battle of wills came flooding back.

“Any idea of the time and cause of death?” I said. I knew the question would annoy her. I’m permanently in that frame of mind these days.

“I only just got here Sergeant. You’ll know when I know and that won’t be until tomorrow morning. Let’s say 10:15?”

And the dance resumed. I’d missed Doctor Death. I wonder where she’s been? I remember her farewell party. She tried to kiss me several times. It freaked me out just a bit.

I straightened up, and my knee made a strange noise. The river water dribbled down my leg and into my sock. I gave that foot an involuntary shake, a bit like a cat that has something stuck to its paw.

We walked up the hill towards the helpful PC. He held the tape up for us.

“Were you FOS, constable?” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you move the body?”

The young constable broke eye contact.

“I didn’t think I should leave her like that. It didn’t seem right. I dragged her up onto the bank and pulled her dress down. I’ve got sisters.”

I waited a few moments before answering. Then, finally, the angry words drifted away.

I leaned in close so that Egg and the others couldn’t hear.

“It probably won’t jeopardise the investigation this time, but if Doctor Death works it out, you’re for the high jump. Don’t ever do that again. I don’t care how many sisters you’ve got,” I said, and my final words were softer than you would have expected. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he nodded at me.

We were almost back at the office when a call came through. The plods doing a search had turned up a handbag that probably belonged to my floater. The handbag had an address.

She Took My Arm

I walked while the sun was trying to shine.

A thick haze defused the sunlight giving the day an otherworldly glow.

It must have been the weekend, probably a Saturday. The footpaths were thickly populated with people happier than they would be on a weekday.

Everyone was going somewhere, but it was non-combative, easy-going, almost joyful.

I was walking and had been for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I had to keep track of where I was so I could get back.

The City of Melbourne is laid out on a grid like many significant cities, so as long as you don’t mind walking, you will come across a street you recognise sooner or later.

I’m not a fan of crowds, but I can tolerate them on certain occasions. This was one of those times, though I reached my limit when I arrived at a crossroads. The traffic lights were against me, so I worked my way to the front of the crowd — a chance to give my unease a bit of room to breathe.

The crowd I had been travelling with thinned out. Most of them turned left and strode up the hill.

The sun was burning off the morning mist, and the warmth soaked into my jacket and warmed my face.

She came up on my left-hand side and put her arm through mine, precisely the way a wife or a lover might.

I turned my head to see who this person was. I didn’t recognise her — I thought I might.

She was just below my eye level in heels, and her ponytail, set high on her head, made her appear taller than she was.

She looked at me with a combination of mild recognition and anticipation. I expected her to smile. She didn’t.

“So, where are we going?” I heard myself say.

I had been facing straight ahead, but now I was turning to the right as the lights changed to green.

“Oh, so we are going this way,” I said, and she moved in step with me or did she lead me in that direction — I’m not sure.

It was then that I realised I was doing all the talking. I could have sworn that she was talking to me, but her lips weren’t moving. Either way, I could hear her.

She was dressed conservatively in a light coloured blouse, skirt and a cardigan. All of her colours were subdued, but they suited her there and then.

Come to think of it, everyone around me seemed to be dressed a bit old fashioned.

As we walked, arm in arm, we turned up a minor road, and the footpath was narrow, but we had it all to ourselves.

I could smell the dust in the air and the faint smell of animals, something like visiting the Zoo or the Showgrounds. The aromas were familiar in my childhood but now strangely out of place.

The path we were on led to a small hotel.

The foyer was tiny with wood panelling and a mosaic tiled floor.

There was a lone concierge behind a polished wooden counter. He didn’t speak.

He turned and took a key from the green felt-lined pigeon holes. The key had a brass tag — number twenty-two.

Initially, he offered the key to the lady who was still holding my arm, but a look from her made him show it to me.

I took the key, and she led me to the steep stairs — built before modern building regulations. The carpet runner was held in place by ornate brass stair rods.

The stairs were just wide enough for us to walk on them together.

Our room was at the top of the stairs. The key turned smoothly in the lock, and the room’s aroma was not unpleasant — fresh soap, clean towels and possibly coffee from the morning just passed.

Being in what amounted to a full-service bedroom seemed luxurious and slightly forbidden in the middle of the day.

I watched her silently undress.

She stood in her slip and looked at me. I expected her to demand that I match her undressed state. She didn’t.

From what I could see, her breasts were average, and her hips were neither wide nor slim. Her stomach had that distinctive bump that all females have. I love that part of a woman.

She shed her shoes and carefully lined them up next to the bed.

She didn’t let her hair down, and I didn’t mind.

Her eyes were clear and bright, and I didn’t get the feeling that she did this kind of thing often. Maybe that was naive of me, but there it was. I’ve travelled for business, and I know what it feels like when you are approached by a woman who flatters a man for money. This was not that. I have no idea what this was, but it wasn’t that, which made me a little nervous.

I ran my hands over her still partially clothed body, and she watched me with that same look. To her, I could have been a puppy or a knight; her gaze would have suited both.

For the first time, she broke her gaze, turned away from me and removed the rest of her clothes, laying them neatly on the chair at the side of the bed.

I undressed quickly and slid into bed after discarding the heavy quilt.

The sheets were cold but comforting — another memory from childhood.

We explored each other’s bodies. No rush, no sign of haste. Each movement electric.

The smell of her was driving me crazy, but I held my composure.

She rolled her body against mine, and where she touched my skin, it felt like fire.

I’m not inexperienced in making love, but I have to say that I was taking my lead from her on this occasion. I always want to please the woman I’m with, it’s a point of honour, but this was something else.

I was intoxicated by being close to her.

I could tell that time was passing because the shadows in the room were moving across the floor.

I’m in good shape, but I was feeling fatigued and hungry, but I was not going to stop what we were doing to each other, not until she had had enough of me.

I’m tempted to say that it was the best sex I’ve ever had, but it was not like that. It wasn’t an occasion for a schoolboy boast.

Being with her, inside her, made me feel like I was home. Home and safe and powerful and wise and worthy.

I never wanted the experience to end, but it did, and I watched her walk across the room and into the shower, her body silhouetted against the harsh light of the bathroom.

“Great bum,” I said, but she didn’t answer.

I watched her dress and then sit demurely as I showered and dressed.

“Food?” I said as I tied my shoelaces. I’ve been good at shoelaces since I was six years old — my mum taught me how to do it.

She smiled.

I offered her my arm, and she took it.

We walked down the stairs together, and my legs felt like rubber; she seemed fine. I’m going to have to hit the gym if I’m going to keep up with this woman.

I gave the night porter the key, and he thanked me.

The street lights were on, but it wasn’t completely dark. There was still an amber glow low in the sky.

“We just made love for an entire afternoon and I don’t know your name,” I said.

We were walking next to a bench, and she put her handbag down, took out her purse, and produced a card. The card read ‘Alice Ayres’ and nothing else.

“I know that name,” I said, “but I’m not sure where I know it from.”

“Burger and chips or something a bit more upmarket?” I said. She didn’t answer. She retook my arm and led me along the street until we came to an old fashioned Italian restaurant.

The owner greeted us warmly, almost as though we were regulars.

We drank a lot of wine, and the food came straight from heaven.

“I remember where I know your name from,” I said, ‘it’s one of the plaques on the wall at Postman’s Park in London. Have you ever been to London?”

She shook her head.

After that, I have no idea what happened.

“We went to the hotel you described Mr Wilson,” said the uniformed officer sitting across the metal table from me.

“And?” I said.

The sign on the door says ‘closed’, and it doesn’t look like it has taken in guests for a long time.

“I was just there this afternoon. All afternoon,” I said.

“You mean yesterday afternoon,” said the officer.

“Yes. Yesterday. You know what I mean. Yesterday afternoon,” I said.

My head hurt, and my clothes smelled like I’d spent the night in an alley, which is where I was, apparently. That’s where the Chinese cook found me when he turned up to prep for the morning rush. Nice bloke. He gave me a coffee before noticing the bump on my head.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have given you coffee. It’s probably not good for concussion,” he said.

I assured him that coffee was good for everything.

The lump on my head was in a spot that made it unlikely that I’d done it to myself.

The police officer and the ambulance driver concurred.

“Someones walloped you on the head mate,” said the paramedic.

I felt the lump, and it felt numb and painful all at the same time.

“None of this makes any sense to me,” I said.

“Me either,” said the police officer.

“Why hit me over the head and not take anything?” I said.

“It’s a first for me too sir.”

“I’m worried about the woman I was with. Did the restaurant say what happened to her. Was she with me when I left. I don’t remember leaving,” I said.

“The restaurant is closed for a month. Big sign on the door. Thanking all their patrons. No one answers when we ring. No one with the name you gave us has turned up at any of the city hospitals and no reports from other police stations. I’d say that no news is good news. Do you have a number for her?”

“No. We’d only just met.”

The police officer gave me a look that said, ‘you’re a fast worker mate’, but I ignored it.

“We have your number and we’ll let you know if anything comes up,” he said, which was shorthand for saying, ‘we have better things to be getting on with than a bloke who got lucky and then got knocked on the head without getting robbed’. I could see his point.

I stepped out onto the street, and light rain was falling. Yesterday’s balmy weather had given way to a grey day of wet pavements and flowing gutters.

I walked for a while, not knowing where to go next.

I stopped to buy a paper. My wallet had way more money in it than I remembered. Add that to the list of things I don’t understand.

I walked to the Treasury Gardens after buying some sandwiches. I read the paper and ate the sandwiches. They tasted better than they should.

Reading the paper left me none the wiser.

I walked to the top of Bourke Street and waited for the lights to change. The rain had left the streets relatively empty.

I felt her slip her arm through mine.

I didn’t look at her. I didn’t want to jinx it.

She didn’t speak, but I knew what she wanted.

When the lights changed, we walked, arm in arm, across the street back in the direction of our hotel.

It Worked For Oscar Wilde


Michael wasn’t happy about moving to another restaurant.
“Why?” he asked.
“I hate the wallpaper,” I said.
Michael looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses.
It was all I could come up with at short notice.
It worked for Oscar Wilde — people thought he was witty, but it wasn’t doing me any favours.
“They don’t have any wallpaper,” he said.
“In the ladies room.”
“You haven’t been to the ladies room; we just got here.”
“Trust me. I can’t dine at an establishment that has substandard wallpaper in the loo — I have standards!”
I’m pretty sure I stamped my foot.

I hadn’t known Michael long enough to pull this kind of stunt and not damage our relationship, but the alternative was letting my husband see me with a strange man. At the same time, I was supposed to be twisting myself into unusual shapes in a quest for enlightenment at a yoga class.

Michael and I walked for a few minutes and found another eatery that looked cozy.
“I love this place. Let’s eat here,” I said.
“Are you sure? Wouldn’t you like to check the restrooms?”
“No need — black tiles, lots of mirrors, no problem.” I gave him my biggest smile, and it worked.

Dinner went well, and we made another date.
Barry wouldn’t have been happy if I had stuffed it up; he puts in a lot of preparation before sending me out on an assignment.

“Seduce this bloke and get close to him. No ‘one night stand’, you need to be around him a lot. I’ll give you more details once you’ve hooked him,” said Barry with a mouth full of a tuna sandwich.

You may disagree with my chosen lifestyle, and I’m sure that many people would agree with you, but one thing you could not say was that I was in this life for anything other than the excitement and the money.
There’s plenty of sex. Sex with my husband has moved to another level since my new life began.
He loves the new me. “I don’t know what happened to you, but I don’t want to jinx it by asking too many questions.”
The sex in this job is merely a means to an end.
I feel foolish saying this, but I thought we were fine, my husband and I — dull, ordinary and fine. Sex is constant and delicious. No signs that anything was wrong. Two wonderful boys and a domestic set-up that most people would kill for.
What went wrong?
Who is this woman, and why was he with her in that restaurant?
The brief view I had of them both said that he isn’t bedding her — not yet.
He’s trying his luck.
She hasn’t given him the green light.
Why is she out with a married man — my married man?
I will find out — nothing is more important.
Michael, my assignment, can wait. He likes me, so I have some time.

I need Barry, and I never thought I would hear myself say that.
Barry knows everyone worth knowing.

“So what can I do for you, sweet cheeks?” said Barry.
“You have no idea how sweet my cheeks are Barry,” I said.
“True, but I live in hope.”
“Assume that my bottom is spectacular and shift your attention to my problem.”
“Which is?”
“My husband has a girlfriend.”
“Okay. I didn’t see that coming. Do you want them both killed? I know a bloke who does a discount for doubles.”
“Let’s start with information before we progress to bloodshed.”
“We could do that. What do you want to know?” Barry was showing concern, and I found it unsettling.
“Who is she. How did he meet her and what does she want?” I said.
“Got it. I’ll get in touch when I’ve got something. How much do you want to spend? The bloke I have in mind is the best. He’s expensive, and he’s available right now.”
“How many shoeboxes full of money does he charge? I’ve got a wardrobe full of them.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Barry.

Barry got up from the table and disappeared into a back room, and I did something I have not done in all the time I have been meeting Barry at the Rising Sun Hotel — I went to the bar. Usually, I can’t wait to get out of the place, but I wanted a drink today.
“Do you have something that will make me feel better, Boris?” I asked.
Boris gave me the only facial expression he owned.
“Do you need remember or forget?” asked Boris, and I was impressed by his question — that pretty much covered it; remember or forget.
“Forget, I think Boris. Tomorrow is soon enough for remembering.”
Boris gave me a tall glass of sticky liquid approaching the colour of honey mixed with diesel fuel. I drained it and asked for another.
I don’t remember much after that.

When I awoke, it was morning, but I wasn’t sure of which day. I was in a small room that smelled of dust, beer and leather. The furniture was sparse, the door was open and considering Barry’s reputation, I checked my panties to see if I’d been interfered with. As far as I could tell, I was unmolested.
Boris appeared with a cup of tea and a couple of painkillers.
“You drink, take these, you feel better soon. I put you to bed. No look at your bum. Boris gentleman.”
“Thank you, Boris. I’ve never done that before,” I said. Boris nodded and left me to my misery.
Apart from my headache, my biggest concern was what I was going to tell my husband.

When I stumbled back to my car, it had a parking ticket — no surprise there.
My panic went for nothing because my husband had not made it home that night either. Mother and father were absent from the family home, and neither of our boys noticed — teenagers!
“I’m sorry about last night. I had a few and crashed at a mates’ place. I hope you weren’t too worried?” said my husband as he appeared, somewhat sheepishly, at dinner that night.
I was relieved and surprised that I was off the hook, and it took me a moment to adjust.
“You could have rung,” I said with a touch of annoyance.
“Phone went flat, and I was too pissed to think straight — I am sorry.”
“You are forgiven, and your dinner is in the oven,” I said, and my mind began to wonder whose bed he slept in while I was asleep in a dusty little room at the Rising Sun Hotel.

If It Isn’t Warm It’s Just Burnt Bread

I eat breakfast in bed — not always, but most of the time.

When I don’t, I usually sit at our small wooden table near the only window in the kitchen.

I’m the sole ‘old person’ living in this share house.

I’ve done the share-house thing before when I was young and poor and studying.

Now I’m older and poor and not studying.

Being the last of five people to arise, I get a clear run at the bathroom.

The downside is that there probably won’t be any milk for breakfast.

Plan B is toast and Vegemite and possibly jam, depending on my mood.

My housemates are all female.

Ages range from early twenties to mid-thirties.

I’m no longer the last person admitted to the house as two of the females have moved overseas to advance their careers. In addition, two new females have been installed. I had very little say.

At the time of my admission to this house, I wondered why they let me rent a room. Now I know that I’m the token male. I’m six feet tall, and despite my age, I’m strong and handy with tools (my ute is full of them — remnants of a previous life). After I’d been living here for a few months, word got around the neighbourhood that I was good at fixing things. Being an upper-class neighbourhood, people expect to pay, so it has come in handy — beer money mostly.

Ours is the only share house in a street of multi-million dollar houses built for successful business people in the early nineteen hundreds — grand old houses.

The current owner inherited the house and lives amongst us. She’s a surgeon, but you would never know it. She’s down-to-earth, can drink the young ones under the table, but never when she on-call. She likes rock and roll and white bread.

My role here, apart from paying rent, is to be tall and robust and handy. I carry heavy stuff whenever someone moves in or out. I carry grocery bags and take out the rubbish. I’ve been called upon to escort drunken ex-boyfriends from the premises — I’m a match for drunk young men, but only just.

Spiders are my speciality — they don’t bother me, and I haven’t killed one yet. So they all live quietly outside now. I’m sure they are grateful.

The spider thing has come in handy whenever I have annoyed one of my female housemates enough to want me gone.

“But he catches spiders,” is the cry that has saved me a few times.

No one has ever said anything, but two years of Psych, back in the day, tells me that I’ve been installed because there is little chance of anyone falling in love with me and upsetting the dynamics of the house.

The realisation hurts a bit, but I can see the practical side of the argument.

By nine-thirty am,the house is all mine. The women are off being a doctor, politician, theatre manager, personal secretary.

People think that you pop a couple of pieces of bread into a toaster, and out it pops — toast.

Not so.

If you don’t butter it immediately (actual salted butter), it will not taste how toast is supposed to taste. If you are interrupted (as I sometimes am) and your toast gets cold, there is no way back. I know. I’ve tried every means possible to resurrect cold toast — it cannot be done. It just sits there and turns into burnt bread. Not fit for man or beast. Although, it has to be said that the local birds will eat it reluctantly.

My male friends think I’m crazy to live in a house full of unattainable females.

I’ve learned to enjoy the experience. Females are amazing creatures, and besides, I don’t have a choice. I could not afford to live on my own.

Paydays are few and far between when you are an unrecognised writer with a ute full of tools and not much else to offer to the world.

As long as there is soft white bread cut thickly and butter and possibly jam, then there is something to look forward to, at least until my flatmates burst in at the end of the day and bring an end to my writing and a beginning to the prospect of spending time with interesting people.

Illustration: Mary Maxam

… never strikes twice …

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“Lightning strikes the earth about eight million times a day, so it isn’t surprising that we get a few strikes around here.”

“I’ve lived here since before colour television, and I can hardly ever remember any lightning strikes. Now you can’t move for the bloody things,” I said, and I was aware of how strange it all sounded.

“What’s your point, old-timer?”

It took a great deal of self-control not to punch the smug bastard in the balls.

“My point, sonny (I never call anyone ‘sonny’) is that several people have been killed by lightning strikes over the past three months and no one seems to be doing anything about it. I lost my best friend and two of my neighbours.”

He narrowed his eyes after the ‘sonny’ crack, and I could see that I was not getting anywhere.

Exactly when did I slip into the old codger age group?

Was a time when I spoke, people listened. I had authority. Maybe they weren’t quite sure why, but I sounded like I should be in charge.

Now, I’m lucky if people don’t laugh when I speak.

I really didn’t mean to say it, but I was so frustrated it just slipped out.

“The fucking aliens, you numbskull. They’re killing people with lightning bolts.

They hit Henry’s house three times before they got him.”

“I heard about that one. Strangest thing,” said the desk sergeant.

“Henry thought so too, the first two times. I don’t know what he thinks now. Not much, I’m guessing. Completely fried!”

The police officer’s natural curiosity had distracted him momentarily, but now he was back.

“Aliens, you say?”

I knew that tone, and I could almost hear someone preparing a cell for me to sleep in tonight.

I was in it now so might as well get it over with.

“Do you remember the 1950’s film,  Invasion Of The Body Snatchers?”

Despite himself, the sergeant nodded.

“Well, do you remember that no-one believed it was happening until it was too late?”

The sergeant could see the trap he was walking into.

“Okay, so no-one is snatching bodies, but they are doing away with anyone who would be strong enough to stand against them — when they decide to come,” I said.


Next morning, they fed me breakfast before letting me out of my cell.

The desk sergeant had gone home, but he had briefed his replacement.

“Good luck with those aliens, old-timer,” he said as he handed me my wallet and shoelaces.

I sat in the waiting area and laced up my shoes.

I knew it was only a matter of time before the lightning caught up with me. They know where I live and they have tried once — hit the shed and fucked up all my gardening stuff.

I loved that ride-on mower.


I’ve spoken to everyone I can think of who might be open-minded enough to understand, but all I get is blank stares or the bum’s rush.

Fuck ‘em if they won’t listen.


“Did you hear about the police station being hit by lightning? Killed everyone of them. Newspapers said it was unprecedented,” said my neighbour.

“That’s a big word for our local newspaper. They must have employed someone who can spell, for a change,” I said, and my neighbour looked at me like I was from another planet.

“Come to think of it, there has been a lot of lightening just lately,” said my well-informed neighbour.

“Really. I hadn’t noticed.”

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.”

For What Seemed Like Forever

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“Charlie Varick? I’ve been working for him for about four years, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

The question came out of nowhere, and it really pissed me off. It’s a job, what difference does it make? When I go home, I leave work at work.

“What difference does it make? He’s a fucking private eye, and he uses you as a decoy.”

“I’m his secretary, and the decoy stuff only happens every now and then. Mostly, it isn’t dangerous, and mostly I answer the phones and make appointments. Of course, there is coffee and dry cleaning, but mostly it’s answering phones.”

My parents were in town for a couple of days, and I was glad to see them; well ‘glad’ is probably too strong a word, but it was good to see them. Parents should be kept at a distance that is directionally proportional to the amount of shit they put you through as a kid. Mine weren’t that bad but using this formula they should be at least 427 kilometres away at all times.

I’m 26 years old, gorgeous and leggy with long black wavy hair that men hold on to when they are making love to me. Not that there are that many of them.

I like men, just in small doses.

Not small in the way you are thinking, just small in the sense of time I have to spend in close proximity. Charlie’s different, but he is old, at least 47 years old, and he is taken, but he treats me like I’m someone. Like I count in the grand scheme of things. I guess he is so relaxed because he is old, and old people don’t worry so much about stuff.

My dad was wound up, but I know it was my mum who put him up to it.

“We just want you to be safe; safe and happy. That’s all your mother, and I have ever wanted.”

“I know dad.” Things seemed to be calming down now that the shouting had stopped.

It was still early. Hotel restaurants tend to wind down around 9:30 pm, and it was now way past that, so we had the room to ourselves except for the girl at the bar and the waiter who was doing a little shuffle that was Morse code for ‘they don’t pay me past 10:00 pm even if you are still here drinking coffee, and I have a home to go to, and my dog misses me’.

It was a complicated dance.

My father, mother and I talked about nothing for another fifteen minutes before my dad signed the bill, and they went up to their room. I stood and watched as they walked up the staircase. My mother clung to the handrail as though it was saving her from a sinking ship. My dad negotiated the stairs easily enough because he never used elevators unless he absolutely had to.

I asked him about it once, and he said that it was his small concession to keeping fit, but I think it had more to do with the stories that his father brought home.

 His dad was a fireman, and he would be called out to rescue cats and people, and sometimes he was expected to free individuals who had been trapped — sometimes these people had been stuck in elevators, and he delighted in terrifying his children with stories of people who had gone insane after being stuck in an elevator for six hours.

“One bloke tried to chew his arm off, which seemed pointless to me. It wasn’t as though they had him in handcuffs — he was trapped in a lift for fuck sake. Now if he had tried to eat through the door, that I could understand, but his arm — that’s just nuts.”

I sat on the overstuffed couch in the hotel’s foyer and tried to collect my thoughts.

I still had half an hour before I was to meet Charlie at Bar Alfredo on Little Collins Street. I walked the short distance up Collins and turned left onto Exhibition. Little Collins was the first on the left, and the bar was about two hundred metres down.

This end of the street had been disrupted by building activities for nearly two years, which made it difficult to negotiate on foot, or by car. The street was already very narrow, and its name gave a hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the more significant and grander edifices on Collins Street. Deliveries would be made, and tradesmen would be admitted.

It was best to keep the grubby people out of sight.

These days the ‘Little’ streets were home to trendy bars and eateries as well as exclusive apartments and the occasional clothing shop.

The footpath on both sides is extremely narrow, and I was forced to step out onto the road to let a large, rude man pass by. He looked vaguely familiar until I remembered I had not seen him before — he was exactly how Charlie had described the man I was supposed to ‘distract’.

 “He’s big, about 40 years old, always wears a dark suit with a red handkerchief in his top pocket, and he smells like lemons. He will be sitting at the bar because he always sits at the bar. Third stool from the far end as you come in the front door.”

I had the feeling that these instructions and this description were going to go to waste.

To get to Bar Alfredo, I first had to walk past a narrow laneway and at this time of night, the laneway was in complete darkness. Being a female living in a big city, I avoided dark laneways because I wanted to go on ‘living in the big city’.

As I looked into the darkness, I saw Charlie lying in a pool of his own blood.

I say ‘saw’, but that’s not what I mean. I didn’t see him with my eyes; I saw him in a vision. The dark laneway was like a giant projector screen, and on it, I saw Charlie’s exact location, as though it were daylight.

I used my phone to light the way to the spot that I knew Charlie would be lying. He was behind some boxes with a single knife wound in the middle of his chest.

I would love to say that he lived long enough to look into my eyes and tell me who had killed him. I would like to tell you what his last words were and that he had smiled before he died, but I can’t.

He was gone by the time I got to him — warm but gone.

I sat next to him for what seemed like forever and thought about my life and wondered what Charlie thought when the large man in the dark suit took his life. I wondered what my life was going to be like from now on. I wondered if my mum and dad had gone to sleep yet.

I don’t remember ringing anyone, but I must have because an ambulance arrived closely followed by the police.

The weather was warm, so why there was so much fog? And why did my voice sound funny, and why was the police officer mumbling?

When I came to, I was sitting on the back step of an ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted him to give me a break.

“Give her a minute mate; she’s had a rough night.”

The policeman ignored the world-weary ambulance driver. The brash young policeman considered civilians to be annoying. They kept passing out or screaming or generally being uncooperative. He just wanted to get a statement so he could get back on patrol. The homicide detectives would be along very soon, and they would shoo him away like an unwanted blow-fly.

“Miss? Miss? How did you know he was in that alley? Did you hear something? Did you see anyone come out of the alley?”

I was trying to decide which question to answer first when it occurred to me that this was all very strange.

“I had a vision, which was weird. I don’t normally get visions at night-time. I always get my visions in the morning.”

The police officer stopped asking me questions after that, and he and the ambo were looking at each other with the strangest expression on their faces. I don’t think that they believed me, and I wanted them to. This was a first for me.

A pair of plain-clothed detectives arrived and scooped me up heading me towards their car, but before I got in, I gave it one last try to convince my interrogator.

“I really did see him lying there, in the dark, which was weird. I always get my visions in the morning.”

Bright Red Car – an audio story

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Retrieving lost items is often a matter of waiting for them to turn up, which they almost always do — almost. I sometimes think that particular objects hide on purpose. Maybe they are forcing me to not make a fool of myself, who knows?
Losing things is also a red flag for me — a kind of ‘something is wrong with the way your consciousness is working, you’d better slow down, or you are going to find yourself inside one of your stories’.
Susan’s dilemma is slightly different from mine. Her ‘loss’ was forced on her, and now she MUST find a way to retrieve her ‘lost’ possessions.

 

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The Way He Said It

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I’d been working on the idea for a long time.
When I finally took it to him, with all the excitement of a small puppy, he laughed at me.
It wasn’t so much what he said as the way he said it.
As though it wasn’t worth a moment of his precious time to even consider it.
  
I bundled up my shock and disappointment and confided in my best friend.
My friend’s advice was succinct and to the point, “Oh forget him, he’s an idiot.”
He handed me a large whisky and gave me the look of someone who wanted to know what my idea was all about.
He totally believed in me, and he was more than slightly surprised that I let this person rattle my confidence.

Comfortable Old Armchair

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My grandfather loved books, and I think he loved me almost as much.
I know I loved him.
I can still remember the feeling of squashing down next to him in that comfortable ancient armchair.
No one sat in that chair except my grandfather. It wasn’t because we were scared of him or anything like that, it was just that it was his chair and to sit there without him in it, didn’t seem right.
I was working overseas when my grandparents died; one after the other with only days between them.
It wasn’t the kind of job that I could up and leave, so by the time I was back in the country, there wasn’t a physical sign that they had ever been here on this Earth. Their ashes had been scattered, and their house emptied and sold.
Indecent haste was how I phrased it.
“Where the fuck were you while all the work was being done?” was their reply. I guess I pissed my father off because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened to my grandparent’s furniture. It was the armchair that I was really interested in, but I guess it was landfill or in some op-shop warehouse somewhere. I hoped that it had been purchased by a house full of uni students. I could see a nineteen-year-old female English Literature student curled up with a tattered old copy of something by Somerset Maugham. Possibly, ‘The Razor’s Edge’. Yes, that would be good.
My grandfather introduced me to the delights of Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stephenson in equal measure. He didn’t treat me like a little girl, he saw only a curious, young person who had fallen in love with the worlds that existed between the pages of a book.
He had the most beautiful husky voice, and sitting close to him was like sitting in an old dusty closet. He was warm even in winter, and I got the feeling that it was because of some kind of inner glow caused by his love of books.
He always read me books that were a bit above my understanding, and I think that was on purpose. He would smile when I asked him what a particular word meant, and he would sometimes get me to run my finger over the word as he explained its meaning.
I collect bookmarks because he did.
I give books as presents because he said it was a wise thing to do.
His heroes were authors, and mine are too.
He thought that reading was as essential as writing, and so do I.
We will meet again someday, but for now, I have to be the person he wanted me to be, and I need to find a comfortable old armchair so I can sit and read and remember.