Suicide Note: Part Three –In the darkness of the late of day

If you are so inclined, Part One is here, and Part Two is here.

I didn’t have long to wait for a tram.

It wasn’t raining, and the wind was gentle.

The tram was built in the 1940s (I know these things), and the driver had never been a passenger in his life. He was obsessed with the tram’s ability to out-accelerate the cars trying to pass it. I’m well built, but it took all of my strength to stop from being thrown out of my seat. I looked around me, and the faces of the other passengers said that if I had could organise a rope, they would gladly join in and strangle their driver.

His ability to accelerate was matched only by his skill with the brake.

I stood up and someone gasped at my foolhardiness.

I struggled my way to the front of the tram as it approached my stop.

I felt like a pole dancer as my feet left the ground.

When we came to a halt, I let go of the pole and leaned into the driver’s cabin.

“You seem to be in a bit of a hurry, pal?” I said.

“Have to make up time. Anyway, what do you care. You getting off or what?”

“Not much fun back there, Jack Brabham. Slow the fuck down a bit. Some of us are fragile.”

An old lady seated towards the front of the tram said, “and brittle, young man.”

Most passengers looked in our direction, wondering why we weren’t hurtling towards the next stop.

“Public safety officer,” I said as I moved my suit jacket to one side, revealing my detectives’ badge and my shoulder holster.

The driver’s eyes widened.

“Have a nice day, officer,” said the driver.

I stood and watched as the tram pulled slowly away.

“That bloke won’t need a laxative today,” I said to myself.

~oOo~

Most people think that murders happen in the morning, which isn’t true, but don’t let the truth get in the way of a story intended to make people laugh.

I don’t remember how it goes, but it has something to do with not getting a morning coffee or making the coffee poorly, causing a homicidal situation.

It usually gets a laugh — in a homicide squad.

Crap humour makes me homicidal, but I get the joke. Coffee or the lack of it equals anger.

The reality is somewhat darker.

People tend to kill each other in the darkness of the late of day.

I guess that all the hope has gone out of the day. Maybe all sane resolutions are exhausted, so you belt whoever it is that is getting in your way over the head with a lump of pipe that is conveniently lying around.

Sex and money, or a combination of both.

He/she will/won’t fuck me.

He/she took all my money.

You might think that domestic violence is different, but it isn’t. It looks different, I’ll grant you that, but when you scratch away at it, it comes down to sex and money.

But there’s the rub.

It isn’t the sex, and it isn’t the money — it’s the lack of love that kills people and induces people to kill. The sex and the money are just external symbols.

“My wife leaves me and takes the kids so I don’t get my conjugals, Your Honour, so naturally I teach them a lesson and kill them.”

 “My wife and kids don’t love me anymore because of the arsehole I’ve become, so I have to strike out at them. Me mates will think I’m a wimp if I don’t do something.”

Who did Debra piss off?

Did she threaten someones financial security?

~oOo~

“Nothing to do today Sarge?” said the only member of the squad who was allowed to be a smart arse in my presence and live through it — we had ‘history’, we’d been through a bit together.

“I am doing something Kellerman. I’m planning your demise. I’m up to the part where I dispose of your body in a unique and imaginative way.”

“Wouldn’t help. Everyone knows that if I went missing you’d be the one who did it,” said Kellerman on his way to the stationery cupboard.

“Count on it,” I said.

If we had a couch in the squad room, I’d lie on it, but we don’t, so I sit in my chair and think. It looks like I’m ‘out to lunch’, and I sort of am, but not the way they mean.

Some detectives get their inspiration over a glass of beer, others from wading through paperwork. I knew one bloke who used to bang his head up against the tiles in the Gents. He always had a Band Aide on his forehead, but he had an enviable clear-up rate. I tried it once — you get desperate sometimes. All I got was a headache and a lump on my head.

I looked like a de-horned unicorn.

I watched the second hand on the office clock.

I’ve always loved second hands.

You don’t see many of them these days, what with digital this and digital that.

The clock in our squad room had been there since they hung Ronald Ryan, and come to think of it, I’ve never seen anyone adjust it. The bloody thing is ancient, so there is no way it has crystals or whatever it is that keeps good time.

I checked the time on my phone, and it was only a few seconds faster than the mains electric dinosaur clock hanging on the wall. Flies had pooped on it, and dust weighed it down, but round and round it went, refusing to tell bad time.

I’m going to shoot anyone who tries to remove that clock.

The thought reminded me.

I took my gun out of the top draw and put it in its holster.

I’m old enough to remember when we carried revolvers, but someone worked out that automatics were better in a sustained gunfight.

I preferred the revolver.

I’ve never been in a ‘sustained’ anything.

I usually find that the first two bullets tend to resolve the issue.

Anyway, it made the Chief commissioner look good, waving around an automatic.

A sign of the times, I guess.

The lovely thin sweep hand glided past the twelve, and the big black hand said it was two minutes past ten.

I rose from my’ thinking chair’, and within a few minutes, I’d successfully negotiated the traffic outside our building (no mean feat) and was taking the stairs, two at a time, down to the morgue.

Doctor Death was waiting.

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

A Handful of True

“G’day, sorry to interrupt, but I’m sure I know you?” I said.

“Don’t think so,” said the heavyset bloke squashed up against the wall of the train.

The three other bulky blokes looked at me as though I’d stepped in something.

These four sizeable male football supporters exceeded the technical design limits of the seats in our suburban train carriage.

They’d been annoying my friend and me ever since the doors opened at Richmond station.

The carriage had been half full, but now it was packed with people heading home after the game at the MCG.

From the scarves and beanies, it looked like Hawthorn and Melbourne had played each other. I have only a passing interest in the sport that dominates my city, but I knew that these two teams were evenly matched.

It was hard to tell from the general conversations which team had prevailed.

The general make up of our carriage was young families and friends all happily retelling their favourite highlights or wishing that “Robbo had hit that shot on the siren.”

It must have been a close finish.

Football crowds can be a mixed lot, but this crew were primarily easygoing.

And then there were the four fat blokes a few seats back from us.

Not easy going.

Loud.

Probably three parts pissed.

Misogynistic.

Homophobic.

Like a swirling ink stain, their influence was colouring the previously happy carriage.

Other conversations became quieter —more private — protective.

“Sorry, you look just like a bloke I used to know,” I said as I leaned over the nearest member of this quartet and offered my hand.

A handshake.

A universal male greeting.

A sign of friendship.

A sign that I mean you no harm.

Except I did mean him harm.

The red-faced fuckwit reluctantly took my hand and tried to crush my fingers for the amusement of his friends.

It didn’t work even though his hand was huge. I went to an all-boys school back in the day, and one of our teachers taught us how to avoid a vice-like grip.

The fuckwit held my hand way too long and looked into my eyes, waiting for my reaction.

“Well, sorry to have disturbed your conversation,” I said as I wrenched my hand free.

“Have a good night fellas,” I said with a smile.

The other three blokes sneered at me as I smiled and walked back to my seat, nearly tripping over a boy wearing an oversized jacket.

“That kid’s going to burst into flame if his dad doesn’t take his jacket off,” I said as I sat down next to my friend.

“Never mind the combustable kid. What the fuck were you doing talking to those Neanderthals? They’ve probably been drinking all day.”

“They were annoying me and pissing everyone off so I thought I’d sort it,” I said while looking out into the darkness.

“What station do you reckon they’ll get off at?” I said.

The question pushed my friend back into our regular routine for a moment.

“Boronia, maybe Bayswater. You know, cashed up bogan territory.”

“Could be,” I said.

“So what the fuck did you think you were doing?” said my friend.

We’d known each other forever, and our friendship had survived the inevitable ups and downs.

Good mates.

Life had been putting distance between us, but we met up over two weeks to attend the film festival every year.

“Have you ever noticed that I tend to fist bump people and rarely shake hands?” I said.

“Yeah, so what?”

I put my hand out, and he took it and shook it.

“I’ve often thought I might be gay and I’ve wondered what it would be like to have sex with you, but I didn’t want to complicate our relationship and I don’t know why I’m saying this. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to stop myself,” said my best friend, who once saved my life when we were kids.

I knew he fancied me, but I’m okay with the knowledge.

Good friends are hard to hold on to.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, just don’t speak. The effect will wear off in a little while. It was only a short hand shake. That bloke down there, on the other hand, he’s going to be telling the stark honest truth for quite a while.”

My friend clamped his lips tightly shut and turned around to stare at the commotion occurring behind him. I’d been watching as we spoke.

The bloke I’d shaken hands with — the one who wouldn’t let go — was in violent conversation with the other three.

The people seated near them had moved further away, and I could hear snatches of dialogue as things seemed to be getting out of hand.

“Yeah, I fucked her. She was begging for it. Your old lady bangs like a dunny door.”

A punch was thrown, but it’s hard to do much damage when you are wedged it tight with a bunch of drunk fat blokes.

“What’s the matter with you Billy, I thought we were mates?” said the fat bloke sitting next to the fat bloke who had been cuckolded by Billy.

“I gave your missus one as well. If you ask her nicely, she’ll bark like a dog. You should give it a try,” said Billy just before this fat bloke tightened his grip.

Someone threw an elbow, and there was a dull thud and an exhalation of air.

The four fat blokes continued to ineffectually strike each other until the train came to a halt, and I expected to see a couple of police officers come bursting in, but they didn’t.

The four portly football supporters got up and staggered off the train. The mayhem continued on the platform as the train pulled out.

“Bayswater,” I said, and my friend looked at me.

“Did you have ‘Bayswater’, I can’t remember.”

“No. I don’t think we settled on a station.” Which was very honest of my friend. Mind you, just at the moment, he didn’t have a lot of choices. So honesty was going to follow him around for the next half an hour or so.

“You did that, didn’t you?” said my friend.

“Yep.”

“Have you always been able to make people tell the truth?” said my friend. “Fuck, that explains a lot. That time Brother Michael told us all that stuff about what it was like to be a Marist Brother. That was you.”

“He really gave me the shits. Served him right.”

“I liked him a lot.”

“I know you did, and if you had acted on your feelings, he would have eaten you alive,” I said.

“After his outburst I changed my mind about him.”

“I’m glad. It was a huge chance to take, but I couldn’t just stand by and see him take advantage of you. You were my friend.”

“I still am.”

“I know you are.”

We talked some more about the movie and what we would like our lives to be like in the coming year, and my friend didn’t notice when the urge to tell the unvarnished truth fell away.

When we got off the train and walked to our cars, we said goodnight and my friend hugged me. Hugging wasn’t one of our things, but I got the feeling that it would be from now on, and I’m okay with that.

Where Should I Go?

I would love to say that I’m sick of the downside of fame and fortune, but that would be a lie, and you know how I’m not too fond of lies.

I’m not famous, and I’m not fortunate, but I do need to get away.

The decision has been made, but the finer details need to be ironed out.

Like, where do I go?

With everyone locked down and international travel difficult (but not impossible), you would think that my options were limited.

Not so.

I’m an inventive and resourceful person.

I can get around anything and talk my way out of, or into most situations, so many destinations are open to me.

The problem?

Too many choices, so maybe I should take the advice given by a ghost to Odysseus when he asked where to go on his journey.

“Take an oar from your boat and walk inland until you meet someone who doesn’t know what an oar is and asks what you are carrying. That is the place you should be.”

I’m not a seaman, but I am a writer, so I’m going to carry my typewriter until someone asks me what it is.

There shall I settle.

Artist: https://www.fernandovicente.es/en/illustration/fashion/

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.

Zeitgeber

The cup and saucer are mine.

The uniform’s mine as well. 

Two shillings a week comes out of my pay packet until it is paid for.

Twelve-hour shifts, six days a week.

I’ve been refused permission to return to the front.

“Considering you walked away and took yourself home, you are very lucky we took you back at all,” said Matron Silver.

I understood what she meant.

I had a good excuse, but I also knew that explaining it all again was a waste of time.

I signed up so that I could be close to my brother.

I achieved that goal only to nurse him back to health and see him return to his unit.

 

My service at the front started after many months of training at a hospital not far from home. Only then was I was dispatched to the front. A small town not far from the Belgian border.

Months of blood, mud and exhaustion.

I received word that my brother was ‘missing in action’.

Missing in action can mean one of two things — he’s at an aid station, unidentified, or he is dead.

My heart wanted to believe that he was sitting in a bar in some small Belgian village, just behind the lines — dazed and confused, trying to remember who he is.

One rainy exhausting day, a colleague told me my brother had been brought in. I found him lying among the soldiers who were pronounced dead on arrival.

Like every loving sister since the beginning of time, I didn’t want to believe it.

I dragged him out from the line of dead young men and cradled him in my arms. There was still a faint glimmer of life in him, and over the coming months, I nursed him back to something approaching good health.

When they sent him back in action, he promised to write every week, and he did, but the glacial movement of mail meant that his last letter arrived about two weeks after he disappeared in action, for the second time.

Every person has a limit to their endurance, but we don’t know what that limit looks like until we are tested.

My role as a combat nurse was voluntary. I wasn’t in the army, so I could leave if I wanted to. So I did.

I was done.

Exhausted.

Spent.

The voyage home, in a ship full of wounded young men, was mercifully short.

At home, I spent a lot of time in the garden sitting under my favourite tree waiting for news of my brother — news that never came.

My brother and I were best friends. 

He stood up to my father when I wanted to go to University. He won the day, and I followed him to Edinburgh. He was in his final year when war broke out. I was at the end of my first year.

He enlisted, and I left University and took up nursing.

The head of the women’s College was furious with me for leaving my degree studies.

“You have a first-class brain and a heart to match. Young men will be marching off to war forever and a day. You have a chance to decide your own future, don’t throw that away to follow a man.”

I tried to make her understand that I owed it to him to return his loyalty, and she just sighed.

“I can’t guarantee that you will be allowed back if you survive the war. I only make room for women who understand that the future requires commitment and courage. You obviously have courage but I doubt your commitment,” she said as she turned and walked away. 

I was determined to follow my brother, but I was sad that I’d let her down. She was the most inspiring woman I had ever met, and disappointing her was something I did not want to do.

 

It’s about three o’clock in the morning, and the ward is quiet. 

Earlier, Captain Wainwright was keeping the other men awake with his constant nightmares, constant screaming.

“Gas, gas. Get your bloody masks on. Gas! Gas!”

The exertion made his lungs raw, and he coughed so much he began to bleed — again.

We settled him with a sedative, and the ward has been quiet ever since.

“Thanks, sister. I know the poor bugger has been through it, but there’s a good chance I might strangle him if I don’t get some sleep,” said the sergeant in the last bed on the ward.

As I said, the cup and saucer belong to me, or they are mine now. They were my grandmother’s, and she left them to me.

I ‘brew up’ at this time and sit quietly and sip my tea and wonder about my brother and what my life will look like now he is gone.

Being able to look after these soldiers makes me feel close to him, but one day all this madness will end and then, what do I do? 

Mrs Houdini

When you look at a person, you only see what you see.

You don’t see what came before.

A woman in a nightgown and slippers who has trouble remembering where she is, does not give a hint as to who she was.

The young staff members named her ‘Mrs Houdini’ because she held the record for the most number of daylight escapes.

Those who grow old and forget are often dismissed, but many of them lived through world wars, lost children to disease and despair, struggled through the Depression, worked for a wage and bought up a family — they learned a thing or two along the way.

They learned to look like they are not looking while the sister punches in the key code. Like seeing where the key to the ward is kept and knowing when the nurses’ station is unattended — things like that.

Mrs Houdini’s real name was Alice, Alice Johnson, and whenever she escaped, she headed for the little cemetery next to the old stone church.

Benjamin Johnson lay in that cemetery.

There was a bench near his grave, and she sat and told him all her news, but on this day she remembered something.

“I must go and tell Jimmy,” she said as she rose to her feet. Her drink bottle sat forgotten on the bench. It was one of those drink bottles that you give to small children, so they don’t spill their milk everywhere.

The drink bottle was still there when Jim Johnson arrived at the graveyard, about thirty minutes after he got the call. He would have come sooner, but he had a dead body to take care of first — work is work, and his commander was sick of him having to rush off and search for his wayward mother.

“I spend seventy-five percent of my free time either taking care of, or looking for my mother. You would think that the gigantic chunk of my salary I give them every month would cover the cost of them finding her whenever they loose her,” he said to his colleague, who was only half listening.

Jim Johnson didn’t tell his superior he was looking for his mother — again. Instead, he took the long way back to the office via the churchyard.

He missed her by a few minutes, and he would not see her again for two days. 

Two days and nights.

When he found her again, she was in remarkably good condition. Her slippers were a bit muddy, and her nightgown was torn at the hem, but she could not remember where she had been for those two days and nights. It really didn’t matter — she was safe and back in his arms — his mother was safe.

The only part of her adventure she could remember was the last bit, the bit where she was blinded and nearly run over by the motorbike.

~oOo~

Hugh Carter had an intriguing skill set which included being able to change a spark plug in under a minute. It didn’t much matter how long you took to change a spark plug, but Hugh was proud that he could do the whole job in under a minute.

Hugh Carter stood about one hundred and eighty centimetres tall (about five foot ten in old money). He had black curly hair and women liked him — a lot. Hugh would ultimately find that he was happy to bat for both teams, but at this moment, he enjoyed the attention of women.

Hugh worked for a performance garage and raced motorcycles whenever he could scrape together the money to tune his machine.

Hugh was reasonably successful, and with a bit of sponsorship, he could have competed at the highest level.

As with all young men, he was impatient for his life to unfold.

He saw his friends earning easy money working for nefarious characters, and he held out for as long as he could.

His first step into the world where life was even cheaper than normal was when a bloke he knew was found dead.

His friend and his bike plummeted off a cliff, and neither of them survived.

A grizzled bloke in a jacket displaying the colours of a local bike club approached him to do some courier work.

The grizzled bloke pointed at the gun stuffed in his belt and indicated that he would deploy said weapon if Hugh contemplated taking the cash and not making the pickup.

Hugh understood.

Hugh stayed within the speed limit on the way to the pickup, met his contact, watched as they counted the money, took the backpack after they showed him the contents, and proceeded to drive at high speed to the little stone church where his grizzled boss was waiting to meet him.

His high-speed antics nearly got him pulled over, but his riding skills enabled him to escape.

Hugh was feeling the adrenaline rush as he arrived at the church. 

He handed over the backpack and the grizzled bloke checked the purity of its contents as two of his cohorts stood by with weapons drawn.

When the shouting and the gunfire began, Hugh dived behind a pew.

Jim Johnson was hit in the vest by a bullet, and it took the wind out of him. He was the second officer through the door.

As he lay on the floor of the church trying to decide if he was going to die, he noticed a man in black leathers crawling under the pews towards the door that Jim and his fellow officers had just come through.

Bullets continued to fly, and men continued to shout as Hugh made it through the front door. His bike was still where he had left it, and it started with the first kick of the starter.

Jim Johnson decided that he was not going to die — his vest had saved him. He scrambled to his feet and heard bullets whiz past. Jim found the main power board and threw the master switch. All the lights came on at once, including the builder’s floodlights on the outside of the building. 

Several thousand-watt globes burst into life emitting that ghostly white light that bleeds all the colour out of everything it lands on.

Hugh’s rear wheel spun on the dirt road as he changed into second gear. His engine was screaming, and so was Hugh. A ghostly apparition stepped from behind the church and into the middle of the road.

The floodlights blinded Alice Johnson, but she kept on walking. She heard the young man swear and noticed what sounded like a motorbike sliding through the gravel.

The gunfire had abated, and officers were spilling out of the church, Jim Johnson among them.

He ignored the fallen bike rider and ran to his mother.

“Are you okay mum?” he said, holding her close.

“Jimmy. Where have you been? I have something to tell you,” she said and promptly forgot what it was.

Jim took off his coat and wrapped it around his mother and led her to a waiting ambulance.

After a day in the hospital, she would be back in the nursing home, planning her next escape.

In the remand centre, Hugh was telling his fellow inmates about the ghost who knocked him off his bike.

They all agreed that his was the best bad luck story.

A ghost beats tripping over your own shoelaces any day.