He snuck out from under the covers with as little disturbance as he could, keeping an eye on Holly to see if she stirred, and stepped on the toe of his boot, which slipped out from under his foot and for some reason sent him sprawling back against bedside table, off which he caromed into the window seat and banged his head on the windowpane. “Fuck.”
“In English we say ‘good morning’.”
“Oh,” he said with as much regret as it’s possible to have rising from a window seat in your underpants. “I didn’t want to wake you?”
“It’s not polite to disturb people. Or at least you shouldn’t have your sleep interrupted by me getting up for my morning ablutions.”
“And you thought you could get away without kissing me?”
“I do have post-champagne breath.”
‘You’re such a romantic,” she said, throwing back the covers. “Come here and kiss me.”
“I grudgingly acquiesce.” They kissed long but softly. Last night’s passion had not ebbed but there is a time to be gentle, too. She finished the kiss and lay back on the pillows. Dean just looked at how lovely the lightening day made her.
“Go, go,” she said. :Perform your ablutions, Mr Practical.”
“Mr Practical thinks there are levels below which no one should go. I’ll be right back.”
He was as good as his word, but by the time he had to back Holly was out of bed and in her pyjamas. “I suppose we both have to go to work, “ she said, pouting a bit.
“It grieves me to say ‘yes’,” Dean said.
“I don’t have to be in until ten.”
“I – I’m trying to make the impression of a super-diligent young go-getter who puts the job ahead of everything and sings the company song in lieu of an orgasm.”
“So that’s what that was?” Holly said. “Nice tune.” They both laughed easily.
“I don’t want to impose too much. I’d’ve called a cab to take me home, but I’ve no idea where we are.”
“I can drive you home, if you like.”
“No, I don’t like. I want to spend as much time with you as I can.”
“Get in the shower, then,” she said, “and I’ll iron these clothes. They won’t be clean but they will look neat.”
“I can iron them, and you get in the shower,” he said.
“I’ve got tons of time to have a shower. I’m usually never up before the sun is<” she yawned. “Now move, super-diligent corporate peon!”
“Corporate?” He walked out to the bathroom and hopped into the shower. One of the realities of old houses was brought home to him then. The plumbing is always terrible. After a few preliminary belches, a squeal and a kind of shudder that threatened to topple the place, a stream of hot water gushed out of the showerhead. Dean pressed himself against the back of the shower and made minute adjustments to the water flow till he had it precariously but nicely balanced. He ran his eye along the line of shampoos along the top of the shower door and took a guess at the most manly. It turned out to be conditioner so he picked another bottle the same colour and got it right. The bottle may have been dark and squat but the shampoo itself was a fruity as a trainload of teenage girls. He could hardly be picky, though, given what he normally put in his hair.
When he got back with a thick red towel wrapped around his waist, he saw all his clothes (except his undies) laid out neatly on the bed, which also looked as if no-one had slept in it. He got dressed hurriedly, wondering where Holly was. There was almost certainly another bathroom somewhere on the ground floor so she was probably there. Still, pretty good ironing speed. He wondered what type of iron she was using.
He found the kitchen and off that a small dining room with access to the backyard through some white French windows, with a round glass-topped table and four chairs and a little sideboard with a bowl of fruit on it. No sign of Holly so he didn’t take any fruit. The sun was coming up and shining through the French windows. It looked like there was a gentle breeze blowing out there, if you could tell by the leaves of the plants that nestled up against the house. He thought a warm breeze through the house would be a nice touch and opened the French doors. There was a beautiful fresh smell about the garden and for a moment it stirred up some kind of memory, of lazy school holidays at his aunt’s or somewhere.
“Hello again, “ said Holly behind him.
“Good God,” he said, turning to see her. There must indeed be another bathroom because she was dressed and groomed and looking, literally, the picture of health. She wore tight blue jeans and a white shirt half unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up and practical shoes. Her hair looked fresh and brushed and she had no makeup on. The only jewellery she wore was a thin gold bracelet on her left wrist.
“You like?” she asked, shyly.
“What would you like for breakfast?”
“I’m – well, you know, if you’re an early starter like me, you tend to skip the most important meal of the day and make up for it by an evening swilling the piss at some local taproom.”
“Then I command you to sit. Oh, yeah, the morning paper.” She tossed him a rolled-up broadsheet secured with an elastic band. “You have plenty of time to read it.”
He sat down and unrolled that morning’s Age. He flipped pas the headlines and tried to search out something unusual from the international section. With a little pang he rad of some other farmer being killed and his land taken by Robert Mugabe’s ‘veterans’. Holly was busying herself out of sight in the kitchen and from time to time he looked that way to see if he could see her. He smelt coffee wafting in on a cool breeze from the kitchen that swapped places with a warm breeze coming in through the French windows, heralding, an absolute scorcher of a day.
Holly came in and put a coffee pot on a mat on the table and then came back in a minute or two with a tray carrying muffins, butter and marmalade. She sat down opposite Dean and poured him a mug of coffee. He looked up and grunted a thank you as he perused the Zimbabwe article. He could smell bitter orange marmalade as well as the coffee.
“My God,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”
“What?” said Holly, passing over some marmalade-topped muffins.
“This…warm day, French windows, coffee, muffins, marmalade, me reading the paper, a beautiful woman making breakfast. This has been my perfect dream morning since I was nineteen!”
“I’m glad I could help.”
“This can’t be happening. It’s so right! How could you possibly know?”
“Know what? The room has French windows and I like glass topped tables because they’re easy to clean. I like coffee and muffins and marmalade. It’s just coincidence – after all, I don’t control the weather.”
“Everything is just perfect, exactly as it is. I’m frightened to move in case I spoil it.”
“Then don’t’ move, stay.”
“If there was some way to pick this up exactly where it is now, keep talking to you and seeing how bright and lovely a jar of marmalade looks in the sunlight. At some point the stupid outside world will intervene. The best poetry ends well, but is worth repeating.”
“That’s right, “ Holly said. “It is worth repeating, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Maybe a tune is better. Poetry can be repeated perfectly, at least in print.”
“No, it partly exists in the reading and what it correlates with in your mind. There’s only one instance where you’ve read that poem first.”
“A tune, then, exists in the playing or at least hearing the music. It’s not done the same way each time it’s played. It can’t be because players are imprecise.”
“What about records – or these compact discs they[‘re talking about?” Holly said.
“Yeah, okay. So that comes back to your point about poetry. Music, too, correlates with other thoughts and memories, and in some way stirs your emotions. If it’s good music. Oh, Jesus, even this discussion is…not what I imagined exactly, but that there would be one.”
“I’m somehow glad I could make it all so perfect for you,” she smirked.
“Sorry, we don’t have sarcasm on my planet, so I miss it if I’m not concentrating properly.”
“That explains why you batted me over the head with that one.” Her eyes sparkled and her mouth twitched and the next moment they were both laughing. “It’s a ‘Virginia Woolf’ moment,” she said. Dean was to remember that phrase all his life.
Dean shifted around in his chair and threw his arm out. She walked over and sat in his lap and he cuddled her and kissed her just above the curve of her collarbone, kissing her again when he heard her gasp. What a marvellous day.
In the end they arrived at a compromise. Holly would drive them both in to work. He would be late but she would be early. It turned out that he was close enough to Laburnum that he could go home and get changed if he promised to be really quick, but he couldn’t promise that because he needed to iron shirts and change undies and whatever else and he just wasn’t used to doing that quickly. He did promise to get some coathangers and do his ironing in one hit on the weekend.
As soon as he got up to the tenth floor he went straight to Mary to apologise. He had concocted a story about being delayed by a car accident he’d witnessed, but he knew that wouldn’t fly unless he could explain why he was in a car. On the lift ride up he also realised that she would notice that he was wearing the same clothes. So would everyone. Bloody hell. One day into the project and this was where he was.
The Ripper, though, had lived up to his reputation. When Dean got to his desk after finding that Mary was perfectly understanding though did warn him not to make a habit of it, he saw the familiar orangey colour of an Internal Mail envelope, which he always capitalised because of the huge and ridiculous importance attached to these things. After writing his name the date on the movement table on one side of the envelope, noting that the originating party was ‘File Control’ thus concealing The Ripper’s real name, he pulled out not one but two passport application files. “John Sturges’ was certainly represented but there was also a “Jason Stirling’. “What the hell is this guy’s real name?” he asked the world.
He gathered these two and put all the applications, now six of them, in a pile. He leafed through the pages rapidly, trying to spot something that would get him moving on the next aspect of the case. This was a technique that never worked, but you could live in hope. He got the files and arranged in alphabetical order. He had
That was weird. All but one name started with ‘St’. He’d kept the ‘JS’ initials, but it was commonplace for people to pick aliases with their original initials. Undercover police said it made it easier to respond to the fake name as if it was real. Why the ‘St’, though? He went through the files again and this time checked the date and place of the application. The dates suddenly leapt out at him when before they’d seemed just like ordinary dates. 12 January 1983, 11 February 1984, 10 March 1985 and 9 April last year. Would he try for 8 May this year? Dean was disinclined to wait around. The applications had all been received at different post offices, too. Dare he take the punt that the numbers would add up to 13? The first application had been received at the Prahran (3181) post office. The second was at Glendale, Queensland 4711, the third at Tailem Bend, South Australia 5260, then at Adventure Bay, 7150, in beautiful Tasmania. Last year it had been Western Australia, the presumably sleepy little hamlet of Darlington, 6070.
“If he’s waiting for Hawthorn’s thirteenth flag he’s got a while to go,” he said out loud.
“Hmm?” said Con.
“Oh, nothing,” said Dean as nonchalantly as he could. “I’ve just sussed my boy here. He’s going to try for another false passport application, sometime around the eighth of May, using JS for his initials and a surname starting with ‘St’. And he’ll make the application at – I don’t suppose you’ve got a numeric postcode book?”
“Right here,” said Dave, flinging one across. Dean now had all their attention, or at least it had moved from ‘Why was he wearing the same clothes?’ to ‘Holy shit, the system works.’
“Let’s – ah, eight of May this year at Kambah, 2902, in the ACT.”
“How the bloody hell can you know that?” asked Dave, who was somehow shocked that someone could be using his postcode book for some stupid betting game.
“Because it’s his pattern!” said Dean. “Look he comes back into the country a week before the Grand Final. I don’t know what he did in 1982, probably nothing but he comes back in time to see Hawthorn play. They haven’t won two of the last three times and last year was a bloody joke, the umpires were blind etc etc. He fills out his applications on a day that adds up to 13. He uses the same initials and the ‘St’ for all but one name, so I think that ‘James Sidon’ is his real name. And the post offices postcodes always add up to 13, too. You see? He’s obsessive and yet he’s brilliant. He’s pulled off four illegitimate applications in the last four years. He will make another application and he will do it May the 8th.”
“You can’t be sure about the postcode, though, and why weren’t they in ascending order?” asked Dave.
“They aren’t, are they? He’s not going in one direction around the country, either. Maybe he’s some kind of itinerant worker? No, how could he be going to the Grand Finals each year?”
“Don’t run away with yourself,” said Rebecca. “You only think he attends the Grand Finals.”
“Oh, yeah. Damn.”
“It’s worth following up, though,” said Con. “See if Toni will give you the go-ahead.”
“To do what? Stake out ACT post offices for four months?”
“Check the other agencies. See if an itinerant worker under those names has, for example, filed a tax return.”
“We don’t do that, do we?”
“If Toni thinks it has merit, she gets Mary to fill out a warrant and then we prowl through everyone else’s databases. That alone’ll take four months.”
“Do you think I ought to?” said Dean after a long pause.
“Don’t be frightened of rejection,” said Rebecca archly.
“I don’t know,” said Dean. “Now that I look at it…”
“Look, it might seem like a silly guess because you got it so fast. Sometimes things get solved quickly,” said Con. “Or, put it this way, there’s always one second before you reach the final solution, so looked at from that point of view, it only takes a second to reach the right solution.”
“Don’t be so profound before tea-break,” said Dave. “It’s a good idea, mate. Get up before your tea lady comes in.”
“She’s not my tea lady,” said Dean.
“Yeah, right,” said Con.
“Nice shirt,” said Rebecca. “Weren’t you wearing it yesterday?”
“Well, you got me there,” Dean admitted.
“Details, we want details,” said Rebecca, surprising Dean who thought that only men would be so puerile.
“Make up your own details. I know what happened and so does she. Think of it as a fade to black.”
“You don’t want us doing that,” said Dave. “We’ve got vivid imaginations and a lot of time on our hands.”
“Do whatever you reckon,” said Dean. “I’ll be reviewing it next week. Now, let’s see if I can squeeze in a few minutes with Toni.”
Toni was at her desk putting the finishing touches on a report to Mary who would in turn put her two cents in and send it up the pipeline to be filed and never seen again. The important thing was that the file would be there if, and it was a big if, someone at the Departmental level wanted it or, even less likely, someone at Freedom of Information fell down on the job and removed the FOI embargo. While in theory the Minister was entitled to see this type of report, in practice that had never happened and the current Minister showed no sign of stamping n a tradition of blithe ignorance which had existed since 1901. As Australia’s chief diplomat the Minister had much, much bigger fish to fry. Nonetheless, though diligence was seldom rewarded, lack of it was frequently punished and Toni and everyone in the chain wanted to move any stuff-ups one link further up. She held up a hand as Dean approached.
“Yes?” she said, looking up and closing the manila folder with the report in it. She didn’t slip into an Internal Mail envelope and thus wasn’t finished with it.
“Um, yes. Right,” said Dean, now nervous. Concluding cases didn’t’ come easily to him as he’d had little experience with actually coming up with the solution to something. His cases were slightly altered by his expert hand but finalised by Charles or maybe someone further up the chain. Here he might have solved the whole thing before tea-break. “I think I might have a handle on the James Sidon case.”
He went through his reasoning, watching Toni expression of polite interest turn to one of incredulity then to frank scepticism. He finished with the flourish that he thought he’d predicted where and when the next application would be made.
“So, you think you’ve got a psychological profile of this James Sidon? You’re sure that’s his real name?”
“It’s the only odd one out.”
“Obliging of him.”
“Well, isn’t it worth a chance? We just flag any applications coming in from that post office with the surname beginning with ‘St’.”
“There are probably hundreds of postcodes in New South Wales that add up to ‘13’. Maybe not hundreds, but do you suggest we get the Federal Police to stand at every one of them on the 8th of May and grab someone the Australia Post employee points at?”
“No. Wait…no. We would monitor it from Sydney and then as soon as the application came in we could send the AFP out to his residential address.”
“It’s not the way we do things, Dean,” said Toni. “Don’t, underline don’t, put these speculations in your case summary. You have done good work and you’ve certainly go the preliminary work done to a high degree of satisfaction, but the sort of thing you’re advocating goes way beyond both policy and procedure. I don’t want to stop you gathering more data, but I think it’s now time we moved you on to a more productive job.”
“I want you to prioritise some of your lower level files. If you haven’t got any there’s some stuff I can find for you to do.”
“No, I’ve got some lower order ones that I can prioritise, if you like. Nothing so…controversial as a man with five passports, but still important.”
“Excellent,” Toni said. Dean, suitably chastised, waited to be dismissed. “Was there something else?”
“No,” Dean said and walked back to his desk.
“How’d you go?” asked Con when he got back.
“Not well,” Dean said. “Toni made the very reasonable point that I was jumping to conclusions about his actions and that we didn’t have the resources to follow up on a hunch. She did point out that there are dozens of postcodes in each state that add up to thirteen.”
“Sixty-nine,” said Con.
“Oh. Yeah,” said Dean, “I can see that.”
“What the hell have you done?” asked Rebecca.
“What do you mean?” asked Dean.
“Toni’s dialling frantically. Internal call, it’s only four digits.”
“Could be anything,” said Dean worriedly.
“Yeah, probably,” said Con. “Like with Alex Dunleavy.”
“Oh, yes,” said Dave.
“Legend,” said Dave. “He was the last person shot for offences under the Public Service Act.”
“What?” said Dean, aghast.
“Look it up. Section 52(1). Introduced as a wartime provision to prevent espionage, but never repealed. Of course, Dunleavy was into real crime, not just bending a few rules.”
“You’re talking crap.”
“About shooting you, yeah. Dunleavy was happily at his desk one day in 1972 and the Commonwealth Police walked in, grabbed him under the arms and frogmarched him out of the building. Never heard from him again. They had a bloke stand over his desk for four hours until they packed everything into boxes and took it away. They even took his sandwiches.”
“But what have I done wrong?” Dean asked tremblingly.
“Who knows? We never found out what Dunleavy had done wrong, either.”
“There’d be records of the prosecution, surely.”
“If he was ever prosecuted. There’s no requirement for prosecution in a disciplinary manner. You just disappear.”
“Of course, things are all different now,” said Con. “For example, we have tea breaks.”
Dean tried to look in four directions at once, wondering whether it really was tea break or whether the AFP were about to come through the door and frogmarch him off to oblivion, or what Ton’s call had been about, or how easy would it be to just skip out now and hope they wouldn’t be able to find him.
Holly came through the doors looking radiant, even in her tea lady uniform. Dean agonised over whether to leap for the trolley to see her or hang back so he could have a chat. All thoughts of any disciplinary actions or what Ton’s phone call had been about were driven from his mind. He waited at this desk watching her serve other people until about half a dozen had been supplied, then hopped up and walked to the back of the queue. After an infuriatingly long time he got to the front. He had expected her to serve him normally as if nothing had happened and was working on just as nonchalant an approach, but she smiled delightedly at him and said “Coffee, tea or me?”
“Well, I can have tea at my desk,” Dean said eventually, “and I can dunk biscuits in my tea. You’re worth courting.”
“Don’t you forget it<” she said. “Dinner tonight/”
“Um, you know, I…”
“I’ll cook,” she said. “Those places are too expensive.”
“My credit card thanks you.”
She gave his hand a squeeze as she passed his change back and he walked back to his desk with his tea and doughnuts and more or less floated down into his seat. “Serendipity,” he said.
“Huh?” asked Dave.
“A happy accident,” Dean sighed.
“I do believe you’re blushing,” said Rebecca.
“I am not,” Dean retorted. “I’m merely…it’s really hot in here.”
After the tea break, he pushed the James Sidon case aside and got to work on one of the lower priority files. It took him three minutes to draft a memorandum that the names ‘Ristevski’ and ‘Ristevska’ were the husband and wife respectively and that this was not an attempt to apply for multiple passports, and he whipped that file into his pigeonhole for later review by Toni. The other file was a complaint from a Member of Parliament in relation to certain offences committed, or allegedly committed by one of his constituents. It was a simple case that required a short reply but it what was called a “Ministerial’ even though the MP concerned wasn’t a Minister. Dean wrote a quick summary of the case and then began to work on a much more prolix reply. He could cite various parts of various Acts which would make it look good, but he also thought he might look into what case law there might be on the subject. If he was going to be forced off the Sidon case he could at least drag out another case until he was over the whole thing. Presuming he was allowed to even stay in the Department, a nagging voice told him.
Nobody from the AFP had come by by lunchtime and he trotted down to the cafeteria to see if Holly wanted to come to lunch. She said she’d loved to but she was too busy at the moment, and held up her gloved hands to prove it. “I’ll see you tonight,” she said, “won’t I?”
Dean assured her she would, wondering how she could be worried that he wouldn’t show up. Didn’t she realise she owned him? Her hold over him was nearly as great as McDonalds’ he thought as he trotted up to Bourke St West.
There is a line of clothing shops between Queen St and Hardware Lane on Bourke St and Dean was just passing these when something caught his eye. At first he ignored it but on looking again he was sure he was right. There was a man in a grey suit following him up Bourke St. Dean wouldn’t’ve noticed him but for his long, dangling scarf which was unusual on a hot day in January, even in Melbourne. He was across the street, of course, and there could be many other reasons why he was walking along Bourke St, but the scarf had drawn Dean’s attention. Paranoia, he thought. There’re hundreds of people walking along the street.
“But am I paranoid enough?” he asked out loud. Well, now, there was a way to check this out. Mr Scarf was a tall man in a grey suit, not quite a business suit but he was certainly dressed up. He wouldn’t be likely to go into McDonalds, would he? So, if he did, he was following Dean.
Only, there was no back way out of McDonalds. If the follower intended to trap him somewhere, McDonalds was a good spot. He wouldn’t try anything in a crowded place like McDonalds, though. Except that he could probably flee in the ensuing panic if he did. Assuming there was a panic. A quiet stabbing and Mr Scarf could walk away before anyone realised that a bleeding Dean was slowly deflating on the floor.
Dean found himself turning left into Hardware St. Mr Scarf would have to cross Bourke St to follow him, not easy against the traffic. Dean quickened his pace and walked up to the mostly vacant warehouses along the street and crossed Lt Bourke St. He risked a look back, wondering why he thought looking back was such a risk. At first he thought he’d been crazy to think – but there, there was a man in a grey suit and scarf walking purposefully along Hardware St. Dean looked long enough to notice that the man seemed to move along a special road in the crowd, never having to dodge anyone or pause while someone shuffled past him. Dean wished he were so lucky. Lonsdale St was ahead of him and he quickened his pace, not quite breaking into a run because it seemed stupid and also would wind him in about thirty seconds. He couldn’t walk fast and look back, but he turned right into Lonsdale St making for the trams on Swanston. He paused outside some barbershop and looked back. Mr Scarf had just turned the corner and was walking down towards him. He seemed to be maintaining the same distance, the width of Bourke St as before, but Dean knew he was only biding his time. If he caught Dean somewhere without a crowd of witnesses, then it was all over. Dean now broke into a jog to try to get to Swanston St well ahead of his pursuer. He had to dodge around some shuffling morons who seemed to have no purpose in life but he got to Swanston St only puffing slightly. He thought he could hear a measured tread behind him. A tram was just pulling up to the stop and Dean risked injury from some stray cyclist or other as he ran for the tram and leapt aboard.
“We’re only going to LaTrobe St,” said the conductor.
“Well, what the fuck are you doing that for?” Dean shouted. He was about to jump off the tram again when it lurched forward, its bell dinging furiously at some taxi or other blocking the tracks. Dena found some change and offered the conductor the fare, but the conductor turned it down. “It’s not even a section, mate, I wouldn’t know what to charge you.”
“Thanks,” said Dean and as the tram lurched up to the LaTrobe St stop he got off. Trams can move pretty fast, though, and he seemed to have got well ahead of Mr Scarf. He didn’t give him extra time to catch up by looking around for him. He thought he could easily lose him by taking a train back to Spencer St but the way the trains operated around lunchtime was so fraught with disaster and confusion that it would be easier to walk back to work. He didn’t feel like lunch, anyway, and wanted to be back in the safety of the office.
God, he thought as he walked hurriedly down LaTrobe, they must know where I work. So he couldn’t go there. But what choice did he have? As he hit the hill leading up to William St and the Flagstaff Gardens, tiredness and windedness made him take stock. He had to go back to work whatever the risk was, and of course the risk wasn’t that anyone was trying to kill him. What for? What had he done to be killed for? No, whatever this was it could all be sorted out once he got back to work. There was some obscure part of the regulations that required him to report these incidents anyway, and if he actually did get injured on his lunch break, he would be paid worker’s compensation and could get more time off to spend with Holly. Yes!
He forgot about the risk to his own life and limb and concentrated on how he might turn this to his advantage He was in a beautiful Neitzschian situation in that whatever didn’t kill him in the twenty minutes or so before he got back through the doors to work would actually make him stronger – at least financially. He turned left on William St and walked as quickly as his slowing heartrate and burning lungs allowed down to Lonsdale St again, and to his relief there was a group of Asian students waiting for a tram. Dean stood about three feet from them and looked around as inconspicuously as he could. No sign of Mr Scarf. A Route 55 to the Domain Interchange was just coming up William St Dean had to admit that he was having mazing luck with the trams today. He scrambled onto it ahead of the Asians and found a seat on the right-hand side of the tram. He smiled to himself as he realised he’d picked the side furthest away from where Mr Scarf probably was now. As he leaned back in the seat he glanced out the window. A horrifying figure was waiting on the street corner ready to cross to the tram stop. Dean clamped his teeth on a scream, knowing he wouldn’t be able to hold it in if the lights changed and the man in the grey flannel suit crossed the road and boarded this tram. Then the tram bell dinged and it rolled of South along William St, and Dean wasn’t sure whether Mr Scarf’s head turned to follow it.
He gave no thought to concealing his movements and got off at Collins St and back to work as quickly as possible. He got to his desk and sat down and put his face in his hands. He nearly screamed again when Mary came up and coughed politely.
“Why so jumpy?” she asked solicitously.
“Oh, God. Scary stuff at lunch. Hell, I didn’t even have lunch. Oh, yeah, “ he said, relieve by the simple matter of playing by the rules, “I’ve got to complete an incident report.”
“What? What happened?”
“I was followed around at lunchtime.”
“Are you sure/”
‘Do you think there’s a security risk?”
“There can’t be,” he said after thinking a bit. “What am I working on that’s so secure? Still, I’m under an obligation to report it.”
“Yes, you are. And I came over to tell you that I agree with Toni about your thoughts on the James Sidon case.”
“Oh, thanks, but I assumed you would.”
“However,” Mary went on, “there’s been discussions in Canberra and they’re going to back your hunch.”
“What? They can’t be. Toni was right, my conclusions are logical but not very…thorough.”
“I’m glad you can see that. Personally, I don’t know why they can’t in Canberra but that’s all there is to it.”
“How do Canberra even know about it?”
“I’m assuming that comes from Colin McDermott,” said Mary, “unless you’ve been bypassing channels and procedures.”
“I don’t even know what half the channels and procedures are,” said Dean. “I’ve only been here two days!”
“Yes, and that was the other thing I was going to mention. You’re not staying here much longer. Effective Monday you’re being temporarily positioned in Serious Non-Compliance.”
“I’m not sure if congratulations are in order,” she said. “This is unprecedented. What’s your gazetted level?”
“I’m a Clerk Class 1.”
“As of Monday you’re a 6. You’ll outrank me. Sir,” she finished and laughed. She had a very nice laugh, it sounded like children playing under a sprinkler.
“Who the hell could explain this?” Dean asked.
“If you like, I can organise a meeting with Colin McDermott for Monday morning. Maybe he can explain it.”
“Is that what you’d normally do?”
“No. Normally I don’t question directives from Canberra. Neither should you. It’s only temporary, so lap up the experience. It’ll look good on future resumes.”
“You’re being very generous about this.”
“What? Why not? They’re not docking my pay to pay you. Now, fill out the incident report and I’ll vet it and we’ll stick it in the pipeline.” Then she bent over, not very far as she was a short woman, and kissed him on the cheek. He was quite startled and nearly blushed.
He filled out the incident report, three pages describing his actions, the appearance of Mr Scarf, dates and approximate times of the incident and ‘summation of risk’ which he had trouble with. Exactly what threat was there to current operations? Being followed wasn’t a security risk, but of course if it led to kidnapping and torture or something it was. What did he know about that would be a security risk? His only high level case was the James Sidon case somebody in Canberra had taken an interest in. He knew so little about it, he didn’t even have a clue yet as to who James Sidon really was. Of course any kidnappers wouldn’t know that, but he wasn’t compromising any security by screaming that he knew nothing. Well, all he could do was describe the events and leave it to the experts. He imagined two agents from ASIO or the Special branch turning up at his house…
He suddenly realised that there was another aspect to his life. He had been living behind a clandestine brothel for the last year, and when his landlord had come by shots had been fired. His old landlord knew who he worked for – the rest was just a description and a phone book to find the address. But he had had nothing to do with the shooting – that had been Brian’s uncle Chris. He added an addendum that the incident might’ve been related to the premises behind which he’d lived, 29 Newry St, Fitzroy North. As Dave, Rebecca and Con got in from lunch around the same time he was just finishing up the report and making sure he hadn’t misspelt anything. Not that he could edit if he had. It was written in pen and ink.
“Congratulations,” said Dave, holding out his hand.
“News travels fast,” said Rebecca.
“Who’ve you been screwing?” asked Con.
“This is so embarrassing,” said Dean.
“A 1 to a 6 in less than a week? What’s embarrassing about that?” asked Con.
“I don’t understand it,” said Dean. “Anyway, I’ve got to hand this report to Mary.”
Mary flipped through the pages of his incident report, took out a stamp from her locked drawer and stamped the last page. She put a quick signature under the stamp, looked at her watch and wrote what was presumably the date and time. Even to Dean this seemed a little thorough but he had a strong respect for tradition.
“Very thorough,” said Mary, “and it doesn’t jump to any conclusions.”
“No. I suppose I should’ve theorised a bit more. That seems to be what somebody’s interested in.”
“Well, you certainly practice at it” said Mary. “I don’t know what has caught their eye but somebody in Canberra has requested you, specifically, and ours is not to reason why. Now, take tomorrow off – miscellaneous leave – and wait at your current residential address because somebody is going to deliver you a couriered memorandum. Sign for it and then follow the instructions therein.”
“I have no idea.”
“Has this ever happened in the past?”
“I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never been this close to it. Certainly it’s never happened to a gazetted Class 1. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
“You say that like I’m never coming back.”
“People seconded in this way never return to their old jobs. I’ve been here fifteen years and I asked around today when I was first notified. Nobody, and I even spoke to The Ripper, has ever come back from one of these secondments.”
“What the hell happens to them?” Dean asked tensely.
“They don’t get killed or anything like that. They just never return to their old job. I assume you’ll be told more about why once you get to your new job.” Then Mary got up from her side of the desk, came round and kissed him on the cheek. Dean was surprised. This was not administrative behaviour. Nor was it in any way arousing. Mary was young but more like a maiden aunt. “You’re such a nice guy,” she said.
“Thank you.” Dean returned the peck on the cheek. Mary was wearing, or maybe had, a nice subtle perfume that didn’t fumigate a lift and was barely detectable until you were this close. “I’ll give you a ring and let you know how it goes.”
“Best check with them first.”
“Right. You don’t happen to know who ‘they’ are?”
“I wasn’t brave enough to try to find out.”
“Christ Almighty, what have I been dragged into?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t and it was made clear to me by some nervous people that I’d better stop asking.”
“Thank you for trying,” Dean said.
On To The Tenth Chapter
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Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!