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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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-
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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?”
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
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,
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
“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
“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
“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
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.”
“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.”
“Well, as I mentioned before, Quentin was home for a month in
“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
“That’s almost 25 years ago. Can you be sure about this? Memory
“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?”
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
“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.
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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