Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2012 Results




The Victor Vector Factor

Copyright © Dean Briggs 2012


Before the first lark’s fart Defective Inspector Vector creaked and rolled out of bed, grabbed the moulds, flipped the Phonaks over his ears and, with a beep-beep, joined the land of the hearing; a difficult place where most sound was, to him, no more than noise.

‘Maybe today,’ he thought.

He moved in short, foggy, sentences.

Wheatie Bricks in toaster.

Milk in eclectic jug.

Lift kettle, pore over newspaper.

In the background, burbling away like a tired voice-over man practising his craft on the Hansard, a newsreader peddled out the 24 hour news cycle. Victor trundled on obliviously.

‘A leading horse trainer was injured in the fracas this morning whilst arguing with a jockey who refused to get down off his high horse. A pair-a-medics later reported both to be in a stable condition.’

Two sugar lumps plop into weak watery grave.

‘A popular over-hyphenated, stand-up, funny-girl fell down after being struck by a slap-stick whilst rehearsing a prat-fall at a nearby theatre. She is unable to perform until her condition is down-graded from serious.’

Second degree burn buttering charred offering.

‘A prominent school teacher was admitted to the Alma Mater Hospital this afternoon after collapsing with a tic during the marking of HSC examinations. Her condition is listed as barely satisfactory.’

Mistakes egg yolks for orange juice; gags.

‘The noted public hospitals lionizer and campaigner, Minister for Health, Halen Hearty, was admitted to outpatients after collapsing at a rally this morning. Surprisingly, his condition has been listed as critical.’

Dumps kitchen table contents in sink.

Shower, shave, clothes… exeunt.

Outside, the pavement quickly gave way to footpath and as his head cleared, in flowed conjunctions, adjectives, adverbs and pronouns to flesh out the elemental paraphrases into a palatable linguistic soup.

He had endured a lifetime of difficulty because of a hearing impairment but in particular his line of work it was another (sixth) sense which was far more important; that gurgling, rummy, gut instinct alert to dangerous situations, aware of the bluffs behind poker faces and generator of more hunches than a Notre Dame Bellringers convention. Unfortunately Vic’s extra sense sat squarely in the broad shoulders and slim hips of fashion. He did not know his modus operandi from his habeas corpus but had the facility to look sharp whilst remaining slightly obtuse.

Some of his fellow officers considered him a doyen but most did not know what the word meant and simply thought him a fool. As he gained full speed, his Julius Marlowe’s (known to him as Phillip Marlowes) winked back at him with patent glee. He was beginning to master the difficult craft of whistling and walking and enjoyed limited success until he tried to ease his hands into his pockets as well. Suddenly he stalled, and found himself ogling a young woman under a walk/do not walk/whatever pedestrian crossing sign.

She took exception to his unspoken retarded advance.

“Do you mind,” she complained.

“I’m sorry for staring but I thought you were someone else,” he blathered.

“Well I’m not.”

“Technically you are, just not a person that I believed I knew.”

“Pardon.”

“You are someone else, but a different someone else to the someone else I thought.”

“Wait a minute; I recognise that implacable logic. Could you remove your Homburg, fake moustache, dicky knee, scarf and eye patch then give me a quick profile?

“I was born in Kyneton, the son of immigrant parents who…”

“I mean a cameo.”

“Speaking or non-speaking?”

“Turn sideways. Christ, it is you, Deductive Inspector.”

“Well spotted. I have a photogenic memory for faces must admit that you do indeed look like someone else at the moment.”

“It’s me, Sergeant Daphne, from DHQ. How opportune. I have disturbing news from the Spanish embassy. Their Attaché was found in a compromising position last night.”

“That is what diplomacy is all about.”

“It was of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink ilk.”

“I don’t understand.”

“A room half full of double entendres in the French quarter.”

“He is supposedly an upright citizen?”

“They were all horizontal. His only comment was believed to have been, “I will not stand for this.”

“Where is he now?”

“We don’t know, so we have opened a missing Attache case.”

“What was in it?”

“I mean he is listed as a missing person.”

“The case of the missing attaché. Drat these political scenarios, they are always complicated and lengthy. I am approaching my emeritus years and prefer simpler tasks. These days I yearn for brief cases?”

“I’m more of a satchel person myself. I actually have a message for you. Can you remember details?”

“Is that the message?”

“No, I have to pass on an address, could you memorise it?”

“I don’t recall.”

She discretely slipped him a slip.

“It’s on here.”

“The address or the message?”

“Just be discrete.”

“Who should I give the paper to?” he asked but Daphne had already segued.

He slid the slip into a slot and continued his preamble to work, once there he confided in no-one, as per instructions. All that morning, he worried what he should do. After an Iced Vovo and some English Breakfast there was a breakthrough, he decided to read the note. On it was the address of a foreign Embassy, which aroused his suspicions until he realised all the Australian ones were overseas.

He gathered up his vest and jacket surreptitiously and snuck seamlessly out of the office, only pausing to fall into an aspidistra and knock over the water cooler.

Forty minutes later he stood in the envoy’s foyer, mustering his reserves. He popped his hearing aids onto programme 2 (for background noise) and cautioned himself to be alert whilst lifting a flute from the waiter’s tray. As he entered he caught plushness of the curtains, the hubbub of voices, the sheen of sequins, the aroma of power, the taste of money and the corner of a rug from a country formerly known as Persia. He launched forward, arms wide like Christ, his sparking Chardonnay splattering the cummerbund, lapels and bow tie of Iranian Ambassador. Vic landed face down with his head between Mrs Farshed Farouk’s ankles. He stood quickly to regain his height and the five o’clock shadow on the back of his head formed a Velcro like attachment to the small loops in the hem of her dress, which shot up quicker than an Americas Cup protest flag.

The impromptu chenille burqua pulled tight against his nose and lips like a bank robber’s pantihose.

“Mmmph dnn bbrrr,” he joked.

Swiftly, two aides redressed the situation. He made a deep apologetic bow, tucking his right arm under his midriff and sweeping the left around in a long Wimbledonian arc, the hand opened like a Spalding racquet, and sent a tray of still chardonnays volleying across the Axminster.

“My fault entirely,” he muttered. The woman flustered and blushed. “Let me explain.”

“No more tennis puns,” the ambassador demanded.

“I was supposed to meet someone here at fifteen forty."

“Right, that’s it.” The emissary clicked his fingers above his head like a castanet free flamenco dancer.

“My humble apologies Mrs Fartshed.”

The sous chef, Sue, whisked Vic away to the relative safety of the herbarium. Once in there she revealed herself an ASIO plant.

“How are you going to conduct this enquiry?” she asked hydroponically.

“By asking questions I guess.”

“What sort of questions?”

“Almost identical to the ones that you are asking now.”

“Like this one for example?”

“Exactly.”

“And this one?”

“Precisely.”

“But that won’t work!”

“I’ll have to stop you there. That last one was a statement. Here look at the transcript. It’s got an exclamation mark.”

“I don’t think I actually exclaimed!”

“You did then.”

“Yeah you’re right, my apologies. Is this one better?”

“It is, but the tone lacks conviction and without that it is difficult to convict.”

“But doesn’t it really depend on the answers?”

“That’s much better.”

“Do you have any leads?”

“Yes we do, one for each German Shepherd at the station, plus a few spares.”

“What are the spares for?”

“In case one of them gets sick.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“That’s what the leads are for. Does he have any known associates?”

“They wouldn’t be associates if he didn’t know them.”

“Perhaps I should rephrase; does he have any known acquaintances.”

“I think my response to that will have to be ditto.”

“At the risk of sailing in completely the wrong direction and broadsiding my own analogy could I try a third tack?”

“Be my guest.”

“Does he consort with crooks?”

“Ah, better question; good question.”

Before she could answer there was an explosion and he was bustled out through the service entrance. His escape route took him across the rail yards and down to the most dangerous part of town, the shared cycleway; he didn’t hear the deadly whooshing wheels or their tinker bell warnings. He was also lycraphobic.

He found a bar and sought refuge.

It was dingy and noisy. It took twelve throat aching attempts before he and the barman understood one another. A slim-nosed fellow wandered up and chatted amiably for ten minutes. Vic just nodded and smiled occasionally, eventually he tried to say something back. They began gleefully yelling into each other’s ears like Ezio Pinza in ‘South Pacific’.

“Sorry, I cannot hear you for the din,” he bellowed.

“No thanks, I’ve eaten,” Vic roared back.

“Can you read lips?”

“Are they? It’s probably just my wife’s brand. I kissed her on the stool this morning, after breakfast.”

“That sounds a little strange and possibly unpleasant.”

“Does it? I can’t hear a thing.”

“Can you do sign language,” the man yodelled.

“Pardon.”

“Do you sign?”

“You want my autograph?”

The chap grabbed a pen and wrote AUSLAN on a coaster.

“The lion, you mean?”

Then he wrote Gestuno.

“The which?”

“This is turning into C.S. Lewis joke. Can we talk outside?”

“Walk where.”

He gestured towards the EXIT.

Once out among the milk crates and cigarette butts, Vic actually heard his ears ringing again. It was actually nice to welcome back the tinnitus. The pair laughed and Vic twiddled with his volume settings.

The man studied Vic’s lobes.

“Are you really deaf?”

“Most of the time I am not, because I wear these in my ears, then I’m just hard of hearing.”

“Is that difficult?”

“No it’s easy, I just listen and nothing much happens. You know there’s very little discernible sound, it’s mainly silence with muffled background noise.”

“That must be nice sometimes.”

“Would you like to swap?”

“What, stand over there?”

“No, be deaf I mean. Walk a mile in my muffs so to speak.”

“Not really.”

“You just did. Back inside. That was a different sort of deaf, one with noise instead of silence.”

“Good point. I have some information. The attache’s girlfriend.” He handed over a small yellow square of paper.

“It looks like a post it.”

“It has a name on it.”

“Whose?”

“Are you serious?”

“Oh I see. Does she have an alibi?”

“What’s that?”

“Proof she was somewhere else.”

“She is.”

“She is what?”

“Somewhere else.”

“Not now, at the time of the disappearance.”

“Has she vanished?”

“She hasn’t, but the attaché has.”

“When was that?”

“We’re not sure.”

“So you need to know where she wasn’t but you’re not sure when?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t even know where she is now.”

Vic returned to the office late. The chief called him aside. To quote Wally Grout, he was ‘stumped’.

“It’s gotten more tangled than nanna’s sewing box,” Vic conceded.

“We need the girl fiend. It’s time to go public with a press conference. Your good with words, I loved your needlework analogy just then, you do it.”

Thirty minutes and a cold sweat later he stood behind a lectern in front of the fourth estate.

“Do you have an eye witness description?”

“Not as such.”

“Can we see what you have?”

“Probably not from where you are sitting.”

“Will you give us more details?

“It’s a sketch, an artist’s impression and, as Constable Gainsborough explained to me just moments ago, is therefore a rendering of movement, immediacy and the play of light.”

“Doesn’t sound too helpful.”

“You have mood, ambience and character, what more do you people want.”

“A photo would be nice.”

“All right, here’s what we have. She is right, if not, left handed, weighing between twenty five, up to and including, three hundred kilos, hypothetical dental records indicate a person of either local or foreign extraction and the individual, or group, may or may not walk with a distinctive gait and/or use a wheelchair.”

“What about hair colour?”

“That is a distinct possibility.”

“Did you list any distinguishing features?”

“I have a birth mark on my solar plexus.”

“Not you, the fugitive.”

“I know nothing about the escapee’s sternum.”

“Clothing then?”

“Yes we believe she was fully clad. Sorry folks but it’s been a tiring day, my phone and ears haven’t stopped buzzing and I would like to wrap things up. We need this alleged felon in custody soon."

“Did you say melon and custard?”

“That’s entirely possible. Thank you and good night.”

Vic tumbled off the dais like a drunken gymnast, sick of the clamour in his head. He brushed passed the SDI’s questioning wink, nod, sigh, shrug, grimace, thumbs-down and curtsey, then inadvertently stumbled into a broom cupboard, where he remained for some time.

An hour later his phone rang.

“Hello, it’s me.”

“Me?”

“No me.”

“Oh, you.”

“The attache’s inamorata.”

“How did you get my number?”

“I just rang it. Can we meet?”

“I don’t think there is enough room here.”

“Name a place then.”

“The Déjà vu Cinema. It’s hosting a Clouseau/Marceau re-run double bill. How will I recognise you?”

“I am the woman fitting your description.”

“And I am a man resembling mine.”

“Aisle B, at the end.”

“You’ll be at the end of what?”

The phone dropped out.

Vic arrived early and found a seat with cinemascopic visibility. No likely candidates arrived during the trailers but as soon as Marcel Marceau appeared he ceased looking. The complexities displayed in absolute silence astounded and captivated him. He turned his aids off and revelled in the experience.

During the brief interval he remained spellbound but he found the subsequent Clouseau film farcical and the Inspector a fool. He fell asleep and awoke with a small torch prodding his ribs and trundled home with a head-full of the French master’s moments. At least, he mused, the day had ended well. Or so it seemed.

Next morning, before any sparrow had broken wind, he pottered with his succinct collection of nouns until spying the morning edition’s headline.

‘Woman murdered outside popular theatre. Again.’

He paced, worried and speculated about how he might explain his connection to the recently dead woman.

He texted work ‘sorry have migraine’ and repaired to the loft.

‘Maybe next week,’ he decided as he rolled under the spare bed.