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.

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

Magpies Don’t Like Tomato

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The secret to surveillance is patience.

Some will tell you coffee, others will tell you having a bottle to pee in because something always happens while you are off taking a leak — and it’s true, but those things can be managed.

Without patience and a keen eye, you are just sitting on your arse ticking off the hours.

Allowing yourself to get bored is fatal. So, being in the moment keeps you sharp and wide awake.

Take the magpie drinking from the leaking tap as an example.

I see him most days around lunch time — the hottest part of the day. He lets the water fall from the sky and trickle down his throat. Birds can’t swallow like we can. I read that somewhere. It’s why they tilt their heads back after they dip their beak. This bloke has it covered — straight down his throat.

I’m a low-level operative in a big agency, and it suits me just fine. They don’t give me a lot of responsibility, and that’s fine too. I get lots of jobs like this one, “Keep an eye on Joe Blow’s apartment. Don’t follow him if he goes out just record the time and the time he comes back.”

Easy as.

The client must be well healed. One bloke to record the comings and goings and another to follow him to and fro.

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I vary my vantage point. 

Sometimes in my car and other times, I sit in the cafe with the red and white table cloths.

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The magpie is starting to get used to me. 

I give him some of my sandwich. 

He doesn’t like tomato.

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The cafe owner is distant but friendly, and as long as I order a coffee every hour or two, he doesn’t bother me. He thinks I’m one of those people who write in cafes and that suits me.

I had ambition once. 

Then a small boy fell off a fence, and my heart sank with him. No one said it was my fault because no one knew he was helping me. All little boys can climb, right?

I went to the gravesite. There was so much grief and so many people that no one asked me why I was there.

If I sit on my arse and chronicle the comings and goings, nobody gets hurt.

For a while, I thought the magpie was keeping the leaky tap all to himself, but yesterday he turned up with a female. It was hard to tell if she was impressed with his prized secret. 

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Women are hard to understand — with or without feathers. 

New Book: BORIS and the Rising Sun Hotel

So BORIS has an official launch date, December 22nd 2018. This will be the cover for the audiobook and the middle bit is the book cover. It is available now for pre-order.

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Boris lives in the KEEPER OF SECRETS universe.
Susan encounters him in the first book of the series and in SECRETS KEPT we get to know a bit more about him.
He is always there when Susan meets with ‘Backdoor Barry’, silently doing his job. Sometimes lipreading the mute old TV set, sometimes tending to his bartender duties. A quiet observer of everything that goes on at the Rising Sun Hotel.
When I finished the second book in this series, I couldn’t help wondering what was happening in Boris’ life when we were not around. Has he been a part of Barry’s adventures? Was he around when that chair acquired its famous bullet hole? Does he have a romantic interest?
As you can see, these questions needed to be answered.
Boris is more than just a bit part player in Susan Smith’s adventurous life — Boris has a life of his own.

DECEMBER 22nd 2018

Boris

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“So, let me get this straight. You didn’t see anything. Two blokes with guns blazing, patrons scattering in all directions, enough blood on the floor to drown a small horse and no bodies.”
“Boris no see nothing.”
“Presumably, the bloke or blokes who were bleeding all over the place just walked out into the carpark and drove themselves home?”
“Maybe Uber pick them up. Boris doesn’t know.”
“Have you ever seen these two gunmen before?”
“Plenty times. They in here a lot.”
“But you don’t know their names?”
“Noone tells Boris anything. Boris serves drinks, goes home watches boring TV and sleeps.”
Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles did not believe Boris, but he wasn’t going to let it spoil his day. One or both of the disputing parties would turn up at the local Emergency Department or in a vacant block. Either way, the forensics team would come up with something and then the fun part would begin.
Taking statements at the Rising Sun Hotel was not part of the fun.
Every local police officer knew this hotel and what went on here. Amazingly, considering the nefarious deeds that were performed here, there were fewer turnouts for drunk and disorderly than most hotels. Generally speaking, this establishment kept a low profile. Small time misdeeds disrupted the smooth flowing of ‘business as usual’. A shooting was particularly rare. None of the oldtimers could remember being called to the Rising Sun for any type of firearms incident.
“Did you have your eyes closed or did you have a lampshade on your head while all this was going on?”
“Boris dived under bar and stayed there until shooting stopped.”
“How did you know when to come out?”
“No more bangs.”
Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles was correct in thinking that Boris was not telling the truth.
Boris Vladim Godunov could trace his ancestry back to the Czar who ruled Russia in the late 1500s. Boris had seen a lot in his forty-odd years of life and two drunk Australians shooting it out over an affair of the heart was a minor occurrence. Boris had dodged many bullets and seen men die. He wasn’t afraid of death, but living made him nervous.
Boris came to Australia as a young man, jumping ship in Melbourne on an Autumn afternoon. He walked into the Seaman’s Mission with the clothes on his back and about two dozen English words he had learned from an older shipmate.
“Melbourne is a long way from Russia. No one will look for you here. You can make a new life for yourself,” said Dimitri in his native tongue. “Go to the Seaman’s Mission and the Universe might be kind to you.”
Dimitri gave Boris directions, and his words were to be accurate because Boris met a group of seamen who told him how to find work and secure a place to sleep.
Boris knew that he had found a home. He worked on his English at nights and looked for work during the day. His search took him to Richmond and the Rising Sun Hotel. It was the first, and the last job he would hold. Boris stopped going to English classes at night not long after he got the job. He knew the English words for beer, whiskey and he knew what ‘bullshit’ meant. The rest he would pick up as he went along. His job did not require a lot of conversation, and he liked that. He was strong enough to evict a drunk and intelligent enough to participate in other activities that came his way — cash in hand, of course — courtesy of the regular patrons who valued a reliable, silent accomplice. Backdoor Barry was a regular source of income for Boris. Backdoor Barry used the Rising Sun as his office and Boris made sure that he was well looked after. Boris made an excellent roast beef sandwich with extra mustard (mild English was Barry’s prefered condiment).
“Boris sorry he no help much.”
“Don’t worry about it Boris, it will all work itself out. Just one thing though. You don’t strike me as the kind of bloke who would duck for cover unless the guns were pointed at you. You strike me as a fearless kind of fucker who would stand there and watch the mayhem unfold without blinking an eye.”
Boris Vladim Godunov didn’t answer, but Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles thought he saw him wink at him. Then again, it might have been conjunctivitis.

When It Snows

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So, what do you do when it snows? You kiss someone, of course.

It helps if you know the person, and it smooths the process if they like the idea of being kissed, but either way, it is an opportunity that must not be missed.

I grew up in a part of the world where it snows every forty years or so.

My mum told me about the imperative as mothers do and I’m sure she was smiling as she noticed the look of wonder in my young eyes.

“But what if it’s a boy?” I said.

“He won’t mind,” was my mother’s reply.

“But I might,” I said.

“You’ll just have to summon up the courage,” was my mother’s insistent reply.

Of course, as I grew older I realised that this urban imperative was grouped in with ‘If the knife hits the bottom of the birthday cake you have to kiss the nearest person’, and ‘if you make that face, and the wind changes you will stay like that forever’, but the story about the snow had not come to the front of my conscious mind until I was walking to the train station with William. We didn’t have to walk together, it was just that we were leaving at the same time — an unusual occurrence.

I liked him, he was funny and shy and respectful, which set him apart from most of the testosterone males in our office, but I’d never thought of him in that way — the way of pressing lips together with the possibility of the warm sensation of a gentle tongue.

The street was empty as people sought shelter in cafes and doorways.

“It’s snowing,” I said a little too loudly as I threw back my head and let some of the frozen wonderfulness collect on my eyelashes.

“It’s been doing that since lunchtime,” said William. He seemed bemused by my declaration.

“I suddenly remembered, I have to kiss you. I may have left it a bit late, but it’s snowing, and I have little choice in the matter,” I said.

He looked at me and scrunched up his eyebrows the way he does when someone says something outlandish. I ignored the judgement of his eyebrows and pushed him up against the stone wall. He weighed a lot more than I thought he would so I had to use all my strength to propel him, and at the last moment he stopped his instinctive resistance and bumped, rather heavily into the wall. He let out a tiny sound, and I covered his mouth with mine.

We held our lips together for what seemed like a long time, and I could feel the warmth of his body which contrasted with the coolness of the snow that continued to fall on our united bodies.

Eventually, I pulled away as I realized he couldn’t because of his position against the wall. Part of me wanted to see who ended the kiss first.

I looked up into his eyes, and they were smiling at me. I smiled back.

He took my hand, and we walked to the station where his train arrived before mine did.

“Brief Encounter,” I said, and he smiled as he got into the carriage.

He watched me standing on the platform, snow gathering in my hair, as his train pulled away.

My mum had a point, ‘when it snows, you kiss someone, of course.’

Secrets Kept

More than two years in the making. The sequel to KEEPER OF SECRETS is due for publication on July 18th, 2018. The continuing adventures of Daisy and her granddaughter Susan. Daisy’s diaries inspire Susan to lead a secret life of adventure. Money, danger and a sense of freedom drive Susan. Daisy became a spy because her country needed her — Susan steals secrets because she wants to. These women, living in different centuries, are connected by the mysterious Keeper of Secrets.

Find out why Backdoor Barry prefers the dingy pub in Richmond as his office. Discover how Boris the barman fits into tight spaces. Learn the secret that Susan’s neighbour wants to be kept hidden. Will the time traveller return from who knows where? Will Susan’s typing skills keep her out of trouble? Does Daisy succeed in paying back her debt to the deadly Canadians? Is Precious enough for Terry or will he fall for the widowed librarian?

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JULY 18th, 2018