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.”

Bright Red Car – an audio story

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Retrieving lost items is often a matter of waiting for them to turn up, which they almost always do — almost. I sometimes think that particular objects hide on purpose. Maybe they are forcing me to not make a fool of myself, who knows?
Losing things is also a red flag for me — a kind of ‘something is wrong with the way your consciousness is working, you’d better slow down, or you are going to find yourself inside one of your stories’.
Susan’s dilemma is slightly different from mine. Her ‘loss’ was forced on her, and now she MUST find a way to retrieve her ‘lost’ possessions.

 

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The Way He Said It

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I’d been working on the idea for a long time.
When I finally took it to him, with all the excitement of a small puppy, he laughed at me.
It wasn’t so much what he said as the way he said it.
As though it wasn’t worth a moment of his precious time to even consider it.
  
I bundled up my shock and disappointment and confided in my best friend.
My friend’s advice was succinct and to the point, “Oh forget him, he’s an idiot.”
He handed me a large whisky and gave me the look of someone who wanted to know what my idea was all about.
He totally believed in me, and he was more than slightly surprised that I let this person rattle my confidence.

Comfortable Old Armchair

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My grandfather loved books, and I think he loved me almost as much.
I know I loved him.
I can still remember the feeling of squashing down next to him in that comfortable ancient armchair.
No one sat in that chair except my grandfather. It wasn’t because we were scared of him or anything like that, it was just that it was his chair and to sit there without him in it, didn’t seem right.
I was working overseas when my grandparents died; one after the other with only days between them.
It wasn’t the kind of job that I could up and leave, so by the time I was back in the country, there wasn’t a physical sign that they had ever been here on this Earth. Their ashes had been scattered, and their house emptied and sold.
Indecent haste was how I phrased it.
“Where the fuck were you while all the work was being done?” was their reply. I guess I pissed my father off because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened to my grandparent’s furniture. It was the armchair that I was really interested in, but I guess it was landfill or in some op-shop warehouse somewhere. I hoped that it had been purchased by a house full of uni students. I could see a nineteen-year-old female English Literature student curled up with a tattered old copy of something by Somerset Maugham. Possibly, ‘The Razor’s Edge’. Yes, that would be good.
My grandfather introduced me to the delights of Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stephenson in equal measure. He didn’t treat me like a little girl, he saw only a curious, young person who had fallen in love with the worlds that existed between the pages of a book.
He had the most beautiful husky voice, and sitting close to him was like sitting in an old dusty closet. He was warm even in winter, and I got the feeling that it was because of some kind of inner glow caused by his love of books.
He always read me books that were a bit above my understanding, and I think that was on purpose. He would smile when I asked him what a particular word meant, and he would sometimes get me to run my finger over the word as he explained its meaning.
I collect bookmarks because he did.
I give books as presents because he said it was a wise thing to do.
His heroes were authors, and mine are too.
He thought that reading was as essential as writing, and so do I.
We will meet again someday, but for now, I have to be the person he wanted me to be, and I need to find a comfortable old armchair so I can sit and read and remember.

Keeper Of Secrets — an audio story

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Susan, a bereaved daughter, stumbles upon her grandmother’s journals. Stories hidden from the family of adventures, spies, a mysterious discarded toy, lost loves and revenge flash before her eyes sparking a desire to escape her ordinary life.

In a dusty attic, Susan holds her sadness in check as she attempts to organise her mother’s stored memories. Boxes of journals written by her grandmother reveal a hidden secret life lived out during the modern world’s most dangerous conflict. Time slows down as the young woman relives her ancestor’s exciting life. The quiet dismissive old lady that she knew does not fit with the vibrant idealistic young woman she reads about in these journals. The identity of the mysterious ‘Keeper Of Secrets’ is ultimately revealed and this revelation leads Susan to a decision — she is going to escape from her ‘ordinary life’ and live a secret life of her own.
BOOK TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2OHQd7X_Jo

New Book: BORIS and the Rising Sun Hotel

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.

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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

The Naked Botanist and a Feathered Conundrum

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I emptied the contents of my hand onto the time-worn table.

We inhabited this pub during happier times, and I guess we never broke the habit.

“What is that?” asked Harry, my former workmate. Harry and I once were warriors in the halls of finance. We slashed and burned our way to enormous profits — profits we saw very little of. That sounds like sour grapes, and I guess it is. We were paid very well and on at least one occasion, our Christmas bonus equalled the deposit on an expensive flat overlooking the river — I loved that view.

We thought we were invincible.

“That, my dear Harry is a pile of thank you,” I said with an air of mystery — I do a good mystery.

“Come again, young Charles?” Everyone at the firm called me young Charles. It made it easier, and even when older Charles left the company, I continued to be young Charles.

“It’s a moderately long story, do you want another pint before I begin?”

“Nah, I’ll make this one last.”

“You know that big old RAF greatcoat I used to wear?”

“The one that is hanging on the coat stand over there?”

“That’s the one.”

“I think I will get that drink. I get the feeling that this is going to be epic — you want one?”

“No, save your money. I’m pleasantly toasted, and it should last until lunchtime.”

In the old days, we didn’t have to worry about such things — money was always there, and just like everything else in life, we expected it to stay that way.

I watched Harry make his way to the bar. The girl behind the counter was new, and Harry fancied his chances — their conversation continued for some minutes. As Harry turned to come back to our table, I watched the young lady flash her eyes and run her fingers through her hair.

“I think I’m in there,” said Harry as he sat down. From what I saw, I’d say he probably was.

“It must be your Scotish charm.”

“They all want to know what is under the kilt.”

“You’re not wearing a kilt, Harry.”

“You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t, but one day I’m sure you will enlighten me.”

We had both travelled a long way to come to London and make our fortune, and now we could not imagine going home with our tails between our legs. My hometown is Melbourne — on the other side of the world.

“So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.”

“Extremely comfy, thank you.”

“You know the park across from my flat?”

“Your old flat or the new one?”

“There is only a railway line across from my current abode.” I glared at him for reminding me of how far I had come down.

“On my days off —“

“Which you have a large number of nowadays,” interrupted Harry.

“Yes, thank you for reminding me. On my days off I would take my stale bread to the park and feed the birds. I wasn’t particular, anything with feathers got a fair share.”

“That was very egalitarian of you,” said Harry.

“Thank you — one must maintain standards. So, this went on for many weeks when I discovered the substance you see before you, in the pocket of my greatcoat.”

Harry ran a cautious finger through the pile of what looked like very fine gravel lying on the well-worn table.

“I didn’t pay it any attention at first. I assumed that it had fallen out of a tree, or I had brushed up against something as I walked through the park.”

“A reasonable assumption.”

“Agreed — then the amount of gravel got progressively larger until it reached the proportion you see before you.”

“So, what is it? I know you are dying to tell me.”

“I took a sample to a girl I was penetrating at that time, and between bouts of passion, I asked her if she knew what it was. This girl loves a mystery, so she leapt out of bed, stark naked, and put a couple of grains under her microscope.”

“You have to love a naked woman who has a microscope.”

“My thoughts exactly. It turns out that she was not only good at all forms of coitus, but she was an excellent botanist as well.”

“Coitus beats Botanist though.”

“I agree, but on this occasion, she was both — result!”

“So?”

“Well, it turns out that they are the tops of tiny acorn like seeds — just the tops, and they are very sought after by the little birds that live in that park.”

“Little birds, is that their botanical name?”

“She did tell me, but in my defence, she was naked, and I imagined all the things I could do to her before I had to go to work. Smoothest thighs you have ever seen and spectacular breasts.”

“Fair enough. Any man could forget a Latin name under such circumstances — you’re forgiven.”

“Anyway, these little birds spend hours looking for the caps off the seeds. They use them to make a sort of paste. They mix it with mud and sticks and make a very sturdy nest — a bit like adding gravel to cement. These tiny nut caps are their most treasured possession — they will fight other birds who try to move in on their supply.”

“And, they give them to you?”

“Yes. I’m just as amazed as you are.”

“How do they manage to get them into your pocket without you noticing?”

“Good question. I guess it’s because I’m in a kind of meditative state — sitting by the lake, watching the birds. It was then, and still is, a kind of escape. But after the encounter with the naked Botanist, I watched them out of the corner of my eye. My coat pocket bends open just a bit as I sit and they come up from behind me and drop them in, one at a time.”

“Wow. It must take a while to deposit enough to make a pile like this.”

“I’m touched that they want to thank me. I guess they appreciate the food. Pickings must be very slim in the winter, especially if you have extra mouths to feed. Often, I would be the only one in the park, particularly on wet rainy days. That old greatcoat comes in handy. I turn up the collar and tuck in a scarf, and I’m warm as toast.”

“What about your head?”

“Large woollen fisherman’s hat.”

“Sorted.”

“I feel bad taking their most treasured possession, so I sneak back and sprinkle them under a nearby tree and hope that they don’t notice.”

“Boy, are you going to feel dumb if they turn out to be a cure for cancer.”

“I’ll risk it.”

We both went quiet for a while, the way that good friends can. We sat and drank our beer and thought back to those heady days when the world was ours for the taking.

Harry is the only friend I have left from those days. I remember the morning we turned up to work only to find the front doors chained and padlocked. I wondered how they were able to do that; then I remembered that our firm owned the whole building. The security guards were no help — I just wanted to get my stuff out of my desk — never happened — probably ended up in a skip.

As I remember, Harry and I walked to this pub and made a few calls before our work phones went silent. A couple of the directors had been fiddling the books. They knew that we were surviving on reputation and bugger all else. They packed a serious amount of cash into the company jet and headed for a warmer country. We should have seen it coming, but we were young, and thought we knew our worth — we were invincible.

The naked botanist stopped fucking me as soon as I could no longer squire her to important parties. The flat went after a few months — I wandered along in denial, thinking that the world needed my skill set, but whenever they read the name of the firm I had most recently been employed by, the answer was always the same — no room at the inn.

The blokes who came to throw me out of my flat were very good about it.

“Just take whatever you can carry mate, we’ll look the other way.”

Jolly decent of them really. It was the middle of the day, and they broke for lunch after changing the locks on my former flat.

“Can we buy you lunch young fella? Don’t take it too hard. We see a lot of this, especially nowadays. You can curl up and die, or you can come back stronger — it’s your choice.”

They were right, and I worked for them part-time for a while, but that life was not for me.

I’ve got a tiny flat with a view of a railway line, a warm coat and a good friend. My bank account will see me right for a few more months.

After that, who knows.