Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Brittle Shell: Handle with Care

There are two things you don’t want to hear first thing in the morning: the sentence “I’ve missed my period” and an alarm clock. In my case, it was both. They came 15 minutes apart.

Slapping the clock radio off the table, I rolled over and I saw the other side of the bed was as empty as a lawyer’s promise.

Then came the slam of a door. She’d walked out of my life, again.

In the bathroom, her perfume swirled in front of the misted mirror. The two words written in lipstick on the glass were blunt. Well, the first one was. The second word was “you”.

From the window, I could see her striding down Macleay Street towards the harbour, the summer breeze tugging at her skirt.

In the apartment’s small kitchen, I burnt two pieces of toast, made weak coffee from what was left of the beans, and hoped she’d ring. My client beat her to it.

Showered, dressed and wary, I walked up Macleay Street to the grittier end of Kings Cross and took up a position toe-to-toe with a bouncer.

“We’re shut,” he said. His palm came up and pressed against my chest.

“Do I look like someone who visits strip clubs at 8 a.m?"

“Yes,” he replied, leaving his hand where it was.

The voice of authority came down two flights of reddish carpeted stairs: “Stop socialising, Smith, and get your P.I arse up here.”

“I’m being summoned,” I said. The bouncer dropped his hand but stood still, forcing me to walk around him to reach the stairs. Half way up, I paused, made one phone call and pulled medical gloves from my jacket pocket. Snapping them on, I edged my way past another no-necked party in black shirt and trousers, and went into my client’s office. Neville Forewood’s thumbs were tucked in his belt, his lips pulled back over his teeth and his stripper dead at his feet.

“Minnie the Minx,” he said. “Recognise her?”

“Not with clothes on.” Dropping on one knee, I put two fingertips behind her right ear. There was an exit wound behind her left. She was as cold as a banker’s handshake. “Where’re the cops?”

Forewood’s lips moved – just: “Before I called them, I needed you to grace us with your hardboiled similes and snippy manner.”


“I want you to find out who killed Minnie.”


“I’ll kill him. This is bad for business.”

“You sentimental old thing. Give me a hand.” While Forewood rolled Minnie on her side, I tugged out a newspaper caught under her hip. The masthead read Tygodnik Polski .

Lowering her gently, Forewood and I recreated the original position. Her stiffening finger appeared to be pointing to something. There it was – a cigarette butt. The brand name, barely visible, spelt out M-o-c-n-e. Ten seconds later, under a nearby coffee table, I found a half empty bottle of Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka.

Straightening up, I held out the butt and the bottle. “First time I’ve seen a corpse point to leads.”

On cue, a door on the far side of the office opened and a solar flare in high heels lit up the room. I could feel my socks getting warm. Forewood introduced her as Layla, one of Minnie’s colleagues.

Looking down at the body, Layla let out a small “Eeek!” as if a mouse had run over her shoe. Forewood looped a comforting arm over her shoulders. A very comforting arm. “Layla, this is Mr Smith. He’s a private eye.” A pause. She didn’t appear impressed. He continued: “Layla and Minnie were very close. In fact, they even shared a boyfriend.”

Layla tilted her head. “Minnie certainly knew how to work that Pole.”

“Well,” I said. ”Dancing was her profession.”

“No, Pole with a capital ‘P’.”

“Now that’s a spooky coincidence,” I said. “I’ve just found a Polish newspaper, cigarette and vodka bottle.”

Her head tilted to the other side. “I believe they’re what you detectives call ‘leads’.”

Forewood pushed his thumbs back behind his belt. “So, who’re you liking for the murder, Sherlock?”

“Someone with motive, opportunity and a rather literal sense of planting evidence. Someone such as Layla.”

Unfortunately I didn’t know her skills as a stripper but as an exponent of the quick draw she was sensational. It was difficult to tell at a distance of three metres, but I guessed it was a Ruger .380 pistol pointing at my forehead.

Forewood nudged my ribs. “Do something.”

“Forget it,” I said, slowly raising my hands in the air. “I’ve got too much to live for.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the big man in black guarding the office’s main door also lift his hands high. Neither of us wanted to take a bullet for Forewood.

Backing away, Layla chose the far door. A good call. As she left, the police I’d phoned earlier came up the carpeted staircase fast, bursting into room with only a hint of Keystone Cops. Forewood pointed a finger at the escape door. He was using his comforting arm.

I turned to leave.

“Where’re you heading?” Forewood asked.

“Sort it out yourself. I’m going to buy a baby’s rattle.”

# # #
Copyright © 2012 GREG FLYNN

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rain Man

Only five people in the world knew what I was. She wasn’t one of them. She did, however, think she knew who I was. Arthur Miller.

No, I said, not Marilyn Monroe’s ex. Staring blankly, she ordered another vodka. Dead American playwrights obviously weren’t her thing. Vodka was. The next would be her second in under five minutes.

Мороз! From the freezer, this time, she said without looking at the dark-skinned waiter, an Uzbek, perhaps. As he turned to leave, her eyes flicked up and she held her forearm towards me, tapping her pale skin. An insulting gesture that could earn her spittle in the glass. He didn’t look like a man who was happy taking orders from a madam, but he wasn’t paid to be happy. I’d chosen a Manhattan. An old school choice that came with an old school smile to thank him. And hold the spittle, I was tempted to add.

She waited until the waiter was two tables away before saying her name: Svetlana.

Same as Stalin’s daughter, I said. Miller she didn’t know, on the other hand “Stalin” earned me a look as cold as the coming vodka.

Can I call you "Sveta"? I asked, using the friendlier, shortened version.

She told me I could call her “Svetlana”.

Drawing a gold lighter from her handbag, she lit the cigarette she’d been holding since I’d arrived. She took a shallow draw. She didn’t appear to be enjoying it. Perhaps it tasted of the last man she’d kissed. Lucky him. She may have been a bigoted boozer but there was a hot Soviet sizzle to Svetlana. She’d put a lot of effort into that hard body. What I was planning to do to her seemed a shame.

Her sudden question was like a tap with a cold spoon. “How many girls can you bring me?”

“There’s not a lot of foreplay with you.”

She repeated the question. I made a show of slowly pulling a Moleskin notebook from my inside jacket pocket. The movement caught the attention of two bulky men at the bar. They reached into their jackets too. It was unlikely they could write. When the notebook came out, they relaxed.

Flicking through the pages, I paused, touched a scribble and said: “Eight by Monday. Delivered to you in Moscow.”

She was impressed. “Clean girls?”

“Lysol fresh.”


“Well, virgin-ish. After all, they are from Bulgaria.”

We talked business. The vodka came and went. My Manhattan had been made with rye. It was the first surprise of the night.

Watching me sip it, she ordered a third drink. This time she left it on the table. My insistence on half the money now, half on delivery earned me a scarlet lipsticked pout: “Bозможно, 25/75?”

“Nyet. Half now.”

She told me that men never said “no” to her. I could believe it. Leaning forward, she whispered an offer that would’ve made the Devil blush. Svetlana took my hand. “Let’s walk back to my place, the cool night air will take the heat out of your cheeks.”

With the rain beating down and under a single umbrella, I could feel her shoulder pressing into me. I chanced a glance back at the bar. The bulky men had wisely chosen warmth over wet socks.

Now. I had only a minute or so to do it to her. My hand went inside my jacket. No Moleskin notebook for her. Her eyes widened. Genuine shock. I had her. I pushed the badge closer to her face. “Interpol.” Over her shoulder I could see the heavy black limousine moving quickly, almost a blur in the rain, back lit by arc lights over sodden tennis courts. The gun I held against her was small, unobtrusive. The car, brakes on, jolted to a halt. An arc of water sprayed from under the wheels.

“ZIL,” she said, climbing in. “I would have thought you more of a Mercedes man.”

“And I wouldn’t have taken you for a sex trafficker.”

“There is a reason for that.” Sliding to the far side of the limousine, she pressed her back into the seat and jerked at her hair. The wig came away, revealing a gamin-cut. I didn’t see her left hand reach for her bag. There was a glint of silver plate. I recognised the badge in her hand: National Central Bureau. A Politsiya. “My bureau takes precedence in this jurisdiction,” she said. “Give me your gun, Interpol man.”

“You screwed a beautiful plan to smash a trafficking ring,” I said.

Turning my gun over in hand, she shook her head. “A hairdresser’s weapon.” A pause. She handed it back. “No one in the bar saw your stupid move. Let us return there and continue what we started.”

“As a team?”

The wig was in place. “Of course. And please try, Mr Miller, to look as if you enjoyed screwing me for my 25/75 offer.”

# # #

Copyright © 2012 GREG FLYNN

Monday, October 15, 2012

Greeting, Earthling

Stepping from the Transubstantiator 6000™, Xxott glanced at his reflection in the liquid crystal mirror and sighed. “Are you certain this is correct, Commander? It seems a little tight.”

“Not to mention hairy,” said the Commander. His lead tentacle came up, its suction cup twitching. The tentacle caressed Xxott’s arm.

Xxott wasn’t certain whether the Commander was indulging in a comforting gesture or making a pass at him. It’d been a long, lonely trip from their home planet but Xxott wasn’t that type of Zlpqltrion. Turning, he caught sight of his bare backside beneath a truncated tail. “I hardly look like the most advanced species on Earth.”

“Our research is impeccable. You’re wearing the height of Middle Palaeolithic simian chic. It’s a perfect disguise.”

Xxott appeared unconvinced.

The Commander played the Saviour Card. “You’re the hope of the human race. Without you, humanity is doomed.”

Xxott’s tail hung down, swinging miserably. “Why should we care?”

“As Intergalactic Caretakers, we’re Zlpqltri’s gift to the Universe. Stop moping. Your mission starts now. We’re sending you back in time to impregnate a protohuman with your Zlpqltrion DNA which, over the millennia, will spread across the globe and change the course of history. Humans will become smarter and more civilised. The planet will be saved.”

With a flip of his tentacle, the Commander gestured for Xxott to come to the spacecraft’s window. Far below lay a blue planet, clouds sweeping over the oceans. Thanks to a cloaking device, the craft was invisible to Earthlings except for the flashing, vivid green logo of the device’s manufacturer “F.U.” – a technical hiccup the manufacturer claimed would be ironed out in the upgraded version.

“How accurate is our time transporter?” asked Xxott.

“Pinpoint. Let’s see. By Earth’s Gregorian calendar, today is 25 May 2012. You’ll be whisked back 200,000 years to the minute.”

Peering at Earth, Xxott didn’t like the look of all that water. “Can you guarantee I’ll materialise on dry land?”

“Of course. What could possibly go wrong?’


Switching on his Tele-wrist-or (Patent Pending), Xxott reported to the Commander. “So far, so predictable.”

The swim to shore took an hour. Just as Xxott attempted to leave the surf, a wave picked him up and flung him on the white sands of Cottesloe Beach.

Thump, thump, thud. The bare, brown legs of a jogger clipped Xxott, sending him back into the water. Heave. Toned arms lifted him onto the sand. He was saved.

Xxott chanced a whisper into his Tele-wrist-or. “So,” he hissed at the Commander, “I’ll be the most advanced species on Earth, eh?” He looked up at his rescuer, a young woman. “What’s the date?”

Showing no surprise at either a talking monkey or the fact the creature didn’t know the day, she replied: “24 May.” Then she pre-empted his next question: “2012”.

Transported back in time just one %$#@ing day, thought Xxott. He gritted his teeth, forcing to him to spit out beach sand and seaweed. He may be out by 200,000 years but he had a job to do. He gave the woman his never-known-to-fail-pick-up line. “Greetings, Earthling, I’ve come to impregnate you.”

“Are you in the mining industry?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“In that case,” she said, “the answer’s ‘no’.”

His chest came out. “Then take me to someone who’s a little less fussy.”

“I’ll see if I can find a visitor from the Eastern States.”

Reaching down she took his paw and led him across the hot sand towards a sloping, sunburnt stretch of grass. On the edge of the grass, a plinth held aloft the life-size marble statues of a naked man and woman. They were holding hands and staring in the direction of the city of Perth.

“Ah, your gods,” said Xxott knowingly.

“Too right,” said his guide. For luck, her fingertips touched the well-polished feet of Gina Rinehart and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, the latter statue’s proud member standing tall in anticipation of the opportunities Western Australia provided.

Xxott gave a shudder. Calling into his Tele-wrist-or, he gazed skywards: “Beam me up, Commander. Sadly, I’ve come too late.”

# # #

Copyright © 2012 GREG FLYNN

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Can Can Man

She was taking him in, but not in the way he’d hoped. Leaning against the door jamb, she ran her eyes up from the scuffed shoes to the oversized hat. It wasn’t a long gaze, and there lay the problem. Or, in the case of the person outside the stage door, there stood the problem.

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘truth in advertising’, Henri?” she asked before answering for him. “Obviously not.”

His smile stayed in the place. “I can’t imagine what you mean, my dear.” Sensing the ‘my dear’ hadn’t help his cause, he added: “ … I’m confused. Your letter was so inviting.”

She sniffed. Either she was savouring his new cologne or testing the air for humbug. “Your profile described you as a tall, blond, 29-year-old bringer of joy. An artist and a gentleman of independent means.” Another sniff. “Book early to avoid disappointment, the advertisement said.”

Tilting his head, he mouthed: “So?”

Her open hand swept upwards, “For starters …”

“Let me stop you right there. I know what you’re going to say. I’m not blond.”

She shifted closer. “That too.”

“There’s something else?”

“When I read the word ‘tall’ in a personal column advertisement, I expect the writer to match it.”

Taking off his hat, Henri brushed dust off the crown and slipped it back on. It sat firmly atop his ears. “But ‘tall’ compared to whom? To you? I can name you countless women who …”

“Spare me,” she said. “I want what it says on the packaging.”

He lifted his chin. That must have added another centimetre or two, he decided. “What could a taller man do for you that I can’t?”

“I want someone I can walk down the street with while I rest my head of his shoulder.”

“You could do that with me. Try it.” He took her vigorous head shake as a “no”.

For a moment, he considered retreating but he’d only paid for a one-way Metro ticket. Deciding to save the delicate matter of lack of money until a more appropriate moment, he pressed on. “As the advertisement also says, I bring joy. Would you care to experience it?”

The resulting shudder seemed to be another “no”.

He ignored it. “Brace yourself.” From behind his back, he drew a tambourine. “Something with a gypsy flavour, perhaps?”

The jingling and his piping voice carried over the wet, cracked pavement. Along the street, windows slammed shut.

“Perhaps not,” she said. From the folds of her silk gown, she produced a cigarette, lit it and blew smoke in his direction. The cloud passed a metre over his head. “Rehearsals start soon. Goodbye.”

“So, dinner tonight is out of the question?”

The closing door banged on his outstretched tambourine. His last chance. “I’m also a painter.”

“Thank you, but wallpaper is all the rage these days.”

“… of people. I’m quite well known in some circles.”

Like a magician’s dove, a folded newspaper appeared from her gown. Squinting, she read out his name from the personal column: “Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec”.

“Ah, you’ve heard of me.”


His tambourine, stuck in the doorway, creaked with strain as she pulled on the handle.

“I paint dancers. The critics say my work is heartbreakingly beautiful. If I paint you, men will be in awe of your grace for eternity.”

The door flung open. Both Henri and his tambourine sighed with relief.


“Or thereabouts,” he said, squeezing past her and finding himself amongst the theatre’s gloomy backstage clutter. Long legged dancers scampered by, their dark stockings setting off white petticoats. “Remind me what this place is called.”

“The Moulin Rouge.” She smiled for the first time. “Where would you like to paint me?”

He hitched his trousers a little higher. “The dressing room is always a good start.”

# # #

Copyright © 2012 GREG FLYNN