Tobruk

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Elizabeth was up before the sun.

Our apartment was bathed in the golden glow from the lamps that she had strategically placed around the room when we were setting up house together. It was only a few months ago, but it could have been years.

I have to get up in the dark — sparrows fart, my dad used to call it. The building industry starts early and is packed up by four, which works out well because the pubs shut at six — on the dot. The ‘wowzers’ rule this town.

A stray hair had fallen across her face as she cooked me eggs. She’d given up on brushing the hair away — too much effort.

“You don’t mind if I go back to bed when you go do you, Michael?”

“Of course not. I would if I could. Oh, and I’ll be a bit late tonight. I’m meeting Philip at the pub. I’m going to tell him what we’re planning. He could come in handy.”

Elizabeth didn’t answer. I don’t think she’s sure of Philip. I understand why she’s wary. If I didn’t know him he’d worry me too. He’s been through a lot and every bit of it shows on his face. He came apart at the stitching after Tobruk. They stuck him in this godawful hospital full of blokes who had lost touch with the real world.

They discharged him from the army once the Japs packed it in and told him he was cured.

He has trouble holding down a job.

He gets flashes.

He remembers stuff and his reaction scares the shit out of people.

I want to look out for him, but there is only so much I can do.

“Don’t drink too much. Remember we are going out dancing tonight — our new life,” says Elizabeth.

“Can you collect my dinner suit for me?”

“I’ll do it before I clock on at work,” said a very sleepy Elizabeth as she placed perfect scrambled eggs in front of me. I pulled my chair in closer, grabbed my knife and fork and dove right in.

In the army, you eat when you can and you develop the habit of gulping it down with one eye on your rifle. There are no guns in our apartment, but my habits are still echoing where I’ve been.

“Top tucker kid. Shakespeare would be proud of your eggs,” I said.

Elizabeth looked at me through dreamy eyes.

“What’s Shakespeare got to do with my eggs?”

“Apparently, he loved scrambled eggs. Wrote some of his best work on a stomach of Mrs Shakespeare’s eggs.”

“My head hurts. Put your dishes in the sink when you go. I’ll do them later.”

I finished my breakfast, picked up my jacket — it’s supposed to rain later in the day, and went into the bedroom. Elizabeth was fast asleep, rolled onto her right side facing away from my approach. I slipped my hand under the covers and leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Her hair fell across her face.

“If you keep your hand there you are going to be late for work,” she said.

I wiggled my fingers and she jiggled her whole body.

“Until tonight then,” I said and I removed the intruding fingers. She turned her head and smiled at me. I love that smile. I could fall into that smile and never be seen again.

I walked, rather uncomfortably, out of our apartment and down the stairs, making sure that the front door was locked leaving my sleeping bride safely inside.

I didn’t notice how hard the work was that day. My mind was firmly in the future.

I arrived at the pub a long time before Phillip which was very unusual for me, I’m always late.

Running on ‘Arab Time’ someone once called it, and it’s true, I like to take my time, I don’t like to be rushed, so I sat and had a ‘small beer’. When the bartender asked me what I wanted I asked for a Melbourne Bitter.

I saw him go for the big glass, but I knew it was going to be a long night, and I also knew that Phillip could drink, so I said, “Just a little one thanks, mate.”

He hesitated, and I thought that was because no one ever asks for a small beer. He found a small glass and filled it, looked up at me and said, “You did mean the beer didn’t you mate, you weren’t referring to me?”

I honestly had not noticed that this bloke was barely five foot three.

Without hesitation, I said, “No, mate. I assumed I was standing on a box.”

He smiled.

I think he was just winding me up, but for a second I noticed that he had an Irish accent, and I knew that this encounter could have gone an entirely different way.

My quick and casual response probably defused what might have become ugly, and I was amazed at how relaxed and loquacious I was considering the roaring headache that was developing into a migraine.

My guardian angel must have been paying attention.

“When were you demobbed?” he said.

“How do you know I was in the army?” I said.

“In this job you get to read people. The eyes mostly.”

Now that he mentioned it, I knew what he meant. My mate Philip has it written in large letters across his face, but most blokes try to hide what they have seen — it inevitably shows in their eyes.

“Did you see much action?” said the barman.

“Kokoda, Tobruk, Palestine and a couple of other buggered up places.”

“I was at Tobruk. I thought I recognised a fellow ‘Rat’.”

“I wasn’t sure I’d get out of that one,” I said. I’d never said that to anyone, but a bloke who was there would understand.

The barman nodded and continued to polish glasses.

“Don’t take this the wrong way digger, but how did you get into the army? I had fuzz between my toes and they almost didn’t take me.”

“I lied about my height,” he said and we both laughed.

“Good luck digger,” I said and I meant it.

“You too mate, cheers.”

I sat quietly in a corner looking out the window and enjoying the passing parade. It was late in the afternoon and those workers who chose to start very early in the morning were now starting their journey towards home or beer or whatever they had been looking forward to all day.

The migraine I had been gestating showed itself in what has become known as ‘the light show’. Wiggly lights that trace a path across my line of vision.

The build-up is unpleasant but once it gets going things settle down quickly as long as I avoid intense light  — working in the sun doesn’t help. If I get my hydration up I’m fine—- hence the small beer. Don’t laugh, beer is one of those unusual substances that can cause or cure almost anything.

For a small beer, it lasted quite a long time and when it was almost gone Phillip appeared behind me and off to my left. My peripheral vision is pretty good even on a bad day, so I could see him standing there looking at me for several minutes. When I eventually turned and looked at him he laughed.

“Never could sneak up on you, you wary bugger,” he said.

I stood up and we hugged each other the way that blokes who have been through something together will do.

“Did you come from work?” I said.

“No. Got the sack. The mad buggers kept looking at me.”

“Mate, you need a job and blokes are always going to look at you if you explode at the slightest thing. Did you hit anyone?”

“Just a little bit.”
“How do you hit someone ‘a little bit’? One of these days someone is going to call the cops and being a returned soldier will only get you so far. Every second fucker is a returned soldier these days.”

“I know, but they shouldn’t look at me.”

“Wear a funny hat. That way they really will have something to look at,” I said and he laughed and for a moment I saw the Phil that I used to know, before the battles, before the hospitals. The bloke who rescued the kitten during ‘basic’. Kept it hidden from the Sergeant. Gave it to a little girl who lived in the Milk Bar near the camp when we got our marching order. I remember that bloke and I wonder if he is still in there.

“I’ve got a crazy idea of how we can get ahead — make something worthwhile after all the destruction. Are you interested?”

“You, me and Elizabeth?”

“Yes. All three of us.”

“I’m in,” he said and I hadn’t told him the plan yet. That was typical of Phil. He had followed me into far worse than nightclubs and movers and shakers.

“Just tell me what you need me to do,” he said.

“First up, you need a shave and a haircut and you need to get your nails done,” I said and Phil looked at me like I had asked him to stand up and sing the national anthem naked with a rose between his teeth.

“Can you get your hands on a dinner suit, a good one?” I said.

“Me dad still has his. I think it’ll fit me.”

“Good. Can you get your hands on a couple of service revolvers and some ammo?”

“Now you’re talking my language. Who we gonna shoot?”

“Take it easy. I’m just thinking ahead. They might come in handy one day. Never know what trouble we might find ourselves in. Best to be prepared,” I said and Philip nodded in agreement. I knew that he would wear a gun more easily than a good suit. But he would have to learn, otherwise, he would stick out like a sore thumb.

Phil bought another round and I told him to shout the tiny barman, “Tobruk,” I said and he knew what I meant.

With the frost forming on our beer glasses I told Phil of my plan. It sounded a bit thin in the telling, but it was richer and more fleshed out in my head.

Elizabeth, Philip and I had one thing in common, we were all good at seeing opportunities and rolling with the punches. Not that anyone had ever punched Elizabeth, but you know what I mean.

My dinner plate was on the stove resting on top of a pot of hot water.

“I got hungry,” said Elizabeth, “so I’ve eaten. Your’s should be okay. Nice and hot.”

I wrapped a tea towel around my hand and moved the hot plate to the table — chops, potatoes and peas, yum.

Elizabeth was at the table cradling a cup of coffee. I could smell it over the aroma of my meal.

“Philip is in, even though I don’t think he has the slightest idea what he is getting himself into. It will be interesting to see how he scrubs up in his dad’s dinner suit.”

“He scares me a little bit, Michael. He’s changed so much.”

“I know he does, but he adores you — would do anything for you.”

“That’s one of the things that scares me,” said Elizabeth.

I laughed.

When I finished my meal we did the dishes together.

“Now that suggestion you made this morning, the morse code you tapped out with your fingers? Do you think we have time before we go out? Before we launch our new career?” said Elizabeth.

“The night doesn’t really get going until eleven,” I said as I grabbed her. She kissed me and I kissed her back and afterwards we fell asleep until the alarm went off and our night’s work began.

Elizabeth looked like a woman born to wealth and I felt like we could take on the world as we stepped through the door.

The old lady from 315 stepped into the hall and let her cat out.

“Good evening Mr and Mrs Styles. Off out for the night, are we?”

“No. We’re off to conquer the world, Mrs Nunn.”

Mrs Nunn and her bemused smile stayed with us all the way to the Hotel Menzies ballroom.

A Book Is Born — YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS

You Must Remember This — February 20th 2019

To celebrate the arrival of YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS, I’m including a chapter from the audiobook. The completed audiobook is a week or two away. It is a long, slow process which comes to a sudden halt if my voice is affected.

The book will be available later today as an eBook.

LIFE AND DEATH 8:57

Thursdays: audio story

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Anyone who has ever worked anywhere will tell you that their job would be easier if they didn’t have to wade through an ocean of excrement cleverly disguised as bureaucracy. The senior officer in a small country police station solves a mysterious crime only to have his decisions scrutinised by those above him. The writing is on the wall for him and his staff, but he still has a job to do. Fate will take care of the rest.

From the audiobook SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES 

6:37

Untitled (13)

Right Place, Right Time

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“Why did you pick me? Why did you think I could help?” I said.

I took a sip from the vodka she had poured and waited.
“Because you found those kids when no one else could.”
“Do you know how I pulled that off? The high point of my career?”

She looked at me over the rim of her glass. Her blond hair was still pulled back and I wondered what she looked like first thing in the morning.

“I was in the right place at the right time.

I didn’t know they were there.

I was banging on that door because someone had hemmed me in — parked so close that I couldn’t move my car. I was tired and pissed off from chasing the story all day — asking questions of people who didn’t want to answer, or couldn’t, and I guess I sounded angry. The fuckwit must have thought I was the police and he legged it out the back door. When the front door came open, and that little face looked up at me and said, ‘Have you come to save us?’ I just froze. I expected to get a shotgun pushed into my face.

The kids were all scared and tired and grubby, and except for the boy who opened the door, they were very quiet.
I sat on the old vinyl couch in the living room with the kids and waited for the police to arrive. I’m not sure that the switchboard operator believed me when I rang it in.

I left the front door open to show that we were in there and we were okay, but it didn’t stop the Special Response Squad from bursting in with the familiar sound of ‘Armed Police, get on the ground.’ I still have that fuckers knee print on my back.
They caught Stanley James Smith a few houses away, and I got a curt apology for being roughed up. ‘You know how it is Mr Fox. We can’t be too careful. Sorry about arresting you and all the rest.’

What’s your name again?” I said.
“Commander Wilson. I was in charge of the search.” He put his hand out to shake mine — for the cameras.
“Fuck you very much Commander Wilson,” was my reply — or words to that effect.
The Commander smiled at me and said, “Fair enough.”
“We both produced our best smiles for the camera.

About a year later I won the Walkley Award for my series of articles on the Cameron Street Primary School kidnapping. The story stretched over four Saturday editions — about twenty thousand words and not once did I mention the kidnapper’s name — didn’t give the fucker what he wanted — fame.”

“But you got yours — fame, I mean.”

“Yes, I did, and every time someone mentions those kids, I feel like apologising.”

“You must have done something right in another life — the Universe likes you.”

“Maybe. The votes aren’t in yet. So exactly what is it you think I can find for you?”

“Peace of mind.”

“I charge extra for peace of mind.”

Read All About It

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“Thanks, kid. Every little bit helps,” I said as the paramedic I was talking to loaded the victim into the back of the ambulance.

It wasn’t going to turn into a headline story, but I thanked her all the same.

This is how the big stories come — tip-offs from cops, ambos, firemen and ordinary people.

I’m constantly rushing — heading to someplace where a bad thing just happened. I get there after the danger has passed. I watch from a distance — somewhere safe, ever vigilant for an angle, a hook, something I can hang the story on. A tug on a heartstring that makes you want to put down three dollars fifty and pick up the Saturday Argus. With a deadline every week I’m always on the lookout for the next story, good or otherwise. Sometimes the otherwise leads to somewhere exotic.

That’s why I went back to her apartment.

Her story was old news, but she was stunningly beautiful, and the reception for the newspaper’s latest owner was just an excuse for another bored millionaire to show the world how important he was — not my natural habitat.

I write a column for a major Australian newspaper — I’m an endangered species.

I used to believe that what I wrote made a difference, now all I want to do is to continue to put food on my family’s table. These days everyone with an iPhone reports the breaking news, and I bitch about it to anyone who will listen — my wife says I’m turning into my father.

As I walk away from the departing ambulance, my phone rings — I always answer my phone.

“How big was the fire?”

“Are there any bodies?”

“Thanks. I’ll get right over there.”

Traffic was heavy, which gave me the opportunity to talk to my wife when she called.

“You have your Tux for tonight?” she said.

“Yes I do,” I said. It had been hitting me in the back of the head every time I stomped on the brakes. “But I’d rather not go.”

“If they are thinking about dropping your column you’d better put in an appearance. No sense giving them an excuse,” she said, and she was right.

My wife’s a doctor, a general practitioner. She works for someone else, and that lets her have time with the kids. Between us, we do okay financially, but if I lost my job we would probably not be able to keep the house, and I love that house, peeling paint and all.

Besides, I don’t think that I have the courage it takes to be unemployed.

The wind was biting at my ears as I got out of my car so I pulled my dark blue beanie down as far as it would go. My wife says that this old woollen hat makes me look like a tuna fisherman or I’m getting ready to rob a bottle shop. The hat keeps my head warm, and it makes me look ordinary — people open up to ordinary looking reporters.

The fireman introduced me to the young girl, still clutching her dog.

“The man rushed into the fire and helped the people come out. I told him my dog was stuck in there and he ran back in. He saved my little dog, but he had to lie down because the smoke got inside him and he couldn’t breathe good. They took him away in a ambulance,” said the little girl.

Her mother had been on the phone, and she moved it away from her ear as she walked towards us.

“He didn’t make it,” she whispered to me and hugged her daughter.

I asked the little girl what she would like to say to the man who saved her dog and she said, “Thank you. I love my dog, and I hope you get better soon.”

This story will sell papers.

A little girl’s cry for help, a small dog and a bloke who didn’t hesitate and didn’t make it home that night.

The hotel ballroom was packed with famous people.

Money, jewels and ambition.

I sat at the bar trying to increase my courage levels in the only way I knew how — very old Scotch whisky. My Tux still fits, and I look good in it, but I’d rather be wearing my fisherman’s jumper and warm woollen hat. Different uniforms open different doors. Tonight it was formal attire.

Drinking expensive whisky, that someone else is paying for, demands a spot of people watching.

I didn’t think I had been staring, but maybe I was. In any case, she walked over to me at the bar carrying a half finished glass of sparkling white wine, her purse and her iPhone. Her white shimmery gown left little to the imagination and certainly did not cater to pockets.

She reproached me for staring, but there was little venom in her words.

“I was just trying to work out where I know you from,” I said.

“I know you, Mr Fox,” she said.

“How do you know me?”

“From your cheesy photo.”

“The one from my column?” I said.

“That superior look on your face is most annoying,” she said.

“That was taken a while ago. I was in the last throws of my youth and fame.”

“Before the Talkies?” she said.

“Ouch.”

“Does anyone still read your newspaper?”

“I still have a few fans who like to get ink on their fingers on a lazy Saturday morning. I get the occasional email, sometimes an actual letter. I’ve been told that I’ve been hashtagged, but it didn’t require stitches.”

“I too like to hold a newspaper, and your column is always well written, in an old-fashioned kind of way,” she said. “It must depress you seeing all those horrible things.”

“Sometimes. I’ve seen some stuff,” I said, and I was beginning to wonder where this was going.

“People seem to open up to you. Is it because you ask the right questions?”

“Usually people want to tell someone their story, and I happen to be there at the right time.”

“Now you’re being modest,” she said, and I’d had enough.

“Why are you at this party?” I said.

“My boyfriend’s bank came up with the money to make this purchase happen,” she said. “Cushy job you have, people watching all day.”

“Look lady. I have to listen to people’s crap all day. Now, I’m off the clock, so get to it or leave me in peace.”

“It’s a long story, and my apartment is close by, the Manchester Unity building. We could walk there.”

“I didn’t know anyone lived in that building,” I said.

“There are still apartments in the tower.”

“Is this about your husband’s death?” I said, but I was interrupted before she could answer.

“Mr Lubin would like to see you now Mr Fox,” said the supercilious woman in blue.

I was introduced to Lubin as the reporter who helped to free those children. Lubin looked at me for a moment then went back to his conversation, but not before pushing a cream cake into his mouth.

What a prick.

What did I care? Now I could get out of here and out of this suit.

I saw the woman in the shimmery white dress as she was leaving.

“Does that offer still stand?” I said.

“Yes, it does,” she said, and we set off on foot, and I wondered what she had in store for me. It still felt like an otherwise,  but you never know.

Wendi Radin was married to Wyatt Fago, the television presenter. Fago was well known and well loved by everyone who didn’t know him. I’d met him a few times. He was the kind of bloke who treated you badly unless he thought you could be useful to his career.

He went missing and turned up several months later under the rubble of an old building that had been torched for the insurance money. Three homeless men died in that blaze along with Fago, but Fago was found under the rubble in a basement — he had been dead for some time before the blaze. The owner of the building was arrested, but the police were unaware that Fago’s body was there until the wreckers moved in months later.

The case was now stone cold.

The streets were still populated, and I love Melbourne at night. A bunch of young women dressed in pink tutus buzzed around us as we walked The hens night had been a good one from the look of the future bride.

“Good luck luv,” I said, and I meant it — marriage ain’t no picnic.

“Won’t need it, penguin. My bloke’s a diamond,” said the unsteady bride to be. One of her hens caught her just before she veered into traffic.

Wendi Radin waved her security card at the guard on duty, and he let us in through the Collins Street entrance. I got the feeling that he didn’t like the look of me and it threw me for a moment — then I remembered that I was out of uniform.We walked past the darkened cafe named after the year the building was opened, 1932, and pushed the button on the ornate elevators — top floor. The hallway was unrestored, unlike most of the rest of the Art Deco building, but you could see how good it must have looked. The light fittings were dusty and original. The door to her apartment was guarded by a modern keypad which looked out of character with the wooden panelling. She punched in four numbers, and the door opened. My mother would have been proud of me as I stood aside and let the lady enter.

Her sitting room was not large, but it did have the only window in the apartment that took advantage of the fantastic view across the city. St Pauls Cathedral was off to the right as I gazed out at the lights and activity some ten floors below. She came back into the room carrying an official looking folder.

I sat at the small writing table and leafed through the evidence statements and a grizzly set of photos. She handed me a very large glass of whisky.

“A splash of water would have been nice,” I said as the strength of the drink walloped me in the back of the throat.

“I thought you might appreciate a bit of anaesthetic while looking at those photos. Besides, I find that a drunk man reveals his true character.”

“You must have some clout lady. This is an original case file. Detectives won’t let anyone near one of these,” I said, and she didn’t answer. I expected a smile or a wink, but I got nothing. She’d be a tough poker opponent.

“You could get someone into a lot of trouble for having these,” I said.

There wasn’t much in the folder that wasn’t common knowledge. The date on the police report reminded me that some fifteen months had passed since his body was discovered. The contents of the small evidence bag were intriguing.

“Whats with the tiny keys?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said, and her poker skills were still in evidence.

She motioned for me to join her on the white leather couch. There was a scrapbook on the coffee table — all Wyatt Fago, all the time.

I read out loud a bit of an interview he did for Celebrity Magazine.

The first thing you notice about Wyatt Fago is that he can turn on his persona like a light switch. One minute he is on the phone to his agent f’ing and blinding about some stuff up and then, click, he is in interview mode. He really doesn’t care what I write about him; he is Teflon coated — the public love him and his glamorous ex-model wife. They are TV royalty, and now that Birt and Patty are getting on a bit, they are poised to wear the crown.

“Wow. Quite a review,” I said.

I leafed through the clippings and photos.

“Is that the Gold Logie?” I said.

“Yes. He smiled a lot that night, and he was pissed off when he finished runner-up the next year.”

We sat in silence for a moment before I excused myself and went to the bathroom. I hit the wall when it comes to whisky, and I was now on the other side of the wall longing for a soft pillow and horizontal disposition.

“Time for me to go,” I said when I returned.

“I hope you don’t think I wasted your time,” she said, and it was my turn to show her my poker face.

I sat on the train and tried not to fall asleep. The walk to Flinder’s Street Station and the cool night air had sobered me up somewhat, but the motion of the train was too much for my tired eyes.

I could hear the conversations as I buried my head in my rolled up coat — excited chatter about a movie I had not seen — talk of the workplace and the relief at not having to go back for two whole days — boyfriend troubles — intimate conversation between two workmates who had become lovers, only two more stops and I have to get off — the weekends are so long without seeing you.

I exchanged pleasantries with the security officers at my lonely station and wondered how they keep themselves occupied on the station with the lowest number of patrons in all of Melbourne, “We jump up and down a lot,” said the female officer. “Aren’t you the reporter who helped to free those kids?” said the tall male officer.

I smile, the way I always do and say, “Yep.”

I walk the short distance to our little house, hidden in a dead end street that didn’t have a street name until a few years ago.

My wife and I fell in love with this hidden house years before we were able to buy it.

Anywhere else, and this house would seem old fashioned and a bit run down, but to us, it was a miracle. It had survived bushfires and near misses with developers, and we felt a duty to keep it safe. The oak tree that stands outside our bedroom window predates our century-old house by several decades, and it reminds us, every day, that we too have put down roots.

This is our safe haven — my family are here and all the disturbing things I have to deal with need not touch them.

That is of course, as long as I leave it all outside the gate.

The Sock Behind The Couch

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“Why the smile?” asked my husband as he sat at the kitchen table. Several sheets of newspaper were protecting the surface as he dismantled an old kerosene lamp.

“I’m just happy and do you have to work on that at the table?” I said without a hint of annoyance. I was too self-satisfied to be annoyed about anything at that moment. I had worked out how to get access to the secrets inside the Electrotch laboratory without setting foot in it. Worked out yes — guarantee of success? — in the lap of the gods. It was a good plan, and I’d gone over it in my head a dozen times.

I had two choices — firstly I could go ahead on my own and present the information to Barry as a neatly wrapped present — the idea appealed to me very much, but if it went wrong I would run the risk of pissing off the one person who was the key to my new exciting career. I’d dangled a huge prize in front of Barry, and he would not be well pleased if I yanked it away.

If I ran the idea past Barry, and he said no, my ego would take a big hit, but if he said yes I would be protected if it went pear shaped.

“I’m being careful, and I drained all the fuel out of it before I started,” said my husband, “besides, I want to spend some time with you. We haven’t talked much lately. What have you been up to?”

Counting out all the fifty dollar notes I have hidden in my wardrobe, stealing industrial secrets from people who would cheerfully have me killed if they knew where I was, being fucked by deranged pharmaceutical executives who like it from behind and getting my all seeing, talking doll to memorise secrets for me to sell to the highest bidder.

“Just the same old boring housewife things. I found one of your lost socks behind the couch, washed the boy’s basketball uniforms and washed the dog, and all before lunch,” I said.

“You do live an exciting life my darling,” said my husband without looking up from his task.

The lamp was fixed and the table cleared in time for dinner.

Our two ravenous teenage boys joined us in the kitchen at the usual time, and my family sat down to share a meal together. As I joined them, my mind was elsewhere, but they didn’t notice. The meal was on the table, and their world was safe and warm. They talked about their day, and I decided to ring Barry and set up a meeting. My bravado was waning, and I needed the safety of Barry’s permission.

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.

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This story is now part of two of my books —

TRUST

SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES