Somehow, she had found out that no one in our family had ever had their portrait painted, which didn’t surprise me. In our world, only rich people had the spare change to pay for a portrait painter. We had more significant problems, like food and electricity and dog biscuits if it came to that.
Which brings me to Eric. Eric the dog.
He doesn’t like to miss out on stuff.
Mum suggested that my new business venture, supplying rich people with household staff who could also play a musical instrument (more of this a bit later), could use a boost. “Imagine the impact on your prospective client when they come into your office and see a portrait of you, done in oils.”
The idea appealed to me. Despite my left wing leanings on most subjects, I’ve always liked the trappings of wealth and privilege.
Eric, on the other hand, just likes being where I am, doing what I’m doing.
So, when it came time to travel to the city for my first sitting, Eric wanted to go as well. He had no idea where we were going or that it involved a trip on the number 12 tram and even if I had explained to him that he would probably have to sit quietly in some outer office for more than an hour, he would still have liked to come — that’s Eric. He does not want to miss out.
“I like your dog,” said a delightful creature in a chiffon dress.
“And I’m pretty sure he likes you too,” I said facetiously.
“How can you tell?” said the delightful creature, who was in danger of catching cold, as my mother would have said.
For a moment, I thought she was kidding, but it turned out that she had left what remained of her intelligence in her other purse.
I have to say that I took advantage of the situation and we were going to be getting off the tram presently.
“I know, he speaks quite softly. I’ll get him to say it again, only a bit louder,” I said.
“I saw his lips move, but I didn’t hear anything. What did he say?” said the scantily clad creature.
“He phrased it differently, but the sentiment was the same. Oh, and he added a bit.”
“Yes. He reiterated his liking for you and suggested that if you were a dog, he would suggest a mating session — doggy style, of course.”
The beautiful creature blushed and stroked Eric on the head.
I love being out with Eric.
The artist studio was in an apartment on Little Collins Street, a costly part of town. Based on his fee, I could see how he was able to afford this address.
I expected his secretary — (yes he had a secretary, and I wondered what she did all day), to ask me to leave Eric with her.
I wondered what they would talk about.
As it turned out, the artist squealed like a little girl when he saw Eric.
“The dog is, how shall I put it, perfect!”
So that was that. Eric is now part of the company, and it has to be said that he gets more attention than I do, especially since we started using the portrait in our advertising campaign.
Eric has his own section on our website, and we share a secretary so that he has his fan mail answered.
You are probably still wondering about the ‘could also play a musical instrument’ bit.
Well, the idea has been around for a while, and it all started with an old interview with a famous Scandinavian film director who has his own production company. In a throwaway line, he said that he would not employ a lawyer who did not play a musical instrument. Considering how many lawyers a film production company would need, the interviewer tried to pursue the point. No one has ever been able to find out if the director was just outrageous for the sake of it or if he was serious. For our purpose, it does not matter, because the press picked up on it again many years later, and so did the people who like to design personality tests. The best selling book, “And Can You Play A Musical Instrument?”, established the idea in people’s heads and you know what happens when people get an idea into their heads — it stays there, and no amount of logic will shift it.
So, God help any domestic servant who is looking for employment without the ability to at least pound out ‘Chopsticks’ on a piano.
Sitting for a portrait is not as much fun as you might think. My neck got a crick in it, and my arm ached from hanging on to Eric. Eric wasn’t any too pleased either. He wasn’t having it, so I had to hang on to a cushion for most of the session.
I was happy when it was done, and I loved how the painting came out, and as with childbirth, I forgot about the pain.
There is talk of doing another one every five years so that we will end up with a bunch of them showing the permanency of the business, but I’m sure I can think up an excuse to not be available for the next one, and Eric agrees.
Claudine thought it was an unusual name for a cafe, but my mind was on other things.
“You didn’t tell me I had to wear a hat,” said Claudine. Her mouth worked faster than her brain, and at times it was endearing and at other times not so much.
“It’s not like an entry requirement or anything. It’s just a gimmick, and you know how cashed up city types are — anything for a giggle,” I said while scanning the room for potential trouble. The only potential problem was the bloke wearing braces and a belt. Probably got ‘dacked’ when he was at school, and never got over it. A six-figure salary with bonuses and he’s afraid his pants will fall down. Then again, I’m wearing a red waistcoat with stripes, so who am I to give fashion advice?
“Even so, I’ve got a cute hat I bought at a Thrift Shop. I’ve been dying to try it out.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you stop talking about hats I’ll bring you back here next Friday night and you can show off your millinery to your heart’s content — deal?”
“Deal,” said Claudine, but I could see that she still had more to contribute to the subject, but the thought of a night out ‘all expenses paid’ was too good to pass up, so she gently closed her beautiful mouth and began thinking of another subject — at least that’s what I think she was doing. I was watching the woman with the pyramid earrings.
The cafe was packed with bright young things all semi-drunk after a tough week of playing with other people’s money. The decibel level was beyond the point where a Heavy Metal Band would tell us to keep it down — no chance of hearing what Ms Earrings was saying even though I was close enough to reach out and touch her.
“Step back and bump into her. Let’s see what she does and let’s see who notices,” I said.
“Bump into who?” said Claudine.
“The woman behind you. Purple hat, big earrings.”
Claudine looked over her shoulder and took a step back. Her bump never eventuated because she stepped on the woman’s foot and in her haste to ‘unstep’ she emptied the remains of her Gin and Tonic on Purple Hat and Big Earrings dress.
Claudine was mortified, and even though I couldn’t hear over the din, it seemed that she was apologising and encouraging the woman to head for the Ladies.
I wasn’t game to follow, but I imagined them removing the dress, washing it under the tap and running it under the electric hand dryer. The whole process would take about eight to ten minutes based on my own experience of spilling soy sauce on my pants at the Chinese on the High Street last Easter. I took it as a punishment from God for eating out at a Chinese Restuarant on Good Friday.
I scanned the room, but no one except the woman she was talking to took any interest so I could relax just a bit.
Eight minutes means I have time for another drink.
Right on cue, the two women emerged from the toilets with Big Earrings giving her dress a final straighten.
When Claudine got back to where I was standing, I leaned in close and said, “That was a bit more than I expected.”
“She wears very expensive underwear, she’s not a bit shy, and the colour in her dress didn’t run, even though it should have. Purple is notoriously hard to make fast. Oh, yes, and she slipped away from her minders, ‘I can’t breathe with those goons watching me all the time. Has your fella got a friend? I’ve been living like a nun for the past few weeks, and I could really use a bloody good…”
“Okay, I get the point. Lean over and tell her, yes. I’ll make a call. My boss is going to wet himself when I tell him she fell into my arms without her close support.”
I stepped outside to make the call, and I’m sure I heard my boss squeal like a little girl.
He said he could be there in ten minutes and gave a brief rundown of what he would do to me if I were winding him up. I assured him I wasn’t.
I walked back into the cafe, and the two women were gone and so was the bloke in the braces and belt.
I know Claudine will have an excellent story to tell when I catch up with her, but for now, I needed to exit the building.
I’ll explain it all to my boss once I find out where they went and when he has had time to calm down and dry off his pants.
Claudine may call me later tonight or in the morning, and she may still have Big Earrings without her escort, but I doubt it. Life is never that easy. The Universe is never that kind.
I’ll catch up to Big Earrings eventually, and I’ll find out what she knows — I’m good at my job.
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 only to 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.
Sam loves Scarlett, or at least that is what everyone keeps telling him. After the bloke in the stolen car slammed into Sam at a Tee intersection, everything changed. A head injury, a stay in hospital followed by a stint in rehab and Sam is no closer to regaining all his memories. His distant past is clearer than his recent present, and Scarlett belongs to now. Can Sam fall in love with Scarlett — all over again? And what of the bloke who ‘hit and ran’? Will Inspector Blank work it all out, or will Sam have to be his own detective? For many months, while Sam works on his recovery, there will be numerous tram journeys and frequent visits to Dr Doug, the therapist chosen by Scarlett to help to bring her Sam back to her. Who is the bloke in the brown shoes and why do Sam and Scarlett decide that blackberry jam is a good way to put closure to their uncomfortable adventure? Sam Bennett faces his biggest challenge to date — finding his Scarlett.
I remember thinking that it was unfair (I can hear my dad saying, ‘who told you life was fair?’) that talented female writers had to resort to submitting their work under a male name to get attention from publishers. It has happened even in the modern era — JK Rowling admitted that she used initials to give the impression that she might be a male.
Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way (or is it my imagination?).
As you have probably worked out (if you are a reader of my work) some of my major characters are female. I love writing through the eyes of a female protagonist.
My mind started wondering (it does that a lot) what name would I use were I to publish as a woman and more importantly, what would I look like?
I can’t be too butch, or it would defeat the purpose, so what would I look like?
Of course, the whole experiment could stop at the name, but you know me when my mind gets involved.
I imagine myself as an independent woman (no shortage of those at the moment so I should blend right in). I’m probably at the peak of (or slightly past) my prime, beauty wise. I have a lot of ‘admirers’, but no ‘significant other’.
I pay my own way, but I will let a man lavish me if it gives him pleasure.
I only go out with men who drive interesting cars, and a mud-splashed four-wheel drive will see me come down with a sudden headache.
I have reasonable taste in clothes, and I’m not afraid to pay for advice about personal presentation.
I sleep in the middle of a large bed, and I only drink the finest wines, but I prefer spirits (never to excess).
I can talk sports and cars with the men, and I know how to change a tyre, but for obvious reasons, I’ve never had to.
I eat well, but I don’t obsess about my figure.
I need time to myself, especially when I’m in the middle of a good book.
I enjoy all musical styles except for whatever my neighbours are playing.
I avoid travel unless there are interesting people at the end of the journey — trains come first followed by open-top sports cars, buses at a pinch, but never budget airlines.
The people in my life (male and female) must be able to bring something to the conversation (small talk is reserved for the chance encounters and that annoying bloke who wants to intrude when I’m walking the dogs).
Of course, there must be dogs. It does not matter what size, but there must be dogs, and they don’t stay at home, they go where I go (with a couple of obvious exceptions).
So there you have it — my flight of fancy.
And here’s to the amazing females in my life — the ones who inspire my characters and enrich my life.
Back in the day, my hair was longer, and my sheets were whiter.
These days, my hair is cut to a manageable length, and my sheets are clean with the brightness consigned to the ‘whatever’ basket.
My son took the photo, which ended up — many years later, as a painting — two stages my son went through and never came out of.
I don’t know what I was thinking when his finger hit the shutter, but it certainly looks like I’m deep in thought. Maybe I was distracted by a far-off clammer. Maybe I was wondering where all the pegs had gone — I still do that today, wonder, and not just about runaway pegs.
There is no date on the photo, but I remember when the painting was done.
From the look of me, the shot must have been taken not long after my son got his camera — the camera was a huge ‘guilt present’, a ‘sure I left you and your mother but this incredible present will distract you for a while before you work out what a crap dad I was’. There was never any ‘spare money’ when my husband was here, but out of the blue, he finds the funds for an SLR, top of the range, too big and too expensive for a boy of eleven. To my son’s credit, he still has that camera, and he never dropped it or otherwise buggered it up. I taught him how to use it, and I didn’t need to repeat an instruction once.
There is another photo floating around of me wrapped up in an identical sheet with two eye holes cut out. The sheet was past its best with tears where my sharp toenails had gone through it. Before the eye holes had appeared the sheet saw valiant service as a fort, strung over two lounge chairs.
I couldn’t swear to it, but it may have been the same sheet that held the telltale stains produced by my husband and his lover — she was shorter than me with a push-up bra (when she was wearing it) and legs that went all the way up to her bum. No one ever said so, but I’m pretty sure she sucked penis like a princess. Come to think of it, I’m sure that’s why that sheet wore out so fast — I must have washed it a hundred times — in a row — with bleach.
The part that really hurt was that he could not be bothered to clean up after himself — thought I was too dumb to notice, or worse still, thought I would assume that the evidence belonged to us — together, us.
I look at the painting, and I can feel the sun on my face and see the reflected glare.
I wonder what happened to those pegs?
Where do pegs go to die?
Is there a place where broken hearts and old pegs are reunited?
I guess not, but I know where old sheets go when they die, they become ghost costumes, which is appropriate I guess — at least in my case.
He had something I wanted — no, scratch that, he had something I needed — desperately.
He’s a bit part player in a much larger story, but he’s getting in my way.
The slow passage of time is a luxury I can ill-afford.
I’ve tried being patient, I’ve tried being obtuse, I’ve tried everything I can think of, and if I had more time, it would be easy, but there’s that word ‘time’ again. To be accurate, I resent spending time on this obstructionist person.
It’s true that he is under no obligation to give me the name, so technically he isn’t annoying, but my patience is spent. I’m stuck until he tells me her name.
I’m not big enough to beat it out of him, and besides, that’s not my style.
Usually, I let my mark relax and sooner or later the truth falls out of them. It’s quite magical at times. I have a theory that everyone wants to give up their secrets — a kind of confession if you will. Those Catholics know their stuff — get it all off your chest, and all will be forgiven.
It’s God that does the forgiving, not me. Me, I listen, and what I hear I pass on and money comes flowing my way.
I’ve always been a good listener. Even when I was a child people told me things.
I remember my mother telling me that she no longer loved my father and that she was going to live with Eric. I was nine. Who tells a nine-year-old such things?
I remember my father telling me that his heart was broken and that I was going to live with my aunt Sally. Who tells a nine-year-old such things?
My aunt Sally was lovely, but I kept waiting for my mum to come and get me. I remember Aunt Sally telling me that she was having sex with the bloke who lives next door.
“Won’t Uncle Bill mind you having sex with the bloke next door?” (I think his name was Eddie, but it could have been Cyril).
“No, he won’t know and what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” said my Aunt Sally adjusting her left breast which seemed to have a life of its own.
“Why are you telling me this Aunt Sally. I’m only eleven after all?”
“I’m not sure. I guess it’s because you seem like someone who one can tell things to.”
I wanted to ask if she expected me to keep her secret, but that didn’t come into it — it was the telling that was the point. She, like everyone else, needs to tell someone. People cannot carry the weight on their own — ‘here, take my pain, help me carry it.’
Who tells things like that to an eleven-year-old girl?
This bloke will tell me the woman’s name eventually. He won’t be able to hold out indefinitely. They always tell me in the end, only this time I have the feeling that it will be too late.
I’m still going to get paid, even if it is too late. There was nothing in my brief about ‘getting the name before the shit hits the fan’, but I was aware of the urgency.
If it goes badly, I take my money and shake it off. The outcome is none of my concern. My job is to get people to tell me things they won’t tell other people, and I do my job very well indeed.
I try not to think about what people do with the information I gather — I’m not sure I want to know.
I have a sense that the woman’s name is on a piece of paper stuffed into the lining of his hat. All I have to do is get him to put the hat down and distract him long enough to have a look, but I would much rather he told me her name. I have my pride and my reputation to think of.
People tell me things, things they don’t want to say.
It’s a skill, a talent and sometimes a curse, but it’s what I do, it’s what makes me unique.
I’m not sure what I’d do if people stopped telling me things — I’m not good for anything else.
So BORIS has an official launch date, December 22nd 2018. This will be the cover for the audiobook and the middle bit is the book cover. It is available now for pre-order.
Boris lives in the KEEPER OF SECRETS universe.
Susan encounters him in the first book of the series and in SECRETS KEPT we get to know a bit more about him.
He is always there when Susan meets with ‘Backdoor Barry’, silently doing his job. Sometimes lipreading the mute old TV set, sometimes tending to his bartender duties. A quiet observer of everything that goes on at the Rising Sun Hotel.
When I finished the second book in this series, I couldn’t help wondering what was happening in Boris’ life when we were not around. Has he been a part of Barry’s adventures? Was he around when that chair acquired its famous bullet hole? Does he have a romantic interest?
As you can see, these questions needed to be answered.
Boris is more than just a bit part player in Susan Smith’s adventurous life — Boris has a life of his own.
“I can’t get no sleep”, says the song and I know how it feels.
“Deep in the bosom of the gentle night
Is when I search for the light
Pick up my pen and start to write”
I understand the urge, but this is not how it happens for me, mainly because I’m a stubborn bastard and generally because I can’t see a damn thing without the aid of glasses, and waking up, groping around and putting them on in the wee small hours seems like a lot of bother — so I don’t.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that it’s not the lack of sleep that is the problem, it’s the quality of the slumber that is causing the discomfort.
I get the required number of hours, but at the end, instead of feeling refreshed I feel like I have carried a large person up a steep incline. Sometimes I feel as though I have been fighting and running continuously from the time my head hits the pillow to the time that the fucker with the chainsaw wakes me up (we have a variety of fuckers with chainsaws where I live).
Sleep is, and has been for some time, the final (and often the only) refuge from the pain that the world can inflict — a sanctury of warm embrace.
Part of me knows that it would be better if I woke up — woke everyone up, and wrote, but another part of me just wants to sleep, have fantastical adventures, right wrongs and feel invincible — all things that sleep and dreams can deliver.
Maybe, one night I will try, ‘searching for the light, picking up my pen and write’ but in the meantime, I’m going to pull the covers up tight and do my best to drift off to where there is possibility and that golden light that makes all things bright.
“Can you zip me up please Hon?”
I’m sitting on the bed wrestling with a recalcitrant sock when I hear these familiar words. It promises to be a big night. One of those rare chances to dress up and play. I’m almost dressed, and for once, my beloved is ahead of me.
I abandon the sock and walk almost barefooted to where she is standing. As I get closer to her, her aroma hits me, and my senses are sending signals to a part of me that is likely to do my thinking for me.
I can see her bare back — no bra under this dress on this night — the downy hairs reflect the mellow light from her dressing mirror. I grasp the leaf of the zipper and my fingers touch her skin, ever so gently. I noticed goose bumps forming on her spine, so she is thinking the same thing I am. The zip glides up effortlessly making that familiar sound — something like the sound of delicate material giving way.
I lean in and fill my lungs — her shampoo mixed with perfume and that indefinable personal aroma that lingers on her clothing. I notice it when I’m asked to retrieve a cardigan from the car on unexpectedly cool Autumn days.
Having a woman ask you to zip up her dress is an intimate request. Zipping that dress for her is the most intimate moment between us which does not involve penetration.
We need to be leaving, but all I want to do is reverse the direction of that zipper. She knows it.
“Don’t even think about it, we’ll be late.”
“Too late. I started thinking the moment you asked, and it got more intense the closer I got to you. I’m pretty sure that we could be a little bit late,” I said.
She turned and looked at me.
“As long as we make it for dessert. I’ve been starving myself all day.”
I stared into her eyes, and we both listened to the sound of her zipper descending.
“So, let me get this straight. You didn’t see anything. Two blokes with guns blazing, patrons scattering in all directions, enough blood on the floor to drown a small horse and no bodies.”
“Boris no see nothing.”
“Presumably, the bloke or blokes who were bleeding all over the place just walked out into the carpark and drove themselves home?”
“Maybe Uber pick them up. Boris doesn’t know.”
“Have you ever seen these two gunmen before?”
“Plenty times. They in here a lot.”
“But you don’t know their names?”
“Noone tells Boris anything. Boris serves drinks, goes home watches boring TV and sleeps.”
Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles did not believe Boris, but he wasn’t going to let it spoil his day. One or both of the disputing parties would turn up at the local Emergency Department or in a vacant block. Either way, the forensics team would come up with something and then the fun part would begin.
Taking statements at the Rising Sun Hotel was not part of the fun.
Every local police officer knew this hotel and what went on here. Amazingly, considering the nefarious deeds that were performed here, there were fewer turnouts for drunk and disorderly than most hotels. Generally speaking, this establishment kept a low profile. Small time misdeeds disrupted the smooth flowing of ‘business as usual’. A shooting was particularly rare. None of the oldtimers could remember being called to the Rising Sun for any type of firearms incident.
“Did you have your eyes closed or did you have a lampshade on your head while all this was going on?”
“Boris dived under bar and stayed there until shooting stopped.”
“How did you know when to come out?”
“No more bangs.”
Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles was correct in thinking that Boris was not telling the truth.
Boris Vladim Godunov could trace his ancestry back to the Czar who ruled Russia in the late 1500s. Boris had seen a lot in his forty-odd years of life and two drunk Australians shooting it out over an affair of the heart was a minor occurrence. Boris had dodged many bullets and seen men die. He wasn’t afraid of death, but living made him nervous.
Boris came to Australia as a young man, jumping ship in Melbourne on an Autumn afternoon. He walked into the Seaman’s Mission with the clothes on his back and about two dozen English words he had learned from an older shipmate.
“Melbourne is a long way from Russia. No one will look for you here. You can make a new life for yourself,” said Dimitri in his native tongue. “Go to the Seaman’s Mission and the Universe might be kind to you.”
Dimitri gave Boris directions, and his words were to be accurate because Boris met a group of seamen who told him how to find work and secure a place to sleep.
Boris knew that he had found a home. He worked on his English at nights and looked for work during the day. His search took him to Richmond and the Rising Sun Hotel. It was the first, and the last job he would hold. Boris stopped going to English classes at night not long after he got the job. He knew the English words for beer, whiskey and he knew what ‘bullshit’ meant. The rest he would pick up as he went along. His job did not require a lot of conversation, and he liked that. He was strong enough to evict a drunk and intelligent enough to participate in other activities that came his way — cash in hand, of course — courtesy of the regular patrons who valued a reliable, silent accomplice. Backdoor Barry was a regular source of income for Boris. Backdoor Barry used the Rising Sun as his office and Boris made sure that he was well looked after. Boris made an excellent roast beef sandwich with extra mustard (mild English was Barry’s prefered condiment).
“Boris sorry he no help much.”
“Don’t worry about it Boris, it will all work itself out. Just one thing though. You don’t strike me as the kind of bloke who would duck for cover unless the guns were pointed at you. You strike me as a fearless kind of fucker who would stand there and watch the mayhem unfold without blinking an eye.”
Boris Vladim Godunov didn’t answer, but Detective Sergeant Dorsey Eweles thought he saw him wink at him. Then again, it might have been conjunctivitis.