riday morning dawned with a dry heat that pushed its way through the curtains and began to slowly roast Dean as he slumbered under a sheet and thin blanket. He liked to sleep where he could see the sun come up and though that was difficult in Melbourne because of the hills to the East, he could at least see it coming up over the hills, the trees or the houses depending on where he was living. In Fitzroy North his window had faced West, looking straight at a corrugated iron fence. This meant that he often fried in the summer afternoons, but since he was rarely home in the late summer afternoons this was a rare though barely bearable when it did happen.
He rolled over to get the sun out of his closed eyes and relished the lingering joy of a warm bed. He stretched his arm out to cuddle his warming company and realised he was alone. The circumstances slowly gelled in his mind and he suddenly sat up. He didn’t have to get to work, but he was waiting on some kind of couriered letter. Or secret orders. They had certainly seemed like secret orders according to Mary. It wouldn’t do to be seen in his robe.
He stumbled out of bed and hunted around for his robe, shaking the fuzz out of his mind. He stumbled into the bathroom, realised he’d forgot his towel, stumbled back to get it and this time got into the shower clear-headed. He had a hot shower and then a cold one. He used his normal shampoo and missed Holly’s collection of personal grooming products. Hell, he missed everything about Holly. He spent a bit of time in the shower wondering whether he would see her again. Suppose this new job got him transferred to Canberra? Mary hadn’t said anything but maybe she didn’t know. One good thing about showers was the clarity of thought they allowed. There was something about the combined routine, comfort and white noise of the water falling that aided clear thought. Of course, it couldn’t go on forever, sadly, as they didn‘t have that kind of hot water service, and as the water started to cool Dean got out. He was fairly confident everyone who needed a shower had had one by then anyway, so he wasn’t denying anyone else hot water. He dressed and went out to make a nice cup of tea. Fortunately there was some milk He put a couple of dollars in the food jar to replace the milk and went and sat in the loungeroom. There was never anything on TV in the morning – it was all kid’s shows – so he just sat in silence and looked at the drapes closed against the morning sun. It was beautifully quiet, not like North Fitzroy at all, He could hear almost no traffic and even the train hurtling by just beyond the end of the block seemed far away. He cocked an ear to listen for Angie arguing with someone and was pleased to find no sounds coming from upstairs. He had heard Angie leave this morning anyway, and for a moment he wondered why he was listening. He then remembered the naked blonde from the other night’s escapade. Who was she and what had she been doing there? He hadn’t seen enough of Angie to ask her. Not that he would’ve done. It was none of his business. It was Angie’s house and she could have over whomever she chose. He just couldn’t help being curious. He sipped his tea and realised that even after only a few hours off he had too much time on his hands. Who thought these thoughts? He should ring Holly. That would be the sensible thing to do and, if she wasn’t already at work, he would’ve charged to the wallphone and twirled that dial. He sipped his tea. The minutes ticked by, first fairly quickly then more and more slowly as the morning heated up. He was roused by the doorbell ringing and was somewhat surprised to see nearly an hour had passed he hadn’t been aware of.
He put his tea down by the couch and went to answer the door, with a short thought passing through his mind that he didn’t want to keep some mysterious courier waiting.
He was startled and dumbstruck because when he opened the door he was looking at the blonde from next door. She was standing so close to the door he could smell her perfume, which in any case was floating in on the hot breeze. She was dressed lightly because of the heat, in a light white blouse with three buttons undone, obviously no bra or no obvious bra, a tight red skirt and light coloured stockings and red shoes. He took all this in while hoping he wasn’t gaping, then resolutely fixed his gaze on her face. This was a mistake as she had the most perfect light tan imaginable, wide blue eyes with actual blonde lashes and beautiful lips that were moving as she spoke. He paid attention to her voice as reality rushed in on this moment.
“Excuse me, is Billy at home?”
“No, I’m afraid he’s out with Angie.”
“Who’s Angie?” she asked innocently.
“His fiancée,” Dean replied.
He watched her face turn pale under the tan and her pupils dilate hugely before he realised she was toppling forward. He caught her, shamefully realising that he noticed how her breasts moved under her blouse as she leaned against him and then he felt her arms go round him and sobs literally wrack her body.
“But, but, but,” she sobbed, “I’m his fiancée.”
She looked up and Dean wanted desperately to dry the tears from her eyes. She had as clear a cry of ‘Help me!’ written on her face as was every written anywhere. Dean simply didn’t know how to help.
“You’d better come in, then,” he said. She got two steps over the threshold before she fainted. Dean twisted to have her fall against his right arm, then picked her up and put her on the couch, propping her against the arm. For a moment he thought it would be best to have her lie down – at least she would look most beautiful that way – then a barely remembered first aid course surfaced as it was needed. He bent her forward and put her head between her knees. After fainting comes shock, sometimes vomiting. He was out to the laundry and back with a bucket just as she was beginning to topple sideways. He had forgotten a flannel to clean her up if she vomited but that could probably wait. It would be just typical if during this crisis some idiot courier came to the door. She was beginning to come round. He hovered over her a minute and, realising that she wasn’t going to vomit, moved the bucket. He grabbed a pillow off one of the other chairs and put it on the couch for her. She seemed completely immobile as she looked down at the floor. He reached out and felt her hand. She didn’t flinch. She was as cold as ice. Yes, that was shock alright. Gently he pushed her on the left shoulder and gently back against the pillow, lifting her legs up onto the couch when she wouldn’t move them. He took her shoes off for comfort’s sake and averted her eyes from the way her skirt had ridden up along her thighs.
You are not going to have sex with this woman, he told himself as he nipped into his room to get her a blanket, so just forget it and concentrate on the problem.
You do not want sex with this woman, he told himself as she put a blanket over her and brushed her hair out of her eyes, you have Holly. She looked up at him without seeing him. What else did you do with a fainting victim.? They are probably in shock, sorted. She didn’t need to be kept very warm, but a cup of sweet tea wouldn’t hurt her. “I’ll get you some tea,” he said, smiling at her. He patted her shoulder, wishing he could just move his hand gently over the curve of her breast, still visible beneath the thin blanket despite not being shaped, lifted and separated by a bra.
He kept a weather eye on her as he made the tea. He jiggled the life out of a teabag till he had something dark and golden brown, thinking about how nice her legs were lying on the couch there, loaded up the tea with three sugars thinking about how nice her arse had felt against his forearm as he carried her to the couch and brought the tea in trying not to spill it. She hadn’t moved, so he put the down on the coffee table he hooked over with his foot for it to cool. She seemed now to be a little girl lying in her bedroom getting over a fever or something. She said nothing but she was paying attention.
“Now listen,” Dean said. “I’m Dean McNair. I’m sorry you had to find out this way. That he’s either become engaged or was already engaged.” Her expression didn’t’ change. “You are in shock,” Dean went on. “You can stay here till you’re better. There is tea and when it cools down I’ll give it to you.” What else? “Everything is alright. You’re safe. There’ll be no conflicts or scenes here. I won’t bother you.” He picked a limp cool hand off the blanket and squeezed it. “Don’t try to move, I’ll get your tea.” He felt the cup, still too hot to drink. He needed a drink as he had seldom needed one, but there was nothing in the house. He had only a mouthful in his own tea and he held up his mug. “I think I’ll join you. I’ll just be out there,” he said, indicating the kitchen by tossing his head. He went back to the kettle thinking about peeling her stockings off and gently massaging her thighs. He made his tea, poured enough milk to make it a bit milky but instantly drinkable and went back into the loungeroom. She watched his every movement like an injured wild bird. He had to get behind her to prop her up so she could drink her tea, but she got both hands around the mug and sipped it. He could feel the movements of swallowing against his chest. He took the half-empty mug from her and lowered her slowly back onto the couch. She simply looked at him for a long time and then slowly closed her eyes. He listened for a bit and her breathing did change. She had gone to sleep on a couch that wasn’t his in a house he’d lived in for less than a week. Yes, well, that was all perfectly normal in the Eastern suburbs. Everyone’s house was a youth hostel. How beautiful was this woman naked?
“Oh, for God’s sake,” he muttered to himself, “get a grip. She’s a damsel in distress and you are not a knight in shining armour. You’re a nice guy. Stop these thoughts.” Still, it was difficult. She was attractive enough to have caught Brains’ and his eye on a railway station and now she was lying on his couch. Well, he could happily turn his back on her and leave her to wake naturally. No-one else would be here for hours. Hours.
“Read a goddamn book,” he said and tripped off to his bedroom to get one.
At 11:13 the doorbell rang. The blonde had not moved on the couch and Dean was sitting in an armchair reading a page and looking up as he turned the page to see how she was going. Was it normal for someone who’d fainted to sleep so long? He had no idea, and wished both that he’d paid more attention in that first-aid course and that they had bothered to explain post-fainting behaviour better. The assumption had been that anyone doing first aid would immediately call for follow-up aid and as the doorbell rang a second time Dean realised that he should’ve done that. With any luck this was the ambulance coming anyway, because of course ambulances were like taxis and cruised around trying to detect post-fainting cases. Looking back at the girl to make sure she was alright, Dean answered the door.
The man at the door was impressively tall. His head would brush the architrave if he came in, but he showed no sign of wanting to.
“Dean McNair?” he asked in an impressively low voice.
“Yes,” said Dean.
“Please sign,” he said, holding out a clipboard with a pale blue envelope on it. He held a gold fountain pen in his left hand. Dean took it and looked at the paper on the clipboard. It was completely blank.
“Where do I sign?” he said.
“Anywhere,” replied the gentleman. Dean scrawled his name roughly at the bottom of the paper and took the envelope. The man turned without another word and Dean looked at the envelope. He suddenly realised he hadn’t given the man his pen back and then was struck by the fact that he didn’t have the pen. Possibly he’d forgotten that he’d given the pen back. It was usually an automatic procedure and he realised he’d probably just forgotten he’d done it, but it didn’t seem like that.
The career-changing blue envelope made him forget all about the location of any pen on the planet. The envelope itself was of a thick paper that felt like material and Dean was surprised to see that it was sealed with dark blue wax. He turned the envelope in his hand. It had no returned address but of course it was unlikely that an envelope delivered by courier would be returned unclaimed.
This seemed unusual, too, for the Public Service. His original notice for his interview had come by telegram, but then he had been living in a large shared house in Elsternwick where people moved in and moved out pretty much on a daily basis. There’d been a phone but it had been cut off and put back on so many times under so many names that Telecom had refused to connect to the address without six months advance as a bond. So it may have been quite normal procedure to send couriered letters around if you had a proper residential address you could courier stuff to.
He remembered that he had a particularly pleasant-looking girl on his couch and went back inside to see how she was getting on. A ball of hot air seemed to follow him in but the lounge was cool and dark since the East-facing drapes were still closed. He tucked the letter into shirt pocket first but released it stuck up like some kind of flag, so threw it on the kitchen bench.
She was sitting up with her knees demurely together and her hands clasped in her lap. It was an odd posture and Dean couldn’t at first work out what she was doing, but he then realised that she had woken up on a strange couch under a blanket with her shoes off and her clothes in some disarray. This would’ve unnerved Dean, too, but of course for a girl it would be worse.
“Hi there,” he said, putting as much friendliness into his voice as he could in two words. “You’re okay. You fainted at my front door.”
“I came to see Billy<’ she said in a soft, shaky voice.
“Yes, so you said. Um,” he said, and then remembered something he’d seen done to a head injury case. “What’s your name?”
“What’s the date today?”
“Friday the 23rd of January.”
“What’s your middle name?”
“Jane, she said. “Why all these questions?”
“I’m Dean McNair,” he replied. “When people faint on me I like to see if they’re mentally well when they come to.”
“Oh, God. I fainted?”
“Is this a normal occurrence?”
“I came to see Billy,” she said, “and you said he was out with his fiancée.”
“Yes,” Dean said, and he put out a steadying hand in case she fainted again. She didn’t shy away.
“I’m his fiancée,” she said, making Dean more nervous. “Did I say that?”
She looked at the floor as if it was a thousand miles away.
“What am I going to do?” she asked.
“For the moment, stay here and get rested. You’re perfectly safe with me, I’ve just got a new job.” That made little sense to Dean but Louisa didn’t seem to worry about it. “I gave you some tea before, do you remember that?”
“All the more reason for another one. This time I can ask how you take it.”
“Black, no sugar.”
“Righto,” he said jauntily and put the kettle on. He grabbed two fresh cups out of the cupboard and put the used ones in the dishwasher, where it joined a troop of similarly dirty crockery. At some point someone was going to get some dishwashing powder and actually use the machine, but Angie seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of cups and dishes.
“I’m so tired,” Louisa said as he brought her the tea.
“That’ll be the shock.”
“I-I was shocked,” she said. “Now I feel numb.”
“Yep,” said Dean, making it up. “Your blood sugar drops rapidly which causes the faint and then takes a while to build back up. I gave you some sweet tea before but that will have worn off by now. Is there anything else I can do?”
She held the cup in both hands and sipped it. It was just fresh out of the kettle but the heat didn’t seem to bother her. Dean waited for his tea to cool. After a few sips she extended her arms rather than held the cup out. He took it from her and went in and put it on the kitchen sink.
“I must look terrible,” she suddenly said.
Oh, you are wrong about that, thought Dean, but he said” “You look a little dishevelled, but considering you nearly toppled over on my doorstep, you’re not too shabby.”
“Does Billy live here?” she asked.
“Yes,” Dean said, “but I haven’t seen him for a few days. All his stuff’s still here, though.” ‘All his stuff’ consisted of a couple of towels and a coffee table.
“What should I do? I feel like such a fool.”
“You’re not a fool,” Dean said. Unless you’ve lent him any money, he thought. “As to what you should do, you will feel safer in your own house. I’m not kicking you out, but you will feel better once you’re home.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I suppose you’re right.”
“Don’t take that on faith,” he said. “Does it seem right to you? If not, I’m happy to listen.”
“No, I’ve imposed too much.”
“Not at all.”
“I should go.”
“Well, permit me to walk you home.”
“No, no, no,” she said half-heartedly.
“Yes, yes, yes. We can’t have you toppling over on the footpath,” he said. “You’ll notice I use the nurse’s ‘we’.”
“Are you a nurse?” she said interestedly.
“No, but I’ve known a few in my..time. Put your shoes on.”
“What about your letter?”
“You are observant. It’s a letter, it’s not going anywhere.”
She had her shoes on in a moment and had started to fold the blanket. This was exactly what Dean would’ve done in the same circumstances and he began to see that Louisa was more than just an admittedly extraordinarily pretty face. A picture of Holly swum up to the surface of his mind with her hair slicked down by the water and rivulets of it running across her breasts. Well, best keep things in proportion, he thought, feeling somewhat disloyal or unfaithful to Holly.
Dean got his hat and they walked down to the footpath. Even though he knew her address he paused until she turned left and then he walked along with her. The sun mad her hair radiant and it was still early enough in the morning that there was a play of light and shadow on her figure that would’ve caused a lesser man to drool. She turned left into her driveway and said apologetically: “You see? I don’t live far. I could’ve made it.”
“Well, let’s see you get inside first,” he said. “Once over your threshold you’re on your own.”
They got to number 5 and Dean was surprised to find he wasn’t making an effort to commit to memory. The image of Holly in his mind had faded but not completely vanished and in any case, despite this woman’s increasingly complex and delightful charms hitting on her might as well be raping her. She took out a set of keys that would’ve choked a horse and opened her front door. She stood on the step just inside the door, and turned just in time to see Dean shaking his head as he refused to hit on her. She paused uncertainly and then she smiled. It was the first really happy smile she’d had in more time than she could remember.
For some reason an extra button had come undone on her blouse and her cleavage had gone from a delightful but respectable ‘V’ to two parentheses back to back ‘)(‘. She stood on her tiptoes and spread her arms joyfully, then wrapped them around Dean and pulled him into a kiss.
It was the close-mouthed kiss beloved of American TV censors but she put her whole body into it, pressing every curve against Dean, who kissed back with equal close-mouthed enthusiasm. Indeed, his enthusiasm was becoming painfully apparent and he knew she knew it, for her thigh was pressed into his groin and she began to move it slowly. He slid one hand down her back and rested it just above the cleft in her bum and with his left hand cupped her breast. He could easily have lifted it out of her blouse but a vision of her doorstep swum up to the surface of his mind and he realised where this was leading. Exactly where he had not wanted to take advantage of her. He gave her little slap on the bum and pulled out of the kiss, thinking he had just pulled out of a nose dive.
“That was very thoughtful,” said Dean, hoping it was the best thing to say, “but I’m seeing someone.”
“It was just ‘Thank you’,” she said.
“You’re most welcome,” he said, “but if you want a suggestion, just be a big tipper. It’s less fraught.” He smiled and she smiled back.
“Well, see you around,” she said.
“See you,” Dean replied, pinching his left thumb and forefinger together against one of his shirt buttons. Her hands flew to her blouse and instantly did up two buttons.
“What will you do now?” Dean asked.
“Gonna sit right down and write Billy a letter,” she said.
“He can read? Well, anyway, if you need someone to faint against, I’m just next door.”
“I think my fainting days are over<” she said, suddenly seeming a lot more resilient. Tougher, not bad-tempered.
“Good,” said Dean, though he thought What a pity.
He turned away and heard the door close softly behind him. He had a brief indulgent image of Louisa leaning against the door with her breasts heaving like Gidget or Patty Duke. Then he refocussed on the letter. The colour resembled a court summons, several of which he’d been handed over the years because process servers assumed he had something to do with the place he lived behind, or because he had moved into share houses recently vacated by persons worth summoning to court. However, he had only read about letters sealed with wax. Come to think of it, he thought as he turned back into his own driveway, the usual reason for wax seals is that they can’t be broken undetectably. He had also read that that was crap but the odds of someone intercepting the letter who had the ability to break a seal undetectably were pretty low.
The letter was, not surprisingly, lying exactly where he left it, and he left it a lone a bit longer as he made another cup of tea. Then he sat at the dining room table and looked at the envelope. He wanted to add a certain sense of drama to this occasion, befitting the trouble they’d taken to get it to him. After finishing half his cup of tea he put a thumbnail under the wax and lifted the seal. All he could see at this stage was the Australian coat of arm at the top of the letter. There was no address on the top and he could see his name just above the fold in the envelope. He realised he’d been holding his breath and let it out in a self-deprecatory sigh, then unfolded the letter.
Dear Mr McNair,
You have been selected to report to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Special Executive for Foreign Control. You have been selected after covert testing and references. The selection process cannot be appealed. You have the right to appeal selection and any such appeal should be lodged within fourteen days of acknowledgement of this notice.
Please report to the SEFC offices at 290 Collins St Melbourne by 10:00AM on 26 January 1987. Bring suitable identification and report to Special Agent Jason Sturtevant.
This letter is printed in photoreactive ink and will degrade in twenty-eight hours.
No part of this communication can be divulged, recorded or communicated with any unauthorised person pursuant to provisions of the Official Secrets Act (1961) as amended.
Arthur D Cullimore
Secretary to the Special Executive for Foreign Control
On To The Eleventh Chapter
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Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!