Portrait

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It was my mother’s idea.
Mum was never short on ideas, bless her soul.
Somehow, she had found out that no one in our family had ever had their portrait painted, which didn’t surprise me. In our world, only rich people had the spare change to pay for a portrait painter. We had more significant problems, like food and electricity and dog biscuits if it came to that.
Which brings me to Eric. Eric the dog.
He doesn’t like to miss out on stuff.
Mum suggested that my new business venture, supplying rich people with household staff who could also play a musical instrument (more of this a bit later), could use a boost. “Imagine the impact on your prospective client when they come into your office and see a portrait of you, done in oils.”
The idea appealed to me. Despite my left wing leanings on most subjects, I’ve always liked the trappings of wealth and privilege.
Eric, on the other hand, just likes being where I am, doing what I’m doing.
So, when it came time to travel to the city for my first sitting, Eric wanted to go as well. He had no idea where we were going or that it involved a trip on the number 12 tram and even if I had explained to him that he would probably have to sit quietly in some outer office for more than an hour, he would still have liked to come — that’s Eric. He does not want to miss out.
“I like your dog,” said a delightful creature in a chiffon dress.
“And I’m pretty sure he likes you too,” I said facetiously.
“How can you tell?” said the delightful creature, who was in danger of catching cold, as my mother would have said.
For a moment, I thought she was kidding, but it turned out that she had left what remained of her intelligence in her other purse.
I have to say that I took advantage of the situation and we were going to be getting off the tram presently.
“I know, he speaks quite softly. I’ll get him to say it again, only a bit louder,” I said.
“I saw his lips move, but I didn’t hear anything. What did he say?” said the scantily clad creature.
“He phrased it differently, but the sentiment was the same. Oh, and he added a bit.”
“Really?”
“Yes. He reiterated his liking for you and suggested that if you were a dog, he would suggest a mating session — doggy style, of course.”
The beautiful creature blushed and stroked Eric on the head.
I love being out with Eric.
The artist studio was in an apartment on Little Collins Street, a costly part of town. Based on his fee, I could see how he was able to afford this address.
I expected his secretary — (yes he had a secretary, and I wondered what she did all day), to ask me to leave Eric with her.
I wondered what they would talk about.
As it turned out, the artist squealed like a little girl when he saw Eric.
“The dog is, how shall I put it, perfect!”
So that was that. Eric is now part of the company, and it has to be said that he gets more attention than I do, especially since we started using the portrait in our advertising campaign.
Eric has his own section on our website, and we share a secretary so that he has his fan mail answered.
You are probably still wondering about the ‘could also play a musical instrument’ bit.
Well, the idea has been around for a while, and it all started with an old interview with a famous Scandinavian film director who has his own production company. In a throwaway line, he said that he would not employ a lawyer who did not play a musical instrument. Considering how many lawyers a film production company would need, the interviewer tried to pursue the point. No one has ever been able to find out if the director was just outrageous for the sake of it or if he was serious. For our purpose, it does not matter, because the press picked up on it again many years later, and so did the people who like to design personality tests. The best selling book, “And Can You Play A Musical Instrument?”, established the idea in people’s heads and you know what happens when people get an idea into their heads — it stays there, and no amount of logic will shift it.
So, God help any domestic servant who is looking for employment without the ability to at least pound out ‘Chopsticks’ on a piano.
Sitting for a portrait is not as much fun as you might think. My neck got a crick in it, and my arm ached from hanging on to Eric. Eric wasn’t any too pleased either. He wasn’t having it, so I had to hang on to a cushion for most of the session.
I was happy when it was done, and I loved how the painting came out, and as with childbirth, I forgot about the pain.
There is talk of doing another one every five years so that we will end up with a bunch of them showing the permanency of the business, but I’m sure I can think up an excuse to not be available for the next one, and Eric agrees.

 

 

Image: Aaron Westerberg

The Way He Said It

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I’d been working on the idea for a long time.
When I finally took it to him, with all the excitement of a small puppy, he laughed at me.
It wasn’t so much what he said as the way he said it.
As though it wasn’t worth a moment of his precious time to even consider it.
  
I bundled up my shock and disappointment and confided in my best friend.
My friend’s advice was succinct and to the point, “Oh forget him, he’s an idiot.”
He handed me a large whisky and gave me the look of someone who wanted to know what my idea was all about.
He totally believed in me, and he was more than slightly surprised that I let this person rattle my confidence.

Threads

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“Tiny lines of cotton that hold the world together,” said my grandfather, but he would — he was a romantic.
He wanted me to see what he saw, romance, adventure, creation.
“A woman comes to me with a dream. I never ask what that dream is, but I know it lingers beneath the request.” I need a dress for a formal occasion, might translate into, My husband is losing interest in me, and I want to knock his socks off.
Or maybe the lady is trying to impress the other women in her circle — that’s serious business, or so I have been told.”
I was twelve when this conversation took place, and within a year my grandfather would be found in his workroom, needle in hand, the life having ebbed out of him. No one said he had a smile on his face, but I’d like to think so.
“The customers I love are the ones who come to me because they want to please themselves. They know they are beautiful and they realise that the clothes I make for them complement their beauty and poise. From the time they step in the front door of my shop we are engaged in a dance. A creative dance. They don’t spell everything out for me, I’m expected to participate, do my part. When I have made the garment and done the final fitting, we both know that the dance is coming to an end. The exceptional customers participate in a denouement — they let me know if the garment had the desired effect. I love it when they prolong the dance.”
I was way too young to understand the undercurrents of my grandfather’s observations, but I guess he hoped that his words would stay with me, ring in my ears at a later date.
It was never my intention to go into the family business. I could think of nothing worse than being confined in a shop fussing over women with more money than sense.
I rebelled and left home as soon as I was able. I travelled and worked and soaked up life until I thought I might burst.
Every time I saw a beautiful woman I examined her clothes — off the rack or made to measure — you can always tell.
I remember the look I got from a girl in Paris when she caught me examining the stitching on her skirt. She wasn’t wearing it at the time. She wasn’t wearing anything at all, and neither was I. We were taking a break during a long session of lovemaking on an autumn afternoon. The view from her apartment was stunning, and the sight of her was equally so, but I could not resist the urge to find out how well her clothes were made.
“Have you checked the hems to see if there is anything hidden in them,” I said.
“No, why would I?” she said.
“Some old school dressmakers will hide little things like tiny pieces of paper with something inscribed, or a fragment of ancient cloth. They feel it personalises their work.”
The naked lady thought I was marginally less crazy after my explanation and we continued to tangle erotically for several more months until she left me for a trumpet player. I minded, but I got over it and continued my travels.
Whenever the money ran out, I would seek employment, and on more than one occasion I got work at bespoke dressmakers — not the usual job for a young man, but I had my family’s name, and it opened a few doors, even if I did end up sweeping more often than designing and sewing.
I didn’t care; I was free.
The Telegram caught up with me when I was staying in a provincial city in Spain. My father had died, and my mother was distraught.
It took me a few days to get back home, but they waited for me.
After the funeral, while everyone was eating little sandwich triangles and drowning their sorrows, I went to my father’s shop, the same shop that my grandfather had owned. The gold letters on the glass door spelled out my family name.
The rest you can probably work out for yourself.
Your dress is now complete. I hope you are happy with the work?
I know it is none of my business, but I was wondering why you wanted me to make it for you?
“I don’t need another dress. I just like spending time in your shop without igniting the gossips. Does my admission shock you? Have I ruined our friendship?”
Not at all, but you might want to take the dress off.
You wouldn’t want to get it all wrinkled.

.

Painting by Jack Vettriano

 

 

Why I Won’t Be Entering The Ned Kelly Awards This Year

I’m currently a member of the Australian Crime Writer’s Association and as expected, I received notification that entries are open for the Ned Kelly Awards. This is the top award for Crime and Spy novels in Australia. This is one of the genres that I write in so I enter most years. The idea was to get shortlisted (winning was a long shot as some awesomely talented writers have won this award and I’m not quite in that category just yet). Being shortlisted would give me a bit of exposure and hopefully lead to a few sales.

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The Genre I write in — crime.

I began to feel like I was wasting my time when I entered my most recent novel (at that time) and didn’t get a sniff. Naturally, I was disappointed (the book is very good). I did a bit of research and read all of the shortlisted books and found (naturally I’m a bit biased) that none of them was any better than my book — a bit strange I thought. I was expecting writing that blew my work away — not so.

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The shortlisted books didn’t blow me away — none were better than mine.

Then this article came out and I did a bit more research and discovered that publishers don’t see any boost in sales when a book wins an award (the Miles Franklin and the Stella are exceptions). So why was I knocking myself out?

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Why was I knocking myself out?

I did a bit more research and found that self-published works have NEVER been shortlisted. There is an obvious bias towards big publishers as you can see in this quote:

“Asked how the system could be improved, publishers suggested lowering the fees, or removing them for small presses; reducing the number of categories to focus attention and cut fees; accepting digital copies, possibly without the author’s or publisher’s name to reduce a perceived bias towards big publishers; announcing shortlists and winners earlier so books are still in shops, and promoting those lists better.”

Then there is the question of cost. I have to pay a fee each year to be a member of the ACWA so I can enter, and then there is an entry fee. Things have improved a bit because they accept electronic entries which cuts out the cost of postage and the cost of supplying paperbacks.

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Then there is the question of cost.

Let’s face it, I’m a very small fish in a huge pond. I’m doing all the things the hip little articles tell me about ‘promoting my work’ and ‘marketing my books’, but the reality is that I will probably have to live another hundred years before my books are seen by more than a few hardy fans (love you guys).

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A recent shot of all of my readers in one spot — love you guys.

So, for now, I’m not going to be lining any pockets associated with awards — it’s just not cost effective, especially as there is a sneaking suspicion that the major publishers are all that the judges look at.

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Let’s face it, I’m a very small fish in a huge pond.

Here are a few quotes from the article I mentioned, just in case you cannot be bothered reading the whole thing:

“The returns from our very substantial investment every year in shortlisted and winning entries and the minimal sales results from our winning entries tell us something about the way awards and prizes operate these days.”

Terri-ann White, the director of University of Western Australia Publishing.

“When Geoffrey Lehmann’s Poems 1957-2013won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry in 2015, the author received a generous $80,000 but White says, “We saw no results whatsoever [in sales].”

“Publishers agree that in Australia only the Miles Franklin Literary Award for a novel ($60,000 prize money), the well-promoted four-year-old Stella Prize for women writers ($50,000), and the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards significantly affect sales. As well as an $80 entry fee ($60 for early-birds), the Stella asks publishers to pay $500 for each shortlisted title to support the marketing that increases sales.”

“Asked how the system could be improved, publishers suggested lowering the fees, or removing them for small presses; reducing the number of categories to focus attention and cut fees; accepting digital copies, possibly without the author’s or publisher’s name to reduce a perceived bias towards big publishers; announcing shortlists and winners earlier so books are still in shops, and promoting those lists better.”

“In short, you don’t do it for sales, you do it for your authors, and for the reputation of the publishing house. Since we do it for our authors, we can hardly ask them to pay for it – they are less likely to be able to afford the fees than we are, and statistically speaking, it is most likely to be a waste of money for them. So that is where I disagree with Terri-ann. The prize organisers and sponsors should allow free entry for small publishers.”

Ivor Indyk, publisher at Giramondo Publishing.

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I’m feeling a bit discouraged — I need a hug.

Some links worth following:

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-hidden-costs-that-threaten-australian-literary-awards-20161202-gt32wc.html

https://www.bookdesignmadesimple.com/book-award-contests-are-they-worthwhile/

http://publishing.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/writing-and-publishing/brooke-boland/small-publishers-get-a-prized-break-253084

Money For Old Shoes

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One day, the world will stop using paper money as a currency, but until that day thieves will target where the most substantial amounts are kept.
Banks are a favourite target for obvious reasons.
It’s been my job to catch those that see robbing banks as a shortcut to the easy life. I’ve worked my way up to inspector, and I’ve served my time. In a couple of months, I will retire on a full pension. I haven’t the slightest idea what I will do with my time, but I’ll worry about that when it comes. For now, I’ve got more significant problems.
It comes as no surprise to me (although everyone else seems thoroughly shocked) that a long-serving, high ranking police officer decided to inform on most of his former corrupt colleagues to avoid going to gaol for what remained of his life.

I remember the day when detective sergeant Wilson (now assistant commissioner Wilson) first handed me an envelope with my name on it. The envelope looked innocent enough, and the wad of fifty dollar notes made it look slightly pregnant.
“Don’t look at me like that you little piss ant. You take your cut and keep your expletive mouth shut.”
I didn’t take the envelope, but the angry DS dropped it on my desk, wiped his nose on his sleeve, tucked in his considerable gut, sneered at me and sauntered off in the direction of the exit which led to our local hotel — his other office.
I’d been in the squad for about five minutes, and the old members looked at me as a spy. I was way too young in their eyes. I had to be sleeping with someone or someone’s nephew. Either way, I wasn’t to be trusted.
It may sound like I was surprised by all this, but I wasn’t. I had a mentor who told me what to expect. My mentor was six feet five inches tall and almost as wide which was partly to blame for him being retired from the armed robbery squad and the police force in general. He was just too big a target. He’d been shot three times during his career, and the last bullet damaged his colon so severely that he was considered unfit for duty.
William Prentiss was a friend of my father. In fact, my father blamed him for my career choice.
“They’ll smear you with their dirty dealings, and you will have to decide very quickly how you are going to handle yourself. If you refuse to take the kickbacks, you are likely to find yourself on your own one day staring down the barrel. If you take it, they have you, and they know you won’t tell anyone because you will look as guilty as they are. The whole thing will unravel one day when some chunky bastard contracts something terminal and decides to get all his naughty deeds off his chest before he meets his maker. But until then, you have to work out how you are going to survive.”
It was a valuable insight, and a sane person would have resigned at that point, but I’m a stubborn bastard, and I liked the idea of hunting bad guys with guns.
I gave the whole situation a lot of thought, and I decided to take the envelopes (and bundles when things went decidedly well) and catalogue them. I wrote the time, and the date and the prick who forced me to take it and I wrapped it in plastic (mostly supermarket bags) and wrote the information again on the plastic. These bundles would then be stored in shoe boxes. The boxes ended up in a huge old wooden cupboard I bought at a government auction. This thing was monstrous and weighed a lot, but it served the purpose. It’s in my garage as I write and it is packed tight.
The Greenies will tell you that supermarket bags don’t break down over time — that bollocks. Many of the bags fell to pieces as the Rat Squad pulled them out which made me glad that I had written the details on the envelopes.
You may be wondering why so many decades went by without the truth coming to light.
When everyone gets paid there is a high degree of motivation for things to continue.
Behind the scenes, there were officers like myself trying to gather information to bring these creatures in front of a court.
We planted marked money in several banks over a period of years, but the robbers always managed to avoid the tell-tale bank notes.
We had all of the phones tapped but never did we intercept a call.
It turned out that most of the banks that were being robbed had an inside person — often high ranking. Whenever a crew burst into one of the banks where we had marked money, there would be a pair of shoes in the vault. The unoccupied shoes meant that the money was tainted so the robbers would stick to what was in the tills. Small pickings, but preferable to getting caught.
If we salted the tills, the bank employee would take his shoes off and stack them neatly together where the crew would notice them. If he were questioned later, he would say that the robbers made him do it and he didn’t know why.
Naturally, the newspapers had a field day.
‘SHOELESS JOE CREW STRIKES AGAIN.’
‘THEY TOOK ALL THE MONEY AND LEFT THE SHOES BEHIND.’
‘SHOELESS AND CLUELESS.’ this last one was a dig at us for not being able to catch the robbers.
It got to the point that customers started taking their shoes off during a robbery because they thought it was expected.
This led to a lot of confusion for the thieves, and they had to switch to a different signal.
They stole a lot of money, and a great deal of it went in payoffs. The insurance companies put their premiums up, and the general public paid the price.
All this came spilling out as evidence in the case, and several high ranking officers were arrested, and a few who had retired were scooped up as well.
When they knocked on my door one Sunday afternoon, “for a friendly chat”, I told them what I knew and showed them the cupboard and its contents.
“You’re a confident bugger,” said the painfully young sergeant who was probably serving his time in the Internal Investigation Squad because it would speed his rise through the ranks.
“You’re a confident bugger — sir,” I replied.
“Yes sir,” said the young man, who now seemed a few inches shorter.
“I never spent a penny of it. It’s all there and clearly labelled. You will have fingerprints and DNA to back up my labelling and you will all look like a bunch of ungrateful bastards if you charge me. My barrister will have a field day,” I said without the slightest hint of a smile.
The brighter ones among them knew I was right, but that didn’t guarantee my safety.
“You’ll have to testify, you smug bastard,” said the highest ranking officer and it was the first words he had spoken since they all arrived.
“It’s a little bit cramped in here,” I said. “Do you think that ten or twenty of you could step out and give me the senior officer a bit of air?”
No one moved.
“Go on piss off,” said the officer with the gold braid. My garage was soon empty except for me, and the gold braid and a shit load of yellow envelops strewn across the floor.
“I’ll testify, and that will sew this thing up tight,” I said. “I want early retirement — starting from today, no gaol time, no protective custody, and I keep my pension.”
“I’ll have to make some calls, but I’m reasonably sure I can get you most of it, but you can kiss your pension goodbye — they’ll never go for that.”
“Just put it to them forcefully, and I’ll live with what follows,” I said.
The ‘gold braid’ got on his phone, and before long, all the blue uniforms were gone, and I had my house back. They didn’t search the house, but they did bring in a truck, and they took the old cupboard away.
They didn’t search my toolshed either, which was just as well because it contained every fourth envelope I ever received. The nasty people who forced me to take them most probably didn’t keep records so how would they know after all these years?
I had spent some of it over the years, but there was still a small mountain of them unopened. If I did lose my pension, I’d still be okay.
“What was that all about Birt?” my wife asked as the truck with the cupboard drove up the street. She is an excellent copper’s wife — she stayed out of the way until I could explain to her in private. I know she wondered why other police families had boats and holiday houses and trips overseas while we chugged along on the basics, but she never complained — not once.
“A bunch of blokes who made my life a misery are about to get theirs, and I’m the one who is nailing the coffin lids shut.”
She knew there was more to it than that and she knew I would tell her most of it. We’d lie in bed and I’d unfold it for her. She’ll understand. Keeping secrets is part of the job, but not telling her — my best friend — all these years has been difficult. I’ve always tried to ‘not bring the job home with me’, but this was different. I wanted her to be genuinely shocked by the discovery of all that money if my plan went south. She’s put up with a lot during my career and I was not going to let these arseholes drag her down with me. The next few days will see if the brass sticks to our deal, but I’m not going to lose any sleep. Our new life starts today.
“I think it’s time to break out that bottle of bubbly that your sister gave us, but before we do that, there’s something in the shed I’d like to show you. I think you’re going to enjoy this sweetheart.”

Every Girl’s Dream?

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Is it every girl’s dream to be an artist’s model?

Do girls secretly dream about being approached. Standing quietly, looking gorgeous, at some avant-guard party inhabited by musicians, writers and painters, and a tall vaguely handsome man walks up to you and asks you to ‘sit’ for him.

This was never my fantasy, but it happened to me just the same.

I’m well read, I like art in all its forms, and I have existed, thus far, outside the artistic world. That was until that night and that party. I was wearing my favourite gown and, as you would expect, I felt great. I guess my enjoyment of life was showing because there he was, talking to me. The room was full of stunning females, and I pointed this fact out to him. He dismissed my point and asked me to turn my head slightly.

“My tits are much more interesting than my face.”

“I don’t agree. You have just the face I’ve been looking for. Your tits are excellent, but I can get excellent tits any time of the day or night. A truly beautiful face is hard to find.”

I was a little taken aback. I know that I’m attractive. I’ve always known it but the word ‘beautiful’ was one that I had avoided. But that’s the thing about artists when they say beautiful they are talking about something that the rest of us struggle to see. They see the difference between pretty and beautiful and beautiful and stunning. I defy you to define the difference, but if I put those questions to an artist they would instantly have an answer, and they would be able to back it up with examples.

In the end, I said yes. I’m no longer a child, and I’m not worried about ‘being taken advantage of’. Not in the literal sense or the metaphorical one.

His studio is three floors up in the old industrial part of the city. The view is impressive without being stunning, and the light is lovely. Whenever we’d take a break, I liked to wander around and look at the finished and unfinished canvases which littered the room. I got the impression that he often slept there when the work demanded a late night. The single bed in the corner of the room was just barely comfortable enough to sleep on but more than adequate for making love. I asked him where it came from and he said it belonged to an uncle and that he had rescued it when his uncle died and the family were throwing out all his stuff. The small table on the East wall was his as well. He told me that he found a bundle of old letters in a space behind the single drawer. Mostly they were mundane correspondence letters but a small group, tied up with a silk ribbon, suggested the possibility of romance which had not blossomed. He spoke wistfully about his uncle and the lost opportunity for love.

“The rest of the family thought he was a bit of a duffer, but I liked him. He always remembered my name, and there was a heap of us youngins. He seemed a bit sad, but he always smiled at me and told me stories. Somehow he found out that I liked to draw and paint and he always asked about my current project. When they were throwing out his stuff, they came upon a heap of drawings that I had given him. He kept them. I felt bad that I had not realised at the time that we had a connection. Maybe he saw something of himself in me. Something unrealised.”

“Kids are too busy being kids to notice the subtle stuff. He liked you, that’s the thing to remember. And I’m sure that he would be impressed by the number of women you have had in his bed.”

“Yes, I think he would be.”

On the other side of the studio, there was a workbench covered in paints and painting paraphernalia, including many paint-splattered art books and sketches. The tiny bathroom looked like it has hosted a major battle and I only rarely used the toilet. Just in an emergency.

One of the walls was solid brick which still had remnants of ancient plaster. There was also an old fireplace which looked functional. The fire surround would have been more at home in an old kitchen, so I’m guessing that this was not part of any past living quarters. Most likely this used to be an office, and not a high class one. Now it was serving a creative purpose.

I did a little modelling when I was young, and I know that it is incredibly tedious. You get used to the treatment, or you don’t do it. If you are looking for glamour, you are looking in the wrong place.

I’m still not sure why artists insist on having live models. It would be heaps easier, not to mention cheaper, to take a bunch of high-resolution photographs.

My artist, insisted on me being in the room. I think he enjoys the company. It’s true that artists experience a spectacular sex life and my artist did ask me if it would be possible for him to make love to me as well as being his model. I was impressed with how comfortable he was with the idea. Not exactly ‘matter of fact’ but certainly relaxed. I told him I would give it due consideration and we would see if we both felt like it at the end of the assignment. He seemed to be okay with that, and I thought that the painting would have a more exciting edge if he were thinking about the possibility.

I was right. The painting is beautiful, and he is an attentive lover with some serious stamina. Not what I expected, but then again if we got what we expected all the time, life would be very dull indeed.

There wasn’t any long-term future for this talented man and me; I could see that. We enjoyed each others company, and he was a superior lover, but he would always be an artist, and his work would come first — all-night sessions while he laboured to finish a commission, not to mention the casual seduction of any female who walked through that door.

I like him very much but that is not the life I have mapped out for myself. Artists are fun to play with but they are way too much work long term.

The painting is finished and so is my time in this room. I sit in this chair and remember how much fun I’ve had, and I feel a little bit sad.

I’m pleased that my likeness will live on and that my beauty is immortalised, but it’s almost time for me to seek out the next adventure.

There’s no hurry though — I’m going to sit here for a while and bask in the glow.

A Hat On A Windy Day

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The tram ride into Collins Street was marked by people trying not to be blown into traffic and girls doing their best to maintain a bit of modesty as the wind was determined to show the world what colour underwear they had chosen for that day.

Sam often wore a hat, but not today.

He remembered the Dickens’ quote, There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.

Sam had enough problems — he wasn’t about to add embarrassment to the list.

When he arrived at Collins Street, there was a noticeable absence of pretty girls sitting at tables drinking coffee.

The wind had swept them away.

They sheltered behind glass and Sam didn’t like his women under glass, he liked them out in the open.

The elevator played its familiar rattly tune, and Dr Doug’s secretary gave her usual smile.

Sam had gotten used to her over the months, but this day he rediscovered her beauty. It’s funny how we get used to things we see every day. Sam’s detective senses were out of practice. There was a time when he observed through eyes that saw everything. It was one of the things that gave his writing such a sharp edge.

“We haven’t talked much about your writing Sam. Do you remember a time when it became clear to you that you would become a writer?” Dr Doug was having a good day. His first patient of the day showed a good deal of improvement from the previous week. Dr Doug’s ego was in full flight.

“No, I don’t. And I don’t mean that it is one of my lost memories, I mean that it was just one of the things that interested me, so I thought I would give it a try. It would make a much better story if there had been a Road to Damascus moment but that’s not how I do things. I just sort of find myself in it, and when I look back, it is difficult to see where it started. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to Scarlett; that was definitely a blinding flash.”

“I should think so. She’s amazing, and I really would have been disappointed if there was not a little lightening and thunder.

“Were you a stand out in English studies at school?” asked Dr Doug.

“Not at all. I guess I did okay. Mostly my marks were around the mid-seventies, which I guess were good but everyone around me was in the mid to high eighties, and beyond, so I didn’t stand out. I remember enjoying the subject, and I’ve always had ‘the gift of the gab’ as my mother would call it.

I had excellent English teachers all the way through high school, which helped. I liked them all, and I wanted to please them, so I guess that drove me on.

I remember one year in particular.

We were in a scholarship year, which meant that at the end of that year we would sit an exam and hopefully qualify for a government scholarship which would pay for some of our expenses for the next few years of schooling.

This was a really big deal as most of us came from working class homes where our tradesmen fathers were working overtime to put us through this private school. It wasn’t a private school in the sense that you see these days. It was definitely at the bottom rung, but we had uniforms, and there were school fees and books and sports equipment and stuff like that and most households were single income back then, so a scholarship was a big deal and our families were counting on the money. If we didn’t get it, there was a chance we would be out of school and placed in a trade. Most of the parents in that era wanted more for their kids. They wanted them to better themselves. These days ‘tradies’ make more money than bank managers but back then it was about moving up in society.

Middle class trumped working class, any day.

The school I went to might have been a private school, but it was full of boys from a very rough part of Melbourne. I’m amazed that the teachers were able to control us considering all that, but the reason it worked was that we were all terrified of our fathers. Dads didn’t take any shit in those days, and we knew that they were working all hours just to keep us at school, so we didn’t dare let them down.

The teachers would merely have to suggest that they might call in our parents and we fell into line.

This was a particularly tough era, and we had a long standing dislike of Preston Technical School, and the dislike was returned. The rivalry continues to this day and every decade, or so it boils up into a pitched battle. It happened when I was a junior. A couple of our students were walking to school [no one got driven to school in those days] and got jumped by a bunch of Preston Tech boys. The word went out, and a group of seniors and a couple of teachers went in the direction of Preston Tech and beat the shit out of anyone they could find. By the time the cops arrived, there were bruised and battered teenagers as far as the eye could see. We received our seniors back at the school as the Romans would have back in the day. Those boys achieved legendary status, as did the teachers who went with them. It was an amazing time to be alive.”

“So how did the scholarship year work out?” asked Dr Doug.

“Most of us made it through and those that didn’t left the school. That was how the school maintained its academic record, and I’m sure that it happens even today. If a boy were not achieving the required marks, there would be a meeting arranged with his parents and the next thing you know he leaves school and starts work at the Railways.

I lost a lot of mates that way.

It put us all on notice that we could be next.

I worked out that in year eight, the scholarship year, I had a wide circle of friends numbering around forty boys. By the time I fronted up for the first day of year twelve, they were all gone — every single one. I was the only one left.

We had a good teacher, but I forget his name. He was a big bloke, and I mean ‘big’. Teachers were allowed to cane you in those days, and many of them did. We liked this bloke, but he would get tough if he had to and the teachers we had in the scholarship year were under pressure as well, particularly the English teacher.

I’m sure that the only reason I passed that year was because the scholarship exam was in the form of multiple choice questions. We had never seen this type of exam before, and I loved them. I guess it was the future detective in me but if I didn’t know the answer I could still work out which was the highest probability by eliminating the answers that were obviously wrong.

Worked like a charm.

I romped it in.

Our English teacher would give us a passage from a book, and we would have to know the meaning of every word in that passage. Naturally, most of us didn’t study the passage, and if you were asked to define a word and couldn’t do it, you got the cane; and it hurt.

At that time there was a student in our class who had transferred in from another school (probably a posh private school which he had most likely been kicked out of). I liked him a lot. He was incredibly bright but didn’t seem to care much. He wore shorts when the rest of us would not be seen dead in them, and he loved to play marbles, again not something that our age group did anymore. He did what he wanted to and didn’t care what we thought.

I really liked that.

I sat next to him in some of the classes, and I was fascinated that he could name every sail on a fully rigged sailing ship.

We alway sat next to each other during these define the word sessions, and we had a Kamikaze pact going whereby we would not study for this exam but would instead ‘wing it’ and try and work out what the word might mean from the context of the sentence.

We also worked out that if we appeared eager to answer, we would not be called on straight away. So we put our hand up right from the start, even if we didn’t know what the word meant.

It worked like a charm.

Some poor kid, who didn’t have his hand up would get called on, would get it wrong and would get belted. We would put our hand up and admit that we didn’t know either but we thought it sounded like it should mean ‘this’ based on the context of the sentence. Even though we may not have gotten it right, we never got walloped. I guess he didn’t want to dampen our enthusiasm or he admired our courage.

This boy and I had our own competition going on. The first to get caned would lose that round. This never happened so we would then count how many correct ‘guesses’ we got and I remember keeping pace with this kid and beating him regularly even though he was heaps brighter that I was.

His dad was a doctor, which was rare at our school. No high flying dads to be seen, strictly working and lower middle class. Although one of my mates had a dad, who drove a Jag and worked in the city. But he didn’t have a mum so in our eyes that made him someone to feel sorry for.

A couple of my mates and I tried to tutor the doctor’s son because he was so far behind due to not caring, and he did make an effort, but he didn’t pass, and his doctor dad took him away from the school, and we never saw him again.

I still think about him, and I remember those word sessions with great fondness. I hope life treated him well.”

 

Concerning The Death Of A Scoundrel

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I always had a horror of being found dead in a bad suit.
The four stylish women who are standing over me are each a little bit happy that I am dead.
I was a bit of a scoundrel, but I loved them all.
It was just that they needed something from me that I wasn’t capable of giving.

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Women are like that.
They like what they see, and then they try to make you into something else. I’ve never understood that.
I had money and didn’t play by the rules, and the ladies enjoy that, it gives them a thrill.
I never pretended to be a one girl guy.
They didn’t listen, they just heard what they wanted to hear, and I guess I just let them, it was easier, or it seemed that way at the time.

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I had things I wanted to do, and most of them were more fun with a woman on my arm.
I had a little money, and usually, I could turn it into a lot more, sometimes by legal means, but if necessary I could take it from those who could afford it, but only from those who could afford it. I had been known to win money playing cards and occasionally playing chess, but only occasionally. Chess was for fun and taking money from people was only fun when I didn’t like them.
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I know exactly who shot me; Billy Prentice.
He’ll swing for it, but that won’t help me.
Although, being dead isn’t all bad.
It doesn’t hurt, and my clothes don’t get wrinkled, no matter what I do.
I’m pleased I was wearing this suit.
I love this suit, and it looks like I will be wearing it for a while to come.
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I’ll miss them all, but I’ll miss Margo the most.
She’s the one on the right in the green dress.
She has a magnificent body; they all do, but Margo was very generous with hers. She never used sex as a weapon, and she excelled in the ability of pleasing a man.
She liked sex the way a man likes sex; often.
It wasn’t difficult to bring her to orgasm, and that made it fun. She could achieve orgasm as many times as she wanted and each one seemed more intense than the last.
This gave me great pleasure.
It’s a common misconception that guys are only in it for the personal pleasure, but that’s not true, at least it isn’t for me.
Being able to give pleasure over and over again is intense, it’s powerful, and it’s fun.
Margo had an easy-going air about her. She made me feel special. If I were ever to settle down, it would have been with her. She was genuine, at least in private. In public, she was a lot like the others, but I knew her secret, she was a friendly, loving person.
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But, back to Billy Prentice.
You see that brown and yellow tie I’m wearing? It’s my school tie, St Josephs College. Billy and I were classmates.
There were two ways to get into St Josephs, you were either very bright, or your family was very rich.
Billy’s family was very rich.
I had the brains and my parents damn near bankrupted themselves for me to go there.
My degree cost a small fortune, and if my parents were alive, they’d still be paying off the debt. Thank God for debt insurance.
 Billy’s family money had made it very easy for him, but in College, he was surrounded by students with money and the college didn’t care if you were rich, they only cared if you passed your exams. If you dropped out, there was always someone who would transfer in and take your place.
 Billy had a major and a minor in ‘party’, and I have to admit that he was magnificent at it. He rarely turned up to class, and he had a string of the less well off students taking notes and writing assignments for him.
He made it through the first year by paying a lot of money for an advance copy of the final exam papers.
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The second year went a lot like the first year with the single exception of him being expelled for cheating on his finals.
From what I can work out he thought I dobbed him in. I didn’t, but I was not broken up by not having to see him again.
 For a long time, I didn’t know who did drop him in it, but one of the perks of being dead is that you get the answers to all the stuff you wanted to know when you were alive.
Some guy I’d never noticed gave him up because Billy had ignored him for the better part of two years.
Hell hath no fury like a quiet guy ignored; apparently.
It was just too simple.
I was hoping for a much better story.
Like the one behind why Mary [she’s the one on the right in the red] never wore anything other than black underwear.
I asked her heaps of times, but she just kept saying, “It’s none of your business.”
Of Course, it was my business, I was the one who was looking at them, removing them, trying to find where I had thrown them, giving her money to replace the ones that went out the window on an especially passionate night.
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Would you like to know why she only wore black? OK, I’ll tell you.
She was colour blind.
Can you believe it?
She didn’t want anyone to know.
She had all her dresses labelled, but she just couldn’t be bothered with her underwear, so she just bought black.
Practical, but annoyingly simple.
Can you see what I mean?
Up to this point, it isn’t worth being dead, all I’m getting are really annoying answers to old questions.
 Back to Billy again.
I guess he thought that I had been fooling around with his woman, which I had, and mix this with believing that I was responsible for getting him sent down and his tiny little mind decided to take me out.
He never was a big thinker.
 Screw Billy, I have to make the most of the situation I find myself in.
I’m wondering if I should look up all the women I know who are dead, or should I set my sights a little higher?
Quite a few women must have died since this whole thing kicked off.
I think I’m going to like this.
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So far no sign of St Peter or a judgement day, no one is sticking me with a pitchfork, and I haven’t seen a single pair of wings.
I know these four are going to miss me, but you would not know it by the look on their faces, would you?
Did I mention that I know all the answers to all the questions?
Yes, there is food and drink and dogs and sex, and yes guys, you can go all night if you want to, no matter how old you are, and yes we do have night and day, but the best part is the conversation.
Everyone has something interesting to say especially the ones who have gone around quite a few times.
 
I’m sure you have questions.
 
What would you like to know?
 
The scoundrel is in; ask away.  

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Death of a Soundrel