An excerpt from Detective Work by John Dale


Nights when he could not sleep he rolled his body away from hers, slipped on a pair of shorts and T-shirt in the dark, took his keys from the hall table, clicked the door shut behind him, went down the steps and got into his car. He started the engine and eased out of the parking bay onto the road. A cloud of bats glided above the fig trees and the moon hung low in the sky. Nights when he could not sleep, and there were plenty of them, he took the same route heading east down Cleveland through Surry Hills across South Dowling and up past Centennial Park, dark and quiet behind the gates.

He turned into Ocean Street and accelerated under the cover of the plane trees, feeling the rhythm of the road through the wheel. He crossed into Double Bay with the wind blowing at his tail lights, eyes fixed on a lycra-clad jogger, checking out the man’s sweating face. Not that he expected to find him here; it was just a habit he’d acquired. He came out at New South Head Road and turned into Point Piper, big white houses hidden behind ornate gates and sculpted bushes. Driving slowly now, picking out the cry of a powerful owl, the squeal of a ringtail possum. He turned back onto New South Head Road and saw the blue and red lights flash ahead. A cop stood by the side of the road, wanding him over. She approached his car wearing a load-bearing vest, wisps of blonde hair poking out of her cap, tanned skin, silver locket visible as she leaned in with her hand-held device.

‘Evening, sir.’ He produced his warrant card and she stepped back. Took a long hard look at him as if she might need to identify him at a later date. ‘Have a good night, Detective.’

There was not much of it left, but he continued on through Vaucluse and Watsons Bay, counting the CCTV cameras, glimpsing a young woman standing with an older man at a balcony window. Driving through the dead of night, listening to noises, staring at sallow faces in the street. He’d long imagined what he’d say when he tracked him down; the shock of recognition, the extended hand, oh my God, disbelief and denial then acceptance, regrets too, things he would change if he could start over, no hard feelings, son, an invitation to catch up tomorrow or next week at a little sports bar he knew in the money end of town, his face lined by the sun, sinewy arms from all that sailing, blurry tattoo on his forearm, thinning hair swept back, dominant nose. ‘You’ll know him when you see  him,’ his mother always said. ‘Look for the scar on his neck.’ Countless times he’d rehearsed what to say and do, meeting the firmness of the grip, eyes locked, let him do the talking, give him nothing, keep him on the hook, reel him in. He didn’t know how long he would have to wait, but first chance he got, he was going to kill him.

Tiredness washed over him and he fought against it, sucking in air, forcing his eyelids open, gripping the wheel. All he needed was to steer the car home; like a loyal dog the Land Rover knew its familiar route. He passed a truck, two men clinging to its sides, the stench of garbage jolting him awake. Light filtered between the fig trees as he pulled into the block and waited for the security gate to rise. She’d bought their apartment off the plan, a converted biscuit factory in a changing suburb, persuaded him to chip in for the deposit; it was handy for her work, but the modern ceilings were too low for his liking. Instinctively, he ducked his head as he entered the bedroom, pulled off his shorts and T-shirt and slid beneath the sheets. The heat of her body welcomed him. She rolled over and cupped him firmly in her hand.

‘You all right, D?’ she asked, but he was asleep before he could answer.

A Xoum Publication.
    John Dale

    John Dale is the author of the true-crime biography Huckstepp, the novels Dark Angel, The Dogs Are Barking, Leaving Suzie Pye and Detective Work, a novella Plenty, and the memoir Wild Life, an investigation into the fatal shooting of his grandfather in 1940s Tasmania. John’s essays, reviews and non-fiction have appeared in a wide variety of journals and newspapers. He teaches writing at UTS and lives in Sydney.