he Mitcham Hotel was a small pub by outer Melbourne standards, consisting of a lounge bar, a saloon bar and a bistro that took up half the pub. The bistro was completely empty at this time of the day as the lunches had stopped at two o’clock and dinner wouldn’t start until six. The saloon bar was occupied by the sort of people who need a pub close to the station in the middle of the afternoon—aged pensioners, tradesmen, unemployed tradesmen and public servants with the day off. The weekday race meetings were being broadcast in glorious mono over the pub’s Muzak setup and the traffic outside was gradually building toward peak hour.
Dean and Brian were nursing their beers to make time pass more quickly. Neither of them were keen to head back to their new digs. New houses take a bit of time to settle into. Of course there was no way for Dean to go back now and Brian’s welcome at his uncle’s hadn’t quite worn out but the move had been made now.
“I’m sure it’ll be alright,” said Brian. “If you get sick of it move in with that girl next door.”
“Will you get off her for the moment? ‘Nice day’ doesn’t mean anything.”
“That’s how it all starts.”
“You start it, then.”
“I want to see what Angie’s friend’s like before I aim that high.”
“Oh, yeah? And why—hang on, it’s my shout.” After a few minutes wait at the bar while Brian smoked a cigarette, butting it out with quick jabs in the ashtray, Dean continued: “Why do you think the friend will be any good?”
“Well, it looks like she’s a Lesbian. Bisexual, then,” he said, forestalling Dean’s objection, “and if she is, she’s the butch half of the arrangement.”
“Now, hang on,” said Dean, taking a slurp of his beer to fortify his argument, “red teddy and white tights and the glass of wine. No way, she’s the fem half—so you can imagine what the butch half is like.”
“No,” said Brian, “the fem half is usually gorgeous.”
“The fem half is always gorgeous, even if only by comparison. But the butch half would never wear a red teddy and stockings. I think it was some kind of schoolgirl thing.”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“Does it really matter that much? The walls in those units are paper thing, so you’re going to be getting a lot of vicarious fucking done.”
“Swap rooms with me!”
“I’ll be your best buddy.”
“Bastard. I’ll introduce you to Helen Apostolou.”
“N-hmm,” Dean pondered. “Nnnn-no. I can introduce myself and an introduction doesn’t guarantee anything, anyway.”
“Some mate you turned out to be.”
“You should’ve thought of that before you married me.”
“What?” Brian said after a shocked pause.
“Sorry,” said Dean. “Just a joke. Obviously you didn’t marry me, so let’s move on.”
They both sipped their beers while Dean wondered about Brian’s sense of humour and Brian worried about what he’d got himself into. In the course of a few more beers, though, both their worries faded away, as they do for people of good humour after a few beers.
Around six o’clock a kind of change of moral outlook comes over the seasoned drinker. Dean had been too young to remember sic o’clock closing and Brian hadn’t been born till after it had finished, yet at around six-ish a subconscious decision is made that you’re going to stop drinking and go home or get stuck into it.
“What do you reckon? Go home or stay here?” asked Brian.
“Hmm. Tough call. We can’t sleep here and I’ve got stuff to unpack and to put my bed together. On the other hand there’s beer.”
“I’ve got to make a phone call. And go to work tomorrow. Might as well head home.”
“Yep,” Dean agreed. “Whose shout is it?”
“Mine. Let me get the phone call out of the way.”
There was a gold phone over in the corner, past a group of four suited men having a quiet discussion about something Dean couldn’t hear. Brian picked up the receiver and fumbled in his pocket for change. The phone call cost fifty cents and after a bit he loaded half a dozen coins into the slot. Surprisingly, the phone was working and he was through in a second or two. He didn’t appear to listen to anyone on the other end and hung up quickly. Change tumbled out of the return slot and he scooped it up and bought a couple more beers.
“Here’s cheers,” he said.
“What was that all about?” Dean asked. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
“No. That was for Uncle Chris. He asked me to call the cops and let them know that the gunshots in North Fitzroy today were made by a gun in the storm drain there.”
“What? But your uncle’s prints will be...oh, he was wearing gloves.”
“Yep. He’s a clever bastard.”
“Um, but why would my landlord shoot up his own car?”
“Who knows? It’s the possess pistol that’ll be his problem.”
A couple of high-pitched bleeps stopped the conversation between the four suited men near the phone. One of them pulled a pager from his pocket and read the screen. He showed it to his friends and looked at the gold phone Brian had just used. He put the pager back and looked around the bar. His eye fell briefly on Dean’s long hair and beard and moved on. In a moment he returned to his beer.
“Well, we should be able to make the 6:43,” said Brian.
“Have you memorised these timetables?” Dean was astonished.
“I glanced at them.”
“What’s the one after, then?”
“After that, then?”
“7:32. 7:32, 8:05, 8:35, 9:05, 9:40, 10:20 and 10:50.”
“How the hell did you remember all that?”
Brian just smiled. The walk down to the station had the usual atmosphere of a pleasant evening’ s outing at a pub. It seemed to take no time to get to the station and they stood on the platform until the 6:43 came in, promptly at 6:58. The only other occupants of the carriage they got into were a group of five teenagers at the back of the carriage ringed around a Ghetto Blaster and one wizened Chinese man with his feet up on the seat looking inscrutably out of the window. Dean slowly realised that this was going to be his life for as long as he stayed in Laburnum. Catching trains back and forth each day and, because he was heading into the City and out of it, crammed in with a thousand other passengers. A far cry from being able to walk into work in twenty minutes. But if he left early enough he could probably avoid most of the crowds. Or if he left late enough, which wasn’t really an option. Officially, DFAT had the same flexi-time setup as other parts of the Public Service, but in practical terms the latest he could start was ten o’clock and the day really dragged then, as he had to finish at 6:21 That would avoid most of the homecoming crowd but he disliked coming home in the dark, and most of his workmates would’ve been to and left the pub by the time he was just finishing work.
They got back to Blackburn about 7:10, Dean thinking that the train trip time to the pub was about the same as his walk to work had been. Discounting the fifteen minutes waiting time because the train was late. There were no light son at Blackburn and they were at the front door when Brian reached for his keys.
“You didn’t get any keys off’ve Angie, did you?”
“As it happens, no. Ah…yes, that would be a problem.”
“You could try knocking.”
“There’s no-one home.”
“Well, it won’t bother anyone, then.”
Brian knocked politely with his knuckles, then pounded on the door with his fist. There was no answer. Then he noticed a doorbell to the left of the door and jabbed at it. Inside you could hear the chimes go again and again as Brian jabbed at it. After a minute or two Dean grabbed his hand. “That’s even annoying me, now.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do?”
“Wait. I’m sure Angie’ll be back soon.”
“Or she might’ve gone away to Queensland. Fuck that.”
“Well, we could go back to the pub.”
“Do you know of any hotels in the area?” It was still light enough to see Brian’s expression. “Okay, stupid idea. But it was the last of mine.”
“Now what the fuck do we do?” asked Brian, sitting down on the front step dejectedly. “Fuck it. If I’d thought to get keys! Or why didn’t you think of it?”
Dean had no answer. He was perfectly prepared to wait until Angie, or Billy for that matter, came home. If the worst really did come to the worst and it looked like he[‘d be spending the night outdoors, well, it was a warm night and it wouldn’t be the first time. Although it would be the first time since he’d started work.
Brian, however, wasn’t nearly so patient. He had never heard the saying ‘When there’s nothing you can do, do nothing.’ He had got up from the front steps and had walked along the driveway and back again. He had sat down briefly and now stood looking up at the darkening sky with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets., which occasionally jingled with the half ton or so of change you could build up after a few beers.
“So now what the fuck do we do?” he demanded.
“Well, I’ve been having a ponder about that,” said Dean. “’When there’s nothing you can do, do nothing.’”
“What the fuck?”
“”That was my first thought. Then it occurred to me that we haven’t looked around the back.”
“Shit, why didn’t I think of that?”
“I’m the smart one, you’re the pretty one.”
There was no gate to the unit’s small backyard but the fence was low and easily climbed. The dining room, kitchen and laundry all had windows overlooking the backyard and a fourth window appeared to be for a downstairs toilet which had eluded both men on their initial inspection. There was a coir mat outside the sole door which led into, or out of, the laundry. Brian checked under it for a key.
“Why would they leave a key under the back mat?” Dean asked. “You can’t even get in here!”
“Well,” Brian said. “Well, neither of them are the brightest bulbs in the box.”
“I don’t think we’re entirely blameless on the dumbarse front. However, I have noticed that the upstairs bathroom window is partly open.”
“Well, in my younger days I’d’ve been up that drainpipe like a rat up a…drainpipe… Hmm. Of course, I was younger and fitter then.” He ran his eye along the drainpipe. It was plastic, as it would be on a new unit like this, but the bracing looked solid enough. “But I’m wiser and drunker now!”
He handed Brian his hat and jacket and cracked his knuckles. The drain for the bathroom connected up to the laundry drain, meaning a long pipe went from below and to the left of the bathroom window. Another pipe ran from the roof guttering to join up with the water pipe underground somewhere, but downpipes were usually too flimsy to support a person. A third pipe, the toilet drain, led from too far below the bathroom window to be of any use and, in case he broke the pipe, Dean didn’t want to be splashed with toilet water.
“Up we get,” he said to himself and started to climb. Some years before, as a much fitter twenty-two-year-old, he’d done this same act in North Melbourne. There the house had been three stories high and the plumbing decidedly rickety. There had been a few anxious moments as he passed the second storey and had had to reach out the bathroom windowsill and one of the brackets holding the pipe had given way and clanged on the ground so many feet below. He’d swung out to step on the sill and then had moved through the window in twenty to thirty-five fluid motions. Dean had no fear of heights but he resisted the idea of broken bones like the plague. He climbed the pipe keeping as close into it as he could, not want to put too much strain on the pipe. The broken bracket in North Melbourne had been handy in convincing the landlord there that the piping needed to be replaced.
The pipe ran close to the bathroom window but if you were climbing it you could see into the window of the back, master bedroom. Dean kept his eyes on what he was doing but did glance over at the window once he had safe footing on the bracket third from the top, putting his knees nearly level with the windowsill.
He could see the bed in the master bedroom. Laying on the bed was the body of a woman. She was completely naked, lying on sheets that looked black in the fading light, but might’ve been red. He hoped they were red. He quickly averted his vision but not before he’d noticed her blonde hair spread across the pillow, the shadows on her breasts and the dark patch between her legs. She hadn’t moved when he saw her—one arm was under her breasts and the other draped loosely over thigh. She hadn’t seen him because her head was turned away from the window. He froze on the pipe. If he made a noise she would turn this way and see a strange man peering in at her through thick glasses.
Come to think of it, he thought, who is she? She certainly wasn’t the only blonde in the area—even a brief glimpse of her body confirmed that—and why hadn’t she answered the knocking, the pounding and the doorbell?
“Hey,” Brian said from the ground.
“Ssh,” Dean replied. He looked quickly back to see if the girl had been disturbed and then more quickly back to the drainpipe. Perving while poised on a pipe was just not done. A sense of urgency about getting off the pipe reared up. He had to get in the house before the girl woke up and spotted him. Yes. There really was no quick quip to cover this situation.
He leaned out from the pipe and reached over to the window. Gods be praised it was a sash window, that slid up and down, so the units must’ve been built sometime in the late 60’s or very early 70’s, before those wind-out windows had come into fashion. The window resisted his upward pressure for a time and he wondered how he’d get both arms under it to push without falling. Then it ground slowly up with a noise that would wake the dead.
The dead? He looked back at the girls again. No way. No fucking way. Had her hand moved? He looked at her for some time and decided it had—but then could he be sure? Well, he couldn’t dangle there ogling all night. He reached inside the window and felt around for items on the sill that might break. There were none as far as he could feel. He lifted a foot and put it through the window, stretching out as far as he could to find the edge of the basin that was directly below it. He grabbed the window and levered himself in. It was a bit of a strain, proving that four years of a steady diet and sitting on his arse in DFAT had cost him a bit of fitness, but nothing broke in either him or the bathroom, and he was downstairs in a moment, opening the back door for Brian.
“Good climbing,” said Brian. “Have you thought of being a cat burglar/”
“I think there’s a dead blonde next to your room.”
“Ssh!” Dean whispered, then realised he was doing it. “Well, in case she’s not dead.”
“How do you know she’s dead?”
“She didn’t move when I looked at her.”
“You’ve looked at me and I don’t care about moving for you. Maybe it’s your blonde from next door.”
“No, she’d be two or three of my blondes—my blonde is she?—from next door.”
“Look,” Brian said reasonably. “Dead blondes do not hang around in bedrooms that aren’t theirs.”
“Shouldn’t we call someone?”
“How do we explain what we’re doing here?”
“All our clothes are here.”
“Well, fuck this, at least let’s turn the lights on.” Brian went into the kitchen and flicked a few switches. Lights came on in the dining room, the kitchen, over the stove and inside what turned out to be a pantry. The unit was becoming something like a TARDIS, with new rooms cropping up everywhere. He went out to the stairs and flicked on a light there and for some reason walked softly up the stairs. In a few minutes he was back downstairs, where Dean had made it all the way to the kitchen, but now stood rooted to the tiles.
“Well, she’s not dead,” said Brian.
“You looked in.”
“I didn’t need to look,” Brian replied. “You still want to swap rooms?”
Dean laughed as he got the implication and Brian’s despairing tone. :No, no. I’m happy with the downstairs.”
“Bastard. Now I’ve got to put up with that going on every Monday night.”
“Could be seven days a week.”
“A grown man can’t sleep through that moaning going on!”
“Don’t tell me that! Now I’ve got to imagine her prodding herself! Jesus Christ.”
“I thought you said she was a porker.”
“No, I meant ‘two or three times prettier than ‘my’ blonde from next door. Fuckin’ hell… I wonder who she is.”
“Maybe she’s got the master bedroom and Billy and Angie have the second room.”
“Now why the hell would a couple sacrifice the main room for a single girl?” Dean thought out loud. “Well, we can ask her tomorrow. I’ve got a bed to put together.”
“I might go upstairs again,” said Brian.
“She really is a porker,” Dean admitted.
“Yeah, but she sounds thin.”
On To The Fifth Chapter
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Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!
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