Under a sprawling Moreton Bay fig tree by the
Brisbane River, paint peels from the timber bench on which I sit. Passers-by
glance sideways taking in the half-empty bottle at my feet.
I am not interested in these people: workers sweating
in the humidity and heat in long-sleeved office shirts; children playing on
manicured lawns under the watchful eye of parents; tourists assiduously
searching out maps and web pages on their mobile phones for things to do and see
in Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens.
My world is inhabited by shadowy
characters; sinister figures parade before me out of nowhere one after another
then promptly vanish. I try to communicate with them—yell, plead, enlighten,
howl—anything to catch their attention, imploring them to talk back. Sometimes
there is a hint of a patronising smile as they pass.
But like the passers-by they look through me.
You are the last of the ghostly
characters to emerge.
I shout, ‘You bastard!’
You play your usual ruse of paying me no heed,
pretending not to hear. Your smirk evokes unbearable dread and hopelessness in
the pit of my stomach.
I know that you hear me.
A couple of young men jog past tossing a football
back and forth. You ruefully observe them as though you are thinking of joining
them on their lunchtime run.
‘What did they ever do to you, you cunt?’ I call out.
‘They were just fucking kids.’ Your shadow darts into a clump of trees.
One of the runners feints a pass of the football
toward me and laughs when I recoil.
‘Having a bad day then, mate?’ He laughs again.
‘You think you’re so fucking tough, don’t you? But
you’re not. Not when it counts. They were just kids. I remember the whole thing,
every word you fucking well said, everything.’
The runners have gone now.
I look up. A man is talking to me.
‘How are you doing today, Bob?’
The fog lifts. I acknowledge the man with a nod.
‘Will you be joining us tonight? I hope so. We
haven’t seen you for a bit. People have been asking where you’ve been.’
‘Yeah…sure, I’ll come tonight.’
‘That’s great, Bob. I’ll save you some food, hey.’
He laughs at his own joke.
‘Have you seen anyone else lately?’
I try to remember. Then it comes. He is talking about
other people like me.
I shake my head.
The man asks about the whereabouts of various men and
women and kids living rough. He will chase down those he has not seen for a
while and check on their welfare, encouraging them to come for a meal at his
church where he runs a refuge for the homeless, like he has for me. He says he
hopes to find many of them today.
I watch him walk away.
Like the debris on the river, my mind drifts.
Faces float into view and recede, sounds from another
time echo in my head, smells waft on a chill gust of a wintry breeze. I feel
crevices and cracks of a broken concrete pavement underneath the soles of
black police-issued boots.
I am twenty years old back on the streets of
Fortitude Valley in 1987.
Our V8 Falcon reduces speed and pulls up on Ann
Street outside the pizzeria. Beside me, you lower the driver’s side window. A
blustery westerly wind ruffles your dark wavy hair.
Two figures huddle in the shadows beyond the glow
from the window of the pizza parlour. One youth bends forward, throwing up into
a clump of weeds sprouting through a crack in the footpath. Another kid hovers
alongside, his hand on his mate’s back.
You stare out the windscreen. ‘So what’ve we got
Warning bells sound in the back of my head.
I can read you like the back of my own hand.
You run your fingers through your hair. I can see
every gesture, every move. Punching the dashboard, you open the car door and
march toward the kids.
I don’t want to get involved but I know I have no
choice. I follow. Grudgingly.
‘It’s just kids, Sam. Don’t worry about it.
They’re not hurting anyone. Just leave it.’
‘The fuck they’re not hurting anyone!’
‘Come on, Sam, our pizzas are getting cold.’
You glance into the window. In the weak yellowy
light, two girls in heavy make-up, big earrings and close-fitting tops are
sitting at a table covered by a red and white checked tablecloth. Your eyes
linger, before turning back to the youths.
The boys are about fifteen or sixteen. I’ve never
been good at guessing kids’ ages. In the darkness, it is even harder. One is
wearing an over-sized denim jacket with sleeves rolled up. It drapes below his
hips, making him look even younger than he probably is.
The boy pipes up, eager to please. ‘Sorry,
officer. My mate’s had a bit too much grog. He’s a bit pissed but he’ll be all
right soon, though.’ The kid seems eager, confident we will understand, as
though it’s all a big joke and we’ll be impressed.
You speak like you’re giving advice to a wayward
youngster, as though you’re doing him a favour. As if you’re his fucking teacher
or something. ‘If your mate can’t handle his grog he shouldn’t be here out at
night on his own. I’m going inside to have my break now. But I’ll tell you
something for your own good. By the time I get inside, I want you gone.
Edging closer to his mate, the boy in the jacket
The other boy is drained of colour. He seems to be
in another world. Then he turns from the light of the pizza parlour, bends
forward into the shadows and dry-retches onto the footpath.
You can’t fucking help yourself, can you? Your
kick connects below the boy’s eye. The boy bounces off the flaking yellow
weatherboards onto the concrete footpath like a rag-doll.
‘Next time a police officer tells you to do
something, you better fucking well listen, OK!’
On the ground, the boy gingerly touches the side
of his face and begins to sob as realisation dawns.
‘Get your mate out of here right now,’ I say
quietly to the kid in the denim jacket. Once again, I think about how much I
hate working with you.
The youth hesitates, his jacket sleeves have come
loose, falling over his hands. Distractedly he begins to roll them up.
I have to get the boys away as quickly as
The kid glances at you then at his friend on the
ground. The sight of you, arms by your side, fists clenched, itching to continue
the attack, spurs him into action. He bends down, grabs his drunken mate by the
elbow helping him stand up.
We watch the boys stagger slowly up Ann Street,
their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
In the pizzeria, the walls are painted black. The
figures of the girls at the table by the window are silhouetted in the light.
One girl has straight brown hair. The other is drinking a glass of red wine and
smoking a cigarette. You make your way inside.
The garlicky aroma hits as I join you at a table
beside the door, next to the girls. A middle-aged Italian man opens the oven,
and pulls out some pizzas. On the table, a newspaper has been left by a previous
customer. The date at the top of the paper is 28 July 1987. The headline catches
my attention. I pick it up straight away. The day before was the first day of
public hearings of a judicial inquiry into corruption in the Queensland Police
Force. It’s splashed all over the front page of the early morning edition of the
‘Having a good night, officers?’ asks the girl at
the next table smoking her cigarette.
‘It’s getting better already,’ you say
good-naturedly. A mischievous smile crosses your face. ‘What about you? Got
lucky yet tonight, then?’
‘Who says we want to?’ the girl teases, raising
I try to focus on the newspaper. I can’t bear to
listen. It’s always been like this. Never let a chance go by, is your creed. You
possess an uncanny knack of being able to switch on a boyish larrikin charm that
girls seem to like. It’s stomach-churning. From bitter experience, I know that
when you’re on the make like this it’s better to keep my own mouth shut. I’ve
learnt that the hard way. I’ve known you since we were both schoolkids
ourselves. Even at school we hated each other. Now absolutely nothing has
changed. You will take great delight at any opportunity to run me down in front
of the girls.
I spread the paper on the table trying to pretend
I’m not interested. Anyway, it’s vital that I’m on top of what has taken place
at the first day of public hearings of the Inquiry. A week previously, in a
local shop in a suburb of Brisbane around the corner from my police station, a
man in a fashionable pin-striped suit approached me. He explained he was a
lawyer, part of the Inquiry’s investigative team. Had I ever seen anything—any
evidence of corruption—that would be of interest to the Inquiry? the man had
wanted to know. Right away, I had thought of you. At last, here was a chance to
make sure you got what you’ve always deserved. But I had played my cards
carefully. No, I had not seen anything, I had said. I’d needed time to think.
‘Brothels Had Green Light From
Police’, screams the headline on the front page of the newspaper.
Suddenly I realise what this means. The newspaper
tells me that it’s time, that it’s down to coppers like me to do the right
thing. That this is my chance. This was why I joined the Force in the first
At my back, a gust of wind blows through the open
door into the pizzeria breaking my train of thought. One girl from the table has
moved to the doorway. I place my hand firmly on the newspaper. The squalls of
wind are playing havoc with the pages of the paper.
‘Why don’t you give us a call sometime?’ the girl
with a cigarette says, smiling at you.
While her friend holds the door open, she leans
forward to scribble her name and telephone number in blue ink on a white
serviette on the table. I can smell her perfume mixed with smoke from her
cigarette. As she bends forward, I glimpse the line of her breasts under her
You grin. ‘Thanks. My name’s Sam. Sam Corris.’
‘Anything to help the police,’ the girl jokes.
‘I might have to find something else for you to do
then,’ you suggest with a straight face.
The girls laugh as they leave the pizzeria. I keep
my eyes downward. I can’t believe you were able to pull the girls like that, so
easily. The unfairness of it is beyond my comprehension.
‘What’s wrong, mate? You look a bit pissed or
Ignoring your ear-to-ear smirk, I gaze at the
newspaper. Without warning, you snatch the paper from under my hand on the
‘I was reading that…’
A gust of wind again flutters the edge of the
pages. Behind me, a young couple have come into the pizzeria leaving the door
wide open, yet again. Now you place your hands on the pages to stop them
‘This Inquiry, it seems serious, doesn’t it?’ I
say guardedly, eager to gauge your reaction to the front-page article.
Your mouth curls into a snarl. ‘Shut that fucking
door, will you.’
As the door is closed, the pages settle. The guy
at the door mumbles an apology.
You turn your attention back to me. ‘What did you
say about the Inquiry?’
You place your palms on the checked red and white
tablecloth bringing your face an inch from mine. ‘You know, I saw you the other
day with that dickhead in the suit.’
My chest pounds.
‘I’m going to say this only once, for your own
health.’ Your eyes lock on mine. ‘You need to keep your big fucking mouth shut,
I try to keep my voice steady. ‘It’s you who
doesn’t understand, mate. The thing is, this Inquiry…’ holding your gaze I point
to the newspaper, ‘it’s going to blow you away.’
For once, I feel I have the upper hand. I can see
your mind turning. I have touched a nerve.
Then you sit back. Your worried expression slips
away. You smile as though you know something that I don’t. ‘In that case, we’d
better get a move on then.’ You stuff your last piece of pizza in your mouth and
walk out of the pizzeria.
We don’t pay. We never do.
‘Why did you fucking have to do that for?’ I yell.
‘He was just a kid. I wanted to stop you but I couldn’t. I never fucking could,
On the timber bench seat with peeling paint under the
sprawling fig tree in Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens, I can almost smell the girl’s
perfume mixed with smoke and pizzas. I can see the black and white typescript of
the newspaper on the red and white plastic tablecloth, and the black painted
walls of the pizzeria. I recite the words from the paper. This is when it all
started. There was a message in that paper that night but I must have got it
wrong somehow back then. I must have misconstrued what I was supposed to do.
‘Otherwise it would all be different now and you
would not be where you are today and I would not be here. It would not have all
turned out like this.’
A man in a white long-sleeved office shirt glances
sidelong in my direction and looks away. The back of his shirt is drenched in