Five thousand bucks may not sound like much, but for me it was everything. I scribbled down the address and told Sheila I’d call her once I was done. I didn’t ask her any questions, if she vouched for the client, that was good enough for me. I jumped into my Falcon and headed towards the freeway, following the signs back to Melbourne.
As far as private investigation work, this was a piece of cake: surveil a factory and take photos of anyone going in or out. There was a risk, of course, but the money was good, and I couldn’t hide in a caravan up on the Murray forever. The spotlight had shifted last week, the newspapers now saying the kid might have been killed in a gang dispute. There’d been a vigil at the Town Hall, community leaders calling for justice, all of it making the kid sound like some kind of bloody saint. I should have played it differently, fair enough – but he wasn’t a saint.
I focussed on the money: five grand. Despite everything I’d put her through, all the crap I said and did during the divorce, Sheila always came through. Most wives got half of what their husband’s owned, but for Sheila, half of nothing had been nothing. All she got from 20 years of marriage was that lousy emerald wedding ring. She knew the debts I had – some of them could wait a little longer, but others couldn’t. The trick was knowing which was which.
I pulled into Melbourne at dusk, winding down my window along Sydney Road, the smell of Turkish food wafting into the car on the warm February breeze. Brunswick had changed over the years; the shisha bars and continental supermarkets had been replaced with yoga studios and vinyl record stores. The return of vinyl, a silver lining to the gentrification pandemic. I pulled down a littered side-street, realising it must have been hard-rubbish month – hipsters on bikes sifted through other people’s memories, like crows picking at a dead roo on the freeway. I found the street – a quiet no-through road – and parked opposite the factory. I took the camera from the glovebox but left the gun – the same gun. I still needed to get rid of it.
I waited. Eventually, the lights in the factory started dotting out and a woman walked out. She was blonde, mid-forties, maybe fifty. The light was bad, but it didn’t matter: clients only saw what they wanted to see in these photos anyway. As she approached, I started taking pictures, only stopping when I recognised the emerald wedding ring, dangling from her necklace.
She looked at me with a sad smile.
‘He was 15 years old, Tony.’
The street erupted in an explosion of red and blue lights, as sirens and shouts tore through the night. Guns everywhere, all pointed at me.
The trick is always knowing which debts you got to pay first.
© Matthew S. Wilson, May 2020
This piece was written for May’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre, where entrants were given one weekend to write a 500-word story, meeting the following criteria: the first word was FIVE, the story had something being replaced and it contained the phrase ‘a/the silver lining’.