“The hardest thing in the world to keep is a secret.
No matter how hard you try, someone always finds out.
Even the best-kept secrets are eventually exposed to the light of day.”
The dust from the yellowing pages was irritating my eyes.
The writer was a shadowy figure in my life.
I met her a few times, but she was ancient and small children were of little interest to her; who could blame her.
When she died, I was ‘too young to go to the funeral’. Not that I threw a tantrum or anything, but I was curious.
She was the first person to die during my brief existence.
When you are a kid, old people are like creatures from another planet. So far removed from your world as to seem genuinely alien.
There are exceptions of course.
If you’re lucky enough to have grandparents, you’ll know what I mean.
Mine were either too old, too far away, or too dead to play a role in my life.
I’ve heard friends talk about their grandmother as being the one person they could say anything to.
It’s good to have someone who will keep your secrets.
Grandparents don’t feel responsible in the same way that parents do, so they tend to relax. They have been there and seen it all happen. They come at each problem with a calmness that young people react to.
I yearn to say that that’s how it was with Daisy, but it wasn’t.
You notice that I didn’t say ‘grandma’ Daisy.
That’s because my mother always referred to her mother as Daisy.
From reading through these old notebooks and loose pages, I’ve discovered that Daisy liked me, although why she should, I have no idea. I was barely aware of her existence, and I don’t ever remember having a conversation with her, although I must have because she quotes me here in her beautiful handwriting.
“The little one asked me what I was looking at. Both hands on her hips and a defiant look in her eyes. It was all I could do to contain my smile. This little one is going to make her mark in the world.”
‘This little one’, that was me, way back then. I must’ve been about six years old. That was the last time I saw her.
Naturally, I wanted to find more references to me in this box of handwritten memories, but there were precious few references to me.
I discovered the old wooden trunk in the mid-morning, and I sat in the attic and read until it got dark. Time went by in a flash, but that was what these papers were about; time.
Daisy was a spy.
She didn’t set out to be a spy it just worked out that way. Her world dipped headlong into a deadly conflict and her young self-decided that she had to do her bit. She thought she would be shuffling papers in some anonymous war office, but doors opened quickly for Daisy, and she found herself being trained to work behind enemy lines. The theory in those days was that the enemy was less likely to suspect a woman of being a spy. With what I know of the history of warfare, this was a stunning underestimation. Famous female spies go back as far as anyone can remember. So why did these bozos think that females would be safe behind enemy lines?
From her notes, I read that some Daisy’s friends lost their lives. Many because they were betrayed.
Students of warfare know that spies and codebreakers win wars, whereas everyone else thinks that guns and tanks are the only things that matter.
Secrets are one thing, and their procurement was a dangerous business. But the secret alone was useless unless it could be conveyed to those who could use the information.
Codes could be broken and often were.
Both sides went to enormous ends to safeguard their secrets.
Mathematicians were in high demand.
Knowing that any code could be broken at any moment must have made these agents very nervous.
The only unbreakable code was referred to as a book code.
But, carrying around a particular book could be dangerous in itself, particularly if other agents had been captured carrying the same book.
From what I was reading, Daisy had developed her system, but for the life of me, I didn’t understand how it worked.
She seemed to be referring to some person as, “The keeper of secrets”.
It was now very dark, and I was hungry.
Daisy’s trunk full of secrets would have to wait until tomorrow.
My family were more than a little annoyed when I go home because there was no food on the table.
I suggested that there were matches on the stove and that the top drawer held a can opener.
My suggestions were not well received.
I didn’t sleep very well that night, and the next morning after I had bundled everyone out the door with their tummies full of warm breakfast, [it seemed the least I could do after the previous night’s lack of dinner] I got in my car and drove around to my mother’s empty house.
This time, I was a little better prepared. I brought coffee, sandwiches and eyedrops.
Daisy’s papers held countless references to the mysterious, ‘keeper of secrets’, but by mid-afternoon, I was no closer to finding out who this person was.
Daisy wasn’t just a good spy she was a heck of a good writer as well. I was quickly transported into her wartime world, and I could feel the fear and excitement that she felt. She would’ve been very young and probably quite pretty, but inexplicably, my family did not have any photographs of her from this time in her life, so I’m only guessing. She did mention several times that she was able to achieve her objectives because of the effect she had on men, so ‘pretty’ seemed like a good bet.
There were many references to a rag doll which was sent back and forth from occupied France. I jumped to the conclusion that messages were concealed within the doll, but this was never spelt out. That doll must’ve racked up some serious miles. I hope it didn’t get airsick, or seasick for that matter, as there were references to the doll being smuggled out on fishing boats as well as being collected by daredevil pilots landing in open fields on moonless nights.
I wondered what had happened to this doll after the war.
If it had been me, I would have kept it as a reminder of my adventures.
I headed home at a reasonable hour and while I was chopping up vegetables and preparing the dinner my mind was imagining a young woman taking her life in her hands on a daily basis. I wondered how she managed to assimilate back into civilian life. Did she find housework as boring as I do?
The notebooks I was reading talked mostly about this exciting part of her life.
Maybe there were other notebooks that talked about the struggles of her post-war life, but they were not in this old wooden trunk.
If my mother had been alive, I would’ve asked her, but my only link with that time was now gone.
Maybe they were up there somewhere talking about times gone by.
Being a mother myself I wondered how Daisy’s mum felt about this young girl being so close to danger. Something told me that Daisy’s mum did not know what she was up to, which was probably just as well.
The next day when I had returned to my mother’s attic, I continue to read Daisy’s wartime journals, but something else was nagging at me and distracting me from my task.
Finally, I put the journals to one side and began going through the other boxes that were stored in this dusty old attic.
This task was made more difficult because my mother never labelled anything.
It was always a voyage of discovery going throughout our pantry and refrigerator when my brother and I were young, because you never knew what was in the jar, or can, or bottle.
It’s amazing that we didn’t poison ourselves.
The first few boxes were full of children’s toys and clothing, some of which were mine and some of which belong to my brother.
Eventually, I found a box that was full of things that I did not recognise, and among these things was an item wrapped in layers of old newspaper.
It occurred to me that the wrapping might be more interesting than what was inside, but I was dead wrong.
The layers of newspapers were protecting an old rag doll.
A very old rag doll.
“I’ll bet you could tell some stories,” I said to the doll as I held it gently in both hands.
“I would never tell. I’m the keeper of secrets.”
The voice was a faint one, but I didn’t imagine it.
The doll was speaking to me, and amazing as it may seem, I wasn’t surprised.
It seemed as natural as it could be.
“What secret do you have for me today Daisy?”
The little doll’s features were now faded and worn, and this made the situation even more bizarre; I was being spoken to by a crudely shaped, almost featureless, rag doll.
“I don’t have any secrets, and my name is not Daisy,” I said, feeling slightly foolish for arguing with a rag doll.
It did occur to me that leaving this house as quickly as possible would be a wise move. Possibly even an appointment with a competent psychiatrist could be called for.
But my curiosity got the better of me.
“You must be Daisy. I only speak to Daisy and the person who knows my name,” said the little doll.
“Daisy was my grandmother.”
“You must be very much like her for me to have made that mistake.”
“Daisy was brave and fearless. I don’t think I am either of those things.” I said, and the words made me sad as I said them. “How did my grandmother find you, and how did she know that you can keep secrets?”
“I cannot tell you. It’s a secret.”
“It doesn’t matter. Even if you told me, it wouldn’t make any difference. No one is ever going to believe me when I tell them this story.”
“So don’t tell them then. It can be our secret.”
I should’ve been frightened, or at least a little apprehensive, but all I felt was calm and brave. Was I channelling my grandmother? Was being close to this rag doll from that dangerous time giving me a sense of my inner courage? All I knew at that moment was that I had to protect this ancient little rag doll.
It was a connection to my mysterious grandmother, but it was bigger than that.
It felt more like an ancient quest.
My sworn duty would now be to keep this piece of magic safe and warm.
“Are you a happy person Susan?”
“I am,” I said, wondering how it knew my name.
“Tell me your secrets Susan and I’ll keep them safe.”
“You are my only secret, and from now on it is my job to keep you safe.” As I said it, I had a strong sense there were adventures to come, and that a small rag doll who can keep a secret would feature prominently.
I’m up for an adventure as long as I can be home in time to prepare dinner.
Who would ever suspect an ordinary suburban housewife of being a spy?
If anyone finds out, I’m in deep shit.
My job is to protect my mistress, but everyone knows that terriers are really good at catching, and killing mice.
My problem is that one of my best friends is a mouse.
It’s a long story so maybe I should start at the beginning.
When I was in the litter, and not much older than a bottle of milk, my mum taught me that we all have a job in life and that is why our human feeds us; because we are of service. She said that some of us would be pets and it would be our job to bark a lot whenever strangers got too close to the house. She also said that we came from a long line of mousers. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I tried to make it look like I knew what she was talking about.
I asked one of the older pups what ‘mouser’ meant and he explained that because we are very patient and very fast, we are good at catching and killing mice.
I’d never seen a ‘mice’ so I was curious to find out what they looked like. I hoped that they were not as big as the horse that lived on our farm because I wasn’t sure I could catch and kill one of those. As it turned out, mice are small and furry and they dart about quite quickly so they are hard to catch.
One sunny autumn afternoon I was in the barn looking for a mouse to chase; just for practice.
I climbed up the tall ladder because I thought that maybe mice liked to be up high. I was a good climber for a young dog, but I found that being up high made me feel funny. Everything started to spin around and I found it difficult to stand up. I staggered around a bit and got my back leg caught up in a length of rope. I got a bit scared and toppled off the landing and found myself hanging in mid air suspended by the rope attached to my back leg. It hurt and I felt sick. Hanging upside down is only fun for a short while, then it gets scary.
To make it worse, I hadn’t seen any mice. My whole day was a complete failure and heaven only knew how long it would be before someone found me. I could starve, or die of thirst, or my leg could fall off. I was in real trouble.
“Do you need any help?” The voice was tiny and I could not hear where it was coming from.
“Well, do you?”
“Yes, I’m stuck. Can you get me down?” I said to whoever it was who was offering assistance.
“I could chew thru the rope, but you would be hurt when you hit the ground, so I had better move some straw under you.”
“Makes sense to me.” At this stage, any help was welcome. I could hear something rustling around in the straw and it was tiny. Whatever it was, it was going to take a long time for it to move enough straw to break my fall.
I must have passed out, or fallen asleep, because when I awoke there was a small pile of straw on the floor directly under me. It wasn’t very thick, and it occurred to me that my landing was still going to hurt.
Someone was nibbling on the rope above me and before too long I heard a small voice say, “Brace yourself, I’m nearly through the rope.”
“Okay, I’m ready,” I said.
“You won’t eat me once you get free will you?”
“Of course not, why would I?”
“I’m a mouse, and terriers catch mice.”
“Don’t worry little mouse. You are saving me so I’ll make sure that the other dogs leave you alone.” At this point, I wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve this promise, but I would worry about that when I was free again.
The mouse finished his job and I hit the floor hard. One of my back legs hurt a lot, but I could walk.
I was in a lot of pain, but I did say thank you to the invisible mouse before I limped off back to my pack.
My mum said I was very foolish and she licked me all over, twice!
My leg hurt for a couple of days but it soon came good and there were no long lasting ill-effects.
I went back to the barn a few times, but I didn’t find the mouse who helped me. I wasn’t sure how I would recognise him, even if I did run into him.
It was getting close to the time that I would have to go out into the world and work with my own human. Two of my brothers had already gone to their new homes. My mum was sad each time it happened, but she always said that that it is the way of the world, children grow up and leave home and make a life for themselves. It all seemed a bit scary to me, but I tried not to show it. Terriers are tough and I didn’t want anyone thinking I was weak. Mum told me to make a fuss of the strange humans who came to look at the litter, but I didn’t need telling, I like humans. Naturally, I’ve heard some bad stories, but so far I’ve only come across kind humans.
It seemed like I would be leaving any day when I made a final visit to the barn. A couple of older dogs were barking at something behind a hay bale. I could hear the mouse squeaking and I knew it was trapped. I recognised his voice and I boldly jumped into the middle of the action and barked at the older dogs.
For a second, they stopped and then they growled at me. I think they thought I was trying to steal the mouse for myself. I had to do some pretty fancy talking to get them to believe my story. They called me a bunch of bad names, but they let the mouse go free. I had kept my promise, but I was not sure what would happen the next time because I would not be around to save him.
The mouse and I talked it over and decided that he had better come with me when I get collected. This was going to be a lot harder than it sounded.
I had worked out that the humans usually brought a box with them when they came to collect one of my brothers or sisters, and the mouse would have to be smart enough and quick enough to get into that box without being seen. I could create a small diversion, but it would not give him very much time. If they saw him, they would surely kill him. People don’t like mice. He was indeed, taking his life into his hands, but I guess he knew that this hair-brained scheme was better than being cornered in the barn the second I left.
The mouse stayed close to me for the next couple of days. He hid out under a broken plant pot not far from the front door of the big house. He only came out at night and only long enough to eat and drink.
On the third day, some strange humans came to where our litter was and the big one picked me up and looked right at me. He said something to the other human and put me down on the ground and attached a lead to my collar. I’d only been wearing the collar for a few days and I didn’t like it much, but every dog seemed to have one so I put up with it.
As they led me towards their car there was a box on the ground close by. I saw the mouse start to run in its direction and I began to bark as loud as I could, which wasn’t very loud, but it did the trick. Everyone looked at me, which gave the mouse time to climb into the box and hide under the blanket.
I wasn’t too happy that the humans laughed at me for barking. They were supposed to be frightened, but I guessed that my bark would get louder as I got older, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
Getting the mouse out of the box was easier than getting him into it and he has been living with us ever since. It’s only me and my mistress these days, she got rid of the male human, apparently he was, “a no good, good for nothing, waste of space.” I guessed that this meant that he wasn’t pulling his weight, and doing his job, whatever that was.
I like the way things are now. I don’t get lonely. I have lots of adventures and I have my mistress and the mouse to talk to, but I have to keep them apart.
She really doesn’t like mice.
For such a small pleasant creature, they sure do stir up some bad feeling. I’ve talked to the mouse about it and he doesn’t understand it either. That’s life I guess.
As far as I know, I’m the only terrier who has a mouse as a friend, but then again, maybe there are others, and maybe, just like me, they don’t want anyone to know.
I have to go now.
Mouse is expecting me.
We are going to walk down to the creek and sit on a log and talk about life.
The mirror has been in my family for generations.
It will only reveal its secrets to a woman; and a beautiful one at that.
The men in the family won’t go anywhere near it, and up until today none of the females in my family have been game to uncover it and test its powers.
I understand their reluctance; what if the mirror does not reveal its secrets to you. The mirror is judging your beauty and if you don’t measure up it is a disgrace from which you are unlikely to recover.
No one will give me a straight answer, but family legend has it that the last female member of the family to sit naked in front of the uncovered mirror was my great, great-grandmother.
She was said to be a famous beauty who gave memorable parties and had many scandalous affairs.
Little is recorded of the reactions of my great, great-grandfather, though I’m guessing that he was none-too-pleased.
It’s been so long since anyone has tested the mirror that no one is actually sure what it does. There are plenty of theories but one thing is for sure, my family has been very successful down through the ages, and even the women who have been too frightened to expose themselves to it have benefited from the presence of it in our family.
How it came into our family and where it came from are two facts that are shrouded in mystery.
My favourite? That it was just an ordinary mirror until 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 and battered 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 formerly standard mirror. The enchantment meant that the mirror would respond favourable to any female member of his family who was beautiful, naked and brave.
I’m quite sure that I’m all three of those things, so I’m giving it a go.
Most of my cousins have tried to talk me out of it, but I’m determined. If I survive the confrontation, I will be forever known as beautiful, and that will do me.
I’ve got goosebumps and not just because I’m excited; it’s cold in here. Maybe I should have waited ’till summer to do this.
I wonder if the mirror talks?
I wonder if I should ask it a few questions?
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 a nice idea.
I’m not asleep, but I’m not awake either. I’m in that in-between place. It’s nice here.
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, the various family members begin returning to our large family 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 the head of our family, 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.
I’m not the same.
I had the courage 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
If you read this story first it may enhance your enjoyment of ‘Blue Sky’.
It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it might.
I knew it wasn’t good, and I knew that I was in deep shit, but just at that moment I was enjoying the view.
Beautiful fluffy white clouds set against an azure sky.
The only thing that was spoiling the view was the masked gunman, complete with balaclava and sawn-off rifle.
I’m assuming it was sawn-off; it is hard to tell from my angle because he had it pointed at my head and all I could see was the hole in the barrel.
I was reasonably sure that a bullet was going to emerge from that barrel at any moment.
It seemed disingenuous to point and not shoot.
The gunfire had ceased, but I could hear loud talking — ‘Don’t do it mate’, followed by, ‘No one has died [how the hell did he know that] and all you have to do is walk away, but if you kill a cop they will never stop looking for you.’
I couldn’t see who was doing the talking, but given the circumstances, I thought that he might be mad or very brave.
Either way, he was going to get himself killed; and it would be a shame to get yourself killed on such a beautiful day.
I remember talking about the weather when we started our shift.
‘Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’
That was my dad’s favourite weather joke, and he wheeled it out whenever it looked like there was someone in the vicinity who had not heard it before.
In our job, the weather can tell you what sort of day you are going to have.
I’d been on ‘days’ for a couple of weeks.
I didn’t dread ‘nights’ like a lot of the blokes.
‘Nights’ had their dangers and their appeal; it’s a whole other world.
A rainy day means we attend more than the occasional road accident. Once, we had to park on a major highway with all our lights flashing to stop anyone running into a young couple who were moving furniture into their house.
The truck wouldn’t fit up the driveway, and they were soaked to the skin and the traffic coming around the bend at 70 kph had little time to see and avoid them.
They weren’t doing anything wrong, just trying to move into a very difficult house.
They lived through it, and so did we.
They gave us a wave when they were finished; that doesn’t happen too often.
Hot weather tends to bring out the drunks and the crazies but a lovely sunny spring day like today forebode well.
It should have been a routine day, and up until lunchtime, it was.
I bought lunch yesterday so today, Michael my partner, decided on ‘fish and chips’, and I didn’t mind.
This little shopping strip was famous for having the best fish and chips in the area.
There was plenty of people about, many also on a break just like us. People heading to the cafe or looking for a spot to sit quietly and eat a sandwich that someone else had lovingly prepared.
I can’t remember if the birds were singing but they should have been.
There was on-street parking, but there was also a medium-sized car park which the council had built a decade or more before by buying and knocking down a couple of shops and the houses behind them.
Some space was reserved for grass and trees and benches and a tiny playground, but mostly it was bitumen and white lines.
We had parked opposite the bank, which amazingly was still there. Suburban Bank branches were rare in those days.
It had a ‘whole in the wall’ teller machine and was built out of those ubiquitous cream bricks that invaded this country in the 1950s.
I was dodging traffic while trying to cross the road when I saw the first masked gunman come out the front door of the bank.
The bank was old, so it had steps at the front and a ‘disabled ramp’ that had been installed some years after the building was completed.
The gunman was scanning the street, but he had to look down to negotiate the steps, and this gave me just enough time to draw my weapon.
I remember thinking that there was an even chance of either being run down by a car or shot by the armed robber in the mask.
He saw me and levelled his ‘sawn-off.’
I saw the flash.
I’m not sure how many rounds I got off, but I know I missed him.
At least one shot hit the cream bricks behind him, and bits of brick and mortar exploded in a cloud of dust.
There wasn’t anywhere for me to hide so I just kept moving in his direction; even after I felt what seemed like a small truck hit me in the chest.
My legs wanted to carry me further, but the rest of me said ‘fall down’, so I did.
I came to rest in an empty car space; I didn’t quite make it to the footpath. I rolled onto my back and stared at the amazing blue sky and the fluffy white clouds.
I didn’t see them, but I heard a couple of other blokes run past in the direction of the council car park.
I remember wondering why they would park in a car park; why not out the front of the bank?
I also remember wondering [or was that much later] why they didn’t have a look-out or a driver, waiting to whisk them away.
Back in the 1980s, this kind of thing happened twice a week, but then the banks got sued for not having enough security, and people started having their paychecks paid directly into their accounts and banks stopped being easy targets.
These blokes were not pros’; and not long after all this it got them killed, but that was to come, and now I’m staring down the barrel, so to speak.
I found out much later that the voice belonged to Nolan James Sieracki.
Nolan was on his lunch break, just like us, and when the shooting started, he ducked for cover.
The amazing thing is, he didn’t stay under cover; he spoke out; he saved my life.
As the gunman walked away, I could see a smile in his eyes.
Nolan came over to me, knelt down, and asked me about my gun, ‘Do I have to cock this thing or do I just point and shoot?’
Holy shit this bloke is going to get us both killed.
He seemed determined; there was no way I could talk him out of it, ‘Point and squeeze’.
I was pretty sure that the safety was off; I heard a single shot.
I half expected him to fall, but he didn’t, he just got up and walked toward the car park.
More shots — and then he was kneeling beside me again.
I heard my partner shouting; I wanted to say ‘He’s with me’, but no words came out, and I became very peaceful and very unconscious.
It was weeks before I woke up again and, even more weeks before anyone in a uniform asked me what happened.
This seemed very strange to me.
I can remember detectives asking questions of people who had minutes to live; nurses and doctors whispering very loudly that we needed to leave, and being ignored.
Eventually, I heard that the gunmen were all dead.
“That was a hell of a shot for a wounded man to make. Lying on your back like that with all that Claret oozing out of you. Lucky shot, or are you that good, constable?”
The words were spilling out of the Chief Commissioner of Police for the State of Victoria.
I’d seen his picture on the wall in the Senior Sergeant’s office, but this was the real bloke; in person.
I couldn’t figure out why he was speaking in that strangely affected tone until I noticed that my small hospital room was full of cameras.
They had woken me up because the Chief Commissioner was late for another appointment and they wanted to ‘get this over with’.
I smiled, I think, and said, “Lucky shot I guess.” At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about.
The room emptied, and I lapsed back into that beautiful Morphine-induced sleep.
I know why people get hooked on this stuff; not only does it take away the pain but it takes away your ability to care about anything; it’s really rather lovely.
They let my wife visit but not my kids.
I’m not sure who they were protecting, them or me.
Janice cried a lot and told me how the kids were going and then cried some more; but she didn’t tell me what was going on and frankly, I didn’t care.
My young mind thought that my career and my life, as I knew it, was over.
It’s strange to remember that bit, especially as I’m writing this from the Chief Commissioner’s office.
Things worked out well for me.
You might be wondering why I’m writing this now, after all, this time?
I just found out that Nolan James Sieracki passed away last night.
His heart gave out, and he was surrounded by his family; his wife his two sons and his five grandchildren.
He lived a quiet life; raised a family; taught his sons what it means to be a man.
I hope they knew what a remarkable man he was.
His life had its ups and downs; I know because I’ve been watching.
He worked in that hardware store for another dozen years; then he went out on his own.
His business sputtered along for a few years but eventually a downturn in the economy finished him off.
I made it known that every officer in my station should consider supporting his little shop, and they knew why.
My story was legendary, and they knew that their commander was one of only a very few serving officers who had been awarded the Medal of Valour.
The men and woman under my command knew that I wasn’t a desk jockey; I’d been out there; been shot; nearly died; Medal of Valour.
After a period where his wife supported them all, and he descended into a deep depression, he received an offer of a job working for the Victoria Police at their maintenance depot in the outer Eastern Suburb of Ferntree Gully.
I’m sure he wondered why they had asked him, but he said yes, and he worked there until he retired.
By all accounts, he was good at his job and was well liked.
His boys were good sportsmen, and one went into the computer business, and the other made amazing pastries.
Nolan’s family need to know how brave their patriarch was.
They need to know that he saved my life and allowed me to have a family and a career.
They need to know that I kept the promise I made to him in that letter. He had his reasons for giving me credit for taking that shot, and I kept my mouth shut; kept my word.
Not because I wanted or needed the glory; I really didn’t care much about anything at the time.
It might have taken me a year to write it, but I meant every word.
If you are reading this now, it means that I too have passed away.
This was a story and a secret that needed time to be told.
Lives were built on this secret, and it was the way that both of us wanted it, but now it is time for our descendants to know the truth.
Whoever reads this is honour-bound to send a copy to Nolan’s descendants.
I should have stayed down; stayed where I was.
Anyone with half a brain would have stayed out of sight until it was definitely all over.
But no; I had to stick my head up to see what was going on.
I only had vision for a split second, but I could see the young policeman lying on the ground; his gun just out of reach.
I was guessing that the masked bloke standing over him was probably the one who shot him. With all the gun-fire over the past few seconds it was difficult to tell how many people had been involved.
The shooting had stopped and the other masked blokes had legged it up the street and into the car park; leaving this lone gunman standing over the fallen officer aiming his gun at the young man’s head.
I got that sick feeling that you get when you know that if you don’t do something really quickly you are going to spend the rest of your life wishing you had.
Let’s get this straight; given enough time I’m always going to fall on the side of the line that says ‘coward’.
My dad was a war hero but that’s not me.
Gold plated, self-interested coward.
So, knowing all that, I was surprised as anyone when the words, “Don’t do it mate”, came rather loudly out of my mouth.
Thinking about it later, and I do that a lot, it occurs to me that my training as a referee was what got me into this sticky situation. Sometimes during a game some bloke will ‘loose it’ and look like he is going to kill someone and if you shout at him, from a considerable distance, the shock of your words can snap him back into real-time.
It worked about half the time and the other half of the time he came after you, which was bad. But as I mentioned, you did this from a distance and if things went ‘pear-shaped’ you had a running start and hopefully his team mates would grab him before he got to you.
Only now, this bloke didn’t have team mates and no matter how fast I thought I was, I wasn’t going to be able to outrun a bullet.
The gunman did indeed stop looking at the injured policeman; and he turned his gaze toward me.
All my life I have been able to talk my way out of tight corners; they don’t come any tighter than this.
He looked at me but didn’t level his gun in my direction, which I took as a good sign.
I think I said something like, “No one has died [how the hell did I know that] and all you have to do is walk away, but if you kill a cop they will never stop looking for you.”
He stared at me for what seemed like an eternity and it occurred to me that I had a big mouth and it was finally going to catch up with me.
Then it happened.
The gunman smiled at me and walked in the direction of his fellow armed robbers.
He walked slowly and I could hear the sound of his boots as they hit the footpath.
All other sound had ceased.
It was as quiet as you can imagine, except for the sound of his boots.
At that moment it occurred to me that this bloke was likely to come out of the spell of my brilliantly chosen words and realise that the cops were going to get him no matter what, and that he might as well make it as hard as possible for them by killing the two closest witnesses; the young policeman and myself.
I guessed that I had about four seconds before this all unfolded so I bent down and picked up the policeman’s hand gun.
I looked at him and I could see that he was in a very bad way and I think he read my mind because he started to shake his head.
I was running out of time and we both knew it so I said,” Do I have to cock this thing or do I just point and shoot?”
I could barely hear him but I’m pretty sure he said, “Point and squeeze.”
I’m now half kneeling on the footpath and when I turn and look the gunman, who had reached the corner of the building leading to the car park, was turning in our direction.
The penny had dropped in his violent mind and my words had fallen from his eyes.
He had returned to reality; his reality; kill or be killed.
I brought the weapon up and squeezed the trigger.
The gunman fell like a rag doll.
I couldn’t tell where I’d hit him but I’d aimed at his chest.
My foolish brain now worried about him getting up again and killing us both. I wasn’t sure if I could stop my hand from shaking for long enough to fire again, so I left the young policeman lying there and covered the few steps to where the gunman lay.
He wasn’t going to get up again; I kicked his gun away, like I had seen it done on TV.
At that moment I heard the V8-engined getaway car start up and I heard something whizz past my ear followed by a whole bunch of other somethings; then the noise from someone in that car shooting at me became apparent.
Like a complete idiot, I returned fire.
Who the hell did I think I was?
The car sped away closely followed by a couple of police cars that had just arrived.
I went back to the fallen policeman to see if I could help but he needed a priest and that was not in my skill set.
I kneeled next to him and tried to reassure him but both of us knew that he probably wasn’t going to be here much longer.
It was only when I tried to grasp his hand that I realised I was still holding his gun. I didn’t feel as though my hand would let it go, but a loud voice that came from behind me convinced me otherwise.
I found out much later that the voice belonged to the dying officer’s partner.
He had gone to the Fish and Chip shop to buy them both some lunch as it all kicked off.
It was his turn to buy lunch and it saved his life.
He wasn’t sure if I was one of the armed robbers or not, and holding on to a gun was not helping my cause.
I dropped the gun and this large policeman pushed me to the ground and kneeled on my back; it really hurt and I thought at the time that I was going to have a permanent dent in my back.
I politely suggest that he might want to get the fuck off me and he responded by punching me in the kidney.
I decided that further conversation was a bad idea.
They threw me in the back of a police-van and drove me, faster than I thought was humanly possible, to a cell at a police station that I didn’t recognise.
I sat in that cell for several hours; I was scared and mad as hell. I knew that I had just saved someones life and I didn’t know what was happening.
I threw-up a couple of times.
The police surgeon explained that that was probably shock and the result of too much adrenaline in my system. “Thanks a lot Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.”
The police surgeon wasn’t the first person I spoke to. That honour went to Chief Inspector ‘someoneorother’, who had popped along to apologise for my treatment. He was probably only trying to limit the size of the lawsuit but I appreciated someone saying ‘sorry’, so I told him ‘not to worry about it’ and he apologised again while telling me that they could not let me go just yet as there were a few things that needed to be sorted out; not the least of which was how the gunman came to be shot.
As I said, I’d been sitting in that cell for several hours, which gave me a chance to think about what was going to happen next.
From the questions I was being asked, it seemed that everyone had their head down [except me] and no one saw how the gunman got his. The assumption was that the wounded officer had fired off one last lucky shot.
If I ‘put my hand up’ and said it was me, I would be an instant celebrity and my life would change dramatically; at least until the media got bored and then I’d be left looking over my shoulder waiting for this bozo’s mates to catch up with me.
So, at least for now, I was keeping quiet; hiding behind the trauma, until I knew what the other gunmen had seen.
Within hours there was a siege and shoot out.
Two officers were injured and the three gunmen were killed.
My problem ——- how many friends did these blokes have, and which one among them would like to make a name for himself by putting my lights out?
I had a family to consider so my story, when I finally emerged from my ‘trauma filled haze’, was going to be suitably vague.
After giving a rambling statement they let me go home, but I had to come back in two days to give a ‘formal statement’.
Two days went by very quickly.
“So where were you when this all started?” The person asking the questions was Detective Senior Sergeant Collins of the Major Crimes Squad.
One of the uniformed officers had warned me that this bloke was important and he would ‘tear me a new one’ if I pissed him off.
I took the warning seriously.
I wasn’t here to piss anyone off.
I had a story to tell and my immediate future depended on me telling it well.
“I was heading for the postoffice when I heard the bangs.”
“How many bangs?”
“I didn’t count but there were several.”
“Several like three or several like ten?”
“Like ten, maybe more. The noise of the gunshots seemed to be coming from more than one direction. It was then that I dived behind a car.”
“What kind of car was it?”
“How the fuck should I know?” I instantly knew that I shouldn’t have said that. “It was dark blue, I remember that.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Collins was glaring at me but he relaxed quickly.
“Easy there sunshine; I’m just looking for all the details . It was a dark blue Mazda 6”
He already knows which car.
That means someone was watching.
“Unfortunately you seem to be the only one who knows what happened next. Everyone else was behind or under something.”
I tried not to look pleased.
I told him my story and all of it was true until I got to the end.
In this version I went to see if the gunman was dead [my DNA might be on the kicked gun] and went back to the officer after the fleeing gunmen fired at me. When I got back to the wounded officer I picked up his gun; and I don’t know why I did that.
One of the few things that could trip me up would be finding the bullets that I fired at the getaway car but as it turned out the car got shot up in the siege, so chances were they would not bother identifying the bullets lodged in the car. Which was good news because my bullets would be lodged in that car; I’m a good shot, as it turns out.
If the wounded officer recovered he would, no doubt, remember what I did.
He did recover but it took several months and when he was finally interviewed he said he didn’t remember much after being shot.
I had no way of knowing if that was true or if he decided to go along with my story.
He was awarded the Medal of Valour and I slipped quietly back into obscurity.
On the anniversary of the robbery I received a package and a letter.
The letter was from Constable Stephen Walker. It was short and to the point.
“I owe you my life and I’m sorry that it took me this long to say thank you. I’m not sure what bravery means but if I did I would say that it applies to you. I get paid to risk my life; you were just passing by. I don’t know why you let them think that I made that shot and I don’t want to know; I guess you have your reasons. My rehab has been long and painful and I’ve had a lot of time to think and I want you to know that I can keep a secret. Every time I get to hug my kids I think of the bloke who took his life in his hands to save someone he didn’t even know. Please enjoy the contents of the package.”
He signed it.
The letter was written ‘long hand’ and the package contained a bottle of 28-year-old single malt, ‘Bowmore’.
It must have cost a fortune.
I’m glad he wrote to me and I’m glad I’ve never seen him face to face since that day, because I don’t think I could handle the look on his face when I told him that if it happened again, I doubt that I would come out from behind that dark blue Mazda 6.
This brave fellow had a nest nearby and it reminded me yet again how brave wild creatures become when it is time to feed the family. I guess this applies to humans as well. My dad worked at a job that was not fulfilling for most of his life because he had a family to feed. Here’s to all the brave dads out there, whatever the species.
This is not a long lens shot, he was right there. I was lucky to get this shot. He really wanted a bit of my pie so he stayed there long enough for me to get off a quick shot, and yes I gave him a bit of pie. Models need to eat as well.