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.
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.
“I’m sorry Mr Bennett,” she didn’t look that sorry, “but a shared sleeper is all we have left. If you must travel on that day, you will have to share. If you can put your trip off for a day or two you can have your pick of the solo cabins — they are more expensive, of course.”
“I have to be there on Friday, so it has to be the overnight train on Thursday. I’ll take the ticket, but tell them to stock up on decent whisky. I’m going to need it, and so is my sleep buddy,” said Sam
“You will have some time to yourself because your fellow passenger won’t be boarding until Ararat.”
That’s a few hours of peace, thought Sam, who was looking forward to reading the new Michael Robotham novel he purchased just for this journey.
The Overland sat quietly at platform 2, waiting for its passengers.
Train travellers are an interesting bunch. Many of Sam’s fellow passengers shared his dislike of planes and airports.
Trains rarely involve a full body cavity search, lack of legroom, surely security and godawful food.
The Overland, beautiful named, is a throwback to a time when people travelled for adventure, and the cost was not the top priority.
The train company asks that passengers arrive thirty minutes before departure. They are met by a company employee dressed appropriately, including a wide-brimmed Akubra. Passengers wait patiently next to their assigned carriage until the porter opens the doors. Find your cabin, stow your bags and head for the bar, maybe a snack. The evening meal is delivered to your room and so is breakfast, but a man needs snacks and a stiff drink.
Sam chose the upper bunk — first in first served.
He opened his book but decided to enjoy the view. In a few short hours, darkness will descend.
The hustle and bustle of Spenser Street station at peak hour provides lots to look at. City workers heading home. Their tired countenance is even more disturbing than their morning gaze.
Suburban, country and interstate trains all share this massive station.
The train sounded its horn and slowly pulled out, right on time.
“If Mussolini were alive, he would be proud,” said Sam to himself. Right-wing arseholes are obsessed with trains running on time.
The train travelled slowly as it negotiated the rail yards with its twists and turns. The wheels and bogies complained loudly at the frequent changes of direction.
The train travels slowly for the first hour until it clears the suburbs of Melbourne. Some would say that the view is uninspiring, but Sam enjoyed the sometimes rusty and occasionally grubby nature of these old industrial suburbs. They reminded him of his childhood. His father worked skillfully with his hands, and on rare occasions, Sam was allowed to accompany him to work on weekends, when the bosses weren’t around.
Rust has its own distinctive aroma as do grease and dust and sweat, all ingredients of a working-class employment.
Once in open country, the train accelerates, and Geelong approaches rapidly.
Past Geelong and the country flattens out. The early settlers called it ‘Pleurisy Plains’. Anyone venturing out during the areas vicious gales was sure to contract the infection.
The flatness comes about because it is a larval plain. The local Aborigines have lived here for so long that their oral history talks about the distant volcano erupting some twenty thousand years ago.
Through the gloaming, Sam could just see Mount Elephant — its indigenous name is ‘Hill of Fire’.
It was getting harder to see the countryside as the train pulled into Ararat.
The massive, now empty, rail yards looked like an old car park that no one used anymore. All a bit grim.
There was a country train on the other platform as Sam’s train pulled in. The passengers gazed at his train, no doubt wondering where it was headed and what the passengers were headed to.
After the train pulls out of Ararat, a strange thing happens. The mileage signpost suddenly drops about 30 miles. After asking the porter, Sam found out that the interstate train travels a longer route to get to Ararat than the regional line. So now they are on that track. Sam wondered who thought that going the long way was a good idea, but why people do the things they do, gives Sam a headache.
Sam’s cabin mate did not appear, and the train had been travelling for long enough for him (he assumed it was a him — even these days, Sam could not imagine a woman wanting to share a cabin with a strange man) to have found the right sleeper berth.
The first part of Sam’s journey had been peaceful, so why worry about the fate of his fellow traveller.
Sam climbed onto his bunk and read his book, but soon turned out the light and snuggled under the covers. The rolling motion is a cure for most people’s insomnia.
He was facing the door when it opened, and a medium height man wearing an overcoat padded into the cabin. He left the door slightly open, which allowed a subdued amount of light to penetrate the darkness. Sam had not pulled the blinds, but on a moonless night, there is only pitch black in the Australian outback.
The new passenger took off his coat, revealing a crumpled suit with no tie. The man was travelling with only a small bag. He reached into the side pocket of the bag and produced a bundle wrapped in an old cloth. The bundle went out the window, and the sound of rushing air diminished when the man closed it and climbed onto his bunk. He didn’t snore, but before long Sam could hear the sound of heaving breathing.
That same rhythmic breathing was still to be heard when Sam woke instinctively as the porter knocked on his door, breakfast trays in hand.
“Thanks, mate, I’ll take those,” said Sam and the porter did not glance nor comment on Sams lack of suitable attire. Porters see it all on sleeper trains.
Sam put the tray for the mystery traveller on the small table and his tray on the bunk. He managed to climb up without putting his foot in his breakfast. He was pleased with this achievement and proceeded to consume his eggs and toast while unfolding the newspaper. Somewhere, the train had picked up the early edition of the Adelaide Advertiser, which seemed fair as they were closer to Adelaide than Melbourne, but Sam would have prefered the Melbourne Age, even if it was a bit hard to unfold at this hour of the day.
The articles rolled out the usual tales of local and international mayhem, which surprised Sam because, from his experience, people in Adelaide didn’t know there was an outside world, apart from Melbourne which they hated. Forever in its shadow, Adelaide folk take any chance to compare themselves favourably, usually around Australia’s favourite religion, sport.
One item caught Sam’s eye.
There had been a shooting in Ararat.
A young husband had come home from work and found his wife in the arms of her lover, a small-time gangster from Melbourne. There was a photograph showing the front of a house illuminated by police floodlights. A neighbour, dressed in her dressing gown said that it had been going on for months and she felt sorry for the husband, “Such a nice young man. Works all the hours that God sends. Gets home late after commuting to Melbourne. He deserved better than her, God rest her soul.”
The wife died in the arms of her lover, and the lover was in a critical condition. The writer alluded, ever so subtly, that even if he did survive, his philandering days were over.
The husband and his Great War revolver were still missing when the paper went to print. The gun came back from France with his grandfather. A Webley six-shot revolver, an officer’s weapon.
The passenger’s tray was untouched when Sam climbed down, washed, dressed and waited for the train to pull into Adelaide Parklands Terminal.
Sam will need a taxi because for some reason they built the terminal away from the city, which means that it does not go to the beautiful old Adelaide Station.
Sam wasn’t trying to be quiet as he performed his preparations for arrival, but the passenger did not wake.
When the porter came for the trays, Sam told him to come back as late as possible, “This bloke needs his sleep. He’s had a rough time. Don’t wake him till you absolutely have to.” Sam slipped the porter a ‘fifty’. The porter smiled and promised. Sam made a note to add the ‘fifty’ to his client’s bill. The rich buggers can afford it.
Sam didn’t mind having a train trip to Adelaide, but all his business could have been handled by email or on the phone, but this law firm only wanted face to face meetings. It seems that they don’t trust computers. Their bill was going to be huge, but they didn’t seem to mind.
The taxi was waiting when Sam stepped out of the station, the air as hot and dry as he remembered.
“City, please driver. Rundle Mall,” said Sam.
“Might take a bit longer at this hour mate, peak hour and everything,” said the driver.
Sam laughed, “I’ve seen your ‘peak hour’ son. It lasts about ten minutes.”
Usually, Sam would have reminded the driver of what was likely to happen to him if he did the old trick of driving ‘the long way around’, a popular ploy of taxi drivers worldwide when they sensed an ‘out of towner’, but on this trip, Sam didn’t care. It was all on his client’s account.
“Just make sure I get a receipt and don’t get greedy,” said Sam.
The passenger woke to the sound of the porter and his gentle nudge.
“Sorry, sir. I left it as long as I could as per your friend’s instructions.”
“What friend?” said the sleepy man with the ruffled suit.
“The one you shared the cabin with,” said the porter, “he left this for you.”
The porter handed him a postcard with a photograph of The Overlander crossing Australia’s longest rail viaduct, just outside Geelong. On the back, written in a clean hand with a newly sharpened pencil were these words:
Dear Mr Park. I’m sorry your missus cheated on you. I know your heart is broken and I know that you will come to regret what you have done, but I do understand. A bloke can only take so much, and betrayal is about as bad as it gets.
It’s not my job to turn you in, but if you hurt anyone else I will come and find you, and you will regret breaking my trust.
P.S. I hope you took the remaining bullets out of the gun before you threw it out of the window.
Keep your head down and don’t make me regret my decision.
You Must Remember This — February 20th 2019
To celebrate the arrival of YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS, I’m including a chapter from the audiobook. The completed audiobook is a week or two away. It is a long, slow process which comes to a sudden halt if my voice is affected.
The book will be available later today as an eBook.