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.
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.