Suicide Note: Part One – An Unexpected Death

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.

“What else?”

“She’s fully clothed. At least she looks that way without checking closer.”

“Anything else?”

“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.

“Yes, sir.”

“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.

She Took My Arm

I walked while the sun was trying to shine.

A thick haze defused the sunlight giving the day an otherworldly glow.

It must have been the weekend, probably a Saturday. The footpaths were thickly populated with people happier than they would be on a weekday.

Everyone was going somewhere, but it was non-combative, easy-going, almost joyful.

I was walking and had been for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I had to keep track of where I was so I could get back.

The City of Melbourne is laid out on a grid like many significant cities, so as long as you don’t mind walking, you will come across a street you recognise sooner or later.

I’m not a fan of crowds, but I can tolerate them on certain occasions. This was one of those times, though I reached my limit when I arrived at a crossroads. The traffic lights were against me, so I worked my way to the front of the crowd — a chance to give my unease a bit of room to breathe.

The crowd I had been travelling with thinned out. Most of them turned left and strode up the hill.

The sun was burning off the morning mist, and the warmth soaked into my jacket and warmed my face.

She came up on my left-hand side and put her arm through mine, precisely the way a wife or a lover might.

I turned my head to see who this person was. I didn’t recognise her — I thought I might.

She was just below my eye level in heels, and her ponytail, set high on her head, made her appear taller than she was.

She looked at me with a combination of mild recognition and anticipation. I expected her to smile. She didn’t.

“So, where are we going?” I heard myself say.

I had been facing straight ahead, but now I was turning to the right as the lights changed to green.

“Oh, so we are going this way,” I said, and she moved in step with me or did she lead me in that direction — I’m not sure.

It was then that I realised I was doing all the talking. I could have sworn that she was talking to me, but her lips weren’t moving. Either way, I could hear her.

She was dressed conservatively in a light coloured blouse, skirt and a cardigan. All of her colours were subdued, but they suited her there and then.

Come to think of it, everyone around me seemed to be dressed a bit old fashioned.

As we walked, arm in arm, we turned up a minor road, and the footpath was narrow, but we had it all to ourselves.

I could smell the dust in the air and the faint smell of animals, something like visiting the Zoo or the Showgrounds. The aromas were familiar in my childhood but now strangely out of place.

The path we were on led to a small hotel.

The foyer was tiny with wood panelling and a mosaic tiled floor.

There was a lone concierge behind a polished wooden counter. He didn’t speak.

He turned and took a key from the green felt-lined pigeon holes. The key had a brass tag — number twenty-two.

Initially, he offered the key to the lady who was still holding my arm, but a look from her made him show it to me.

I took the key, and she led me to the steep stairs — built before modern building regulations. The carpet runner was held in place by ornate brass stair rods.

The stairs were just wide enough for us to walk on them together.

Our room was at the top of the stairs. The key turned smoothly in the lock, and the room’s aroma was not unpleasant — fresh soap, clean towels and possibly coffee from the morning just passed.

Being in what amounted to a full-service bedroom seemed luxurious and slightly forbidden in the middle of the day.

I watched her silently undress.

She stood in her slip and looked at me. I expected her to demand that I match her undressed state. She didn’t.

From what I could see, her breasts were average, and her hips were neither wide nor slim. Her stomach had that distinctive bump that all females have. I love that part of a woman.

She shed her shoes and carefully lined them up next to the bed.

She didn’t let her hair down, and I didn’t mind.

Her eyes were clear and bright, and I didn’t get the feeling that she did this kind of thing often. Maybe that was naive of me, but there it was. I’ve travelled for business, and I know what it feels like when you are approached by a woman who flatters a man for money. This was not that. I have no idea what this was, but it wasn’t that, which made me a little nervous.

I ran my hands over her still partially clothed body, and she watched me with that same look. To her, I could have been a puppy or a knight; her gaze would have suited both.

For the first time, she broke her gaze, turned away from me and removed the rest of her clothes, laying them neatly on the chair at the side of the bed.

I undressed quickly and slid into bed after discarding the heavy quilt.

The sheets were cold but comforting — another memory from childhood.

We explored each other’s bodies. No rush, no sign of haste. Each movement electric.

The smell of her was driving me crazy, but I held my composure.

She rolled her body against mine, and where she touched my skin, it felt like fire.

I’m not inexperienced in making love, but I have to say that I was taking my lead from her on this occasion. I always want to please the woman I’m with, it’s a point of honour, but this was something else.

I was intoxicated by being close to her.

I could tell that time was passing because the shadows in the room were moving across the floor.

I’m in good shape, but I was feeling fatigued and hungry, but I was not going to stop what we were doing to each other, not until she had had enough of me.

I’m tempted to say that it was the best sex I’ve ever had, but it was not like that. It wasn’t an occasion for a schoolboy boast.

Being with her, inside her, made me feel like I was home. Home and safe and powerful and wise and worthy.

I never wanted the experience to end, but it did, and I watched her walk across the room and into the shower, her body silhouetted against the harsh light of the bathroom.

“Great bum,” I said, but she didn’t answer.

I watched her dress and then sit demurely as I showered and dressed.

“Food?” I said as I tied my shoelaces. I’ve been good at shoelaces since I was six years old — my mum taught me how to do it.

She smiled.

I offered her my arm, and she took it.

We walked down the stairs together, and my legs felt like rubber; she seemed fine. I’m going to have to hit the gym if I’m going to keep up with this woman.

I gave the night porter the key, and he thanked me.

The street lights were on, but it wasn’t completely dark. There was still an amber glow low in the sky.

“We just made love for an entire afternoon and I don’t know your name,” I said.

We were walking next to a bench, and she put her handbag down, took out her purse, and produced a card. The card read ‘Alice Ayres’ and nothing else.

“I know that name,” I said, “but I’m not sure where I know it from.”

“Burger and chips or something a bit more upmarket?” I said. She didn’t answer. She retook my arm and led me along the street until we came to an old fashioned Italian restaurant.

The owner greeted us warmly, almost as though we were regulars.

We drank a lot of wine, and the food came straight from heaven.

“I remember where I know your name from,” I said, ‘it’s one of the plaques on the wall at Postman’s Park in London. Have you ever been to London?”

She shook her head.

After that, I have no idea what happened.

“We went to the hotel you described Mr Wilson,” said the uniformed officer sitting across the metal table from me.

“And?” I said.

The sign on the door says ‘closed’, and it doesn’t look like it has taken in guests for a long time.

“I was just there this afternoon. All afternoon,” I said.

“You mean yesterday afternoon,” said the officer.

“Yes. Yesterday. You know what I mean. Yesterday afternoon,” I said.

My head hurt, and my clothes smelled like I’d spent the night in an alley, which is where I was, apparently. That’s where the Chinese cook found me when he turned up to prep for the morning rush. Nice bloke. He gave me a coffee before noticing the bump on my head.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have given you coffee. It’s probably not good for concussion,” he said.

I assured him that coffee was good for everything.

The lump on my head was in a spot that made it unlikely that I’d done it to myself.

The police officer and the ambulance driver concurred.

“Someones walloped you on the head mate,” said the paramedic.

I felt the lump, and it felt numb and painful all at the same time.

“None of this makes any sense to me,” I said.

“Me either,” said the police officer.

“Why hit me over the head and not take anything?” I said.

“It’s a first for me too sir.”

“I’m worried about the woman I was with. Did the restaurant say what happened to her. Was she with me when I left. I don’t remember leaving,” I said.

“The restaurant is closed for a month. Big sign on the door. Thanking all their patrons. No one answers when we ring. No one with the name you gave us has turned up at any of the city hospitals and no reports from other police stations. I’d say that no news is good news. Do you have a number for her?”

“No. We’d only just met.”

The police officer gave me a look that said, ‘you’re a fast worker mate’, but I ignored it.

“We have your number and we’ll let you know if anything comes up,” he said, which was shorthand for saying, ‘we have better things to be getting on with than a bloke who got lucky and then got knocked on the head without getting robbed’. I could see his point.

I stepped out onto the street, and light rain was falling. Yesterday’s balmy weather had given way to a grey day of wet pavements and flowing gutters.

I walked for a while, not knowing where to go next.

I stopped to buy a paper. My wallet had way more money in it than I remembered. Add that to the list of things I don’t understand.

I walked to the Treasury Gardens after buying some sandwiches. I read the paper and ate the sandwiches. They tasted better than they should.

Reading the paper left me none the wiser.

I walked to the top of Bourke Street and waited for the lights to change. The rain had left the streets relatively empty.

I felt her slip her arm through mine.

I didn’t look at her. I didn’t want to jinx it.

She didn’t speak, but I knew what she wanted.

When the lights changed, we walked, arm in arm, across the street back in the direction of our hotel.

It Worked For Oscar Wilde


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.”
“Which is?”
“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.

If It Isn’t Warm It’s Just Burnt Bread

I eat breakfast in bed — not always, but most of the time.

When I don’t, I usually sit at our small wooden table near the only window in the kitchen.

I’m the sole ‘old person’ living in this share house.

I’ve done the share-house thing before when I was young and poor and studying.

Now I’m older and poor and not studying.

Being the last of five people to arise, I get a clear run at the bathroom.

The downside is that there probably won’t be any milk for breakfast.

Plan B is toast and Vegemite and possibly jam, depending on my mood.

My housemates are all female.

Ages range from early twenties to mid-thirties.

I’m no longer the last person admitted to the house as two of the females have moved overseas to advance their careers. In addition, two new females have been installed. I had very little say.

At the time of my admission to this house, I wondered why they let me rent a room. Now I know that I’m the token male. I’m six feet tall, and despite my age, I’m strong and handy with tools (my ute is full of them — remnants of a previous life). After I’d been living here for a few months, word got around the neighbourhood that I was good at fixing things. Being an upper-class neighbourhood, people expect to pay, so it has come in handy — beer money mostly.

Ours is the only share house in a street of multi-million dollar houses built for successful business people in the early nineteen hundreds — grand old houses.

The current owner inherited the house and lives amongst us. She’s a surgeon, but you would never know it. She’s down-to-earth, can drink the young ones under the table, but never when she on-call. She likes rock and roll and white bread.

My role here, apart from paying rent, is to be tall and robust and handy. I carry heavy stuff whenever someone moves in or out. I carry grocery bags and take out the rubbish. I’ve been called upon to escort drunken ex-boyfriends from the premises — I’m a match for drunk young men, but only just.

Spiders are my speciality — they don’t bother me, and I haven’t killed one yet. So they all live quietly outside now. I’m sure they are grateful.

The spider thing has come in handy whenever I have annoyed one of my female housemates enough to want me gone.

“But he catches spiders,” is the cry that has saved me a few times.

No one has ever said anything, but two years of Psych, back in the day, tells me that I’ve been installed because there is little chance of anyone falling in love with me and upsetting the dynamics of the house.

The realisation hurts a bit, but I can see the practical side of the argument.

By nine-thirty am,the house is all mine. The women are off being a doctor, politician, theatre manager, personal secretary.

People think that you pop a couple of pieces of bread into a toaster, and out it pops — toast.

Not so.

If you don’t butter it immediately (actual salted butter), it will not taste how toast is supposed to taste. If you are interrupted (as I sometimes am) and your toast gets cold, there is no way back. I know. I’ve tried every means possible to resurrect cold toast — it cannot be done. It just sits there and turns into burnt bread. Not fit for man or beast. Although, it has to be said that the local birds will eat it reluctantly.

My male friends think I’m crazy to live in a house full of unattainable females.

I’ve learned to enjoy the experience. Females are amazing creatures, and besides, I don’t have a choice. I could not afford to live on my own.

Paydays are few and far between when you are an unrecognised writer with a ute full of tools and not much else to offer to the world.

As long as there is soft white bread cut thickly and butter and possibly jam, then there is something to look forward to, at least until my flatmates burst in at the end of the day and bring an end to my writing and a beginning to the prospect of spending time with interesting people.

Illustration: Mary Maxam

A Handful of True

“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.

Loud.

Probably three parts pissed.

Misogynistic.

Homophobic.

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 handshake.

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.

Good mates.

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.

“Yep.”

“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.

Mr Applegate

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“Good morning Mr.Williams. I noticed your advertisement, and I thought I’d come along and check out your service.”

My customer was a ‘walk-in’ which was not how I usually did business, but there were almost two hours until my next client, and I was feeling magnanimous, so I steered him into my office and gestured toward the big overstuffed leather chair that Doc had commissioned all those years ago. Doc was proud of that chair, and even though it was showing its age, the customers loved to sit in it.

“Just sit comfortably for a few moments while the chair adjusts to you. It’s very old but also quite intelligent, for a chair.” My client smiled which was a good sign. I find the stiff, awkward ones a bit much this early in the week.

“Excuse me for a moment, just sit there and think about what it is that you want me to ‘recollect’ for you.”

“Oh, I already know what that is,” he said excitedly.

“That’s excellent; I’ll just be a moment. I need to lock the front door. We wouldn’t want anyone wandering in off the street and interrupting your reading.” My client smiled at me again, and I was having difficulty reading him. It crossed my mind that he might be a bit simple, but time would tell.

I shot the old brass bolt on the front door and flicked the communication module to ‘answer mode’. The module had been playing up for the last few weeks, and I made a mental note to put it into diagnostic mode. I’d been putting it off because, like everything else in my shop, it is ancient and I have to attach a USB cable to it and dig out an old laptop computer and go through a manual connection. At least I’m old enough to remember how to upload manually. Top of the list will be its hover mode. The damn thing skates all over the desk. The clients think it is hilarious, but they don’t have to clean up the mess. Why a communication module has to hover is beyond me. Back in my day, the stupid things made video links, and that was it.

The proximity light was blinking on the security panel, but I ignored it because it always acts up during the school holidays. The damn thing is too sensitive. I’ve told the tech a dozen times to tune it down. Teenagers are a pain in the neck, but not all of them are a security threat.

“Now, are you comfortable Mr……..?”

“Applegate. William P. Applegate. 27 Blossom Lane Deepdene 3056. You can have my glidephone number as well if you like.” My client was very keen indeed.

“That’s kind of you Mr Applegate, but the Iris Scanner will record all of that information for me. Can you look into the lens for me? Thank you. That’s the housekeeping out of the way. Now down to business. How can I help you?”

He told me what he wanted me to recollect for him, and it was easy enough for me to find the memory in his mind, and it was all going along well until we got to the part where he shot both of his parents and put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“What the fuck was that?” I heard myself say.

Part of being a ‘recollectionist’ means that you are in a mild trance when you retrieve and replay the requested memory. I have to be sitting very close to my client so that the energy fields that surround us are close enough to merge.

The whole thing works a lot better if the client is sitting in my lap, but you can see that this method has some practical drawbacks. Sitting close enough is good enough.

I held the image for a few moments, fully expecting the dead murderer to get up and laugh and say that it was all a joke, but he didn’t.

The scarlet red stain around his head just kept on spreading evenly.

I remember thinking that the floors in that house must have been very level for the blood not to flow in one direction. It’s a strange thought for such a moment, but this was not my first murder.

In the early days before the invention of the Hello-Motion-Brain Scanner, the police would bring me murderers who had made a confession and my job was to ‘recollect’ the exact details of the crime for the court records. I have to say that even though they paid very handsomely, I don’t miss those days.

I brought myself out of the trance a little too quickly and vomited in the waste paper basket. We haven’t used paper for many years, but I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it out, it belonged to Doc, and it came with the business, lock stock and barrel, as they say.

Mr Applegate was still sitting where I’d put him, and now he had a silly grin on his face.

“Now you know too,” he said.

“Know what?” I was aware that I was shouting, but it seemed appropriate.

“This memory has been playing in my head for a month and a half, and I’d like it to stop, please.”

“I’m not a head doctor Mr Applegate, I don’t do ‘stop it’, that’s not what I do. Have you been to the police?”

“Yes, of course, I have, but they said that both of my parents are alive. They don’t want to speak to me, but they are definitely alive so the police will have nothing to do with me. Oh yes, they did say that they will lock me up if I keep bothering them.”

“That is your parents in that recollection, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and that’s me as well,” said Mr Applegate with that same silly grin.

“I have to say that I’ve never come across anything like this before, and I’ve been doing this for most of my life which, right now, seems like a lot of years. I don’t know how to help you, but I would say that you need help. Professional, medical help.”

Mr Appligate’s retinal scan had already deposited the fee into my account, so there was nothing else to do but see him out and wish him luck.

“You will see a doctor, won’t you Mr Applegate?”

“I’ll make an appointment as soon as I get home.” Same silly grin.

He didn’t make an appointment, at least I don’t think he did. There wasn’t anything about a doctor in the note, just a brief explanation that he did it because he needed to make the memory match the deed. That’s exactly how he phrased it, ‘match the deed’. Who says stuff like that? Who kills three people just to make a cross-wired memory into a fact?

William P. Applegate, that’s who.

The police showed me the crime scene photos.

Big hole in his head, scarlet stain unevenly spread and that silly bloody grin on his face.   

Bernard

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Looks can be deceiving.

Take Bernard for example.

He looks small and cute, and his mistress is French.

You might think that he lives in a handbag and eats paté all day, but no, he doesn’t. Okay, so he does eat the occasional croissant, and he once licked paté off the floor where some French bloke dropped it while talking to his mistress, but I don’t think that counts.

He does eat snails, but that is a whole other story.

Bernard is special.

All dogs are special, of course, but what I mean to say is that Bernard is especially talented.

You already know that dogs have amazing senses, and the sense of smell is particularly acute.

I sound like I know what I’m talking about, but to be truthful, I only discovered this because my mistress was doing research for a story.

It all started after I caught the murderer in the country house. It was one of my very first adventures. My mistress was very proud of me, and she wondered how I did it. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I just did what dogs do — I sniffed it out. I thought everyone could do it, but apparently not.

My mistress said that some dogs could detect individual ingredients in a pasta sauce. I could have told her that. It drives her crazy that her girlfriend makes a particularly good Napoli sauce, and she is not sure what the secret ingredient is. It’s Turmeric. A very tiny amount. I tried pointing at it in the spice rack using my nose, but she told me off for climbing on a chair. Humans can be very annoying.

Bernard, on the other hand, never gets told off for climbing on chairs. He is treated like a king — a small hairy king, but a king none the less.

His unique skill is finding things.

Rich people pay his mistress large amounts of money to find things that have been lost inside their huge houses, but more importantly, Bernard is asked to find things that are hidden in the houses of wealthy deceased persons — usually by greedy relatives who are sure that their dead uncle has stashed away a fortune.

Bernard comes to visit at least once a year.

His mistress and my mistress have been friends since my mistress was a student in France. She stayed with her friend’s parents for a year, and she says it was one of the best years of her life.

I was expecting Bernard to be a bit ‘up himself’, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was a very down-to-earth dog.

Appearances can be deceiving.

He likes watching soccer on TV, and he enjoys walks in the rain, but his mistress won’t let him. I splashed water on him one time so that he would know what it felt like. He was very appreciative.

I took him down to the local Butcher Shop, just to show him the sights and he had a splendid time. He got dusty, and some sand got stuck between his toes and he said it made him feel like one of those free range dogs. He was kidding himself of course. He wouldn’t last five minutes in the wild, but I let him have his dream. Who am I to step on anyone’s dream?

He told me about life in Paris, and it sounded pretty good.

French dogs are allowed into cafés, but I like it here. I’m too old to learn the French words for ‘walk’ and ‘treat’ and ‘get off the chair’.

I asked Bernard what was the most interesting thing he was asked to find, and he said that it was hard to choose, but it was probably a lost toy.

The toy belonged to a little old lady. She was very old and sick. She believed that she was going to die soon and she had been thinking a lot about her childhood. She had a favourite little doll.

She used to tell it her secrets.

One day, while playing hide and seek with her brothers and sisters, she put the doll down and forgot where she put it. She searched and searched, but to no avail.

She wanted to hold that little doll one last time before she died.

Bernard said that she offered a huge reward, but it would only be paid if he could find the doll.

His mistress brought him to meet the old lady, and they got on very well indeed. Bernard gave her a good sniffing and set off through the large old Chateau in search of the little doll. It helped that he is small because it stood to reason that the doll would be in a small hiding place just big enough to hide a little girl.

Bernard searched all day, and he was beginning to wonder if he might have to come back another day, but just as the light was failing, he wandered into a small room attached to the huge kitchen. It was full of dusty old boxes, and it looked like no one had been in there for a long time. To start with, nothing in the room seemed to smell like the little old lady had touched it, but after pushing a few boxes aside with his nose, he got a faint whiff.

The little doll had been nibbled on by moths and was very dusty, but she was in one piece, and she was exactly as the old woman had described her.

Bernard said that it was very strange, but he was sure that the little doll was calling out to him. He followed the scent and the sound directly to where the doll was lying, but when he got there, the doll stopped talking to him.

He gently carried the little doll back to the old lady. She was sleeping and woke as he jumped up on her bed. She didn’t care that the doll was dusty and moth-eaten. She hugged it and cried. Bernard knew enough about female humans to know that there was a chance that this little old lady was happy and not sad.

I asked him what happened to the doll and the little old lady, and he said that he was not sure. He heard his mistress talking about her a few times, but he did not know what her words meant. He did say that they got paid a lot of money because of his find and they went on a holiday to Trieste, and as a special treat, he got a ride on the famous funicular tramway. Bernard loves trams, and he and his mistress are going to visit Melbourne next year because they have the most extensive system of tramways anywhere in the world, not to mention the longest continuous piece of tram track.

Bernard loves trams.

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but appearances can be deceiving.

.

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Recapturing The Past

It’s a job like any other.

I get tired, and I get bored, but mostly I like coming to work.

When I was a young man, working my way through college, I worked at a shop that sold lottery tickets. I loved that job; the owner was a dick, but the job was great. People who buy lottery tickets are optimists, and they are my favourite people to be around; not always the brightest, but definitely the most fun. They believe that their time will come.

Which, by contrast, is the exact opposite of the people who come to my place of work.

When my customers come through that door, the one with the antique bell hanging off the inside, they come because they want to recapture something of their past.

I know that sounds mundane; everyone goes back into their memories looking for a happier time. All very well if you can actually remember those times, but if you can’t, that’s where I come in.

Not everyone walks around with a head full of brightly coloured memories. Some people blank their memories out and with good reason.

Some people, and I’m talking quite a lot of people, do not remember specifics about their childhood. They remember their childhood, of course, but only in a general way. Happy, sad, bored, excited, mad, elated, lonely, that sort of thing.

These days we have the technology to do all kinds of amazing things, and still, we are not happy.

People come to me because they want to reconnect with that happiness that they once knew. They want to experience it one more time, and in many cases, over and over again.

There are side effects, of course, but I can see their eyes glaze over as I read the list of things that might happen to them if they go through this procedure. The government makes me tell them, but I told them even before the small fat bloke from the Ministry paid me a call.

“I’m not sure how you slipped through the net Mr Williams [he pronounced my name as though he had just stepped in something nasty], but it seems that you don’t come under any of our regular categories. We’ll put you under ‘miscellaneous’ [that’s the catch-all category that makes sure that you have to fill in a form and pay a fee, even if they have no idea what you do].”

“What do you do with all the fees we pay Mr………?”

“Johnson, William Johnson, chief collector of fees for the eastern and southeastern region. I used to have the north-eastern region, but they said it was too much for me, and they gave it to Jenkins, the swine.”

“That’s a riveting story Mr Johnston, but where does the money go?”

“General revenue, of course.” He looked at me as though I’d just dropped in from another planet.

“Yes, but what does the money do?”

“It doesn’t do anything, it just is —— revenue.”

I could have kept this conversation going, but there was a serious danger of my head exploding so I just nodded and bit my lip — really hard.

.

William Johnson was not born a revenue collector. When he was young, he dreamed of being a train driver, back when trains had drivers. He loved the sound of trains, and the drivers were his heroes. His house backed onto the tracks of the Belgrave line. During the school holidays, he would scale the back fence and sit on the embankment and wait for the trains to pass. He’d wave at the drivers, and some of them would wave back. William longed to be the driver who waved back, but his father was convinced that working for the Public Service was the only life for his disappointing son who liked trains and talked of nothing else. ‘In the absence of a war, the Public Service will toughen him up.’

.

When you go into business, every bugger has got his hand in your pocket.

This bugger was only one of many.

When I wasn’t paying fees, I was dealing with customers.

They come in all shapes and sizes.

I had a bloke in here recently who had lost a lot of his long-term memory in a car accident. Naturally, he wanted to remember the accident in detail so he could work out what had happened.

Therein lay a problem.

If you are driving along and another car comes out of nowhere, all you are going to remember is that you were driving along and ‘bang’, the memory stops.

He was disappointed but not surprised. I helped him with a few other names and dates, but it didn’t seem to help his mood. He was frustrated and a bit sad.

This was an unusual day because I don’t get a lot of this kind of business.

People don’t usually come digging around in a forgotten past.

It does happen, and it usually ends in tears. The mind blocks out certain things — nasty things, and I can’t help thinking that the mind knows what it is doing — leave that stuff alone.

Of course, none of that is up to me. My job is to pinpoint the memory as accurately as possible.

They give me an approximate time and place and I ‘recollect’ it for them. Occasionally, it takes me a bit longer than I’d like, but that usually happens when people are not too sure about specifics.

You are probably wondering how I got into this business.

I just fell into it.

I was young, and my dad insisted that I work during the summer before I started college. My dad was like that. He felt that there were things that I needed to learn and more importantly, things I needed to experience.

We had money, as the saying goes, and my dad did not want me to grow up thinking that the world owed me anything.

I’d known I had this ability since childhood, and my grandfather made sure that I worked at it and got it better. This was back in the day when you had to be careful of who you spoke to about such things. It could cause you some problems, and I lost a few friends because of it, mostly because my friends’ parents were frightened to let their child play with someone who could access their memories. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I took it personally — I was hurt.

I understand now that, most likely, these adults were worried that their child would reveal some secret memory. As we have learned in recent times, some strange things went on behind closed doors in those days.

I went to work for old Doc Preston. My dad knew him [dad knew a lot of people], and he got me the job.

.

Doc Preston wasn’t a medical doctor; he was a doctor of psychology, and his credential came in handy in this work. All Doc Preston ever wanted to do was help people. It was amazing being around this man, even for an oblivious young eighteen-year-old like me. He lost the love of his life when they were both quite young, and he never married again. He had ‘friends’, but never anything heavy. ‘I’m married boy, [he always called me boy, even when I was in my forties], and I always will be. She may not be here with me in person, but I know we will be together again, and I’m going to remain faithful to her. It’s the only thing I can give her now, my loyalty.’ As I got to know him, I gave him the ‘she would want you to be happy’ speech, but he alway smiled and shook his head, ‘you will understand one day, boy.’

.

Doc Preston taught me heaps about the recollectionist business.

I jumped out of bed every morning.

When my mates urged me to take a day off and hang out, I told them that I had better things to do with my time. They thought I was nuts, and maybe I was, but it was in a good way.

I went to college, but I worked for Doc Preston on Saturdays and during the holidays.

I ended up with an honours degree, but I never put it to use because I had found my calling.

When Doc got too old to carry on, he sold the business to me.

I didn’t want him to retire. I loved being around him.

“How much do you want for the business Doc? I’m pretty sure I can raise the money.”

“Ten dollars and packet of Juicy Fruits.”

“Be serious Doc.”

He was, and he wasn’t kidding about the Juicy Fruits; Doc never joked about sweets.

You’ve probably guessed that Doc was not well. He knew, but as usual, I was totally oblivious.

A week before he died, he came into the shop, when he knew it would be quiet, and asked me for a favour.

“Can you take me back to the summer of ’88? That was our last summer together, and I’d like to remember it one last time.”

“Sure thing Doc, but none of this ‘one last time’ stuff.” Doc just smiled and gave me that look.

By the time the session was over the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

That was not like me.

I experience some very emotional stuff when I facilitate the ‘recollections’, but I usually keep a professional distance [Doc taught me that — ‘you’ll go batty if you don’t learn how to stand back and watch’].

The trouble was, this was personal. I’d heard him talk about her hundreds of times, but now, there she was and they were so much in love. I could smell her perfume, and I could see the look in their eyes and it broke my heart.

I don’t know what Doc would think of the industry these days.

He would probably say something like, ‘everything changes boy, get used to it and make the most of what you have in the here and now’.

I’m one of the last ‘old school’ recollectionists.

These days there are automated ‘remembering’ stores in most shopping centres, run by poorly paid young people who would rather be sitting on a beach.

If you appreciate the old fashioned service of having your memories recollected by an actual human, then you come on down to Melbourne’s last old time Recollectionist emporium.

Shop 22 in The Block Arcade.

We offer a discreet service and an experience that you will never forget.