It’s a mistake to underestimate the quiet old bloke who lives next door, and an even bigger mistake to annoy him.
An AUDIOBOOK story from SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES TOO.
Illustration: Haddon Sunblom
Back in the day, my hair was longer, and my sheets were whiter.
These days, my hair is cut to a manageable length, and my sheets are clean with the brightness consigned to the ‘whatever’ basket.
My son took the photo, which ended up — many years later, as a painting — two stages my son went through and never came out of.
I don’t know what I was thinking when his finger hit the shutter, but it certainly looks like I’m deep in thought. Maybe I was distracted by a far-off clammer. Maybe I was wondering where all the pegs had gone — I still do that today, wonder, and not just about runaway pegs.
There is no date on the photo, but I remember when the painting was done.
From the look of me, the shot must have been taken not long after my son got his camera — the camera was a huge ‘guilt present’, a ‘sure I left you and your mother but this incredible present will distract you for a while before you work out what a crap dad I was’. There was never any ‘spare money’ when my husband was here, but out of the blue, he finds the funds for an SLR, top of the range, too big and too expensive for a boy of eleven. To my son’s credit, he still has that camera, and he never dropped it or otherwise buggered it up. I taught him how to use it, and I didn’t need to repeat an instruction once.
There is another photo floating around of me wrapped up in an identical sheet with two eye holes cut out. The sheet was past its best with tears where my sharp toenails had gone through it. Before the eye holes had appeared the sheet saw valiant service as a fort, strung over two lounge chairs.
I couldn’t swear to it, but it may have been the same sheet that held the telltale stains produced by my husband and his lover — she was shorter than me with a push-up bra (when she was wearing it) and legs that went all the way up to her bum. No one ever said so, but I’m pretty sure she sucked penis like a princess. Come to think of it, I’m sure that’s why that sheet wore out so fast — I must have washed it a hundred times — in a row — with bleach.
The part that really hurt was that he could not be bothered to clean up after himself — thought I was too dumb to notice, or worse still, thought I would assume that the evidence belonged to us — together, us.
I look at the painting, and I can feel the sun on my face and see the reflected glare.
I wonder what happened to those pegs?
Where do pegs go to die?
Is there a place where broken hearts and old pegs are reunited?
I guess not, but I know where old sheets go when they die, they become ghost costumes, which is appropriate I guess — at least in my case.
ARTIST: J T Larson
He had something I wanted — no, scratch that, he had something I needed — desperately.
He’s a bit part player in a much larger story, but he’s getting in my way.
The slow passage of time is a luxury I can ill-afford.
I’ve tried being patient, I’ve tried being obtuse, I’ve tried everything I can think of, and if I had more time, it would be easy, but there’s that word ‘time’ again. To be accurate, I resent spending time on this obstructionist person.
It’s true that he is under no obligation to give me the name, so technically he isn’t annoying, but my patience is spent. I’m stuck until he tells me her name.
I’m not big enough to beat it out of him, and besides, that’s not my style.
Usually, I let my mark relax and sooner or later the truth falls out of them. It’s quite magical at times. I have a theory that everyone wants to give up their secrets — a kind of confession if you will. Those Catholics know their stuff — get it all off your chest, and all will be forgiven.
It’s God that does the forgiving, not me. Me, I listen, and what I hear I pass on and money comes flowing my way.
I’ve always been a good listener. Even when I was a child people told me things.
I remember my mother telling me that she no longer loved my father and that she was going to live with Eric. I was nine. Who tells a nine-year-old such things?
I remember my father telling me that his heart was broken and that I was going to live with my aunt Sally. Who tells a nine-year-old such things?
My aunt Sally was lovely, but I kept waiting for my mum to come and get me. I remember Aunt Sally telling me that she was having sex with the bloke who lives next door.
“Won’t Uncle Bill mind you having sex with the bloke next door?” (I think his name was Eddie, but it could have been Cyril).
“No, he won’t know and what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” said my Aunt Sally adjusting her left breast which seemed to have a life of its own.
“Why are you telling me this Aunt Sally. I’m only eleven after all?”
“I’m not sure. I guess it’s because you seem like someone who one can tell things to.”
I wanted to ask if she expected me to keep her secret, but that didn’t come into it — it was the telling that was the point. She, like everyone else, needs to tell someone. People cannot carry the weight on their own — ‘here, take my pain, help me carry it.’
Who tells things like that to an eleven-year-old girl?
This bloke will tell me the woman’s name eventually. He won’t be able to hold out indefinitely. They always tell me in the end, only this time I have the feeling that it will be too late.
I’m still going to get paid, even if it is too late. There was nothing in my brief about ‘getting the name before the shit hits the fan’, but I was aware of the urgency.
If it goes badly, I take my money and shake it off. The outcome is none of my concern. My job is to get people to tell me things they won’t tell other people, and I do my job very well indeed.
I try not to think about what people do with the information I gather — I’m not sure I want to know.
I have a sense that the woman’s name is on a piece of paper stuffed into the lining of his hat. All I have to do is get him to put the hat down and distract him long enough to have a look, but I would much rather he told me her name. I have my pride and my reputation to think of.
People tell me things, things they don’t want to say.
It’s a skill, a talent and sometimes a curse, but it’s what I do, it’s what makes me unique.
I’m not sure what I’d do if people stopped telling me things — I’m not good for anything else.
So BORIS has an official launch date, December 22nd 2018. This will be the cover for the audiobook and the middle bit is the book cover. It is available now for pre-order.
Boris lives in the KEEPER OF SECRETS universe.
Susan encounters him in the first book of the series and in SECRETS KEPT we get to know a bit more about him.
He is always there when Susan meets with ‘Backdoor Barry’, silently doing his job. Sometimes lipreading the mute old TV set, sometimes tending to his bartender duties. A quiet observer of everything that goes on at the Rising Sun Hotel.
When I finished the second book in this series, I couldn’t help wondering what was happening in Boris’ life when we were not around. Has he been a part of Barry’s adventures? Was he around when that chair acquired its famous bullet hole? Does he have a romantic interest?
As you can see, these questions needed to be answered.
Boris is more than just a bit part player in Susan Smith’s adventurous life — Boris has a life of his own.
DECEMBER 22nd 2018
“I can’t get no sleep”, says the song and I know how it feels.
“Deep in the bosom of the gentle night
Is when I search for the light
Pick up my pen and start to write”
I understand the urge, but this is not how it happens for me, mainly because I’m a stubborn bastard and generally because I can’t see a damn thing without the aid of glasses, and waking up, groping around and putting them on in the wee small hours seems like a lot of bother — so I don’t.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that it’s not the lack of sleep that is the problem, it’s the quality of the slumber that is causing the discomfort.
I get the required number of hours, but at the end, instead of feeling refreshed I feel like I have carried a large person up a steep incline. Sometimes I feel as though I have been fighting and running continuously from the time my head hits the pillow to the time that the fucker with the chainsaw wakes me up (we have a variety of fuckers with chainsaws where I live).
Sleep is, and has been for some time, the final (and often the only) refuge from the pain that the world can inflict — a sanctury of warm embrace.
Part of me knows that it would be better if I woke up — woke everyone up, and wrote, but another part of me just wants to sleep, have fantastical adventures, right wrongs and feel invincible — all things that sleep and dreams can deliver.
Maybe, one night I will try, ‘searching for the light, picking up my pen and write’ but in the meantime, I’m going to pull the covers up tight and do my best to drift off to where there is possibility and that golden light that makes all things bright.
“Can you zip me up please Hon?”
I’m sitting on the bed wrestling with a recalcitrant sock when I hear these familiar words. It promises to be a big night. One of those rare chances to dress up and play. I’m almost dressed, and for once, my beloved is ahead of me.
I abandon the sock and walk almost barefooted to where she is standing. As I get closer to her, her aroma hits me, and my senses are sending signals to a part of me that is likely to do my thinking for me.
I can see her bare back — no bra under this dress on this night — the downy hairs reflect the mellow light from her dressing mirror. I grasp the leaf of the zipper and my fingers touch her skin, ever so gently. I noticed goose bumps forming on her spine, so she is thinking the same thing I am. The zip glides up effortlessly making that familiar sound — something like the sound of delicate material giving way.
I lean in and fill my lungs — her shampoo mixed with perfume and that indefinable personal aroma that lingers on her clothing. I notice it when I’m asked to retrieve a cardigan from the car on unexpectedly cool Autumn days.
Having a woman ask you to zip up her dress is an intimate request. Zipping that dress for her is the most intimate moment between us which does not involve penetration.
We need to be leaving, but all I want to do is reverse the direction of that zipper. She knows it.
“Don’t even think about it, we’ll be late.”
“Too late. I started thinking the moment you asked, and it got more intense the closer I got to you. I’m pretty sure that we could be a little bit late,” I said.
She turned and looked at me.
“As long as we make it for dessert. I’ve been starving myself all day.”
I stared into her eyes, and we both listened to the sound of her zipper descending.
“So, let me get this straight. You didn’t see anything. Two blokes with guns blazing, patrons scattering in all directions, enough blood on the floor to drown a small horse and no bodies.”
“Boris no see nothing.”
“Presumably, the bloke or blokes who were bleeding all over the place just walked out into the carpark and drove themselves home?”
“Maybe Uber pick them up. Boris doesn’t know.”
“Have you ever seen these two gunmen before?”
“Plenty times. They in here a lot.”
“But you don’t know their names?”
“Noone tells Boris anything. Boris serves drinks, goes home watches boring TV and sleeps.”
Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles did not believe Boris, but he wasn’t going to let it spoil his day. One or both of the disputing parties would turn up at the local Emergency Department or in a vacant block. Either way, the forensics team would come up with something and then the fun part would begin.
Taking statements at the Rising Sun Hotel was not part of the fun.
Every local police officer knew this hotel and what went on here. Amazingly, considering the nefarious deeds that were performed here, there were fewer turnouts for drunk and disorderly than most hotels. Generally speaking, this establishment kept a low profile. Small time misdeeds disrupted the smooth flowing of ‘business as usual’. A shooting was particularly rare. None of the oldtimers could remember being called to the Rising Sun for any type of firearms incident.
“Did you have your eyes closed or did you have a lampshade on your head while all this was going on?”
“Boris dived under bar and stayed there until shooting stopped.”
“How did you know when to come out?”
“No more bangs.”
Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles was correct in thinking that Boris was not telling the truth.
Boris Vladim Godunov could trace his ancestry back to the Czar who ruled Russia in the late 1500s. Boris had seen a lot in his forty-odd years of life and two drunk Australians shooting it out over an affair of the heart was a minor occurrence. Boris had dodged many bullets and seen men die. He wasn’t afraid of death, but living made him nervous.
Boris came to Australia as a young man, jumping ship in Melbourne on an Autumn afternoon. He walked into the Seaman’s Mission with the clothes on his back and about two dozen English words he had learned from an older shipmate.
“Melbourne is a long way from Russia. No one will look for you here. You can make a new life for yourself,” said Dimitri in his native tongue. “Go to the Seaman’s Mission and the Universe might be kind to you.”
Dimitri gave Boris directions, and his words were to be accurate because Boris met a group of seamen who told him how to find work and secure a place to sleep.
Boris knew that he had found a home. He worked on his English at nights and looked for work during the day. His search took him to Richmond and the Rising Sun Hotel. It was the first, and the last job he would hold. Boris stopped going to English classes at night not long after he got the job. He knew the English words for beer, whiskey and he knew what ‘bullshit’ meant. The rest he would pick up as he went along. His job did not require a lot of conversation, and he liked that. He was strong enough to evict a drunk and intelligent enough to participate in other activities that came his way — cash in hand, of course — courtesy of the regular patrons who valued a reliable, silent accomplice. Backdoor Barry was a regular source of income for Boris. Backdoor Barry used the Rising Sun as his office and Boris made sure that he was well looked after. Boris made an excellent roast beef sandwich with extra mustard (mild English was Barry’s prefered condiment).
“Boris sorry he no help much.”
“Don’t worry about it Boris, it will all work itself out. Just one thing though. You don’t strike me as the kind of bloke who would duck for cover unless the guns were pointed at you. You strike me as a fearless kind of fucker who would stand there and watch the mayhem unfold without blinking an eye.”
Boris Vladim Godunov didn’t answer, but Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles thought he saw him wink at him. Then again, it might have been conjunctivitis.
Finally, after three years of work, we have a publishing date for SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES TOO — October 24th 2018.
The poster is not the final book cover, but the photo (by my son Matt) will feature prominently. Matt did the photo for the first book in this anthology series, Slightly Spooky Stories in 2015.
The eBook, paperback and audiobook will all be released on the same day.
There are 25 stories and the book is slightly longer than the first book.
Three years in the making. The follow up to the non-award winning SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES is a collection of stories that leave you wondering. A tennis match with a difference, an older man who just wants a bit of quiet time, a business that specialises in retrieving memories, a party game that goes wrong, a visit to the doctor reveals an unusual diagnosis, a young girl and her hero dog, small birds show their appreciation, money attracting money, dodging a bullet, the power of dancing in the dark, the magic of old books, the significance of a red dress, a deadly writers competition and a cop with a long-term plan. Twenty-five stories that will give you goosebumps or have you wondering.
It takes a long time to gather together enough Slightly Spooky Stories to fill a book — more than two years in this case.
I have no control over their appearance — they just appear when they feel like it. Sometimes they come in clumps and other times they pop up infrequently.
I put them into a folder and forget about them. Something made me check the word count and I realised that this second collection was a lot bigger than the first.
SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES has been a moderate success as an eBook, which was disappointing, but it found a new life as soon as I turned it into an audiobook. It consistently fights for the number one spot among my audiobooks (ten now at the time of writing).
I am about two-thirds of the way through recording SSS2 and the ebook is only days away from going up.
I think you are going to enjoy this collection of stories and I know that I have enjoyed recording them.
As often happens when I return to stories I have written a long time ago, I’m amazed that I wrote them. The words sound like mine, but I’m pleasantly surprised to find out what happens! I know that sounds strange, but it happens all the time.
Amazingly, after all this time, I still get a buzz out of writing.