ednesday morning was something of shambles. Dean had wanted to get an early start the same as yesterday but he had to wait for Angie to get up so he could get his keys. He thought it a good idea to wait for Brian, too. He saw no sign of Billy that morning so presumed he’d gone earlier, though Dean had been up at 6:30 cursing crap beer, hangovers, people who ring up at stupid hours to get cab money and life in general. But a morning shower and a cup of instant coffee had more or less fixed him up, at least getting him alert for the morning meeting. His clothes reeked of cigarette smoke, of course, so he had to raid the garbag and pile the foul-smelling garments into another garbag in preparation for washing them on the weekend.
With his best pants, shirt, jacket, boots and gad, yes, even a tie, Dean was ready to carpe the diem. He got the 8:06, which arrived promptly at 8:19 at Laburnum but ran express from Box Hill to Camberwell, thus sparing him the remorse of stopping over the puddle of stomach contents he knew was there, and it was just on 8:55 as he stepped off the train at Spencer St. The streets were crammed full of people all shuffling off to whatever brightened up their sorry lives while he had a purpose in life. He walked in the door of work at 8:59 and wondered whether he should go straight to the twelfth floor or not. Well, if he went to his desk first he’s be late for the twelfth floor and Charles was probably there already. He pushed the button for the twelfth and tried to seem blasé about the whole thing.
The twelfth floor seemed somehow not of this world. The lift doors whooshed open so quietly that if Dean hadn’t been looking he might not have realised it. The carpet on the twelfth was a deep grey that showed no signs of wear or dust. As he stepped onto it he felt like he was walking across a field of sweet-smelling velvet. The floor was not open plan like his floor and there were no desks visible. Instead there was a corridor straight ahead of the lift and a hint of two other parallel corridors off to his left and right.
There seemed no way other than direct enquiry to find Mr McDermott’s office but Dean could see no-one to enquire of. He looked first right, then left, like crossing a road and tried to reason out logically where the office would be. Of course it would be in one of the side corridors since Mr McDermott was high enough up the food chain to get an office with a view. Now, since the right hand corridor would face North into the sun, he would have the South facing office. Dean took the left-hand corridor.
He passed a number of wood-panelled doors with names on black and gold plaques but there was no sign of McDermott. About halfway down the corridor he noticed that it ended in an ‘L’ and that the other arm pointed along the Western side of the building. So that was how three sides of the building were used as office space. Coming around the ‘L” was an efficient looking woman in a bright red jacket with impressive shoulder pads and a cream-coloured skirt. She was carrying a clipboard and looked busy and purposeful. Dean was going to ask her where Mr McDermott’s office was but she wasn’t the type of person to be bothered with trivia and, besides, Dean had to look like he had a reason to be here. He nodded curtly to her as she came past and she nodded curtly back. Phew. Jumped that hurdle, Dean thought. He turned right into the base of the ‘L’ and saw then that it was more of an ‘E’. He ignored the central corridor and walked down to the North corridor. There, two doors up from the base of the ‘L” he found an office with a plaque saying ‘C McDermott’. Thinking that Mr McDermott certainly would have a secretary he opened the door without knocking.
Fortunately he was right. The secretary, a somewhat overweight woman in her early thirties with long dark hair and large framed glasses, looked up.
“Mr McNair,” she said.
“Yes. I have an appointment—“
“At nine o’clock.”
“Good. Please have a seat.”
There were some comfortable armchairs to Dean’s right and he gingerly took the one nearest the door. This secretary had a daunting manner and Dean supposed this was useful for cutting out the bullshit from people who probably clamoured to see Mr McDermott every day. At the moment she was briskly opening mail and sorting it, exactly the sort of thing Dean did at this time of the morning, on the one occasion, yesterday, when he’d been at work at this time of the morning. He waited patiently, looking at the framed paintings on the wall, One was of a scrub country scene, a twisted gum tree in front of a red hill with dry yellow grass under a cloudless sky. The other was a photograph of a marlin leaping out of some blue tropical ocean. Dean looked back at the secretary. As far as she was concerned he had ceased to was an appointment in her diary that had ceased to exist as soon as he sat down. Dean began to feel the unaccustomed pressure of his tie knot. He hadn’t worn a tie since high school and he’d been surprised that the old knot tying movements had surfaced from his memory so easily. This particular tie was a maroon colour he hoped matched his jacket and pants. He couldn’t remember when, where, or even if, he’d bought it. He checked his shoes but they looked nicely polished. His socks matched. Of course his pants and shirt were crisply ironed—he liked ironing because he was good at it. Should he have got a haircut?
What was taking so long? Dean was not impatient by nature and rarely minded waiting for anything. He was also a punctual person by nature and, until the move to Laburnum, this had been easy to contrive. Now he arrives at, give or take, for a nine o’clock and he’s kept out here waiting. Had he actually arrived too late and this was their way of saying that he hadn’t got the job? What job? Well, they couldn’t sack him for not making this meeting, so the worst case scenario would be that he simply went back to his desk—where they were planning a surprise party! Of course! This was just a diversion while they fixed up his desk for the surprise party! How could he have been so dumb as not to see that!
His birthday was two months from now so they had that part wrong but it was very decent of them, anyway. Was the party for something else? A going-away party? A goodbye, it’s been a pleasure working with you party? No, no, no. They’d just hand him his letter of dismissal and everyone would turn away from such a pariah. Of course, he could be coming up here on some sort of charge. So what was all that crap from Charles about yesterday? If there was a charge against him they were supposed to tell him. Perhaps, he thought, this was the psychological waiting time that Disney put so much stock in. So maybe the far side of the veneered door was some kind of ride? No, if Mr C McDermott was a fun bloke he’d have a fun secretary. He resisted the urge to twiddle his thumbs. There was no clock visible and Dean hadn’t worn a watch since his teens.
The inner office door opened. A tall man with dark hair and a wide moustache stepped out and said to the secretary: “May, can you tell that bloke at the Attorney-General’s that consular staff are granted certain immunities but that we did sign a treaty a few years back that put certain limitations on diplomatic immunity? Then book me a flight to Sydney for Tuesday afternoon to return Thursday morning? See if we can postpone the meeting with the AFP until next Tuesday at ten AM. Would that suit you/”
Dean was startled to realise that that last was addressed directly to him. Would what suit him? Ten o’clock next Tuesday? For what? What kind of thing was this? Dean hadn’t even accepted the position or the job yet.
“Absolutely,” said Dean, as if he knew what was going on.
“Good. Come in.” The other man gestured to his office. He didn’t tell Mary to hold his calls. Clearly there were more important things than whatever Dean was being called into the office for.
The office was about the size of the lounge at Laburnum and contained a large desk with a swivel chair behind it, its back to the windows and two armchairs on the visitor’s side facing the window. With the sun in the North it meant that whenever he interviewed anyone, Mr McDermott’s face would be in shadow. Dean, who rarely paid attention to people’s faces, knew the trick but didn’t care about it. Mr McDermott gestured to the chairs and Dean took the left hand one, sat down and crossed his legs. He was strangely glad his socks matched. As if they wouldn’t. Mr McDermott took his chair and partly rotated it, so he could look out of the windows at the shorter buildings across Collins St and the distant black and white tower of Marland House over on Bourke St.
“Mr Cincotta is otherwise occupied,” said McDermott, more or less to Dean.
“I understand,” Dean replied, to make it seem as if he did.
“You’ve been working on a project where someone, as yet unidentified, has multiple passports.”
“Yes. At the moment we’re calling him ‘James Sidon’ as that’s the oldest passport, the first one issued by the Commonwealth. Maybe there are some foreign ones but we’re looking into it.”
“Negatives from Canada and the UK; the Americans are stalling. Eastern Europe—well, it’s Eastern Europe.”
“Why Eastern Europe?”
“We’re trying to spread the net as wide as we can. A few con jobs, criminal activity, had links to Eastern Europe and of course there’s increased criminal activity in Australia by immigrants from Eastern Europe.”
“How the hell do you know that?” said McDermott. He didn’t’ turn around but it was the first question that he seemed to take an interest in.
“Well, the con jobs were in the paper and of course we get the updates from the AFP and—“ Dean smiled “—a certain organisation.”
“This wasn’t my idea,” he said. “We were told that this was the new procedure.”
“Yeah, I know,” said McDermott, turning to face him now. “I wrote that procedure.”
“Uh huh.” Dean had little experience of job interviews, but this one certainly seemed to be going a different way to the two he’d experienced and the half dozen or so he’d heard about over the years. “So, um, where do I fit in?” he chanced.
“Suppose I told you that James Sidon was what my father would’ve called a criminal mastermind?”
“My first thought would be that your father reads too many spy novels.” Was that an impolite thing to say? Well, it was an honest thing, anyway.
McDermott put both hands on the desk, his fingers spread, encompassing all that was written on the four groups of paper neatly spaced on it. He stared at a point on the wall behind Dean… Then he threw back his head, literally, and guffawed. He laughed for what seemed like fifteen minutes. At the end, with a few last chuckles, he calmed down and stared, bright eyed, at Dean.
“By God, he did. He did, too. I haven’t laughed like that in ages. Thanks a lot.”
“No problem,” said Dean, because he really had nothing else to say. What the hell was going on here? “Now, just to clarify the details of these higher duties. These higher duties.”
“Yes,” said McDermott, and pushed a paper-clipped sheaf of light blue papers over at Dean. “Have a read of that while I get us something to eat.”
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Oh, God, Make It Stop!!