Tickle Your Arse With a Feather
“There’s a couple of strange young blokes in a holding cell,” said the desk sergeant who wasn’t at his desk.
“Is it Saturday night already?” said Sergeant Wilson.
“No Sergeant. It was Tuesday last time I checked.”
Weatherby was a sergeant without a sense of humour.
“They wandered in earlier today and insisted on confessing,” said Sergeant Weatherby.
“Assassination, fraud, bad taste, showing too much bum crack?”
“Now that you mention it, the younger one did have his jeans almost around his ankles.”
Did the desk sergeant just attempt a joke?
There was a small silence while the possibility of humour was considered.
“There is a week long parade of ‘strange blokes’ in the cells Sergeant, so why are you sharing this nugget with us?” said the Inspector.
“I know you are working on that murder and the pizza delivery driver is a suspect. These two Mensa graduates say they tried to rob him last night and they’re very sorry. One of them seems to be a lot more sorry than the other one.”
“Did someone put you up to this Sergeant? If so I’m not pleased.”
“No sir. It’s all true. Speak to them yourself, they’ll tell you. Probably won’t be able to shut them up.”
Interview room Two was vacant, but now it isn’t.
“Slow down and start from the beginning,” said Sergeant Wilson.
The younger man, who went by the name of Joiner, looked dazed.
“How far back do you want me to go? I don’t remember much before my fourth birthday.”
Inspector McBride sighed.
“I’m sure you had an interesting childhood, but we are interested in your attempted robbery. When did you get the idea?”
“Johnno saw something on the news about a pizza bloke getting done over for his tips. Thought we should try something like that with that bloke on that bike. We seen him riding around.”
“You do know that most people pay with a credit card when they order?” said the Inspector.
“We never got a pizza delivered. So no.”
“You put a lot of thought into this.”
“We figured we’d grab him on his way back after a delivery.”
“His first run of the night?”
“Yeah. We should have waited for him to collect a bit more money. Lesson learned.”
“So you bailed him up not far from the Pizza shop?”
“You sure you don’t need a solicitor. I feel like I’m stealing soft toys from an infant.”
“Nah. We’re good. Just wanna get this over with.”
“Okay. So you bailed him up. Two strong young blokes. It would not have been too much trouble to take his money.”
“That’s what we thought,” said Joiner.
“The bugger poked me with a feather,” said Johnno.
Up to this point, there was a real chance that Johnno was mute. Considering what came next, it would have been better for him if he had been.
“Are you taking the piss, young man?” said the Inspector, who had better things to do.
“Nah, straight up. He poked me with a feather.”
‘Straight up’, Inspector McBride hadn’t heard that expression since the 70s.
“I’ll bite. What sort of feather was it?” said the Sergeant.
Joiner looked like he might burst. He hadn’t been able to speak for several seconds.
“One of his. He plucked it out of his wing and waved it about a bit. We both sort of followed it and it seemed to slow down as he waved it,” said Joiner.
“Slowed down,” said Johnno.
“Then he looked Johnno in the eyes and pocked him in the chest with the feather.”
“Particularly nasty weather,” said the Sergeant.
“Pardon?” said Joiner.
“You know. Tickle your arse with a feather/ particularly nasty weather. We used to say it when we were kids. My dad taught it to me. Drove my mum crazy.”
“Your dad sounds like a bit of cunt, teaching little kids how to swear. No wonder you became a cop,” said Joiner, who shuffled in his seat.
“Not sure what that was about, but can we please get back to this riveting story before my head explodes,” said the Inspector.
“Alright! Keep your hair on grandad,” said Joiner.
The Inspector ran his fingers through his hair.
“So we bail this geezer up and tell him what is going to happen to him if he doesn’t give us the money and he doesn’t seem scared or anything. A bit simple in the head I was thinking, when he leans his bike (which I considered nicking but couldn’t be bothered wheeling it all the way home) up against a shop window. I expect him to dig in his pocket for the money, But instead, he smiles and plucks out a feather. I’m about to say, ‘What the fuck are you going to do with that’, when he starts waving it about. It was the strangest thing. Like some special effect in a movie, it looked blurry and fuzzy and shit. Then he stops waving it about and jabs Johnno with it. Johnno looks all dazed and shit and sinks to his knees. I thought I’d missed something. I’ve seen blokes get stabbed and maybe that’s what just happened, but no blood, no nothin’, just Johnno apologising from a kneeling position. I was going to thump the bloke but Johnno says, ‘Don’t. He’s not like us. Leave him.’ So I left him. Then the bugger grabbed his bike and wandered off. I had a hell of a job getting Johnno off his knees. He’s been bugging me ever since for us to turn ourselves in so here we are.”
Inspector McBride ran his fingers through his hair again.
“Stick them back in the cells and get me any CCTV footage you can find.”
“Is this the biggest monitor we have,” said Inspector McBride, “I feel like I’m watching I Love Lucy and my mum is going to insist that I go to bed when it’s over.”
“The big screen doesn’t work since that stag do Wazza put on,” said the Sergeant, “and the footage is in black and white, for some strange reason.”
The footage came from the old hardware store a couple of shops up from the incident. It was grainy and black and white but well lit. The angle was from behind the pizza delivery rider, and you could see the two punks approach him, but you could not see his initial reaction. Then the rider reaches around, plucks a feather, and begins to wave it around. It could have been the lousy resolution, but it did look like the feather was moving in slow motion. Both punks were mesmerised by its movement. Then came the jab, followed by the yobo sinking to his knees, followed by the rider collecting his bike and walking away.
“Well this is a first for me. They weren’t lying,” said the Inspector.
“Bugger all chance of getting a conviction without a statement from the rider,” said the Sergeant.
“They don’t know that and we don’t have to let them go for another day so let them stew,” said the Inspector.
“I feel better as it gets dark”, said the bloke sitting next to me at the bar.
To be accurate, I sat next to him.
It had been a long day, and I needed a drink, but you don’t have to worry about me. I only drink now and again, and today was a big ‘again’.
There are rules about sitting next to someone at a bar. Something like the rules about standing next to someone when you need to pee — you don’t do it unless there is nowhere else to stand. You just don’t — end of story.
When I lurched into the bar (I’d never noticed it before, but I took a wrong turn on the way to the station and there it was), I was focused on the aroma and sting that goes with an excellent single malt scotch. I wasn’t thinking about the logistics of obtaining one (except that I expected to get stung on price, happy hour or no happy hour, and I wasn’t disappointed).
I could have tried to attract the barman’s attention, and I did try, but it seemed like a good idea to sit down — this was going to take a while.
As soon as I did, my bum said thank you, and I sank into the soft leather (soft leather barstool equals a twenty-per cent premium on drinks — you learn these things as you get older).
The bloke on my left stuck his elbow out just a little and turned slightly away — a clear ‘don’t even think about starting a conversation, and why the hell do you need to sit there?’
I got the message and the eye of the bartender. I ordered something smoky and rich, and it arrived in a flash. It was a waste of time saying, ‘no ice’ because the bartender was intent on getting through the next two hours without having to use his brain unduly. I flicked the ice onto the polished wooden bar without spilling too much golden liquid. The cubes clustered together, then slowly slid down the bar.
“Floors not level,” I said to no one in particular.
“You don’t worry about stuff like that once it gets dark,” said the bloke on my right.
“I used to be a shopfitter,” I said, knowing that any chance of having a quiet drink was well in my rearview mirror.
“In that suit?”
“No mate. A long time ago before suits were invented. I was an apprentice. We got called in when shops changed hands or when some bloke wanted to expand into the shop next door. New windows, display cases, counters, walls, stuff like that. They made me do skirting boards for six months. I got to be pretty good at it.”
The bloke on my left looked at me for a few seconds longer than was necessary.
“There’s this magic switch that goes off when it gets dark. It’s a different world,” he said.
“Do you work at night?” I said.
“Used to. Not any more. Too old.”
He didn’t look too old, but maybe night work rules differed.
I gave him a scan. His jacket was old but well kept. His trousers were even older and a bit shinny. His shoes were black leather and of indeterminate age. I couldn’t see his shirt from where I was sitting, but he had an old grey felt hat sitting on the bar in front of him. He expertly lifted the hat to let the ice cubes float by.
“Stupid bugger never listens when you say ‘no ice’,” he said, flicking his head toward the harried barman.
The manœuvre with the hat was handled with his left hand. His right hand never let go of his glass.
‘An experienced drinker’, I thought.
“I still sleep during the day and stay up at night. Some habits are hard to break,” he said.
Our conversation was carried out while staring at our drinks.
I’ve had conversations like this before. No eye contact means something. Usually, it denotes a tired soul.
“So, what is it about the dark?” I said.
While he gathered his thoughts, I glanced at the bar’s mirror. It was now completely dark outside, and I hadn’t noticed. A bit like going into a movie in the afternoon and coming out in the dark.
The bloke with the hat straightened up and looked over his shoulder. He tilted his head back and drained his glass. Finally, he turned and looked me in the eyes.
“You seem like a good bloke but I don’t have time to talk now, it’s dark outside. It’s my time and I don’t like to waste any of it. You look after yourself young fella. Nice suit, by the way. Shame to waste it on that job of yours.”
He grabbed his hat, adjusted it at a rakish angle and slid off his stool like a teenager.
While I was thinking of something to say, he was gone. Swallowed up by the night he purported to love.
The bar was beginning to thin out as the inaccurately named ‘happy hour’ came to a close.
The bartender looked an inch taller.
“Get you anything else mate?” he said.
“More ice would be good,” I said, and he didn’t get it, but I ended up with a glass full of ice.
“Do you know the bloke who was sitting next to me? Grey felt hat, dusty jacket?” I said.
“Seen him a few times. Someone said he used to be famous.”
“Famous for what?” I said.
“Buggered if I know. Just famous.”
And there it was, ‘just famous’.
But that’s the thing about fame. One day you’re Kate Bush, and the next day you’re Kate who?
I nursed my drink for a few more moments, then ventured out into the night. But, of course, by now, the trains will be half full, and I’ll get a seat all the way home.
The walk to the station was fresh and uneventful. I didn’t bump into anyone, and no one asked me for anything.
The bloke with the hat was right; it feels better when it gets dark.
I guessed that he’d stolen it from an old school carpenter.
I shared his fascination.
My father always said that if it looked straight, it was.
Looks being more important than reality. My dad would have fitted right into our modern world.
“A weight on the end of a line, used especially by masons and carpenters to establish a true vertical.”
Before the plague hit, I was too busy being a busy person. Now I sit and notice things that were always there.
Crows aren’t unheard of near my home, but I usually only notice them as they fly over, noisily announcing that they are going somewhere.
At some point in the distant past, a previous owner had painted the wall between us orange. The wall separates our nearest neighbour and us. Not the shade of orange you see here, but orange nonetheless. I’m guessing it was the seventies. Orange was a thing back then. I’m not ashamed to say that I liked it, which probably explains why I never painted over it.
I don’t like painting, which is probably another reason why it survived.
I like the way it has faded selectively, making it look like a piece of modern art.
The crow doesn’t care about any of these thoughts — at least, I don’t think he does.
I imagine him as a ‘he’. There really isn’t a way of telling males and females apart — just like Indian Mynors. We have a pair of them as well.
See how well I’m noticing things now that I’m stuck at home?
I keep waiting for the bird to drop the plumb line, but he has managed to keep hold of it so far.
Sometimes he wobbles it from side to side and watches it swing until it stops. Then he starts all over again.
I looked it up, and crows are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. Just above football supporters and just below the bloke who works out the train timetables.
Working with tools is supposed to be a big deal, and I think of that every time I need a plumber.
I guess my crow is more of a carpenter than a plumber. Who knows?
I’ve decided not to speculate about the crow’s motives. Some things are best left alone.
I wonder if he thinks about me and my orange wall?
At a Certain Age
When I was younger, I watched it happen from afar.
My grandmother was an expert at it, but I dismissed it as ‘my grandmother was always like that’.
After a conversation with my favourite aunt, I gained a different perspective.
“She wasn’t always like that. As a young woman, she let people walk all over her, especially your grandfather.”
My grandfather died when I was young. I remember the aromas in the church. When I got a lot older, someone put a name to it — frankincense. There was furniture polish and shoe polish and dust as well. I remember thinking they should have dusted my grandfather before burying him. Kids form thoughts based on the available evidence. Dust is a recurring memory from childhood; I guess it’s because I was so close to the ground.
I doubt that science has defined it down to the month or the week, but somewhere in there, people, women, in particular, develop a sort of superpower.
I’m only guessing, and correct me if you think I’m wrong, but it seems that people worry about what people think of them more than anything else and then one day they don’t anymore — well, not as much anyway.
I watched one of my aunties wade into a melee of grown men who were angry after a junior basketball game. The parents were berating a young referee after a close finish. The young referee was my cousin, and it looked like he’d done a good job. Mind you, I would have called that last foul a charge rather than a block.
My aunty stood a few inches short of five feet tall, and she stood between the six-foot-plus fathers giving my cousin a hard time. She told them off for being childish, and eventually, they started to back away. Not content with this, she followed them to the exit door and saw them on their way. There were quite a few smiling faces in the crowd that dispersed at the end of the game.
I expected my aunty to rub her hands together, but she didn’t. Victory was hers, and she was gracious in victory.
“Arseholes,” she said before gathering up her knitting, congratulating my cousin on ‘a job well done’ and telling him she would see him when he got home after his shift. I followed her to her car because I expected the large fathers to be waiting for her in the carpark.
“Aren’t you going to stay and watch your cousin referee his next game?” she said when she noticed me trailing along behind her.
“Yeah, but I thought I’d keep an eye on you aunty. Those blokes were pretty angry.”
My aunt laughed.
“All talk, no trousers,” she said.
Not a flicker of fear.
I wondered if I would grow up to size up people that well.
I’m not sure I have, but I can pick a ‘no trousers’ without too much trouble.
On one occasion, she got slapped by a parent when she was coaching a junior team. One of the dads sorted the bloke out, but I expected it to put my aunty off coaching. It didn’t. She saw the incident as a blip.
“Most people aren’t like that. Did you see the parents jump up and deal with the slapper?”
She only coached a few games but went undefeated in her short career. The kids loved her. Most of them were taller than she was, but they listened to her because she had gravitas — that hard to define something that makes people want to follow someone.
Chances are that she probably always had that ability, but somewhere along the way, a light went on, and she became the person she was meant to be.
Mysterious creatures, humans.
Invisible Man With a Suitcase
Illustration credit: Franco Matticchio
It won’t take you long to work out that I exaggerate.
It’s all true, but I tend to ‘gild the lily’ as my mum would say.
My father wasn’t invisible; at least he wasn’t the way I drew him.
That drawing caused me heaps of trouble.
My teacher called my mum into a meeting.
“I’m not saying your son is strange, but this drawing is a bit disturbing.”
I’ve always been good at illustrations. It amazed me that others weren’t so good. Like everyone else on this planet, I take my gifts for granted. Don’t you?
My father travelled a lot because of his job.
He sold stuff, and that stuff seemed to change quite regularly.
He always had a suitcase full of samples.
As he went out the door on each sales trip, he had two cases — one for his clothes and one for his samples.
The upside of his job for us was that he had a car. Most of the other families around us didn’t. Only professional families could afford one.
I hated him being away, but I knew it was his job, and that’s where the food, toys, and school fees came from — even so, I wanted him to be home like the other dads.
After each trip away, there would be three or four days where he didn’t have to go into the office, and I’d get to stay home from school on at least one of those days.
Dad would wake me up way too early, and I’d stumble out of bed and eat toast with one eye open with my pyjama top unevenly buttoned. I couldn’t think straight first thing in the morning, but I was not going to miss out. My mother didn’t sleep much, even when dad was home, so she would look like she’d been up for hours and probably had.
“Move your scrawny little behind. We’ve got places to go and people to see,” my dad would say just as I was about to fall asleep on my plate of toast.
Most times, we would head for the beach, which gave me half an hour to fall asleep in the back of our big old Ford. There were no seat belts in those days, so I’d curl up on the leather seat, and the movement would lull me to sleep. It was the same routine on the way home, only I’d have sand in my shoes this time.
Once, I ended up on the floor — a rough industrial grade carpet. Some bloke pulled out of a parking spot, and dad hit him. I must have been knocked out for a few seconds because I opened my eyes and stared at a bottle of milk and a box of biscuits that mum had bought before we headed home. We all ended up on the floor of the car without a single injury. Dad was busy telling the formally parked motorist what he thought of his driving while mum peered over the front seat to see where I’d ended up.
“Are you okay little man?” she said with her delicious voice.
“Yes mum, but the bickies and a bit bent.”
“Just so long as you are okay.”
The bump on my head was the centre of many conversations when I returned to school. I was determined to tell a different story to each person who asked, but I ran out of good ones. I’m not sure that the Pirate story gained much traction.
After a week, sometimes two, my father would start talking about his next trip, and I’d get that sick feeling in the part of my stomach that bullies liked to punch. Whenever he left, it felt a lot like I’d been hit.
His two suitcases would be placed neatly on my parent’s bed. The case containing his clothes would be closed up first. Then, his sample case would receive a final check to ensure everything was there.
“Can’t afford to leave anything behind. It’s too far to have to come back,” he’d say.
When he wasn’t looking, I’d drop something of mine into his sample case — something of me to carry with him on his journey. Something to keep him safe — usually a shell or a stone we had collected on one of our adventurous days.
I know how a dog feels when you leave for work each day, “How can I protect you if I don’t know where you are?”
I felt the same way with my dad.
I don’t know how I thought I could protect him, but I know I would have tried.
As long as he had something of mine, I knew he would return safely.
I was a child, and the world seemed simple to me — stay close and stay safe.
Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but I didn’t know that back then.
My father never said anything about finding my ‘keep safe’ objects, but he must have known.
Many years later, my mother found a shoebox under their bed with a bunch of shells, stones, and small plastic soldiers. She wondered why my father had kept them and where he had found them in the first place.
I didn’t tell her.
It was our secret.
Nice Girls Don’t Explode
If you could see my face, you might think I looked determined.
It’s my driving face, and it can pass for determination in a pinch.
I observe actresses’ faces on the silver screen, and I marvel at how much they can say with just a look.
I can’t do that, and my friends (enemies?) delight in telling me so.
“What goes on behind that expressionless face of yours, Pickles?”
“Not a lot,” I say with a wry smile that probably doesn’t show.
My father gave me the name.
I’ve never bothered to ask him why.
It’s a term of endearment, I guess.
He always said it with warmth.
“Penelope Pickles, what have you been up to today?” he would say when the train brought him home from the city.
When I was very young, I’d be in bed before he came home, but he always came into my room and asked me about my day. So I’d save up little tidbits to have something of substance to share with him.
“A boy showed me a frog and I didn’t run away.”
“You are brave.”
“No. Not really. I like the boy who showed it to me. He wasn’t being nasty, just sharing his frog.”
Frog sharing was a pleasant pastime back then.
The boy with the frog died somewhere in Belgium.
I wonder if he remembered me?
When I left home and went off to drive an ambulance, my father had been in the army for three months. He could have gotten out of it due to his age, but he pulled a few strings, “Chaps I know will get me in.”
I’m tall, and I looked older than I was; even so, I had to do a lot of talking to get behind the wheel.
“Not a place for a woman,” they said, but as the death toll rose and ambulance drivers died as fast as anyone, they changed their tune.
The experience was exactly what you would think it was — indescribable.
Like everyone who survived that time, I decided to live my life as well as I could.
I earn my own money. I drive my own car, and I dance with whoever I like.
My ‘driving scarf’ was a present from my favourite aunty. My father’s sister is a sort of family’ black sheep’. Of course, that’s not why I like her so much, but it helps.
She got me out of the house from time to time — only a train ride away in the big smoke.
“I’ll stay with Aunt Scarlett in the city for a few days.”
“Your sister will ruin that girl,” my mother would say, but my father would talk her around, and on the ride to the station, he would warn me about my aunty’s ‘wicked ways.’
“She’s a good person, but there’s also a fair chance that she’ll lead you astray.”
“What sort of ‘astray’ are we talking about?” I’d ask. I genuinely wanted to know what ‘astray’ looked like.
“No need to be too specific. Let’s just say that boys and alcohol might be involved.”
I knew a bit about boys. What they wanted to do. What they wanted to see, but alcohol was a bit of a mystery.
When the cousins and their families came to stay at Christmas, we little ones would hide under the dining table, sneak out, and drain the almost empty glasses. The fluid within tasted terrible, and I wondered what the fuss was about.
After these raids, we would often fall asleep under the table, huddled together like puppies. It was delicious.
I lost interest in the ‘drinks raid’ the year I sculled a glass with a cigar butt in it.
Father survived the War, but he was not the same. Neither was I.
Everything was different and important people in my life were either completely gone or badly damaged.
Someone had pulled the rug out from underneath us, and I’ll bet that whoever these someones were, they survived the War unscathed. But, unfortunately, it’s the ‘no ones’ who pay the price.
Here Be Pirates
My great-aunt Agnes was a pain in the arse; possibly even a grumpy old hag.
At least that’s what I thought when I was nine years old.
As a family, we visited her house a number of times before she died, aged 103.
I was too young to go to the funeral.
I stayed home and played with my Matchbox car collection, and kicked a football in the backyard with my older cousin who was designated to keep and eye on me.
Great Aunt Agnes smelt sweet, which was unusual.
When you are a kid old people smell strange.
My world was full of old people at the time, and thinking about them now evokes memories of antique dust, woollen jumpers, eucalyptus lollies, disapproval, annoyance, mothballs, walking sticks, furniture polish and old dogs.
Great Aunt Agnes had a walking stick, and I’m pretty sure that she poked me with it at least once. Not violently, but ‘poked’ nonetheless.
She apparently liked expensive perfume, and she had a great name— Agnes. In all my many years I’ve only known two people named Agnes, and only one of them existed. The non-existent one was Rachael. Her brother was my friend, and he nicknamed her Agnes just to annoy her — it worked, so he kept it going. I was never sure why she was insulted by being called Agnes; I liked the name.
I didn’t realise how cool my great-aunt Agnes was — I was young.
All little boys love pirates — Captain Blood, Bluebeard, Captain Hook. They all spell adventure, but they all lived so long ago; so far from the world of a twentieth-century little boy.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Great Aunt Agnes had a huge, carved wooden box at the end of her enormous bed. The lid was almost too heavy for a young boy to lift, but not quite.
All small children are born with an inbuilt sense of the right time to go exploring. My great-aunt would produce the ‘good china tea service’ and brew a pot of fragrant tea. Plates of biscuits and cakes would magically appear, and I knew better than to reach for one of these sweet delights before the adults had placed a selection of matching plates and had begun to sip from their elegant cups.
There was always the temptation to hang around for ‘seconds’, but if I did that I would miss ‘the moment’.
The time when all parents feel that their children are displaying the appropriate behaviour for visiting relatives.
The window of opportunity was small and the possibility of adventure beckoned.
Great Aunt Agnes’s bedroom was at the other end of the hall, and the box at the end of the bed was full of wondrous things, but most of them were incomprehensible to a nine-year-old boy.
One item caught my eye.
It was a tattered old journal.
The leather-bound hardcover looked like it had been dragged behind a horse and cart, the way that cowboys often were on TV.
It was thick and cumbersome, and the page edges were marbled so that when the book was closed there was a swirly, colourful pattern visible.
I’d never seen such a book.
I opened the cover and inhaled that beautiful dusty book smell that all lovers of old books will recognise.
Inside the front cover, there was an ornate ‘ex libris’ plate. The script was probably in Latin, but I knew the name, Agnes Annabel Leigh. My great aunt’s name was Armstrong, just like mine, but I was old enough to know that women changed their surname when they married.
This journal was from a time before she married my great-uncle, who had died many years before I was born.
The first page was blank, but the next page contained the beginning of a story about a girl who falls in love with an impoverished young man — not exactly interesting for a nine-year-old boy, but it did occur to me that there might be other stories that would appeal.
The next story was also about another girl falling in love followed by a story about a horse, which was a bit more interesting, followed by a story about a cruel aunt and an orphaned little girl — boring!
Then I hit the motherload; a story about a pirate — bingo, now we’re talking.
I almost skipped over it because I was expecting more of the same.
But no, it was a story about a pirate.
There was a note at the beginning saying that the story was inspired by letters my aunt had read which belonged to one of her ancestors.
She had an ancestor who fell in love with a pirate?
It didn’t take me long to work out that this meant that I was related to someone who fell in love with a pirate.
My nine-year-old brain was well advanced for its age, but it was not up to imagining little illegitimate pirate children running around on the Poop Deck — but I am.
The story was long and exciting, and I hung on every sentence.
Despite my fear of being discovered by my parents or my great aunt, I was instantly transported into the story; probably as one of the pirate ship’s crew.
I was prepared to put up with all the ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff because the story was so well written and the descriptions were dripping with salty spray. I imagined my callused hands from pulling on the wet ropes. I could hear the songs that the crew members sang. I could taste the salty food, and I could feel the roll of the ship.
I didn’t get caught, but it broke my heart having to put the book back in the box.
There were more stories to read, and I wanted to know more about my pirate consorting ancestor.
But, not long after my discovery, my great-aunt died, and I had missed my opportunity to ask her about her youthful writing pursuits. I never got to find out why she wrote such exciting stories and never showed them to anyone. I never found out why the journal was so heavily worn. Did she take it out every night and read about young love and salty adventures?
I couldn’t bring up the subject with my parents without giving myself away.
I was too young to know what happened next, but I guess my great aunt’s stuff got divided up or thrown out; that’s usually what happens. I never found out who got the big wooden box and when I bought up the subject many years later, no one seemed to know.
Some idiot relative probably sold the box to a dealer and threw out the contents. My pirate story most likely ended up as landfill. I can see the pages fluttering in the cool afternoon breeze.
So much of life is luck.
I found the stories but was too young to be able to do anything about it. My great aunt’s talent lay hidden in a trunk because she was born at a time when women were not expected to do anything other than look after their boring husbands.
Not everyone can lay claim to a pirate as an ancestor; I can, but I just can’t prove it.
Once a year, at about this time, I celebrate ‘talk like a pirate day’.
Everyone has a great time, and a lot of parrot jokes do the rounds, but for me, it means a lot more.
Once a year my timbers are shivered, and my plank gets walked.
Great Aunt Agnes might have been a grumpy old bastard, but she had an excellent reason for being that way, and somewhere there is a pirate who is wondering why no one remembers him.
My talented son and I celebrate ‘Talk Like A Pirate Day’ every year. A few years ago, he suggested that I write a Pirate story. So I did. Part of it was written on a very fast-moving train, and part was written while waiting for my wife to finish work so we could celebrate my son’s birthday, and the final bit was written while sitting in bed with my two dogs waiting for my wife to come home from the ballet. So this story has travelled a bit. I hope you enjoyed it, and I say thank you to Matt for inspiring its creation.
Suicide Note: Part Five – two kids under five
Catchup? Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
The next thirty hours yielded nothing of any value, and I found myself walking through the city late in the day.
I try to avoid walking.
My body doesn’t like it, but sometimes my mind insists.
The need to sit down saw me turn into a tiny bar in one of the eponymous laneways of Melbourne. It wasn’t much bigger than a garden shed with narrow tables and chairs along one wall and a bar on the other. Mirrors made the place look bigger than it was.
“Long day mate?” said the barman who had been born somewhere other than Melbourne.
“Regulation number of hours, but it seemed longer,” I said.
Does the ‘Responsible Serving Of Alcohol’ certificate include a module on ‘how to chat with customers’, or does it come naturally.
“Something Scottish, single malt, lots of smoke please — neat,” I said.
I didn’t go up to the bar. I wanted to see how he was going to get out from behind it. It seemed impossible from where I was sitting.
Of course, he could have put my drink on the bar and made me come and get it, but he didn’t. The end of the bar hinged up and away from the wall as the bottom panel swung in, allowing the barman to escape his prison.
“That’s a neat setup. How does it work?”
“No idea,” said the barman, “the bloke who set the place up invented it. Said he saw it in Paris years ago. Always remembered how it worked.”
I waved my debit card at the barman, and he gestured in the time-honoured way.
“Catch me when you’re done,” he said, and I thought he was very trusting considering the prices in his bar. Doing a runner after a couple of drinks would pay your rent for a week.
My drink smelled terrific, and when I added a splash of water (generously supplied without being asked for), the space around me filled with smoky goodness.
I still had to make it home to my bed, so I drank slowly. Good whisky is meant to be drunk that way, so I wasn’t pressured.
After two drinks, I was warm and significantly poorer, but none the wiser.
Cop movies will tell you that the first three days after a murder are critical, and they are, but a lot depends on hard work and blind luck.
This case was shaping up to be a lot of the former and not a lot of the latter.
Egg had spent an enjoyable time (as pleasant as it gets when you tell someone’s workmates that their friend is dead in suspicious circumstances) talking to the fellow inmates at Debra’s workplace. He checked the make and model of her computer and the office printer.
They did not match the printing on the ‘suicide’ note.
Strike two for me.
We already knew that this was most likely a murder, but I do enjoy being right.
There has been way too much going on for me to focus on my problems.
As a child, I subscribed to the theory that if you ignored something, there was a good chance it would go away.
Statistically, the jury is still out, but in this case, ignoring the problem is my only choice. What’s done is done, and the longer it goes where I don’t hear any more about it, the better it will get.
If the ‘higher ups’ had made up their minds about me and my perceived misdeed, I’d be filling out unemployment benefit papers instead of working on a murder case.
Do you remember the meeting I told you about? The one behind the glass wall?
Well, it turns out that I had a friend in that room.
I knew who all the people were.
Every one of them could decide my fate by speaking ill of me. So it was a no-brainer that some of them did exactly that.
Naturally, the Chief Inspector had the final say.
He’s a strange bird, and we have never had a meaningful conversation, and I’m not sure if that is him or me. Influential people don’t intimidate me, but I like this job, so staying away from people who can make my life harder seems like a wise idea. For his part, I’m just another loose cannon who can make his job harder.
I can’t say for sure, but I think it was he who sent the word down for me to do that weekend refresher course. He did me a favour there. I met Ms Carter, and I got laid. Which reminds me, I must ring her. It’s been a while.
It wasn’t his wife I was giving a seeing to in the back of that Bentley, but I guess he thought that standards had to be upheld.
I found out later that the two constables never intended to make a report.
I showed them my warrant card, and they had fun with me, which was to be the end of it. Unfortunately, one of them got done for drink driving, and he traded the information for a clean record. It didn’t work. He got done and, after a long process, lost his job. As with all cover-ups, it got uncovered, and by default, I ended up in the shit.
Penelope was an excellent lover, and the things she could do in the back of that vintage Bentley were amazing. I still tingle when I think about it.
Not unsurprisingly, our back seat trysts came to a screaming halt (no pun intended) when word got out.
The meeting behind the glass wall had nothing to do with me being caught with my pants down. Of course, that all happened ages ago, but somehow I had acquired a defender, and I’m yet to understand why.
I wouldn’t call him a friend — we barely know each other, but word got back that he stood up for me, mentioned my meagre achievements, and suggested that they see how I handle this case before any decisions are made.
The reason for this glass-encased meeting was indeed way more severe than my fucking a senior officer’s missus, but there we are, and the knowledge only increases the pressure on me to solve this murder.
It does occur to me that someone, more senior to me, knew this was not a suicide way before I did.
The thought makes me very uneasy, but I don’t have time for paranoia — that can come later when this case is done and my tenuous grip on this job is reestablished.
I have to admit to feeling expendable, but that’s nothing new.
“Go back over the details of your visit to Debra’s workplace. Don’t leave anything out. I want to know what colour nail polish they were wearing,” I said as the waitress delivered two BLTs with avocado on the side (say ‘avo’ anywhere near me, and you’ll need dental work).
Egg and I were having what passed for a breakfast meeting at the cafe near the wholesale vegetable market. My family has a long history with ‘the Markets’, but that’s a story for another time.
“There were two long blacks to go with these, Luv,” I said as the waitress turned to walk back to the counter.
“They’re on their way. I didn’t forget and please don’t call me ‘Luv’. We’re two decades into the twenty-first century,” said our waitress, who had had a hard morning. She wasn’t really having a go, just tired.
“I apologise sweetheart (she winced). Are you okay? You look all tuckered out,” I said, and my brain reminded me that you NEVER tell a woman that she looks tired. But, on the whole, she took it well.
The waitress put her hand on the back of my chair, and for a split second, I thought she might give me a clip over the ear.
“I’ve got two kids under five and neither of them sleep through the night. I’ve been on since four this morning and I’m buggered.”
I wondered about the four o’clock start when I remembered that the fruit and veggie market opens about then. Lots of sleepy blokes needing a cuppa.
“Would you like to sit down?” I said, moving out one of our spare chairs.
“Can’t,” she said, “got another hour to go before I sit down.”
No longer a girl and with two kids to think about, she was doing her best. One minor disaster and she would fall over the edge.
So much of life is a tightrope walk.
We watched her walk back to the counter.
I glanced at the bill sitting under my plate.
We each put a twenty-dollar note down, not wanting any change.
When the coffees arrived, I slid the bill and the notes in her direction.
“Keep the change kid,” I said. She looked at us, and somewhere inside, I think she was smiling, but it didn’t show on the outside. Tip or no tip, there were still two kids at home who wouldn’t sleep. A bloody big tip glosses over the problem.
You cannot save everyone.
Through a mouthful of BLT, Egg recounted his visit.
“About what you would expect really. As soon as I told the woman in charge, she got the staff together and told them Debra was dead. It was hard to get any of them to make sense. I was patient, I promise. Eventually I got the picture of a happy young woman who kept up with the office conversation but rarely added to the gossip. She was well liked and no hint of jealousy – from them or her. Her desk was tidy with only a few personal items. I asked and the boss said they didn’t restrict personal items. No photos on her desk or in her drawers. No personal photos on her computer. The security there is terrible. Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s computer password. I copied her hard drive and gave it to Tech. They’re a bit snowed under but they said they would have something by the end of the week. Her best friend in the office was basically incoherent. I’ll talk to her again tomorrow. Maybe she can shed some light on who Debra was seeing.”
“That’s good work,” I said, and I meant it. The kid has good instincts.
Usually, by now, I’d have a bit of an idea who might have killed who. But, unfortunately, this case was starting to drag.
Concerning The Death Of A Scoundrel
I always had a horror of being found dead in a bad suit.
The four stylish women who are standing over me are each a little bit happy that I am dead.
I was a bit of a scoundrel, but I loved them all.
It was just that they needed something from me that I wasn’t capable of giving.
Women are like that.
They like what they see, and then they try to make you into something else. I’ve never understood that.
I had money and didn’t play by the rules, and the ladies enjoy that, it gives them a thrill.
I never pretended to be a one girl guy.
They didn’t listen, they just heard what they wanted to hear, and I guess I just let them, it was easier, or it seemed that way at the time.
I had things I wanted to do, and most of them were more fun with a woman on my arm.
I had a little money, and usually, I could turn it into a lot more, sometimes by legal means, but if necessary I could take it from those who could afford it, but only from those who could afford it. I had been known to win money playing cards and occasionally playing chess, but only occasionally. Chess was for fun and taking money from people was only fun when I didn’t like them.
I know exactly who shot me; Billy Prentice.
He’ll swing for it, but that won’t help me.
Although, being dead isn’t all bad.
It doesn’t hurt, and my clothes don’t get wrinkled, no matter what I do.
I’m pleased I was wearing this suit.
I love this suit, and it looks like I will be wearing it for a while to come.
I’ll miss them all, but I’ll miss Margo the most.
She’s the one on the right in the green dress.
She has a magnificent body; they all do, but Margo was very generous with hers. She never used sex as a weapon, and she excelled in the ability of pleasing a man.
She liked sex the way a man likes sex; often.
It wasn’t difficult to bring her to orgasm, and that made it fun. She could achieve orgasm as many times as she wanted and each one seemed more intense than the last.
This gave me great pleasure.
It’s a common misconception that guys are only in it for the personal pleasure, but that’s not true, at least it isn’t for me.
Being able to give pleasure over and over again is intense, it’s powerful, and it’s fun.
Margo had an easy-going air about her. She made me feel special. If I were ever to settle down, it would have been with her. She was genuine, at least in private. In public, she was a lot like the others, but I knew her secret, she was a friendly, loving person.
But, back to Billy Prentice.
You see that brown and yellow tie I’m wearing? It’s my school tie, St Josephs College. Billy and I were classmates.
There were two ways to get into St Josephs, you were either very bright, or your family was very rich.
Billy’s family was very rich.
I had the brains and my parents damn near bankrupted themselves for me to go there.
My degree cost a small fortune, and if my parents were alive, they’d still be paying off the debt. Thank God for debt insurance.
Billy’s family money had made it very easy for him, but in College, he was surrounded by students with money and the college didn’t care if you were rich, they only cared if you passed your exams. If you dropped out, there was always someone who would transfer in and take your place.
Billy had a major and a minor in ‘party’, and I have to admit that he was magnificent at it. He rarely turned up to class, and he had a string of the less well off students taking notes and writing assignments for him.
He made it through the first year by paying a lot of money for an advance copy of the final exam papers.
The second year went a lot like the first year with the single exception of him being expelled for cheating on his finals.
From what I can work out he thought I dobbed him in. I didn’t, but I was not broken up by not having to see him again.
For a long time, I didn’t know who did drop him in it, but one of the perks of being dead is that you get the answers to all the stuff you wanted to know when you were alive.
Some guy I’d never noticed gave him up because Billy had ignored him for the better part of two years.
Hell hath no fury like a quiet guy ignored; apparently.
It was just too simple.
I was hoping for a much better story.
Like the one behind why Mary [she’s the one on the right in the red] never wore anything other than black underwear.
I asked her heaps of times, but she just kept saying, “It’s none of your business.”
Of Course, it was my business, I was the one who was looking at them, removing them, trying to find where I had thrown them, giving her money to replace the ones that went out the window on an especially passionate night.
Would you like to know why she only wore black? OK, I’ll tell you.
She was colour blind.
Can you believe it?
She didn’t want anyone to know.
She had all her dresses labelled, but she just couldn’t be bothered with her underwear, so she just bought black.
Practical, but annoyingly simple.
Can you see what I mean?
Up to this point, it isn’t worth being dead, all I’m getting are really annoying answers to old questions.
Back to Billy again.
I guess he thought that I had been fooling around with his woman, which I had, and mix this with believing that I was responsible for getting him sent down and his tiny little mind decided to take me out.
He never was a big thinker.
Screw Billy, I have to make the most of the situation I find myself in.
I’m wondering if I should look up all the women I know who are dead, or should I set my sights a little higher?
Quite a few women must have died since this whole thing kicked off.
I think I’m going to like this.
So far no sign of St Peter or a judgement day, no one is sticking me with a pitchfork, and I haven’t seen a single pair of wings.
I know these four are going to miss me, but you would not know it by the look on their faces, would you?
Did I mention that I know all the answers to all the questions?
Yes, there is food and drink and dogs and sex, and yes guys, you can go all night if you want to, no matter how old you are, and yes we do have night and day, but the best part is the conversation.
Everyone has something interesting to say especially the ones who have gone around quite a few times.
I’m sure you have questions.
What would you like to know?
The scoundrel is in; ask away.
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