“I’ve been working for Charlie Varick for about four years, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
The question came out of nowhere, and it really pissed me off. It’s a job, what difference does it make? When I go home, I leave work at work.
“What difference does it make? He’s a fucking private eye, and he uses you as a decoy.”
“I’m his secretary, and the decoy stuff only happens every now and then. Mostly, it isn’t dangerous, and mostly I answer the phones and make appointments. Of course, there is coffee and dry cleaning, but mostly it’s answering phones.”
My parents were in town for a couple of days, and I was glad to see them; well ‘glad’ is probably too strong a word, but it was good to see them. Parents should be kept at a distance that is directionally proportional to the amount of shit they put you through as a kid. Mine weren’t that bad but using this formula they should be at least 427 kilometres away at all times.
I’m 26 years old, gorgeous and leggy with long black wavy hair that men hold on to when they are making love to me. Not that there are that many of them.
I like men, just in small doses.
Not small in the way you are thinking, just small in the sense of time I have to spend in close proximity. Charlie’s different, but he is old, at least 47 years old, and he is taken, but he treats me like I’m someone. Like I count in the grand scheme of things. I guess he is so relaxed because he is old, and old people don’t worry so much about stuff.
My dad was wound up, but I know it was my mum who put him up to it.
“We just want you to be safe; safe and happy. That’s all your mother, and I have ever wanted.”
“I know dad.” Things seemed to be calming down now that the shouting had stopped.
It was still early. Hotel restaurants tend to wind down around 9:30 pm, and it was now way past that, so we had the room to ourselves except for the girl at the bar and the waiter who was doing a little shuffle that was Morse code for ‘they don’t pay me past 10:00 pm even if you are still here drinking coffee, and I have a home to go to, and my dog misses me’.
It was a complicated dance.
My father, mother and I talked about nothing for another fifteen minutes before my dad signed the bill and they went up to their room. I stood and watched as they walked up the staircase. My mother clung to the handrail as though it was saving her from a sinking ship. My dad negotiated the stairs easily enough because he never used elevators unless he absolutely had to.
I asked him about it once, and he said that it was his small concession to keeping fit, but I think it had more to do with the stories that his father brought home.
His dad was a fireman, and he would be called out to rescue cats and people, and sometimes he was expected to free individuals who had been trapped — sometimes these people had been stuck in elevators, and he delighted in terrifying his children with stories of people who had gone insane after being stuck in an elevator for six hours.
“One bloke tried to chew his arm off, which seemed pointless to me. It wasn’t as though they had him in handcuffs — he was trapped in a lift for fuck sake. Now if he had tried to eat through the door, that I could understand, but his arm — that’s just nuts.”
I sat on the overstuffed couch in the hotel’s foyer and tried to collect my thoughts.
I still had half an hour before I was to meet Charlie at Bar Alfredo on Little Collins Street. I walked the short distance up Collins and turned left onto Exhibition. Little Collins was the first on the left, and the bar was about two hundred metres down.
This end of the street had been disrupted by building activities for nearly two years, which made it difficult to negotiate on foot, or by car. The street was already very narrow, and its name gave the hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the larger and more grand edifices on Collins Street. Deliveries would be made, and tradesmen would be admitted.
It was best to keep the grubby people out of sight.
These days the ‘Little’ streets were home to trendy bars and eateries as well as exclusive apartments and the occasional clothing shop.
The footpath on both sides is extremely narrow, and I was forced to step out onto the road to let a large rude man pass by. He looked vaguely familiar until I remembered I had not seen him before — he was exactly how Charlie had described the man I was supposed to ‘distract’.
“He’s big, about 40 years old, always wears a dark suit with a red handkerchief in his top pocket, and he smells like lemons. He will be sitting at the bar because he always sits at the bar. Third stool from the far end as you come in the front door.”
I had the feeling that these instructions and this description were going to go to waste.
To get to Bar Alfredo, I first had to walk past a narrow laneway and at this time of night the laneway was in complete darkness. Being a female living in the big city, I avoided dark laneways because I wanted to go on ‘living in the big city’.
As I looked into the darkness, I saw Charlie lying in a pool of his own blood.
I say ‘saw’, but that’s not what I mean. I didn’t see him with my eyes; I saw him in a vision. The dark laneway was like a giant projector screen and on it I saw Charlie’s exact location, as though it were daylight.
I used my phone to light the way to the spot that I knew Charlie would be lying. He was behind some boxes with a single knife wound in the middle of his chest.
I would love to say that he lived long enough to look into my eyes and tell me who had killed him. I would like to tell you what his last words were and that he had smiled before he died, but I can’t.
He was gone by the time I got to him — warm but gone.
I sat next to him for what seemed like forever and thought about my life and wondered what Charlie thought when the large man in the dark suit took his life. I wondered what my life was going to be like from now on. I wondered if my mum and dad had gone to sleep yet.
I don’t remember ringing anyone, but I must have because an ambulance arrived closely followed by the police.
The weather was warm, so I was wondering why there was so much fog around and why did my voice sound funny, and why was the police officer mumbling?
When I came to I was sitting on the back step of the ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted to get him to give me a break.
“Give her a minute mate; she’s had a rough night.”
The policeman ignored the world-weary ambulance driver. The brash young policeman considered civilians to be annoying. They kept passing out or screaming or generally being uncooperative. He just wanted to get a statement so he could get back on patrol. The homicide detectives would be along very soon, and they would shoo him away like an unwanted blow-fly.
“Miss? Miss? How did you know he was in that alley? Did you hear something? Did you see anyone come out of the alley?”
I was trying to decide which question to answer first when it occurred to me that this was all very strange.
“I had a vision, which was weird. I don’t normally get visions at night-time. I always get my visions in the morning.”
The police officer stopped asking me questions after that, and he and the ambo were looking at each other with the strangest expression on their faces. I don’t think that they believed me, and I wanted them too. This was a first for me.
A pair of plain-clothed detectives arrived and scooped me up and headed me towards their car but before I got in, I gave it one last try to convince my interrogator.
“I really did see him lying there, in the dark, which was weird. I always get my visions in the morning.”
I love the early morning.
Most of the night people are seeking refuge in a cafe — bacon and eggs over the latest wholegrain toast, black coffee, no sugar and a bleary-eyed remembrance of an evening that will not come again.
I’d been delayed, and as I walked back to my table, the rising sun sent a soft golden glow across the Piazza.
My assistant was no longer sitting at the table. His working night had ended, and he was probably propping up the bar at Il Baccaro or wrapped around one of the night owl females who frequent this part of the city.
As I approach the table I see my tally book lying where my assistant had left it. My keys lie on top of the book, undisturbed.
I like keys.
I prefer an analogue solution to security wherever I can find it. I’m not disturbed by electronics — it’s just that I like the feeling of a key turning in a lock and the sound keys make when they jangle in my pocket.
The huge black umbrella is not offering any shade to the two well dress gentlemen seated at my table — the sun is way too low. I have a sense that there was a third man seated where I usually sit. He hasn’t been absent from the table for very long, and I’m wondering if he is due to return.
The two well-dressed men give me a lazy glance.
I’m still in evening dress and although a little dusty, I’m well presented after a long night of keeping book for the rich and famous. Millions of dollars and only a few slips of paper to show for all that activity.
My two guests are dressed in expensive suits and carrying expensive guns — well concealed. The value of what they are wearing would purchase a well-kept second-hand Mercedes. Where they come from the streets are full of Mercedes and during their Civil War, a few decades ago, the news footage showed armed men, ambulances and swirling smoke. Even the taxis were Mercedes. The vehicle of choice for a Middle Eastern civil conflict.
My occupation doesn’t require me to carry a concealed weapon, but I do. A large calibre two barreled Derringer strapped to my right ankle, and I’m proud to say that I’ve only needed to draw it once.
Part of my job is calculating the odds — seeing the trouble coming before it arrives. I have had to dodge the occasional closed fist and the well-aimed polished boot, but mostly I can calm a situation down before it comes to that. Sore losers are an occupational hazard.
I brushed the dust and a few flower petals off my seat before I sat down and the larger of the two well-dressed gentlemen said, “You may not want to sit there Mr Barker. In fifty seconds, it is going to be unhealthy for anyone who is sitting in that chair.”
Fifty-seconds isn’t very long to decide if he was just a smart arse and I’d used up a few of them calculating the odds.
It seemed safer to assume that he was telling the truth when he and his silent companion, who was directly in the follow-through line of fire, got slowly up from the table and walked away. The taller one had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the umbrella.
I picked up my book and my keys and left the table with as much composure as I could muster.
After I had taken a few steps, I heard the zip of the bullet and the crack of the splintering chair and table top. The bullet would have struck the quiet gentleman somewhere between the groin and the kneecap.
There was no audible bang. The shot must have come from a considerable distance. The police would work all that out at their leisure, but now I had some celebrating to do. I had dodged a bullet and made a lot of money, all over the course of an eventful evening.
Now, if I were lucky, Charmaine will be at home waiting for me.
I must say that’s misleading. Charmaine never waits for me. She does her own thing. It’s just that we share a very expensive apartment, and we sometimes arrive there at the same time, usually early in the morning. On those occasions, we sometimes do the sorts of things that men and women like to do.
The apartment has glass walls on two sides, and I never draw the blinds. I love the view that it affords. The ancient part of the city is, by now, bathed in the golden light that this section of the world is famous for.
This morning, Charmaine arrived home before I did. She is making eggs in her underwear. Her body isn’t perfect. Her torso is slightly too long when compared to her beautiful legs. Her breasts are sumptuous, but some would say that they could be a little larger. She has long black hair, dimples on her bottom and delightful pink toes.
Last night she had been wearing a black bra and panties — lots of lace. I see the dress she was wearing hanging on the outside of her huge wardrobe.
Not including the bathroom, our apartment is one large room with a king-sized bed in the middle. I hope to be lying on that bed a little later and I’m hopeful that I will be knee-deep in Charmaine, but it will depend on the type of night she has had.
My carnal ace will be the story about nearly being shot. That kind of near miss adventure story has given me the green light before.
Charmaine gathers information and what she collects makes her a lot of money. It’s exciting and dangerous, and she loves every minute of it. She has an incredible memory and in her line of work it needs to be.
She knows I’m in the apartment, but she does not look up from her breakfast preparations. I remove my jacket, tie and Derringer and stand behind her. She smells amazing. Her scent produced over a long night’s work mixed with the remnants of her French perfume, and my equipment is on full alert.
I place my hand on her bottom and my expectations for the morning are in my hand. If she brushes me away, it means the night went badly and so will my morning.
She does not react, but neither does she dispense with my wandering hand. So far so good. My luck is holding.
“If you keep doing that you won’t get any breakfast,” she says in a voice that gives me further hope.
“That’s a tough choice for a man, food or carnal delights.”
“I didn’t say you had to choose.”
I couldn’t tell if she was smiling, because I was looking in another direction and imagining my good fortune.
A good breakfast and the delicious Charmaine to follow.
I didn’t get shot, and I’m going to get laid.
It’s been an awesome day.
KEEPER OF SECRETS
Coming later this year.