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Jade Box - Mums the Word
by Genni Smith
Cassie Taylor smiled down at the little girl as she tucked her into bed. "Goodnight Alicia," She said.
"But Mummy," Alicia grumbled in that cute way only little girls can use. "Its still light outside."
"Its 8 oclock, Sweetheart, and time for little girls to float off to dream land."
"I cant sleep."
"You havent even tried." Cassie giggled. "I know its hard to sleep in summer with daylight savings but I can tell youre tired."
"Lachie is still up."
"Your brother is four years older than you, Miss, so he gets to stay up an extra hour."
"Tell me a story, Mummy," Alicia smiled.
"Youre stalling, young lady."
"Just the one Please?" She begged.
"Alright, just the one. What would you like to hear?"
The little girl giggled, her dimples dancing on her cute face. "You know the one."
"Oh Alicia, how many times do you have to hear it?" Cassie asked as she tickled the little girl. "I must have told you that story a million times."
"Please Mummy? Ill go to bed as soon as Ive heard it."
"Cross my heart," Alicia said, suddenly serious.
"Okay then." Cassie sat on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs and let her mind wander back. "Are you comfortable?"
Cassie still shook her head when she thought of the events that changed her life and for some reason the story always started that day so long ago and only a year before.
Rick Conlon entered the busy bar a little late and scanned the room. For a bar on one of the upper stories of a five star hotel at 3 pm, it was fairly crowded and Rick had problems seeing the guy he wanted. It was mainly Europeans elbowing their way to the bar to be served or standing around moving their drinks to drive home whatever point they were making to each other. Straightaway, Rick noted how few Chinese there were in the bar, apart from the staff. The place was obviously a watering hole for ex-pats and business people in Hong Kong for a short time, and hopefully a good time.
"Hey Twitch?" Rick heard someone shout from the far corner. "Over here, mate."
Rick waved back in acknowledgement and then turned to grasp the hand of the woman at his side. They weaved their way over to the corner table where Mick Buller was sitting with what looked like a mineral water in front of him. "Gday Bull." Rick smiled, holding out his hand.
"Long time; no see, Twitch. I guess you got my e-mail then." The two old friends shook hands warmly, both genuinely happy to see the other.
"Nah, I just used my fuckin radar and guessed youd be here, you big goose."
Smiling despite himself, Buller continued. "I always did have a penchant for stating the bloody obvious." All of a sudden his eyes left Ricks and fell upon the curvaceous form of the blonde woman who stood back slightly, waiting for an introduction.
"Michael Buller, meet Inge Johansson," Rick said. "Micks an old mate of mine from Adelaide," Conlon said by way of an explanation. "Inge and I met in Thailand and weve sort of been travelling together since then." The hand he put on her lower back made it clear to Mick that travelling wasnt all theyd been doing together.
"Nice to meet you, Inge. Pull up a pew."
Rick stood aside a little so Inge could squeeze into the corner chair and then he sat next to her. "You on the lolly water, Mick?"
"Just pacing myself until you got here, mate. What would you both like?"
"Ill get them. Beer for you, Mick?"
"Yeah, thats one good thing about this place. They sell beer from home. Ill have a Coopers Pale Ale."
"One Coopers coming up. Usual for you, Inge?"
The woman nodded and Rick left to battle his way back to someone who could sell him some booze. An uneasy silence fell over the table as Inge looked out of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the breathtaking vista of Hong Kong Harbour, with its mixture of huge cargo ships, ferries and old-fashioned Chinese junks. Mick took the opportunity to look over at the breathtaking vista of Inge. "So," he finally said in an effort to make small talk. "Howd you link up with Twitch?"
"Twitch?" Inge asked with a strong Scandinavian accent that more than matched her name and looks.
"Oh, we were both back-packing through Asia, separately, and I ran into little trouble in Bangkok. Rick came to my rescue and "
"I didnt exactly come to your rescue," Rick interrupted as he placed two bottles of Coopers Pale Ale on the table and a glass of Gin and Tonic. "I just waited with you while the police came."
"And paid for my hotel bill." Inge smiled a seductive smile and turned back to Buller. "Some how you say? Head dick stole my money belt. They got my cash and everything else."
"So its Twitch playing the white knight to the damsel in distress eh?"
"Well, I couldnt leave her alone in that area, could I? Cheers." He raised his bottle and had a quick look at Hong Kong Harbour himself. The two others raised their drinks and Inge took a sip as Bull seemed to drink half of his in one gulp. "Not a bad place, mate. A little different from the places weve been staying."
"You doing it rough?"
"No point doing the hippy trail in grand style, mate. Weve seen more dives than Greg Louganis." The three of them laughed at that statement. "So how did you know Id be in Honkers, Bull?"
"I was having a yarn with Barry Guy and he told me youd be here the same time I was."
"Yeah? How the hell is Barry anyway? Im surprised he even remembers me. I never get an e-mail from the bastard."
"Bazz is okay, mate. Same old same old," Bull shrugged. "So you keep in touch with everyone at home through the internet then?"
"Yeah. Its pretty easy that way. I just keep my hotmail account and check it at any Net Café I pass." Conlon nodded. "So how did you get the powers that be to spring for this place?"
Bull snorted. "I lucked out, mate. I just got a promotion to a nice cushy desk job. I am now Senior Sergeant Buller, Neighbourhood watch liaison officer for Adelaide. Finally a fuckin 9 to 5 job." Buller turned to Inge and said, "Excuse the French, love."
"French?" Inge asked.
"Doesnt matter, Sweetheart." Bull grinned and then got onto his original point. "Well, normal hours for the most part anyway. It was getting so bad that I had to show I.D. to get into my house because Laura and the kids didnt recognise me." He paused to light a cigarette and take another swig of his drink. "Ive only had the job for a little over a month when they told me I had a week in Hong Kong for a neighbourhood watch seminar for the whole of Asia."
"You still married? Shit, I would have thought Laura would have given you your marching orders a long time ago."
"What can I say, Twitch? Itll be fifteen years of wedded bliss in a few weeks. Youve been in Hong Kong a while, havent you?"
"A bit over a fortnight. Why?"
"I was hoping you might be able to show me around. Ive been in meetings from arsehole to breakfast time and with a free day tomorrow, I was hoping I could go out and get something nice for our anniversary."
"Shouldnt be a problem, mate," Rick shrugged. "Do you mind, Inge?"
The stunning looking blonde woman shook her head. "I might the shopping do too." She smiled, mixing up her English in a very erotic way. "I can do with some clothes that arent apart falling."
Rick turned back to Buller. "Looks like its a date, mate. Meet you in the lobby at 10 tomorrow morning?"
"Youre on, Twitch."
Inge leaned forward at this point. "Please be explaining to me what means Twitch?"
Mick laughed and Conlon shifted uncomfortably in his seat, knowing full well the story that was about to be told. "Well, it was one of old Ricks first nights on the job when we got a call that an alarm had gone off in a trendy boutique on King William Street in Unley. We answered the call and with another car, we headed over there. The place was in total darkness and it was obvious that some one had broken in. Something spooked Rick and he turned and fired two shots at what he thought was a crim with a gun. It was only after the lights were turned on when we realised hed just shot a mannequin. The Sergeant in the other car pissed himself laughing and said Be careful of him Bull, hes a twitchy little bugger. The name sort of stuck."
"Youre police?" Inge asked. "I thought you were in the business of security."
"I am," Rick said. "I was a cop for eleven years. Then I got out and opened my own security firm." He decided to change the subject. "So Bull, how is it that you manage to stay married for 15 years when most police, including me, cant manage more than five?"
"What can I say, mate? I am a top fuck."
"Laura said that, did she?" Rick asked sceptically.
Buller waited a few seconds before he replied. "Well no. But all of my girl friends do."
After having spent the better part of three years sharing a patrol car with Buller, Rick was used to the older guys dry sense of humour but it took awhile before Inge saw the glint of Bullers eye and the mere hint of a smile. "Oh," She giggled lifting her hand to her mouth. "Joking you is." She had a delightful way of pronouncing her Js as Ys
"Youre quick, Inge," Buller said. "You ready for another one?" he added, pointing to Conlons bottle.
"Mate, I thought youd never asked. My stomach thinks my throats been cut."
"I am drinking my first one still. Excuse me please. Visiting the ladies room I am." The blonde woman swung her legs around after Rick stood to give her room. Both mens eyes followed her shapely behind as she made her way back towards the entrance.
"Be right back," Buller said after somehow managing to poke his tongue back into his mouth.
Conlon leaned back in his chair and looked around the room, taking everything in as he always did. He waited for Buller and the inevitable questions. He was lost in thought as he stared out onto the harbour when his old friend placed the two bottles on the table.
Buller took a swig on his beer and lit another smoke, then jerked his head in the general direction the blonde bombshell had departed. "Youre doing alright for yourself, Twitch."
"Yeah. Shes a lovely lady."
"Has she got any sisters?"
"You randy, old bastard." Conlon smiled. "Laura would cut your dick off if you even looked at another woman."
"Twitch, old son, I can assure you that looking is the last thing on my mind." Bull had a less than wholesome look on his face. "Anyway," He changed tact before something popped up. "I was talking about more than Inge. How is it that I am still a cop while youre off seeing the world?"
"I got sick of all the bull shit," Conlon shrugged. "You know what the job is like, mate. I was doing more paper work than policing, especially after I became a D."
"Tell me about it. If I hadnt scored this pushy little number, I was thinking of getting out myself."
"Yeah. Well after 11 years of it, I just wanted out. The Sunderland incident didnt help." Buller nodded at this point, knowing full well that Rick had shot a 15 year old who was only carrying a fake gun. "So I set up my little firm, worked my butt off for two years and now the place is a nice little earner and I have a manager I can trust so I thought Id get out and see this planet while I was still young enough to enjoy it."
Buller snorted a little. "Yeah well, youre getting old, mate. I mean you must be pushing fifty by now."
"You bloody well know Im 35, you jealous old bugger." Rick stopped talking for a moment seeing Jamie Sunderlands lifeless body in his minds-eye, on a wet winters night and hearing yet again his partner at the time say that the gun was only a replica. He shook off the feeling for the millionth time since it happened
"Well, 35 isnt all that young," Bull told Conlon. "When are you going to settle down and make some woman miserable, like the rest of us do?"
"Im not in any hurry," Rick shrugged.
Buller kicked himself for mentioning it. He knew that Ricks engagement to Claire had been called off after Rick threw himself into both work and booze to block out Jamie Sunderland. "So any idea about a present for Laura?" He asked as he tried to extract his foot from his mouth.
"Have you seen her?" Rick asked, not looking Buller in the eye.
"Seen her? Ive just finished telling you Ive almost been married to her for fifteen years."
"Claire. Have you seen her?"
"Oh. Ah Laura did, a few weeks ago. They went shopping"
"Shes okay, mate." Bull said quietly as he reached out and patted his old partner on the shoulder. "Shes getting on with life. You know how it is."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do," Rick nodded sadly. "So Laura and Claire went shopping, eh? What about Molly?"
"Yeah," Bull sighed wondering why his old friend was torturing himself.
"Well, she didnt bloody buy anything, Twitch. She is only three years old, you know."
"I know that. How is my little girl?"
"Shes pretty good from what I heard from Laura. Shes a real little chatterbox now, and a real performer, too. Laura says shell have you twisted around her little finger within an hour when you see her."
Rick laughed bitterly. "Ive been told thats what daughters are for."
"Yeah, mine had me working for her from the time she was born and paying for her ever since." Buller laughed. "Well, Ive got some bad news for her. Shes already spent her inheritance and then some."
Quickly, Rick changed the subject. "So, what are you planning on getting Laura, anyway? Itd have to be good. What are you sposed to give for the fifteenth anniversary?"
"I am fucked if I know, Twitch. Shes lucky I remember the date; remembering the right present is way beyond me. I was thinking jewellery but, I dunno what."
"Jesus, I know what you mean. I would have loved a son but theres something special about being a little girls daddy. When Molly was born, I was over the moon. I thought the world was my oyster and there was no way Id ever let her or Claire down. Four months later, I was suspended from the force while the toe cutters looked at the shooting."
"Fuckin Internal Affairs," Mick spat.
"Tell me about it. The bastard went through all of my files like a dose of laxatives. You know the toe cutters, mate. Its guilty until proven innocent with them."
Buller nodded and took a swig on his beer bottle.
Rick didnt even notice the nod or anyone in the bar for that matter. "I wanted to be a cop all my life, Bull, but when youre suddenly suspended, you have too much time to think. Do you know what I realised?"
"Whats that mate?"
"The job sucked."
"Come on, mate. Its a pretty good job as jobs go."
"Its a prick of a job, Bull," Conlon asserted. "I was so busy being the best damn policeman I could be, I failed to see how shitty the job was. Im 35 and I feel like a 70 year old. Ive seen too much bad shit, too many mutilated bodies, too many dead junkies, too much scum whod knife you if you even look at them wrong, too many damned do-gooders who get the little bastards off time after time in court and too many fuckin families ripped apart by alcohol. I just didnt realize at the time my own little family would be one of them."
Buller was stunned. He thought that Conlon, of all his colleagues, would be the one who could hold it all together. But then after thinking about, what Rick Conlon had been through, he was amazed that the poor bugger hadnt crumbled a lot earlier.
Rick continued. "Along with all that thinking, I worked out how much time the job took up. I had no idea what to do with myself. Claire was working, Molly was at day care and I was bored fuckin stupid. So I fell into the trap that a lot of our friends fail to see. I ended up in a pub one day and had a few drinks, had a few more, then a couple more on top of that. The next day, I woke up to a quiet house and floated down the pub again."
"Fuck, I didnt know that, mate," Bull said shaking his head in both amazement and sympathy.
"Yeah," Conlon shrugged. "I never got so bad youd mark me down as an alcoholic. It was more a place to go, friendly faces, or at least faces that didnt want to judge me. I played a game of pool or a flutter on the one armed bandits. I drank too, of course and spent more and more time there. I guess that was the straw that broke the camels back. After four years of nightshifts, murder investigations and phone calls coming at three am while I was on call, she had me coming home pissed most nights so she walked out taking Molly with her. I miss both of them but it kills me that Ive already missed so much of Mollys growing up. The drinking got worse, then, I kept waking up at home with great chunks of time missing and normally a woman that Id slept with. Now, Ill be lucky to see my little girl one weekend a month and maybe a couple of weeks in the summer."
Bull didnt know what to say. It looked like his old partner was about to cry for a second until both of them saw the heads of every straight man in the bar look towards the entrance. Rick quickly wiped his eyes a little and Buller laughed as if hed just heard the funniest joke out so Inge wouldnt twig something was wrong.
Conlon stood again as she made her way back to the table and waited while she got herself comfortable. "Heres the person to ask," he said, changing the subject.
"Bull was just wondering what he should buy his wife."
Inge thought about it for a second as she took a sip of her G&T. "I am not sure. Maybe something that is specially from Hong Kong."
"There you go. Counterfeit watches and some heroin," Rick said.
"Maybe Yade," Inge Shrugged.
"She means Jade, Bull."
"Inge, youre blood is worth bottling."
"He means youve hit on a great idea," Conlon interpreted again.
The afternoon drifted away quite pleasantly after that and before anyone knew it, the clock had struck 7 pm. With both Australians feeling slightly the worse for their drinks, Rick finally called stumps. "Well, we better head back to our peasant accommodation."
"No wuckin furries, mate," Bull burped. "Ill think of you when Im enjoying my queen sized bed and fully-stocked mini bar."
"Like hell, you will," Rick grinned. "See you tomorrow at 10 sharp."
"No sweat, mate. Nice to meet you, Inge."
"Yah. It is nice to be meeting you too, Michael."
As the attractive couple headed away from the table, Rick distinctly heard Bull say, "Dont do anything I wouldnt do, mate."
The next morning at 5 minutes to 10, Rick Conlon entered the plush lobby of the Hong Kong Hyatt and after seeing that Bull wasnt around, he plonked himself in a sofa that probably cost more than he made in a year, then picked up a copy of that mornings Hong Kong Post. He was still reading a story on the front page about the Triads when he felt a presence behind him. "I dunno," Bulls voice said. "Here I am waiting for you and youre sitting reading a bloody paper."
"Gday, Bull. How you feeling?"
"As fit as a mallee Bull, mate. You set?"
"I wouldnt mind a coffee."
"Here? Did you bring your check book?"
"That bad, is it?"
"Oh yeah. If you think the coffees expensive, you need to take out a mortgage to afford the continental breakfast."
"I dont need it that much," Rick said.
"Thats one thing that hasnt changed about you, Twitch. Youre still as tight as a fishs arse."
Three stores later, both men were no better off. Theyd found jade no problems. Plenty of the stuff but its just that it was all too damn expensive. After converting Hong Kong dollars back to Australian money, they were both stunned at the price for even small amounts of jade.
"Well, where to now?" Bull asked as they stood on a busy street.
"Im stuffed if I know, mate."
"I thought you knew this place? Youve been here for two weeks."
Rick coughed and looked around. "I have. I just havent been out of the hotel room a hell of a lot."
"Why? Oh." Bulls mind flashed back to that wonderful Swedish figure and he understood immediately. "Fair enough."
"Two old cops should be able to work this out. How do we get a good deal on jade?"
"Sling a local some money," Both men said in unison.
It didnt take long to find a huge building that could have been anything from a bank to a head quarters for an electronics company, with a liveried doorman standing in front, ready to open doors. Conlon pulled some money out of his wallet and approached the small Asian guy. "Gday mate." He said.
The doorman didnt look twice at him until he saw the crisp note in his hand. Then he was all nods and smiles.
"Were looking for something jade. Something cheap but special, if you know what I mean."
The doorman smiled and nodded again and quickly took the note. "You want special jade?"
"Very special," Rick said with a wink as he pushed another bank note into the mans hand." Do you know where?"
The man seemed to work out what Rick wanted. He nodded, smiled, returned the wink and waved down a taxi. Whispered something in Mandarin to the driver, he turned back to the two foreigners. "He take you to see someone. You tell her Cho Deng Lee sent you."
"Good on ya, mate," Bull said as he and Rick piled into the back seat of the taxi.
"This better be bloody worth it," Bull said as he got out of the taxi and stretched. "Three quarters of an hour in a cab, a huge fuckin bill," he glanced at the meter, "and bugger all to show for it so far."
Rick looked around and, despite the fact that traffic was the main reason the trip had taken so long and not the distance from the doormans building, he saw they were in an older section of the island. If you could ignore the cars and the kids in their homeboy clothes, you could almost imagine yourself in Hong Kong in the early 1900s when the British ran the place. The older people he saw lent as much as the buildings as most were dressed in their plain blue suits made famous by Mao and some wore the old-fashioned hats that would look more at home in a rice paddy.
The driver pointed up an alley and said, "You pay now."
"Pay? Stuff that for a joke, Charlie," Buller said forcefully. "Theres more doors down that alley than at a 60s fucking drug party at Jim Morrisons place. You take us to the door and then Ill pay."
"You pay now," The driver said again.
Rick could see Buller was ready for a fight so he stepped in and slipped into diplomatic mode. "Half now and half when you take us to the right door."
The much smaller Chinese guy thought about this new proposal for a second and then nodded. "Okay."
Conlon counted out exactly half of the fare on the meter and then waited until the driver locked his cab and lead them up the little lane. There seemed to be some sort of numbers on the houses because the little guy muttered different things in Mandarin as they passed each door. Eventually, he stood back and pointed at one door.
"This is the joint?" Buller asked, smelling a con. The building was pretty shabby and it looked more like the kind of place youd find a family of fifteen people all sharing a one-bedroom apartment.
The driver pointed again. "You pay now or I call police."
"We are the bloody police!"
Rick paid the remainder of the bill and then watched in amazement as the driver high-tailed it back to the larger street. "I dont think he likes you much, Bull."
"The feeling is mutual," Buller grunted. "Now, what the hell is the name of that doorman? Was it Deng Xiao Ping or Ho Chi Minh?"
Conlon let out a laugh. "Christ Bull, no wonder they handballed you over to Neighbourhood watch."
"What?" The bigger man said defensively.
"You are about the only bloody cop I know who cant remember a name. No wonder I had to write up all of the reports. You would have had A big guy whose name I think was Wally something or other, shot his wife whose name escapes me. The guys name is Cho Deng Lee."
"Hey," Bull shrugged, knocking on the door. "I was close."
"What?" Came a voice from the other side.
Rick could barely make out a pair of eyes looking out of a peephole. It appeared to be a kid who was around 8 or 9. "Gday mate. My name is Rick Conlon and this is Michael Buller. Were looking to buy some jade and Cho Deng Lee gave us this address."
"You wait," The kid told them.
"Whats with this place, Twitch? It has two speeds, its either flat out or as slow as a wet weekend."
"Chill, mate. The kids probably just checking with his dad or something." Sure enough, a minute later the door swung open and the boy lead the men up a set of very narrow, very rickety, wooden stairs and Conlon was fast coming to the same conclusion that Bull had reached. This had to be a con. But then, as if by magic, they walked through a door and were in a quite nice, modern and spacey flat.
Having too many years as cops, they both looked around the room and Bull for one, was sure he had seen all there was to see. That was until an old lady stood and pointed to two chairs. "Where did she spring from?" He asked half in shock that he hadnt spotted her.
"Buggered if I know, mate," Conlon replied. Now that he had been alerted to her presence, he saw an Asian female, almost as wide as she was tall, who was old but he had trouble working out exactly how old. She was either a hundred year old woman who was pretty well preserved or a fifty year old whod had a hard life.
Both men sat and then Bull launched into pretty much the same spiel that Conlon had used to get into the place. "Ah Hi. Im Michael Buller and this is "
The woman waved away his explanation and muttered something that neither man could understand. The boy, who had been hovering in the background, solved the mystery when he interpreted for her. "She Mamma Chow and she know why you here and who send you."
"Well thats a start. Are we in the right place? Is there any jade for sale here?"
The kid spoke to the old woman again and waited for her to answer. "Why you want?"
"I want to buy my wife a present for our wedding anniversary."
Again there was the wait while the old woman and the boy conferred and then the woman slowly stood up and waddled out of the room. "I dunno about you, Twitch, but this feels like something out of the Twilight zone to me."
"Youre hearing the music too?"
Mamma Chow, even for her advanced age, never ceased to be in awe of karma. Looking into the eyes of the younger man shed seen some one in need of a Jade Box and the change it would bring to his life. She was sure that he was on a self-destructive path and without the force of Karma that had bought him to her door, she knew without a shadow of a doubt hed be dead in the not too distant future.
Waddling back in with a bamboo box around the size of a shoebox, she carefully placed it on the coffee table that was between her and the two men then lowered herself into her chair, reminding Rick of a heavily pregnant woman doing the same thing. When she was comfortable, she opened the box and pulled out a black cloth bag that measured around 6 square inches and close to 3 inches thick. Both Rick and Buller were stunned at the intricately carved little artefact of the most amazing green jade that wasnt much bigger than an old-fashioned snuff box and it was made to look like a Chinese Pagoda. The old woman carefully swung the top two stories of the pagoda up to reveal that it was indeed a box and not an objet dart.
Buller, never one to mince words, simply looked at the kid and said, "How much?"
"Five hundred dollar," The kid replied after checking with Mamma Chow, a price that Bull was more than willing to pay. It was too good to be true because the kid then he added, "U.S. money, not Aussie bull shit."
"Still a bit rich for my wallet."
"Come on, mate." Rick prompted. "Its your fifteenth anniversary. Laura deserves a medal for putting up with your ugly face for this long."
"Yeah, but thats a thousand dollars in our money."
"Yeah, and its half the price and twice as good as anything else weve seen."
"I dunno." Bull reached for the small, carved jade box but it was yanked away by the old woman, who said something else in Mandarin.
"You no touch this one. This for special client. She make another one for you."
"How long is that going to take?"
"She say three days maybe. Four days maybe."
"Well thats it then," Bull said standing up. "No good to me kid, I am going home in two days."
The kid promptly relayed the information to Mamma Chow but Conlon couldnt see the problem. "Thats okay, mate. I can come back and pick it up for you. Inge is going back to Stockholm for her work in about a week so I might as well head back home and see if my house and business are still okay. I can bring it to your place anytime Laura is out."
"Yeah, but its a thousand bucks." Bull said.
"And you call me tight? Think about it logically mate. If you buy this for Laura, shell be so stoked you can get away with a $5 bunch of flowers for the next five years, at least."
Bull was wavering a little. "Can she make one the same?" The old woman waited for the question to be translated into Mandarin and then she nodded. "What about three hundred greenbacks?"
"Four hundred," the kid said. "You take or leave."
"Go on Bull. That gives you two hundred Aussie dollars if you buy it and I reckon youre going to need that to spend on viagra."
"Because Laura is going to screw your brains out."
"Ah fuck it. Tell the old girl its a deal."
"Twenty percent deposit," the kid told the big police man. "She take Visa, Master card and Amex."
After paying in cash and getting a receipt, Conlon asked for the address of the flat. The kid wrote something in Chinese. "You show this to taxi driver. He bring you here. You come four days from now."
And all of a sudden the two Aussies found themselves back in the alley again. "Eight hundred dollars," Bull said as if in shock.
"Shell pay you back plenty of times, mate." Conlon grinned. "Ive heard that when your wife goes off in the sack, she puts Mount Vesuvius to shame."
"Hey careful there, mate. Thats my wife youre talking about, son." The two men walked back towards the street to wave down a taxi to take them back to Bulls hotel. "Who told you that anyway?"
"And so did Frank Stevens, John Drummond, Ian Baker," Conlon said with a sly smile on his face. "Oh and Dan Anderson, Alex Swanson, Bob Blake."
"Okay Twitch, I get the idea."
" And the local A grade cricket team, except the fast bowler, he did his back in. The B grade team. The under 20s team, the Rotary club "
"You always were a vicious little bastard, Twitch."
Mamma Chow put the jade box back into the cloth bag and shuffled back into the other room to put it back into the safe. The boy followed her and asked, "Are you going to make the older man a special box for punishment?"
The little old lady shook her head. "No Lok, I will make one for the younger man to help him." She motioned to the safe. "That box is for a very bad man. He will learn a lesson when his wife gives it to him."
Rick and Inge had a few drinks with Bull before the shuttle picked him up and whisked him away to the airport for his flight home and two days later he went back to the old womans house and gave the kid the money. "Wheres your grandmother?" he asked.
"She in Temple. I look after business," the boy said proudly. "I do good job."
"Im sure you do." With the box safely tucked away in a small backpack, Conlon shook the boys hand and left. In about twenty minutes, he was back in his el-cheapo hotel and in bed with Inge.
Two days later, after 7 pm., Conlon yawned, partly from jet lag and partly because of the last night he had spent with Inge. After more than three months, he was looking forward to getting some shut-eye in his own bed. Thankfully, the drive from the airport to his place at Westlakes Shore didnt take more than 10 minutes and after juggling his huge backpack for a minute, he managed to fish his keys out and entered his town house with a little trepidation.
"Fuck me!" He exclaimed when he saw the state of the place. After dumping the rucksack hed carried around Asia, he walked from room to room to assess the damage. "Let your brother house sit for you. Hes changed," he said, imitating his mother. "Yeah, hes changed alright. Changed my nice flat into a halfway house for his dick head friends."
The place was a pigsty. There were pizza boxes all over the place, his plants were all dead and there was a huge rip in his sofa. "Pat?" he shouted. "Patrick, are you here?"
There was no response, so Rick lugged his rucksack for the last time, well for a while anyway, into his bedroom and recoiled at the smell. It was his brothers aftershave mixed with a very cheap perfume and looking at the unmade bed, he knew that his brother had got lucky. More than once, or he hadnt changed the sheets. "Ill kill the dirty little prick." He didnt know where to start first but ended up in the kitchen looking for a snack. There was bugger all in the fridge to eat, well nothing that wasnt two weeks past its best before date so he called his local pizza place and ordered his old favourite, then grabbed a cold beer. The next thing he did was check to see if anything was missing. It was reflex when it came to his brother. Patrick was five years younger than Rick but he acted like an 18 year old and lived for a good time. It was while he checking the flat for missing items that he stumbled upon a bong and a leather tobacco case full of marijuana. "That little jerk," he grumbled as he placed both items on the kitchen table next to the mountain of mail he had to read, and waited for the pizza or Patrick to walk in.
While he was sitting at his table drinking the very welcomed beer, he noticed the light on his answering machine was blinking on and off. He walked over and saw that the LED display showed there were 12 messages waiting. He wanted to check them but the stack of dishes in the sink was niggling so he ended up washing them until the pizza arrived.
Two beers and one Roman Pizza later, Rick moved from room to room cleaning what he could. He changed the sheets and the cover on his quilt so at least his bed would be ready to sleep in. At last, when he thought the place was in a liveable state, he went back for another beer and then pressed the play button on his answering machine. Most of the messages were people trying to sell him something because pretty well anyone he usually heard from knew he was over seas. There were one or two messages, however, that he had to reply to. One was from the manager of his business, Tim, who knew he was coming home and the other was from Andy Pleasance, an old mate of his from his days on the force.
"Gday Twitch, its Andy here, mate. Just ringing to see if you want to come to a Den Rhymes bucks party. Its on the 23rd of this month. I drew the short straw and Im best man so Im organising the whole show. Give me a bell and let me know if youre going to be there. It should be a good night."
He checked his watch and saw it was only a little before 8 pm so he dialled the number.
"Yeah, hi." Conlon said, a little thrown by the woman who answered Andys phone. "Have I got the right number? Im after Andrew."
"Hes here, Ill get him for you. Can I say whose calling?"
The voice seemed familiar but Rick was too tired to worry too much about it. "Its Rick Conlon," he said.
"Rick?" the female let out a gasp.
"Claire? What are you doing there?"
"I I live here." Claire said.
Ricks mind worked overtime to come up with any explanation other than the obvious. There were none. "Oh." He said. "Ah listen Claire, dont disturb him. Just tell him that Im busy on the 23rd and wont be able to make it. He should know what I am talking about."
"Okay. How are you?"
"Fine." He replied tersely. "A bit tired but okay."
"Yeah really. Look, I was going to try and find you anyway, I just didnt think it would be this quick. I only got home about an hour ago and I wanted to talk to you about Molly."
"What about her?" Claire said obviously getting her back up.
"Well, when can I see her?"
"Youre kidding, right?"
"No. Shes my daughter and I want to see her."
"Thats great, Rick, just fucking dandy. You go off traipsing around Asia for four months, I dont hear a word from you and now when were settled you pop up and expect me to drop everything, fuck up her schedule and hand her over to a very unstable man?"
"It sounds kinda bad when you say it like that." Rick tried to appeal to her sense of humour but apparently it was A.W.O.L. that night.
"It sounds bad because it is bad. You havent read your mail yet, have you?"
"Because some of it will be from my lawyer," Claire said, waiting for the backlash.
"Lawyers?" Rick shouted. "Why the bloody hell have I got letters from your lawyer? Ive paid every cent of money you asked for and then some."
"I might as well tell you now. I intend to ask for full custody of Molly, Rick. And any visits with you to be supervised by some one from Family and Youth Services."
"Why for fuck sake?"
"Why? Jesus, Rick. You shot a kid and then went on a bender for two months. I begged you to get help from the police psychiatrist but Rick Conlon was too proud to ask for help."
"I dont need any bloody do-gooders telling me how to run my life!"
"Well, even a do-gooder must be able to do a better job of it than you."
"Then," Claire continued, "you spend the next couple of years working your butt off in your own business and I lost count of the amount of times I had Molly ready for you to pick her up and you didnt show because you were running around for Conlon Security or tucked away in some bar. How do I know you wont go off the rails again? Im sorry, Rick, but I cant trust you with my daughter "
"Our daughter," Rick jumped in with the correction.
"Our daughter, then. I cant trust you with her. Not yet, anyway."
Conlon felt the blood rush to his head and he wanted to shout and scream but he knew from long experience that a lawyer is really the best way to deal with another lawyer. "Listen, theres someone at the door. Ive got to go. Ill be in touch." He pressed the talk button of his cordless phone and then threw it into a wall. Claire and Andy? It didnt make sense. Shed told him shed never go out with another cop. There was too much emotional baggage that went with them.
Any thoughts of sleeping were swept away as he paced around the room, thinking of his daughter and wishing he had a cat he could kick. Or better still, that his brother would walk in so he could give him a tongue-lashing he wouldnt soon forget.
Twenty minutes later, he was still in a fowl mood when his eyes fell on the bong and the pot still sitting on his kitchen table. Hed never really been into smoking dope apart from a short time when he was at University, but it looked pretty appealing to him right there and then. "Bugger it," he said.
Five cones later, he was feeling a lot more relaxed and more than a little dizzy. He tried not to think about Claire but it wasnt easy. He went into his room and started to unpack his backpack, sorting out the dirty clothes from the few clean ones he had in there. "Whats this?" he giggled, still feeling the effect of the marijuana as he pulled out the black cloth bag. "Ah yeah, Bulls present for his wife." He extracted the Jade Box and opened it up. Rick was stunned by the dizziness that hit him. Patrick had obviously laced the dope with something else because now he found himself hallucinating. The house was changing around him in a big blur and he was getting some very strange feelings from his body. Stumbling along the hallway, he found a bed that looked nothing like his own and with a feeling that he wasnt alone he fell into it and was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
"There is one thing I dont understand," the boy asked Mamma Chow when she had returned from her temple.
"Only one?" The old woman smiled as she lowered her tired body into a comfortable chair. "If there is only truly one thing you dont understand at your age then you are a remarkable boy, indeed. I have lived for a few centuries and there is still much I do not know."
The little boy shook his head a little. "No, there is one thing about the latest customer."
"Yes. How do you know the younger man will open the jade box?"
"Maybe he will give it to the older man without opening it?" Mamma Chow asked. "It is a smart question and a person only learns from their mistakes, their experiences and their questions."
"If they get an answer, Mamma Chow." The boy smiled cheekily.
"Ah, the impatience of youth." The old woman stopped talking to work out how best to frame her answer for such a young student. "If the younger man opens it, then it is his karma to do so. Perhaps, the older man will open it and it will be his karma as well. There is a chance it will sit on the bedside table of the older mans wife and no man will ever open it. It is in the hands of a higher authority than myself. Do you understand?"
"I think so." The boy nodded. "What do you think will happen, Mamma Chow? Youve not been wrong yet."
Mamma Chow laughed quietly. "The successes are many and the failures are few. I am smart enough to keep them well hidden. I take it that the box was picked up without any problems?"
"Yes. But you still havent told me what you think will happen."
"I think that whatever happens, we will be in for interesting times," the woman replied enigmatically.
An annoying buzzing sound woke Rick Conlon early the next morning. He woke from a deep sleep so quickly that he didnt even register that it was different to the normal alarm that had woken him for the past 10 years. As a reflex action, his hand snaked up to where the clock radio usually sat on a bedside table.
Ow fuck. He thought as his hand hit something solid that wasnt usually there.
Next, he tried to roll on the bed to find out what his hand hit but his body pressed against a wall that shouldnt be there. Bloody hell, I didnt get that stoned, he grumbled inwardly. What the fuck is going on?
He opened his eyes and was stunned to see he wasnt in any room in his house. It appeared to be the bedroom of a young boy and a slender, hairless arm with delicate hand and fingers each topped with a bright red half inch nail came into view by his sight as well as a shock of long brown-blonde hair. Jesus, even stoned off my face I still managed to score.
He lay there waiting for the alarm to wake the woman by his side but a minute passed and the alarm turned off automatically. He pondered his next move but was sort of snookered. If he could have got up, got dressed and got out of there without waking her, he would have but as she was lying next to him on the bed, the only escape was either over her or to manoeuvre down the bed and off the end.
After the break up with Claire, Rick had found himself in this situation too many damn times and it was always embarrassing. If she was awake, hed try to make small talk but it never meant anything. Hed promise to ring her, shed pretend to believe him and then there was the matter of a name. He knew that knowing a womans name came in handy the morning after the night before and had bluffed his way unsuccessfully too many times by calling the woman "babe," "honey," "sweetheart" and even "gorgeous," all the while seeing the disappointment on her face that said "Okay, so we both got pissed and did something stupid. We both got our rocks off but lets face facts, mate, I may be pregnant here and you dont even know my bloody name."
He remained still, partly because of his bodys reaction to the hangover and partly because he was worried about waking what he hoped would be the sleeping beauty by his side. Unfortunately, that was rarely the case. In fact, Conlon could usually tell just how drunk he got by taking a look at the woman he woke up next too. There had been more than one occasion where hed rather chewed his own arm off than wake a particularly ugly woman.
In fact, the only time he moved for ten minutes was when a phone rang somewhere in the house. Eventually, a womans voice could be heard as the answering machine kicked in. Give me a name, Conlon begged silently. Please give me a name.
"Hi. I cant get to the phone right now," the womans voice told the caller. "Please leave a message after the beep and Ill get back to you when I can. Thanks."
Bugger, Rick thought, hoping that the caller, whoever it was, would be kinder.
"Hi, " replied another woman. "Listen sweetie, I found your sunglasses in my car and if your head feels anything like mine, youre going to need them. I am going to swear off booze for the rest of my life or until the next girls night out, whichever comes first. Anyway, I should be home all day so give me a call or just drop in when youre conscious again. Bye."
All I am asking for is a name, for crying out loud. Rick grumbled silently. Oh well, lets get this over with.
He moved over slightly, just enough, he thought, to cuddle up to the woman, but instead he fell off the bed and hit the ground with a thud.
"What the ?" Rick started to say but finally he noticed that something wasnt right. His voice was wrong for a start; it was much higher than normal. Next came the feeling of long hair moving against the nape of his neck and a tight constricting feeling around his chest. He went to stand and felt something on the end of his fingers dig into the soft carpet. Turning his head just a little, he saw the same hairless arm that he had seen earlier, only this time it seemed to be supporting his body.
I dont know what Patrick laced that dope with but I sure as hell hope the drug squad know about it, she thought as she raised herself up to her feet. Looking around the bedroom, she spotted a small mirror on a dressing table and gingerly walked over to it.
A woman stood there staring back at her, looking as confused as she felt. "That dope," Conlon said in what sounded like the first voice shed heard on the answering machine, "is some serious shit!"
But she knew deep down that this was no drug-induced hallucination. It was too real. She could feel the bra wrapped tightly around her chest and back, she could taste the remnants of the lipstick on the womans face and she could feel the skirt that she wore against hairless shins. She did what any man with a hangover, who woke up and found he was in a womans body, would do. She vomited.
The woman she gazed at wasnt out and out gorgeous, even if you discounted the vomit that now began to soak into her clothes, but she definitely was at least pretty, even when you take into account that her hair was messy and she had obviously slept with her make up on. Despite that, Conlon could see a very nice smile as she stood there making faces at the mirror. She could never say for sure how long he stood at that mirror in a young boys room, looking at the small amount of woman he could see. It could have been 5 minutes or 25. Eventually she took off the blouse the woman in the mirror wore and also a vomit-stained bra. Then two largish breasts each topped with a large dark areole came into his view erasing any doubt that she was now all woman.
As she stood there in a state of shock she didnt realize that the jade box was nowhere to be seen. She had other things to worry about that were missing. Like her flat, her life, her penis.
I cant believe this.
"Who said that?" Conlon asked.
Its me, a voice said inside him. Your brain, Strangely enough, or maybe not, it was the same voice Shed heard all of her male life.
"Well you can see what I can." Conlon responded. Having a chat with his brain would normally worry him but after somehow changing gender overnight it seemed almost a normal event.
Hey, Ill admit that I used to like your eyes. Shit, theyve been my neighbours for all of your life and I cant really complain. They never have any wild parties, they dont turn up their music that often and theyll get my mail if I go away but this time theyre just lying to me.
"Well what about you then? I know youre feeling some pretty funky shit."
Well youre the bozo who took the mind altering drugs man. Dont blame me if Im not working properly.
"I didnt hear you complain when I was smoking the pot."
Yeah and you didnt bloody listen either. Her brain told her as a doorbell sounded. Now open the door but for crying out loud cover yourself first.
"One more question."
"Any idea where the front door is?"
Your guess is as good as mine. Her brain seemed to shrug. Im out of here. Conlon heard footsteps and then a door closing.
"Thats just fuckin great." She said. "If youd have left me while I was a cop Id be commissioner by now."
Straight across from the room where she woke was the laundry so Conlon quickly found some washing that was already done. Quickly she stepped out of the skirt and took off the pair of pantyhose she found herself wearing. Noticing a flat groin in lacy black panties, and then slipped on a large t-shirt that she guessed was worn as a nightdress.
The door wasnt too hard to find and Conlon opened it up to see her brother standing there.
"Bloody hell," Patrick said. "You look like shit."
Rick grabbed him by the front of his shirt and dragged him inside, despite the fact that Patrick now dwarfed her by a lazy six inches and outweighed her now by at least 30 kilograms. "What the hell was in that dope?" Rick said in as threatening a voice as she could manage.
"Huh? Are you okay Cassie?" Patrick said totally taken aback at his sisters less than friendly welcome.
"Who the fuck is Cassie?"
"Hello, you are,"
"Im Cassie?" Rick asked as she tried to cope with the new information.
"Jeez, when you girls party your really party dont you?"
Rick ignored that comment and went back to her original point. "What was in the dope?"
"What dope are you on about?"
"That dope you left at my place while I was overseas."
Patrick looked at his sister like she was crazy. "Um, Cass, you havent been overseas since your honeymoon twelve years ago."
"Im married?" Rick asked grabbing his brothers lapels again and staring him straight in the eyes.
"Divorced." Patrick said. "Now Im really worried about you Cassie. Maybe I should take you to the hospital."
Rick, or Cassie as it now appeared, breathed a sigh of relief that as bad as her life now seemed at least she wouldnt have a husband coming home expecting an afternoon roll in the hay. "So," she started. "You didnt leave any dope here?"
"I havent smoked pot since I was in high school."
"Well what the hell are you hear for?"
Patrick looked his sister up and down and shrugged. She was always a pretty intense girl, probably too intense for her own good but at least she seemed a little calmer than she had when she opened the door. He couldnt be bothered arguing with her so he decided to let things be for the time being. "Im here to mow the lawn." He said. "Like I do every bloody fortnight."
"I have lawn?" Cassie asked.
"Either that or Ive wasted a hell of a lot of time here." All of a sudden a light bulb went off over Pats head. "Is this because I told youd be here yesterday?"
"Ah, yeah." Cassie responded. "Sorry, I was just trying to freak you out." She smiled weakly hoping it would be enough. "Why didnt you come yesterday? I waited here for you."
"I had to work." Pat shrugged.
Okay, me being a chick is bad enough but now Patrick has a job? Ive entered the twilight zone. Cassie thought. "Do you want a coffee?" Is what she said.
"I thought youd never ask." Pat smiled. He looked around the lounge room. "Its bloody quiet here. Where are the munchkins?"
"The munchkins?" Cassie inquired as she walked back into the house looking for the kitchen.
"The ankle biters." Pat said looking at his sister strangely again. "You know, Lachlan and Alicia."
Cassie had a blank look on her face.
"Youre kids." Pat told her. "Are you okay?"
He raced over to his sister and just managed to catch her as she fainted.
© 2002 by Genni Smith. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.