Neighbourhood Of Widower Dogs

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“Sixty-eight point three per cent of all murder victims that have been found dead more than two days after death are found by citizens walking their dog.”

The lecturer had excellent chalkboard technique. I ought to know, I did two years of Teacher’s College before I signed up. During those two years, we did one fifteen-minute session, and I remember learning how to hold chalk so that it didn’t make that excruciating squeaking noise. “Makes you look like you know what you are doing.” 

Our instructor, freshly escaped from the classroom, knew that we didn’t — know what we were doing, that is, and he was trying to minimise our ‘knownothingness’ in the only way he knew how. 

A futile but kind gesture.

“How many of the dog walkers wear jumpers, Sarge?” The smartarse with a death wish was just as bored as the rest of us, and he foolishly chose to show it.

“Roughly the same percentage as you got on your last evaluation detective Wilson from Broadmeadows. Considering the suburb you are stationed at, detective, I would have thought that your arrest record would be higher. You pretty much only have to be the unfortunate bastard who opens the front doors in the morning, and five nefarious characters come tumbling in.”

The ‘smartarse’ detective indeed got a bit of a giggle out of us, but it has to be remembered that if ‘two or more of you are gathered together there will be mirth’ applies to any gathering of knuckle-dragging police officers — it’s infectious. Laughter kills the boredom and at least a bit of the terror — terror that you might get maimed for no good reason and then get pensioned off, and terror from the thought that you are wasting your life. My terror falls into the latter category.

Our instructor got a bigger laugh. 

The sound of one of the many smartarses in our life being brought down to earth is satisfying and mirthful.

He kept on writing. 

Never turned around.

Eyes in the back of his head. 

I could easily be back at school again.

It helped that we were in an old school room in an old school building. Now called The Baker Institute, anyone who went to school during my decade knew the unmistakable architecture. I was tempted to hang my coat on the hooks outside the sliding door. The walls are painted a modern colour, and there have been other attempts to hide the room’s original purpose.

The chairs are comfortable, but my arse was not interested in testing their long term durability.

At a glance, I’d say that there are about twenty-two of us. Mostly males, a variety of ages, but I’m probably the only one over forty. A quick scan of body language clues tells me that most inhabitants of this standard-sized room are just as pissed off as I am. One or two still think that this one-day course is part of their growth as a police officer. 

“What about the bodies what never get found?” The smartarse was making one final attempt to redeem his flagging status as the funniest bloke in the room.

Without missing a beat, our instructor (I’ve forgotten his name – on the job I write stuff down, or someone else does, but here and now, who gives a fuck what this bozo’s name is) writes one point zero nine per cent on the board. Somehow he has changed the chalk colour — impressive.

“Somewhere in the region of your chances of promotion,” says our instructor. He speaks the words so softly that we lean in to catch them. Those in the front row snigger before the rest of us.

“Can we have a window open sir?” says an attractive brunette sitting a few rows forward of me.

“Yes, we can and don’t call me sir. I’m a sergeant. I work for a living.” He shot a look at the bloke sitting on the end of the row who sprang out of his seat and opened a window with the skill of someone who had done it many times.

The brunette who had been one of the few people in the room taking notes said, “Thank you, Sargent.”

There were a few moments of silence. 

The board was covered in colourful statistics and a wellborn piece of chalk dangled between the instructor’s fingers. 

He was thinking. 

I doubted that he had lost his place. 

This bloke came prepared. 

I made a mental note to remember his name the next time I heard it. 

Why was he here in this room with us percentage losers?

Our instructor raised a chalk dusted finger and pointed at his handiwork.

“This shit is just numbers. We’ve got a few minutes before we break for lunch (I hadn’t thought much about food until now. A raging hunger rolled over me) I want to hear a human story. Without humans, you don’t have the raw ingredients for murder. The causes are simple — sex and money.”

“And religion,” said someone behind me.

“Okay,” conceded our instructor, “but mostly sex and money. Causes might tell you why, but my job is to give you an insight into why people do what they do after the fact. Fuck why they did it, where do they dump the body? And how does that affect your investigation? Can anyone share a story about a citizen finding a body.”

He was now pointing at me and inexplicably, my hand was in the air — no idea how it got there.

“Yes. You. Leather jacket.” At least he didn’t know my name.

“Got yourself into a spot of bother with a highly ranked officer’s wife, if I remember rightly. Back of a Bentley? A patrol car shined a light in your direction. Took you a few minutes to retrieve your warrant card. Firm buttocks were unnecessarily added to the report? Was that you?”

I didn’t need to answer.

“I’ve been involved in a few cases where a body was found by a punter — before my buttocks became famous.” 

The laughter was generous. The kind of laughter that says ‘glad it isn’t me that’s in the sergeant’s spotlight, you’ll be just as generous when it’s my turn, won’t you?’

“I was stationed at Preston. Most dog walkers wandered up and down the footpaths or headed to Bell State School after hours to exercise their dogs. Still, a group calling themselves The Widower Dogs Society walked their dogs up behind the old cinema off Oakover road. Merri Creek runs through there and in those days it was rough and ready. No shortage of old fridges and car tyres. These days it’s all gentrified.”

“So, what happened?”

“The Widower Dogs Society were three members strong. All of the dogs had lost a female partner. The owners banded together to brighten up their lonely dogs. Grief hits dogs as hard as it does us.”

I could see the brunette looking at me, listening intently.

I finished my story, and the instructor looked at his watch.

“Close enough,” he said, and we filed out of the room in search of food and a beer. We’d earned it.

“These things are usually a bit more salubrious. This one isn’t even catered,” said a mellifluous female voice.

“Mel Carter,” said the brunette.

“Catastrophy Jones,” I said with a straight face. “This is punishment. Catering might have spoilt the effect.”

She looked a bit surprised at my words, which could have been taken one of two ways.

“Punishment?”

“Everyone in that room, with the possible exception of you and the bloke next to you, were there because they had pissed someone off — a way of wasting our very precious Saturday.”

She thought about my words, dismissed them. They didn’t apply to her. She was young (younger than me) and on her way up.

“Your story — the Widower Dogs Club. How did you know that was what they called themselves?”

“Back then. I listened to people. When you listen, people tell a uniform all sorts of things. They were shocked. Trying to understand why someone would do such a thing. They understood stealing cars, ‘we used to nick cars when we were kids, but this!’ No-one was yelling at me to get on with it, so I listened — let them talk. They felt better because someone appeared to care about them.”

“You interest me. leather jacket.”

“You interest me, open window.”

Open Window looked at my left hand — no ring.

“Can I buy you lunch?” she said.

“Lunch with a liberated woman. Very Jane Tennison.”

“Jane, who?”

“Don’t tell me you have never watched Prime Suspect? I can see that I’ll have to take your education in hand. By the way, there isn’t a ‘Mr Tennison’ floating around, is there? I don’t want to get thumped by some hulking constable who believes he has branded you.”

“There are no brands on me sunshine.”

“I look forward to proving that statement,” I said, and she didn’t slap my face.

I took that as an encouraging sign.

 

Photo Credit:

https://jivesuckablogs.wordpress.com/

Never Underestimate An Older Lady

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It wasn’t murder, not really.

Whatever it was, I needed to keep a low profile for a while.

At least until the dust settled.

Does dust ever settle? Someone always stirs it up.

Keeping my head down was a good idea, but where? I’m a predictable young bloke. I like the places I like, and I tend to end up there sooner or later. So, if someone was looking for me, I would not be that hard to find.

I needed advice, and my grandmother was very good at hiding in plain sight, back in the day. You would never think so to look at her now.

People underestimate her now.

She spent three years in an occupied country doing her bit. She got caught once and talked her way out of trouble. Think about that. How cool do you have to be to be young, female, in trouble and talk your way out of it?

Seriously cool, my grandma.

I could probably hang out at her house, play video games, watch movies and help her with the garden, but I know I would get bored and do something stupid — I’m good at stupid.

I sat at grandma’s kitchen table, as I had done many times growing up. I used to bring my mates to her house on my way home from school. Cake was always available and soft drinks. Grandma always knew the hungry ones, the ones who didn’t get enough to eat at home.

“Have another piece. It’ll only go to waste if you don’t eat it.”

No, it wouldn’t, I’d be thinking.

The sun was coming in through the window and splashing onto the edge of the table. I held onto my mug of tea the way girls do when they are trying to get warm.

“I didn’t have any choice, Grandma. It was him or me.”

Grandma didn’t speak, she just stared at her mug of tea. Grandma never drank from cups, even though she had some fine ones. “You never get enough in a cup, and you end up refilling it over and over.” Grandma was not one for wasting energy.

After several minutes, she applied words to her thoughts.

“You can stay here with me until this is resolved.”

I took a long breath out. I knew she would look after me.

“I have an old friend who runs a nursing home and hospice. I’ll ask if you can help her. I’ll tell her you are considering becoming a nurse and need the experience. The old men will welcome having a man to talk to, and the old ladies will be dazzled by your handsome face.”

I tried not to blush.

This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for my forced isolation, but it will while away the time. Old people don’t frighten me.

Two days later, and I’m shaking hands with Ethel, my grandma’s friend. We were standing in the foyer of a modern building, the light streaming in behind me illuminating Ethel’s face. She seemed kind and determined. The sort of person you would follow just to see where she was going.

“You must be Stephen. Your grandma said you wanted to have some practical experience to add to your nursing application?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Are you planning to specialise in geriatric nursing?”

“I think so.”

“Come, and we will get you a uniform. You can do a few jobs for me. Basic stuff. You are not too proud to do a bit of cleaning, are you Stephen?”

“I’m here to help and to learn.”

“Good. Most of your work will be talking to our residents. Most of them will be happy to have someone new to tell their stories to. They will want to know a bit about you as well.”

Not too much, I hope.

“I can do that.”

The ‘uniform’ turned out to be a set of scrubs with the name of the centre embroidered on the breast. Pale green and they suited me. I never thought much about what colours suit me.

On my fifth day, I was playing chess with Mr Johnston (always call the residents by their last name — it’s a sign of respect, they come from a different generation),  when I saw Ethel, Mrs Wilson, walk briskly by the door — the staff never run, it upsets the residents.

“That must be for Billy,” said Mr Johnston. “He’s near the end. I’m going to miss the old bugger.”

“It’s your move Mr Johnston,” I said.

“Don’t feel much like playing, young fella. Need to be on my own.” Mr Johnstone got up and walked back in the direction of his room. I walked out too. I wanted to see what was going on.

I stood in the doorway to Billy Madison’s room. It felt like the air was thicker in there. I hesitated to break the invisible barrier.

“Come closer, Stephen. Mr Madison is leaving us.”

I stepped forward as I was told and watched as the nurse spoke gently to Billy Madison.

“You can go now, Billy. We are here with you. You are not alone.”

Billy Madison breathed his last few laboured breaths, sighed and was still.

This was only the second time I had watched someone die, and the emotion was quite different this time.

“We were with him when he died, which is what we promised him. Now we will prepare his body for the undertaker, and you can help.”

Ethel looked at me as though she expected me to run. I didn’t. Death does not frighten me, it’s living that scares the shit out of me.

“So how was your first week?” said my grandma as she put a load of fresh scones on the table.

“It was fascinating, but I’m glad to have a day off. It’s quite hard when someone you are just getting to know dies in front of you.”

I reached for the butter and the jam as my grandma put the whipped cream on the table.

“How long have you been making scones, grandma?”

“Too long to contemplate. My grandma taught me.”

“Why do your scones taste better than anyone else’s? Don’t tell mum I said that.”

“A secret ingredient,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“It’s been a week for secrets. I was sitting with a woman just the other day, and she told me a story that only a person who was facing the end of their life could tell.”

“I’ll make a fresh pot of tea, and you can tell me all about it.”

For the first time, I’m not very bright, it has to be said, I realised that my grandma too was at the end of her life. It never entered my mind that she would someday, not be here.

“Well, her story started the day she brought a new wheelbarrow. A red one,” I said as I stuffed the last piece of the scone I had been eating, into my mouth.

“I’ll tell it to you the way she told it to me.”

Without it, I would not have been able to move the body.

I’d always taken it for granted — the wheelbarrow, not the dead body.

It had always been there, leaning up against the shed or sitting quietly, filled with weeds or split fire-wood — just waiting for the task to be completed.

It was ‘on special’ at the hardware store on the high street.

The shop went out of business not long after, but I remember the wheelbarrows all lined up outside with a huge sign saying how much they were and how much I would be saving if I bought one.

The sign had the desired effect.

I’d needed a wheelbarrow for some time, and the first one in the stack was red. 

The gentleman who served me was happy to make the sale but worried about how I was going to get it home.

“Have you got a ‘ute’ lady?”

“No, why? Is it a requirement for owning a wheelbarrow?”

He looked at me for a moment. I could tell that he was wondering if I was ‘winding him up’.

He decided that I was.

“No, but she’s a big bugger, and she probably won’t fit across the back seat of your car.”

“I don’t own a car. I walked here, and I’m planning to drive her home. I’ll park her outside the supermarket and load her up with my weekly shopping, and away I go.”

“Fair enough, but she really is a bloody big wheelbarrow. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a smaller one? You can still give the grand-kiddies a ride in a smaller one. The one you picked is big enough to fit a large dead body in.” 

He must have thought that he had gone a bit too far because he looked up and gave an embarrassed smile. I wasn’t worried about the ‘dead body’ crack, but I was considering running over his foot for the grandmother comment.

“Is the smaller wheelbarrow on special as well?” I said.

“No, just these huge industrial buggers that I got stuck with when I bought the business.”

“Well then; I have the right barrow, don’t I?”

I smiled and staggered off down the footpath scattering pedestrians in my wake. 

I didn’t stop to buy groceries; that was just me ‘getting carried away’ with the hardware store owner.

Every time I go past his old shop, I wonder what happened to him. 

His shop became a Noodle Shop, then a $2 Shop, then a Tattoo Parlour, then a Bakery, then an empty shop with a strange collection of bits and pieces lying in the middle of the tiled floor. 

It looked like someone had swept up after the last tenants, and never came back to throw out the collection of flotsam. 

I’ve always wondered what the orange penis-shaped thing was. 

I’m sure that it’s not an orange penis, but there has never been anyone at the shop for me to ask; which is just as well because I think I would be too embarrassed to make that particular enquiry.

Gardening is not my favourite pastime, but since my husband died, I have had to work up the enthusiasm.

Bill was the love of my life, and I miss him so very much.

He left me suddenly — an industrial accident. Everyone was very kind, especially his business partner Ambrose Kruis. 

Bill and Ambrose built the business up from nothing, and when Bill died, Ambrose inherited the company; it was part of their partnership agreement. I understood; I wasn’t upset. They were engaged in high-risk construction, and if one of the partners died, it would put the whole business in jeopardy, so it was only fair that the surviving partner benefit. 

It also explained the massive payout that Ambrose received as a result of the ‘partners insurance’. 

He was not under any obligation, but he helped me anyway. 

He knew that Bill put all his capital into the business and consequently, there wasn’t any life insurance. 

I had some savings, but they were for a ‘rainy day’, as Bill used to say. 

Ambrose was very generous when the roof needed replacing and when the plumbing packed it in. 

I knew that I could not rely on him forever, but up until I made a surprise visit to his office, he had looked after me financially.

I arrived early on a Wednesday morning, and his secretary let me wait in his office. “He won’t be long. He’s at a breakfast meeting with the bankers.” 

I decided to make the most of my time and write a couple of letters. 

I do send emails, but I still prefer the personal touch of sending a letter. 

I stepped behind what used to be Bill’s desk and opened the top drawer looking for notepaper. 

Two more drawers were opened before I found some, and that’s not all that I found. 

The writing paper was not lying flat in the drawer. 

There seemed to be something small and bulky under the ream of paper. I removed the paper, and the sunlight coming in low through the office window reflected off the polished silver surface of an antique Victorian hip flask.

You might be wondering why I knew what it was. 

I’d given this flask to my husband on our wedding night. 

It belonged to my grandfather. 

He was some twenty-years-old when he bought it upon arriving in England in 1915. 

He was a young Lieutenant on his way to the front. 

The flask saw a lot of action, and no doubt helped to dull the terror that trench warfare brought to all those involved. 

I recognised the flask from the inscription and by the dent on the top corner. It was caused by a German sniper’s bullet. 

After surviving at the front for all those years, one moment of lost concentration and my grandfather’s war came to an end, only months from the close of hostilities.

The notice of his death arrived on the day that the Armistice took effect. 

The flask was returned to the family along with his other belongings.

Obviously, I was aware that the flask was missing from my husband’s effects, but I put it out of my mind. He had it with him on the day he died; he always had it with him.

I’m not that bright, but I didn’t need a degree in Physics to figure out that something was terribly wrong.

Ambrose had murdered my husband so that he could get control of the company and collect the insurance. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all about the insurance and he probably expected to sell the failing business for the value of its component parts. But, to his surprise, the company survived, mainly because my husband had set it up well and the business had an excellent reputation. Its employees loved him and worked their arses off to keep the company going.

It helped that Ambrose was a bit of a womaniser and that he would often disappear for several days at a time when he was on a ‘bender’.

I invited him around to the house for a meal — something that I had done a dozen times.

During the dessert course, I excused myself, “Just need to visit the ladies room.” I came back with an old shovel that my husband used to dig the veggie patch — the irony was not lost on me.

I struck Ambrose twice on the back of the head. He went down, and apart from his lemon-meringue-pie landing on the floor, he did not make much of a mess.

Moving the body proved to be a bit of a chore, but the trusty red wheelbarrow was up to the task.

I didn’t own a car, so Ambrose was going to have to travel in the wheelbarrow for the two-kilometre ride to the construction site that Ambrose’s business owned. There was a concrete pour scheduled for the morning.

I’m not sure what I would have said if someone had stopped me, and I’m pretty sure that I looked hilarious as I struggled along with this huge red wheelbarrow filled with an Ambrose.

I was utterly exhausted when I got him there and dumped him into a pit and covered him with gravel, but I still had to get the wheelbarrow back to my house without being seen.

I was in the lap of the gods on both halves of this deadly journey, but the gods smiled on me, and I made it safely home.

I slept for fifteen hours straight. 

I cleaned up the blood and the lemon-meringue-pie when I woke up and waited for the police to arrive.

They never did, and what’s more, it turned out that the partnership agreement had a clause covering the eventuality of both partners dying within ten years of each other. 

The business went equally to the wives of the partners.

Ambrose wasn’t married.

I had to wait seven years before Ambrose was declared dead, but I didn’t mind — the money and the business weren’t the points.

That old red wheelbarrow is very ancient. Rust and a little red paint are about the only things holding it together now, but there is absolutely no way I am ever going to throw it away.

Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of everything I’ve lost and also of the revenge that was mine to take.

So much depends on a red wheelbarrow. 

My grandma looked up from her cup of tea.

“Never underestimate an old lady,” she said. “Another scone dear?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

.

photo credit:

iconicfocus.com
Marian Moneymaker

SIREN

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My first mate reminded me that we were half a day ahead of schedule, so I gave the order.
“Alter course. We’re heading for the island where the Sirens hang out.”
“But captain, they are incredibly dangerous,” said Claude, who had been with me since I bought this trading schooner.
“That’s sort of the point, Claude. Break out those industrial-strength earplugs and make sure that idiot Phillip puts his in. I’ve had it with that bloke. I don’t care how good a cook he is, we’re dumping him when we hit port,” I said.
The crew lashed me to the mast well before I heard the song.
It’s impossible to describe to you how beautiful it was, and as far as I was concerned, that was more than enough ecstasy.
I could see her swimming out to our boat, but I thought we would sail by before she got to us. My head was swimming, and for a while, I thought she was the girl from the cafe back in our home port — the one who does the deliveries. It wasn’t her of course, and the fact that she was utterly naked cleared that up — the delivery woman is always fully clothed when she does her deliveries. Mind you, if she did decide to change that, she would get better tips — just saying.
Anyway, the naked siren (I did mention her lack of clothing, didn’t I?) climbs over the railing and walks straight up to me, stares directly into my eyes and plants the biggest, saltiest kiss right on my all too willing lips.
I was pretty wound up by then, but after she kissed me, I lost it, which was embarrassing.
After giving me a wink, she dove over the side and swam in the direction of her island, giving me an excellent, if a fleeting view of her bottom.
Once we were clear of the island, the crew untied me, tidied me up and after a respectful period, asked me what it was like.
“Put it this way fellas, the song almost drove me crazy, and then this naked woman gave me the best kiss I’ve ever had and flashed her bum as she dove over the side. How do you think I’m feeling?”
The crew were quiet for a long time until Phillip broke the silence.
“Did she say anything?”
“Are you kidding me? What could she possibly say that would have enhanced the events I just laid out? Bugger off and work on your CV. You’re going to need it.”

When we got back to port, word of my adventure spread quickly.
These days, my crew and I run tours to the island for rich buggers with more money than sense, we go through a lot of eye plugs, but never has that naked beauty swum out to our boat.
I guess she was just for me.

 

 

Painting:
Gustav Wertheimer – The Kiss of the Siren, 1882

Ease The Heart

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The funeral celebrant had been speaking for several minutes, but I wasn’t really listening. I could see his mouth opening and shutting, but my mind was elsewhere.

I snapped out of it as everyone else did, as the father of the dead young man rose to his feet and stepped to the lectern.

The bereaved family sat in the customary spot in the front row. Michael’s father was hidden from view until now. He hadn’t greeted the mourners and had probably been sitting on that front pew since the church opened some two hours ago. No one approached him. The force field of grief was too strong — it repelled all who would console him.

Dead silence greeted his opening remarks.

“When I became a father, I turned into a different person. I had a reason to get up in the morning. I went to work at a job I loathed, willingly. I was a father. My job was to provide and to protect. Everything I did had the welfare of my family at its core. I planned for the future for my only son.”

Michaels father stopped speaking and looked at the paper in front of him. Some of the gathered souls thought he would be unable to continue.

He struggled, through tear-filled eyes.

“Now, when I wake up in the morning, my day’s work is meaningless. I have no son to protect, and he has no future for me to plan for.”

Michael’s father stood silently for an agonising minute until the celebrant put his hand on the distraught father’s shoulder. He leaned in and whispered a question. Michael’s father gathered up his tear-stained sheet of paper and walked back to his seat and our hearts, which were already broken, ached even more.

The celebrant said a few more words, something about ‘gathering back at Michaels home after the burial’, but I’ve tuned out.

Funerals give me a headache, and this one is the size of eastern Europe. I want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but good manners dictated that I wait for the family to follow the coffin out of the church.

Finally, I’m outside in the cold fresh air, and my eastern Europe headache has some room to move. I lean up against the bluestone walls of the church. This building would have been the centre of life for the local community some one hundred and fifty years ago. These days, it sees a bit of activity for weddings and funerals — mostly we have moved on from believing.

Conversations are scattered across the church’s forecourt. The mourners are deciding whether to go to the gravesite or head to the wake.

“I don’t like to get too close to an open grave at my age,” says the old lady next to me.

“Why didn’t you come into the service uncle?” says a young man, neatly and uncomfortably dressed.

“I don’t much like God when you get him indoors,” says the older man, opening a pack of cigarettes. He offers the pack to the young man who shakes his head.

I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to see Michael’s father looking at me with dead eyes. Until this moment I have spoken maybe a dozen words to this man.

“James, I need your help.”

“What do you need me to do?” My mind went to the burial service — I really didn’t want to go to the cemetery or the wake. I need a drink, a large one followed by another large one.

“I want you to find who’s responsible for Michaels death. I know he respected you for all that you did.”

“You do know that I don’t do that anymore?” I was pleading with my eyes. If I hadn’t been jammed up against this bluestone wall, I would have been backing away.

“No one is doing anything. They all think it’s hopeless. You’re my only hope.”

I’ve heard this speech a dozen times, usually from distraught mothers or desperate siblings. Always the same hysterical tone, always the same wide eyes, hands clutching at my arms so that I can’t escape. If I get away, they know they’re doomed.

“I’m retired, and all my contacts have drifted away. Let the authorities do their job. It’s what they do, and they’re good at it,” I lied. I know it is hopeless, but I say the words anyway. His eyes are burning into me. He doesn’t speak, he’s said his piece, he’s just staring at me, his fingers digging into my arm.

“Look, the best I can do is ask around, see how the investigation is doing. But I’m not making any promises. I’ll just be asking the few friends I have left what they think. Best I can do.” My words are obviously thin and evasive, but Michael’s father sees them as hope. His eyes show a small sign of light, and I know that I’m being drawn back in. Back to that place that tried to kill what was left of me.

I understand, even if I know I won’t come up with the result he wants. This is Michael’s father’s way of being a protector, one last time.

Not that answers ever solved anything.

Not that knowing ever eased the heart.

I’ll go through the motions, ask all the right people, and when it’s all over, Michael will still be dead, and Michael’s father will still have no-one to build for. 

No-one to hope for.

  

The Portrait

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My inheritance arrived on the back of a medium-sized truck driven by a bloke with a missing tooth. I thought about asking him how he lost the tooth, but I got distracted by the three boxes he effortlessly unloaded.

“Where do ya want ‘em, lady,” said the tooth deprived deliverer of wonders.

“On the front verandah, please.”

My plan was to unload and sort into piles – keep, donate, chuck in the bin.

In retrospect, my plan was a bit mercenary. A bit callous, even.

I expected my inheritance to be mostly junk.

The young can be unthinking.

Uncle David was my second favourite uncle, and he always called me ‘Spot’ and I don’t know why. I didn’t mind at the time. He seemed harmless enough, and I barely paid him any attention. He smelled like cigarettes, which was better smelling than most of my relatives. Altogether, I had seven uncles and three aunties all with partners (who assumed the moniker of aunt or uncle as well). I was swimming in adult relatives, and my cousins were numerous as well. I only associated with the cousins that were my age and that thinned things out a bit. All my relatives loved to talk and tease.

Uncle David was the exception.

“It’s all a bit much when we get together,” he said to me one day when I found him hiding on the front verandah of my grandmother’s house. We could hear the continuous dim of relatives conversing and children playing in the rooms behind us, all trying to outdo each other.

“Does my head in,” was my reply.

Looking back, in a maelstrom of competing personalities, Uncle David got lost in all the noise.

When he died, I went to the funeral, at least in part because it got me out of school for the day. I was sad that he was gone so suddenly and I wished we had talked more, but then it was too late.

As I surveyed the boxes now sitting on the verandah of the house my father rented for two of my friends and me, I’m wondering why my uncle left me these things and why had it taken more than a year for them to arrive.

I searched the boxes and sifted them into piles, but I searched in vain for a reason.

No note, no letter of explanation, which was reasonable considering his rapid departure — and yet he had left a will highlighting the things that went to me.

As far as I know, I’m the only cousin who received anything — the rest of his possessions went to his immediate family.

The ‘keep’ pile was tiny — an ancient Swiss Army Knife (I’ve always wanted one of those — how did he know?), a silver teapot which I will use for its intended purpose and a portrait wrapped in a dusty canvas.

When I removed its tattered covering, I found an intriguing  portrait of a woman — probably a self-portrait of the artist.

The painting was out of character with the other boxed possessions. It seemed to demand attention.

On the back of the canvas, a few words in pencil named the artist and dated its creation.

The painting was as bright as the day it was painted and the frame was in perfect condition. This painting had not seen the daylight since the time it was created.

Did my uncle know the artist in a biblical sense? Was my aunty aware of this mysterious woman? Was this a sign that Uncle David believed I would understand his secret? Were the rest of these bits and pieces a smokescreen to hide the significance of the painting?

I wonder if the artist is still alive and I will find out, but that is an adventure for another time.

For now, I need to find just the right place to hang this portrait.

When it is up, I’ll make myself a cup of tea, and sit and ponder on the mystery and the uncle who I should have paid more attention to.

Sleep well uncle David and thank you for noticing me.

Crystal Clock

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Sam opened the hotel room door to see a rather large gentleman standing in the hall.

The big bloke mumbled something, and Sam was about to ask him to repeat it when he took a swing at Sam.
A roundhouse right which was an inappropriate punch under the circumstances.
Sam moved back slightly, and the punch landed on the door frame. The large gentleman hesitated for a moment, but the pain in his hand didn’t seem to worry him.
He mumbled something again, and this time Sam recognised the words, ‘Sam Bennett’.
Sam decided to hit the large gentleman as it seemed like the right thing to do under the circumstances.
He hit the large gentleman several times, but it didn’t have much effect.
Sam hit him in the mouth a couple of more times, but this only made it harder to understand what the large gentleman was trying to say.
Before Sam hit him again, he discerned the words ‘stay away from.’ ‘Stay away from ………. Sam Bennett?’
That didn’t make any sense.

It was at this point that Scarlett intervened.
Her first blow struck Sam on the shoulder, and it hurt quite a lot.
Sam wondered if Scarlett had found a hammer somewhere in the suite and he hoped that her aim would improve quickly because he was not sure how many of these mistimed hammer blows he could take.
Scarlett’s hammer was, in fact, a lovely little crystal travelling clock that her grandmother had given her when she started her nursing training, it even had an inscription, ‘To Scarlett on the commencement of your nursing journey.’ There was a date and a ‘love grandma.’
Scarlett’s mistimed blow momentarily distracted Sam and gave the large gentleman a chance to catch his breath. He was definitely mumbling through broken teeth, but Sam clearly heard, “Stay away from the Leveson case, or it’ll be too bad for you, Sam Bennett.”
Sam was just about to be pleased with finally deciphering the message when Scarlett regained her aim.
The reliable little crystal travelling clock came into violent contact with the large gentleman’s skull and after a moment of silence, the fight came to an end.
The large gentleman lay motionless on the rug, but there was a disturbing groan.
This soon stopped.
He wasn’t dead as it turned out, but he wasn’t going to be conscious for a long while either.
Scarlett stood looking at the crumpled man lying on her rug.
She wondered if her little crystal clock would need repairing.
She also wondered if this was a taste of the life that Sam had lived before he married her.
The blood that dripped off the clock and onto her shoes only added to her wondering.
Sam stared at Scarlett.
She was standing there, holding her weapon of choice, blood slowly dripping.
She looked beautiful and a little stunned.
Nurses tend to repair wounds rather than create them.
His Scarlett was a woman to be reckoned with.
He was very proud of her for coming to his rescue.
He had been doing quite well in the tussle, but he was not too proud to accept help when it was needed, but he did hope that her aim would improve should another occasion arise.
His shoulder, face and knuckles hurt a lot, but the rush that arrives at the end of a successful bout would keep him going for a while.
The apartment had sustained a deal of damage as the two men fought and there were bits and pieces of some expensive furniture strewn about the floor.
Housekeeping was not going to be happy.
Scarlett came out of her temporary trance and Sam smiled at her.
“Good job, slugger, you saved my bacon.”
“My pleasure, but I think I broke my clock. Did I kill him?”
Sam checked. “No, but he is going to need an aspirin.”
“Do we know him?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure that he was sent to deliver a message.”
“I didn’t see any papers.”
“It wasn’t that kind of delivery. It was the kind where you definitely remember the words because they are pounded into your skull. It seems that someone doesn’t want me on the Leveson case. I do wish I could convince everyone that I don’t want to be on the Leveson case.”
“You know about these things, Sam, what are we going to do now?”
“First, we call the cops and get them to take this character away. Then we spend a lot of time answering annoying questions. Then we talk to Inspector Blank because I think I know where he should be looking.

A long hot bath would be nice, then I think we need to get out of this bomb site, and maybe a move to another room would be a good idea.”

~oOo~

The hotel was efficient and discreet.
They had Sam and Scarlett in a new suite within a matter of minutes. Sam soaked in the bath and took note of where the bruises would be by tomorrow morning.
Spending time with the detective who had been dispatched to take their statement had given Sam a headache.
It was painful watching him laboriously writing in his notebook.
Sam closed his eyes and slowly slipped under the water.
It felt good, and he could hold his breath for a long time, but eventually, he would have to surface.
His mind was racing.
He didn’t want to be involved in this case, but it seemed that it didn’t make any difference what he wanted, he was in it.
Some of his best ideas had come to him while soaking in a hot bath.
It was true that his injuries were a distraction, but nevertheless, the ideas started to flow.
By the time he was dry and dressed, he had a pretty good idea who the murderer was. Maybe not the name just yet, but he knew where he came from and what he wanted.
You didn’t need to be a member of Mensa to work out that Leveson had stumbled onto something that someone didn’t want to be discovered. Something important; something worth killing for.

No Turning Back

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I could not look into his eyes because I knew I was caught.

He didn’t have it all, but it was only a matter of time.

This detective may not look like much, but he has a quality that makes him dangerous — he doesn’t know how to let go.

Once he gets the scent, he keeps going no matter what the consequences.

He’s been suspended twice that I know of and his advancement through the ranks has been strangled because he won’t see the world the way his superiors see it.

He is threatening my existence and everything I have achieved, but I can’t help but like the bloke.

I have almost everything I need, and he has a suit that probably has a shiny bum and an overcoat that perhaps came from a deceased person — that was a bit harsh, and I apologise, but you get my drift.

I underestimated him, and now he is standing in my study on a rainy Tuesday evening when most folks are tucked up with a loved one, a glass of something nice and a fire to warm their bones — but not us. We are locked in a life or death struggle. Not the usual kind where two men are rolling around on the ground, each in a desperate attempt to gain control of a deadly weapon — no, this is different but just as deadly.

As I said, I underestimated him. I thought I had covered my tracks — I usually do and without too much fuss.

I kept on underestimating him. I think back and wonder why.

I’ve brushed up against the law before, but on those occasions, I have prevailed. Not always because I’m smarter, sometimes the universe intervened. On one occasion, a detective sergeant got very close to undoing my hard work only to receive a promotion. His successor lost interest in my case — I guess he wanted to make his own reputation.

As far as I can tell my nemesis has not confided in anyone at the station, he’s here on his own time. If I could be sure that he has left nothing lying around that could trip me up, I could decide.

That uncertainty is the only thing that is keeping him alive.

Tobruk

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Elizabeth was up before the sun.

Our apartment was bathed in the golden glow from the lamps that she had strategically placed around the room when we were setting up house together. It was only a few months ago, but it could have been years.

I have to get up in the dark — sparrows fart, my dad used to call it. The building industry starts early and is packed up by four, which works out well because the pubs shut at six — on the dot. The ‘wowzers’ rule this town.

A stray hair had fallen across her face as she cooked me eggs. She’d given up on brushing the hair away — too much effort.

“You don’t mind if I go back to bed when you go do you, Michael?”

“Of course not. I would if I could. Oh, and I’ll be a bit late tonight. I’m meeting Philip at the pub. I’m going to tell him what we’re planning. He could come in handy.”

Elizabeth didn’t answer. I don’t think she’s sure of Philip. I understand why she’s wary. If I didn’t know him he’d worry me too. He’s been through a lot and every bit of it shows on his face. He came apart at the stitching after Tobruk. They stuck him in this godawful hospital full of blokes who had lost touch with the real world.

They discharged him from the army once the Japs packed it in and told him he was cured.

He has trouble holding down a job.

He gets flashes.

He remembers stuff and his reaction scares the shit out of people.

I want to look out for him, but there is only so much I can do.

“Don’t drink too much. Remember we are going out dancing tonight — our new life,” says Elizabeth.

“Can you collect my dinner suit for me?”

“I’ll do it before I clock on at work,” said a very sleepy Elizabeth as she placed perfect scrambled eggs in front of me. I pulled my chair in closer, grabbed my knife and fork and dove right in.

In the army, you eat when you can and you develop the habit of gulping it down with one eye on your rifle. There are no guns in our apartment, but my habits are still echoing where I’ve been.

“Top tucker kid. Shakespeare would be proud of your eggs,” I said.

Elizabeth looked at me through dreamy eyes.

“What’s Shakespeare got to do with my eggs?”

“Apparently, he loved scrambled eggs. Wrote some of his best work on a stomach of Mrs Shakespeare’s eggs.”

“My head hurts. Put your dishes in the sink when you go. I’ll do them later.”

I finished my breakfast, picked up my jacket — it’s supposed to rain later in the day, and went into the bedroom. Elizabeth was fast asleep, rolled onto her right side facing away from my approach. I slipped my hand under the covers and leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Her hair fell across her face.

“If you keep your hand there you are going to be late for work,” she said.

I wiggled my fingers and she jiggled her whole body.

“Until tonight then,” I said and I removed the intruding fingers. She turned her head and smiled at me. I love that smile. I could fall into that smile and never be seen again.

I walked, rather uncomfortably, out of our apartment and down the stairs, making sure that the front door was locked leaving my sleeping bride safely inside.

I didn’t notice how hard the work was that day. My mind was firmly in the future.

I arrived at the pub a long time before Phillip which was very unusual for me, I’m always late.

Running on ‘Arab Time’ someone once called it, and it’s true, I like to take my time, I don’t like to be rushed, so I sat and had a ‘small beer’. When the bartender asked me what I wanted I asked for a Melbourne Bitter.

I saw him go for the big glass, but I knew it was going to be a long night, and I also knew that Phillip could drink, so I said, “Just a little one thanks, mate.”

He hesitated, and I thought that was because no one ever asks for a small beer. He found a small glass and filled it, looked up at me and said, “You did mean the beer didn’t you mate, you weren’t referring to me?”

I honestly had not noticed that this bloke was barely five foot three.

Without hesitation, I said, “No, mate. I assumed I was standing on a box.”

He smiled.

I think he was just winding me up, but for a second I noticed that he had an Irish accent, and I knew that this encounter could have gone an entirely different way.

My quick and casual response probably defused what might have become ugly, and I was amazed at how relaxed and loquacious I was considering the roaring headache that was developing into a migraine.

My guardian angel must have been paying attention.

“When were you demobbed?” he said.

“How do you know I was in the army?” I said.

“In this job you get to read people. The eyes mostly.”

Now that he mentioned it, I knew what he meant. My mate Philip has it written in large letters across his face, but most blokes try to hide what they have seen — it inevitably shows in their eyes.

“Did you see much action?” said the barman.

“Kokoda, Tobruk, Palestine and a couple of other buggered up places.”

“I was at Tobruk. I thought I recognised a fellow ‘Rat’.”

“I wasn’t sure I’d get out of that one,” I said. I’d never said that to anyone, but a bloke who was there would understand.

The barman nodded and continued to polish glasses.

“Don’t take this the wrong way digger, but how did you get into the army? I had fuzz between my toes and they almost didn’t take me.”

“I lied about my height,” he said and we both laughed.

“Good luck digger,” I said and I meant it.

“You too mate, cheers.”

I sat quietly in a corner looking out the window and enjoying the passing parade. It was late in the afternoon and those workers who chose to start very early in the morning were now starting their journey towards home or beer or whatever they had been looking forward to all day.

The migraine I had been gestating showed itself in what has become known as ‘the light show’. Wiggly lights that trace a path across my line of vision.

The build-up is unpleasant but once it gets going things settle down quickly as long as I avoid intense light  — working in the sun doesn’t help. If I get my hydration up I’m fine—- hence the small beer. Don’t laugh, beer is one of those unusual substances that can cause or cure almost anything.

For a small beer, it lasted quite a long time and when it was almost gone Phillip appeared behind me and off to my left. My peripheral vision is pretty good even on a bad day, so I could see him standing there looking at me for several minutes. When I eventually turned and looked at him he laughed.

“Never could sneak up on you, you wary bugger,” he said.

I stood up and we hugged each other the way that blokes who have been through something together will do.

“Did you come from work?” I said.

“No. Got the sack. The mad buggers kept looking at me.”

“Mate, you need a job and blokes are always going to look at you if you explode at the slightest thing. Did you hit anyone?”

“Just a little bit.”
“How do you hit someone ‘a little bit’? One of these days someone is going to call the cops and being a returned soldier will only get you so far. Every second fucker is a returned soldier these days.”

“I know, but they shouldn’t look at me.”

“Wear a funny hat. That way they really will have something to look at,” I said and he laughed and for a moment I saw the Phil that I used to know, before the battles, before the hospitals. The bloke who rescued the kitten during ‘basic’. Kept it hidden from the Sergeant. Gave it to a little girl who lived in the Milk Bar near the camp when we got our marching order. I remember that bloke and I wonder if he is still in there.

“I’ve got a crazy idea of how we can get ahead — make something worthwhile after all the destruction. Are you interested?”

“You, me and Elizabeth?”

“Yes. All three of us.”

“I’m in,” he said and I hadn’t told him the plan yet. That was typical of Phil. He had followed me into far worse than nightclubs and movers and shakers.

“Just tell me what you need me to do,” he said.

“First up, you need a shave and a haircut and you need to get your nails done,” I said and Phil looked at me like I had asked him to stand up and sing the national anthem naked with a rose between his teeth.

“Can you get your hands on a dinner suit, a good one?” I said.

“Me dad still has his. I think it’ll fit me.”

“Good. Can you get your hands on a couple of service revolvers and some ammo?”

“Now you’re talking my language. Who we gonna shoot?”

“Take it easy. I’m just thinking ahead. They might come in handy one day. Never know what trouble we might find ourselves in. Best to be prepared,” I said and Philip nodded in agreement. I knew that he would wear a gun more easily than a good suit. But he would have to learn, otherwise, he would stick out like a sore thumb.

Phil bought another round and I told him to shout the tiny barman, “Tobruk,” I said and he knew what I meant.

With the frost forming on our beer glasses I told Phil of my plan. It sounded a bit thin in the telling, but it was richer and more fleshed out in my head.

Elizabeth, Philip and I had one thing in common, we were all good at seeing opportunities and rolling with the punches. Not that anyone had ever punched Elizabeth, but you know what I mean.

My dinner plate was on the stove resting on top of a pot of hot water.

“I got hungry,” said Elizabeth, “so I’ve eaten. Your’s should be okay. Nice and hot.”

I wrapped a tea towel around my hand and moved the hot plate to the table — chops, potatoes and peas, yum.

Elizabeth was at the table cradling a cup of coffee. I could smell it over the aroma of my meal.

“Philip is in, even though I don’t think he has the slightest idea what he is getting himself into. It will be interesting to see how he scrubs up in his dad’s dinner suit.”

“He scares me a little bit, Michael. He’s changed so much.”

“I know he does, but he adores you — would do anything for you.”

“That’s one of the things that scares me,” said Elizabeth.

I laughed.

When I finished my meal we did the dishes together.

“Now that suggestion you made this morning, the morse code you tapped out with your fingers? Do you think we have time before we go out? Before we launch our new career?” said Elizabeth.

“The night doesn’t really get going until eleven,” I said as I grabbed her. She kissed me and I kissed her back and afterwards we fell asleep until the alarm went off and our night’s work began.

Elizabeth looked like a woman born to wealth and I felt like we could take on the world as we stepped through the door.

The old lady from 315 stepped into the hall and let her cat out.

“Good evening Mr and Mrs Styles. Off out for the night, are we?”

“No. We’re off to conquer the world, Mrs Nunn.”

Mrs Nunn and her bemused smile stayed with us all the way to the Hotel Menzies ballroom.

Antonio Santamaria

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“It was good of you to come in so promptly, Mr Ashton.”

“I had to be in the city today, so I thought I should fit you in, and besides, it’s not every day that I get a summons from my accountant.”

“Not exactly a summons, Mr Ashton, surely?”

“Better call me David. After all, I feel like I put your kids through private school, and summer camp, and that school trip to Austria for the skiing.”

“You’re referring to our fee structure — I’ve heard all the jokes. We are the best at what we do, and that’s why you employ us. We save you way more in tax than we charge you.”

“I know you do. I’m just feeling good today, and I thought I would take it out on you.”

Mr Ashton’s accountant seemed to relax slightly. He sat back in his chair and dropped his shoulders. He was wearing his suit jacket which David Ashton took as a sign of foreboding. Nithiyan Nathan, on the other hand, saw the wearing of the suit jacket in the presence of a client as a sign of respect.

These two men were from different worlds and only crashed into each other around tax time. Nithiyan saw things in black and white — numbers never lied to him. David saw the world as an opportunity full of risk and reward.

“So, what’s the problem? Did I allow too big a deduction for my mistress?”

Nithiyan Nathan looked perplexed, an emotion he did not enjoy.

“Relax Nithiyan. I can call you, Nithiyan?”

“Yes, of course. You were being light-hearted? I get it.”

He didn’t get. Light-hearted was for less serious people.

“I don’t have a mistress. Not that I couldn’t afford one, mind you.”

Wealth, and people knowing you are wealthy, was essential to David Ashton.

“I do your books, Mr Ashton ..”

“David.”

“Yes, of course, David. I do your books, so naturally, I know you could afford a mistress.”

In his head, Nithiyan was calculating the cost of keeping a moderately priced mistress.

“So, if it isn’t my non-existent mistress, then what is it?”

“Your night watchman. You pay him approximately,” Nithiyan hated being approximate, “$183.47 per hour — based on an eight-hour shift, five days a week.”

“He works seven nights a week, and I fly him and his family to Sicily once a year for a three-week vacation. He has family there. It costs me a fortune for those three weeks because I have to employ a team of security guards to cover for him.”

“I was going to ask you about the security guards,” said a confused and intrigued Mr Nathan.

“So, now you know. Is there anything else?”

Nithiyan Nathan sat forward in his seat, putting his hands palms down on the glass-topped surface. He wanted to raise his voice, but that would be as bad as unbuttoning his coat.

“$183.47 per hour. A night watchman would be lucky to earn $18 an hour even if you factored in superannuation and a meal allowance. Is this man blackmailing you? Is he a member of the Mafia? Is he a ghost employee? These are all questions the Australian Tax Office are likely to ask, so I’m asking you before they do.”

“Do you watch a lot of TV cop shows, Mr Nathan?”

It was true that Nithiyan Nathan watched a lot of TV cop shows. It was his release from the world of numbers and clients who were determined to hide their real income.

“That isn’t the point,” said Mr Nathan.

“Okay, you’ve been a good sport, I’ll tell you why I pay him so much, but I warn you, you are going to find my reason difficult to believe at first. But I know you are a man of logic and once I explain the numbers, you will believe me even though you won’t want to.”

“Is this explanation going to take very long, I have another appointment at three o’clock, and I am charging you $500 per hour.”

“It will be worth the cost just to see your reaction. Do you remember the war, it was in all the papers?”

“Yes, I remember,” said Mr Nathan.

“Well, I spent some time playing poker with a bunch of American soldiers during the occupation. There wasn’t much else to do. They were well paid and inferior card players. My wife started to worry about where all the money I was sending home was coming from.”

“I never play cards, but I can see it would be a good way to stave off boredom.”

“We were all prone to telling ‘tall stories’, but there was one story that kept cropping up whenever Americans spoke about their time in Sicily.”

“Where your night watchman’s family comes from?”

“Exactly. The stories talked about certain houses in villages that had been destroyed by American shelling. Certain houses were untouched.”

“Probably pure luck. Just like the scenes you see after a bushfire sweeps through a country town and one house is still standing amongst all the devastation.”

“That’s exactly what I said, but they argued that it happened too often, and on each occurrence, the inhabitants were from an ethnic group known as Daemons. Sicily isn’t far from Greece where the stories about Daemons originate — I looked it up.”

“You are telling me that your night watchman is a demon?” said Mr Nathan, who’s eyes were wider than usual.

“I didn’t say demon, I said ‘day -mon’. Having a demon for a night watchman might be counterproductive. Think of all the slime and debris.” David Ashton smiled at his own witticism.

“It seems that Daemons can protect an area of land from all harm. If they have a strong connection to an area, nothing bad can befall it. In each of the primitive houses in the bombed-out areas that survived, there was a family that could trace their heritage back to this ancient tribe. They are said to exist somewhere between humans and the gods.”

“It was my experience that American soldiers were quite naive and not to be taken seriously. ‘All mouth, no trousers’ our sergeant used to say,” said Mr Nathan.

“My thoughts exactly, ‘all hat no cattle’, as my dad used to say, but there’s another saying about there being fire where there’s smoke. I had nothing else to do, so I did a bit of digging. The more I dug, the more interesting it got.

After the occupation, I went home and was glad of it. Australia was into its most significant immigration phase, and there were lots of men and families from Italy among them. I’d forgotten about the stories because I did my best to put my war experiences behind me.”

Nithiyan Nathan looked at his watch.

“I’m nearly there,” said Mr Ashton.

“It’s your money, go on.”

“I did quite well after I got back. Built up a large manufacturing concern, as you know. Making stuff means having somewhere to store materials and product and the best place for all that is industrial zoned land. Unfortunately, those areas are often run-down, and they attract the wrong sort of people. People with bolt cutters and old beaten up vans. They like to break in and carry off whatever they can carry.”

“You have insurance?”

“Yes I do, but it’s the inconvenience and the annoyance and the fact that I don’t like to lose,” said Mr Ashton, who realised that he was raising his voice. He took a moment to gather himself.

“As sometimes happens, I woke up one morning and remembered the stories from my time in the occupation. I know it sounds crazy, but I put an advertisement in the positions vacant column of The Age – Daemon wanted. Security work. No questions asked.”

“What happened?”

“As you would expect, I got a bunch of crank calls. They all made the same assumption you did. Billy Demon here, just got out of Hades, and I’m looking for work, followed by inane laughter. But in amongst the nut bags, there was Antonio Santamaria. I interviewed him personally, which annoyed our Human Resources manager. Antonio had been out of work for some time. His English was rudimentary, and it was holding him back. I was worried that he was too desperate and would not answer my questions truthfully.

I asked him about his ancestry, and he was guarded in his response. I asked him if the rumours were true and he just shrugged.

It occurred to me that even if it was true, his protection may only extend to where he lives, his family home. Maybe it didn’t cover his place of work. I asked him, and he shrugged again.

I explained to him that we’d had three night watchmen hospitalised in the past year and that we were not allowed to issue him with a firearm so he would be taking his life in his hands if he took the job.”

“What did he say?”

“He shrugged.”

“Did it work? Did he protect your warehouse?”

“I offered him double the hourly rate, and I could tell that he was going to take the job. We never had a break-in after that. I have video of deadbeats trying to cut the chains on the front gate and giving up. I have video of other deadbeats cutting through the wire fence at the back of the warehouses only to get tangled up in the wire until the police came and collected them. One bloke, who was found wandering around the streets with burglar tools, told the police he forgot where he was supposed to break in to. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.”

“So you think that Antonio developed an affinity for your land because he needed the money?”

“Buggered if I know, but I do know that businesses in our area rent space, at a premium rate, to store their goods with us. They think we have some space-age security system that is way ahead of theirs. I’ve even had security companies come sneaking around trying to figure out our system.

I keep up appearances with lights and cameras and all that stuff, but in the end, it’s Antonio.

I’ll admit that I get a few strange looks when I tell people that we have a night watchman. Most properties have roving armed guards with dogs and fancy uniforms.”

“You do understand that there is no way I’m going to tell this story to the Tax Office if they come calling, don’t you?”

“I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t tell them that story either. Tell them he saved my life during the war, I don’t care.”

“I’m beginning to wish that I hadn’t called this meeting Mr Ashton, thank you for coming in. You’ll receive my invoice in the usual manner.”

“I know I will, Mr Nathan, and thank you for listening. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t have anyone I can tell things to who can’t repeat them under threat of eternal damnation. You are the next best thing. I hope my story is not too disturbing. There are more things in heaven and earth.”

“Go in peace Mr Ashton and may we never speak of this again.”

  

Most Of The Time

 

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I used to be angry. 

A lot. 

Most of the time.

Then I wasn’t. 

The time gap between these two extremes is vast — most of my life, in fact.

For most of that time, I was unaware of the reasons for my anger.

I was aware of not having all the things I wanted, I frightened people, success seemed to come close only to run away — these things I knew and I assumed that my anger grew out of them. The more I strove to rectify these deficiencies, the worse things got.


The day I worked it out, I got angry. Not the old kind of angry, this was new — righteous, biblical, galactic.

For all these many years, I’d been living someone else’s life. Living their dogma. When I find that person, I’m going to reign down some righteous vengeance and lay waste to their existence — just saying.

I feel a lot better now I know.

Not knowing is the worst.