1

       Patience

November ’96

On the pavement outside the ice-cream parlour, alone with newspaper

and dog, in pairs or groups, people sipped coffee. In the hand

of a woman with flaming hair, the jack of hearts hovered over

columns of kings, queens and other knaves running among those of

lesser value across the table.

Flat white. Spilled in the saucer. Patience.

Detective Sergeant Hamilton sipped tea, all the while observing a

smartly-dressed woman who stared over her paper at the striking

redhead. Hamilton watched, now, as she discarded the tabloid and

confidently approached the card table.

“Excuse me, is your name Rosemary? Rosemary DeBlatt?”

The redhead peered over her sunglasses at the woman who obviously

knew her. “It is. Do I know you?”

“Lily. Lily Boyd. But I was Saunders when we were at Blacktown

Primary.”

“Oh, Good God! Yes, so it is,” the tall woman said, pushing her

chair back and rising to bend down and hug her best friend from

way back when. “It’s wonderful to see you. It must be nearly thirty

years.”

“Twenty-eight. Still reading those cards, I see.”

“Playing cards, I’m afraid. I no longer dabble in the black arts.”

The detective’s pupils dilated. He believed DeBlatt had once pursued

the blackest art of them all: murder. He had for many years

studied the personality profiles of poisoners and had formed the

view that DeBlatt was responsible for her father and brother’s

deaths and that money had been the motive. Police Force politics

had prevented Hamilton from pursuing the investigation. Then, in

the mid-90s, circumstances had changed and he’d have been per-

mitted to build a case. But the trail had gone cold and he’d been left

guessing.

So now, today, it was his good fortune to have stumbled upon

DeBlatt. He’d stopped to look at the Inter-war-free-classical library

building, formerly a picture theatre, and there she was – turning

cards while drinking coffee. He was supposed to be elsewhere, spying

on a bikie gang suspected of stealing a semi-trailer-load of spirits,

but sat comfortably in a director’s chair in the Christopher A

Smith interior that had been retained when the theatre foyer became

an ice-creamery cum café. He would not walk out on fate.

Lily stood clutching the back of a spare chair. “You told me I’d

marry a rich prince and a magician would put me under a spell.”

Rosemary collected the cards and offered the seat. “Care for a

game?”

“Euchre’s about all I remember.”

Rosemary shuffled the deck. Obviously her long lost friend was

not short of a quid’, as her dad used to say of the well-to-do. “Did

you?”

“Did I what?”

“Marry a rich prince.”

“Ah. Well he’s no prince.”

“Boyd. You’re not one of the Boyds are you?”

The Boyds were Establishment. No longer among the wealthiest

Australian families (Sir Samuel had made a series of unwise investments

and was selling off the silver when he had died suddenly) they

were still very comfortably off.

“Mark’s my husband.”

Hamilton was getting warm; he leafed through a newspaper

weekend-magazine featuring an article on cubism.

“My God, you are. Should I curtsy?”

Lily laughed awkwardly. “If you think it appropriate.” She’d lost

touch with the world beyond the North Shore. Money oiled the

wheels, the more so for being old. Being Mrs Boyd meant some-

thing.

The Detective Sergeant caught the eye of the proprietor. He

believed that Ms DeBlatt was pouring the foundation for another

murder. On the face of it, DeBlatt’s running into a childhood friend

who just happened to be one of the Boyds was a coincidence. And

though experience had given Hamilton great respect for coincidence,

he avoided multiplying explanations beyond the necessary.

He proceeded, therefore, on the assumption that the redhead was

well aware that Miss Saunders had long since become Mrs Boyd and

that the suspect had contrived to ‘accidentally’ run into Mrs Boyd at

this seaside café precisely because of that fact. A teapot was brought

to his table.

“Age has been kind to you, Rosemary.”

“We’re not yet forty, Lily. Besides, smoking’s turning my mouth

into a chook’s bum.”

“You were a beautiful child and were always going to be a beautiful

woman.”

Lily had an eye for beauty, a natural gift noticed and subsequently

nurtured by her maternal grandmother.

“Thank you; it’s a boost to my confidence. You’ve turned a few

heads, here, I see.” Rosemary stared directly at Hamilton.

The Sydney socialite didn’t know where to look.

“And what about you: did you ever marry?”

“I was ... ” the redhead searched for the words, “engaged once.”

She should’ve been ready for that question by now but never was.

Hamilton wiped his brow, ears flapping. Engaged? Not married?

Who had been the fiancé? When? What did he know? The glossy

print of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was too good for an icecreamery;

he ran a razor down the page.

Lily had not meant to pry so she steered for calmer waters by

explaining why she was there. “Mark’ll be along later to oversee my

first lease arrangement. The pizza shop on the ground floor of the

terrace; across the road, the one with our logo on the advertisement

in the window.”

Good sign. Rosemary didn’t mention that she’d recently rented

an upstairs apartment in that same terrace.

“Your first lease arrangement?”

“First, yes: I’m helping out in The Boyd Group’s commercial real

estate arm while Mark’s in ... ” Now the stopwatch pointed the finger

at Lily. “ ... while he gets over his illness.”

Rosemary took Lily’s hand gently in her own. “Is he in remission?”

Having put her foot in it, Lily had no choice, now, but to correct

this false impression and tell Rosemary that her husband was ‘in

therapy’. That she did so sotto voce resulted in Hamilton’s inferring

that Mark Boyd had cancer and, in turn, that DeBlatt had indeed

contrived this meeting with the wealthy businessman’s wife.

“How’s it affecting you?” Rosemary asked.

Lily was pensive. Cautious lest she say too much, anxious not to

let this lifeline slip away, she looked out from under her bowed head.

“It affects me.” Marriage had provided the stability she needed and

the benefits she wanted. Since beginning therapy, however, her husband

had begun to question everything. So this chance encounter,

the opportunity to speak with her old friend, seemed to her like a

godsend.

A beeper focused everyone’s attention on Hamilton. He rose

from the table, stepped down to the footpath and walked off, leaving

behind the magazine but taking the distorted picture with him.

“What about Mark? Have the consultations made any difference?”

“Yeah. Different. It seems Mark’s to decide what’s best for

Mark.”

“Like that, hey? Could work, I suppose?”

“Seems to be a lot of talk about extraverts and introverts, thinking

and feeling ... ”

Rosemary cut in: “Morning people, night people; whitefella,

blackfella; sun, moon.” She abhorred commercial pseudo-hermetic

philosophy with its pat clichés and high moral tone.

The women stared at each other and laughed, chiming in unison,

“Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus!”

At their shrill voices, the owner of the adjacent bookshop

momentarily stirred from her reverie on the step, triggered perhaps

by the possibility of a sale.

“You seem to be in control.”

“I’m not going round the bend or anything, Rosemary. I’m like

Superwoman – or Superman! Remember that episode where some

miscarriage of justice saw him imprisoned? Despite it, he had to

save the world so he divided himself.”

“Yeah, and halved his power. Was that the one where he had to

pass through a wall instead of smashing it down?”

“No. That was when someone else was hiding to avoid prison.”

Back then Lily had been the authority on television. Her parents

had become estranged from one another and competed for their

only child’s affection; so there’d been a lot of sweeteners in Lily’s

diet. Where Rosemary and her brother had had to eat their greens

and watch quality programmes, Lily could watch what she pleased.

No Bellbird and Mr. Squiggle for her; Superman, Leave It To Beaver, The

Cisco Kid – these had been her family; there were no split loyalties

where they were concerned.

“I’m weathering the storm; but my marriage is taking a battering.”

To Rosemary’s ear, that tone was more than plaintive yet not

whining; Lily’s was a timid, clinging voice.

“Sounds like it’s time for you to strike out on your own.”

“Exactly. Managing the property leases will be a start.”

“A false start, if you’re not careful. It may be necessary to establish

a measure of independence – if you don’t want to end up high

and dry.”

“Oh, no chance of that; I’m well provided for.”

The more her husband saw of Flamsteed the less he seemed to

need her. Lily had always felt abandoned after her parents’ divorce.

She desperately wanted her own marriage to last. Now, she sought

reassurance from this refreshing new quarter, from her old friend,

but was still wary of scrutiny.

“What line of work are you in, Rosemary?”

“Freelance writing: predominantly about cosmetic surgery for

men at present.” Rosemary did not simply want to write, but to

derive an income from doing so. The financial beneficiary of

untimely family deaths and spared, therefore, the imperative to get a

job, she nevertheless wanted to work, to have a career – as distinct

from the mystical vocation for which she’d been solemnly prepared

by a well-meaning but obsessive father.

“Presently, I’m following up an article on the restoration of foreskins

a piece which no publisher would touch – with an investigation

of facelifts.”

“Foreskins?”

“Oddly enough, men are more coy about the latter. Facelifts are

in the same neck of the woods as second fatherhood. You know, the

blokes who ignore the children from their first marriage but appear

on television confessing to the world of the joy of doting on the

toddler they’ve had with the new young wife. Children of middleaged

men have significantly more birth defects than any other

group, you know.”

Lily had no children. Being around Rosemary would never be

plain sailing. “Surely magazines’d sooner take the story about

reversed circumcisions?”

Rosemary spread the deck. “Ears pinned, nose lopped, chin

strengthened – irrelevant. It’s not studies about men they want but

gossip about a man – famous preferably; or at least a celebrity. Mine

promised to eat his hat but merely bit his lip when the time came.”

She shuffled. “Shall we play?”

Lily nodded.

The detective returned from the public phone box up the street

and sat where he could readily eavesdrop on the card players.

The women concentrated their efforts on the table, each one

striving to gain the advantage. And only when confident of the timing

did Rosemary return to the main game: “As I say, financial independence

is a prerequisite but that’s all it is. Are you privy to what

transpires between Mark and his doctor?”

Lily shook her head.

Hamilton inclined his. DeBlatt seemed well on the way already.

Which is as it should be. Mark has to look to himself – and so,

too, do you.”

Lily held back, said nothing. She enjoyed the attention, held the

upper hand, but was unsure of herself. Last card. Right bower.

 

* * *

 

When he’d agreed to undergo therapy, Mark had imagined an

attractive woman to whom he’d open up and be led firmly through

the threatening forest into which he’d stumbled, be put on the right

track, the road to recovery. It was surprising how readily he’d adapted

to these sessions with John Flamsteed, a small balding man in his

sixties.

He’d expected to have to talk about Lily, the marriage, career, not

having sired children. But there were no demands. Not yet.

Flamsteed had told stories and Mark had been encouraged to play

along if something took his fancy. The one about Heraclitus Road

had done the trick. As you went down it you had to take sides. Mark

had known where he stood until asked whether he was ceaselessly

searching for the ‘one true love’ or wanting recognition as being

special’. What could he say: both; neither? He’d not been able to

decide. The journey into the unconscious, as the therapist had termed it,

began there.

Insignificant events from an uneventful childhood had pressed

spontaneously forward and Boyd had related them: being foisted on

an unwilling babysitter whose television viewing of a documentary

on Satchmo was consequently ruined; delighting in a bamboo longbow

which some older boy had been directed to fashion for young

Boyd’s entertainment. Once on that path, they’d soon come to the

memory of events surrounding the brother’s death in the so-called

‘Convoy of Tears’, the fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong in March ’75.

That had occupied them for the greater part of the last two sessions.

Flamsteed trod carefully. “You were already a young man when

Quentin died.”

“I was only eighteen.”

The therapist wanted to make the obvious point that that was the

age at which young men had been conscripted. He didn’t. “And

Quentin?”

“Was coming up thirty-four.”

“The age of the hero.”

“He was a hero. Died for his country.” Mark took it for granted.

Again, the therapist bit his tongue. Officially, the last Australian

military personnel left Vietnam in December ’72. It was possible

that, as his client claimed, Quentin Boyd was a soldier who’d died

serving his country when the tanks rolled into Saigon. But

Flamsteed considered it unlikely, especially since there was no

record of Quentin Boyd ever having been in the army. Admittedly,

this evidence was consistent with Boyd’s brother being a highly classified

operative but it was the only evidence in Flamsteed’s estimation.

That whole business was another story, however, and was germane

to this one only insofar as it threw light on his client’s problem.

So, the charade, if it was such, could stand for now.

“What about the man himself; he’d been in the army since you

were a toddler; was he a brother to you?”

“It’s as I said last time: we have a winter house near Tumbarumba

and Quentin taught me how to ski; when he phoned home long-distance

from America, Vietnam or wherever he always spoke to me.

He’d even phone the school if it was during term.”

“You were allowed to leave the classroom?”

“It was boarding school. I’ll never forget the parcel that arrived

on my eighth birthday.”

“The Cisco Kid outfit,” Flamsteed recalled.

Yes, and whenever he was home on leave he took me to the pictures,

to Hollywood Westerns.”

The client (the sole surviving direct descendant of Marcus Boyd,

a wealthy squatter) suffered from an anxiety state. Hero-worship of

the elder sibling was, possibly, the primary cause of the condition

but so far there was merely a vague outline of that pattern; one

hoped to find a specific traumatic event at the root of the problem,

most likely associated with the brother’s tragic death, but nothing of

consequence had turned up.

Flamsteed retraced his steps, hoping to elicit something. “You

mentioned in passing that Quentin had odd musical tastes. How

were they odd?”

“Well, odd probably isn’t the right word, Doctor; contradictory, perhaps.

You wouldn’t expect a man fighting a war against communists

in Vietnam to listen to practically nothing else other than protest

music.”

“Ah. Odetta, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and

the like. That’s not odd, merely counter-intuitive – like the jazz-loving

Ku-Klux Klansmen. We all listened to folk revival songs back

then.”

John Flamsteed imagined the seven-year age-difference between

himself and Quentin Boyd to have been a gap; it was a gulf, however.

“My brother only ever played Bob Dylan records.”

“Dylan wrote a song for Peter, Paul and Mary.”

“When he was home on leave Quentin only ever listened to Bob

Dylan. I know, because that raucous sound grated on the rest of us;

screeching electric guitars and a wailing harmonica most of the time,

and you couldn’t make out the words.”

“As I recall, protest songs were sung to acoustic accompaniment.”

Flamsteed was firm on this point. Were it true that Mark Boyd

dwelt in the mythic kingdom wherein his heroic brother reigned

then it was the therapist’s job to lead the patient back to reality, the

sine qua non of which was the differentiation of fact from fiction. It

would be premature to voice his doubts about Quentin’s military

credentials but here at least they could begin the process without

those more tender toes being stepped on.

“Joan Baez was definitely acoustic.”

“Probably was; I wouldn’t know. What I do know, though, is that

Quentin listened to practically nothing else but Bob Dylan and

Dylan was a protest singer who sang anti-war songs. Myself, I’m

more the era of the Bee Gees and Neil Diamond, something with a

bit of a tune.”

“Yes, tuneful. Good songs have a melody. A researcher claimed

recently that regular doses of Mozart turned a group of delinquents

into diligent students by altering their neural circuits.”

Mark laughed. “Which composer unscrambles anxiety, then?”

“Angst is a psychological condition.”

“Quentin, at least, went to his maker with optimum wiring.”

“How so?”

“I’m being facetious.”

“That bodes well. Seriously, though, do you believe your brother

died in what Catholics refer to as a state of grace?”

“God knows. We never went in for that sort of talk. As I say, I

was being flippant. But there’s some truth in my remark.”

“Go on.”

“Well, as I mentioned before, Quentin was home for a month in

the January.”

“Of ’75?”

“Yes. There was a new album out which he’d had air-freighted

from New York.”

“Dylan? Surely not; he was the 60s wasn’t he?”

“He’s still performing. Quentin regarded each new release as

manna from heaven. But he was particularly ecstatic about the ’75

one.”

“That’s almost 25 years ago. Can you be sure about this? Memory

plays tricks.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure because the whole situation was weird. He

played that one album over and over and over and kept saying ‘He’s

painted his masterpiece, he’s painted his masterpiece’.”

“Well, if he thought highly of the work that’s probably not so

surprising, is it?”

“No, not at all. He obviously thought highly of it. No, the phrase

stuck in my mind because at that age I had a more literal understanding

of what was said and I thought painting one’s masterpiece

would be said of a painter, not a singer.”

“Too true. He listened to the same record every day for a month?

That’s difficult to imagine.”

“For hours every day. As a song finished Quentin’d lift the stylus

and play it again.”

“That’d drive me insane. What did your parents do?”

“We had a spacious house. Mother and Father were very proud

of their son. Quentin could do what he liked.”

“And what about you. Didn’t you go crazy?”

“So you think that’s what did it, doctor?”

“Did what?”

Flamsteed stared at Boyd for a moment before regaining his

composure. “Forgive me, I lost my concentration.”

“No, forgive me, Doctor. I’ve gone over the hour.”

John Flamsteed was relieved that the session had ended on a light

note but disconcerted at having made no progress. Was he barking

up the wrong tree? Perhaps there was no traumatic single cause of

Mark Boyd’s anxiety.

“Shall we discuss this further next week?”

“It does me good, this. I can’t talk about Quentin with anyone

else. Lily stopped listening long ago. My mother’s never shown

much interest. But I simply must know what happened, the circumstances

of his death.”

“Whether or not it’s the basis of your anxiety is what concerns

me. We should not dismiss a possible link. So don’t censor any relevant

material, please, Mark. Agreed?”

When each session had ended Mark invariably felt guilty of selfindulgence.

He was, however, acting on doctor’s orders, wasn’t he?

And it worked, didn’t it? Undoubtedly, things were better. The occasional

Flamsteed remark or expressive eyebrow, the man’s warmth,

did a world of good. There was never reproof; just a nodding acceptance.

Still, despite it all, the phobia remained and it looked as if he

was going to have to broach that subject with the therapist.

 

* * *

 

Driving through the mid-afternoon haze, Mark turned on the

radio to the most excruciating interpretation of Blue Moon that he’d

ever heard.

“Bloody Dylan!” he said aloud to himself.

Arriving at the seaside village, he forced himself to park in the

only available space (beneath the stairs in the retaining wall) then

stepped out onto the footpath and made his way up past the RSL

Club to the tables. Mercifully, his wife was at a table out on the footpath;

with a woman he did not know.

The unknown woman slapped down a triumphant card.

“Left bower,” Lily murmured in belated recognition that she’d

miscalculated again. “Rosemary!”

Euchre Queen, that’s what they call me on the riverboats, Lily.”

Rosemary puffed flat smoke rings. She knew the cards, their

movements, patterns, dangers. Knew, too, that Lily’s husband had

arrived. Anyone who had regularly scanned the business section of

the newspapers would recognise Mark Boyd.

“Can’t take a trick,” said Boyd, peering over his wife’s shoulder.

She turned, they kissed from habit, then Lily introduced Rosemary

as a long lost friend and went for more coffee.

Lulled by the loss of relevant information (which had gradually

ceased to flow as the card game progressed) Hamilton imperceptibly

stirred when Boyd sat down with DeBlatt. Not even TV cops

were there at the beginning.

Four retired men, hands behind their backs, walked abreast out of

the late afternoon.

“It must be just after five,” said Rosemary.

Mark checked his watch.

“The Greco-Romans.”

“The what?”

“Those four men.” Rosemary nodded up the footpath after

them. “They go down to the sea together at this time every day as if

partaking of a pagan ritual. Some say they’re Greek; others, Italian.”

Mark assumed he’d missed some vital bit of information provided

earlier. “I’m not very religious,” he confessed.

“Don’t mind me.”

He wondered if the remark was directed at him. “Presumably

Lily told you about my illness?”

“Like a thief in the night. It could happen to any of us.”

Rosemary would not betray her suspicion that people who consulted

psychologists were all of a type. That Lily’s husband fell into

this category suited her down to the ground.

“This doctor of yours ... ”

Flamsteed, John Flamsteed.”

Hamilton fixed that name, ‘Flamsteed’, firmly in mind; rarely did

he mine such gems. Unfortunately, however, a ridiculous looking

figure approached the detective for a cup of tea, and then, failing

that, a match, napkin and other petty requisites. Hamilton had no

sooner negotiated his way around that frustrating distraction from

the ongoing Boyd-DeBlatt exchange when the fool, who apparently

sang for his supper, started up on some sand and crushed-glass

dirge.

 

There were three gypsies a come to my door

And downstairs ran this lady

One sang high and another sang low

And the other sang bonny, bonny, Biscay, Oh

 

“I want to quit smoking.Would this Flamsteed be able to help, do

you think?”

“I should imagine so. Earned his stripes as a hypnotist. A friend

of ours, Ruby, was terrified of spiders – even the most insignificant

specimen. John used the trance state to have her experience how terrifying

it was to be the spider encountering an hysterical Ruby coming

at her with a broom. That cured her.”

How gullible is this Ruby? thought Rosemary. “Some people are so

suggestible.”

“And I’m not, apparently. Which is why I am in analysis. Anyway,

he’s in the phone book. You could have the receptionist make an

appointment. You don’t think it’s decadent, then, psychoanalysis?”

“American income begets American lifestyle.”

“It’s an odd kind of luxury. A new world to discover. Money buys

privilege.”

“Once upon a time privilege brought wealth.”

Flamsteed’s stories often begin with Once upon a time ... Recently,

we discussed rich men and their women; he asked me what I

thought about the idea that natural selection determines whom we

marry. According to biologists, working class men ... ”

“Buy Filipino brides. Socio biologists.”

Flamsteed thinks they’re dangerous.”

“Men with Filipinas?”

“Those who say we’re designed by our genes, that we’re nothing

but devices which genes use to perpetuate themselves.”

“If they said that I’d have to agree with him. But we can’t deny,

can we, that only those genes belonging to the man who procreates

will be copied down through successive generations. It’s the

enchanting tale of the selfish gene.”

“Remarkable; Doctor Flamsteed called it the selfish gene too.”

“Doctors know everything. It’s the title of a book.”

“I don’t read textbooks? They’re a bit dry for me.”

“It’s hardly a ‘textbook’. But I know what you mean. For me, academic

analyses are like the desert: you have to stay awhile to experience

the delicate subtleties of the terrain. There’s often great beauty

in those things which survive the heat.”

“I’m hell bent on surviving in business. It’s not pretty. I suppose

you’re up with all the latest on the genome project; perhaps you

could advise me on bio-technology stocks?”

“Not at all. No, by coincidence I’m researching the author who

popularised the notion of selfish genes so I read a couple of his

books.”

Lily came down the steps from the foyer of the theatre, still rubbing

her hands from the blow-dryer. Mark indicated, without looking

up, the vacant chair.

“I’m fond of wildlife programmes on television. The more of

them I see the more I doubt Darwin’s theory.”

“It’s probably just poor editing.”

Mark pressed the point. “Modern photography shows how complex

and inter-dependent organisms are.”

The coffee shop proprietor brought Vienna coffee and Swiss

chocolate.

“Darwin proposed that the mechanism of evolution is simple,

not that the myriad life-forms are. Take digital technology, for example:

there’s nothing complex about switching from zero to one and

vice-versa. And yet this simple mechanism has enabled the invention

of sophisticated machines.”

“Great oaks from little acorns grow,” said Lily, recalling her

grandmother’s oft-repeated dictum.

Mark concentrated on Rosemary. “Seriously, though, don’t you

get the feeling that nature has a miraculous response to every

impasse?”

Lily sang of having faith in miracles under her breath.

Bob, the local balladeer whose antics had so annoyed the

Detective Sergeant, competed with her.

 

Then she pulled off her silk finished gown

And put on hose of leather

The ragged, ragged, rags about our door

She’s gone with the wraggle taggle gypsies …

 

“Thank you darling,” Boyd spoke as if to a child.

Lily lifted her cup to her husband. “Hot Chocolate,” she mocked

him.

Did Lily feel shut out? Safety first, thought Rosemary, reading the

couple traffic; best decelerate and move over from the middle lane.

“Forgive my bookishness.”

“No, go on. Lily’ll allow us a moment, won’t you Darling?”

“By all means, continue. I know my place.”

But Rosemary knew hers, too.

 

What care I for a goose-feather bed?

With the sheet turned down so bravely, Oh

For to-night I shall sleep in a cold open field

Along with the wraggle taggle gypsies