Friday
Jul192019

On the Run - Australian Crime Writers in America!

 

NEWS:   Jock Serong, Robert Gott, Emma Viskic and I are the very excited recipients of a grant from the Australian Arts Council to tour America!  I know!  Four crime writers touring together... it could be dangerous.  I've resisted anouncing the tour here until our itinerary had more shape... which it now does. The schedule is ambitious in terms of time, workload and budget and takes us to New York-Dallas-Phoenix-Las Angeles-Santa Cruz and San Francisco. And the budget still allows for a loaf of bread each day if we take our own vegemite! So this has become seriously exciting. The four of us are friends now... 3 weeks on the road in the US and those who survive will be the best of friends (bonded by the secret of what happened to the others...)!  We are all really grateful for this opportunity and very honoured to be going to US to talk about Australian crime writing and make friends. We want to take you all with us, so we'll be posting on every platform we know, sending back electronic postcards, blogging, vlogging tweeting etc. We'll use the #ontherun hashtag and introduce you to the America we encounter. So come with us. xx

 

Schedule:

New York: 27 - 30 Oct (Visit to the Australian Consulate + events TBA)
Dallas: 30 Oct - 4 November (Bouchercon)
Phoenix: 4 - 8 November (Poisoned Pen Bookstore)
LA - 8 - 12 November (Flintridges Bookstore, Book Carnival, Noir at the Bar, Vromans)
Santa Cruz - 12 - 14 November (Santa Cruz Sisters in Crime)San Francisco - 14 -16 November(GGP Books, Literary Salon Berkley)

 


Thursday
Apr252019

ANZAC Day

 

A story offered in commemoration.

 

Delivered 

- by Sulari Gentill

 

Gus’ breath became ragged and his calves burned as he forced each pedal down in its turn.  He fixed his eyes fiercely ahead and yet, he saw it: the loathing in the periphery of his vision. They turned their faces away, or crossed themselves, as if by doing so they could ward him off.  He understood. It was to be expected.  After all, Gus Merriman delivered death.

Elm Street.  Somewhere near here was the Carter place—his first delivery…months ago now.  Its front door was green.  The paint had peeled in places to reveal its original red.  There were exactly ninety-six tiles on the chequerboard floor of the porch.  He’d counted them as he waited for the courage to knock. A starling had made and abandoned a nest in the weathered rafters and a plaque on the door had read “welcome”. Of course it had not meant him. 

Just last year he’d won the Headmaster’s Prize for Literature and Millie Baker had introduced him to her mother.  Mrs. Baker had invited him to tea.  They’d eaten roast chicken from the Sunday china.  Millie’s father had talked politics and her brother had teased her about Gus Merriman as if he’d not been sitting right there.  They’d joked and laughed and afterwards they’d played Euchre.  Millie had held his hand under the table.  It was soft and warm in his and he’d thrown a hand of cards because he’d not wanted to let Millie’s go.  And then, last month, he’d delivered death to her door.

Millie didn’t talk to him anymore.  Mrs. Baker wouldn’t even look at him.  And Mr. Baker drank.

Gus picked up speed as he approached the hill, aware of the relief he left in his wake…the homes he passed and left in peace for another day.  Not so for the Wilsons.  He would stop at the Wilsons’ this day.

He turned hard into the sweeping driveway on the crest of the hill.  It was neat, edged with Oleander shrubs and beds of marigolds.  The smell of lavender hung gently in the warm morning air.  Gus rang his bell. Not quite fair warning…just a last-minute, jingling portent of doom.

Gus’ mother had cried when he’d first gone to work for the Postmaster General.  She had wanted a different life for her eldest son.  As had he.  Even so, she kept his uniform immaculate, washed and starched his shirt each night and pressed it before dawn. 

His brothers had been envious of the bicycle and, on the first days, they had run through the streets behind him.  And of course, there were his wages. 

The boss had been pleased that he could read. 

“Well, well, a scholar,” he’d said as he perused the letter of recommendation from Gus’ Headmaster.  “The last boy couldn’t write his own name.”   He’d picked up the battered copy of Homer’s Odyssey that Gus had been reading as he waited.   “You can read then?  Could be bloody useful.”

It had been.  Thirteen times now he’d read the telegram aloud to those who couldn’t or wouldn’t read it themselves.  Of course, everybody knew what the pink telegram meant, but until he’d read the words there was always a desperate hope that persisted through the fear.  A chance of mistake.  Injury, misunderstanding, anything.  Afterwards there was only devastation and he was witness to the worst moment.  The very worst moment.

Gus brought the bicycle to a stop and leant it against the cast iron post of the verandah.  The house was imposing.  All the homes at the top of the hill were.  They looked down on the smaller abodes of the less well-to-do, but they were not high enough to be out of his reach. 

Gus used the heavy brass knocker in the centre of the door.  Through the stained-glass panel, he could see the housekeeper approach.  She wiped her hands nervously on a pristine apron.  Her eyes were hostile. 

“Yes?”  She sniffed as if she could smell the danger. 

Gus longed to run. “Telegram for Mrs. Wilson,” he said evenly, pulling the envelope from his satchel.

She paled.  “Wait here.”

Mrs. Wilson came quickly, rushing to the door with a reluctant urgency and calling for her husband.  “Gerard…Gerard!”

“Mrs. Wilson…” he started, holding out the envelope.  She stopped stone still about three feet from him, knowing, refusing.  “No…away with you!”

“Mrs. Wilson…”  Gus hesitated.  He wasn’t sure what to do.  He was never sure what to do…whether or not they took the telegram.

“Gerard!” she screamed.

Mr. Wilson emerged into the hallway.  He paused to straighten his tie.  Gus was not small but he had to raise his eyes to meet Wilson’s.  “A telegram, Sir…”

Wilson snatched the envelope.  His hand shook as he tore it open and removed the translucent, pink leaf.  The page was insubstantial, too light…Wilson made a strange strangled noise

“Go away…” Mrs. Wilson wept as she crumpled against the wall.  “I told you to go.”

“I’m sorry,” Gus said.  He was.

Gerard Wilson hit him.  Gus’ head snapped back as the fist caught his jaw and he tasted blood.  Vaguely he could hear someone screaming.  He staggered into retreat but Wilson had him by the collar.  “You’re sorry are you, you snivelling bloody shirker?”

Wilson shook him savagely.  “Who do you think you are?  Coming here on your damned bicycle with your bloody telegrams…”  Then grief choked the man into incoherence.  Gus had seen grown men cry several times now.  It did not frighten him the way it had the first time.  He just wanted to go…he’d done what he’d come to do. 

“Oh God!  My boy…why my boy?”  Wilson bawled unashamedly as he dragged Gus out onto the verandah.  Gus resisted, trying to pull himself free.  Enraged, Wilson struck him again and threw him down the steps, sobbing. “You won’t get away with this…I won’t let you get away with this…” The housekeeper screamed once more and Mrs. Wilson sobbed “Go away…go away.”

Gus landed heavily and huddled, winded, on the gravel.  For a while he thought Wilson would come down and lay into him again.  He heard the door slam, Mrs. Wilson crying like some wounded animal.  It was too late.  They couldn’t shut out the anguish he’d brought them.

Gus rolled onto his knees, gagging. He stood slowly and retrieved his bicycle. 

 

 

*                      *                      *

 

The boss took one look at him and sent him home.

Gus walked.  In the beginning he had always taken the bicycle home, but not anymore.  And trams cost money.  It wasn’t that far anyway. 

“Have you been fighting, son?”

Gus looked up.  “Reverend.  No, Sir.”

The minister looked at him dubiously.  Gus licked his split lip.  He didn’t want to explain.

“My regards to your mother, then.”  The clergyman nodded and was on his way.

Gus watched him go.  The words stayed.  “Have you been fighting?”

His mother sent his brothers out to play.  She made him a cup of tea and had stroked his hair while he drank it.  He’d cried for a while in the privacy of her kitchen, and she had allowed him to do so without a word.  When he stopped, she tended his face with iodine.

Finally she said, “You’d best take off that shirt or I’ll never get it white again before morning.”

Gus pulled off of his uniform in the one bedroom they all shared. He pressed his throbbing face against the wall… it was cold and damp and smelled of mould.  Last year they’d had a house at the top of the hill, with marigold beds and lavender hedges.  Then influenza had taken his father and everything changed.   The school that had once lauded him as their brightest didn’t think him so brilliant when the fees could not be paid.  He couldn’t have stayed on anyway.  He was only one old enough to work.  His mother had taken in washing from the women with whom she’d once taken tea, and he delivered death.

 

*                      *                      *

Gus adjusted his tie nervously.  The jacket was too big.  It had been his father’s and he still had not the shoulders to wear it well.  They had sold all his father’s other clothes, but this jacket his mother had kept, adamant that Gus would grow into it.  He hadn’t yet, but he was not quite sixteen.

The hall was crowded.  Posters plastered the walls and bunting declared that this was festive thing, a happy occasion.  Gus had missed the speeches, but the hall still echoed with the patriotic slogans that had been at their heart.  There was congratulatory applause for every enlistment and spontaneous shouts of “Good on yer, son,” and “We’ll show Fritz what’s what.”  Men lined up, excited, feeling like heroes already.  They came for glory, for country and King, ready for adventure in the Empire’s cause.  They came for something to do, because it was the right thing to do or because it was all they could do.  The line shuffled slowly towards the table at which the Recruiting Sergeant sat with his list and his pen.

Millie Baker stood near the podium, her arms wrapped around a framed picture of her brother in uniform, as she talked with a substantial woman in a fussy, wattle-sprigged hat.  Gus thrust his hands into the pockets of his ill-fitting jacket and looked away.  He had heard Millie was giving speeches for the Enlistment Committee.  She was still pretty.  She probably still hated him.

He overheard discussions of the wages the recruiter had promised.  The army paid five bob a day—nearly three times what he earned at the Postmaster General’s.  Gus’ eyes brightened.  He could tell his mother that.

Quietly, he watched the two men just ahead of him in line.  He was as tall.   But they appeared like they may have had some reason to shave.  There was roughness on the line their jaws and swagger in their step.  Still, Gus didn’t think they looked vastly older than he.  One of the men noticed his gaze.  He nudged his friend and grinned.  Gus dropped his eyes, embarrassed.

“Hey kid, you wanta cigarette?”

Gus shook his head.  He’d promised his father he wouldn’t drink or smoke till he was twenty-one.

“Go on.  It’ll make you look older.”  The man held the packet out to him.  Gus hesitated just briefly before he accepted.  He couldn’t go back…they had to take him.

His benefactor offered him a light next and the two men laughed as he coughed his way through the first puffs.  “I’m Jack, me mate’s Mick,” the first man said congenially.  Gus introduced himself.

Mick leaned over and loosened the knot of Gus’ tie.  “You look like your mother dressed you for church, mate.  You’re never going to get through like that.”

Jack agreed.  “Take the jacket off and sling it over your shoulder.”

Gus took the friendly advice.  The cigarette was making him feel sick, but he felt older.

In time he reached the table.  By virtue of his uniform, the Recruiting Sergeant was easy to pick from those venerable patriotic persons who sat primly beside him.  He looked at Gus carefully, the sweep of his eyes stopping only briefly at the faded bruises on the boy’s face.

“Name?”

“August Henry Merriman, Sir.”

The recruiter sighed.  “And how old are you, son?”

“Eighteen, Sir.”  Gus tried to look the man in the eye.  His mother had always said liars would not look you in the eye.

For a moment there was silence and then the Sergeant shook his head.  “The AIF only enlists men under twenty-one with permission,” he said brusquely.  “Get your father to…”

“My father’s behind me, Sir.”  Gus placed a folded page on the table.  He’d written it under the streetlight the night before.  He’d told his mother he was reading.

The Sergeant barely glanced at the letter.  His scrutiny of Gus was piercing, accusing.  “Do you have any papers to prove that you’re eighteen, Merriman?”

“Papers…? No Sir.”  He fumbled.  The cigarette slipped out of his fingers.

“I’ll vouch for the lad.” 

Gus turned, startled by the voice.  Gerard Wilson approached the table.  “Known him for years…he was eighteen in March.”

The recruiter seemed suspicious.

“He was eighteen in March,” Wilson said again.  “Let the lad sign up.”

For a moment Gus wondered if this was an apology.  But Wilson’s smile was rigid and too wide.  And his eyes held nothing but disgust.

The recruiter glanced from Wilson to Gus. 

Grimly, desperately, Gus kept his gaze steady as he stared out the lie. 

The Recruiting Sergeant was nobody’s fool.

 

*                      *                      *

He allowed the bicycle to coast down the hill.  There was no hurry…haste would change nothing.  He’d been doing this for two years now.  Somehow, he’d become used to it.  In the beginning, the best part of him had died; the part that laughed and joked, the part that people welcomed into their homes.  It was not so bad now.  He was nearly eighteen.  Perhaps finally he would have a chance to fight himself.

Still, he hated delivering to the houses in the Hollow most of all.  The homes on the top of the hill were one thing, but the women in the Hollow had little but thoughts of their men.  They had no gay parties or fine clothes to distract them…just the occasional letter with a soldier’s wage and heart enclosed.  Until he rode in to take that too, away.  He rang his bell as he dragged the bicycle to the top of the stairs.  It was not wise to leave it unattended in this part of town.

He rapped his knuckles on the door and waited.

It cracked slightly and anxious eyes peered out.  And then the door was opened, unguarded.  The woman smiled, a faint wistful recognition of something.  He stuttered unnerved.

“Mrs. Merriman?  I have a telegram.”

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb272019

The Tour!

Friday
Feb082019

All the Tears in China

Shanghai in 1935 is a twentieth century Babylon, an expatriate playground where fortunes are made and lost, where East and West collide, and the stakes include life itself.  

Into this, Rowland Sinclair arrives from Sydney to represent his brother at international wool negotiations.  A novice to global commerce, Rowland is under strict instructions to commit to nothing… but a brutal murder makes that impossible. 

As suspicion falls on him, Rowland must seek answers in a city ruled by taipans and tycoons, where politics and vice are entwined with commerce, and where the only people he can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a free-spirited sculptress.

Friday
Feb082019

Book Tour