Most of the time, or the slow days, the “Glenorie” is really silent and that Wednesday was no exception, the building was so quiet that when I turned the pages of James Michener”s “Hawaii”, I had the strange feeling that the noise was echoing back at me from the walls of my office.
I’d be lying if I said that I was enjoying the book or that it was really holding my attention, because it wasn’t on either count. Mostly I continued reading because the voice in my head made my office, and the building beyond it seem less silent. I heard the street door open down two flights of stairs and my ears pricked up. The street door opens onto Darlinghurst Road and is a fire door as well as the main entrance to the building, so as a design feature it has two steel bar lock things that terrified burning-to-death-residents push against to escape a fire, banged against the wall. Of course the doors don’t do that when they are pushed from the inside and the doors open outwards to allow those burning residents to escape. When that happens the fire alarm goes off, but seeing that in that case the alarm would probably already be going off, I don’t think we have to worry about that; since it wasn’t.
Instead, far away, the doors opened inwards and hit wall with a bang that echoed up the stairs and I faintly heard a truck reversing on the road outside. And footsteps. Brisk footsteps from flat leather soles and heels. A man. Lighter rapid steps interspersed with the man’s feet. Odd; it didn’t sound like the noise was being made by two feet, in fact the impacts sounded as rapid as radio static. The lift was broken that day. I had been greeted on my arrival by a sign, written in ballpoint on a crumpled Express Post envelope, it read simply, “Broke.” James, the building’s re-bearded landlord was as stingy with words as he was in paying the upkeep on the ruin. Far away the footsteps started to stamp their way up the fake granite steps.
There are only two tenants on my floor, Kevalas Private Investigations, which was, and is, me and Doctor Julius Woo who occupied the office two doors closer to the stairs. Julius is a very closed-mouth Chinaman originally from Wuhan, and I had gathered that over the years we’d been hardly communicating. That he was the kind of doctor who specialised in “women’s problems”- specifically helping women not get pregnant, or occasionally, the reverse since the addition of various herbs and roots to the diet would make a desired pregnancy far more likely, apparently. I was quite sure that he, on occasion would, with the intercession of other herbs and roots, intervene in a prior existing pregnancy and put a stop to it, but since this was frowned upon by the law and quite seriously illegal, we both kept our mouths shut about it. But there was no way I could have kept from overhearing the disagreement that had spilled from his office into the corridor nearly two years earlier. The young lady had been almost hysterical, the older man, who I took to be the father had done his best to calm her and be, well, fatherly. Woo had been doing his inscrutable best to shut her up. About ten minutes after they’d left, a highly worried young man turned up looking for the girl. A few minutes after *he’d* left, Woo popped in on a social call, and looked almost comically relieved when I told him my door had been shut and I’d been napping and I had heard nothing. I told him it was very dedicated of him to work on a weekend. He said the same was true of me. Very inscrutable is Woo.
I figured the footsteps outside were for Woo; I didn’t have to check my calendar to know I had no appointments. I keep my own calendar since I have no secretary or office help, for obvious reasons. Suddenly the building around me seemed much bigger, and much emptier. I took my feet off the reception desk so that could check that the nickel plated sub-nose .357 revolver Miss Hadley had kept hidden was still in it’s drawer. It was two months since the dashing Mr Chase had swept Jane off her feet and away to a new life in Palm Springs, but my fingers touched the pearl handle exactly where it had always been. I rolled the chair under the desk and sat upright with my legs in the kneehole. I moved the revolver out of the drawer and into a new pride of place – resting on my balls. It was surprisingly heavy. The footsteps got closer they paused outside Julius’ office. Whoever he was; the climb up the stairs seemed to have tired him. He was panting. The footsteps started again, heading my way. The panting grew louder and I slipped my hand under the desk to cradle the butt of the revolver, it was reassuringly heavy and solid.
Two things happened simultaneously. A big man appeared, in silhouette, in the door of my office, he faced me; he was wearing a belted trench coat in some light material, probably gabardine. The lights of the hall highlighted the resin frames of his spectacles and the brim of his Fedora, his face was a mystery but he was still panting when he tried to speak. To a large extent, the two activities were mutually exclusive, but with a strangled gulp, speaking managed to gain partial control for a few words.
The second thing that happened was so strange and so unexpected that I yelped my greeting and banged my kneecap hard into the underside of the desk. It hurt, so I suavely converted my yelp of shock into a squawk of pain while trying to smile a smile of welcome at the big black gun my guest was pointing at me. It had a muzzle as big as north opening of the Sydney Harbour tunnel.
The man said; “ Collette, stop that.”
And whoever it was who had been slobbering and playfully gnawing at my shin under the desk, stopped. I rolled the chair back a matter of inches from the desk and looked down; I was curious and, as a matter of fact, I was finding staring at that big black gun to be rather stressful. Two black paws appeared on the front edge of my chair between my legs followed by the “pushed in army boot” face of a French bulldog. The face was equipped with a large, wet, shockingly pink tongue and a happy smile. I made my mind up about Collette as quickly as I had about the big black gun. One I liked, one I didn’t. Collette, stretched up and strained to bury her face in my crotch. While I had mixed feelings about the personal services on offer by Collette, mostly because it had been far too long since anyone had wanted to bury their face in my crotch. But I but was in no doubt about how I felt about the gun.
“Mr Kevalas?” I knew that he knew who I was and that his asking was just a formality, but in civilised societies it is an almost universal rule that he person with the bigger weapon is naturally deferred to, in fact, that’s what civilisation *is*.
So when he spoke again the next few steps of our acquaintanceship fell into a natural order that, while not precisely comfortable, was at least founded in basic and immutable structures.
“Mr Kevalas, this is a savage twelve gauge single-barrel shotgun. It has been sawn off so that the barrel is seven inches long. It is loaded with birdshot, I’ve forgotten how many pellets that is exactly but I don’t suppose that it actually matters that much and at this range I wouldn’t even guarantee that it would actually kill you outright, but I am completely sure that it would fuck you up right properly.
Basically, you’d look funny the rest of your life and probably be blind as well – which might make looking in mirrors easier, I have to admit.”
“Why would you want to break poor Collette’s heart just when she’s made a new friend? “
Collette had given up on my plums as being too high in the tree as to be attainable and gone back to diffidently nuzzling the exposed skin of my left shin. As I spoke she stopped that pastime and found herself another hobby. About two seconds later I knew what it was. There was a faint squelching noise from under the desk and right away there was the most abominable stink.
“Oh God, Collette, have you disgraced yourself and made a mess?” He stooped to look under the desk from the front, and in the light I could see he was glowing cherry-red everywhere that was not covered by closely trimmed black beard. I was far less impressed by the alarming way that the muzzle of his hand cannon was waving around yet still pointing mostly at me. I had a very good idea of what it was capable of; I’ve seen the aftermath of a few shotgun deaths over the years, starting with the suicide of my father. I could see that the fucking thing was cocked and I had no desire whatsoever for it to go off, unless perhaps if it missed me and got the dog that had just shit on my foot. I found myself tilting to the right, partly to see into the kneehole of the desk and probably mostly to present less of a target to the fucking shotgun. Courses of activity along those lines have always had a natural appeal to me.
“Oh God! Collette! You’ve been a naughty dog! You’ve embarrassed me in front of Nice Mr Kevalas! What am I going to do with you? I can’t take you anywhere!” There was the clicking noise of one of those ratchet leads and I found myself wondering why a hired goon would have brought a fucking dog along on a stand-over job anyway.
“Collette! You’ve made a mess of Mr Kevalas’ carpet! You’re very naughty!” His voice was stern and simultaneously surprisingly gentle, gentler than I felt because I knew it wasn’t carpet under Mrs Chase’s desk; it was far, far, worse than that.
When Ms. Hadley had come to work for me she’d been working a job as a checkout chick at a Franklins in Chatswood, standing up for an entire 6 hour shift adding up the totals of the piles of shit bargain conscious shoppers needed to live, from powdered soup to poo paper. She’d hated the work but worse than that she’d hated how much her feet hurt. She’d requested that her manager buy her one of those soft rubbery mats that bar staff have behind the bar to soothe their feet.
Her manager, a rather sleek young man from Estonia sat on the corner of his desk both to appear more approachable and to forestall a rectal prolapse and suggested that flattened cardboard cartons would do just as well, even better, since they were free! The store would even donate them, without charge!
The young Miss (as she was then) Hadley restrained herself from explaining to her manager exactly what she thought he could do with his flattened cardboard cartons and bought a rubber mat for herself, out of her own paltry wages. She then stood on it for eight weeks until the start of the Christmas shopping frenzy, and abruptly quit. The mat itself was about three quarters of an inch thick and composed of ridges surrounding diamond shaped holes that went right through the mat to the floor underneath. Young Jane would (strictly against regulations) slip her shoes off, and undetected by anyone poke her toes into the holes and clench them against the resistance offered by the rubber. She told me that it was very calming and pleasant, and it was a habit she continued when her “lucky mat” was placed in the kneehole under her antique Art Deco reception desk. And Collette had just done a lovely wet diarrhoea on it that had soaked down the diamonds into the carpet underneath. The carpet which, of course, I had bought, and which, also of course, had not been cheap. So while my unwelcome guests were attempting to collect their wits, specifically to aim the hand cannon back at me and, knowing my luck, to have a piss as well, I was thinking along the lines of dragging the rubber matt upstairs on to the roof to hose it off, and similar dire thoughts about the hand-knotted Turkish mat under it.
All thoughts of Mr. Michener’s “Hawaii” were long gone to wherever such things go. I straightened up so that I could more easily see down the barrel of the shotgun with my right eye. At the very back of the cylindrical vanishing point I half-suspected I could see the top of the neatly packaged cartridge of birdshot, already up on its haunches to explode down the barrel and rip my face off my skull. And against all logic, my sense of self preservation was finding itself almost equally matched against my natural fastidiousness, which was vehement in its opinion that being shot to death was not nearly as great a failing as being shot to death and leaving behind a soiled rug. The thought expanded and embroidered itself in a kind of yammering hysterical howl. If I was shot with that gun, most of the good bits of my head would be spread over the wall behind me. The original poster for “The Glass Key” would be ruined – albeit in a particularly apt way, but it was priceless to me. I internally scolded myself for not having it framed and put under glass – and bulletproof glass at that. But when I could have afforded it, it hadn’t occurred to me and right at that moment, the whole subject drove me into a snarling rage.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to clean up after your fucking shitty dog?”
He was stupid for sure, but deep down, behind the gun and under the trench coat I got the impression he was quite a decent guy; the kind of man who would run head first into a brick wall chasing a football if he was told to. In any event the question seemed to take him by surprise, its profound normality seemed to defuse the whole gun/cowering victim scenario that had been unable to stand up to pedestrian reality.
“It’s not my dog!” There was a trace of a bleat in his voice.
“Well who’s fucking dog *is* it? And why did you bring it with you? Was it *supposed* to shit under my desk? Is it a trained shitter?”
I was still really angry and the first sign of weakness on his part was like petrol on a fire for me. I turned into a real shrew. It was only with difficulty that I realised how hard I was pushing my luck, and I strangled my words off. He stood up straight, squared his shoulders, flicked his arm, and with a scrabble and a yelp, Collette flew past him and back into the corridor. She barked once, outraged at her treatment.
”Not my dog.”
“Whose dog it it then?” I was in a unpleasantly mixed state of mind where my disapproval of his off-hand animal cruelty struck a nerve of potential human cruelty visited on me. These thoughts were offset by the truly abominable stink emanating from under the desk. It had me wondering whether I’d ever get the stink out of my clothes. Whatever it was that Collette had been eating, it had definitely been a mistake.
Out in the hall Collette made a noise like a cross between a growl and a stomach-grumble. I found myself thinking that the hall was polished vinyl and mopped clean – not that our beloved landlord would ever leap at an opportunity to mop anything – or at a chance to pay someone else to, either. The only things he was interested in were computer games – and big noting himself to his string of unbelievably credulous girlfriends.
“Look, why are you here anyway?” I wanted to know immediately. The shotgun had gone back to being pointed at my face, and I didn’t want to die ignorant.
“Thing is, I wanna tell you now, but it was s’pozed to be different.”
“I was supposed to turn up – I’d say; Simon Kervalas?”
“If you said “Yes.” I’d pull the gun out from under my coat and say; ”Remember Cynthia Sheinberg?” Then I’d shoot you in the face.”
Fuck. I *did* remember Cynthia Sheinberg,
“Cynthia? Fuck. Why would she want me dead? We split up alright, no dramas.”
He was watching me closely but the gun had wandered away from my face and was now pointed approximately at the desk blotter.
“You think so? That isn’t exactly how she tells it.”
I stared at him, mutely.
“I mean, I wanted to know too, so I asked her. Mostly I don’t – the money is enough.”
“Ten thousand for a simple job,” a strange movement flickered across his lips, “Like this.”
“So why does she want me dead? We talked less and less and one day she gets me on the phone and says we should stop seeing each other and hangs up in my ear, cold as a carpet snake. Nothing about seeing me in hell, or hating me. Amicable.”
He gazed at me fixedly from under the brim of his hat.
“She’d come to meet you here at your office. She met Jane your secretary. They became friends, then they became lovers; in the laundry room on the roof here actually.” His face was hard to read with the hall light behind him; I don’t suppose mine was. I could feel his gaze on me.
“Jane told her about how you’d been pressuring her for ‘favours’ and that did the trick. For some reason Cynthia put a couple of hundred dollars on a very long shot at the Randwick Spring Carnival – and here I am.”
The gun was pointing back at my face. I knew I’d been juggling Jane Chase’s gun under the desk through our exchange, and I finally overcame my natural and culturally imposed inhibitions and shot him from under the desk. I aimed for his balls because I could actually see where they were, while his loose trousers disguised the precise location of his knees. As it happened the bullet hit him high in the left thigh, and I learnt later, shattered his left femur. He fell forward like a toppled redwood, his head ending up almost on top of my feet, so I shot that, too right through its glowering top. Lo and behold the dum-dumed bullet splatted through his skull sending a mini-explosion of more brains than I would have expected out under the desk to spray my shoes, socks and exposed shins. A tablespoon-full sized dollop landed directly on top of Collette’s shit.
The dog. Instantly sensing the cessation of parental-surrogate control, broke free, charged under the desk and gobbled the pile up, shit and brains both. She then attempted to lick my face, but I fended her off.
Sworn in front of witnesses;
Senior Constable Pamela Wheen
Det Sgt Daniel Parrot