Click, Flash and it was Done

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The day was unexceptional except for closing a huge deal with a famous investor.
He could have stolen my invention; I didn’t have the capital to pursue him in the courts. I was acting on faith (I know, stupid, right?). J. P. Moneybags was true to his word and decided to stump up the monstrous capital needed to bring my invention to production.
He gets 95% of the profits, and I get 5%. But that’s not as bad as it sounds because the patent is in my name.
5% of a lot of money is, well, a lot of money.
My needs are small, but my curiosity is insatiable, and that’s where it all started — my insatiable curiosity.
We needed a photo to mark the occasion. I could have shot it on my phone camera, but I wanted a chance to handle the fantastic camera my benefactor had lying on his office desk.
“May I?” I said, and he smiled.
“Do you think you can handle it?” said Moneybags.
I knew enough about digital cameras to know that there are way too many dials. I come from a time where we put film in cameras and, it has to be said, you needed to know a bit about shutter speeds and iris settings, but it wasn’t that hard.
“When was the last time you used it?” I asked.
“Earlier today. My secretary is having a birthday.”
“Did the shot come out well?”
“Yes, it did. Perfect, in fact.”
“Good, then the current settings will work fine. I can always tweak it a bit when you send me the photo.”
I grabbed the camera, found the command for a timed shot, scrambled across the room, held up my invention while standing next to J. P. Moneybags and his lawyer.
Click, flash, and it was done.
I handed Moneybags my card with my email address underlined, “When you get a moment, send it here,” I pointed to the spot on my card and Moneybags ignored me.
I wondered if I would get the photo, but it was in my inbox as soon as I woke up the next morning.
No matter what I tried, the file would not open. I regretted my decision not to take a backup shot on my phone.
At the end of a hectic day, I rang a friend, Michael, who knows a lot about computer files, “Can I send it over and see what you can do with it. I wouldn’t bother you but it’s an important photo,” I said brushing a piece of confetti out of my hair from the celebrations at work.
“No, worries; send it over.”
I parked the car outside Michael’s house on his leafy street — well lit and looking like a set from a 50s sitcom.
Michael opened the door when he saw me pull up. I hoped he didn’t offer me a drink because I didn’t think I’d make it home if he did.
“Mary is off at some book group or other, so we have the place to ourselves.”
Michael ushered me in with his usual flourish.
I’m out on my feet, and he’s just getting started. I’m buggered if I know where he gets his energy from.
“The kids?” I said.
“Asleep,” said Michael and I wished I was, asleep that is and not with his kids — they drive me crazy. One of them tried to push a crayon up my nose when I fell asleep at their Christmas barbecue. He learned a few new words that day.
“I’ve been working on the file, come and have a look,” said Micheal leading the way to his basement — his inner sanctum.
“It’s a photo file alright, and it’s a good thing you mentioned it otherwise I would have been at it all night. There’s a jpeg in there, but it’s protected by a folder I’ve never seen before. Cracked it, but. I rule.”
He does rule; it’s true. I’d follow him if he decided to be a king.
“Where were you when you took this. I thought you said you were in the financial district?”
“We were,” I said.
“As you know, (I didn’t) there’s all kinds of stuff embedded into a photo assuming that it is a modern camera, and it comes up as data if you know where to look. GPS data tells you where you were when the shot was taken (I did know that), but this is precise data — military grade information. The kind of shit that drone pilots use to put out a cigarette and the bloke who is smoking it, on the other side of the world.”
“Holy shit,” was all I could think of to say.
“Where you say you were and where the photo says you were is about twenty kilometres apart. A swish new apartment block. Second floor up, south-east corner, in the middle of the room.”
“Does it say what colour my underpants were,” I said.
Michael checked the data, which made me nervous and said, “No.”
“Can you write that address down for me?”
Michael wrote it on an envelope which had the Pentagon as a return address.
“Really?” I said as I waved the envelope at him.
Michael laughed. “Just a friend I knew from my college days, remember that exchange student thing I went on?” (I did)
“He does that because he knows I will get a kick out of getting a letter from the Pentagon. And it might impress my friends.”
“It did,” I said.
We chatted about family and friends and work because I didn’t want him to think that I only called when I wanted something. I’m not sure that I fooled him, but I did find out that his youngest (remember the crayon incident?) is good with numbers and likes to climb trees but has no idea how to climb down. That revelation made me like this kid a little more than I had.
My eyes were in danger of closing, and I still had to drive home, so I made my leave and headed for my car.
“You have a good life, Micheal; you know that, don’t you?” I said, and Micheal agreed that his life was amazing.
As I drove off, I heard my phone ding and saw the photo file appear.
Tomorrow would be time enough to look at it and maybe check out that phantom address — for that’s what I was confident it was, a phantom, a rare mistake from a system that does not make mistakes.
I slept late, rang the office while I was having a pee, “What’s that noise?” said my secretary. “Just washing some veggies before making juice,” I said. “You had better not be talking to me while urinating,” said my secretary. “As if I would,” I said. I juggled my phone with one hand and zipped up my fly with the other. “That sounded like a zipper,” said my secretary, sounding ever more hysterical. “No, just grating some lemon zest,” I said while wondering why I was tap dancing around my secretary — like she never makes calls on the toilet.
She assured me that the office would be fine without me for a day, and I felt a little letdown.
“See you tomorrow,” I said, before flushing.
The apartment building was indeed ‘swish’ as Michael and Google had predicted.
I pushed the button for what I assumed was the right apartment, and nothing happened. So, I did what I had seen on TV, I pushed all the buttons, and finally, the security door buzzed and clicked open. Thank goodness for midday pizza delivery.
I skipped the crome and glass elevator and headed for the stairs. The foyer was clean and bright, and an original oil painting was fading in the sunlight on the wall. I touched the frame as I walked by, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a good luck thing. I’m sure I’ve seen Bruce Willis do it in a movie.
The white marble stairs gave a satisfying click under my heals. The dark timber polished handrails felt pleasant to the touch, and I ran my hand over them as I climbed.
A large 2B sign was on the door at the top of the stairs, and I watched the ornate 1930s style peephole to see if anyone looked out after I buzzed.
The thick timber door swung open, and there stood another me.
He wasn’t dressed the way I would dress, but if he climbed into my clothes, he would pass as me. He didn’t look at all surprised to be looking at his double, while I was lost for words.
“Can I help you,” my other said, and he sounded like me.
“This is going to sound a bit strange, but how long have you lived here?” My ‘other’ seemed confused by the question.
“Forever, I guess. Not sure exactly. Is it important?”
“Not really, I was just wondering,” I said.
“Come in, let’s be comfortable while you wonder.”
The apartment was spectacular. Like something that Buzby Berkley would have designed. It took my breath away. A building on the other side of the street obstructed the view just enough to be annoying, but even so, the outlook was pleasant.
“Do you live here alone?” I asked, and I expected him to be annoyed by my questions.
“No. There are two other fellows who I share with.”
“For how long?”
“Oh, forever,” he said in a dreamy tone.
“Where are they now?”
“Oh, Peter is in his room, but Jason went out a while ago. He’s very successful,” said my ‘other’.
“Drink?”
“Yes, please,” I said. “Scotch, if you have it.”
“I do like a man who isn’t frightened to drink during the day.”
Drink was the least frightening thing in my world at that moment.
“Oh, Peter, this is …”
“Sebastian,” I said and there before me was an exact copy of the lawyer from Moneybags office. He put out his hand, and I shook it.
“Your other friend, Jason. Is he older, grey hair sounds like a walrus when he talks.”
“Why, yes he does.”
“How long have you blokes know each other?” I asked.
“Forever,” they said in unison.
“Can you remember last Friday?” I said.
They looked at each other and said, “Not really. Is it important?”
“No, nothing to worry about,” I said.
Neither of the men had shown any irritation at my barrage of questions, and I’ll bet that if I’d kept it up, their memories would have extended back to about the middle of yesterday.
“So, did you check out the address I gave you,” said Michael.
“I did,” I said as I dodged one of Michaels small progeny. “Is there any chance of continuing this conversation somewhere less dangerous. Your boys seem to head for my balls at every opportunity.”
“Yeah. They think it’s funny,” said Michael.
We escaped to the relative safety of Micheal dungeon office. The room looked exactly the way you would expect a mad professor’s office to look. The ceiling was so low that I could only stand upright between the ceiling joists. Michael is an inch or two shorter than me, so he skimmed under the threatening beams without too much damage. I sought the safety of an old office chair.
“You might want to sit down,” I said. “You aren’t going to believe what I found, and when I get to what I think is going on, you might want to call the men in white coats.”
Michael sat down without speaking.
I explained my encounter with the duplicates from my photo and their general lack of awareness.
“Could be a dozen reasons for all that,” said Michael none too convincingly.
“Really. Dozens?” I said.
“Well, maybe not dozens,” said Michael.
“I’d settle for one reason,” I said.
Michael was silent.
“You said there was even crazier stuff,” said Micheal.
“You remember the movie, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers?”
“Yes. Awesome movie.”
“Well, I think it’s something like that. I think someone is planning to replace important people and do it slowly and quietly so as to not give the game away. Think about it. A lawyer and investor and an inventor. All high profile people with access to other high profile people.”
“So what happens to the people who have been replaced?”
“I haven’t worked that bit out yet, and I’m not sure I want to know,” I said.
“If I could just get a look at that camera I’d know a lot more,” I said.
“Good luck with that. Imagine the security your investor has. You’ve got no chance.”
“I don’t know what to do. Maybe I’ll go home and wait for them to come for me. At least then I’ll know what happens next.”
“Don’t talk like that. You’re freaking me out,” said Michael.
Just then Michael’s youngest burst into the room with a crayon on each hand. I jumped up so violently the inevitable impact between my head and the ceiling joist caused me to lose consciousness.
When I woke up, a small boy was hovering over me with a blue crayon.
“You went boom,” he said. It was a difficult observation to argue with.
When my brain cleared, I went home, and they didn’t come for me, and it never occurred to me that I wasn’t important enough for them to worry about.
A newspaper article, about a month later, talked about the disappearance and sudden reappearance of a famous financier and his lawyer while on a hunting trip.
Apparently, the two men were lucky that they were found after going missing in rugged bushland. Some arsehole dumped a dog in the bush and it found the men and led them to safety.  The woman who wrote the article said that the men would take some time to recover from their ordeal and that they seemed confused and disoriented — which was only to be expected. She didn’t mention what happened to the dog. The writer also said that there had been a string of high profile disappearances and reappearances over the past two years, but police sources said that it was only a coincidence. The chief of police, who went missing on a hunting trip with friends, said that the experience had done him no harm and that there was nothing to be worried about. The article was accompanied by a series of photographs taken before the hunting trips began, but no shots showing the survivors after their ordeal.
I made a mental note to refuse any invitations to go hunting now, or at any time in the future.

Portrait

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It was my mother’s idea.
Mum was never short on ideas, bless her soul.
Somehow, she had found out that no one in our family had ever had their portrait painted, which didn’t surprise me. In our world, only rich people had the spare change to pay for a portrait painter. We had more significant problems, like food and electricity and dog biscuits if it came to that.
Which brings me to Eric. Eric the dog.
He doesn’t like to miss out on stuff.
Mum suggested that my new business venture, supplying rich people with household staff who could also play a musical instrument (more of this a bit later), could use a boost. “Imagine the impact on your prospective client when they come into your office and see a portrait of you, done in oils.”
The idea appealed to me. Despite my left wing leanings on most subjects, I’ve always liked the trappings of wealth and privilege.
Eric, on the other hand, just likes being where I am, doing what I’m doing.
So, when it came time to travel to the city for my first sitting, Eric wanted to go as well. He had no idea where we were going or that it involved a trip on the number 12 tram and even if I had explained to him that he would probably have to sit quietly in some outer office for more than an hour, he would still have liked to come — that’s Eric. He does not want to miss out.
“I like your dog,” said a delightful creature in a chiffon dress.
“And I’m pretty sure he likes you too,” I said facetiously.
“How can you tell?” said the delightful creature, who was in danger of catching cold, as my mother would have said.
For a moment, I thought she was kidding, but it turned out that she had left what remained of her intelligence in her other purse.
I have to say that I took advantage of the situation and we were going to be getting off the tram presently.
“I know, he speaks quite softly. I’ll get him to say it again, only a bit louder,” I said.
“I saw his lips move, but I didn’t hear anything. What did he say?” said the scantily clad creature.
“He phrased it differently, but the sentiment was the same. Oh, and he added a bit.”
“Really?”
“Yes. He reiterated his liking for you and suggested that if you were a dog, he would suggest a mating session — doggy style, of course.”
The beautiful creature blushed and stroked Eric on the head.
I love being out with Eric.
The artist studio was in an apartment on Little Collins Street, a costly part of town. Based on his fee, I could see how he was able to afford this address.
I expected his secretary — (yes he had a secretary, and I wondered what she did all day), to ask me to leave Eric with her.
I wondered what they would talk about.
As it turned out, the artist squealed like a little girl when he saw Eric.
“The dog is, how shall I put it, perfect!”
So that was that. Eric is now part of the company, and it has to be said that he gets more attention than I do, especially since we started using the portrait in our advertising campaign.
Eric has his own section on our website, and we share a secretary so that he has his fan mail answered.
You are probably still wondering about the ‘could also play a musical instrument’ bit.
Well, the idea has been around for a while, and it all started with an old interview with a famous Scandinavian film director who has his own production company. In a throwaway line, he said that he would not employ a lawyer who did not play a musical instrument. Considering how many lawyers a film production company would need, the interviewer tried to pursue the point. No one has ever been able to find out if the director was just outrageous for the sake of it or if he was serious. For our purpose, it does not matter, because the press picked up on it again many years later, and so did the people who like to design personality tests. The best selling book, “And Can You Play A Musical Instrument?”, established the idea in people’s heads and you know what happens when people get an idea into their heads — it stays there, and no amount of logic will shift it.
So, God help any domestic servant who is looking for employment without the ability to at least pound out ‘Chopsticks’ on a piano.
Sitting for a portrait is not as much fun as you might think. My neck got a crick in it, and my arm ached from hanging on to Eric. Eric wasn’t any too pleased either. He wasn’t having it, so I had to hang on to a cushion for most of the session.
I was happy when it was done, and I loved how the painting came out, and as with childbirth, I forgot about the pain.
There is talk of doing another one every five years so that we will end up with a bunch of them showing the permanency of the business, but I’m sure I can think up an excuse to not be available for the next one, and Eric agrees.

 

 

Image: Aaron Westerberg

Cafe Hats

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Claudine thought it was an unusual name for a cafe, but my mind was on other things.
“You didn’t tell me I had to wear a hat,” said Claudine. Her mouth worked faster than her brain, and at times it was endearing and at other times not so much.
“It’s not like an entry requirement or anything. It’s just a gimmick, and you know how cashed up city types are — anything for a giggle,” I said while scanning the room for potential trouble. The only potential problem was the bloke wearing braces and a belt. Probably got ‘dacked’ when he was at school, and never got over it. A six-figure salary with bonuses and he’s afraid his pants will fall down. Then again, I’m wearing a red waistcoat with stripes, so who am I to give fashion advice?
“Even so, I’ve got a cute hat I bought at a Thrift Shop. I’ve been dying to try it out.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you stop talking about hats I’ll bring you back here next Friday night and you can show off your millinery to your heart’s content — deal?”
“Deal,” said Claudine, but I could see that she still had more to contribute to the subject, but the thought of a night out ‘all expenses paid’ was too good to pass up, so she gently closed her beautiful mouth and began thinking of another subject — at least that’s what I think she was doing. I was watching the woman with the pyramid earrings.
The cafe was packed with bright young things all semi-drunk after a tough week of playing with other people’s money. The decibel level was beyond the point where a Heavy Metal Band would tell us to keep it down — no chance of hearing what Ms Earrings was saying even though I was close enough to reach out and touch her.
“Step back and bump into her. Let’s see what she does and let’s see who notices,” I said.
“Bump into who?” said Claudine.
“The woman behind you. Purple hat, big earrings.”
Claudine looked over her shoulder and took a step back. Her bump never eventuated because she stepped on the woman’s foot and in her haste to ‘unstep’ she emptied the remains of her Gin and Tonic on Purple Hat and Big Earrings dress.
Claudine was mortified, and even though I couldn’t hear over the din, it seemed that she was apologising and encouraging the woman to head for the Ladies.
I wasn’t game to follow, but I imagined them removing the dress, washing it under the tap and running it under the electric hand dryer. The whole process would take about eight to ten minutes based on my own experience of spilling soy sauce on my pants at the Chinese on the High Street last Easter. I took it as a punishment from God for eating out at a Chinese Restuarant on Good Friday.
I scanned the room, but no one except the woman she was talking to took any interest so I could relax just a bit.
Eight minutes means I have time for another drink.
Right on cue, the two women emerged from the toilets with Big Earrings giving her dress a final straighten.
When Claudine got back to where I was standing, I leaned in close and said, “That was a bit more than I expected.”
“She wears very expensive underwear, she’s not a bit shy, and the colour in her dress didn’t run, even though it should have. Purple is notoriously hard to make fast. Oh, yes, and she slipped away from her minders, ‘I can’t breathe with those goons watching me all the time. Has your fella got a friend? I’ve been living like a nun for the past few weeks, and I could really use a bloody good…
“Okay, I get the point. Lean over and tell her, yes. I’ll make a call. My boss is going to wet himself when I tell him she fell into my arms without her close support.”
I stepped outside to make the call, and I’m sure I heard my boss squeal like a little girl.
He said he could be there in ten minutes and gave a brief rundown of what he would do to me if I were winding him up. I assured him I wasn’t.
I walked back into the cafe, and the two women were gone and so was the bloke in the braces and belt.
I know Claudine will have an excellent story to tell when I catch up with her, but for now, I needed to exit the building.
I’ll explain it all to my boss once I find out where they went and when he has had time to calm down and dry off his pants.
Claudine may call me later tonight or in the morning, and she may still have Big Earrings without her escort, but I doubt it. Life is never that easy. The Universe is never that kind.
I’ll catch up to Big Earrings eventually, and I’ll find out what she knows — I’m good at my job.
In the meantime, I’m going to buy a hat.

Threads

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“Tiny lines of cotton that hold the world together,” said my grandfather, but he would — he was a romantic.
He wanted me to see what he saw, romance, adventure, creation.
“A woman comes to me with a dream. I never ask what that dream is, but I know it lingers beneath the request.” I need a dress for a formal occasion, might translate into, My husband is losing interest in me, and I want to knock his socks off.
Or maybe the lady is trying to impress the other women in her circle — that’s serious business, or so I have been told.”
I was twelve when this conversation took place, and within a year my grandfather would be found in his workroom, needle in hand, the life having ebbed out of him. No one said he had a smile on his face, but I’d like to think so.
“The customers I love are the ones who come to me because they want to please themselves. They know they are beautiful and they realise that the clothes I make for them complement their beauty and poise. From the time they step in the front door of my shop we are engaged in a dance. A creative dance. They don’t spell everything out for me, I’m expected to participate, do my part. When I have made the garment and done the final fitting, we both know that the dance is coming to an end. The exceptional customers participate in a denouement — they let me know if the garment had the desired effect. I love it when they prolong the dance.”
I was way too young to understand the undercurrents of my grandfather’s observations, but I guess he hoped that his words would stay with me, ring in my ears at a later date.
It was never my intention to go into the family business. I could think of nothing worse than being confined in a shop fussing over women with more money than sense.
I rebelled and left home as soon as I was able. I travelled and worked and soaked up life until I thought I might burst.
Every time I saw a beautiful woman I examined her clothes — off the rack or made to measure — you can always tell.
I remember the look I got from a girl in Paris when she caught me examining the stitching on her skirt. She wasn’t wearing it at the time. She wasn’t wearing anything at all, and neither was I. We were taking a break during a long session of lovemaking on an autumn afternoon. The view from her apartment was stunning, and the sight of her was equally so, but I could not resist the urge to find out how well her clothes were made.
“Have you checked the hems to see if there is anything hidden in them,” I said.
“No, why would I?” she said.
“Some old school dressmakers will hide little things like tiny pieces of paper with something inscribed, or a fragment of ancient cloth. They feel it personalises their work.”
The naked lady thought I was marginally less crazy after my explanation and we continued to tangle erotically for several more months until she left me for a trumpet player. I minded, but I got over it and continued my travels.
Whenever the money ran out, I would seek employment, and on more than one occasion I got work at bespoke dressmakers — not the usual job for a young man, but I had my family’s name, and it opened a few doors, even if I did end up sweeping more often than designing and sewing.
I didn’t care; I was free.
The Telegram caught up with me when I was staying in a provincial city in Spain. My father had died, and my mother was distraught.
It took me a few days to get back home, but they waited for me.
After the funeral, while everyone was eating little sandwich triangles and drowning their sorrows, I went to my father’s shop, the same shop that my grandfather had owned. The gold letters on the glass door spelled out my family name.
The rest you can probably work out for yourself.
Your dress is now complete. I hope you are happy with the work?
I know it is none of my business, but I was wondering why you wanted me to make it for you?
“I don’t need another dress. I just like spending time in your shop without igniting the gossips. Does my admission shock you? Have I ruined our friendship?”
Not at all, but you might want to take the dress off.
You wouldn’t want to get it all wrinkled.

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Painting by Jack Vettriano

 

 

Wisp Of Smoke

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A wisp of smoke emanated from the barrel of the gun as I placed it gently on the desk. There had been enough violence in the last few moments, so laying it softly down seemed like a dampening gesture.
I’m not a lover of guns, but like all things made by man, they have their uses.
He stood staring at me for as long as it would take to light a cigarette, then he crumpled into a man-shaped heap.
I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to be shot. Most gunshot victims are surprised. The way he lived his life, he shouldn’t have been surprised. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone tired of his lies and deceit.
That’s what I am, tired.
Not tired in the traditional sense, more fed up than anything.
People disappoint me — continually.
From the young man behind the counter in the only coffee shop on my block (yes, I could walk a little further and get better service, but what’s the point of that?) to the half-wit who got promoted over me just because he’s a man (no that’s not fair, it had more to do with who was sleeping with whom and who owed who because of large scale indiscretions — see what I mean, tiresome?)
I’m guessing you are wondering why I shot him? Well, you can wait a little longer, it’s my story after all.
I wasn’t the only person in the room, and I got there in a roundabout way.
It was a pleasant enough party. Well dressed women and tidy men ignoring their wives.
This was my first visit to this mansion. A man who sold used cars built it many years ago, and when he died, it went through a few hands (all owners trying vainly to impress) until it landed in Michael’s grubby hands. Michael’s wife’s hands were pristine and well manicured — she’d stabbed a few people in the back, but her hands were unbloodied. Her crimes were metaphorical.
There was nothing metaphorical about Michael.
We, my husband and I, had been summoned to hear Michael’s terms. He believed that he owned us. My husband was close to the end of his wits, but I don’t buckle so easily.
I only know the part that concerned my husband and me — our disgrace, our downfall. Never let the devil know your secrets for he will drag you down to Hell.
I heard the shouting, and when I opened the sturdy oak door to Michael’s study, I saw that two men I vaguely recognised, were arguing with Michael as my husband stood meekly by.
Michael stepped behind his dark-stained desk and drew an automatic pistol from the top drawer. The man in the blue suit reached inside his jacket and pulled a huge pistol. The man in the brown suit reached behind him and drew a revolver.
My husband was unarmed.
I held my breath as the shouting died down. Michael realised he was outgunned and attempted to defuse the situation.
“Okay fellas. Let’s all of us calm the fuck down. I’m putting my gun down, and we can talk,” said Michael. He put his gun on the edge of the desk and put his hands out in a mock gesture of surrender. He took a few steps away from the desk as the two men lowered their weapons.
I didn’t plan what happened next, but I have to say that it could not have worked out better.
I’m a smart girl, and I can recognise an opportunity when I see one.
Michael saw me enter the room, but he held his ground. The other two men momentarily raised their guns again, probably thinking that I was Michael’s secret weapon.
My dress was red and was not concealing anything. The two men realised I did not have a weapon and lowered their guns once more.
Michael went back to placating his adversaries who were none too pleased about being summoned and threatened.
My head was spinning with possibilities.
I took three quick sets across the room and picked up Michael’s gun. The safety was off. Without hesitation, I shot the man in the blue suit. He fell to the floor, and everyone in the room looked at him as though he might get up and laugh that it had all been a game.
My ears were ringing from the blast, and my wrist hurt.
My husband looked at me with confused eyes.
The brown suit came out of his stupor and looked at me just as I shot him in the chest. Now my wrist was beginning to ache.
“Julia. What have you done?” said, my horrified husband.
“Haven’t finished yet darling,” I said as I waited for Michael to turn and face me. No good shooting him in the back — too much to explain.
Michael started to say something, but he didn’t get to finish.
The blue suit’s gun had fallen at my feet. I picked it up and shot Michael who looked very surprised.
“Everybody shot everybody else John, and our problems are over. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” I said, and John nodded. I guess words were too much effort at that point.
Just before the guests burst through the study door with looks of horror on their well-dressed faces, a wisp of smoke emanated from the barrel of the gun as I placed it gently on the desk. There had been enough violence in the last few moments, so laying it down softly seemed like a dampening gesture.
I’m not a lover of guns, but like all things made by man, they have their uses.

Rose

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Her name is Rose, and she lives above us in 4B.

She shares the flat with her husband, a canary named George and a small plant that doesn’t have a name – but if it did have a name I think it might be Wilfred — not sure why.

When I was younger, Rose’s general disregard for clothing was a bit disconcerting.

Large, warm breasts (I was surmising their warmth) tend to make a young man forget things, like where I was going and, “Yes Mrs Abernathy, I can get you some bread on my way home. I’ll leave it outside your door. You can pay mum when you see her.”

The prospect of encountering Mrs Abernathy’s breasts at close quarters was more than my youthful resolve could cope with.

Rose has a big heart, at least that is what everyone says. I believe them. Mr Abernathy, on the other hand, is less than kind. I guess a lifetime of knowing that every male in the district is staring at your wife’s tits is enough to turn you sour.

I stay out of his way, but some of my slower friends have not been so lucky. Billy still walks with a limp.

Rose’s favourite activity (as you can see from the photo my friend Michael took) is hanging, partially clad out of her fourth-floor window and watching the world go by. Michael, by the way, is recovering slowly. He didn’t mind the beating because he managed to distribute a considerable number of photographs before Mr Abernathy caught up with him. Michael says he has enough for a deposit on a car — or an electric wheelchair if his recovery falters.

Michael always looks on the bright side.

I’ll be glad when I’ve saved up enough for my own place. I don’t much mind where I live as long as it isn’t too far from my family. The only requirement I have is that the building does not have a friendly older woman with huge breasts and a grumpy, violent husband.

Hot water and heating would be nice, but I’m not fussy.

 

Artist: Geliy Korzhev

Tickets

“Do you need to check your bags sir?” said the man behind the glass.

I didn’t answer immediately. He looked up and into my eyes. Words hadn’t worked so maybe he hoped I was hearing him telepathically.

“No bags,” I said. Some people have accused me of being a wordsmith, but no one who was within hearing distance on this day was likely to agree.

I handed over the exact amount, he counted it carefully as though he expected me to short change him. Once he was satisfied, he placed the money in its designated slot in the money draw. Even the coins came in for ‘one by one’ attention. He closed the old wooden drawer gently and looked at me before reluctantly sliding my ticket across the brass plate which extended to each side of the thick glass. It occurred to me that no one polished the brass plate — constant use did that.

“Have a pleasant trip sir. Your train leaves in seventeen minutes and fifteen seconds, track twelve.” He noticed my look. “Just head to your right, you’ll see the sign,” he said.

I picked up the paper ticket and read it. My destination was printed on it as was the final destination of the train. The words, ‘non-sleeping’ seemed to sum up my present predicament — not a lot of sleep and I guess it was showing.

“Thanks,” I said and as an afterthought, “Do you ever get lonely in there?”

The man behind the glass looked me in the eye again and said, “All the time. I watch people like you buying tickets and heading off to parts known, and I wonder.”

“What do you wonder?” I said.

“I wonder what you all are doing. Why are you leaving? What do you do when you get there?”

“Why not ask?” I said.

“Folks are usually in too much of a hurry. I don’t want to bother them, so I wonder.”

“I’m leaving because there is no reason for me to stay. I’m determined to enjoy the train ride, and I have no idea what I’ll do when I get there, but I’ve got money and a comb and an address of a bloke my father served with in the war, so there is a chance of somewhere to stay when I get there. I’ll find a job, I’m good at lots of stuff, and maybe there’ll be a girl who likes me. Maybe I’ll settle there, but most probably not. My mum said I’ve got itchy feet and I’m beginning to think she might be right,” I said.

The man behind the glass was in the process of smiling when a large lady with a small child suggested that I was going to make her late for her train, so I stepped away from the window and headed for platform twelve. The man in the ticket booth stayed where he was, but at least he knew where I had come from and where I was going, and he had a small glimpse of my hopes for the future.

Unencumbered by baggage or regrets, I sauntered towards my impending journey, and track twelve.

Been Away Such a Long Time

Artist unknown to me.

 

Being a parent was not anywhere near the top of my list.
Hell, I’m not sure I had a list.
Becky said, “It’s time,” and after a full term gestation there was Jo (not her real name, because I never liked Minerva).
I’m not a huge fan of babies — I know they exist and I’m pretty sure I know what causes them, but not a huge fan.
Then there was Jo, and I was hooked.
Everyone said, “What a cute baby,” but she wasn’t — just average, but boy, did she grow into her looks.
I took this photo just before I had to leave. It’s how I remember her.
Her bedroom is very girly, thanks to her interior decorating wizard mum, and I always felt slightly nervous being in there.

She was usually asleep by the time I got home from work — and then there wasn’t any work.
I can’t tell you what I do, but I can tell you that my work has to do with keeping an eye on people.

A sudden change in policy and my station was closed. No ceremony and little fanfare. These days, I think they use the building for a bank of servers that feeds everyone’s desire for cloud storage.
So, my skill set just sat there like a cat that no one needed anymore.
I was getting paid, but if I wanted that fiscal situation to continue I would have to move to nowherefuckingnearanywhere, and no, we won’t pay for your family to relocate. Besides, Jo has started school, and it is essential that she be adequately indoctrinated into the ways of the average person — couldn’t disrupt that process.
We talk on the phone — at least three times a week and every time she asks when I’m coming back, but lately, not so much.
Her mum asks how I’m getting on, and I say I’m not allowed to talk about it and then there is a long silence followed by, “I’ll put Minerva on and you two can talk.”
Occasionally, my wife complains that my salary needs to increase so she can buy a gold plated can opener, or whatever it is that she wants — she never asks when I’m coming home.
I’ve missed two of Jo’s birthdays, and I haven’t the slightest idea how I’m going to avoid missing more of them.
I’m stuck here and she is there — not exactly stuck, but she might as well be.


The doll in the photo came from a toy shop in the seaside town I was in at the time. It was a boring assignment, and there were three of us watching what I considered to be a low-value target, so there was plenty of time off.
The lady who ran the toy shop was a few years past her prime, but still pretty in a dishevelled sort of way. She constantly chased a loose strand of hair which refused to stay behind her ear. I think her name was Mrs Wilson but I got the feeling that Mr Wilson had legged it a long time ago — with the girl who worked in the local fish and chip shop. Not sure if I heard that somewhere or I made it up, but it seemed to fit.


I remember that Mrs Wilson was reluctant to sell me the doll — something about having put it aside for a special customer.
To clinch the deal, I offered way above the value of the doll.
“Alright then. What do I care? It’s been sitting there for months, and she never came for it. Serves her right,” said Mrs Wilson who never looked directly at me once during our conversation.
I handed her the money and looked around the shop while she wrapped the doll.
It was well maintained, and the toys all seemed very new. The shop faced the shoreline, and the light streamed in late in the afternoon.
I wondered how Mrs Wilson survived during the offseason. She didn’t seem prosperous. Didn’t seem like someone who had inherited from her great Aunt Ethel. Didn’t seem like she had ever known much money.

Jo loved the doll when I gave it to her. Her mother said I was spoiling her, which I was. I’m a father with a daughter — what was I supposed to do?

There was a small item in the national daily newspaper about a raid on a shop on the coast — MYSTERIOUS WOMAN ARRESTED UNDER VEIL OF SECRECY.
I asked around.
“Dead drop,” said the kid in the mailroom (I wonder where he ended up when they pulled up stumps on our operation?)
“For whom?” I said.
“Well-financed right wing nut bags,” was his reply.
I considered asking him how he found out about all this and then I could see myself in front of a Senate inquiry — “And how did you use this information, Mr X?”
I’m a crap equivocator, so I let it go.
You’ve already worked out that there is something of value inside my Jo’s doll, I know you have. The penny dropped for me a few moments after the loose-lipped mailroom boy finished talking.
Whatever it is it can stay where it is.
“Hi daddy, I haven’t seen you for two years. Why are you dismembering my doll?”
I don’t think so.
Not having that conversation, and no, my very young daughter doesn’t usually use words like dismembering — but you knew that too, didn’t you?

Siren

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 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

Snippets

Audrey



“No, no,” cried Audrey. “I don’t want to hear any more.”

I get the feeling that Harry has decided to sell the cafe and move back East. Audrey’s family live here and the bonds are tight.
But that’s Harry. Ever since he got out of the army he’s had itchy feet. Audrey believed that buying the cafe with his army pay would settle him down. He took to the routine of life for a while, but then he got to staring out of the window instead of serving customers.
Harry is famous for his scrambled eggs. He guards the recipe and will not reveal his secret. 
Lately, his scrambled eggs are not up to standard — people who have travelled a distance have complained.
“We came all the way from Fuckyou Idaho, just to taste your eggs and they taste like anyone else’s’ eggs. We are typical annoying Americans and we want our money back.”
Harry always gave them their money back — I wouldn’t. Fuck ’em and the Buick they rode in on, but then again, I’m not Harry — he’s a nice bloke and I’ll miss him and his scrambled eggs.

1958 illustration by Harry Hants.

Imperfections


Helen is aware of his imperfections. He tends to snore, but a good poke in the ribs remedies the situation. He fumbles for his wallet and can never remember which pocket it is in — even though it is carried in the same pocket every time. He falls asleep at importune moments, and he loves hot dogs. All these things are overlooked because he loves her and there is no other. He notices the pretty little things, of course, but in the same way that any lover of beauty consumes the wonders of the world. There is no one else for him but her, and she knows it — deep in her heart, and wrapped around her soul.

Artist unknown:

Fall in Love