Borrow the Dog

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It has to be said that the dog in question was way brighter than I was.

If she fancies another dog she simply ‘shakes a tail feather’ and it’s on.

Sadly, I’m not a dog.

It’s trickier if you are human.

I’d been trying to find an original way to strike up a conversation. 

I couldn’t come up with anything original, so I reverted to a classic — walk a cute dog and females will at least smile at you, probably strike up a conversation. Dogs make men seem less likely to, well, I don’t know, do whatever it is that females don’t like. I’m woefully ignorant of such things.

So, the plan was hatched with only one glitch — I didn’t currently own a dog.

Used to — when I was young, but my apartment building didn’t allow dogs — must do something about that one day when I get the time.

Fortunately, my third best friend, William, had a beautiful standard poodle — black of fur with a cheeky smile and fun in its heart. Her name is Gladys, and she commands and demands attention — just what I needed.

Gladys likes me, which came in handy. I think she understands me, which is more than I do.

I remember the year, 1952, but not the exact day. You know how it is, you plan a campaign, but you have no clear idea of when success might come and when it does, you are so deliriously happy you forget to write down the date because you think this wonderfulness will go on forever — the folly of youth.

Then you are less young, and you wish you had stopped and written down every delicious moment.

I’d staked out what I thought was the perfect spot, just in front of the iron fence that had surrounded the small park for more than a century.

I tried to look casual — maybe I was preparing to light a cigarette, or I was writing a poem in my head. Perhaps I was just lost in thought. It didn’t matter unless someone asked me why I was lingering on this spot. No one asked.

“What a beautiful dog,” she said. I was so busy looking casual, I’d missed her approach.

She was immaculately dressed, perfect accessories. Her scarf was a few shades lighter than her outfit. Her curves were exquisite, and her gold earrings were bold. I wondered how she managed to keep her beret in place — another one of those secrets that females pass down through the generations. I didn’t ask, and I don’t want to know — some things should remain secret.

“Yes, she is,” I said, but you put her to shame, was what I was thinking, but I thought it better to say less at this stage.

“How old is she?” asked the vision in maroon.

“I have no idea. She doesn’t belong to me. I’m walking her for a friend, he’s not well.”

I figured that this gave me essential points — a man who is thoughtful and considerate of his friends. It had to provide me with an edge.

“Nothing serious, I hope?” she said. She wasn’t looking at me, she was patting Gladys, who was enjoying the attention while trying to look aloof.

I was handsomely dressed — she was fierce company, so I had to create the impression that I was in her league. Impression only — not actually close to her league, but my father always said that I should play against superior players and drag myself up to their level.

I mentioned a cafe nearby that had outside tables, and wasn’t it a beautiful day, and hadn’t Gladys taken to you — if you don’t have anywhere else to be?

She hesitated before saying she had a few minutes before having to be somewhere, she always left early for appointments.

Gladys stepped up just when she was needed by looking directly at the vision in maroon with a complimenting scarf and matching gloves.

I tipped my hat, and we walked with Gladys between us.

She was late for her meeting, and I was in a daze which lasted for the rest of my life.

Some days are better than others, and planning and preparation are never wasted.

Oh, yes, and it pays to have a dog. 

First I Was Lost, and Then I Was Found

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If television is to believed, people walking their dog or children chasing a ball into the undergrowth are the main ways that dead bodies are discovered.

That’s not how they found mine.

I’d been dead for a while.

It can’t have been fun to discover what was left of me.

Being dead, I don’t tend to worry much, but if I did, I would feel for the poor soul who looked through my window, and the unfortunates who had to take me away.

I’m considering haunting the real estate agent who is so gleefully trying to sell my former abode. My family needs the money, apparently.

I’ve tried giving her a fright, but she seems to be too self-absorbed to notice me — hanging around, with not much to do.

I not sure why I’m still here, but it’s not at all unpleasant.

I seem to be able to get progressively further from my home each day, so I can walk around a bit and spy on the neighbours, talk to dogs, that sort of thing.

I don’t sleep, obviously — not the human type of sleep, just the eternal type.

I always like the night time. It’s another world, and apart from the ner do wells who use the undercover nature of the dark, most people who are awake when others are asleep are friendly and sad somehow.

I don’t hurt anymore, not physically. It’s a strange sensation, something like in a dream. I’m aware of my body, but it does not seem to have any weight. I should float off the ground, but I don’t. Everything seems the same, but I don’t have any sensation of touch. It doesn’t slow me down, I just do what I always have — I put one foot in front of the other, and away I go.

I can move through solid objects, walls and things. I know this because I accidentally walked through a chair. It freaks me out a bit so move around like I used to, by opening doors and occasionally climbing through windows — I did that a lot, back in the day.

I’m not worried about what comes next. I’m applying the same rules I’ve always lived by, be patient and let life come to me. Though in this case, it’s afterlife.

I have encountered a few others who are in my situation, but they are confused and angry, sometimes frightened. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say to them, it doesn’t help, so I steer clear.

I like my own company and the company of dogs, so I’m okay for now, but there are a few people I would like to catch up with.

Maybe one day, assuming they end up where I end up. 

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.

The Smoking Man

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A collection of cigarette butts caught Sam’s eye when he walked out of his front gate to catch a tram to the city.

If he had been driving, he would have missed them.

A tight grouping directly under the tree. 

When they moved into their substantial residence — built by a rich bloke back in the 1970s, they decided to increase the width of their driveway. The aforementioned rich bloke had knocked down several houses and plonked his creation right in the middle of the now considerable grounds, all to impress his new bride.

It didn’t work, and he sold the house soon after.

Several owners later and Scarlett decided that this was to be their home.

Big houses were out of place in this neighbourhood, but it did have the benefit of being in the community where Sam grew up.

New electronic gates, with a pedestrian gate at the side (Sam was the only person who moved through it), were installed. The driveway brushed dangerously close to the sixty-year-old street tree. There was some discussion about whether the council would allow them to excavate so close to the tree.

These days the tree seemed happy enough, and if you stood under it — as someone obviously had, you would have a sweeping view up the paved driveway to the entrance of the house.

 

“What’s happening today, Sam?”

Scarlett was being considerate — showing some interest.

Since the accident, Sam’s world had become considerably smaller.

Blood, crushed metal, a rapid ride in an ambulance, followed by a frantic time in the emergency room.

“We have to relieve the pressure on his brain.”

What if we don’t, thought Scarlett.

A boring stay in a hospital room with an interesting view, followed by a stay in a rehabilitation facility. Sam made lifelong friends on that ward, but now he was home doing his best to regain lost memories.

“Your memories will come back slowly, or they may all come back at once, it’s hard to know,” said a kind face in a white lab coat.

 

“I have an appointment with Dr Doug at four, but not much till then,” said Sam.

“How’s it all going? The memory stuff, I mean?”

“Slowly. Dr Doug seems happy, but he would be, at five hundred dollars an hour.”

“Is that fair, Sam? Dr Doug has an excellent reputation for such a young psychiatrist. I liked him when I spoke to him. I think he has your best interests at heart. Give him a chance.”

Scarlett found Dr Doug and gently encouraged Sam to go and see him. Sam was prepared to be unimpressed, but the two of them got along. Dr Doug dealt in dreams and Sam had vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams, which he wrote down in great detail — a match made somewhere near heaven.

“I might go in early and wander around the city for a bit, or I might not and have a nap instead. I was up very early this morning. Which reminds me; you get up very early during the week. Have you noticed an older man standing outside our front gates?”

Scarlett ran her late father’s business empire, and she took it all seriously, arriving before anyone else.

“Not standing, but I have noticed an older man walking his dog. Between five-thirty and six each morning. Usually smoking a cigarette.”

“He could be the one,” said Sam.

“Why do you ask?” said Scarlett.

“I’m not sure. It just seems strange. I’ve seen him standing on the grass under the tree and staring at our house. He stands there looking like he is trying to make up his mind — ring the bell or not, then he walks off, dog in tow.”

“Do you think we need to be worried?” 

It was evident from the size of their property that the Bennett’s were wealthy. Big money attracts some who might want to lighten their load.

“No. No need to worry,” said Sam.

 

The next morning, Sam was staring out of their first-floor bedroom window when the older man drifted into view. His dog stopped as though he knew in advance that they would be there for a while. The older man dropped his cigarette on the ground, stepped on it and lit up a new one, all the while leaning on the trunk of the tree.

Despite the distance to their front gate, Sam could see the man clearly.

This routine went on for several weeks before stopping abruptly.

Sam missed seeing the man and his dog. There was something comforting about their appearance at the appointed time. They had been coming for so many days that the little dog now walked to the tree and lay down, making itself comfortable, knowing there was going to be a long wait.

“The old man and his dog have stopped standing out the front,” said Sam over toast and coffee.

“Did you ever find out who he was?” asked Scarlett.

“No, and now I miss him.”

Sam retired from detecting when he married Scarlett, but this seemed like a good time to come out of retirement.

On his next walk to the tram, Sam knocked on a few doors. Mostly his knocking was met by silence until the retired couple who lived a few doors down opened their door.

“I think you are referring to Judge Nardella. He’s been retired for a long time now, and I sometimes talk to him on his early morning walks,” said Mr Wilson,  (call me Ted).

“Neither of us sleeps very well, but Ted is worse than I am,” said Mrs Wilson, (call me Beryl).

“He was a big deal in his day. Sat in judgement on some high profile cases. Put Enselmo away for life. Lives in that big house up on Oakover Road. The red brick one with all the roses.”

“I know the woman who cleans his house, and she says that his house is full of boxes and filing cabinets. All his old court cases, apparently. Spent a fortune having them photocopied when he retired. She says he reads through his old cases looking for something,” said Mrs Wilson.

“Does she know what he’s looking for?” asked Sam.

“No. She doesn’t know, and she’s not game to ask.”

Sam finished his second cup of tea and wondered if he would make it into the city before he had to answer the call of nature — he didn’t. A stop at the Edinborough Garden was necessary.

His relief break made him slightly late for his session with Dr Doug, but he had a story to tell.

“So, what do you plan to do, Sam?” said Dr Doug.

“Investigate,” said Sam.

 

Another day went by before Sam walked the short distance to the judge’s house. Sam liked to let ideas percolate before taking action.

The front door was at the top of a few brick steps. Next to the door was an old pull handle doorbell. It was connected to a cable that rang a bell in the kitchen. The house was built at the same time as wealthy families had electricity installed, but some old building habits died hard.

The bell still worked. Sam could feel the resistance as he pulled on it and felt it settle back into position.

Sam was about to give it another pull when he heard the bolt on the front door unlock, and an elderly man opened the door.

The judge stood at Sam’s height. Grey thinning hair roughly combed and a gentle but determined face.

There was a moment’s silence after which the judge said, “Mr Bennett. I suppose you are wondering why I stand outside your house?”

“Good afternoon, judge. You come right to the point. Do you have a few moments?”

“No, I don’t, but if you are free tomorrow afternoon, about three, I would be delighted to serve you tea and cake. My housekeeper isn’t here today. She makes excellent teacake.”

“I’ll be here,” said Sam. He was disappointed, but he was also patient. His mentor had taught him that patience was essential. “Let the world come to you. Don’t push it away in your haste.”

 

Sam heard Scarlett’s car come up the long drive. He heard her thank her driver — she always did that, Scarlett treated everyone with respect.

The front door opened and Scarlett put her handbag on the hall table and her briefcase, a present from Sam, on the marble floor. She came into the old servant’s kitchen (Sam loved this room — a bit worn and very cosy — he wouldn’t let Scarlett redecorate it).

Sam had lit the fire, and a snack was waiting for her.

“Your coffee will be ready in just a moment.”

The coffee machine whirred happily on the bench.

“How did your day go?” said Sam, who desperately wanted to tell Scarlett about his adventure.

“Meetings all day. The glassworks expansion is going well, or so I’m told.”

“I love glass,” said Sam, for no particular reason.

“Are you okay, Sam. You’ve never professed a love for glass before, and it’s freaking me out.”

Sam laughed.

“I’m trying to be supportive. I read an article that said a wife should show interest in her husband’s work as soon as he gets home.”

“Now I’m really starting to worry.”

Sam laughed.

“I REALLY want you to ask me how my day went.”

It had been a long time since Sam had anything interesting to say when Scarlett came home.

“Okay. I’ll bite,” said Scarlett and Sam poured her coffee. The snacks looked good — she had skipped lunch again.

“Well,” said Sam making himself comfortable on a barstool.

 

“Don’t eat too much cake and no making eyes at his housekeeper,” said Scarlett before kissing Sam on the cheek. “I should be home on time. I can’t wait to hear about your meeting.”

The front door closed, and her car drove off. Now Sam was stuck with the task of filling in the hours till three.

He chopped some wood, mowed the back lawns — the front ones could wait a few days, walked the dogs and read the paper. Still three hours to go.

Sam’s physical condition was steadily improving, but an early afternoon nap was needed most days. This took him up to two-thirty. He showered and dressed and walked the distance to the judge’s house. His dogs were disappointed at not being invited.

“Maybe next time,” said Sam as he closed his front door.

 

The judge was waiting at the open door as Sam climbed the steps.

“Can I ring your doorbell, just for the fun of it?” asked Sam.

The judge nodded without expression.

With the door open, Sam could hear the bell ring deep within the house. It was satisfying.

The judge ushered Sam into the large front room. High ceilings, thick curtains, and lush furniture covered in boxes. Boxes covered most of the parquetry floor and oozed out through the connecting door into another room.

Two comfortable looking armchairs had been released from box covering duties, and Sam chose the one with its back to the window. The two men settled into their chairs as tea and cake magically appeared.

The judge’s housekeeper was modestly dressed, barely concealing her fifty-odd years. Sam tried to smile at her, but she avoided his gaze.

The judge poured from a china teapot. The tea was hot, and the cake left crumbs on Sam’s shirtfront. He tried to flick them onto his other hand and deposit them onto his plate with only moderate success.

Other than to compliment the judge on his teacake, Sam kept silent.

“In your career, have you ever caught someone who turned out to be innocent?” said former judge Nardella.

“Not that I know of,” said Sam.

“What would you do if you had?”

A moment of silence.

“Do my best to rectify the situation,” said Sam.

Another moment of silence.

“If you don’t mind me asking, are these, in the boxes, your old cases?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you have them here?”

“I’m reading through them — looking.”

“For what, judge?”

“My mistake. I know it’s in here — somewhere.”

“I’m sure, with your reputation, the courts would dig out any file you asked for. What is the name of the defendant?”

“I don’t know which defendant it was,” said the judge. He stared at the boxes, and for a moment, Sam thought he had lost his attention.

“You don’t have to answer judge, but are you a religious man?”

“Yes. Catholic. Devout.”

“I don’t want to sound rude judge, but I strongly suggest that you stop torturing yourself.”

“I stood outside your house because I wanted to ask you what you would do. You are known as an honest, brave and principled individual. I couldn’t get up the courage to ask you, but here you are, and you have given me your answer.”

The judge went back to staring at his boxes, piled so high that Sam feared for the judge’s safety.

The dusty smell that only librarians and archivists know filled Sam’s nostrils as he said his goodbyes. The housekeeper showed him to the door.

“Your employer is not a well man,” said Sam.

“I know, but he doesn’t listen to me. Thank you for coming Mr Bennett.”

Sam’s walk home was considerably slower than his journey to the judge’s residence.

 

Scarlett was home very late despite her assurance. She crept into the bedroom so as not to wake her Sam.

“There’s a plate in the fridge. I can heat it up for you,” said Sam in a muffled voice from under the covers.”

 “No need. I ate at the office. Someone Ubered Italian food. So how did your afternoon tea go?”

“I’ll tell you about it in the morning, but the headline reads, sad afternoon had by formerly famous detective.”

“Oh,” said Scarlett as she slipped into bed next to her Sam. She snuggled up to him feeling his warmth and smelling his aroma. She put her hand on his bottom.

“So, that’s how it is,” said Sam.

 

A little over three months later, a package arrived for Sam.

“Sign here please, sir,” said the thirty-something-year-old delivery driver. “Love your house. Felt like I needed a passport to get through the gate.”

Sam’s dogs were getting curious, trying to push past him to get at the delivery driver. In their experience, delivery drivers had a plethora of interesting scents to investigate.

Sam gave the young bloke a smile and carried the package into the small kitchen. It sat on the old bench like a suspicious package in the suspense movie.

The dogs looked at Sam for direction.

“I guess I should see what’s in it.” A thought crossed his mind, should I put it in a bucket of water first?

The thought passed quickly.

The package put up a bit of a fight. Finally open, there was a thick file with a person’s name on it. The folder was tattered and worn, and the name was written in an unsteady hand. Apart from the file, there was a letter.

Dear Mr Bennett.

I found what I was looking for.

After you have read the file, I give you my permission to do with it what you will. The man died in prison after his first three years of a life sentence, so I cannot put this right. Maybe, by shedding light on my foul deed, his family can have some peace. I am in no way defending myself, but at the time, I was distracted by domestic issues. I missed the clues because I was wrapped up in my own worries. I should have directed the jury to acquit, but I was selfish and self-absorbed. I hope my God will forgive me. My life will be over by the time you read this, and I’m wondering if my God will forgive my early arrival.

Thank you for listening to me. You are a good man.

Yours sincerely,

John Nardella

The obituaries listed the death of former Judge Nardella and you had to read very carefully, between the lines, to decern that the good judge had taken his own life. The article listed his considerable achievements.

The man deserved his rest.

When Scarlett had gone to work, Sam walked to the far corner of his backyard. The dogs followed him and sniffed as he dug a large hole.

He placed the unopened file in the hole and poured kerosene on it, lit it and added more fuel until it was reduced to ashes. The dogs watched as he pocked the ashes and added more fuel, lit it again and watched it burn.

The dogs got bored and fell asleep on the lush grass as finally satisfied that the file was destroyed, Sam filled in the hole and walked back to his house.

Coffee

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The doctor died not long after delivering the news.

“Give up coffee, or you will surely suffer a painful death. Maybe not tomorrow, but quite soon and it won’t be pleasant.”

I didn’t gloat, but I did smile when my sister told me the news.

My sister and I set up house together when it became evident that neither of us was going to attract a mate.

“We can save on utilities and keep each other company.”

 “What if I get lucky and attract a short-sighted woman who will love me until she gets her eyeglasses changed?” I asked.

“We’ll cross that chasm when we get to it,” said my sister.

I’m used to her and her to me. We don’t exactly like each other, but neither of us contemplates homicide either.

“Dr Colour died yesterday,” she said while peeling potatoes.

“Did he have a cup of coffee in his hand when they found him,” I said. Unkind, I know, but he really pissed me off with his holier than thou coffee criticism.

“Not that I know of,” said my sister.

She rarely understood my witticisms.

For What Seemed Like Forever

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“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.”

The Queue

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There is something about a trumpet that attracts cats.

I’ve never been able to work it out.

Back in the day I played in big bands and did very nicely thank you.

But that was then.

These days, I have a tidy but tiny room, at least two meals a day and I don’t think much about back then.

I live close to the theatre district and one of my friends from ‘back then’ manages one of the larger venues. He pays me to keep the patrons entertained while they wait for admission. He doesn’t have to, but he does. It’s only a small amount per night, but when you add it to my pension, I get by.

I first noticed the cats when I was playing a Miles Davis tune. Cats like jazz, and so do I.

I worry that they might get run over. Fortunately, they are wiser than I and rarely venture into the traffic.

The people I play for take my presence for granted, but the cats pay attention — never distracted.

They don’t follow me home, and as soon as I’m finished playing for the night, they saunter off to where they came from. I like their style.

I like my life, and I hope it continues for a while longer, but who knows?

Buster and The Dead Set Scrolls

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“So, why did you ring me. I’m no expert,” I said, with a hint of annoyance.

I’d been happily ensconced in front of my old computer which must surely turn up its toes and die, but for now, it is excellent for watching ‘big-screen movies’.

“You’re the smartest bloke I know, and besides, who else am I going to ring in the middle of the day? Everyone I know is at work,” said Thomas, my sometime friend.

“I was at work!” I said in a voice that was a bit too loud to suit the occasion, but I’m sick of people thinking that what I do isn’t work — even if I was watching a movie instead of painting.

“Yeah, I know, but you know what I mean — you are at home, and your boss isn’t going to yell at you if you stop working for an hour or two.”

He had a point. I’m my own boss — mostly because I’m too proud to work for someone who is obviously an idiot and that pretty much sums up most employers — in my extensive experience.

So, here I am, standing in Thomas’s lounge room. Thomas inherited the house from his mum, who died way too young, preceded by his dad, who died even younger. I always loved this house. Thomas and I would play for hours in this dark, carpeted room. Timber walls in need of varnish, rich tapestry curtains edging leadlight double-hung windows looking out onto the neighbour’s timber pailing fence, a few flowers poking their heads above the window sill. Thomas didn’t tend his mother’s garden, it just kept growing — a testament to his mother’s horticultural skill.

The two large parchments were spread out on the walnut dining table, the same one we built a slot car track on when we were kids. The table will seat eight people without anyone bumping elbows.

The page on the left was a bit more tattered. The sentences were written in red ink, probably using a wide nibbed calligraphy pen. The page on the right was in better condition, the sentences written in black ink using a similar width nib.

Despite the condition of both pages, the writing was crisp and clear, as though freshly written.

“Where did you get them?” I asked.

“Did a job for Jimmy over in Toorak.”

“Why didn’t Jimmy ring me. He knows I need the cash.”

 “Everyone who works for Jimmy needs the cash,” said Thomas.

Jimmy runs a couple of business, all on a strict cash basis. I’ve worked for him for years, on and off. Jimmy’s companies clean offices and meatworks, and when the need arises, he clears houses for a Real Estate chain.

“Big place. Belonged to some bloke who diddled the banks. Took off and left everything. Some of it was choice.”

“How would you know?” I said. Jimmy usually called me in when there was a sniff of classy stuff. My family dealt in antiques, and some of the knowledge rubbed off on me.

“Everything was heavy.”

“That’s because good furniture is usually made from quality hardwoods, walnut, oak, teak, cedar,” I said. Some of those timbers aren’t exactly hardwoods, but Thomas wouldn’t know the difference, so why tell him.

“Shut up a minute and let me look at these things,” I said.

The parchment may have been old. Only a few tests would be able to date it, but the ink was much younger.

Beautifully written, each short sentence spelled out in capital letters. The sentences reminded me of those annoying posts on Facebook. The ‘motivational’ ones printed over pretty backgrounds. ‘Don’t eat carrots on a Friday’‘Be good to your mother, leave home’, that sort of thing.

I read each parchment several times and was none the wiser.

“You dragged me away from my work for this,” I said.

“I know they don’t look like much,” said Thomas staring at his hands.

“So why call me in?”

“Every morning, when I get up, I walk past them on my way to the toilet and every day the writing is different.”

 “Different how?” I said.

“The sentences are different. Not the same as yesterday.”

Long silence.

“Have you been smoking anything unusual, Thomas?”

“Kicked the stuff, cold turkey, a couple of months ago,” said Thomas, which explained a lot. He had been quieter lately and didn’t say stupid things as often.

“Wow,” I said. Thomas had been smoking weird substances for most of his adult life. He always smelled sweet and a bit sickly. That smell was absent from his house and I only just realised it.

“It changes every day?” I said.

“Every day.”

“When does it change?” I said.

“I don’t exactly know. I fall asleep when it gets dark. I try to stay awake, but I wake up, and it’s morning.”

“Where did you find them?”

“Well, to be exact, I didn’t. Buster did.”

Buster is Thomas’s dog. His IQ beats Thomas’s by about twenty points. Buster looks a lot like Snowy, Tin Tin’s dog from the classic Belgian comics. Buster goes everywhere Thomas goes.

“Upstairs in one of the spare bedrooms. The carpet was loose in one corner. It wasn’t part of the job to take up the carpet, only the loose rugs — mostly Persian. I was buggered, and we’d packed the truck. I thought I’d better give the place the once over to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Buster was having a great time. I don’t always let him run around when we work, as you know. Some places are pig styes — broken bottles and sharp sticky things, but this house was pristine. Only a slight layer of dust due to the owner being away. He must have left in a hurry because we found dirty plates on the kitchen table and a cupboard full of sheets that were probably furniture covers, all neatly packed away.”

“So?” I said.

“Buster stayed with me as we went from room to room. I wasn’t paying close attention. It was obvious if the rooms were empty or not. The last room at the end of the hall was the smallest. The carpet was older than the rest of the house and Buster was very interested in one corner of the room. You know how well behaved he is when we do these jobs, well he was going nuts trying to get the carpet to fold back. I told him off and went over to see what he was up to. There they were. Dusty, but pretty much the way you see them.”

“Why didn’t you hand them in with the rest of the stuff?”

“I always keep something for myself. I thought they might be a treasure map or something.”

“Make us a cup of tea, and I’ll have another look at these things,” I said.

The parchments were curling up on the top and bottom edges, almost to the point where they needed something substantial placed on them to keep them flat. This seemed strange to me considering how long they must have been under the carpet.

At times, the sentences were nonsensical.

The red scroll seemed to be obsessed with clothing and how to wear it.

‘Turn your collar up when the wind doth blow.’

‘Button thy trousers carefully in the presence of a lady.’ A bloke definitely wrote that. I can see him checking his fly buttons before exiting the bathroom.

‘Never wear a large hat on a Sunday.’ Why not? What would happen if you did?

The black scroll seemed more interested in manners.

‘Pick not your nose on a sunny day.’

‘Pass not wind on an open staircase during the gloaming.’ What if you were about to explode? And when exactly does ‘the gloaming’ start and end?

Thomas came into the room carrying a tarnished silver tray with a chipped china teapot and a couple of mugs that probably came from one of the house clearings.

“Odd collection,” I said.

“What?” said Thomas.

“Never mind,” I said. “Have you written down what the scrolls have said on other days?”

“Not at first, but once I noticed they changed every day, I wrote them down.”

“Give me a look,” I said, and Thomas rifled through a drawer on the sideboard and produced a few pages of poorly written text.

“Don’t ever write a ransom note in longhand. They will definitely trace it back to you,” I said. Thomas got the inference. He looked hurt.

I read through the pages, and they made about as much sense as the current parchments.

A long silence.

“I’m buggered if I know what it all means,” I said. “Do you want to take Buster for a walk?” Buster instantly stood up at the mention of the magic word.

“Don’t you have to get back to work?” said Thomas.

“Nah, the day’s buggered now. Let’s walk.”

Buster was at the door, waiting expectantly. We gathered up his favourite treats and his lead and headed off into the wilds of suburbia. One of the black scroll inscriptions flashed into my head.

‘Don’t leave your wireless playing when you leave the house.’

“You don’t have the radio playing, do you, Thomas?”

“No, why?”

“Never mind.”

The Seal of Confession

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“So, before we get started, can anyone force you to reveal what is said during our sessions, Dr Dre?”

“Yes ‘they’ can. If I think you are about to hurt yourself or someone else, I’m obliged to inform the authorities. Ditto, if I think you are about to commit a crime. Also, anyone can subpoena files for a civil or criminal trial. And, my name isn’t Dr Dre, it’s Dr Dredd. Some child stole both of the ‘d’s’ off my sign, and I haven’t gotten around to replacing them.”

“Thank you for clearing that up doctor. I’ll say good afternoon then.”

 “But you haven’t finished your first free session,” said Dr Dredd.

“It’s okay, I’ll pass. You are no good to me Doc if anyone including a disgruntled plumber can access your files. I need someone who can keep their mouth shut,” said Susan.

“You mean like a priest. Are you Catholic, Ms Smith?”

“No, but I can spell ‘guilt’ “.

“Close enough”.

~oOo~

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been a long time since my last confession (possibly I was a Catholic in a previous life?), and in recent years I discovered a doll that belonged to my grandmother,” said Susan on a sunny afternoon in an ornate church in South Melbourne.

Susan loved old churches, especially Catholic ones. She once convinced her school friend to smuggle her into a Sunday service. “Just do what I do and open and shut your mouth when the congregation is answering the priest. No one will notice.” It worked like a charm. From that day forward Susan wanted to be a Catholic until she found out what you were not allowed to do. Not drinking alcohol was bad enough, but not fooling around with boys was a bridge too far. “It’s okay,” said Susan’s Catholic friend, “you can let the boys have their wicked way with you on a Friday night and go to confession on a Saturday, and all is forgiven.”

“Confession?” said Susan.

“Yes. You see those doors over there,” she pointed to the carved wooden doors on either side of a similar sized room with a red velvet curtain drawn across, “the priest sits in the middle, and you kneel down and say the words, then tell him your sins and he gives you a penance, usually a few ‘Hail Marys’ and you are absolved.”

“What does ‘absolved’ mean?” said Susan.

“It means that you won’t go to hell if you get hit by a bus.”

“What if I go out and do stuff with boys on a Monday?”

“No worries. Just don’t get run over till Friday, tell the priest and you are right again. Best to keep the ‘boys’ stuff till later in the week. It cuts down on stress.”

“That’s fuckin’ brilliant,” said Susan.

“You’ll have to confess the swearing as well, don’t forget.”

“Fuck that,” said Susan.

“Do you want to be a fucking Catholic or what?” said Susan’s friend, “well learn the fuckin’ rules.”

“Owning your grandmother’s doll is not a sin,” said the young priest who had been at the South Melbourne parish for a bit less than a year. He just made it through ‘priest school’ having taken two leaves of absence.

“It might be a sin if I used the doll to start a secret life, stealing industrial secrets.”

There was a silence before Susan added, “You aren’t allowed to tell anyone any of this are you, father?”

“As long as I believe that you are truly repentant I absolve you of your sins, I cannot reveal anything that is told to me in confession.”

“The doll talks to me, and only me. She can talk to other people, but we try to keep that to a minimum. I have used her to record secrets, and she retells them to me. I’ve made a lot of money, and sometimes the wrong people get hurt, but mostly it’s the bad guys who get screwed, sorry father.”

“It’s okay, I’ve heard a lot worst. What do you do with the money?”

“I give some of it away. I buy diamonds with some of it and the rest I store in old shoe boxes. It’s not about the money, but having a lot of it is a lot of fun. Check the poor box when you get out of here. You might get a pleasant surprise,” said Susan.

“Why did you come here today? Are you ready to stop your sinful behaviour?”

“I came here because I had to tell someone. It is such an unbelievable secret that I cannot tell anyone. They’d either lock me up or steal what I have accumulated. I felt like I would explode if I didn’t tell someone.”

“It’s good to get things off your chest (father Michael felt strange for saying chest), but you must resolve to renounce your ways, or I cannot offer forgiveness.”

“Thank you, father. I feel a lot better knowing that someone else knows about my keeper of secrets.”

Father Micheal told Susan what her penance was and gave her his blessing, but after he said, ‘go now and sin no more’, he expected to hear the usual sounds of someone gathering themselves up and leaving the confessional, but there was only a profound silence.

“Hello?” said father, Michael.

Leaving silently and unrecognised was a skill that Susan had mastered.

Train Sleeper

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“I’m sorry Mr Bennett,” she didn’t look that sorry, “but a shared sleeper is all we have left. If you must travel on that day, you will have to share. If you can put your trip off for a day or two you can have your pick of the solo cabins — they are more expensive, of course.”

“I have to be there on Friday, so it has to be the overnight train on Thursday. I’ll take the ticket, but tell them to stock up on decent whisky. I’m going to need it, and so is my sleep buddy,” said Sam

“You will have some time to yourself because your fellow passenger won’t be boarding until Ararat.”

That’s a few hours of peace, thought Sam, who was looking forward to reading the new Michael Robotham novel he purchased just for this journey.

The Overland sat quietly at platform 2, waiting for its passengers.

Train travellers are an interesting bunch. Many of Sam’s fellow passengers shared his dislike of planes and airports.

Trains rarely involve a full body cavity search, lack of legroom, surely security and godawful food.

The Overland, beautiful named, is a throwback to a time when people travelled for adventure, and the cost was not the top priority.

The train company asks that passengers arrive thirty minutes before departure. They are met by a company employee dressed appropriately, including a wide-brimmed Akubra. Passengers wait patiently next to their assigned carriage until the porter opens the doors. Find your cabin, stow your bags and head for the bar, maybe a snack. The evening meal is delivered to your room and so is breakfast, but a man needs snacks and a stiff drink.

Sam chose the upper bunk — first in first served.

He opened his book but decided to enjoy the view. In a few short hours, darkness will descend. 

The hustle and bustle of Spenser Street station at peak hour provides lots to look at. City workers heading home. Their tired countenance is even more disturbing than their morning gaze.

 

Suburban, country and interstate trains all share this massive station.


The train sounded its horn and slowly pulled out, right on time.

“If Mussolini were alive, he would be proud,” said Sam to himself. Right-wing arseholes are obsessed with trains running on time.

The train travelled slowly as it negotiated the rail yards with its twists and turns. The wheels and bogies complained loudly at the frequent changes of direction.

The train travels slowly for the first hour until it clears the suburbs of Melbourne. Some would say that the view is uninspiring, but Sam enjoyed the sometimes rusty and occasionally grubby nature of these old industrial suburbs. They reminded him of his childhood. His father worked skillfully with his hands, and on rare occasions, Sam was allowed to accompany him to work on weekends, when the bosses weren’t around.

Rust has its own distinctive aroma as do grease and dust and sweat, all ingredients of a working-class employment.

Once in open country, the train accelerates, and Geelong approaches rapidly.

Past Geelong and the country flattens out. The early settlers called it ‘Pleurisy Plains’. Anyone venturing out during the areas vicious gales was sure to contract the infection. 

The flatness comes about because it is a larval plain. The local Aborigines have lived here for so long that their oral history talks about the distant volcano erupting some twenty thousand years ago.

Through the gloaming, Sam could just see Mount Elephant — its indigenous name is ‘Hill of Fire’.

It was getting harder to see the countryside as the train pulled into Ararat.

The massive, now empty, rail yards looked like an old car park that no one used anymore. All a bit grim.

There was a country train on the other platform as Sam’s train pulled in. The passengers gazed at his train, no doubt wondering where it was headed and what the passengers were headed to.

After the train pulls out of Ararat, a strange thing happens. The mileage signpost suddenly drops about 30 miles. After asking the porter, Sam found out that the interstate train travels a longer route to get to Ararat than the regional line. So now they are on that track. Sam wondered who thought that going the long way was a good idea, but why people do the things they do, gives Sam a headache.

Sam’s cabin mate did not appear, and the train had been travelling for long enough for him (he assumed it was a him — even these days, Sam could not imagine a woman wanting to share a cabin with a strange man) to have found the right sleeper berth.

The first part of Sam’s journey had been peaceful, so why worry about the fate of his fellow traveller.

Sam climbed onto his bunk and read his book, but soon turned out the light and snuggled under the covers. The rolling motion is a cure for most people’s insomnia.

He was facing the door when it opened, and a medium height man wearing an overcoat padded into the cabin. He left the door slightly open, which allowed a subdued amount of light to penetrate the darkness. Sam had not pulled the blinds, but on a moonless night, there is only pitch black in the Australian outback.

The new passenger took off his coat, revealing a crumpled suit with no tie. The man was travelling with only a small bag. He reached into the side pocket of the bag and produced a bundle wrapped in an old cloth. The bundle went out the window, and the sound of rushing air diminished when the man closed it and climbed onto his bunk. He didn’t snore, but before long Sam could hear the sound of heaving breathing.

That same rhythmic breathing was still to be heard when Sam woke instinctively as the porter knocked on his door, breakfast trays in hand.

“Thanks, mate, I’ll take those,” said Sam and the porter did not glance nor comment on Sams lack of suitable attire. Porters see it all on sleeper trains.

Sam put the tray for the mystery traveller on the small table and his tray on the bunk. He managed to climb up without putting his foot in his breakfast. He was pleased with this achievement and proceeded to consume his eggs and toast while unfolding the newspaper. Somewhere, the train had picked up the early edition of the Adelaide Advertiser, which seemed fair as they were closer to Adelaide than Melbourne, but Sam would have prefered the Melbourne Age, even if it was a bit hard to unfold at this hour of the day.

The articles rolled out the usual tales of local and international mayhem, which surprised Sam because, from his experience, people in Adelaide didn’t know there was an outside world, apart from Melbourne which they hated. Forever in its shadow, Adelaide folk take any chance to compare themselves favourably, usually around Australia’s favourite religion, sport.

One item caught Sam’s eye.

There had been a shooting in Ararat.

A young husband had come home from work and found his wife in the arms of her lover, a small-time gangster from Melbourne. There was a photograph showing the front of a house illuminated by police floodlights. A neighbour, dressed in her dressing gown said that it had been going on for months and she felt sorry for the husband, “Such a nice young man. Works all the hours that God sends. Gets home late after commuting to Melbourne. He deserved better than her, God rest her soul.”

The wife died in the arms of her lover, and the lover was in a critical condition. The writer alluded, ever so subtly, that even if he did survive, his philandering days were over.

The husband and his Great War revolver were still missing when the paper went to print. The gun came back from France with his grandfather. A Webley six-shot revolver, an officer’s weapon.

The passenger’s tray was untouched when Sam climbed down, washed, dressed and waited for the train to pull into Adelaide Parklands Terminal.

Sam will need a taxi because for some reason they built the terminal away from the city, which means that it does not go to the beautiful old Adelaide Station.

Sam wasn’t trying to be quiet as he performed his preparations for arrival, but the passenger did not wake.

When the porter came for the trays, Sam told him to come back as late as possible, “This bloke needs his sleep. He’s had a rough time. Don’t wake him till you absolutely have to.” Sam slipped the porter a ‘fifty’. The porter smiled and promised. Sam made a note to add the ‘fifty’ to his client’s bill. The rich buggers can afford it.

Sam didn’t mind having a train trip to Adelaide, but all his business could have been handled by email or on the phone, but this law firm only wanted face to face meetings. It seems that they don’t trust computers. Their bill was going to be huge, but they didn’t seem to mind.

The taxi was waiting when Sam stepped out of the station, the air as hot and dry as he remembered.

“City, please driver. Rundle Mall,” said Sam.

“Might take a bit longer at this hour mate, peak hour and everything,” said the driver.

Sam laughed, “I’ve seen your ‘peak hour’ son. It lasts about ten minutes.”

Usually, Sam would have reminded the driver of what was likely to happen to him if he did the old trick of driving ‘the long way around’, a popular ploy of taxi drivers worldwide when they sensed an ‘out of towner’, but on this trip, Sam didn’t care. It was all on his client’s account.

“Just make sure I get a receipt and don’t get greedy,” said Sam.

The passenger woke to the sound of the porter and his gentle nudge.

“Sorry, sir. I left it as long as I could as per your friend’s instructions.”

“What friend?” said the sleepy man with the ruffled suit.

“The one you shared the cabin with,” said the porter, “he left this for you.”

The porter handed him a postcard with a photograph of The Overlander crossing Australia’s longest rail viaduct, just outside Geelong. On the back, written in a clean hand with a newly sharpened pencil were these words:

Dear Mr Park. I’m sorry your missus cheated on you. I know your heart is broken and I know that you will come to regret what you have done, but I do understand. A bloke can only take so much, and betrayal is about as bad as it gets.

It’s not my job to turn you in, but if you hurt anyone else I will come and find you, and you will regret breaking my trust.

P.S. I hope you took the remaining bullets out of the gun before you threw it out of the window. 

Keep your head down and don’t make me regret my decision.