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.

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.”

  

Naked, Brave and Dusty

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Through a dense fog, I hear the splintering of timber. Voices. Male voices.

Something about ‘drifting away’.

I’m being wrapped in a blanket, it’s woollen, I can feel it against my skin. It’s warm.

Strong arms guide me toward my bed. More voices. ‘Cover the mirror’.

Why are these people in my room? What do they want?

I feel very light, and I see myself from a distance. A very comfortable distance.

I’m trying to decide. Do I come back or do I drift away? Drift away seems like an excellent idea.

I’m not asleep, but I’m not awake, either. I’m in that in-between place. It’s beautiful here.

~oOo~

When I awake, a day and a half have passed.

I’m feeling rested, and it’s quiet because almost everyone is off at work.

I take my time and bathe.

I look at myself in the bathroom mirror; I don’t look any different, but I definitely feel different.

I spend the afternoon quietly sitting in the garden listening to the birds and trying to collect my thoughts.

Eventually, my extended family begin returning to our large home.

The house is surprisingly quiet as the women prepare the evening meal.

The men bring in wood for the fire and go about the small tasks that men perform to keep a large house like ours running smoothly. There is very little of the usual chatter, and what conversation there is, is carried out in hushed tones.

It is not spoken, but everyone is thinking the same thing.

What happened, and how will it affect the fortunes of our family?

Even if they did work up the courage to ask, I would not know how to answer.

Quite simply, I don’t remember what happened.

I know that the experience almost cost me my life, and I know that I feel at peace.

Something passed between me and the mirror and even though I don’t know what that ‘something’ is I know that it was good. I know that our family will prosper and I know that I will come to be its leader, in the fullness of time.

Everyone is looking at me in a different way than they did before, and that is as it should be.

How the mirror came into our family and where it came from are two facts that are shrouded in mystery.

My favourite story? That it was enchanted by a gypsy princess.

The princess was captured by angry townsfolk who were upset about a poor crop yield, or something like that, and blamed it on the gypsies.

I guess people have always needed someone to blame.

One of my ancestors, who was a poor but chivalrous young man, rescued the gypsy princess.

She was a bit bruised, battered and dusty, but otherwise unhurt.

She took my young ancestor back to her caravan and gave him a good seeing to, which they both rather enjoyed.

She also gave him the mirror. Her enchantment meant that the mirror would respond favourably to any female member of his family who was beautiful, naked and brave.

I guess I was all of those things.

I know I’m not the same.

I dared to face the mirror, and that sets me apart.

My self-confidence goes all the way down to the tips of my toes.

I’m the same height, but I feel taller.

My thoughts are now full of answers, as well as questions. The future feels bright and full of possibilities.

Sometimes courage is its own reward, and outward beauty has very little to do with it.

I know that my daughters will be vigorous and wise. The experience with the mirror taught me that bravery overcomes all obstacles, but in the end, it is the love that comes from within that holds a family together, no matter how large or small that family might be.

.

.

.

Painting by Alex Alemeny

Pop’s

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Not for the first time, the informant was a no-show.

It happens more often than you think.

In the movies, the detective gets a phone call from someone who won’t give a name, ‘but I got great information for yous’, and the scene cuts to the dark, dangerous meeting place. The informant does, or does not, cough up information in return for a handful of notes or a punch in the stomach — depending on the director and his taste for violence.

In my world, I meet people where I can keep an eye on them, but occasionally I will turn up to a deserted location like the old wharf at South Bank.

It wasn’t the warmest night on record, and I waited a reasonable length of time, but he wasn’t coming. There could be a hundred reasons why he didn’t show, but I was too tired to list them all, and besides, Pop’s doesn’t have paper napkins (it’s not that sort of place) so where would I write them?

Pop’s serves a weird assortment of goods including peanuts and ice cream, which is mostly for the day trade. At this hour of the night, a man was likely to get mugged for ordering ice cream. Beer was the order most heard. There was also whiskey, but I wouldn’t recommend it. None of it had ever seen the shores of Scotland.

The building is small, but there is a small verandah at the back that looks out onto the water. During the day, people tramp up the sandy steps sit and lick ice cream. At this hour of the evening (Pop’s never closes), cigarettes and beer help to accompany the view. You can hear the waves even when the wind is still.

Detective work is a lot like being in the army — moments of terror and excitement punctuated by long stretches of mind-numbing boredom. This was one of the latter.

Something will come along, it always does. The rent has been paid, there’s food in the fridge, and the tank on my Coupe is full. I could use a haircut, but that can wait. I haven’t been shot at for a while, which is good.

“Sorry to disturb you sir, but there is a lady just came in, and she wants to talk to you,” said the barman, leaning out of the door leading to the verandah.

“Why didn’t she come out here?” I said.

“I don’t know mate. Maybe she’s delicate and the evening air would adversely affect her completion. How the fuck would I know.”

The barman disappeared, I stubbed out my cigarette, sculled my beer and put on my hat.

This night was beginning to look up.

Dust Settles In Quiet Places

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The red light on Sam’s answering machine was blinking.

It did that from time to time.

This was the same answering machine that Sam took to the repair shop.

“Gees mate. This thing’s an antique. Must be late 1990s,” said Joe, the repairman behind the counter of the very hard to find electronics repair shop. (Down the alley and ask for Joe).

Joe’s name was embroidered on his shirt. It looked hand done, not by a commercial machine.

“Wife, mother or girlfriend?” said Sam pointing at Joe’s name.

“Me wife. She’s really good at stuff like that.”

“The machine was new in 1994, so technically, it’s early 1990s and as long as you can fix it, it will sail into its fourth decade happily recording political ads, people from another continent pronouncing my name badly while trying to sell me a new telephone/internet/electricity/gas plan, not to mention fake warnings from the Australian Tax Office, and the occasional message from a prospective client,” said Sam.

“You do know that you don’t need an answering machine, don’t you? Your phone company will store your messages for you,” said Joe while peering at the back of the machine.

“Yes, I do. And any bozo with a journalism degree can check my messages for me,” said Sam.

“That shit only happens to famous people. You famous mate?”

“My mother would like to think so,” said Sam.

This conversation continued just long enough for Sam to find out that Joe wasn’t sure how long the repair might take or how much it would cost, but Joe was confident that, “It’d be cheaper if you bought a new one, assuming they still make ‘em.”

Sam got a call about a week later.

“Bugger to find the parts — but I did,” said Joe with the embroidered name.

The price was mentioned, and Sam took a small breath in.

“Can I get back to you. I’ll have to ring my bank manager and arrange a second mortgage,” said Sam.

Joe didn’t flinch. He’d heard all the jokes before, “I don’t think they still have bank managers, Mr Bennett.”

 

The message on Sam’s expertly repaired, analogue answering machine, was from a detective sergeant who owed Sam a favour.

“Bennett. It’s Miller. You remember that naughty person you were trying to pin the Style’s murder on but couldn’t (detective sergeant Miller had been equally unsuccessful, but his tone of voice made it sound like Sam was the only one who fucked up), well he won’t be murdering anyone else. I thought you would like to know. That makes us even Bennett.” Sam’s answering machine announced the time of the recording, which was five hours off because Sam had not gotten around to adjusting its clock.

“That doesn’t get you off the hook, Miller,” said Sam to his answering machine.

A phone call the next morning gave Sam the address where Roman Vigata was shot. A bit of convincing and detective sergeant Miller agreed to meet Sam and tell him what was known about the circumstance of Vigata’s passing.

 

The sky had cleared, but the recent rain made it sticky underfoot.

The shack, with an excellent view across the valley, was up a steep track.

Sam slipped a few times but managed to stay upright. Miller was waiting at the top of the track. He was enjoying watching Sam dodge around rocks and mud.

“Who the fuck lives all the way out here?” said Sam.

“Roman Vigata’s father. It turns out that this is where he would head to whenever things got warm.”

This answered a lot of questions.

Sam had explored the ‘relatives’ angle, but there was no sign of a father.

Roman Vigata senior was pretty much ‘off the grid’. His phone was a ‘pay as you go’, he used gas bottles from a service station, kerosene from the hardware store, wood from the forest, paid cash for groceries. None of these activities left a footprint. Even the local council had his land listed under a company name.

Vigata senior did not want to be known.

“Who was after Vigata this time?” said Sam.

“Apparently, he’d upset his associates. Hand in the till, that sort of thing.”

“They don’t take kindly to that, but he has been a good soldier for that crew, so why come after him now?”

“Who knows and who cares. They got him, that’s all that matters, and no innocent bystanders got hurt. The press is less likely to get worked up when these half-wits kill each other without collateral damage.”

 

The cabin had not been dusted since before the Tasmanian Tiger went extinct, but serenity and solitude sometimes come with dust.

“Wind up radio,” said Sam as Miller showed him through the three-room shack.

“So what?” said Miller.

“No reason. I’ve always wanted one of those. Wind up torch as well.” Sam wound the handle to the accompanying whirring sound.

“Forgot to pay the electricity bill, Bennett?”

“People talk about ‘living off the grid’, but this bloke did it. Imagine not having a refrigerator, not having electric light or the internet.”

The kitchen table looked handmade, and the two chairs were old and didn’t match. There was a well worn three-seater couch against the wall with a blanket thrown over it.

“Hard rubbish collection,” said Sam scanning the furniture.

Miller couldn’t be bothered asking what he was on about. He wanted this walk-through to be over. He had things to do, but not being beholden to Sam Bennett was worth the discomfort.

There was a dried bloodstain on the table — soaked into the grain.

“Whoever did him in stood behind him and pulled the trigger. Execution.”

“Did you find the gun?” said Sam. “Nuh,” said Miller.

“What about his gun? This bloke was on the run from some nasty people. He definitely had a gun.”

“Not that we found.”

Sam looked at the bathroom, which didn’t have a bath and the bedroom, which had not been slept in.

In the main room, the kitchen area was reasonably tidy, and the open fireplace had ashes but no heat.

“Have you tracked down the father?”

“Not yet, but he’ll turn up. Probably ran away after his son got shot. No body in the area and no blood traces, so he got away clean,” said Miller.

“Have you seen enough, Bennett? I have to go.”

“I think I’ll hang around for a while,” said Sam.

“You’ll be here on your own. I’m pulling the constable out.”

Sam stood at the door of the cabin and watched the police walk away. He walked down the track and retrieved a large flashlight and a chocolate bar from his glovebox. His Jag held all sorts of things that ‘might come in handy’. Sam’s car was far enough away from the house that anyone who was interested would not necessarily associate it with the cabin, even if they knew it was there.

 

With about an hour till darkness, Sam resisted the urge to light the fire or the kerosene lamp.

Before the light was gone, Sam searched the tiny residence again. He put his hand up the chimney and felt the years of accumulated soot. To the right, the residue had been scraped away, and a revolver had been taped to the brickwork. Sam remembered the roll of industrial-strength tape that was in the drawer of the kitchen cupboard.

Sam removed it and checked the chambers. One bullet had been fired. He taped the gun back into its hiding place and waited.

Sam had been asleep in the comfort and warmth of the large single bed when he became aware of a man standing in the doorway.

Sam shone the powerful torchlight onto the stranger, who held up his hand to shade his eyes.

“Mister Vigata?” said Sam.

“You’re hurting my eyes,” said the man.

The man’s hands seemed to be empty and Sam, who was good at reading people, decreed that he wasn’t a threat.

“Go back into the kitchen, and we can talk,” said Sam.

After lighting the lamp, the two men sat at the table and stared at each other.

“You’re Roman’s father. You’ve been hiding him.”

The old man shrugged.

“People said bad things about my son, but I never believed them. I had to protect him. I know he was not an honest man, but I believed he never hurt innocent people,” said the old man who’s head was almost resting on the table.

“I was hunting for your son a few years ago. I guess you were hiding him then?” said Sam and the old man shrugged. “I tried to protect him. I believed he was a good man at heart, but after all this time he boasted of the men he had killed, ‘I’ve even killed women and a ten-year-old boy’. He was sneering at me. Waving his gun around. Drunk, but not sorry. Boasting. Jeering. He said I had wasted my life, and he had taken anything he wanted. He killed a child. My son killed a child!”

“So you put him down?”

“When a dog goes crazy, you put it down. For its sake and for everyone else’s. He fell asleep on the couch where he slept when he came here. I knew he kept his gun under the pillow. I was hoping that he would be sad and sorry when he woke up. In the morning, I walked to the general store — he was still sleeping. When I came back, he was sitting at the table, eating cereal. He wasn’t sorry. He wasn’t sad, and he wasn’t the boy I remembered. He was a violent man I didn’t recognise. I took out his gun and did what I did,” said the old man.

“The police think that his associates caught up with him, but I couldn’t see him sitting still while one of them walked around behind him and pulled the trigger. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. If we knew we were going to die anyway, we would lunge at the guns, run for the door, anything — anything other than sit there and take it,” said Sam.

Sam thought the old man may have passed out from the grief and realisation of it all when the man jumped up from his chair and dived into the fireplace and produced the revolver.

“I don’t know your name, and I don’t have anything left to lose.”

Sam could feel the weight of his gun in its shoulder holster. He weighed up his options.

“I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if I have to. If you’re the bloke I think you are, you’ll get out of my cabin and close the door behind you,” said the old man and Sam looked at the hole at the end of the barrel.

Sam moved his hands away from his sides and stood up very slowly. After all his adventures and near misses, she didn’t want to explain to St Peter that he died at the hands of a grief-stricken old man.

Sam closed the door behind him and walked down the steps.

The gunshot momentarily lit up the inside of the cabin.

Sam’s walk back to his car was slippery, dark and dangerous.

When he reached the Jag, he climbed behind the wheel and dialled his phone.

“Miller. Bennett. I found Vigata’s father. He’s at the cabin. He isn’t going anywhere.”

Sam didn’t wait for Miller to unleash his avalanche of questions. 

It was late, he was cold, and it was a long drive.

The Smoking Man

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A collection of cigarette butts caught Sam’s eye when he walked out of his front gate to catch a tram to the city.

If he had been driving, he would have missed them.

A tight grouping directly under the tree. 

When they moved into their substantial residence — built by a rich bloke back in the 1970s, they decided to increase the width of their driveway. The aforementioned rich bloke had knocked down several houses and plonked his creation right in the middle of the now considerable grounds, all to impress his new bride.

It didn’t work, and he sold the house soon after.

Several owners later and Scarlett decided that this was to be their home.

Big houses were out of place in this neighbourhood, but it did have the benefit of being in the community where Sam grew up.

New electronic gates, with a pedestrian gate at the side (Sam was the only person who moved through it), were installed. The driveway brushed dangerously close to the sixty-year-old street tree. There was some discussion about whether the council would allow them to excavate so close to the tree.

These days the tree seemed happy enough, and if you stood under it — as someone obviously had, you would have a sweeping view up the paved driveway to the entrance of the house.

 

“What’s happening today, Sam?”

Scarlett was being considerate — showing some interest.

Since the accident, Sam’s world had become considerably smaller.

Blood, crushed metal, a rapid ride in an ambulance, followed by a frantic time in the emergency room.

“We have to relieve the pressure on his brain.”

What if we don’t, thought Scarlett.

A boring stay in a hospital room with an interesting view, followed by a stay in a rehabilitation facility. Sam made lifelong friends on that ward, but now he was home doing his best to regain lost memories.

“Your memories will come back slowly, or they may all come back at once, it’s hard to know,” said a kind face in a white lab coat.

 

“I have an appointment with Dr Doug at four, but not much till then,” said Sam.

“How’s it all going? The memory stuff, I mean?”

“Slowly. Dr Doug seems happy, but he would be, at five hundred dollars an hour.”

“Is that fair, Sam? Dr Doug has an excellent reputation for such a young psychiatrist. I liked him when I spoke to him. I think he has your best interests at heart. Give him a chance.”

Scarlett found Dr Doug and gently encouraged Sam to go and see him. Sam was prepared to be unimpressed, but the two of them got along. Dr Doug dealt in dreams and Sam had vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams, which he wrote down in great detail — a match made somewhere near heaven.

“I might go in early and wander around the city for a bit, or I might not and have a nap instead. I was up very early this morning. Which reminds me; you get up very early during the week. Have you noticed an older man standing outside our front gates?”

Scarlett ran her late father’s business empire, and she took it all seriously, arriving before anyone else.

“Not standing, but I have noticed an older man walking his dog. Between five-thirty and six each morning. Usually smoking a cigarette.”

“He could be the one,” said Sam.

“Why do you ask?” said Scarlett.

“I’m not sure. It just seems strange. I’ve seen him standing on the grass under the tree and staring at our house. He stands there looking like he is trying to make up his mind — ring the bell or not, then he walks off, dog in tow.”

“Do you think we need to be worried?” 

It was evident from the size of their property that the Bennett’s were wealthy. Big money attracts some who might want to lighten their load.

“No. No need to worry,” said Sam.

 

The next morning, Sam was staring out of their first-floor bedroom window when the older man drifted into view. His dog stopped as though he knew in advance that they would be there for a while. The older man dropped his cigarette on the ground, stepped on it and lit up a new one, all the while leaning on the trunk of the tree.

Despite the distance to their front gate, Sam could see the man clearly.

This routine went on for several weeks before stopping abruptly.

Sam missed seeing the man and his dog. There was something comforting about their appearance at the appointed time. They had been coming for so many days that the little dog now walked to the tree and lay down, making itself comfortable, knowing there was going to be a long wait.

“The old man and his dog have stopped standing out the front,” said Sam over toast and coffee.

“Did you ever find out who he was?” asked Scarlett.

“No, and now I miss him.”

Sam retired from detecting when he married Scarlett, but this seemed like a good time to come out of retirement.

On his next walk to the tram, Sam knocked on a few doors. Mostly his knocking was met by silence until the retired couple who lived a few doors down opened their door.

“I think you are referring to Judge Nardella. He’s been retired for a long time now, and I sometimes talk to him on his early morning walks,” said Mr Wilson,  (call me Ted).

“Neither of us sleeps very well, but Ted is worse than I am,” said Mrs Wilson, (call me Beryl).

“He was a big deal in his day. Sat in judgement on some high profile cases. Put Enselmo away for life. Lives in that big house up on Oakover Road. The red brick one with all the roses.”

“I know the woman who cleans his house, and she says that his house is full of boxes and filing cabinets. All his old court cases, apparently. Spent a fortune having them photocopied when he retired. She says he reads through his old cases looking for something,” said Mrs Wilson.

“Does she know what he’s looking for?” asked Sam.

“No. She doesn’t know, and she’s not game to ask.”

Sam finished his second cup of tea and wondered if he would make it into the city before he had to answer the call of nature — he didn’t. A stop at the Edinborough Garden was necessary.

His relief break made him slightly late for his session with Dr Doug, but he had a story to tell.

“So, what do you plan to do, Sam?” said Dr Doug.

“Investigate,” said Sam.

 

Another day went by before Sam walked the short distance to the judge’s house. Sam liked to let ideas percolate before taking action.

The front door was at the top of a few brick steps. Next to the door was an old pull handle doorbell. It was connected to a cable that rang a bell in the kitchen. The house was built at the same time as wealthy families had electricity installed, but some old building habits died hard.

The bell still worked. Sam could feel the resistance as he pulled on it and felt it settle back into position.

Sam was about to give it another pull when he heard the bolt on the front door unlock, and an elderly man opened the door.

The judge stood at Sam’s height. Grey thinning hair roughly combed and a gentle but determined face.

There was a moment’s silence after which the judge said, “Mr Bennett. I suppose you are wondering why I stand outside your house?”

“Good afternoon, judge. You come right to the point. Do you have a few moments?”

“No, I don’t, but if you are free tomorrow afternoon, about three, I would be delighted to serve you tea and cake. My housekeeper isn’t here today. She makes excellent teacake.”

“I’ll be here,” said Sam. He was disappointed, but he was also patient. His mentor had taught him that patience was essential. “Let the world come to you. Don’t push it away in your haste.”

 

Sam heard Scarlett’s car come up the long drive. He heard her thank her driver — she always did that, Scarlett treated everyone with respect.

The front door opened and Scarlett put her handbag on the hall table and her briefcase, a present from Sam, on the marble floor. She came into the old servant’s kitchen (Sam loved this room — a bit worn and very cosy — he wouldn’t let Scarlett redecorate it).

Sam had lit the fire, and a snack was waiting for her.

“Your coffee will be ready in just a moment.”

The coffee machine whirred happily on the bench.

“How did your day go?” said Sam, who desperately wanted to tell Scarlett about his adventure.

“Meetings all day. The glassworks expansion is going well, or so I’m told.”

“I love glass,” said Sam, for no particular reason.

“Are you okay, Sam. You’ve never professed a love for glass before, and it’s freaking me out.”

Sam laughed.

“I’m trying to be supportive. I read an article that said a wife should show interest in her husband’s work as soon as he gets home.”

“Now I’m really starting to worry.”

Sam laughed.

“I REALLY want you to ask me how my day went.”

It had been a long time since Sam had anything interesting to say when Scarlett came home.

“Okay. I’ll bite,” said Scarlett and Sam poured her coffee. The snacks looked good — she had skipped lunch again.

“Well,” said Sam making himself comfortable on a barstool.

 

“Don’t eat too much cake and no making eyes at his housekeeper,” said Scarlett before kissing Sam on the cheek. “I should be home on time. I can’t wait to hear about your meeting.”

The front door closed, and her car drove off. Now Sam was stuck with the task of filling in the hours till three.

He chopped some wood, mowed the back lawns — the front ones could wait a few days, walked the dogs and read the paper. Still three hours to go.

Sam’s physical condition was steadily improving, but an early afternoon nap was needed most days. This took him up to two-thirty. He showered and dressed and walked the distance to the judge’s house. His dogs were disappointed at not being invited.

“Maybe next time,” said Sam as he closed his front door.

 

The judge was waiting at the open door as Sam climbed the steps.

“Can I ring your doorbell, just for the fun of it?” asked Sam.

The judge nodded without expression.

With the door open, Sam could hear the bell ring deep within the house. It was satisfying.

The judge ushered Sam into the large front room. High ceilings, thick curtains, and lush furniture covered in boxes. Boxes covered most of the parquetry floor and oozed out through the connecting door into another room.

Two comfortable looking armchairs had been released from box covering duties, and Sam chose the one with its back to the window. The two men settled into their chairs as tea and cake magically appeared.

The judge’s housekeeper was modestly dressed, barely concealing her fifty-odd years. Sam tried to smile at her, but she avoided his gaze.

The judge poured from a china teapot. The tea was hot, and the cake left crumbs on Sam’s shirtfront. He tried to flick them onto his other hand and deposit them onto his plate with only moderate success.

Other than to compliment the judge on his teacake, Sam kept silent.

“In your career, have you ever caught someone who turned out to be innocent?” said former judge Nardella.

“Not that I know of,” said Sam.

“What would you do if you had?”

A moment of silence.

“Do my best to rectify the situation,” said Sam.

Another moment of silence.

“If you don’t mind me asking, are these, in the boxes, your old cases?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you have them here?”

“I’m reading through them — looking.”

“For what, judge?”

“My mistake. I know it’s in here — somewhere.”

“I’m sure, with your reputation, the courts would dig out any file you asked for. What is the name of the defendant?”

“I don’t know which defendant it was,” said the judge. He stared at the boxes, and for a moment, Sam thought he had lost his attention.

“You don’t have to answer judge, but are you a religious man?”

“Yes. Catholic. Devout.”

“I don’t want to sound rude judge, but I strongly suggest that you stop torturing yourself.”

“I stood outside your house because I wanted to ask you what you would do. You are known as an honest, brave and principled individual. I couldn’t get up the courage to ask you, but here you are, and you have given me your answer.”

The judge went back to staring at his boxes, piled so high that Sam feared for the judge’s safety.

The dusty smell that only librarians and archivists know filled Sam’s nostrils as he said his goodbyes. The housekeeper showed him to the door.

“Your employer is not a well man,” said Sam.

“I know, but he doesn’t listen to me. Thank you for coming Mr Bennett.”

Sam’s walk home was considerably slower than his journey to the judge’s residence.

 

Scarlett was home very late despite her assurance. She crept into the bedroom so as not to wake her Sam.

“There’s a plate in the fridge. I can heat it up for you,” said Sam in a muffled voice from under the covers.”

 “No need. I ate at the office. Someone Ubered Italian food. So how did your afternoon tea go?”

“I’ll tell you about it in the morning, but the headline reads, sad afternoon had by formerly famous detective.”

“Oh,” said Scarlett as she slipped into bed next to her Sam. She snuggled up to him feeling his warmth and smelling his aroma. She put her hand on his bottom.

“So, that’s how it is,” said Sam.

 

A little over three months later, a package arrived for Sam.

“Sign here please, sir,” said the thirty-something-year-old delivery driver. “Love your house. Felt like I needed a passport to get through the gate.”

Sam’s dogs were getting curious, trying to push past him to get at the delivery driver. In their experience, delivery drivers had a plethora of interesting scents to investigate.

Sam gave the young bloke a smile and carried the package into the small kitchen. It sat on the old bench like a suspicious package in the suspense movie.

The dogs looked at Sam for direction.

“I guess I should see what’s in it.” A thought crossed his mind, should I put it in a bucket of water first?

The thought passed quickly.

The package put up a bit of a fight. Finally open, there was a thick file with a person’s name on it. The folder was tattered and worn, and the name was written in an unsteady hand. Apart from the file, there was a letter.

Dear Mr Bennett.

I found what I was looking for.

After you have read the file, I give you my permission to do with it what you will. The man died in prison after his first three years of a life sentence, so I cannot put this right. Maybe, by shedding light on my foul deed, his family can have some peace. I am in no way defending myself, but at the time, I was distracted by domestic issues. I missed the clues because I was wrapped up in my own worries. I should have directed the jury to acquit, but I was selfish and self-absorbed. I hope my God will forgive me. My life will be over by the time you read this, and I’m wondering if my God will forgive my early arrival.

Thank you for listening to me. You are a good man.

Yours sincerely,

John Nardella

The obituaries listed the death of former Judge Nardella and you had to read very carefully, between the lines, to decern that the good judge had taken his own life. The article listed his considerable achievements.

The man deserved his rest.

When Scarlett had gone to work, Sam walked to the far corner of his backyard. The dogs followed him and sniffed as he dug a large hole.

He placed the unopened file in the hole and poured kerosene on it, lit it and added more fuel until it was reduced to ashes. The dogs watched as he pocked the ashes and added more fuel, lit it again and watched it burn.

The dogs got bored and fell asleep on the lush grass as finally satisfied that the file was destroyed, Sam filled in the hole and walked back to his house.

For What Seemed Like Forever

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“Charlie Varick? I’ve been working for him for about four years, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

The question came out of nowhere, and it really pissed me off. It’s a job, what difference does it make? When I go home, I leave work at work.

“What difference does it make? He’s a fucking private eye, and he uses you as a decoy.”

“I’m his secretary, and the decoy stuff only happens every now and then. Mostly, it isn’t dangerous, and mostly I answer the phones and make appointments. Of course, there is coffee and dry cleaning, but mostly it’s answering phones.”

My parents were in town for a couple of days, and I was glad to see them; well ‘glad’ is probably too strong a word, but it was good to see them. Parents should be kept at a distance that is directionally proportional to the amount of shit they put you through as a kid. Mine weren’t that bad but using this formula they should be at least 427 kilometres away at all times.

I’m 26 years old, gorgeous and leggy with long black wavy hair that men hold on to when they are making love to me. Not that there are that many of them.

I like men, just in small doses.

Not small in the way you are thinking, just small in the sense of time I have to spend in close proximity. Charlie’s different, but he is old, at least 47 years old, and he is taken, but he treats me like I’m someone. Like I count in the grand scheme of things. I guess he is so relaxed because he is old, and old people don’t worry so much about stuff.

My dad was wound up, but I know it was my mum who put him up to it.

“We just want you to be safe; safe and happy. That’s all your mother, and I have ever wanted.”

“I know dad.” Things seemed to be calming down now that the shouting had stopped.

It was still early. Hotel restaurants tend to wind down around 9:30 pm, and it was now way past that, so we had the room to ourselves except for the girl at the bar and the waiter who was doing a little shuffle that was Morse code for ‘they don’t pay me past 10:00 pm even if you are still here drinking coffee, and I have a home to go to, and my dog misses me’.

It was a complicated dance.

My father, mother and I talked about nothing for another fifteen minutes before my dad signed the bill, and they went up to their room. I stood and watched as they walked up the staircase. My mother clung to the handrail as though it was saving her from a sinking ship. My dad negotiated the stairs easily enough because he never used elevators unless he absolutely had to.

I asked him about it once, and he said that it was his small concession to keeping fit, but I think it had more to do with the stories that his father brought home.

 

 His dad was a fireman, and he would be called out to rescue cats and people, and sometimes he was expected to free individuals who had been trapped — sometimes these people had been stuck in elevators, and he delighted in terrifying his children with stories of people who had gone insane after being stuck in an elevator for six hours.

“One bloke tried to chew his arm off, which seemed pointless to me. It wasn’t as though they had him in handcuffs — he was trapped in a lift for fuck sake. Now if he had tried to eat through the door, that I could understand, but his arm — that’s just nuts.”

I sat on the overstuffed couch in the hotel’s foyer and tried to collect my thoughts.

I still had half an hour before I was to meet Charlie at Bar Alfredo on Little Collins Street. I walked the short distance up Collins and turned left onto Exhibition. Little Collins was the first on the left, and the bar was about two hundred metres down.

This end of the street had been disrupted by building activities for nearly two years, which made it difficult to negotiate on foot, or by car. The street was already very narrow, and its name gave a hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the more significant and grander edifices on Collins Street. Deliveries would be made, and tradesmen would be admitted.

It was best to keep the grubby people out of sight.

These days the ‘Little’ streets were home to trendy bars and eateries as well as exclusive apartments and the occasional clothing shop.

The footpath on both sides is extremely narrow, and I was forced to step out onto the road to let a large, rude man pass by. He looked vaguely familiar until I remembered I had not seen him before — he was exactly how Charlie had described the man I was supposed to ‘distract’.

 “He’s big, about 40 years old, always wears a dark suit with a red handkerchief in his top pocket, and he smells like lemons. He will be sitting at the bar because he always sits at the bar. Third stool from the far end as you come in the front door.”

I had the feeling that these instructions and this description were going to go to waste.

To get to Bar Alfredo, I first had to walk past a narrow laneway and at this time of night, the laneway was in complete darkness. Being a female living in a big city, I avoided dark laneways because I wanted to go on ‘living in the big city’.

As I looked into the darkness, I saw Charlie lying in a pool of his own blood.

I say ‘saw’, but that’s not what I mean. I didn’t see him with my eyes; I saw him in a vision. The dark laneway was like a giant projector screen, and on it, I saw Charlie’s exact location, as though it were daylight.

I used my phone to light the way to the spot that I knew Charlie would be lying. He was behind some boxes with a single knife wound in the middle of his chest.

I would love to say that he lived long enough to look into my eyes and tell me who had killed him. I would like to tell you what his last words were and that he had smiled before he died, but I can’t.

He was gone by the time I got to him — warm but gone.

I sat next to him for what seemed like forever and thought about my life and wondered what Charlie thought when the large man in the dark suit took his life. I wondered what my life was going to be like from now on. I wondered if my mum and dad had gone to sleep yet.

I don’t remember ringing anyone, but I must have because an ambulance arrived closely followed by the police.

The weather was warm, so why there was so much fog? And why did my voice sound funny, and why was the police officer mumbling?

When I came to, I was sitting on the back step of an ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted him to give me a break.

“Give her a minute mate; she’s had a rough night.”

The policeman ignored the world-weary ambulance driver. The brash young policeman considered civilians to be annoying. They kept passing out or screaming or generally being uncooperative. He just wanted to get a statement so he could get back on patrol. The homicide detectives would be along very soon, and they would shoo him away like an unwanted blow-fly.

“Miss? Miss? How did you know he was in that alley? Did you hear something? Did you see anyone come out of the alley?”

I was trying to decide which question to answer first when it occurred to me that this was all very strange.

“I had a vision, which was weird. I don’t normally get visions at night-time. I always get my visions in the morning.”

The police officer stopped asking me questions after that, and he and the ambo were looking at each other with the strangest expression on their faces. I don’t think that they believed me, and I wanted them too. This was a first for me.

A pair of plain-clothed detectives arrived and scooped me up heading me towards their car, but before I got in, I gave it one last try to convince my interrogator.

“I really did see him lying there, in the dark, which was weird. I always get my visions in the morning.”

New Book: PERIPETEIA, October 31st

The police officer knocked gently on Madame Olga’s front door.

“What can I do for you, young man?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you Madame Olga, but there’s been a complaint about the elixir you sell at the local market. I’ve been sent to ask you if we could have a sample for analysis?”

This wasn’t the first time Madame Olga had received such a request.

“Come in. Sit. Rest your feet. I get bottle and give to you.”

Proper procedure would have been for Senior Constable Wilson to select a sample at random from Madame Olga’s stock and if asked, that is what he would say he did. Wilson wanted this to go as smoothly as possible. He did not want to upset this old lady any more than was necessary.

Olga returned with a small clear glass jar containing an opaque substance. The jar had a golden lid. When Wilson twisted the cap, a waft of menthol filled the air.

“You dip toothpick in and what sticks you rub on back of hand,” said Madame Olga producing a wooden toothpick from out of nowhere.

“That won’t be necessary. I just have to hand it in to forensics, and if there isn’t anything illegal in here, you won’t have anything to worry about,” said Senior Constable Wilson.

“I make you tea and bring you biscuits. I make them myself?”

Senior Constable Wilson’s partner, PC Billy Pepper looked pleadingly at his superior.

After a pause, Wilson said, “That would be lovely,” and they made themselves comfortable on Madame Olga’s old couch.

After two cups of tea and several biscuits (which were just as tasty as you would expect), the two officers made their leave and headed for their car. They noticed the gentleman next door watching them as they left.

“Do you want to give it a try, Senior,” said Pepper, “you know the boys at the lab will have a go.”

Senior Constable Wilson had heard about the effects of Madame Olga’s elixir.

“Why do you think she calls it Peripeteia?” said Pepper.

“Probably named after a gypsy king or something,” said Wilson, unscrewing the lid. He pulled the top off his pen and delicately dipped the tip in the mixture. He rubbed it on the back of his hand and sat waiting for a reaction.

Madame Olga’s next-door neighbour, Tony, noted that the police car stayed parked outside her house for almost an hour.

What he didn’t witness was the journey that Senior Constable Wilson was taking while being strapped securely into the driver’s seat of the stationary police car.

A FEW DAYS LATER.

“How did you get on with the cops?” said Tony, who was pulling out a piece of greenery from his front lawn. Tony doesn’t like things to be in the wrong place and on this morning, he took a dislike to a dandelion that had the cheek to grow in his lawn without an invitation.

Olga bent forward to see if the postman had left her any letters. She heard his noisy motorbike a bit earlier, and it sounded like he had stopped at her gate.

“They took away a sample of my elixir, apologising a lot, saying that some person thought I was selling LSD. I told them I don’t know what that is — which is not true, I do know,” said Olga holding back a chuckle.

“They haven’t taken you away in chains, so I guess they didn’t find anything?” said Tony.

“A nice cop phone me, say that it only Vicks and mint and something else they don’t know what, but definitely not illegal,” said Olga with a sense of satisfaction.

“So that’s it then. Did you find out who dobbed you in?”

“No, but nice cop said he wants a jar and could he have a few jars for the forensic staff and I said yes, I give them a special price and they are very happy.”

 

Untitled 15

What if it was possible for you to see into your future? What if it was not as simple as seeing? What if you had to choose between a series of possible futures? Would you? Would you want To? How would you deal with all the possible consequences? Madame Olga could help you. That is if you can find her.

PERIPETEIA

a very long short story

Pre-order now for release on October 31st 2019

 

audiobook

https://bookmate.com/audiobooks/pb6IdLbx

https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/peripeteia/401416

https://books.apple.com/us/audiobook/peripeteia/id1483876758