Time To Go Home
I’ve been away for a long time, and now I’m going home.
My whole life is in this bag except for the clothes I stand up in.
I couldn’t go without one last look.
I wouldn’t say that I love the sea, but I would say that it sustains me. This little coastal town took me in when I needed to be invisible.
I was expecting the usual small town attitudes, but that’s not what I found. They didn’t exactly embrace me, but they didn’t run me out-of-town on a rail either. Funny expression that; where the hell do you get a rail at short notice? And why not just chuck them in the back of a ute and dump ‘em at the city limits? Seems like a lot less trouble to me.
But what would I know?
I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so I went looking for work as soon as I arrived. I packed groceries on a Friday and Saturday, worked at the service station whenever one of the boys needed a day off and did odd jobs at the distillery during the whisky season.
Getting somewhere to live was also mysteriously easy.
Ma Weston runs a boarding house. The kind of boarding house you read about in books.
Breakfast at 6:30 am dinner at 7:00 pm, and if you were late you went hungry. Ma Weston could cook — boy, could she cook — no one was late to the table in this house. Not only was the food amazing the portions were ridiculous.
Ma Weston got her start in the boarding house business when her husband was killed working on the rigs in Bass Straight. It was one of those huge storms that Bass Straight is famous for. Someone said that it’s one of the roughest stretches of water anywhere in the world and on the night Mr Wilson was washed off the rig it was close to Armageddon. The wave that took him went over the top of the rig. Think of how high those things are and then imagine a wave big enough to go over the top of it.
And I thought that I had troubles.
The rig workers did what they could for Ma Wilson and their most practical contribution was to make sure that her boarding house was always full of rig workers. Some even stayed a night before heading home.
Now that’s loyalty.
After six weeks on a rig with a bunch of smelly, hairy men with nothing to do but work sleep and jerk off, the last thing most blokes would do would be to prolong their absence from home, but that’s what they did, and it got her through those anxious years.
These days most of the rigs have shut down, but those that are still going continue to remember Ma Wilson. I got to know a few of the regular blokes. We would share the occasional beer on a Friday night.
Landing in an oil rig town was a wise decision.
Oil rig workers are a strange lot; a bit like the Foreign Legion. They come from all over, and most of them are running away from something, so they understand a bloke who never wants to talk about his past. They don’t speak of the past, and neither do they ask.
I enjoyed my time here, but it is time to go home.
Alister McLean is dead.
I got the word a couple of days ago.
The rest of his gang are old and behind bars.
No one is looking for me anymore.
I’ve lived this way for so long I’m not sure that I can live any other way.
Never own more than you can shove into an old suitcase and be ready to go at a moments notice.
They nearly caught up to me a couple of times, but my luck held.
I remember a particularly talkative bloke on a train from Melbourne to Bendigo. Lots of annoying questions.
I’m pretty sure that he knew who I was but he wanted to make sure before he made the call.
Ten thousand reasons to dial those numbers.
He wasn’t too bright, and I gave him the slip. The second last time I saw him, he was in a phone booth gesticulation wildly. I wonder what they did to him when they found out that he’d lost sight of me?
I could see him frantically searching the platform as my train back to Melbourne pulled out.
I felt a pang of sorrow for this poor bloke. I know what it feels like to get that close to the brass ring — except in my case, I grabbed it.
I’d been giving McLean’s missus a really good time for several months.
She was discreet, I’ll give her that. She needed someone; don’t we all?
I treated her as well as I was able. She was just like the rest of us who were living this life; she was juggling a grenade with the pin pulled out. It was exciting, but if you dropped the damn thing, it was going to end very badly.
McLean was an arrogant prick, and he never thought that Agnes would be looking when he punched in the code to open the safe. She played the dumb blond to perfection; she was anything but. I liked her a lot, and I was surprised to find that she knew what I was up to.
She came right out and said it.
“Billy, I know why you’ve been so nice to me. You want to know if I know the combination to the safe?”
You could have breathed on me, and I would have fallen over.
Honesty seemed like a good idea.
I’d rarely tried it, but there had to be a first time.
“It’s not just that Agnes, we had some good times, didn’t we?”
“Yes we did, and all I ask is that you leave some of it in the summer-house, behind the books.”
“There’s a lot of books out there kid. Exactly which books do you want the money to be behind?”
I’m not sure that McLean could read, at least not complete sentences, but he had me stock the summer-house with “lot’s of books that rich people like.”
I did exactly as he asked and paid way over the odds to an old bloke who used to be a teacher.
He was old, and his wife was off with the fairies, and he really needed the money.
He obviously didn’t want to sell, and he’d knocked back a heap of book dealers, and by the time I got to him, he was practically in tears. He’d spent a lifetime compiling the collection.
It was the ‘first editions’ that the dealers were after.
This bloke had one of the most amazing collections of children’s books I’ve ever seen.
The only photos of children in his house were very old, and they didn’t look like photos of grandchildren.
He looked sadly at me when I handled them.
I knew better than to ask.
I offered him five times what the dealers had bid. What did I care? McLean could afford it.
I gave the children’s books and the first editions back to the old bloke.
He didn’t say thank you, he just took the money and the books and walked back into his house.
As I loaded the boxes into the back of McLean’s Bentley, I wondered if he would notice that the books were way over-priced.
They had leather bindings with gold embossed titles.
They looked like they belonged in a posh library and that was all he cared about.
Eventually, Agnes chose the complete works of Charles Dickens as her hiding place. She thought about it for quite some time, and I smiled.
I don’t know what she was expecting me to leave her in that literary hideout, but I was impressed that she didn’t set a figure; she left it up to me.
The pile of money made the Dickens editions stick out a bit, but there was no way McLean was going to notice.
I knew he didn’t trust banks, but I have to say that even I was amazed by the amount of cash jammed into that safe.
Mostly large denominations and they fitted nicely into an old brown suitcase.
Paintings by Jack Vettriano, and Edward Hopper.
So Much Depends On A Red Wheelbarrow.
“So much depends on a red wheelbarrow glazed by rainwater beside the white chickens.”
William Carlos Williams.
This story is now part of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.
This story is now part of Red Wheelbarrow
Without it, I would not have been able to move the body.
I’d always taken it for granted — the wheelbarrow, not the dead body.
It had always been there, leaning up against the shed or sitting quietly, filled with weeds or split fire-wood — just waiting for the task to be completed.
It was ‘on special’ at the hardware store on the high street.
The shop went out of business not long after, but I remember the wheelbarrows all lined up outside with a huge sign saying how much they were and how much I would be saving if I bought one.
The sign had the desired effect.
I’d needed a wheelbarrow for some time, and the first one in the stack was red.
The gentleman who served me was happy to make the sale but worried about how I was going to get it home.
“Have you got a ‘ute’ lady?”
“No, why? Is it a requirement for owning a wheelbarrow?”
He looked at me for a moment. I could tell that he was wondering if I was ‘winding him up’.
He decided that I was.
“No, but she’s a big bugger, and she probably won’t fit across the back seat of your car.”
“I don’t own a car. I walked here, and I’m planning to drive her home. I’ll park her outside the supermarket and load her up with my weekly shopping, and away I go.”
“Fair enough, but she really is a bloody big wheelbarrow. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a smaller one? You can still give the grand-kiddies a ride in a smaller one. The one you picked is big enough to fit a large dead body in.”
He must have thought that he had gone a bit too far because he looked up and gave an embarrassed smile. I wasn’t worried about the ‘dead body’ crack, but I was considering running over his foot for the grandmother comment.
“Is the smaller wheelbarrow on special as well?” I said.
“No, just these huge industrial buggers that I got stuck with when I bought the business.”
“Well then; I have the right barrow, don’t I?”
I smiled and staggered off down the footpath scattering pedestrians in my wake.
I didn’t stop to buy groceries; that was just me ‘getting carried away’ with the hardware store owner.
Every time I go past his old shop, I wonder what happened to him.
His shop became a Noodle Shop, then a $2 Shop, then a Tattoo Parlour, then a Bakery, then an empty shop with a strange collection of bits and pieces lying in the middle of the tiled floor.
It looked like someone had swept up after the last tenants, and never came back to throw out the collection of flotsam.
I’ve always wondered what the orange penis-shaped thing was.
I’m sure that it’s not an orange penis, but there has never been anyone at the shop for me to ask; which is just as well because I think I would be too embarrassed to make that particular enquiry.
Gardening is not my favourite pastime, but since my husband died, I have had to work up the enthusiasm.
Bill was the love of my life, and I miss him so very much.
He left me suddenly — an industrial accident. Everyone was very kind, especially his business partner Ambrose Kruis.
Bill and Ambrose built the business up from nothing, and when Bill died, Ambrose inherited the company; it was part of their partnership agreement. I understood; I wasn’t upset. They were engaged in high-risk construction, and if one of the partners died, it would put the whole business in jeopardy, so it was only fair that the surviving partner benefit.
It also explained the massive payout that Ambrose received as a result of the ‘partners insurance’.
He was not under any obligation, but he helped me anyway.
He knew that Bill put all his capital into the business and consequently, there wasn’t any life insurance.
I had some savings, but they were for a ‘rainy day’, as Bill used to say.
Ambrose was very generous when the roof needed replacing and when the plumbing packed it in.
I knew that I could not rely on him forever, but up until I made a surprise visit to his office, he had looked after me financially.
I arrived early on a Wednesday morning, and his secretary let me wait in his office. “He won’t be long. He’s at a breakfast meeting with the bankers.”
I decided to make the most of my time and write a couple of letters.
I do send emails, but I still prefer the personal touch of sending a letter.
I stepped behind what used to be Bill’s desk and opened the top drawer looking for notepaper.
Two more drawers were opened before I found some, and that’s not all that I found.
The writing paper was not lying flat in the drawer.
There seemed to be something small and bulky under the ream of paper. I removed the paper, and the sunlight coming in low through the office window reflected off the polished silver surface of an antique Victorian hip flask.
You might be wondering why I knew what it was.
I’d given this flask to my husband on our wedding night.
It belonged to my grandfather.
It was some twenty-years-old when he bought it upon arriving in England in 1915.
He was a young Lieutenant on his way to the front.
The flask saw a lot of action, and no doubt helped to dull the terror that trench warfare brought to all those involved.
I recognised the flask from the inscription and by the dent on the top corner. It was caused by a German sniper’s bullet.
After surviving at the front for all those years, one moment of lost concentration and my grandfather’s war came to an end, only months from the close of hostilities.
The notice of his death arrived on the day that the Armistice took effect.
The flask was returned to the family along with his other belongings.
Obviously, I was aware that the flask was missing from my husband’s effects, but I put it out of my mind. He had it with him on the day he died; he always had it with him.
I’m not that bright, but I didn’t need a degree in Physics to figure out that something was terribly wrong.
Ambros had murdered my husband so that he could get control of the company and collect the insurance. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all about the insurance and he probably expected to sell the failing business for the value of its component parts. But, to his surprise, the company survived, mainly because my husband had set it up well and the business had an excellent reputation. Its employees loved him and worked their arses off to keep the company going.
It helped that Ambrose was a bit of a womaniser and that he would often disappear for several days at a time when he was on a ‘bender’.
I invited him around to the house for a meal — something that I had done a dozen times.
During the dessert course, I excused myself, “Just need to visit the ladies room.” I came back with an old shovel that my husband used to dig the veggie patch — the irony was not lost on me.
I struck Ambrose twice on the back of the head. He went down, and apart from his lemon-meringue-pie landing on the floor, he did not make much of a mess.
Moving the body proved to be a bit of a chore, but the trusty red wheelbarrow was up to the task.
I didn’t own a car, so Ambrose was going to have to travel in the wheelbarrow for the two-kilometre ride to the construction site that Ambrose’s business owned. There was a concrete pour scheduled for the morning.
I’m not sure what I would have said if someone had stopped me, and I’m pretty sure that I looked hilarious as I struggled along with this huge red wheelbarrow filled with an Ambrose.
I was utterly exhausted when I got him there and dumped him into a pit and covered him with gravel, but I still had to get the wheelbarrow back to my house without being seen.
I was in the lap of the gods on both halves of this deadly journey, but the gods smiled on me, and I made it safely home.
I slept for fifteen hours straight.
I cleaned up the blood and the lemon-meringue-pie when I woke up and waited for the police to arrive.
They never did, and what’s more, it turned out that the partnership agreement had a clause covering the eventuality of both partners dying within ten years of each other.
The business went equally to the wives of the partners.
Ambrose wasn’t married.
I had to wait seven years before Ambrose was declared dead, but I didn’t mind — the money and the business weren’t the points.
That old red wheelbarrow is very ancient, and rust and a little red paint are about the only things holding it together now, but there is absolutely no way I am ever going to throw it away.
Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of everything I’ve lost and also of the revenge that was mine to take.
So much depends on a red wheelbarrow.
I Shot Him.
There is an excellent chance that this story follows on from GREEN COAT, BLACK GLOVES, RED HANDBAG.
This story is now part of my new short story anthology, PASSERBY.
If you like what I do, you can help me to keep on doing it by buying one of my books.
I shot him.
It seemed like the right thing to do.
It rained; and I’d let the universe decide.
If it had stayed fine I would have given him the money; just to shut him up.
But it didn’t.
It was a close run thing.
But in the end he got what he deserved.
He killed my gentle friend, as surely as if he had forced the pills down her throat. She never hurt anyone. Life frightened her but she did her best to live it until she met him.
His mission in life was to discover your weakness [we all have them] and then to exploit that weakness for money.
My gentle friend made a tragic mistake when she was very young. He found out [although, I have no idea how] and it was more than life was worth to have it known.
So, my gentle friend decided to leave us.
I’m impressed that she made it this far. The world works best for those who can roll with the punches. That was not her. She cared too much. Not about what people thought of her, she could endure that, but about the suffering of others.
I’m not similarly afflicted.
If I try really hard I can care, just a little bit, but generally speaking, I don’t take garbage from anyone.
I hide it well.
If you saw me you would think that I’m a little shy, gentle and feminine; and I am, but I’m also determined and at times, ruthless.
As I mentioned, it rained.
It sealed his fate and cleared the park, except for the old homeless guy sitting under that huge oak tree.
He saw the whole thing and for a minute I think he thought he was next. His eyes told me that he didn’t care much either way; he’d had enough too.
I sat on the bench next to him, still holding the smoking gun, and explained why I was there at that particular time. He listened intently [no one listens intently anymore, but I guess a recently fired .32 automatic does tend to focus the mind] and when I had finished he took a few moments and said, “Good for you lady. You can kick him in the balls if you feel like it.”
“That would probably be pointless, and I might get some of him on my shoe, but thank you for the suggestion.”
“My pleasure lady. Now you had better be gone.”
He was right, but before I went I gave him half the money. He gave me the biggest smile. I smiled right back. It had been a good day for both of us.
“You won’t give me away will you?”
He shook his head and I believed him.
Before I left, I checked to make sure the blackmailer was definitely dead.
He was, and he still had that silly look of surprise on his face.
Didn’t he know it would end this way one day?
Apparently not, or maybe he had underestimated the determination of a woman to protect her family and her home.
Rather foolishly, he had the letters on him.
For the life of me I cannot understand why he bought them with him. Maybe he had them in case I didn’t believe that he had them.
What did he have to lose?
I would not be strong enough to rest them away from him.
I put the letters in my bag, smiled at my new friend, and walked quietly out of the park. I considered leaving the gun at the scene, but what if some children got hold of it before the police arrived? And besides, I rather like this gun; it might come in handy.
When I arrived home I took my shopping and put it away. I placed the receipts in the glass bowl on the sideboard where I could find them. When the police finally get around to me those receipts will help muddy the waters somewhat. They would not prove that I was not at the park but they would maintain the impression that I was out on a shopping expedition.
Simple suburban housewives don’t go around shooting people.
Why would I need to?
“What was my motive officer?”
I can be quite convincing.
If he did not keep a written list of his victims I may not have to play my part at all, but preparation is never wasted. Keep it simple and smile the smile that has been getting me out of trouble since I was thirteen.
The sun has come out and it is a beautiful afternoon.
I look around at my comfortable house and think of all the things I have to be grateful for.
My friend can rest in peace; her ordeal is over, but my life goes on.
I’d better get a wriggle on, as my mum used to say, because my husband will be home soon and I need to prepare dinner for us both.
After all, I am a quiet suburban housewife.
The kind of woman who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Painting by Kenton Nelson.
I Cannot Take Your Call At The Moment.
This story is now part of my new short story anthology, PASSERBY.
If you like what I do, you can help me to keep on doing it by buying one of my books.
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