Not Much Else To Do.

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It’s not that easy to lose a secretary, but Dr Doug managed it.

Now, he expected me to find her.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I reluctantly took the case and with the help of a little old lady I gained entry to the missing secretaries’ apartment and had a look around.

The little old lady noticed it first; an advertisement in the local newspaper. ‘Antique board-game for sale. Intact. Very rare.’

Someone had circled the advertisement with red ink.

Red ink; always dramatic.

The game is said to have predated ‘Cluedo’ by about thirty years, but the little printing company that made it could not compete.

The game worked best if there were, at least, eight participants, and even better if there were more.

Basically, you were supposed to slip various clues into the pockets of the other players. The clues would ultimately reveal the murderer.

I’m not sure how people got on when they played this game at a cocktail party. Where did the women hide their clues? My imagination dwelled on this point for a few moments.

“She seemed very eager to have a complete game. She told us that her game had a lot of clues missing. We told her who had purchased the game and gave her his address. We never heard from her again. We are sorry to hear that something has happened to her.”

“I don’t know that it has. She’s just missing at this stage, but thank you for all your help.” The couple selling the game seemed harmless enough.

They’d inherited it from an uncle who, as family legend had it, spent time in prison. His incarceration had something to do with the game. Someone died. They couldn’t pin the murder on him, but they got him for perjury, which in my experience is very unusual. The cops often threaten people with perjury, but they rarely ever follow through.

Someone really hated this bloke.

While he was in gaol his house was broken into. There was damage, but nothing appeared to have been taken.

The uncle died in a hit-and-run accident not long after getting out of prison and the nephew got the job of winding up his estate.

Most of the uncle’s stuff went to charity.

“They were not very grateful either. They acted like it was a nuisance. They left a lot of stuff behind. ‘Too much trouble for us’. Even charities are lazy these days.”

The nephew kept the ‘Who Dunnit’ game and a few bits and pieces.

“I almost missed the game when I was cleaning out the house. There were a few loose floorboards in my uncle’s bedroom, and I didn’t notice them until we moved the bed. The game was wrapped in waterproof paper and stored under the floorboards. We thought it must be valuable, so we decided to sell it. I put a ridiculous price on it and I had a series of phone calls not long after the paper came out. I should have asked for more I guess.”

“Never mind dear, you weren’t to know.” This blokes wife was quiet, still attractive, and probably cooked excellent scones, but I didn’t have time to find out.

I was tired, so I headed for home. The hunt for the missing secretary could wait until tomorrow.

Scarlett had dinner in the oven when I got home and I told her about my adventure. She’s difficult to impress, but even she was intrigued by the mystery of the missing secretary.

I had a couple of calls to make the next morning but once they were taken care of I drove over to the address I had been given.

The place was deserted.

Little cream brick houses are bad enough when people are living in them, but they are positively depressing when they are deserted.

This one hadn’t been deserted for long.

“A bloody great truck turned up yesterday afternoon, and a couple of bozos filled it up and they were gone by dinner time. Made it bloody near impossible for me to get in and out of my driveway. I asked them to move and they told me to get stuffed. I considered getting in a little golf practice with my nine iron, but I’m getting on a bit and there were three of them.”

“Probably a wise decision.”

This whole thing was getting weirder by the minute.

“Did you know the bloke who lived there?” I asked.

“I knew the people who owned it before he moved in. They retired somewhere up north and had the house rented out. The bloke you’re interested in was quiet, always wore a brown suit and never had any visitors, at least not that I noticed. He also had a lot of stuff delivered to his house. He asked me to sign for stuff from time to time. Mowed my lawn occasionally by way of thanks. He had a cat too if I remember rightly.”

“You didn’t miss much.”

“When you get old there isn’t much to do except spy on your neighbours.”

I drank the old blokes cup of tea and I ate his biscuits but eventually I had to go.

“Don’t you want to know where the truck was going?” He was stalling, but he had a point.

“How do you know where it was going?” This old bloke was full of surprises.

“I’m a nosey old bastard, but you’ve probably figured that out by now.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” I smiled and he smiled back.

“I looked in the truck’s cabin and the clipboard had the load’s destination typed on it.”

“And you remember it?”

“Like I said, not much else to do when you get old.”

The address the old bloke had gotten from the truck took me to the outer suburbs. Which was a break in itself because I had a horrible feeling that this bloke had gone interstate, and that would have made things very difficult.

The address was easy enough to find, but all it turned up was a house full of furniture, none of which had been unpacked. His stuff was here, but he was somewhere else, probably selling the game to a well-heeled collector. But, he had to come home at some stage, so I made plans to sit on this address until he showed up.

Experience told me that this bloke knew where Dr Doug’s missing secretary was, and now there was nothing to do but wait.

Billy.

There is a very good chance that this story follows on from Bartender Joe.

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The man in the brown suit retired to his room at a little after midnight.

At 12:02 I was out the door heading to my apartment.

It had been a long boring day following ‘Mr Brown Suit’.

I enjoyed spending time with Joe the bartender, but now I was tired.

Too tired for wine.

Too tired, even for a bath.

I was visualising the cool cotton sheets against my exhausted, naked body.

My apartment is a short distance from where I park my car.

I don’t like drawing attention to myself so I didn’t apply for a resident’s parking permit when I moved in. Instead, I broke into a Merc’ parked a couple of streets away, and stole his. I’m assuming the owner was a ‘him’, a woman wouldn’t leave her Cricket gear on the back seat and her copy of Playboy under the driver’s seat.

Wasn’t I clever?

No, not really.

I didn’t realise at the time that my street was on the border of two councils, so the parking permit didn’t work in my street.

Every night, rain, hail or moonshine, I have to park my car two streets over and walk. It’s mildly annoying, especially in the rain, but it helps to keep me off the radar. Fortunately I have an unusual surname so people often spell it incorrectly, which also helps with my anonymity.

I know that you think I’m being unduly cautious, but in my game you don’t want unexpected visitors.

I could see my building in the streetlight. It’s old; probably Art Deco and would not look out-of-place in an episode of ‘Poirot’. One of my neighbours looks old enough to have been at school with Agatha Christie; but she does make excellent scones and she loves to mother me. Fortunately, she doesn’t know what I do for a living or she might not be so friendly.

As I approach my building, Billy is waiting for me in the shadow of the huge oak tree that grows in the front yard of the apartment building.

“Hope I didn’t frighten you kid?”

Billy always calls me kid and I don’t mind.

“No. No worries. What brings you out at this hour Billy?”

“Actually, I’ve been here for hours.”

“I’ve got a phone Billy, and you’ve got the number.”

“I know, but those things give me the ‘willies’.”

“Must be important for you to hang around for so long?”

“It is. You are going to want to hear this. That bloke you have been following around? Brown Suit? He’s bad news.”

“So what Billy?  What do I care? I just get paid to follow him around; and how did you know I was on that job?”

“I know stuff. You know that.”

It was true.

Billy knew stuff.

Though, heaven know how.

No phone, no computer.

Billy was ‘old school’.

Knocking on doors, listening in pubs, pulling in favours.

No one actually knew where Billy lived. Some said he was homeless, but more likely he was a squatter. Not because he couldn’t afford his own place but because he valued his privacy even more than I did. Apparently Billy was a soldier during the Vietnam War. Maybe not a soldier in the conventional sense; more likely an intelligence officer. Billy never talked much about that time, in fact Billy didn’t give away much at all; especially about himself. That’s what made his visit so strange. Billy didn’t give stuff away, so why was he here warning me?

Maybe Billy had a soft spot for me, ‘the dark haired lady from the Preston Agency’. He knows that I don’t take any shit and I’m dangerous, but I do have a code. It’s true that I don’t let men push me around and I tell it like it is, even if that means trouble. I don’t go looking for it but it has a way of finding me.

I first met Billy a little over a decade ago.

I was a bit green and way too cocky and I’d walked into a bit of bother in a lane-way in Fitzroy. My mark had tumbled to me and led me into a potential kicking. Billy was on his way home but he hung around long enough to dispatch the two thugs and waited with me while the police and the ambulance came to investigate the ruckus.

I was only half conscious but I was talking at nineteen to the dozen. I was angry at falling into a trap and Billy did his best to calm me down. I guess I reminded him of someone from another life; someone special. I don’t remember much about this encounter but it doesn’t matter; I have a guardian angel, whether I like it or not.

Maybe I’ve underestimated the ‘man in the brown suit’, but Billy’s words now have me on my guard.

It’s the boring cases that are likely to get you killed.

Billy’s warning didn’t disturb my sleep. I’d been warned. I was on my guard and sleep was too important to waste on sleazy blokes in brown suits.

I was up with the first rays of daylight, dined on stale bread toast and Vegemite.

Coffee makes everything okay.

I was at his hotel before he’d cleaned his teeth. Another day of shadowing the ‘The Man In The Brown Suit’, only now there was a little spice to the proceedings.

My handbag weighed a little more than it did yesterday, and if I was silly enough to shake it up it would make a clinking sound. Small calibre pistols tend to make that sound if you bang them up against a lipstick and a compact and a switch blade.

I’d made the mistake of thinking this was a boring little assignment, and I had lived through that mistake.

Now, I was on my guard and anything that came my way would not be met with a look of surprise.

Painting by Jack Vettriano

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Enjoy my work. Then buy me a coffee?

Enjoy my work? Then buy me a coffee?