Stiff by Shane Maloney

Book: Stiff by Shane Maloney Read Free Book Online
Authors: Shane Maloney
salmon pink carpet of the entrance hall. The wallpaper was pink, too. A pink on pink fleur-de-lis motif, with a row of miniatures, ballerinas in candy tutus. The telephone table was white though, Queen Anne, to match the antique ivory and brass telephone. I followed the wall-to-wall through to the lounge.
    Mrs Nextdoor went into an impromptu pitch. ‘As you can see it’s too big for one person. Herb’s been here on his own ever since…’ She tactfully left the sentence unfinished. ‘It was the same when my husband went. Herb, I said, you can’t live forever surrounded by memories.’
    ‘I can understand that,’ I said. And I could.
    Herb’s memories were pure oestrogen. The lounge was the hall writ large. The sofa was done in pink floral with matching throw cushions. The pelmets above the windows were upholstered in the same pattern, with little valances matching the gathered lace of the drapes. Rows of porcelain dolls with painted blushes stared out of a blondwood crystal cabinet towards a print of a sad-eyed clown with a ruffled collar hanging on the rambling-rose patterned wallpaper. There was so much pink I thought my eyes must be haemorrhaging.
    On the mantelpiece in front of a bevelled mirror circled with lilies was a big oversized brandy balloon half-filled with rose petal potpourri, but the smell was that of thickly laid-on air freshener. The only visible evidence of human habitation was a scattering of brochures and documents on the pink-tinted glass top of a brass-rimmed coffee table. Besides them sat a copy of Best Bets , tell-tale male spoor.
    The helpful widow offered me the sofa. ‘I’d best leave the formalities to Herb. I’d feel a bit strange showing someone around someone else’s house, if you know what I mean.’ That was a relief. I perched gingerly on the edge of the crepe de chine.
    I decided I’d give Gardiner five minutes. If he hadn’t shown by then, I’d take the phone number and call him from the office. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure why I was there. Covering my arse, I suppose. Dotting the t’s and crossing the i’s.
    She of the Nextdoor hovered, uncertain of the protocol. ‘Nice big place,’ she improvised. ‘Ideal family home. Too much cleaning for one. Herb’s new place is fully serviced. Hot though, Queensland.’
    ‘Queensland?’ I improvised back. ‘Nice weather.’
    ‘Can’t say I blame him, day like today. But I don’t know how he’ll get on by himself. A man needs someone to look after him.’
    Indeed, he did, I admitted. Make that three minutes.
    ‘Anyhow, you might as well have a cuppa while you wait. Fully equipped kitchen.’ That about exhausted the conversational possibilities. She opened the door through to the kitchen. Baking smells, good ones, came in and fought with the evil air freshener.
    A white cuckoo clock ticked loudly in the silence. My stomach growled back at it. Past two-thirty and I still hadn’t eaten. I picked up the form guide, put it down, flicked through one of the brochures. Ocean Towers, Broadbeach. Absolute beachfront. Two and three bedroom apartments from two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, plus on-road costs.
    I tossed the glossy folder back down onto what could have been a title deed and looked around. Not a bad swap, a quarter of a mill’s worth of sea views and a spa for a crocheted tissue box worth maybe half that, absolute maximum, drizzle running down its windows. Old Herb must certainly have been stacking it away all these years. And why not? A lifetime on your back on the concrete with your mouth full of self-tappers, staring up into the innards of a bung compressor. Make a nice change, Broadbeach would.
    My own old man had done something similar when they bought the pub out from under him for a drive-in bottle shop. But instead of the high-rise condo in Surfers he’d gone for the fibro shack on Bribie Island and the aluminium runabout. Horses for courses. Plus it looked like Gardiner had a bit more

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