The next thirty hours yielded nothing of any value, and I found myself walking through the city late in the day.
I try to avoid walking.
My body doesn’t like it, but sometimes my mind insists.
The need to sit down saw me turn into a tiny bar in one of the eponymous laneways of Melbourne. It wasn’t much bigger than a garden shed with narrow tables and chairs along one wall and a bar on the other. Mirrors made the place look bigger than it was.
“Long day mate?” said the barman who had been born somewhere other than Melbourne.
“Regulation number of hours, but it seemed longer,” I said.
Does the ‘Responsible Serving Of Alcohol’ certificate include a module on ‘how to chat with customers’, or does it come naturally.
“Something Scottish, single malt, lots of smoke please — neat,” I said.
I didn’t go up to the bar. I wanted to see how he was going to get out from behind it. It seemed impossible from where I was sitting.
Of course, he could have put my drink on the bar and made me come and get it, but he didn’t. The end of the bar hinged up and away from the wall as the bottom panel swung in, allowing the barman to escape his prison.
“That’s a neat setup. How does it work?”
“No idea,” said the barman, “the bloke who set the place up invented it. Said he saw it in Paris years ago. Always remembered how it worked.”
I waved my debit card at the barman, and he gestured in the time-honoured way.
“Catch me when you’re done,” he said, and I thought he was very trusting considering the prices in his bar. Doing a runner after a couple of drinks would pay your rent for a week.
My drink smelled terrific, and when I added a splash of water (generously supplied without being asked for), the space around me filled with smoky goodness.
I still had to make it home to my bed, so I drank slowly. Good whisky is meant to be drunk that way, so I wasn’t pressured.
After two drinks, I was warm and significantly poorer, but none the wiser.
Cop movies will tell you that the first three days after a murder are critical, and they are, but a lot depends on hard work and blind luck.
This case was shaping up to be a lot of the former and not a lot of the latter.
Egg had spent an enjoyable time (as pleasant as it gets when you tell someone’s workmates that their friend is dead in suspicious circumstances) talking to the fellow inmates at Debra’s workplace. He checked the make and model of her computer and the office printer.
They did not match the printing on the ‘suicide’ note.
Strike two for me.
We already knew that this was most likely a murder, but I do enjoy being right.
There has been way too much going on for me to focus on my problems.
As a child, I subscribed to the theory that if you ignored something, there was a good chance it would go away.
Statistically, the jury is still out, but in this case, ignoring the problem is my only choice. What’s done is done, and the longer it goes where I don’t hear any more about it, the better it will get.
If the ‘higher ups’ had made up their minds about me and my perceived misdeed, I’d be filling out unemployment benefit papers instead of working on a murder case.
Do you remember the meeting I told you about? The one behind the glass wall?
Well, it turns out that I had a friend in that room.
I knew who all the people were.
Every one of them could decide my fate by speaking ill of me. So it was a no-brainer that some of them did exactly that.
Naturally, the Chief Inspector had the final say.
He’s a strange bird, and we have never had a meaningful conversation, and I’m not sure if that is him or me. Influential people don’t intimidate me, but I like this job, so staying away from people who can make my life harder seems like a wise idea. For his part, I’m just another loose cannon who can make his job harder.
I can’t say for sure, but I think it was he who sent the word down for me to do that weekend refresher course. He did me a favour there. I met Ms Carter, and I got laid. Which reminds me, I must ring her. It’s been a while.
It wasn’t his wife I was giving a seeing to in the back of that Bentley, but I guess he thought that standards had to be upheld.
I found out later that the two constables never intended to make a report.
I showed them my warrant card, and they had fun with me, which was to be the end of it. Unfortunately, one of them got done for drink driving, and he traded the information for a clean record. It didn’t work. He got done and, after a long process, lost his job. As with all cover-ups, it got uncovered, and by default, I ended up in the shit.
Penelope was an excellent lover, and the things she could do in the back of that vintage Bentley were amazing. I still tingle when I think about it.
Not unsurprisingly, our back seat trysts came to a screaming halt (no pun intended) when word got out.
The meeting behind the glass wall had nothing to do with me being caught with my pants down. Of course, that all happened ages ago, but somehow I had acquired a defender, and I’m yet to understand why.
I wouldn’t call him a friend — we barely know each other, but word got back that he stood up for me, mentioned my meagre achievements, and suggested that they see how I handle this case before any decisions are made.
The reason for this glass-encased meeting was indeed way more severe than my fucking a senior officer’s missus, but there we are, and the knowledge only increases the pressure on me to solve this murder.
It does occur to me that someone, more senior to me, knew this was not a suicide way before I did.
The thought makes me very uneasy, but I don’t have time for paranoia — that can come later when this case is done and my tenuous grip on this job is reestablished.
I have to admit to feeling expendable, but that’s nothing new.
“Go back over the details of your visit to Debra’s workplace. Don’t leave anything out. I want to know what colour nail polish they were wearing,” I said as the waitress delivered two BLTs with avocado on the side (say ‘avo’ anywhere near me, and you’ll need dental work).
Egg and I were having what passed for a breakfast meeting at the cafe near the wholesale vegetable market. My family has a long history with ‘the Markets’, but that’s a story for another time.
“There were two long blacks to go with these, Luv,” I said as the waitress turned to walk back to the counter.
“They’re on their way. I didn’t forget and please don’t call me ‘Luv’. We’re two decades into the twenty-first century,” said our waitress, who had had a hard morning. She wasn’t really having a go, just tired.
“I apologise sweetheart (she winced). Are you okay? You look all tuckered out,” I said, and my brain reminded me that you NEVER tell a woman that she looks tired. But, on the whole, she took it well.
The waitress put her hand on the back of my chair, and for a split second, I thought she might give me a clip over the ear.
“I’ve got two kids under five and neither of them sleep through the night. I’ve been on since four this morning and I’m buggered.”
I wondered about the four o’clock start when I remembered that the fruit and veggie market opens about then. Lots of sleepy blokes needing a cuppa.
“Would you like to sit down?” I said, moving out one of our spare chairs.
“Can’t,” she said, “got another hour to go before I sit down.”
No longer a girl and with two kids to think about, she was doing her best. One minor disaster and she would fall over the edge.
So much of life is a tightrope walk.
We watched her walk back to the counter.
I glanced at the bill sitting under my plate.
We each put a twenty-dollar note down, not wanting any change.
When the coffees arrived, I slid the bill and the notes in her direction.
“Keep the change kid,” I said. She looked at us, and somewhere inside, I think she was smiling, but it didn’t show on the outside. Tip or no tip, there were still two kids at home who wouldn’t sleep. A bloody big tip glosses over the problem.
You cannot save everyone.
Through a mouthful of BLT, Egg recounted his visit.
“About what you would expect really. As soon as I told the woman in charge, she got the staff together and told them Debra was dead. It was hard to get any of them to make sense. I was patient, I promise. Eventually I got the picture of a happy young woman who kept up with the office conversation but rarely added to the gossip. She was well liked and no hint of jealousy – from them or her. Her desk was tidy with only a few personal items. I asked and the boss said they didn’t restrict personal items. No photos on her desk or in her drawers. No personal photos on her computer. The security there is terrible. Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s computer password. I copied her hard drive and gave it to Tech. They’re a bit snowed under but they said they would have something by the end of the week. Her best friend in the office was basically incoherent. I’ll talk to her again tomorrow. Maybe she can shed some light on who Debra was seeing.”
“That’s good work,” I said, and I meant it. The kid has good instincts.
Usually, by now, I’d have a bit of an idea who might have killed who. But, unfortunately, this case was starting to drag.
The smell is the first thing that hits you.
It’s not the usual hospital smell.
This is more specific.
You feel like it is coating the inside of your nasal cavities.
The digital clock in the morgue said I was right on time.
Not my usual form.
Doctor Death didn’t glance at the time, which pissed me off. I would have copped an earful if I’d been late.
She was hunched over some poor soul while talking into a portable recorder — probably digital.
The lab assistants looked up, saw it was me, nodded, and returned to what they were doing. I guess word had gotten out that I was working with a young officer, and they were prepared with all the usual gallows humour. I noticed the wastepaper basket sitting in the corner. When the kid arrived, someone would hand it to him, and he would ask what it was for.
“You’ll find out.”
Doctor Death disapproved of such ‘goings on’, but she turned a blind eye as long as it didn’t upset the smooth flow of her department.
She is of average height for a woman. Shoulder length brown hair pulled back into a kind of ponytail, although she wouldn’t call it that. Sensible shoes that would give way to expensive ones at the end of the day. No jewellery at work. Sparkling blue eyes that stared into mine when she tried to kiss me — I told you about that.
I knew she was drunk, but those eyes said, ‘I’m fully aware of what I’m doing and you can take me right now, in that cupboard, if you want to. Don’t worry about you being younger than me, I don’t mind if you don’t.’
I had to move my hips as you do when you hug a female, and you don’t want her to think that you are coming on to her.
I held that erection for quite some time.
I’d asked around about her — her sudden reappearance.
The information was sketchy, but apparently, her marriage hit a bad patch while living in London.
“I’m going to be a lady of leisure,” she’d said, waving an expensive half-empty bottle of bubbly. “I’m going to be kept in the manner to which I’m soon to be accustomed,” she said, promptly dropping the bottle.
“You deserve it DD. Give those Poms some hell for me,” I said.
“Won’t have time. Too busy being pampered by my amazing husband.” She pointed her now empty hand in the direction of a tallish handsome man who I instantly disliked. Looked like a wanker to my trained eye, but what did it matter what I thought? She was happy, and that was all that mattered.
A lovely female PC who worked in the records office told me that someone had said to her that Mr Doctor Death turned out to be a ‘bit of a bounder’ as the Poms like to say. He needed a high profile wife, a reverse ‘handbag’ if you will, to keep up appearances. He preferred men in bed, something to do with a boarding school upbringing. She found out after a couple of years.
A couple of years!
This is a brilliant woman, and it takes her a couple of years to work out that this bloke prefers men?
What the actual fuck!
And you are sitting there wondering why people kill each other?
Someone famous (at least I think he was famous) said that love doth make fools of us all. It’s the ‘doth’ that makes it real.
Being a practical bloke, I consoled myself with the thought that she would have made a bundle out of the divorce.
Sex and money. Love and money.
Money doesn’t quite cut it when compared to love.
Egg arrived on time, and the wastepaper ritual played out. He put it by his feet, and I rubbed a smidgeon of Vicks Vapor rub under my nose. I didn’t offer him any, and I noticed him noticing my ritual.
Dr Death began her autopsy by listing everyone present, which would come in handy if one of us decided to kill or maim someone else while the autopsy was being performed. Or if there was a sudden outbreak of a deadly virus. My head goes to strange places at times of tension.
Egg lasted until a few minutes after Dr Death made her first incision. It wasn’t a record, but it put him in the top ten and cost the younger lab assistant ten dollars.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that a lack of a significant amount of river water in the lungs meant that we probably had an actual murder on our well-worn hands.
“I’ll have the tox-screen by late tomorrow. No obvious signs of violence other than the minor contusions, probably post mortem, that she might have received from bobbing around in the river.”
“Bobbing around? Is that different to floating about and lazing around?” I said, and Dr Death did not rise to the occasion.
The autopsy was over, and that was that. It felt like all the air had gone out of the room.
I found Egg in the corridor.
“Don’t worry about it, you lasted longer than most and you made an old lab assistant ten dollars. So, all in all, a good morning’s work. Breakfast?”
“Yes,” said Egg, still clutching the basket. I expected him to add to the contents, but he is tougher than I thought.
“Just leave that there. The loser will be out to collect it later — all part of the bet.”
We walked past two cafes, and Egg looked at me inquiringly.
“Nothing but Kale on wholemeal with a side something that used to be attached to a tree in the Amazon.”
We found a decent cafe and had a hearty meal of stuff that would eventually stop both of our hearts long after we had retired.
The cafe still had the peeled remnants of a gold leaf sign on the window. It must have been there for decades — no one does gold leaf anymore. I was impressed by the apostrophe. Also notable is that the window hadn’t been broken over those many years. The window in question could have used a good clean by someone who knew what they were doing.
The smoky window probably hadn’t been cleaned since you were allowed to smoke in cafes. Watching the world go by was an experience not unlike an old movie where Vaseline had been smeared on the lens to make an ageing star look younger.
The bloke who served us wasn’t named Cassell, and neither was the cook. I asked, but no one seemed to know who the original Cassell was.
“Too expensive to change the sign,” said the current owner. I liked his practical sense. I doubt that the health department had visited recently, but I didn’t care at that moment.
“She’d recently had sex, but Dr Death said she couldn’t definitely say if it was forced or not. She hadn’t been having intercourse for very long according to the Doc and I wasn’t going to ask how she knew that — took her word for it,” I said.
“Blood stream?” said Egg.
“Find out tomorrow. My back teeth are telling me that she will have something predictable in her blood.”
It’s common sense for a homicide policeman to not get emotionally involved in a case he is working on. Common sense, yes, practical — not always possible.
Office workers taking an early lunch walked purposefully past the window of the tiny cafe. I watched the young women and thought that any one of them could be our dead Debra. They weren’t, of course, and that’s how life goes — it goes on. These girls are oblivious to the death of our young woman. Maybe they will read about it or hear about it on radio or television, and then their life will go on. Debra is forever frozen in time. Her clock stopped when someone decided that she was expendable.
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.
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?
“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.
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.
“She’s fully clothed. At least she looks that way without checking closer.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
Probably three parts pissed.
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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.