Zipper

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“Can you zip me up please Hon?”
I’m sitting on the bed wrestling with a recalcitrant sock when I hear these familiar words. It promises to be a big night. One of those rare chances to dress up and play. I’m almost dressed, and for once, my beloved is ahead of me.
I abandon the sock and walk almost barefooted to where she is standing. As I get closer to her, her aroma hits me, and my senses are sending signals to a part of me that is likely to do my thinking for me.
I can see her bare back — no bra under this dress on this night — the downy hairs reflect the mellow light from her dressing mirror. I grasp the leaf of the zipper and my fingers touch her skin, ever so gently. I noticed goose bumps forming on her spine, so she is thinking the same thing I am. The zip glides up effortlessly making that familiar sound — something like the sound of delicate material giving way.
I lean in and fill my lungs — her shampoo mixed with perfume and that indefinable personal aroma that lingers on her clothing. I notice it when I’m asked to retrieve a cardigan from the car on unexpectedly cool Autumn days.
Having a woman ask you to zip up her dress is an intimate request. Zipping that dress for her is the most intimate moment between us which does not involve penetration.
We need to be leaving, but all I want to do is reverse the direction of that zipper. She knows it.
“Don’t even think about it, we’ll be late.”
“Too late. I started thinking the moment you asked, and it got more intense the closer I got to you. I’m pretty sure that we could be a little bit late,” I said.
She turned and looked at me.
“As long as we make it for dessert. I’ve been starving myself all day.”
I stared into her eyes, and we both listened to the sound of her zipper descending.

Favourite Day of the Week

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Until recently, Thursday was my favourite day of the week.

When I was a kid, it was Friday — only half a day in a classroom and sport all afternoon with the sweet promise of the two-day weekend stretching out into the delicious distance.

Then I grew up, and Saturday was my day to love and be loved. The movies, a romantic dinner, and maybe, just maybe, a long night with a willing warm body.

I’m losing my love of Thursdays — it may come back, but today the aura is ruined.

“Senior Sergeant, you mentioned that the victim was aged 50, worked as a Real Estate agent and was found on the side of the road. Is that correct?”

“Yes sir, exactly as it says in my report.” The bloke asking the blindingly obvious questions, and ruining my Thursday was Inspector Verago.  Or ‘Verago the Impaler’ as he was lovingly known to all those who loathed Internal Affairs.

“The Lexus was located, but not for several days,” he said.

“We were operating under the assumption that the victim was struck by an angry husband and it took a while to eliminate him from our enquiries.” I hate the jargon, but when you are speaking to a duck, it is best to quack so that you know you are being understood.

“Why did it take so long to track down the car?” he said.

“It took three days because we are a small country station and all our forensics are handled by Melbourne Central, and the case was not considered to be a high priority at that stage.”

“Why didn’t you consider it to be a high priority Senior Sergeant? More important things to be getting on with?”

The sarcasm was to be expected. The Police force runs on sarcasm in the same way that politicians run on bullshit — and besides, he wasn’t here for a friendly chat, he was here to see if he could hang this cluster-fuck on me, and thereby take some of the heat off his masters.

“It was our number one priority sir. I was referring to senior management in Melbourne, sir.”

“It doesn’t say that anywhere here, Senior Sergeant.” He pronounced Senior Sergeant as though he felt my rank was honorary, or at least temporary.  If I didn’t find a way to get out from under this mess, he was going to be right.

“Your report doesn’t say where the victim was heading, were you able to ascertain that?” he said.

“Away.”

“Away from where?”

“From what we can piece together, mostly from Mrs Simpson. He thought her husband had come home unexpectedly, and he legged it out the back door and over a neighbour’s fence where he commandeered a bicycle. He proceeded to peddle in an easterly direction for approximately 10 kilometres before being struck from behind by a Lexus four-wheel drive. So, in answer to your question — away.”

There was that jargon again — quack, quack.

“All of this should have been in your report Senior Sergeant,” he said.

“Most of it is sir — just not all in the one place.”

Precious minutes of my beloved Thursday were ticking away, and I was no closer to working out if this half-wit had already decided that I was to be the fall-guy.

“I noticed that you included in your report that the victim’s dog howled at the precise moment that he was killed. How did you know that, and why did you include it in your report?”

“The victim was a real person. A flawed one to be sure, but a real one nonetheless. He had a wife and kids and a dog, all of whom, presumably, loved him. The detail about the dog came from his wife, and I thought that it was unusual enough to include in the report.”

The cold truth — the dog was the only creature on the planet who loved this bozo, so I thought it deserved a mention. When the facts were printed in the newspapers, it was evident that the victim was a self-interested arsehole who made a speciality out of servicing lonely wives, but rarely did the same for his own. His kids thought he was a loser, and the community felt that he was a typical Estate Agent — always out to do his clients out of their money. On the other hand, his dog loved him unconditionally, and to his credit, he treated the dog well. Any bloke who was kind to his dog deserved to get one positive mention in a sterile Police document.

The inane questions continued for about two hours.

I made a pretty good job of answering them, and I knew that my report was thorough and there was little room to accuse me or my team of negligence. But only time would tell.

If his job was to fit me for the role of scapegoat, then that is what I will be. If he has any integrity left he will know that time will show that I did my job well and I’m hoping that he won’t want to put his signature to a lie.

Early in the afternoon, he buggered off in his shiny official car, and everyone in our tiny country station breathed out.

I told the team that after shift we were meeting at The Royal — the only decent pub in town. The drinks were on me which meant that everyone would be there.

We knew that the future of our station was tenuous before the slightly bald, philandering Real Estate agent got knocked off his bike. Now it was positively precarious. There was only one thing for it — enjoy the days we had remaining. Heaven, and a bunch of brass hats, only knew where we would end up, but we knew we had done our duty, and no one can do more than that.

I proposed the toast.

“May the black dog who howled when his master left this world find a warm bed and a happy home, and may the bastards who are splitting us up find cold comfort and a broomstick up their arse.”

There was that jargon again — quack, quack.

.

This story is now part of two of my books —

TRUST

SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES

Always in the morning

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“I’ve been working for Charlie Varick 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 the hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the larger and more grand 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 the 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 I was wondering why there was so much fog around 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 the ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted to get 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 and headed 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.”   

Mr Applegate

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“Good morning Mr.Williams. I noticed your advertisement, and I thought I’d come along and check out your service.”

My customer was a ‘walk-in’ which was not how I usually did business, but there were almost two hours until my next client, and I was feeling magnanimous, so I steered him into my office and gestured toward the big overstuffed leather chair that Doc had commissioned all those years ago. Doc was proud of that chair, and even though it was showing its age, the customers loved to sit in it.

“Just sit comfortably for a few moments while the chair adjusts to you. It’s very old but also quite intelligent, for a chair.” My client smiled which was a good sign. I find the stiff, awkward ones a bit much this early in the week.

“Excuse me for a moment, just sit there and think about what it is that you want me to ‘recollect’ for you.”

“Oh, I already know what that is,” he said excitedly.

“That’s excellent; I’ll just be a moment. I need to lock the front door. We wouldn’t want anyone wandering in off the street and interrupting your reading.” My client smiled at me again, and I was having difficulty reading him. It crossed my mind that he might be a bit simple, but time would tell.

I shot the old brass bolt on the front door and flicked the communication module to ‘answer mode’. The module had been playing up for the last few weeks, and I made a mental note to put it into diagnostic mode. I’d been putting it off because, like everything else in my shop, it is ancient and I have to attach a USB cable to it and dig out an old laptop computer and go through a manual connection. At least I’m old enough to remember how to upload manually. Top of the list will be its hover mode. The damn thing skates all over the desk. The clients think it is hilarious, but they don’t have to clean up the mess. Why a communication module has to hover is beyond me. Back in my day, the stupid things made video links, and that was it.

The proximity light was blinking on the security panel, but I ignored it because it always acts up during the school holidays. The damn thing is too sensitive. I’ve told the tech a dozen times to tune it down. Teenagers are a pain in the neck, but not all of them are a security threat.

“Now, are you comfortable Mr……..?”

“Applegate. William P. Applegate. 27 Blossom Lane Deepdene 3056. You can have my glidephone number as well if you like.” My client was very keen indeed.

“That’s kind of you Mr Applegate, but the Iris Scanner will record all of that information for me. Can you look into the lens for me? Thank you. That’s the housekeeping out of the way. Now down to business. How can I help you?”

He told me what he wanted me to recollect for him, and it was easy enough for me to find the memory in his mind, and it was all going along well until we got to the part where he shot both of his parents and put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“What the fuck was that?” I heard myself say.

Part of being a ‘recollectionist’ means that you are in a mild trance when you retrieve and replay the requested memory. I have to be sitting very close to my client so that the energy fields that surround us are close enough to merge.

The whole thing works a lot better if the client is sitting in my lap, but you can see that this method has some practical drawbacks. Sitting close enough is good enough.

I held the image for a few moments, fully expecting the dead murderer to get up and laugh and say that it was all a joke, but he didn’t.

The scarlet red stain around his head just kept on spreading evenly.

I remember thinking that the floors in that house must have been very level for the blood not to flow in one direction. It’s a strange thought for such a moment, but this was not my first murder.

In the early days before the invention of the Hello-Motion-Brain Scanner, the police would bring me murderers who had made a confession and my job was to ‘recollect’ the exact details of the crime for the court records. I have to say that even though they paid very handsomely, I don’t miss those days.

I brought myself out of the trance a little too quickly and vomited in the waste paper basket. We haven’t used paper for many years, but I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it out, it belonged to Doc, and it came with the business, lock stock and barrel, as they say.

Mr Applegate was still sitting where I’d put him, and now he had a silly grin on his face.

“Now you know too,” he said.

“Know what?” I was aware that I was shouting, but it seemed appropriate.

“This memory has been playing in my head for a month and a half, and I’d like it to stop, please.”

“I’m not a head doctor Mr Applegate, I don’t do ‘stop it’, that’s not what I do. Have you been to the police?”

“Yes, of course, I have, but they said that both of my parents are alive. They don’t want to speak to me, but they are definitely alive so the police will have nothing to do with me. Oh yes, they did say that they will lock me up if I keep bothering them.”

“That is your parents in that recollection, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and that’s me as well,” said Mr Applegate with that same silly grin.

“I have to say that I’ve never come across anything like this before, and I’ve been doing this for most of my life which, right now, seems like a lot of years. I don’t know how to help you, but I would say that you need help. Professional, medical help.”

Mr Appligate’s retinal scan had already deposited the fee into my account, so there was nothing else to do but see him out and wish him luck.

“You will see a doctor, won’t you Mr Applegate?”

“I’ll make an appointment as soon as I get home.” Same silly grin.

He didn’t make an appointment, at least I don’t think he did. There wasn’t anything about a doctor in the note, just a brief explanation that he did it because he needed to make the memory match the deed. That’s exactly how he phrased it, ‘match the deed’. Who says stuff like that? Who kills three people just to make a cross-wired memory into a fact?

William P. Applegate, that’s who.

The police showed me the crime scene photos.

Big hole in his head, scarlet stain unevenly spread and that silly bloody grin on his face.   

Bernard

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Looks can be deceiving.

Take Bernard for example.

He looks small and cute, and his mistress is French.

You might think that he lives in a handbag and eats paté all day, but no, he doesn’t. Okay, so he does eat the occasional croissant, and he once licked paté off the floor where some French bloke dropped it while talking to his mistress, but I don’t think that counts.

He does eat snails, but that is a whole other story.

Bernard is special.

All dogs are special, of course, but what I mean to say is that Bernard is especially talented.

You already know that dogs have amazing senses, and the sense of smell is particularly acute.

I sound like I know what I’m talking about, but to be truthful, I only discovered this because my mistress was doing research for a story.

It all started after I caught the murderer in the country house. It was one of my very first adventures. My mistress was very proud of me, and she wondered how I did it. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I just did what dogs do — I sniffed it out. I thought everyone could do it, but apparently not.

My mistress said that some dogs could detect individual ingredients in a pasta sauce. I could have told her that. It drives her crazy that her girlfriend makes a particularly good Napoli sauce, and she is not sure what the secret ingredient is. It’s Turmeric. A very tiny amount. I tried pointing at it in the spice rack using my nose, but she told me off for climbing on a chair. Humans can be very annoying.

Bernard, on the other hand, never gets told off for climbing on chairs. He is treated like a king — a small hairy king, but a king none the less.

His unique skill is finding things.

Rich people pay his mistress large amounts of money to find things that have been lost inside their huge houses, but more importantly, Bernard is asked to find things that are hidden in the houses of wealthy deceased persons — usually by greedy relatives who are sure that their dead uncle has stashed away a fortune.

Bernard comes to visit at least once a year.

His mistress and my mistress have been friends since my mistress was a student in France. She stayed with her friend’s parents for a year, and she says it was one of the best years of her life.

I was expecting Bernard to be a bit ‘up himself’, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was a very down-to-earth dog.

Appearances can be deceiving.

He likes watching soccer on TV, and he enjoys walks in the rain, but his mistress won’t let him. I splashed water on him one time so that he would know what it felt like. He was very appreciative.

I took him down to the local Butcher Shop, just to show him the sights and he had a splendid time. He got dusty, and some sand got stuck between his toes and he said it made him feel like one of those free range dogs. He was kidding himself of course. He wouldn’t last five minutes in the wild, but I let him have his dream. Who am I to step on anyone’s dream?

He told me about life in Paris, and it sounded pretty good.

French dogs are allowed into cafés, but I like it here. I’m too old to learn the French words for ‘walk’ and ‘treat’ and ‘get off the chair’.

I asked Bernard what was the most interesting thing he was asked to find, and he said that it was hard to choose, but it was probably a lost toy.

The toy belonged to a little old lady. She was very old and sick. She believed that she was going to die soon and she had been thinking a lot about her childhood. She had a favourite little doll.

She used to tell it her secrets.

One day, while playing hide and seek with her brothers and sisters, she put the doll down and forgot where she put it. She searched and searched, but to no avail.

She wanted to hold that little doll one last time before she died.

Bernard said that she offered a huge reward, but it would only be paid if he could find the doll.

His mistress brought him to meet the old lady, and they got on very well indeed. Bernard gave her a good sniffing and set off through the large old Chateau in search of the little doll. It helped that he is small because it stood to reason that the doll would be in a small hiding place just big enough to hide a little girl.

Bernard searched all day, and he was beginning to wonder if he might have to come back another day, but just as the light was failing, he wandered into a small room attached to the huge kitchen. It was full of dusty old boxes, and it looked like no one had been in there for a long time. To start with, nothing in the room seemed to smell like the little old lady had touched it, but after pushing a few boxes aside with his nose, he got a faint whiff.

The little doll had been nibbled on by moths and was very dusty, but she was in one piece, and she was exactly as the old woman had described her.

Bernard said that it was very strange, but he was sure that the little doll was calling out to him. He followed the scent and the sound directly to where the doll was lying, but when he got there, the doll stopped talking to him.

He gently carried the little doll back to the old lady. She was sleeping and woke as he jumped up on her bed. She didn’t care that the doll was dusty and moth-eaten. She hugged it and cried. Bernard knew enough about female humans to know that there was a chance that this little old lady was happy and not sad.

I asked him what happened to the doll and the little old lady, and he said that he was not sure. He heard his mistress talking about her a few times, but he did not know what her words meant. He did say that they got paid a lot of money because of his find and they went on a holiday to Trieste, and as a special treat, he got a ride on the famous funicular tramway. Bernard loves trams, and he and his mistress are going to visit Melbourne next year because they have the most extensive system of tramways anywhere in the world, not to mention the longest continuous piece of tram track.

Bernard loves trams.

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but appearances can be deceiving.

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Recapturing The Past

It’s a job like any other.

I get tired, and I get bored, but mostly I like coming to work.

When I was a young man, working my way through college, I worked at a shop that sold lottery tickets. I loved that job; the owner was a dick, but the job was great. People who buy lottery tickets are optimists, and they are my favourite people to be around; not always the brightest, but definitely the most fun. They believe that their time will come.

Which, by contrast, is the exact opposite of the people who come to my place of work.

When my customers come through that door, the one with the antique bell hanging off the inside, they come because they want to recapture something of their past.

I know that sounds mundane; everyone goes back into their memories looking for a happier time. All very well if you can actually remember those times, but if you can’t, that’s where I come in.

Not everyone walks around with a head full of brightly coloured memories. Some people blank their memories out and with good reason.

Some people, and I’m talking quite a lot of people, do not remember specifics about their childhood. They remember their childhood, of course, but only in a general way. Happy, sad, bored, excited, mad, elated, lonely, that sort of thing.

These days we have the technology to do all kinds of amazing things, and still, we are not happy.

People come to me because they want to reconnect with that happiness that they once knew. They want to experience it one more time, and in many cases, over and over again.

There are side effects, of course, but I can see their eyes glaze over as I read the list of things that might happen to them if they go through this procedure. The government makes me tell them, but I told them even before the small fat bloke from the Ministry paid me a call.

“I’m not sure how you slipped through the net Mr Williams [he pronounced my name as though he had just stepped in something nasty], but it seems that you don’t come under any of our regular categories. We’ll put you under ‘miscellaneous’ [that’s the catch-all category that makes sure that you have to fill in a form and pay a fee, even if they have no idea what you do].”

“What do you do with all the fees we pay Mr………?”

“Johnson, William Johnson, chief collector of fees for the eastern and southeastern region. I used to have the north-eastern region, but they said it was too much for me, and they gave it to Jenkins, the swine.”

“That’s a riveting story Mr Johnston, but where does the money go?”

“General revenue, of course.” He looked at me as though I’d just dropped in from another planet.

“Yes, but what does the money do?”

“It doesn’t do anything, it just is —— revenue.”

I could have kept this conversation going, but there was a serious danger of my head exploding so I just nodded and bit my lip — really hard.

.

William Johnson was not born a revenue collector. When he was young, he dreamed of being a train driver, back when trains had drivers. He loved the sound of trains, and the drivers were his heroes. His house backed onto the tracks of the Belgrave line. During the school holidays, he would scale the back fence and sit on the embankment and wait for the trains to pass. He’d wave at the drivers, and some of them would wave back. William longed to be the driver who waved back, but his father was convinced that working for the Public Service was the only life for his disappointing son who liked trains and talked of nothing else. ‘In the absence of a war, the Public Service will toughen him up.’

.

When you go into business, every bugger has got his hand in your pocket.

This bugger was only one of many.

When I wasn’t paying fees, I was dealing with customers.

They come in all shapes and sizes.

I had a bloke in here recently who had lost a lot of his long-term memory in a car accident. Naturally, he wanted to remember the accident in detail so he could work out what had happened.

Therein lay a problem.

If you are driving along and another car comes out of nowhere, all you are going to remember is that you were driving along and ‘bang’, the memory stops.

He was disappointed but not surprised. I helped him with a few other names and dates, but it didn’t seem to help his mood. He was frustrated and a bit sad.

This was an unusual day because I don’t get a lot of this kind of business.

People don’t usually come digging around in a forgotten past.

It does happen, and it usually ends in tears. The mind blocks out certain things — nasty things, and I can’t help thinking that the mind knows what it is doing — leave that stuff alone.

Of course, none of that is up to me. My job is to pinpoint the memory as accurately as possible.

They give me an approximate time and place and I ‘recollect’ it for them. Occasionally, it takes me a bit longer than I’d like, but that usually happens when people are not too sure about specifics.

You are probably wondering how I got into this business.

I just fell into it.

I was young, and my dad insisted that I work during the summer before I started college. My dad was like that. He felt that there were things that I needed to learn and more importantly, things I needed to experience.

We had money, as the saying goes, and my dad did not want me to grow up thinking that the world owed me anything.

I’d known I had this ability since childhood, and my grandfather made sure that I worked at it and got it better. This was back in the day when you had to be careful of who you spoke to about such things. It could cause you some problems, and I lost a few friends because of it, mostly because my friends’ parents were frightened to let their child play with someone who could access their memories. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I took it personally — I was hurt.

I understand now that, most likely, these adults were worried that their child would reveal some secret memory. As we have learned in recent times, some strange things went on behind closed doors in those days.

I went to work for old Doc Preston. My dad knew him [dad knew a lot of people], and he got me the job.

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Doc Preston wasn’t a medical doctor; he was a doctor of psychology, and his credential came in handy in this work. All Doc Preston ever wanted to do was help people. It was amazing being around this man, even for an oblivious young eighteen-year-old like me. He lost the love of his life when they were both quite young, and he never married again. He had ‘friends’, but never anything heavy. ‘I’m married boy, [he always called me boy, even when I was in my forties], and I always will be. She may not be here with me in person, but I know we will be together again, and I’m going to remain faithful to her. It’s the only thing I can give her now, my loyalty.’ As I got to know him, I gave him the ‘she would want you to be happy’ speech, but he alway smiled and shook his head, ‘you will understand one day, boy.’

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Doc Preston taught me heaps about the recollectionist business.

I jumped out of bed every morning.

When my mates urged me to take a day off and hang out, I told them that I had better things to do with my time. They thought I was nuts, and maybe I was, but it was in a good way.

I went to college, but I worked for Doc Preston on Saturdays and during the holidays.

I ended up with an honours degree, but I never put it to use because I had found my calling.

When Doc got too old to carry on, he sold the business to me.

I didn’t want him to retire. I loved being around him.

“How much do you want for the business Doc? I’m pretty sure I can raise the money.”

“Ten dollars and packet of Juicy Fruits.”

“Be serious Doc.”

He was, and he wasn’t kidding about the Juicy Fruits; Doc never joked about sweets.

You’ve probably guessed that Doc was not well. He knew, but as usual, I was totally oblivious.

A week before he died, he came into the shop, when he knew it would be quiet, and asked me for a favour.

“Can you take me back to the summer of ’88? That was our last summer together, and I’d like to remember it one last time.”

“Sure thing Doc, but none of this ‘one last time’ stuff.” Doc just smiled and gave me that look.

By the time the session was over the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

That was not like me.

I experience some very emotional stuff when I facilitate the ‘recollections’, but I usually keep a professional distance [Doc taught me that — ‘you’ll go batty if you don’t learn how to stand back and watch’].

The trouble was, this was personal. I’d heard him talk about her hundreds of times, but now, there she was and they were so much in love. I could smell her perfume, and I could see the look in their eyes and it broke my heart.

I don’t know what Doc would think of the industry these days.

He would probably say something like, ‘everything changes boy, get used to it and make the most of what you have in the here and now’.

I’m one of the last ‘old school’ recollectionists.

These days there are automated ‘remembering’ stores in most shopping centres, run by poorly paid young people who would rather be sitting on a beach.

If you appreciate the old fashioned service of having your memories recollected by an actual human, then you come on down to Melbourne’s last old time Recollectionist emporium.

Shop 22 in The Block Arcade.

We offer a discreet service and an experience that you will never forget.

The Search Begins

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I loved her the first time I saw her, and that’s all you need to know.

She had hair the colour of rich Belgian chocolate, and recently cut it shorter but would grow it longer again, just for me. A short stay in hospital had left her looking a little pale, and her lack of makeup was not disguising her beautiful complexion. She smiled at me and spoke enthusiastically about different coloured foods. She didn’t see me, not really, and I was determined to change that. Nothing was more important in my life. She was wearing an exquisite gown that showed the curves of her petite body to perfection. She left early with her friends, and I sat in a daze, wondering what had just happened.

It was Scarlett Holmyard who triggered my fitful imagination. It was Scarlett Holmyard who gave my life meaning when things were at their darkest.

I still have the souvenirs. Random memories that, if you put them all together would look like the remnants of a shredded photo album. Fragments of photographs are floating on the water or stuffed down the side of a sofa. Each piece tells a story of adventure, close encounters, triumphs and pure excitement.

I cannot explain the feelings I have when recalling them — the frustration, the hope, the confusion, the anger. Scarlett is the most important person in my life, but I don’t know that yet. She’s that person that you catch sight of out of the corner of your eye. She’s the one whose name you struggle to remember, the torn photograph with not enough detail. She is my nameless champion, my never wavering hero, and I’m the one who is doggedly searching for her.

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illustration by Jack Vettriano

Charmaine

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I love the early morning.

Most of the night people are seeking refuge in a cafe — bacon and eggs over the latest wholegrain toast, black coffee, no sugar and a bleary-eyed remembrance of an evening that will not come again.

I’d been delayed, and as I walked back to my table, the rising sun sent a soft golden glow across the Piazza.

My assistant was no longer sitting at the table. His working night had ended, and he was probably propping up the bar at Il Baccaro or wrapped around one of the night owl females who frequent this part of the city.

As I approach the table I see my tally book lying where my assistant had left it. My keys lie on top of the book, undisturbed.

I like keys.

I prefer an analogue solution to security wherever I can find it. I’m not disturbed by electronics — it’s just that I like the feeling of a key turning in a lock and the sound keys make when they jangle in my pocket.

The huge black umbrella is not offering any shade to the two well dress gentlemen seated at my table — the sun is way too low. I have a sense that there was a third man seated where I usually sit. He hasn’t been absent from the table for very long, and I’m wondering if he is due to return.

The two well-dressed men give me a lazy glance.

I’m still in evening dress and although a little dusty, I’m well presented after a long night of keeping book for the rich and famous. Millions of dollars and only a few slips of paper to show for all that activity.

My two guests are dressed in expensive suits and carrying expensive guns — well concealed. The value of what they are wearing would purchase a well-kept second-hand Mercedes. Where they come from the streets are full of Mercedes and during their Civil War, a few decades ago, the news footage showed armed men, ambulances and swirling smoke. Even the taxis were Mercedes. The vehicle of choice for a Middle Eastern civil conflict.

My occupation doesn’t require me to carry a concealed weapon, but I do. A large calibre two barreled Derringer strapped to my right ankle, and I’m proud to say that I’ve only needed to draw it once.

Part of my job is calculating the odds — seeing the trouble coming before it arrives. I have had to dodge the occasional closed fist and the well-aimed polished boot, but mostly I can calm a situation down before it comes to that. Sore losers are an occupational hazard.

I brushed the dust and a few flower petals off my seat before I sat down and the larger of the two well-dressed gentlemen said, “You may not want to sit there Mr Barker. In fifty seconds, it is going to be unhealthy for anyone who is sitting in that chair.”

Fifty-seconds isn’t very long to decide if he was just a smart arse and I’d used up a few of them calculating the odds.

It seemed safer to assume that he was telling the truth when he and his silent companion, who was directly in the follow-through line of fire, got slowly up from the table and walked away. The taller one had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the umbrella.

I picked up my book and my keys and left the table with as much composure as I could muster.

After I had taken a few steps, I heard the zip of the bullet and the crack of the splintering chair and table top. The bullet would have struck the quiet gentleman somewhere between the groin and the kneecap.

There was no audible bang. The shot must have come from a considerable distance. The police would work all that out at their leisure, but now I had some celebrating to do. I had dodged a bullet and made a lot of money, all over the course of an eventful evening.

Now, if I were lucky, Charmaine will be at home waiting for me.

I must say that’s misleading. Charmaine never waits for me. She does her own thing. It’s just that we share a very expensive apartment, and we sometimes arrive there at the same time, usually early in the morning. On those occasions, we sometimes do the sorts of things that men and women like to do.

The apartment has glass walls on two sides, and I never draw the blinds. I love the view that it affords. The ancient part of the city is, by now, bathed in the golden light that this section of the world is famous for.

This morning, Charmaine arrived home before I did. She is making eggs in her underwear. Her body isn’t perfect. Her torso is slightly too long when compared to her beautiful legs. Her breasts are sumptuous, but some would say that they could be a little larger. She has long black hair, dimples on her bottom and delightful pink toes.

Last night she had been wearing a black bra and panties — lots of lace. I see the dress she was wearing hanging on the outside of her huge wardrobe.

Not including the bathroom, our apartment is one large room with a king-sized bed in the middle. I hope to be lying on that bed a little later and I’m hopeful that I will be knee-deep in Charmaine, but it will depend on the type of night she has had.

My carnal ace will be the story about nearly being shot. That kind of near miss adventure story has given me the green light before.

Charmaine gathers information and what she collects makes her a lot of money. It’s exciting and dangerous, and she loves every minute of it. She has an incredible memory and in her line of work it needs to be.

She knows I’m in the apartment, but she does not look up from her breakfast preparations. I remove my jacket, tie and Derringer and stand behind her. She smells amazing. Her scent produced over a long night’s work mixed with the remnants of her French perfume, and my equipment is on full alert.

I place my hand on her bottom and my expectations for the morning are in my hand. If she brushes me away, it means the night went badly and so will my morning.

She does not react, but neither does she dispense with my wandering hand. So far so good. My luck is holding.

“If you keep doing that you won’t get any breakfast,” she says in a voice that gives me further hope.

“That’s a tough choice for a man, food or carnal delights.”

“I didn’t say you had to choose.”

I couldn’t tell if she was smiling, because I was looking in another direction and imagining my good fortune.

A good breakfast and the delicious Charmaine to follow.

I didn’t get shot, and I’m going to get laid.

It’s been an awesome day.