For What Seemed Like Forever

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“Charlie Varick? I’ve been working for him for about four years, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

The question came out of nowhere, and it really pissed me off. It’s a job, what difference does it make? When I go home, I leave work at work.

“What difference does it make? He’s a fucking private eye, and he uses you as a decoy.”

“I’m his secretary, and the decoy stuff only happens every now and then. Mostly, it isn’t dangerous, and mostly I answer the phones and make appointments. Of course, there is coffee and dry cleaning, but mostly it’s answering phones.”

My parents were in town for a couple of days, and I was glad to see them; well ‘glad’ is probably too strong a word, but it was good to see them. Parents should be kept at a distance that is directionally proportional to the amount of shit they put you through as a kid. Mine weren’t that bad but using this formula they should be at least 427 kilometres away at all times.

I’m 26 years old, gorgeous and leggy with long black wavy hair that men hold on to when they are making love to me. Not that there are that many of them.

I like men, just in small doses.

Not small in the way you are thinking, just small in the sense of time I have to spend in close proximity. Charlie’s different, but he is old, at least 47 years old, and he is taken, but he treats me like I’m someone. Like I count in the grand scheme of things. I guess he is so relaxed because he is old, and old people don’t worry so much about stuff.

My dad was wound up, but I know it was my mum who put him up to it.

“We just want you to be safe; safe and happy. That’s all your mother, and I have ever wanted.”

“I know dad.” Things seemed to be calming down now that the shouting had stopped.

It was still early. Hotel restaurants tend to wind down around 9:30 pm, and it was now way past that, so we had the room to ourselves except for the girl at the bar and the waiter who was doing a little shuffle that was Morse code for ‘they don’t pay me past 10:00 pm even if you are still here drinking coffee, and I have a home to go to, and my dog misses me’.

It was a complicated dance.

My father, mother and I talked about nothing for another fifteen minutes before my dad signed the bill, and they went up to their room. I stood and watched as they walked up the staircase. My mother clung to the handrail as though it was saving her from a sinking ship. My dad negotiated the stairs easily enough because he never used elevators unless he absolutely had to.

I asked him about it once, and he said that it was his small concession to keeping fit, but I think it had more to do with the stories that his father brought home.

 His dad was a fireman, and he would be called out to rescue cats and people, and sometimes he was expected to free individuals who had been trapped — sometimes these people had been stuck in elevators, and he delighted in terrifying his children with stories of people who had gone insane after being stuck in an elevator for six hours.

“One bloke tried to chew his arm off, which seemed pointless to me. It wasn’t as though they had him in handcuffs — he was trapped in a lift for fuck sake. Now if he had tried to eat through the door, that I could understand, but his arm — that’s just nuts.”

I sat on the overstuffed couch in the hotel’s foyer and tried to collect my thoughts.

I still had half an hour before I was to meet Charlie at Bar Alfredo on Little Collins Street. I walked the short distance up Collins and turned left onto Exhibition. Little Collins was the first on the left, and the bar was about two hundred metres down.

This end of the street had been disrupted by building activities for nearly two years, which made it difficult to negotiate on foot, or by car. The street was already very narrow, and its name gave a hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the more significant and grander edifices on Collins Street. Deliveries would be made, and tradesmen would be admitted.

It was best to keep the grubby people out of sight.

These days the ‘Little’ streets were home to trendy bars and eateries as well as exclusive apartments and the occasional clothing shop.

The footpath on both sides is extremely narrow, and I was forced to step out onto the road to let a large, rude man pass by. He looked vaguely familiar until I remembered I had not seen him before — he was exactly how Charlie had described the man I was supposed to ‘distract’.

 “He’s big, about 40 years old, always wears a dark suit with a red handkerchief in his top pocket, and he smells like lemons. He will be sitting at the bar because he always sits at the bar. Third stool from the far end as you come in the front door.”

I had the feeling that these instructions and this description were going to go to waste.

To get to Bar Alfredo, I first had to walk past a narrow laneway and at this time of night, the laneway was in complete darkness. Being a female living in a big city, I avoided dark laneways because I wanted to go on ‘living in the big city’.

As I looked into the darkness, I saw Charlie lying in a pool of his own blood.

I say ‘saw’, but that’s not what I mean. I didn’t see him with my eyes; I saw him in a vision. The dark laneway was like a giant projector screen, and on it, I saw Charlie’s exact location, as though it were daylight.

I used my phone to light the way to the spot that I knew Charlie would be lying. He was behind some boxes with a single knife wound in the middle of his chest.

I would love to say that he lived long enough to look into my eyes and tell me who had killed him. I would like to tell you what his last words were and that he had smiled before he died, but I can’t.

He was gone by the time I got to him — warm but gone.

I sat next to him for what seemed like forever and thought about my life and wondered what Charlie thought when the large man in the dark suit took his life. I wondered what my life was going to be like from now on. I wondered if my mum and dad had gone to sleep yet.

I don’t remember ringing anyone, but I must have because an ambulance arrived closely followed by the police.

The weather was warm, so why there was so much fog? And why did my voice sound funny, and why was the police officer mumbling?

When I came to, I was sitting on the back step of an ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted him to give me a break.

“Give her a minute mate; she’s had a rough night.”

The policeman ignored the world-weary ambulance driver. The brash young policeman considered civilians to be annoying. They kept passing out or screaming or generally being uncooperative. He just wanted to get a statement so he could get back on patrol. The homicide detectives would be along very soon, and they would shoo him away like an unwanted blow-fly.

“Miss? Miss? How did you know he was in that alley? Did you hear something? Did you see anyone come out of the alley?”

I was trying to decide which question to answer first when it occurred to me that this was all very strange.

“I had a vision, which was weird. I don’t normally get visions at night-time. I always get my visions in the morning.”

The police officer stopped asking me questions after that, and he and the ambo were looking at each other with the strangest expression on their faces. I don’t think that they believed me, and I wanted them to. This was a first for me.

A pair of plain-clothed detectives arrived and scooped me up heading me towards their car, but before I got in, I gave it one last try to convince my interrogator.

“I really did see him lying there, in the dark, which was weird. I always get my visions in the morning.”

Brown Oxfords

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an excerpt from the new Sam and Scarlett mystery ‘YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS.’

“You look like you are a million miles away.”

“No, I’m here. On this tram; heading into the City. This tram is going into the city, isn’t it?” said Sam.

“Yes, it is.”

The two men were sitting opposite each other on a sparsely populated number 12 tram. Sam would get off this tram in about half an hour when it reached the top end of Collins Street — the Paris end. The man asking the questions would alight from the tram much sooner.

“What happened to you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“How do you know that something happened to me?” said Sam

“Your hair is cut very short, and it doesn’t suit you. I’d say, head injury.”

The inquisitive man was about Sam’s build, and he was probably a few years younger. He looked familiar, but these days everyone looked like someone he should know, so he didn’t ask. Much later, Sam would regret that decision.

Sam wasn’t looking directly at the man, but he had been looking at his shoes.

“Brown Oxfords. You don’t see quality shoes like those much these days,” said Sam. The rest of this man’s outfit was out of place — a bit scruffy, but again, Sam said nothing.

“They belonged to my brother. I wear them to remember him. So what happened to you?” said the man with the brown shoes.

“Some bozo T-boned me at an intersection and ran away and left me. The old me would have gone after him with a tyre iron, but the new me just sat there and bled robust, mildly honest blood. Quite a lot of it as it turned out. Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but the ambulance driver liked to talk, so he told my wife all the gory details — kind of him to do that.”

“Did they catch the bloke?”

“Not yet.”

“Would you know him again if you saw him?”

“Mate, I only recognise my wife because she has a tattoo with her name written across her arse.” Sam was suddenly aware of the little old lady who was sitting next to him. “Sorry lady, I didn’t mean to say arse.”

“That’s perfectly okay young man. You sound like you have been through a lot, and you did get hit on the head.”

“Thanks, lady. I don’t want to upset anyone. I want the world to be peaceful and calm. What do you think my chances are?”

“Not very likely, I’m afraid,” said the little old lady.

She wasn’t all that little, but she was old. Sam guessed at about seventy-five, but who can tell, especially with women? She was well dressed in that way that older people were. They dressed up when they went out. Pride in appearance. Sam wondered when her husband had died. She still wore her rings, but he could tell that she was alone, and he wondered how he knew. Sam wondered about a lot of things.

“Are you sure that you wouldn’t recognise the man driving the car that hit you?” The man in the brown shoes was still talking, but Sam had blanked him out momentarily. Brown Shoes sounded insistent.

“No mate, I wouldn’t recognise him. I was sleeping at the time. Large hole in the side of my head with a big chunk of my life leaking out.”

“It’s been nice talking to you Sam, but this is my stop.” Brown Shoes was on his feet and deftly jumped off the stationary tram as it waited for the traffic lights to turn green at Barkley Street.

“There used to be a shop that sold model cars just over there.” Sam pointed to the far street corner. “I’d get off the tram on the way home when I was a kid and spend ages in that shop. Why can I remember that so clearly and not be able to remember marrying my wife?”

“It won’t do to get yourself all worked up. People with head injuries need to be patient and calm.” The old lady put a hand on Sam’s arm. It felt nice to be touched by a caring stranger.

“You sound like you know a bit about this stuff?”

“I was a nurse in my younger days. Saw a lot of boys with head injuries during the War.”

“Did they get their memories back?” There was a touch of desperation in Sam’s question.

“Some did, but it took time. It helped if they had loved ones around them. Does your wife love you, Sam?”

“She says she does, and I want to believe her, but how did you know my name was Sam. Did I tell you?” There was that desperate tone again.

“No, the other man called you Sam. That is your name, isn’t it?”

Sam nodded.

“I didn’t like the look of that man, and I’m pretty sure that I could describe him to a police artist if I had to.”

“I believe you, lady.”

Sam did believe her. He always believed little old ladies. Most people dismissed them as ‘biddies’ or ‘nuisances’, but Sam knew better. Old people notice things and people who notice things are like nuggets of gold to a private investigator. It was an old lady who gave him his big break in the Jameson case, and it was an old professional boxer who told Sam where the Collingwood Strangler lived — not the exact house, but the right street. The rest was straightforward. These two cases helped to build his reputation and gave him excellent fodder for his two most successful novels — thinly disguised fiction based on these two instances. None of this would have happened if Sam had dismissed the observations of two elderly citizens.

“That probably won’t be necessary, but you never know. Do you have a card?” Sam was joking, but the little old lady opened her black patent leather handbag and drew out a pristine white card. The font was conservative and the content ‘to the point’.

Mrs Joanna Beed

03 97876313

“Thank you, Mrs Beed.” That was another thing that Sam had learned. Never call old ladies by their first name. They really don’t like that.

Dr Doug had asked Sam to make a list of the things that he did remember and another list of the things that he would like to remember. He got the notebook out of his inside pocket and wrote, I remember not to call old ladies Joanna. At the back of the book he wrote, I want to remember my wedding day. One list was considerably longer than the other, but over the last few weeks, the other list was catching up — ever so slowly.

The tram was slowing down and ready to stop at the Edinburgh Gardens, not far from Sam’s beloved Fitzroy Football Ground. Joanna Beed gathered her things.

“You take care of yourself Sam. A fine young man like you has lots of important things to achieve. I hope you remember your wedding day soon. I’m sure it was a special day. Don’t forget, if you need me to identify that man for you, I’m only a phone call away.”

“Thank you, Mrs Beed. I’ll be fine. I promise. Enjoy your day. You brightened up mine.” Joanna Beed smiled and stepped down from the tram after looking carefully to see if some impatient motorist was trying to sneak past the stationary tram. Every Melbournian knows that getting off a tram on St Georges Road is an adventure in dodging death.

She made it safely to the footpath, and as she did, she looked back at the tram and gave a dignified wave. Despite himself, Sam waved back.

Sam’s world had changed drastically. From dodging bullets and signing books to sitting on trams talking to old ladies while trying to piece his life back together.

~oOo~

The rest of the journey was uneventful. The tram was thinly populated, and no more conversations broke out. Sam’s half of the tram contained a young married woman, probably on a shopping expedition. Confirmation arrived when she got off at the same stop as Sam. Shopping in the expensive end of town, says her husband was ‘well healed’. Probably in RealEstate, Sam surmised.

The only other inhabitant was a man who was wearing a good suit that was poorly maintained. His expensive shoes were scuffed and dusty. The man had the air of someone who had recently lost his job. There was a caring woman in his life, but she was absent at that moment.

Writers do that — they can’t help themselves. They see interesting people, and they begin to build a backstory.

The dusty shoed gentleman stayed on the tram, and Sam wondered if he rode the tram all day for something to do — a memory of his previous daily routine.

The number 12 tram snakes its way at the top of Collins Street, so even though you may be lost in thought, you know that you have entered the City proper. As a child, this meant that the magic of a day ‘in the City’ was about to begin.

Sam stood in the doorway of the tram and looked back at his seat. So began a routine that he’d learned as a child, “Always take a look back at your place after a long journey. You may have put something down and forgotten it or something may have fallen out of your pocket.” These words rang in his ears on the frequent journies to Dr Doug’s office.

If only it were that simple: if only he could look back and see all the things that he had forgotten, lying on the seat next to him.

If only’s were a waste of time. What was needed was hard work and patience, something that he had in spades. Or, at least, that is what he had been told.

~oOo~

Crossing the road from the tram stop is always an adventure. City traffic has little regard for pedestrians and people getting off trams are considered fair game. Motorists hate trams. They see them as large green and gold obstacles sent to earth merely to annoy and make them late for wherever it was that they so desperately need to be.

Having arrived alive and in one piece, Joe, the doorman swung the large glass door open and greeted Sam.

“How are you this morning Mr Bennett?”

“I’m as fine as can be expected, Joe. How’s the wife and kids?” Because Joe’s appearance in Sam’s life had come ‘post-accident’, Sam found it easy to remember him.

“The kids are fine God bless em, but the missus is worried.” 

A severe man in a dark suit brushed past them both and grunted.

“Why worried Joe?”

“The word is that the building owner is planning to put in an automatic door, so no more Joe.”

“Don’t you worry Joe. I’ll buy the bloody building if I have to, but you are not going anywhere until you want to.”

Joe smiled and thought that Sam was trying to be supportive, but he had heard rumours about Sam’s wife’s spectacular wealth — maybe he meant it.

Sam was serious, and he put it in his notebook on the way up to Dr Doug’s floor. Scarlett knew everyone so she would know who to contact. Sam needed stability in his life, and Joe was always there. Sam needed that — someone who was always there — always where he was supposed to be.

The elevator doors opened, and Sam walked into Dr Doug’s office, smiled at his secretary and felt his pocket ensuring that he still had the three typed pages. Dreams are hard to capture, but Sam had managed it, and soon he would share them, yet again, with the man who was helping him to piece his life back together.

.

illustration credit: http://www.gerasimon.com.au/collins_street_melbourne_oil_painting.htm