Authors: Kerry Greenwood
Someone had told me that Greek was a wonderful language to curse in, and it was. Over her incantation I could catch a few more words. One, I am sure, was
, ship. Then
, fishing. Then I took a last gulp of my drink because it seemed that Daniel had heard enough. The parlour door opened.
‘Time to go?’ I asked.
‘More than time,’ he answered, one hand steadying himself on the wall.
‘People will know,’ promised Mrs Pappas. ‘They will know what he has done. They will curse him too. Take this,’ she said, giving me the open bottle of whisky. ‘Tomorrow I bring the priest. He must confess. Monster! Offspring of a goat and a sea-serpent! Cruel heart! We never knew,’ she added, pushing us out of the door, tears streaming down her face.
We left. It was quiet in the street. Timbo had not come back. I looked at my watch. We had only been inside for half an hour.
I sat down in the gutter, which was one of those high stone Fitzroy gutters, and drew Daniel down to sit beside me. He slumped.
‘Drink,’ I instructed, handing him the bottle. He obeyed. I could have given him straight hemlock and he would have swallowed it down. The air was warm and the atmosphere pleasant, a sharp contrast to the evil clogging the air inside. ‘I probably forgot to tell you that I know a little Greek,’ I told him. ‘
, just a little. And Mrs Pappas was translating until she started cursing him. If all of those fates fall on Old Spiro he won’t survive the night.’
‘He does not deserve to survive the night,’ said Daniel quietly. He leaned his head on my shoulder and closed his eyes and we sat there in the Fitzroy dusk, not speaking, sipping the whisky, until Timbo came back full of ice cream (the Charmaine flavour of the day was hazelnut) and he asked us where we wanted to go.
‘Out or home?’ I put it to Daniel.
He did not reply at once. Then he sat up with a great effort and said, ‘I don’t think I will be very good company tonight.’
‘Back to my place, Timbo, and spur the horses,’ I instructed, and the car sped into the night. Timbo loved someone to tell him to drive fast. We were back at Insula in a very short time. I paid Timbo and let him go.
Daniel allowed me to lead him up the stairs and lower him onto my couch, where Horatio courteously made room for him. Then I warmed some chicken and barley soup and watched him drink it. I hesitated over a DVD, turned on the television and found that an old Star Trek movie was playing, the one about the whales. Perfect. It even had a happy ending.
I ate my own supper in the kitchen, watching Daniel slowly slipping into relaxation. By the time Captain Kirk was telling the girl that he
from Iowa, he only
in Outer Space, Daniel was asleep. I covered him with the mohair rug and took myself to a punitive shower, in which I scrubbed as much of the memory of Old Spiro off my skin as Mr Pears could cope with.
My shell-shocked lover did not wake enough for me to move him so I lowered the lights and went to bed. I had to get up at four.
I surfaced as Daniel slipped into bed behind me, curled himself around me, and fell asleep again. With Horatio warming my stomach and Daniel warming my back, I closed my eyes. Very pleasant, if a little claustrophobic.
Four o’clock and the alarm brought Daniel awake and screaming. I grabbed at him as he leapt out of bed and he swung around glaring, and for a moment I thought he was going to strike me. Then Horatio hit him with a full-strength, outraged, all-claws-extended swat across the naked thigh and he flinched and woke up.
‘Oh God, Corinna,’ he cried, ‘I didn’t hurt you?’
‘No, Horatio hurt you,’ I said. ‘I feel just the same when that bloody alarm rings.’
I stomped into the kitchen and put on the coffee, wondering where I had hidden the painkillers. I had a hangover, my first in many years. Do not drink cheap whisky in Fitzroy gutters after emotional shocks, someone should have told me. My head throbbed and my mouth tasted like incontinent parrots had roosted there overnight. I poured out a large glass of water and drank it, then another. I went and brushed my teeth. I slurped some more water. Daniel found his underwear and came into the kitchen just as the coffee was ready.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘I was dreaming.’
‘Coffee,’ I said. I drank a cup standing and then put on the kettle again. This was going to be a caffeine-laden morning. Daniel sipped, wincing at the electric light.
‘You need to go back to sleep,’ I said, kissing him. He smelt like nail polish, the stench of fear. That must have been a very bad dream. ‘But have a shower first, and a little breakfast.’
‘I stink,’ he agreed, and stumbled off to the bathroom. I went in to get my painkillers and found him standing in the stream of scalding water, letting it pour over his head. I noticed again the massive scar where Palestinian shrapnel had gutted but just failed to kill him. Oh, my precious Daniel. Hundreds of thousands such as he were trucked off to the death camps and murdered, lost forever. I could imagine what he had been dreaming. A thin trickle of blood from Horatio’s claws ran down his perfect thigh. I dragged myself away.
More coffee, more water, a couple of pills and I was able to contemplate toast. Horatio was unwilling to contemplate kitty dins and was still affronted, growling softly. His tail was still bristling. I offered him what Professor Dion calls ‘a solatium’ in the form of cream and watched his fur subside as he licked delicately, making it last. My hackles were going down, too. That was not a nice way to rise from the downy couch.
More coffee, sourdough toast with cherry jam. I found I could contemplate a day’s baking after all. To complete the cure, I dug my last and only packet of Gitanes out from under my jumpers, took one and went onto the balcony with it. I hardly smoke at all now. But sometimes one needs a cigarette.
It was a dark morning. The streets were silent. Every city, even all-night ones like Athens, has an hour when the last of the night people have staggered home and the earliest of the day people are just getting up. Four am is Melbourne’s changeover hour. I lit the Gitane and sat puffing luxuriously. It was still too early for mosquitoes. In any case Gitane smoke will keep off anything but sandflies and Amway salesmen.
I had just begun to wonder why Daniel had gone to see that loathsome old man when I ran out of Gitane. Slightly dizzy, I rose and went back inside.
My kitchen looked cosy. A rough-dried young man was feeding cream to a cat. The air smelt of toast and coffee. Horror was being abolished by hot water and soap and ordinariness, which is just as it should be. Daniel smiled and passed over a plate of fresh toast and the gruyère cream cheese I like.
‘I took a couple of your pills,’ he said softly. ‘I can’t tell you how sorry I am.’
‘Stop being sorry,’ I snapped. ‘You were asleep. I’m sorry that my ill-mannered cat sliced you across the thigh. I’m going to put on my working clothes. How are you feeling?’ I asked, kissing him on the neck. Now he smelt of my cleansing soap, wet hair and coffee. A great improvement.
‘Better,’ he said. ‘It was that old man. I never met anyone like him.’
‘Me neither, and I hope that means there aren’t many of him around. I suggest that you grab a few more hours’ sleep. I’m sure Horatio will be glad to accompany you.’
‘I hope he’s forgiven me, too,’ said Daniel. Horatio, hearing his name, gave my lover an assessing look, licked at his whiskers in case there was any trace of cream left, then tucked his paws under him as he paid close attention to his kitty dins.
‘I’d say the chances are pretty good,’ I said. I kissed Daniel again, and went down the stairs to the shop.
There was no chance of catching Jason being late today, because I was late myself. I walked brazenly into the bakery a full half-hour beyond my usual time and found that all was in motion. Mixers mixed. The air conditioning hummed. Jason’s clothes were in the dryer and Jason himself was taking a tray of small buns out of the oldest oven.
‘They smell very good, spicy and fruity,’ I said.
‘It’s that old recipe you gave me to try. Since I had some time to play with it yesterday, I worked out some proportions,’ he told me. ‘How are you, Boss?’
‘Shipshape and Bristol fashion,’ I said, saluting.
‘Aye, aye, sir,’ replied Mr Midshipman Jason. ‘Buns at five o’clock, sir!’
I tore one apart. The bread dough had accepted the spices and sugar, though it seemed a little dry. I bit. Really nice. Just what a hungover woman needed. Perfect texture, hot, filling, sweet.
‘Good,’ I said. ‘Maybe a bit more moisture for the next batch. These are a teensy bit dry. But the balance of fruit and spices is excellent. Can I have another?’
‘Nice to see you eat them, Captain,’ said Jason. ‘I’ve got all the bread on. I thought I might try some of those little cakes, but...’
I knew his tricks and his manners. ‘You need to practise breaking eggs with one hand. Right. Break each one over a clean saucer. That way you can collect up the failed ones and we shall make challah later.’
‘Asleep, I hope. We had a rather action packed night. No, not that sort of action. Haven’t you got something you should be doing, Midshipman?’
‘Aye, aye, sir.’ He saluted and then took a dozen eggs over to the sink, where spills would not be so tenacious as on the floor. I had a feeling that breaking eggs with one hand wasn’t as easy as it looked.
I was right, by the way that Jason was risking injury by cursing in the bakery ten minutes later. Still, eggs weren’t expensive. And I had things to think about, the primary one being, why had Daniel gone to see that evil old man? What was his reason? Who was his client? And why had he agreed to do it when he must have known how it would make him feel? It was probably one of those ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ things which rendered the casualty rate so high in
I got on with my challah. There would be plenty of egg for the egg-mixture. After about twenty minutes of cracking noises and solid swearing, Jason called me over.
‘Look, Cap! Mission accomplished!’
Just as Daniel had done, he broke the egg and separated it, all with one hand.
‘Brilliant,’ I said.
‘Only thing is,’ said my midshipman slowly, ‘what do I do with the other hand?’
I was about to say something I might have regretted when there was a stir outside in the alley. Someone was screaming.
‘Wash your hands—I mean, hand—and find the mobile, Jason,’ I ordered.
‘You’re not going to open that door!’ he exclaimed. ‘Some dude’s being killed out there!’
‘Not in my alley, not on my watch,’ I said firmly, sliding the door open a crack. I grabbed the baker’s friend, a long, heavy slide used to take loaves out of the oven, just in case of argument.
It was still dark in Calico Alley. The one feeble light only made the darkness visible. But the screaming was coming towards me. I gripped the slide, ready to fell any attacker with arms made strong by years of kneading and hauling sacks.
I could hear Jason scrabbling through my bag for the phone. A handful of coins rang on the stone floor.
Then I saw her, a woman out of her mind with pain or rage, tearing her hair, shrieking that her feet were burning, burning! But there was no flame. I could not smell smoke. She was entirely alone.
Windows began to open in the building above me, lights coming on as apartment dwellers were shocked out of sleep. I hoped that Daniel would not hear.
‘Ambos on their way,’ Jason called. ‘What’s happening?’
‘Fucked if I know,’ I replied honestly. Oh, dear. I was courting bad luck in my bakery by using language like that. But the bad luck seemed to have already arrived.
She was young. She had been out to a disco or a club. She was wearing what Kylie or Goss would have worn, a minimum of clothing, with spangles, bubble skirt, tights and high platform shoes. Her dark hair was torn and dishevelled, and she limped and stumbled and shrieked until I had to fight down the impulse to belt her with the slide and put her out of my misery. At least to silence that dreadful noise.
But I went out and threw my arms around her because she was young and human and female, and instead of fighting me she collapsed into my grasp and sobbed and fumbled for her feet and mumbled about burning, burning. It was unpleasant to be near her. As Daniel had smelt of fear, she smelt strange; a musky, mushroomy smell. I’ve got a good nose and I’d never smelt that odour before. She was sweating like she had a breaking fever and the scent was in her skin, and now on mine.
Mrs Dawson called down to me, her voice as clear as if she had been standing next to me.
‘Corinna? Do you need assistance?’
‘No, it’s all right,’ I replied. ‘Ambulance is on its way. Thanks,’ I added.
The girl writhed and whimpered. In all it was with great relief that I handed her over to the ambulance officers, who loaded her into their vehicle.
‘What is it about this end of town lately?’ asked Jules. ‘You been poisoning the customers, Corinna?’
‘I doubt that she ate any of my bread,’ I told her.
‘Eleven cases in a week,’ said Jules. ‘There’s something new on the street which is converting citizens into fruitcakes. Well, off we go. You got a muffin for a poor hardworking chick?’ she asked Jason.
‘And her poor hardworking non-chick partner,’ put in Tommo.
‘Two left,’ said Jason, and gave them the last of the chocolate ones. ‘Making jam ones today, drop in later.’
‘No offence, but I hope not,’ replied Jules, and the ambulance light bobbed away down the alley. When they got out into the lane, they put on the siren and it shattered the night. I heard more windows slam and voices complain. Mrs Pemberthy would be calling a tenants’ meeting, I just knew, to demand that ambulances be banned from the alley.
‘Phew,’ said Jason.
‘Phew,’ I agreed.
‘You can have the shower first,’ he offered. ‘As a superior officer.’
He was right. I needed a wash. I smelt like a mushroom farm. I showered in the bakery bathroom, put on clean trackies and stuffed the others into the washing machine.