Dust Settles In Quiet Places

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The red light on Sam’s answering machine was blinking.

It did that from time to time.

This was the same answering machine that Sam took to the repair shop.

“Gees mate. This thing’s an antique. Must be late 1990s,” said Joe, the repairman behind the counter of the very hard to find electronics repair shop. (Down the alley and ask for Joe).

Joe’s name was embroidered on his shirt. It looked hand done, not by a commercial machine.

“Wife, mother or girlfriend?” said Sam pointing at Joe’s name.

“Me wife. She’s really good at stuff like that.”

“The machine was new in 1994, so technically, it’s early 1990s and as long as you can fix it, it will sail into its fourth decade happily recording political ads, people from another continent pronouncing my name badly while trying to sell me a new telephone/internet/electricity/gas plan, not to mention fake warnings from the Australian Tax Office, and the occasional message from a prospective client,” said Sam.

“You do know that you don’t need an answering machine, don’t you? Your phone company will store your messages for you,” said Joe while peering at the back of the machine.

“Yes, I do. And any bozo with a journalism degree can check my messages for me,” said Sam.

“That shit only happens to famous people. You famous mate?”

“My mother would like to think so,” said Sam.

This conversation continued just long enough for Sam to find out that Joe wasn’t sure how long the repair might take or how much it would cost, but Joe was confident that, “It’d be cheaper if you bought a new one, assuming they still make ‘em.”

Sam got a call about a week later.

“Bugger to find the parts — but I did,” said Joe with the embroidered name.

The price was mentioned, and Sam took a small breath in.

“Can I get back to you. I’ll have to ring my bank manager and arrange a second mortgage,” said Sam.

Joe didn’t flinch. He’d heard all the jokes before, “I don’t think they still have bank managers, Mr Bennett.”

 

The message on Sam’s expertly repaired, analogue answering machine, was from a detective sergeant who owed Sam a favour.

“Bennett. It’s Miller. You remember that naughty person you were trying to pin the Style’s murder on but couldn’t (detective sergeant Miller had been equally unsuccessful, but his tone of voice made it sound like Sam was the only one who fucked up), well he won’t be murdering anyone else. I thought you would like to know. That makes us even Bennett.” Sam’s answering machine announced the time of the recording, which was five hours off because Sam had not gotten around to adjusting its clock.

“That doesn’t get you off the hook, Miller,” said Sam to his answering machine.

A phone call the next morning gave Sam the address where Roman Vigata was shot. A bit of convincing and detective sergeant Miller agreed to meet Sam and tell him what was known about the circumstance of Vigata’s passing.

 

The sky had cleared, but the recent rain made it sticky underfoot.

The shack, with an excellent view across the valley, was up a steep track.

Sam slipped a few times but managed to stay upright. Miller was waiting at the top of the track. He was enjoying watching Sam dodge around rocks and mud.

“Who the fuck lives all the way out here?” said Sam.

“Roman Vigata’s father. It turns out that this is where he would head to whenever things got warm.”

This answered a lot of questions.

Sam had explored the ‘relatives’ angle, but there was no sign of a father.

Roman Vigata senior was pretty much ‘off the grid’. His phone was a ‘pay as you go’, he used gas bottles from a service station, kerosene from the hardware store, wood from the forest, paid cash for groceries. None of these activities left a footprint. Even the local council had his land listed under a company name.

Vigata senior did not want to be known.

“Who was after Vigata this time?” said Sam.

“Apparently, he’d upset his associates. Hand in the till, that sort of thing.”

“They don’t take kindly to that, but he has been a good soldier for that crew, so why come after him now?”

“Who knows and who cares. They got him, that’s all that matters, and no innocent bystanders got hurt. The press is less likely to get worked up when these half-wits kill each other without collateral damage.”

 

The cabin had not been dusted since before the Tasmanian Tiger went extinct, but serenity and solitude sometimes come with dust.

“Wind up radio,” said Sam as Miller showed him through the three-room shack.

“So what?” said Miller.

“No reason. I’ve always wanted one of those. Wind up torch as well.” Sam wound the handle to the accompanying whirring sound.

“Forgot to pay the electricity bill, Bennett?”

“People talk about ‘living off the grid’, but this bloke did it. Imagine not having a refrigerator, not having electric light or the internet.”

The kitchen table looked handmade, and the two chairs were old and didn’t match. There was a well worn three-seater couch against the wall with a blanket thrown over it.

“Hard rubbish collection,” said Sam scanning the furniture.

Miller couldn’t be bothered asking what he was on about. He wanted this walk-through to be over. He had things to do, but not being beholden to Sam Bennett was worth the discomfort.

There was a dried bloodstain on the table — soaked into the grain.

“Whoever did him in stood behind him and pulled the trigger. Execution.”

“Did you find the gun?” said Sam. “Nuh,” said Miller.

“What about his gun? This bloke was on the run from some nasty people. He definitely had a gun.”

“Not that we found.”

Sam looked at the bathroom, which didn’t have a bath and the bedroom, which had not been slept in.

In the main room, the kitchen area was reasonably tidy, and the open fireplace had ashes but no heat.

“Have you tracked down the father?”

“Not yet, but he’ll turn up. Probably ran away after his son got shot. No body in the area and no blood traces, so he got away clean,” said Miller.

“Have you seen enough, Bennett? I have to go.”

“I think I’ll hang around for a while,” said Sam.

“You’ll be here on your own. I’m pulling the constable out.”

Sam stood at the door of the cabin and watched the police walk away. He walked down the track and retrieved a large flashlight and a chocolate bar from his glovebox. His Jag held all sorts of things that ‘might come in handy’. Sam’s car was far enough away from the house that anyone who was interested would not necessarily associate it with the cabin, even if they knew it was there.

 

With about an hour till darkness, Sam resisted the urge to light the fire or the kerosene lamp.

Before the light was gone, Sam searched the tiny residence again. He put his hand up the chimney and felt the years of accumulated soot. To the right, the residue had been scraped away, and a revolver had been taped to the brickwork. Sam remembered the roll of industrial-strength tape that was in the drawer of the kitchen cupboard.

Sam removed it and checked the chambers. One bullet had been fired. He taped the gun back into its hiding place and waited.

Sam had been asleep in the comfort and warmth of the large single bed when he became aware of a man standing in the doorway.

Sam shone the powerful torchlight onto the stranger, who held up his hand to shade his eyes.

“Mister Vigata?” said Sam.

“You’re hurting my eyes,” said the man.

The man’s hands seemed to be empty and Sam, who was good at reading people, decreed that he wasn’t a threat.

“Go back into the kitchen, and we can talk,” said Sam.

After lighting the lamp, the two men sat at the table and stared at each other.

“You’re Roman’s father. You’ve been hiding him.”

The old man shrugged.

“People said bad things about my son, but I never believed them. I had to protect him. I know he was not an honest man, but I believed he never hurt innocent people,” said the old man who’s head was almost resting on the table.

“I was hunting for your son a few years ago. I guess you were hiding him then?” said Sam and the old man shrugged. “I tried to protect him. I believed he was a good man at heart, but after all this time he boasted of the men he had killed, ‘I’ve even killed women and a ten-year-old boy’. He was sneering at me. Waving his gun around. Drunk, but not sorry. Boasting. Jeering. He said I had wasted my life, and he had taken anything he wanted. He killed a child. My son killed a child!”

“So you put him down?”

“When a dog goes crazy, you put it down. For its sake and for everyone else’s. He fell asleep on the couch where he slept when he came here. I knew he kept his gun under the pillow. I was hoping that he would be sad and sorry when he woke up. In the morning, I walked to the general store — he was still sleeping. When I came back, he was sitting at the table, eating cereal. He wasn’t sorry. He wasn’t sad, and he wasn’t the boy I remembered. He was a violent man I didn’t recognise. I took out his gun and did what I did,” said the old man.

“The police think that his associates caught up with him, but I couldn’t see him sitting still while one of them walked around behind him and pulled the trigger. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. If we knew we were going to die anyway, we would lunge at the guns, run for the door, anything — anything other than sit there and take it,” said Sam.

Sam thought the old man may have passed out from the grief and realisation of it all when the man jumped up from his chair and dived into the fireplace and produced the revolver.

“I don’t know your name, and I don’t have anything left to lose.”

Sam could feel the weight of his gun in its shoulder holster. He weighed up his options.

“I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if I have to. If you’re the bloke I think you are, you’ll get out of my cabin and close the door behind you,” said the old man and Sam looked at the hole at the end of the barrel.

Sam moved his hands away from his sides and stood up very slowly. After all his adventures and near misses, she didn’t want to explain to St Peter that he died at the hands of a grief-stricken old man.

Sam closed the door behind him and walked down the steps.

The gunshot momentarily lit up the inside of the cabin.

Sam’s walk back to his car was slippery, dark and dangerous.

When he reached the Jag, he climbed behind the wheel and dialled his phone.

“Miller. Bennett. I found Vigata’s father. He’s at the cabin. He isn’t going anywhere.”

Sam didn’t wait for Miller to unleash his avalanche of questions. 

It was late, he was cold, and it was a long drive.

Do You Know Me?

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“Do you know who I am?”

The cab driver nods.

“I’m not dangerous.”

He looks for reassurance in my face, but my determination and anger won’t give him any.

I took my life in my hands getting him to stop.

The first cab I hailed simply sailed around me and into oncoming traffic, causing a lot of hard braking and a certain amount of swearing.

This bloke stopped, and as I piled into his cab, I yelled, “Follow that car.”

He didn’t reply, and he didn’t seem fazed by my command.

Maybe cab drivers get that all the time.

He was young and tall with very dark hair and amazing black eyes. He kept glancing at me in the rearview mirror and, considering my loud request; you may not think that was so strange, but I knew he’d recognised me.

My photo had been on the front page of the Herald-Sun for three days, just above the picture of a disgraced footballer, a coach caught up in a doping scandal and an ‘actress’, I had never heard of, who was outraged that her naked photos had appeared on the web, again.

I have found it relatively easy to keep my naked photos off the web; I don’t take any. I wouldn’t want to ‘frighten the horses’, as my mum used to say.

The twenty-year-old Mercedes with a damaged tail light had a short head start on us, but my dark-eyed cab driver was up to the task. The upside of tailing someone in a taxi is that no one takes any notice of the poor driving that is required to follow someone successfully; all cabs are driven like that.

The old Merc dived into a parking space opposite a vacant bloke of land. The driver got out as we sailed by.

I gave the taxi driver an enormous tip, and he smiled at me. Hopefully, he will take an hour or two before he reports having seen me. If this were a movie, he wouldn’t turn me in at all, but this isn’t a movie, and I’m going to be lucky if I stay one step ahead of the police.

The silver Merc’s driver prized open the security fence that was doing a poor job of protecting the vacant block and disappeared.

I’m only a chartered accountant, but it is amazing what skills you can summon up when your life has been torn apart. The Merc driver did not see me follow him, nor did he notice me see him enter the old house that was hidden behind a massive growth of blackberries. The house must have been empty for a very long time.

I put my hand in my coat pocket and felt the handle of the wood chisel.

One of us was going to come out of that house and live happily ever after.

From the first time since this all started, I considered scribbling my last will and testament on the back of the McDonald’s receipt that I found in the other pocket of my coat, but there wasn’t enough time, and I didn’t have a writing implement.

An accountant without a pen but in possession of a sharp wood chisel. It had been a very strange couple of days, but now it was about to get terminal.

I took a deep breath, and with the hand that wasn’t holding the chisel, I pushed open what had, at one time, been the front door.

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illustration credit: http://johnlovettwatercolorworkshop.com/drawing/

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The Rat

 

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Living near a creek and being surrounded by neighbours who keep chickens I am no stranger to the sight of rats, I even mowed over the top of one once, but that was way up at the back of the property.

In the thirty-six years, we have been home owners we have never had a rat inside the house………….. until now!

When it happened, I was alone.

It was Easter and Matt was spending time with his geographically impossible lady friend, and Scotty was in Adelaide visiting our granddaughter and the parents of our granddaughter.

My first hint that something was up was at about two o’clock on Good Friday morning. I was half awake half asleep when I thought that I felt one of the dogs walk across my feet. It took a second, but my brain eventually worked out that both of the dogs were curled up next to me. Within a nano second Zed, our part Maltese terrier shot off the bed in hot pursuit without making a sound, which is unusual for Zed as he usually barks if he picks up something unusual. His silence was unnerving, but my fatigue outweighed my curiosity, so I went back to sleep.

During the night I got up to go to the toilet, and for some reason, I decided to close the bathroom door, or at least to pull it almost shut.

The next morning I was sitting up in bed reading when I noticed what shall be known from now on as The Rat when it went bouncing by my bedroom door!

I don’t remember my exact words, but it went something like, “Holy Shit!”

It was obviously too big to be a mouse. Mice are easily caught, but this was a rat!

I tracked it into the lounge room, and I could hear it under the couch munching on something.

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I went into Superman mode and picked up the couch. I don’t think I had worked out what I was going to do next as I was pretty much working on instinct at this stage but I could see it’s tail, it’s very long tail.

I tried to move the couch just a little bit more and ‘bang’, my back went out.

Now I’m trapped in a house with a rat and a bad back.

This day was not starting off too well.

At about this point I stopped reacting and started thinking.

In the past when we have had a possum come down the chimney I have simply left the nearest door open, and the frightened animal finds the escape route; problem solved.

The problem this time was that the rat wanted to get back to the bathroom as evidenced by the chew marks on the bottom corner of the almost closed bathroom door. I had inadvertently cut off his escape route.

The ‘leave the door open’ plan still seemed like a good one, but I had to stop the rat doubling back and heading for the bathroom, so I blocked off the doorway (this room does not have an internal door) using a large chipboard backed poster. My hope was that the rat would think that it was a continuation of the wall and would eventually work it’s way around to the open door.

At this point, it had moved from under the couch and was hiding behind the stereo equipment, and I could hear it scratching. A while later it moved across the room and hid behind the DVD shelves, which did not bode well for my plan as it had to walk past the open door to get to its new hiding place!

It stayed in that room all day, and the dogs were very confused and kept looking at me as they had never been stopped from going in there.

Night fell, and still, the scratching continued.

Eventually, it became obvious that I was going to have to make a decision about the whole open door thing.

I figured that as this rat was most active at night, there was a good chance that it might find it’s way out during the night but this meant sleeping with the front door open all night.

My desire to have this rodent out of my house outweighed my discomfort at sleeping with an open door and the added bonus of the house filling up with mosquitoes.

Next morning it was still there scratching away.

I have to admit that my heart sunk, just a little, but I come from hardy stock and bravery in the face of the enemy was a hallmark of my ancestors, so I checked in every hour to see if the noise had stopped and a couple of times I thought that it had only to hear it start-up again.

At about five o’clock on that afternoon I checked again, and the noise was gone never to return which was just as well as the messages I was receiving from Scotty were hinting that she was retreating to a hotel when she arrived back from Adelaide if the rat was not gone!

The first stage of the campaign was complete, but I quickly realised that the war was not over as the rat could still return to the house through the weakness in the bathroom.

Now, it has always been understood in our family that we do not kill creatures when they find their way into our house. We do our best to remove them without harm. We are not always successful, and there has been the occasional fatality, but by and large, we do our best to ‘live and let live’.

This situation, unfortunately, required a different approach.

As the ‘pack leader, ‘ it is my responsibility to see that my ‘pack‘ remains safe and a rat is a very real danger to the dogs and humans who live peacefully here.

I don’t like poison baits as they are indiscriminate killers and can continue to do damage even after the intended target is dead.

Every night for the next several days I put baits down in the bathroom and locked the door.

For the next three day, the baits were gone by morning. Was this a super rat or did he bring his posse with him each night!

On the fourth morning, the baits were untouched and have remained so until now.

The deadly deed appears to have been done.

Whether we like it or not, as males, we are expected to do certain things like dealing with mice and rats and spiders.

Despite my nickname (spider), I have been terrified by them for most of my life, but in recent times my fear has abated as I have actively studied them. It seemed to me that a lot of fear comes from ignorance so if I remove the ignorance the fear should go away. Well, I would not exactly say that it has gone away but it is definitely under control, and I have come to be fascinated by these amazing creatures.

In my family, we have always tackled problems together, and there is strength in numbers, I have been very lucky to have such a strong and supportive family.

Things have settled down since then, and there have been other challenges come along to replace this one, but there is a good chance that 2012 will go down in family history as ‘the year of the rat’.