t six o’clock Dean’s eyes opened. He looked over at the ticking alarm clock to check the time, realised he couldn’t see it and reached for his glasses. The hands showed six o’clock, yet the alarm had not rung. Just as he thought this, the clock went ‘clunk’ instead of ‘tick’ and there was an unnerving whirring sound from the mechanism. After a couple of seconds there was another ‘clunk’ and the clock went on ticking as merrily as before.
“Hmm,” Dean said to himself. “That is not going to wake me tomorrow.” He resolved to take a long lunch today and go shopping for a replacement, suddenly realising there were enough powerpoints in the room to have one of those digital clocks. Now, though, it was time for a shower.
This January he was using a no-nonsense organic shampoo with apricot and lemon essences. The shampoo was supposed to be good for fine hair. So far he’d noticed little improvement in sheen, gloss or split ends but he didn’t really care about them if his hair was clean and straight. The conditioner was similar but was rosemary and mint flavoured. He slipped into his bathrobe and padded out to the downstairs bathroom. This was a simple room with a shower and basin and a window facing the back fence. This fence had some medium sized trees behind it, part of the neighbour’s backyard. Dean cursed that they were on this side of his block of units, because if they had been on the other side there was a good chance he could look out of this window and into the bathroom of the blonde from next door.
That remind him of the blonde upstairs from last night. He turned on the hot water in the shower and heard the plumbing judder and creak to life. In a second or two there was a few bursts of spray from the showerhead and then a steady stream of water at a pressure Dean hadn’t seen since he moved out of home. He added some cold water to the mix and hopped under the shower, luxuriating in hot water that pounded his back and shoulders and showed nos gins of running out. He lathered up and rinsed, used the conditioner and waited under the shower a few minutes for it to do its thing. After rinsing that off and getting out of the shower he was aware of a problem common to all gentlemen who suddenly find they have to arise at an earlier time than they’re used to. This hadn’t been a problem when he lived on his own but would certainly be one if he ran into someone else in the house. Hmm. What to do?
The solution was drastic but effective—he hopped back under the shower and ran cold water over himself for a minute or two. “B-b-brisk,” he shivered as he towelled himself off. “I need a drop of bromide in my tea.”
The clothing garbag yielded up a pair of jeans and plaid, or tartan, flannelette shirt. He took that out to the laundry still in his robe and found an ironing board next to the dryer and small iron in the linen press. The iron had seen many decades of use if you could judge by the patina of burnt cloth and melted nylon on the soleplate but it didn’t appear to be more than ten years old. He tested the very tip of the soleplate on the very tip of his shirt’s waist and was relieve to not smell or see burning. Nonetheless he very carefully didn’t touch the temperature control and whipped the iron across his shirt very fast. He added ‘iron’ to the list of items to look for at lunch.
The morning was crisp and cool as he trotted down to the station. He had a ton and a half of change from yesterday afternoon’s trip to the pub so it was easy to purchase a ticket from the bored railway staff member behind the grate at Laburnum station. While waiting for the train he looked around for the blonde from next door, but 6:45 was presumably too early for right-thinking members of the community to be waiting for a train. It was too early for Dean and he looked back fondly at last week when he could leisurely leave his place and walk into work. He had thought of knocking on Brian’s door but Brian didn’t have flextime and there was no point in him getting up early to hang around in the City until the State Bank opened at 8:30.
The 6:50 pulled in promptly at 6:56 and Dean boarded. He was startled to see so many people already on the train and it took him some time to see that all the seats were occupied. Who the hell got up this early to go to work? The next thing he noticed as he found a convenient place to stand near the offside doors was the cocktail of aftershaves and perfumes that mixed in the warm and artificial air. It took him back a few years to his days coming in from Frankston to university. He had had a year at Melbourne before he’d got sick of the whole thing, something he now regretted doing. He looked around at a few of the travellers, noting that most of them were in suits, both men and women, but none of the women looked particularly appealing. A lot more people got on at Box Hill and the train gradually got more crowded as they passed through the quiet, bucolic dormitory suburbs between Box Hill and Burke Rd. A surprising number of Asians got on at Camberwell and Auburn and got off again at Glenferrie. By this time a few teenaged girls had got on, some in purple uniforms and some in green. Dean had to admit that the standard of schoolgirls on this line was better than it had been on the Frankston line. He quashed his carnal thoughts.
The train eventually got to Spencer St station and Dean walked down the underground tunnel that linked the station to the bottom end of Collins St. His building occupied the corner of Collins and King Sts, and was fourteen floors of furious inactivity that he was but a small cog in.
His floor was totally different at this time of the morning. It was now around a quarter to eight and most of the desks were still empty. The lifts let him out at the Eastern end of the floor and directly into the office space. He walked past the cluster of desk near the lifts known as ‘Pavlov’s pound’ or just ‘the pound’ for people who didn’t get the reference about sitting near the lifts which dinged all day as people came and went about whatever it was they did there.. Dean had one of four desks in a clump facing each other at Western end of floor, and if he turned his head he could look out of the window and down the length of Collins St to the station. His immediate boss’s desk was right next to this window so that if he did swivel his chair to look out at the view he was immediately confronted by Charles Cincotta, Clerk Class 4 and the head of Dean’s unit. Charles usually got in before Dean but that wasn’t that hard when Dean arrived so late. Now Dean would have the chance to see when he did get in.
He pulled out his active files and spread them across the desk to look busy. He took a file at random and opened it. For some reason it was the Sidon passport case, for which he’d been doing small amounts of research desultorily over the past few weeks. Once it had been realised that the Immigration Department official who had reported the same person exiting on one passport and entering Australia n another, the hunt had started for all other instances of the same person having multiple passports. The initial search had been to cover all applicants for an Australian passport who had details similar to the suspected person. Surprisingly this had turned up two more passports fairly quickly. Dean’s role, once the case had been assigned to his unit, was to liaise with the Immigration Department. This liaison took the form of exchanging official letters which Dean prepared at his end and some anonymous clerk with the Victorian Operations Chief’s signature on a rubber stamp did at his end. Only recently had both departments introduced the novelty of the telephone, but Dean so far had seen no reason to contact his opposite number on the phone. A fleeting thought hit him that it might be the blonde from next door. He had to smile as he realised that a chance remark by Brian had now become something of an obsession. Well, it was good to have an obsession. It made the day go faster.
He re-read his last memorandum to catch up with where he’d left off in this case and made a few notes about what to say in reply. He’d draft the letter and send it down to the typing pool, then submit the typed version to Charles for him to approve. Once that had been done it would be sent off to Immigration, the Federal Police or whoever and a copy added to the file. Time would grind on until a reply came through and Dean could take the next step. He had several cases on the go at once or he’d’ve been able to come in to work one day a fortnight. After those nots he suddenly realised the futility of getting into work early. There was no-one else at work either here or in any other department. The mail hadn’t even come in yet. He looked over at the phone. There wasn’t even anyone to ring. Well, that sorted that out. No more getting up at the crack of whatever had a crack to get into work ahead of the crush. That would take getting gup at four o’clock anyway. From now on he was back to his usual 10:00AM start. At least you could do something.
Tom Nicholls came in at 8:30, stopped for a moment to see Dean in ahead of him. “You’re not allowed to sleep here, you know.”
“No, I’ve turned over a new leaf,” Dean replied. “Starting tomorrow, I’m back to my usual start. Getting in early is pointless.”
“How’s your move go?”
“There were some shots fired.”
“What? Wait, let me get a coffee.”
Over Tom’s coffee Dean related the story to much surprise and amazement from Tom. He was halfway through when Peter Summers came in and sat at the desk to Dean’s right. Peter seemed to pick up the thread of the story instantly and when Dean paused he greeted them both and pulled out his files. Peter was a quiet man until you got a few beers into him and then he was a lot more sociable. He had something of a reputation as a ladies’ man, a reputation he neither confirmed nor denied because, as he said, his fucking business was none of their fucking business. Dean envied his easy coolness and knowledge of any situation he seemed to be in. Yet it did seem that he was no better at his job than Dean was—certainly if you could judge by his work - is not being promoted in the twelve years he’d been there.
Charles got in at 9:10, thus answering that question for Dean and walked directly to his desk. He put his briefcase under the desk, sat down, unlocked his drawers, pulled out a thick manila folder and a pen tray and settled them on his desk. He looked over at the three men (Dean turned around) and said”
“Good morning, gentlemen.”
“Morning, Charles,” “G’day, Charles.” “Morning, sir.”
His initial duties now completed, Charles sat back and opened the folder, taking a typed report from the top and began to read. His underlings turned back to their respective tasks. Charles would not move from this position until morning tea in an hour, at which point he would have a cup of tea and two doughnuts. This routine had not varied since the Minister had been down to show the flag eighteen months ago. Dean had never even seen Charles get out of his chair for a toilet break and it had only been a fire drill that had moved him last November. He seemed one hundred per cent committed to the job.
Now that it was after nine, Dean could get on with the day’s work. He updated a memorandum about the progress of the Sidon case and made a start on drafting a report for the Intelligence section. Then he wrote ‘Liaise with Immigration to check entry and exit visae from the following passports. Watch status only’. At this stage it had been determined that Mr Sidon had more than one Australian passport, but the reason why was something that the Federal Police, Customs and certain other agencies were interested in. It was possible to see where the passports had been used but only by looking directly at them, and a request to have Mr Sidon bring them in for examination would of course be a tip-off. Sidon might flee the country on one of the other passports it was suspected he held—or on a foreign one they had no way of knowing about. Those words written, Dean put the folder to one side and took up another case, this one about a woman wishing to know why she had been denied a passport. The standard reply was that there had been a delay in processing her request, but the fact was that she had been bankrupted by her creditors and wasn’t allowed to leave the country. How this had escalated to the point where her Member of Parliament had become involved was the sort of thing Dean dealt with fairly regularly. He would never have thought to involve his MP in such a thing, trusting that each public servant did their duty properly, if not always quickly. In fact, he had no idea who his MP was. It was hardly relevant as DFAT was responsible to (or for, depending on who was talking) the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
He drafted another letter and considered the morning well spent. It was by this stage 10:15 and time for morning tea. He put his two drafts in Charles’s in-tray and sat back down to stretch. The lift doors pinged and the tea trolley was wheeled in by the same weird Italian lady that had been doing it for about a hundred years. Dean looked over at the trolley as he decided what to have with his morning tea.
“Who the fuck is that?” he asked.
The new tea lady was a tall redhead who wore the standard tea lady’s uniform like a bikini. Dean’s instant opinion was that she was completely wasted as a tea lady and should immediately go into modelling. There was more than the usual enthusiasm for tea as men who normally smoked their way through the tea break suddenly took an interest in something to munch on while they were having a smoke. Even Charles had put his head up briefly and stared. Then he had put his report aside and took up the Herald-Sun. Dean leapt up as she wheeled the trolley over to his end of the floor. She smiled sweetly.
“Coffee, tea?” she asked.
“Yea, please,” said Dean
“In or out/”
“Um…out, I think. Yes, out.”
“I didn’t catch your name,” she said.
“I’m glad to meet you, Dean McNair.” She handed him his cup and saucer and he took them, took a few steps backwards to avoid not looking at her, then turned to his desk. Had that just really happened?
“Was she here yesterday?” he asked his workmates.
“Yep. Her first day. She was a bit nervous.”
“Why would anyone who looked that good be nervous? I mean, why isn’t she strolling down a catwalk somewhere?”
“Good question,” said Tom. “Why don’t you ask her tomorrow morning?”
Dean had lunch at his usual haunt, a McDonalds over on Bourke St and a few blocks up from his work. There were plenty of eateries nearer by if you liked expensive sandwiches of dubious freshness but he preferred the certainty of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a Filet-O-Fish, a large fries and a cheeseburger. The queues were long but the service fast and in a few minutes he was walking back through the lanes and byways of Melbourne munching away. This routine was almost invariable and it was only the occasional pub lunch that interrupted it. He had the walk and the queues down pat and could always return to lunch in the statutory shortest lunch break of half an hour. Fuelled with beef, cheese, fish, potatoes and tartrate sauce he could face the long slow crawl of the afternoon. There was some stuff to do in the afternoon most days, but it was so little and could be accomplished so quickly that it took real patience to stretch it out till then of the day at 4:51. This day, though, Dean was thinking that, as he’d got in at 7:30 he could leave at 3:21. Not bad!
He flopped back down in his swivel chair once back at work and desultorily picked up a folder of correspondence. The clerical assistants had been beavering away while he was at lunch and a few letters were awaiting his attention. Three of these were routine acknowledgements of requests for information from the Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and a certain travel agent from Brisbane. Another was the typical misfiled letter the CA’s couldn’t assign to someone and that Dean occasionally got. The rumour was that the CA’s had an unofficial, unrecorded rota of people to whom they handed these things. Once they’d dumped it on a desk it wasn’t their problem, which was perfectly true but when things were busy made life uncomfortable. This afternoon was far from busy, though, and rather than file the letter under ‘Miscellaneous’ and tackle it later in the week, Dean resolved to read it.
To Whom It May Concern, (it began),
I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the matter of the illegal aliens occupying senior positions in the Australian Public Service. These people masquerade using British passports and overseas identities and are working to undermine the System from within. This is a matter of grace importance and should be dealt with with the utmost urgency!
Of pure relevance to this situation is the example of certain senior executives in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a Ministry with which you will no doubt be familiar. Corruption and malfeasance are aspects of government policy and procedural complications that needn’t be dealt with at a Ministerial level. There are deep and continuing questions of policy and legal requirements that are going ignored while these people inculcate themselves into senior positions. This would be perfectly acceptable to the Government and the Australian public if—and only if—there were some sort of merit involved in the promotion.
Of course there cannot be as the committees and delegates who appoint these people are either part of the same group or from the same place. I don’t mean Great Britain. I cannot stress too highly the need for secrecy! You are an Elected Official—surely you can see what so many can’t. If not then there is no hope. I write this in vain and fear. Vanity, thy name is fear. Fear, thy name is John Sturges. He knows, if you can find Him. He judges and knows the Truth. He is omniscient and cruel. They will not be found out. They can conceal themselves. They wait behind you, watching. They are the—infiltration! That’s their answer for everything.
“Working hard, or hardly working?” asked Charles.
“What-!” said Dean, startled. Charles had not only risen from his char, he had come round to talk to Dean. Or had he been reading over Dean’s shoulder? “Ah, both. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about work and job design.”
“I saw you get in early this morning.”
“Yeah, I turned over a new leaf. However, I turned it back since lunch. It’s pointless being earlier than everybody else and if I leave to early there’s too much left undone. So back to gentlemen’s hours starting tomorrow.”
“Good idea. Do you have much work on at the moment?”
“I’ve got four active cases and some sundry correspondence that might start something. Why?”
“I’ve been asked to look for someone to do some higher duties on a special project.”
“I’m not really qualified to make a recommendation.”
“That’s my job. They’re looking for someone who can ‘think outside the box’ as they put it.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I gather they want someone who has an unorthodox method of carrying out his duties.”
“ME? I thought I did my duties in the most orthodox manner imaginable—or that needs no imagination. IN act, I go out of my way to things so orthodoxly that I’m considered something of a dangerous bore by people who work at the State Bank!”
“S, you’re not interested?”
“I didn’t say that. But, you know, there are two other people at this desk cluster more experienced and more senior than I am. If I start getting HD allowance they’ll be miffed. Unions will be consulted.”
“That’s a supervisor’s problem.”
“I don’t know. . . It’s seems like its violating the selection process.”
“Not at all. The only guideline for promotion, temporary or permanent, is superior efficiency.”
“And I, of all people, are superiorly efficient? Look, I’d say I was competent, but not any more than Tom or Peter—especially Peter.”
“Reckon you can make it in by nine o’clock on Thursday?”
“With that much notice, yes.”
“Twelfth floor, Mr McDermott. See you there.”
Charles went back to his desk and Dean turned back to his. He picked up the file regarding the proposed bankruptcy and wrote a quick note. ‘Impossible to refuse passport due to pending bankruptcy. Refer Passports Act S18. Why not wait till she is bankrupt? Flight risk? Phone—no, query letter.’
Tom and Peter rolled in from lunch about two o’clock, seemingly have spent the break together at some nearby pub. Dean regretted not having joined them but breaking some of his habits came hard to him. He mentioned nothing of the temporary assignment Charles had spoken of, not wanting to tell them until it was in the bag and of course not wanting to say that he’d been promoted over them.
He turned his attention back to the weird letter he’d received. He couldn’t understand how it had got to him, although presumably it had been addressed to DFAT and certainly referred to something happening in DFAT. It didn’t make a whole heap of sense and he looked to see if it might be in some sort of code. It seemed like perfectly normal English, though the subject matter was weird. Could it be a hoax letter from someone inside the office? Who would want to make up a letter just for the purpose of some sort of shit stir? Not Tom probably and not Peter certainly. Tom wouldn’t make the effort and Peter was far too serious. Assume then, that the letter was legitimate. What should he do with it? He paused before opening a file for it and pasting on a movement slip and sending it off to Personnel or somewhere, he didn’t want to pass the buck to Charles, not after Charles had complimented him on his work. Or was this letter ‘outside the box’, whatever that meant.
The phone rang. This was such an unusual event that everyone had wondered why the phones had been installed in the first place.
“Dean McNair,” he said.
“Yeah,” Dean said after a moment. “Which one?”
“Post Office Tavern.”
“I’ll be there in two shakes. No, wait. After two shakes.”
It had been Brian, of course, who for some reason had got an early finish to the afternoon—a very early finish. There had been crowd noise in the background. He must already be at the pub. Dean packed his files away, and was about to put the letter in his drawer as well, but instead he folded it and slipped it into his pocket. Secure documents were never supposed to leave the building, but this letter was hardly secure. Not at the moment, anyway.
“Usual time?” Peter suddenly asked.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” Dean replied distractedly.
The Post Office Tavern was a crowded establishment at Little Bourke and Elizabeth Sts, just across from the General Post Office. Once it had occupied the same block at the Post Office but had moved across Little Bourke St and then underground as the cost of leasing buildings had skyrocketed. Every foot of ground, or rather every cubic foot, now cost a fortune and had led to pubs moving upstairs, like the Menzies Tavern or underground like the Tavern. The Tavern did have the excellent attribute of being the closest licensed premises to the State Bank building. By the time Dean got there the crowd had begun to thicken and it took him a bit to find Brian and his companions.
They were the same crew as last Friday, except that they were joined by Sam Brewster, someone in senior management at the State Bank. Sam was one of the more talented people in the State Bank executive who still liked a beer and the company of good men. He described most of the people he worked with as ‘shy but incompetent’ until he’d had a few beers, at which point they were all ‘cocksuckers’. There must’ve been something special one because by the time Dean got there enough time had passed for Sam to be spraying the word around like crumbs off a Sao biscuit.
“Now how,” he was saying, “can you go broke with a halal abattoirs in bloody Footscray? Of course the money’s been funnelled off somewhere. But would these cocksuckers listen? G’day.”
“Hi, Sam,” Dean replied. “Cocksuckers at it again?”
“Just in time for your shout,” said Brian.
He went and ordered half a dozen beers and brought them back to the table around which everyone stood in two trips. The beer at the Post Office Tavern turned out to be a weak bitter drop that Dean knew would have him heaving in the aisles if he kept it up all night. He also knew that he would forget about that after half a dozen or so.
“You took off early this morning,” said Brian.
“Yeah, thought I’d make an early start and way overestimated how long it would take. It’s a totally different world before nine o’clock, but I suppose you probably know that. Oh, did you get keys sorted out?”
“Yeah, Billy’s got a job at a Mr Minit, grinding keys, so that answers that. We can pick them up tonight.”
“Did Angie mention anything about us clambering in?”
“She was off to work as early as you, but if she doesn’t say anything, I won’t either.”
“Good,” Dean said and turned his attention back to Sam who was in serious tirade mode.
“Then they want to try and speculate on the foreign currency market. We were set up to provide home loans and personal finance, not this bullshit international money market crap. Half the cocksuckers where I am don’t understand foreign exchange and one of them used to work for the NAB!”
“What does that mean?”
“He’s ex-NAB! What more is there? Cocksuckers,” said SAM
“National Australia Bank convinced some of its customers to get on the international money market in 1983,” said Des. “When the dollar dropped against the Swiss franc the NAB sent its customers letters saying how much money they’d made, when they’d actually lost money.”
“But if they were holding Swiss francs, they would’ve made money<” said Dean.
“They weren’t holding them. They were holding an option to purchase them,” said Sam. “After the float the Swiss called in the option.”
“They were compelled to buy at the rate the franc was after the Swiss called on the option,” said Des. “When you look at it, ‘option’ isn’t really the right word for it.”
“And that is the calibre of cocksucker they’ve got advising them on this Tricontinental bullshit. It’s gonna bite ‘em in the arse and when that shit hits the fan we’re all gonna get splashed. Well, all except Dean.” Sam was always good at spotting who was in the group and bringing them into the conversation.
“So you reckon it’s these blokes from the NAB who’re doing it?” asked Dean for something to say. “But why would that affect you. Senior executives are a protected species.”
“It goes to credibility,” said Sean. “Of course he’ll get another job as an executive no matter how badly this thing pans out, but forever more he’ll be known as the senior executive who didn’t see whatever it is bad thing that’s happens.”
“Yeah, but for those not immediately in the firing line?”
“Cannon fodder,” said Sean. “The cutbacks will hit the lower members of the food chain first. Departments will be reshuffled. Branches closed. All sorts of money saving schemes will be introduced that will mean job losses.”
“Except in information technology,” said Sam.
“Ain’t it sweet?”
Des had the next shout and by the time he got back with the beers, Sam was off his predictions of doom and gloom. The footy season was still two months away but he was singing the praises of a resurgent Melbourne. Dean, who barracked for Carlton, was taking the side of the mighty Blues. Brian barracked for Footscray and chipped in with his remarks. Sean held that Geelong were a certainty for the flag, if not this year then 1988. It was in the last quarter of the twentieth century and they all felt confident that their team could win a flag.
The evening wore on in good spirits until around 9:30 Brian and Dean decided they’d better make a move. Dean was so used to walking home from the pub that he relied on the walk to sober him up, but of course that was no longer possible. He and Brian walked up past St David’s church to Museum station. The escalators down to platform 4 looked about a mile long. They settled down on the metal chairs in the almost empty platform and waited the eighteen minutes for the next train while talking about the footy.
The next major disadvantage of living so far from work was that they had to stay awake for the entire trip. Brian, who played cricket in Nunawading, knew the line fairly well but Dean was completely lost. He tried to count the stations but realised blearily that he’d seen nothing between Burnley and Surrey Hills—and he’d only awoken there because he’d started feeling a bit sick. He’d forgotten that he’d predicted this was going to happen.
Still, he had not yet got the tightening of the stomach or, worse, the salty taste in his mouth that inevitably led to puking. Very possibly he could make to Laburnum without shooting creamy yellow foam over everything in sight. Then the train gave a solid lurch just before Mont Albert and he knew he was doomed. A few people were getting up and he lurched quickly to the door to be first out when the train stopped. He focussed all his attention on what was going outside the door. Two people were waiting behind him, one a woman carrying a shoulder bag over her shoulder and the other an elderly gentleman with a cane in the crook of his arm. The end of the platform swept past and Dean thought for a horrifying moment that the train was an express and he would have to control his rising gorge until Box Hill, which was an underground station with no easy exit. There was no way he could vomit there without arousing the wrath of the railways. Then the train eased to a stop and, after a bout a million years, there was his of air as the pistons released the doors. He tore them open and vaulted across the platform. Stupidly, the train had used the centre platform and so he was running straight towards the other track. He stopped at the edge of the platform swayed a bit, looked to the right to see if there were any oncoming trains and then upchucked in a violent guffaw that nearly paralysed him. Warm digested beer and half-digested McDonalds sprayed from his mouth and fell to the rails below. After a few less spectacular heaves he just stood there, nearly bent double, as his guts squeezed and churned to purge themselves. Dimly he heard the doors close and the train behind him head off to Laburnum, but he only had eyes for a point somewhere in the middle distance between his mouth and the sleepers on the inbound side of the platform. After a few convulsive spasms that produced nothing but a thin stream of ooze that dangled for a moment from his lower lip before being blown away by the cool night breeze, he straightened up, panting heavily. That had been one hell of a workout. Now where the fuck was he?
He walked back along Whitehorse Rd, now completely shut down at ten o’clock until he got to where he thought Middleborough Rd might be, turned right into it and then got slightly lost. After realising that the tracks he’d crossed were the same railway line as he had used to get to work that morning, he did a U-turn and walked back along to them, then followed them along until he eventually got home. A fifty minute walk had taken God only knew how long. With a slowly dawning horror he realised he hadn’t got any keys still. There was no way he was going to do the bathroom trick with Brian not asleep and not able to back him up and certainly he couldn’t go knocking anyone out of bed at this hour of the whenever it was, night or morning. Well, if there was no-one awake as he lurched up to the front door…he’d slept outdoors on colder nights than this. Crap! He had an important meeting in a few hours. He had to be showered, dressed and alert. Why the fuck had he agreed to go to the pub? Damn Brian.
“—and all who sail in him,” he said aloud. Then laughed at his fabulous wit. Was that block of units approaching? Should he duck next door and see this beautiful blonde? No, wait. There was the leggy redheaded tea lady. And whatshername from Brian’s work. “Three women at a time,” he said. “Mustn’t overdo it.” God, what a mess he must look. Yes, he had made it home after all. How had he got here? This was the front door and no lights were on. Well, after all, he lived here. Yes. He opened the door and walked in. He listened carefully. All he could hear was the ticking of an alarm clock. His alarm clock. He closed the door softly and tiptoed into his bedroom, stumbling only occasionally. His bed was cold and empty. As he dropped into sleep he thought he heard a car going up the communal driveway.
The ticking alarm clock work him. The ticking sounded odd. Sporadic. Intermittent. He rolled over to see what was doing that. No, it wasn’t the clock. It was the phone. The phone? Shit! Work was ringing him to see where he was. What the fuck time was it? He looked around. Still dark. So he wasn’t late for work. There was that phone again. Why had no-one answered it?
He struggled into a robe and out to where the phone was, in the kitchen, stumbling only occasionally. He picked up the receiver and, thank God, the damn thing shut up.
“Hello?” he said quizzically.
“Where the fuck am I?”
“I don’t—Brian? Where the fuck are you?”
“I don’t know! I’m somewhere near…near this phone box.”
Dean was instantly alert, albeit still the merest whisker drunk. If Brian wasn’t home why was the door unlocked? He looked around in the darkness, couldn’t see anything, decided eventually that Brian on the phone was more important than whether they’d been burgled or not.
“Okay, now just let’s take it easy. God, I’m pissed.”
“Where the fuck am I, I said!”
“Can you read your address on the phone box thing?”
“The fucking poster to the left of the phone! Hey, what is our phone number?”
“I don’t fucking know! Oh, wait. It says I’m at Canterbury and somewhere—Ringwood! Fuck!”
“Fuck!” Dean agreed.
“How much cash have you got?”
“About a million dollar in small change. I’ve been to the pub.”
“Can you leave it on the coffee table, ‘cause I’ll get a cab home. What do you reckon it will cost?”
“Twenty bucks, I suppose. Yes, I can do that.”
“Oh, you’re a legend.”
“Yes, I am. Now I’m going back to bed. Do you remember your address?”
“Righto, then. See you tomorrow.”
Dean hung up and was about to rifle his jeans pockets for the taxi money when he was hit in the face by a bright beam of light.
“What’s going on?”
“Billy. It’s me, Dean. Just got off the phone to Brian.”
“What did he want?”
“Money for a cab.”
There was a lengthy pause during which the torchlight didn’t move from Dean’s face, and in which Dean squinted into it trying to resolve a figure in the darkness. Abruptly the light went out and after a few minutes Billy climbed the stairs. Dean waited a moment till he heard the bedroom door open and close and then went to get the money for Brian’s cab. As he piled the notes and change on the hall table he tried to blot out the squeaking mattress upstairs.
On To The Sixth Chapter
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Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!