1 DEAD CAT BOUNCE
The first thing I hear is the scream. Like the whistle of a falling bomb. A human scream - getting closer at a million miles an hour.
He hits the footpath like a dropped sack of rice - a naked teenage spunk.
The scream stops as the air's slammed out of him. His split skull spurts blood across the concrete and almost sprays my shoes.
I stagger back, stupid with shock, and gape at the beautiful wreck. Handsome face. ****** *** ****** ******* ******** ********** ********** ********. Left arm bent at the elbow - the wrong way.
Someone shrieks. It's me, freaked out of my tiny mind. Because the last thing you expect to happen on a sunny slow-news Sunday is to be almost flattened by a naked dude.
I stare up. The apartment block is ten stories high. I can't see anyone on the balconies. He hit like he fell from the top.
A screech from across the road. A woman's throwing up in her shopping trolley. Two teenage girls, walking up the hill from the beach, cling to each other in horror. A passing car slows. The occupants have eyes stuck out like organ stops. In about thirty seconds the scene will be bedlam. I have to give it the flick.
As a man gets out of the car and starts to come across, I trot up the steps to the front entrance of the block and press the intercom for number eighteen.
The man squats by the body then glares at me, wanting to do his macho number.
He calls out, 'Did you see this happen?'
'And you don't give a damn?'
'He's dead, for ****'s sake. All his appointments are cancelled.'
He pulls out his mobile. 'What's your name?'
Tanya's voice crackles from the intercom. 'Hello?'
'It's Jen. For ****'s sake let me in.'
The lock of the big glass door buzzes. I retreat into the small foyer, trying not to gag, and press the tit for the lift.
The shock's scared the shit out of me and I desperately need to pee. I cross my legs and yell at the lift, 'Come on! Come on!'
I glance back through the glass wall. Christ! Now there's a dog sniffing the body - a pit bull that belongs in a cage. Mr Macho shoves it away and half stands up then squats again, hands spread on the concrete as the blood drains from his brain. He's not going anywhere right now. At least I'm still vertical.
At the back of the foyer is a fire-door with an EXIT sign above. It isn't quite shut and I hear steps on the stairs behind it. It barely registers. All I can think about is getting to the can.
The lift opens and I barge in. The obsolete contraption is slower than the resurrected dead. A sign says the maximum load is eight persons. I jig and curse.
The moment it gets to the ninth, I'm banging on Tanya's door. There are two units on each floor. The front doors of both are closed. When she opens hers, I scoot past her, desperate for the twinkle-palace.
'Do come in, Jen.' She's big on satire. 'Oh, thanks a lot, Tan. Lovely to see you.'
'Look outside,' I yell from the toot.
When my body's controllable again, I find her on the balcony, clinging to the rail for support. 'Oh, shit. Oh, shit.'
I lower my eyes from the birds-eye view of Manly Cove to the pale mess below. 'I just got here when he fell. He almost flattened me.'
People stand around the body. Some point up. The gutter glints with blood.
A siren approaching.
She goes back inside and I trail after her.
She slumps on her smick leather sofa. 'He lives across the passage. He's my neighbour. Was.'
We hear the lift door opening. Urgent voices. Someone sobbing.
'Shit,' she says. 'It's Bobo, his girlfriend. She must have come to see him.'
A bang on the door. 'Police. Open up.'
Tanya does the peep-hole bit then opens the door. I get a glimpse of the other unit. Cops poking around inside. They must be questioning the girlfriend because I hear her sobbing contralto.
The guy is a thickset, plain-clothes dick called White. He flashes his badge and makes small-talk for a bit. He tells us that most people who fall from anything higher than five metres die. I mentally thank him for over-sharing. There are some things I'd rather not know.
'So Jimmy Rose. That's his name, right?'
'How long had he lived here?'
'Do you know where he worked?'
'He worked from home. He was an escort.'
She nods. 'He worked nights and slept most mornings. Some afternoons he shopped and stuff.'
'And you knew him well?'
'To say hello to. Not much more. But I'm thick with Bobo, his tranny mate. She's sweet.'
He notes things down. 'Did Mr Rose bring clients back to his unit?'
'Might have sometimes but most nights he was out. Bobo came around a lot. She's the one you've got in there.'
'And did you hear anything unusual this last hour?'
'Not a sound. It's pretty insulated.'
'So you didn't happen to hear the lift stop at this floor in that time?'
'No. But there's access from the fire stairs and you can get up through the car park if you've got the key.'
He looks at his notes, then at me. 'And you're Jenny Madden?'
'So when you came up here, did you pass anyone?'
I'm too whacked to make jokes about cannibals so tell him about the steps.
He notes it. 'So someone was going down the fire stairs?'
'So how do you know they were going down?'
'The sound. People trot down stairs. It wasn't slow like climbing up.'
He scratches the back of his neck, surprised at the detail. 'Fair enough. And why did you come here this afternoon?'
'To work with Tanya.'
'We work in advertising. We're pushing a deadline.'
'And do you generally get together on weekends?'
'Not if we can help it,' we both chant.
'Working on what?'
'Okay.' I drag stuff out of my briefcase for the nosy bugger. Some of Tanya's scribbles, a list of slogans, ideas for the commercial. 'Gustos. Choc coated bars with caramel and nuts.' I hand him the Agency's brief. 'All there.'
He riffs through the stuff, copies the agency's details from a letterhead then gets up. 'Well, thanks for that. Now we'll need to talk to you both again so I take it you're not planning on leaving the country any time soon?'
We shake our heads like naughty schoolgirls.
'Good. Because you could find that difficult.'
When Tanya opens the door to let him out the cops are still all over the other unit. Then a creature comes out wearing hot-pants and heels high enough to cripple a giraffe. She spots Tanya, hobbles in and the two of them hug.
I shut the door on the bunfight outside.
Tanya says, 'This is Jen. She's a copywriter at the agency.'
The chick holds out a manicured hand. It's not quite a woman's hand. But her body's svelte, her shoulder-length hair is her own and her boobs, displayed by the deep V-neck, are a triumph of the plastic surgeon's art.
'Jen, this is Bobo.'
'Hi!' I flash my standard fifty-watt grin.
She sits on the edge of a chair, legs angled to one side with knees together - she's learned the moves - and blubbers, 'I loved him so much.'
Tanya hands her tissues. As she takes three and repairs herself I peek at *** *** **** ***** ** .
'I just came here to see him,' she sobs. 'Just half an hour ago. And there he was - splat on the footpath! With those people around!' Her low wail increases in frequency like an electric kettle.
Tanya puts an arm around her. 'Was he depressed? Like, you think he jumped?'
'Hardly!' A tragic laugh. 'He didn't get depressed because he never gave a damn for anyone, bastard. He was pushed. I'm sure of that!'
Tanya lowers her avant-garde eyebrows and gives me the meaningful stare.
I stare back. 'What?'
'We'll you're the detective.'
'You're a detective?' Bobo chimes in.
'She does it on the side,' Tanya says. 'Got a steel-trap mind. Very disturbing. One moment you're talking to a friend. Next, you're witness for the prosecution.'
'Give it a rest.' I glare at Tanya. Unfortunately, she knows about the bodies in the launch because it got smeared over the tabloids. And about the death of Danny and Maxine. But not about the shitfight that followed.
'I'm a copywriter,' I tell the creature. 'Don't listen to anything she says. The cops'll sort this. That's their job.'
'No they won't.' She stares at the floor.
Tanya's jaw drops. 'What are you saying? That you know who did this?'
'I've got a very good idea. I use his computer for e-mail and I've downloaded his accounts. She roots in her fake Gucci handbag and pulls out a flash drive. 'He had this client called Brian Burr. He saw him several times a week. The guy runs The Positive Energy Institute. I checked the website. It's some kind of cult. Pretty weird, according to Jimmy. He went on about it one day when he got high.'
I say, 'And you think this Brian prick did him in?'
She nods five times, dabbing her eyes.
'Because Jimmy said he had a lot to lose and that there was big money in it.'
'You mean Jimmy was into blackmail?'
'He'd done it before. He shook down a couple of married guys who ************ on the side. I felt sorry for the guys. I mean, it's easy to understand. Women are nice but it's not like the real thing.' She tightens her arse and looks coy. Different pokes, I think, for different folks. I visualize her screaming with bliss while lover boy ***** ***** ********.
'So you think Jimmy was blackmailing this Brian character?'
'Or working up to it.'
'So why not tell the police?'
'Because I want to be part of this.' Her lips become a line. 'I want to know all about this swine - down to the ***** ****** ******* ******. I want a hand in his downfall. You understand?'
It shows she lives in a parallel universe. Fine with me. You can't do much if someone's a stubby short of a six-pack. I say, 'Better leave it alone or you'll get yourself topped.'
'I don't care! I don't care! My life's over now, anyway.' Her mascara has run so much she could get a job as a clown. Tanya cuddles her again. 'Jen's right, you know! You're not thinking straight because you've had a terrible shock.'
Bobo grabs my hand. 'Will you help me?'
'Sure. I'll make you a nice cup of tea.'
The next week is unadulterated shit. After hurting our heads all weekend to come up with the Great Concept, the presentation is put off till the following Friday! Proving that if you dumped the agency's Account Execs in a baked bean factory, they still couldn't organize a fart.
Tanya and I are ropable. We've rissoled our weekend for zilch. So we do an all-arvo Monday lunch and get seriously sloshed. I'm extra ticked off because, on Tuesday, John goes overseas.
But, at least, that night he screws me silly.
He has a beautiful body - right down to the washboard abs.
***** ***** ****** ***** ***, I say, 'Thank you for having me.'
'So can you tell me where you're going this time?'
'I can. But then I'll have to kill you.'
It's no joke. My fault for developing round heels with a spook. At three AM he surfaces again. This time he's rougher, more urgent. A male should be male. I want tenderness or pain from a woman but vigour from a man. According to a book I once read - some naff Indian porn - *** *** ****** ****** **** ******. Its a phrase that kind of sticks in the mind.
We're at it again before sun-up - ***** *** * *** ********* * ****** * * ********** * **** * *** *** ** *** **** ** **** ** * *** * * * ************ * * ********** **** ** ***** ******* ******. Jen. Her mark.
He ****** and says. 'You're fantastic.'
'Petal-like innocent me?' Well comedy's the new tragedy.
'Come off it. You terrified me from the moment I first met you.'
'That's the sweetest thing you've ever said.'
That morning, I drive him to Mascot. Not to the international terminal. To the private one on the road to the long-term car park. There's a private twin-jet parked beyond the windows. Four hard-chargers are watching its crew load long cases into the hold.
I never know what his mission is or how long it will take. But I know I'm going to miss him - and that there's also a chance he won't make it.
We kiss a lot in the small lounge.
He waves back twice as he walks to the plane.
I blubber all the way to the car.
On Wednesday, I'm sitting in the Creative Department conference room, screening OS confectionary spots when my brain barbecue goes apeshit. I clap it to my ear and hear the breathy voice of Bobo, the fretting female facsimile. She says, 'Tanya gave me your number. I hope you don't mind me calling you?'
I so don't need this. But as I'm an extremely patient person for about forty-five seconds, I dredge up false cheer. 'Hi! What's up?'
'I went to the Institute. And confronted him. Brian Burr.'
'You did WHAT?'
'But, as it turns out, he couldn't have done it.'
'I roll my eyes at the strip lights. 'How do you figure that?'
'He said he'd never met Jimmy, knows nothing about him and was in a meeting with his followers at the time it happened. He showed me his schedule. He says he has a hundred and fifty witnesses. So I'm back where I started.'
I'm now sure I'm dealing with a fuck-wit. I say, 'Hon, rich pricks don't do their own dirty work. They hire professionals for that.'
'Oh!' A long pause. Like she's dropped off the twig.
'Yes, I'm here.' She doesn't sound too sure. 'Well- that's it then. I seem to have come to a dead end.'
'Or it's coming to you!'
Desperate breathing as if I've freaked her. 'Could we meet? Please? Please? I have to talk to someone. Please?'
'I've told you what to do. Tell it to the fuzz. Either that or get some camo greens and a one way ticket to the Congo.'
She starts to sob.
I don't like this conversation because the phone call could be tapped. John's taught me to assume that all e-mails, calls and messages are recorded.
'Please help me.' She's crying.
'Sorry. Can't discuss this stuff on the phone.'
'Then could we have a coffee or something? I'm just a block away.'
And because she sounds ready to top herself and because she knows the local coffee shop and because I like the mad spaz, I say I'll see her in five. Seeing I'm a sucker for dumb animals and can use a coffee, anyway.
I go to the toot and flash my vertical smile at the porcelain, wash the handipands, then check the foxy sprite in the mirror. Great arse, boobs, skin, five foot two and hot. It's the propitious package I come in. Hair, lips, teeth all in the right places. Love you, doll.
The cafe is a hole in the wall with just two tables on the pavement outside. As I walk toward it up the hill, I see a slim man with long hair in a pigtail crossing at the lights. He has a girlish face, wears red work gear and looks like a delivery man. It's Bobo.
She's crossing on the green light but it doesn't make any difference. As she gets in front of the first vehicle -a tip truck - there's the hiss of air. The truck jerks forward, engine roaring and hangs a left.
Its tray bounces around the corner and the double rear wheels mount the curb leaving a squashed thing behind on the road like a heap of dumped clothes.
The waitress rushes from the cafe and shrieks, hands near her face, then turns away.
I'm worst Samaritan known and don't want any part of this. All I want to do is hide in the convenience store. But I hurry up the street, dreading every step.
Her head looks like a water melon that's been hit by a high-velocity bullet.
A wheel has gone right over it.
My breakfast decorates the pavement.