Naylor's Canberra
freshly squeezed pulp noir

Tuesday, June 03, 2003  

Instalment 17: pages 70-73 [Elliot recieves an agitated phone call]



I was content. It was morning, and I was in my own bed, in my own flat. Well, mine and Eva’s. It was a lovely little place, if you overlooked the exercise-freak neighbours next door; the audible parties and copulations enjoyed by the lads downstairs (who also had a habit of leaving their noisy bathroom extractor fan running at three in the morning); the solid brick wall facing north that kept the place toasty in winter and boiling in summer; the view out towards the supermarket carpark and the thirteen treacherously steep steps to our front door. Still, we loved it. It was our rental, it came with spa, dryer and dishwasher and had a little balcony. Eva had the big bedroom and paid the larger share of the rent. And it wasn’t home. Delightfully free of family – not that I had much to be free of – but Eva enjoyed the distance from her the internecine politicking of her incredible extended clan. I counted the days since I’d visited my grandfather, and realised I should drop round soon, Saturday morning at the latest.

I’d woken before Eva left, but though discretion was better than coping with more of her grilling. She’d been remorseless about Danielle on the way home, and worse I’d not caught enough of what transpired with the shaggy-haired whoever-he-was while I was out back to know if she was interested in him. Given my lack of ammunition, I thought it best to avoid the breakfast table. True, by waiting until she’d left the house I’d lost any chance of a lift to Woden, which would have made the trip to Dickson to retrieve my car much easier – but I had wanted to procrastinate. It was a morning when the enthusiasm to get out of bed was hard won, it had been an eventful couple of days.

The heavy clumping and dragging noises from the flat next-door eventually drove me to get up and investigate. I stumbled outside in tracksuit and gown out to the little landing we shared with the next-doors, only to find it full of washing machine and two straining blokes, one of whom I recognised by his close-cut hair and muscular build as our neighbour. He smiled faintly through gritted teeth as they moved off down the stairs. A woman with a long blonde ponytail and her arms full of boxes, Ms Next-Door, stumbled out onto the vacated landing.

“Hi,” I said, realising I could not for the life of me remember her name. For ages Eva and I had just referred to her and her partner as Ken and Barbie given her blonde hair and their habit of going jogging in matching outfits. We had a theory they were both PE teachers. I had a strong intuition that by the end of my present sentence I’d have doubled the number of words we’d ever exchanged. “Um,” I continued, “I didn’t realise you guys were moving.”

“My brother had an RDO and we weren’t working this morning, so we thought we’d break the back of it,” she answered, resting her boxes on the brick parapet.

“Anything I can do to give you a hand?”

My sense of neighbourly duty rather than enthusiasm must have come across.

“Nah,” she said, shaking her head, “it’s under control. We’re just doing the big stuff and boxes now, we’ll tackle the little bits and pieces over the weekend. We’ll have steam cleaners in on Sunday morning, but they shouldn’t start too early.”

“Lease up?” I asked, feeling obliged to keep conversation going.

“We’ve just bought a house in Chifley, we’re pretty stoked.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Best of luck.”

I scurried back inside, my reservoirs of polite non-conversation running dry.

My car was now pretty much the furthest distance away from me that Canberrans deal with – across the lake; and me with nothing to rely on but a system of public transport somewhere between vestigial and antediluvian. Basically, all Canberra’s busses run into one of four major suburban interchanges, with shuttle routes running between. What would be a twenty-minute car trip could involve three busses and nearly two hours.

To stall a little further I called work and negotiated to put in a half day that afternoon at the Peepers library and to make the half-day up on Monday. It gave me some time to stumble about the flat and put my head together. Despite Carmichael’s injunction, I had not yet put in for time off from my scrap of a job. Besides, I could think of good reason to pop into the office and check out a few things about Bob Mitchell and whatever shadow he might be casting over the Charmichael’s lives. I’d just had enough time to shave, shower, pull on some cords and an old shirt, crank up the heaters and make my first coffee of the day. As the intoxicating bitterness hit my tongue, I felt my synapses fall out of fog and back into working relays. I was now officially almost two-thirds of half-awake.

That was when Carmichael’s phone rang. I flipped it open. The little screen displayed an incoming number I recognised: Marina’s parents’ house. My stomach clenched in a guilty knot about my coffee. It would be Daphne. I should have called her the previous night, but after my gut-wracking effort at driving back from Sydney it’d slipped my mind. Well, after that and other distractions, I thought, thinking of Danielle and starting to grin. Now for the fury of a mother spurned. I pressed the call answer button and tried to wipe the incipient smile from my face and tone.


“Elliot, it’s Daphne. I need to speak with you,” she said insistently.

“Sorry Daphne, I planned to call yesterday. I went down to Danielle’s …”

“That’s not important,” she cut in. “Elliot, I don’t want to talk on the phone. Are you free this morning?”

“Sure, what time do you want me to come round?” I asked. “It might take a while –”

“No, not here. Where are you?”

I gave her the address and she rang off. I decided the situation demanded for carbohydrates and artery clogging fats. I doubted this was going to be an interview for an empty stomach.


11:50 PM
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