‘ You’ve got to be a little cautious most days. ’
Alec Noyce usually said that to himself as he took a final glance into the mirror that was taped above the sink. He saw there a rough shaven, thin and wedge-shaped face squinting at him. His oiled hair combed back hard, sharp.
He sucked at the filth that lodged between his teeth as was his habit and walked out of the dark room, down the stairwell and into the street.
Another hot day of westerlies and fine dust.
Alec liked to patrol both the eastern and western sides of the highway that overpassed the railway station a couple of times every day. He would sometimes sit in a shop doorway or one of the commuter seats by the bus stop.
There was much here to watch and his eye was quick. The precinct was always busy with people using the bus and train interchange and a large hospital nearby provided an everlasting stream of travelers. And it amused him that in appearance he was as befouled about with unwashed clothing (six months unchanged now), as he was befouled within by the bonedeep pain of a cancer. Yet here he perched like a leprous hawk amongst the chicks.
Today a couple not known to him was standing on the crowded footpath outside the liquor shop. They were drinking beer and talking loudly, angrily. Alec spat and laughed silently to himself as he examined the short red velvet dress worn by the woman.
The fabric was rent and stained, her sandals were old and scuffed and the hard flesh of her heels was blackened and split. Her alcoholic face had been beaten into a flattish dish. Her thin gold bracelets and cheap glass beads winkled at him. Slattern!
Her companion was a pug faced little tough with heavily tattooed arms and who cared little for pedestrians as he shouted and swung himself about in a caricature of mounting rage. Droll!
They play act. Alec spat.
The slimy grey fleck landed by his shoe.
‘ Whom do they wait upon? ‘
Alec asked this of himself when he saw that the couple would every now and then stop their charade and quickly scan the passers-bye as they took a drink. The footpath was crowded with all manners of commuter and the nearby highway was equally busy with its eight lanes of groaning industry.
They resumed their pantomime. A mime for all that could be heard above the snarling choke of passing engines
Two young tourists stopped when the red velvet dress accosted them. A young man and woman. Fair haired and open faced, both tanned with their bare legs showing the well muscled result of many miles traveled on roads lesser pulsed than this city artery.
He wore a heavy backpack and carried a short surfboard in its cover and she carried a brown leather holdall buckled in brass.
Alec smiled at this then made it vanish when he noticed a passing man looking at him. He rose from the shop stoop and walked past the liquor shop, and them, to listen.
‘ Gotta catch the three-thirty bus to Ballina here ina minute and me bags are still down at the bloody station. ‘
The little tough was talking quickly to the young man. Alec slid by.
‘ The bloody missus can’t help me, she’s just done her ankle in. ‘
Alec had passed and on turning back he saw that the red velvet dress had sat down in the doorway of the liquor shop and was rubbing her ankle. She had twisted her flat face up to the girl in an expression of pain and pleading frustration.
‘ You couldn’t give us a hand could yez? There’s only three bags. Me bloody bus is here in ten minutes. ’
Alec slid by again. He could hardly contain his mounting excitement. Here was his theatre, and so early in the day.
He stopped about twenty feet away and turned. The tough had taken persuasive hold of the young man’s arm. Alec could guess at his urging banter. The young man took that first hesitant step away with him. The young woman sat next to the red velvet dress and placed her leather holdall on the ground between them.
Then the young man was finally convinced and he and the tough left for the station.
Alec nearly doubled over as he restrained the huge upwelling of mirth that was building in him. He was unaware that two grinning schoolboys were watching him as he twitched and twisted in the throes of his throttled pleasure. Presently he calmed himself.
He knew now that the young girl was the couple’s target.
Her name was Josephine Maran. She was from Leicester and with was travelling with a young man she had recently met in a Byron Bay hostel. He was a Californian.
Josephine looked into the ravaged face of the woman beside her and hoped that she would calm down soon.
‘ You’ll be fine. I’m sure your ankle is alright. ‘ She said, and noticed a weasel like little fellow about twenty feet away looking at them, he was smiling.
‘ Me name’s Doreen love, jeez it bloody hurts like hell, I think I broke it. ‘
Both women looked at her foot; there was no swelling, no bruising.
Alec slid by.
Doreen choked on a guttural sob. ‘ Get us a glass of water please love. I‘m feelin’ a little crook. ‘
She groaned, she rubbed her ankle. ‘ The liquor shop here will give youse one. ‘ She leaned her head back onto the glass shopfront and started to cry.
Josephine stood and turned to walk into the liquor shop. Doreen watched her. Josephine entered the shop and walked to the counter at the rear. She asked the woman there for a glass of water. In a moment she had it and she returned to the shop’s entrance.
Doreen was gone.
Her bag was gone.
– And Alec was standing there looking at her. Right up close, she could smell him. His sly face made even more sinister by the wide smile that split its width.