At first glance, it looks like a friendly statement, but those who have discovered the horror of reaching their goal, finding what they are looking for, will tell you otherwise.
Humans were never meant to be happy, not in that way. We are programmed to be constantly searching for something.
Give us contentment, and we fade away — and not always gently.
And so it was with Jeff.
I never liked him much, but I doubt that it kept him awake at night.
He was the kind of bloke who was worried about fuel economy — he’d drive over you rather than around you to get where he was going.
I’d planned his demise, but I was only surmising.
Someone was a little more serious than I.
You would need a toilet roll to list all the probable suspects, and I guess I’d be on that list, somewhere.
He was found under the hood of a stolen car, parked on the verge of the main highway leading to Sydney.
It didn’t stretch anyone’s imagination to guess that it was a woman who flagged him down.
Someone had brought the hood down several times on the lecherous Jeff and left him there to be found.
As people drove by, it looked like he was working on the engine, but in reality, he had died when the force of the first blow drove the dipstick up his nose, which was a coincidence because one of the things that people called him when he was alive, was dipstick.
In his prime, Jeff might have seen it coming, but he had achieved all he set out to achieve, so his guard was down.
The crime remains unsolved — the killer wore gloves, just as a woman might do, and not attract attention.
The Friends Of Jeff, meet at the Pale Horse pub on Williams Street, once a month. Anyone who was screwed over by Jeff when he was alive is instantly admitted.
Over a beer, or two, we discuss how we were wounded by the ambition of Jeff and then later, after the amber fluid has done its work, we discuss which one of us might have done it.
Some of the more fanciful theories include the Queen who was in Melbourne at the time, but the evidence is thin on the ground — something about Jeff being responsible for the untimely death of a bunch of corgis. Possibly the SAS was involved, but I don’t think they have female SAS. Maybe one of their girlfriends helped out.
I’m not convinced.
Of the three ancient Chinese curses, May You Live In Interesting Times, May You Come To The Attention Of Someone In Authority, and May You Find What You Are Looking For, the last one strikes me as the most potent.
I believe that Jeff would agree with me.
“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.”
It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he looked at me.
I was used to the office pinchers, groppers, and improper suggesters, but this was different.
It’s true that he was my boss, but that didn’t explain the casual indifference in his stare. I knew he was imagining having sex with me, but there was a coldness and a ‘matter of factness’ that chilled. His eyes seemed to say, “I can have you whenever I want to, but just for now, I’ve got better things to do.”
They found his body in the supply cupboard with a quill sticking out of his eye. Since I was the only girl in the office who still used a quill, suspicion instantly fell upon me.
Plenty of people saw him go into the cupboard, but no one saw anyone come out.
The quill was definitely mine but as I pointed out to Detective Sergeant Wilson, “Anyone could have taken it from my desk, it’s always on the desk. It’s not the sort of thing that you lock away.”
“Did you have any reason to kill your employer Miss James?”
I remember thinking that this was a strange question to ask. Would a person be expected to blurt out, “Yes, I did”? Were most murderers complete morons?
I thought it best to keep it simple. “No, I didn’t. Why do you ask?”
“Because it’s my job. A man has been murdered and it’s my job to catch the person who did it. Be that a him or a her.” I rather felt that the last part of this sentence was aimed at me.
“You say ‘or her’, but would a mere woman be capable of killing a grown man?”
“If she stuck a quill in his eye, she could.”
“And that would do it. Kill him, I mean?”
He looked at me, but he didn’t answer. The silence went on for several seconds.
“I have a lot of other people to question Miss James. Please be where I can find you.”
“You know where I live and you know where I work. I’m not going anywhere.”
I’d gone through his desk before the police arrived.
I found nothing unusual except for a small wooden box.
It wasn’t locked and it contained a brass key unlike any I had seen before. There were strange markings on the key but no numbers or any hint as to what it unlocked.
I left the box but slipped the key into my bra. A key shaped dent in my breast was a small price to pay for keeping the only clue to the true nature of this nasty dead man.
People in the office were shocked at his death, but few people were truly sad that he was dead.
I didn’t spend much time with the other women, but it was difficult to miss the conversations in the ‘powder room’. Not surprisingly, this nasty individual had been interfering with many of the female staff and those that he had not assaulted had been tortured by his stare.
The police eventually stopped coming around; stopped taking statements, and stopped giving a damn.
I got a new boss who was only slightly better than my dead one and life went on.
Detective Sergeant Wilson had one final parting shot.
“I know you killed him, Miss James, I just can’t prove it yet, but I will. Tell me; how did you manage to kill him in the manner that you did and not get any blood on your clothes. I searched the whole building and there were no other clothes you could have changed into?”
“I suppose that it is possible that the killer may have been naked at the time of the murder,” I said, without even a hint of a smile.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
It wasn’t what he said, it was the way that he looked at me when he said it.
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“So much depends on a red wheelbarrow glazed by rainwater beside the white chickens.”
William Carlos Williams.
This story is now part of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.