“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.”
“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 too. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Susan, a bereaved daughter, stumbles upon her grandmother’s journals. Stories hidden from the family of adventures, spies, a mysterious discarded toy, lost loves and revenge flash before her eyes sparking a desire to escape her ordinary life.
In a dusty attic, Susan holds her sadness in check as she attempts to organise her mother’s stored memories. Boxes of journals written by her grandmother reveal a hidden secret life lived out during the modern world’s most dangerous conflict. Time slows down as the young woman relives her ancestor’s exciting life. The quiet dismissive old lady that she knew does not fit with the vibrant idealistic young woman she reads about in these journals. The identity of the mysterious ‘Keeper Of Secrets’ is ultimately revealed and this revelation leads Susan to a decision — she is going to escape from her ‘ordinary life’ and live a secret life of her own.
BOOK TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2OHQd7X_Jo
Revenge is best served with dessert and a red wheelbarrow.
An original story read by the author, 10:14
From the audiobook SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES
It’s a mistake to underestimate the quiet old bloke who lives next door, and an even bigger mistake to annoy him.
An AUDIOBOOK story from SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES TOO.
Illustration: Haddon Sunblom
So BORIS has an official launch date, December 22nd 2018. This will be the cover for the audiobook and the middle bit is the book cover. It is available now for pre-order.