“Cuthbert Aldwin Pendlebury, purveyor and assessor of human frailties at your service. Cap in hand, at your command!”
I laughed self-consciously at my attempt at humour, peering around in the hope no one had heard the little aside. Not that anyone was around. I opened my office one week ago, and in the intervening period no enquiries had been made for my services.
I spent the past twenty years wandering the state, fruit picking in the south, assisting with the grain harvest in the mid-west, and when in a seldom state of wealth I fossicked around the mullocks for the elusive gold that had been overlooked. My spirit was strong, my body slowly bending under the weight of accumulated years. Considering myself a student of human nature a new career path in private investigating appeared a suitable alternative, offering a solid base from which to operate. The thought that no one needed my services had never entered my reckoning.
I looked around my office, a small dingy back room in the small dingy house I purchased from meagre savings, in a suburb that had seen better days. A large board attached to the wooden gate, which could have done with a lick of fresh white paint, proclaimed to the world the services offered, if the customer cared to wander down a narrow concrete footpath ducking and diving to avoid the overhanging branches of the bottlebrush that made a dash of red against the worn out cream fibro walls and fence. A second hand desk, which I had stripped and re-varnished, stood near the rear wall, a plush-red office chair placed carefully over the worn patch in the donkey-brown shag-pile carpet. The dark beige walls made a dismal background for the tatty posters of far away exotic destinations attached to the paintwork with double-sided tape. In fact, now that I take the scene in with an unbiased eye, it slowly dawns that this is not the existence I desired. No clients, not even a telephone enquiry, a second rate house in a third rate area, and the chances of a job that would pay the electricity, little alone pay me a basic wage, were non existent. The telephone chat I had almost perfected sounded as cheap as the surroundings.
Making an instant decision I telephoned the real estate office, offering the residence up for rent, thus setting in place a process whereby I could be my own man in an environment where I felt at home. The constrictions imposed by this physically enclosed city-block, and the compressing of my psyche in the emotional backwater, no longer provided the necessary enticement to while away my days in complete boredom.
* * * * * *
As I look back it is obvious that my aspirations to enter the world of investigation were nothing more than dreams. The blueprint laid down for me read differently. The place I belonged was the wide-open spaces … unfettered by timetables and deadlines. Ahead the tarsealed road promised a new beginning, a journey into the future, where only the elements provided testing grounds.
Following a sudden inclination I flicked on the turn indicators, checked in the rear vision mirror for approaching traffic, and finding the view clear, executed a sharp turn right to take me away from the busy highway towards the relative calm of the midlands.
Lunchtime drew near; the day was warm bordering on hot; a break was essential. A lay-by offering shady respite appeared around the corner, tall river gums casting shadows over the rest area. Where better to eat the sandwiches I had quickly prepared? Ham, cheese, and tomato on whole-meal bread, washed down with remnants of a flask of tea. I leaned back in the seat, rested my head on the headrest, and drowsily listened to the hum of the bees working the flowers on the gums. Somewhere in the distant a crow ark-ark-arked his noisy cry as he fed on the remains of the road-killed kangaroo.
Had I slept? The sun’s rays now cast lazy shadows over the car, time to get on the move again. Hurriedly filling my water bottle from the nearby tap I eased out onto the roadway that wended its way between wattle and gum trees reaching an open farming area where oranges and mandarins grew side-by-side with luscious mangoes, and a prolific market garden with rows of pumpkins, sweet potato, and a tall strange variety of beans stood to attention. The sight of such fresh abundance proved impossible to pass by; I pulled into a roadside stall, chose a bag of sweet tasting, juicy oranges, and after dropping gold coins into the container provided, continued on my way.
Pzzzzzzzzt. Oh damn! I knew that sound of old. A flat tyre!