Become a Fan
By Lionel Mussell
Friday, January 03, 2003
What 'end' was he talking about? I still hadn't found out when he'd finished his tale.
A short story by Lionel Mussell
Nothing suggested the evening was to be anything out of the ordinary. A busy day in town had lefl me a bit tired and I intended an early evening ready for the long drive back home to the farm in the morning.
Feeling hungry, I made my way down from my room on the fourth floor of the hotel in the old creaky lift.
The dining room was crowded and the waitress asked politely if I would mind sharing. She led me to a table where a man sat toying with a large Scotch.
"Excuse me Sir," she smiled, "Would it be alright if this gentleman shared your table ?"
He nodded assent and took a large drink from his glass. Glancing around he signalled the drink waiter for another Scotch and as an afterthought asked if I would join him.
Although I don't usually have much to drink with dinner I thought it would be rude to refuse his offer and asked for a small brandy and soda.
" Bloody awful night for it all to end !" he muttered looking towards the windows where the rain was cascading down the large expanse of glass.
I looked up at his sombre face in surprise. "For what to end?" I asked.
'Life - that's what," he scowled. My goodness, I thought, what sort of companion have I been landed with? I've knocked around a bit during my thirty-five years including a stint of national service in the army but no-one before had ever opened a conversation in such a depressing way.
Our drinks arrrived and as I thanked him and took a sip of my brandy he gulped half his whisky down in one swallow.
I wondered whether to ask him what he meant by his previous remark but the waitress arrived to take our food order and the moment passed.
I felt his eyes on me as I studied the menu but when I looked up he turned away and took another large mouthful from his glass.
When the girl left with our orders he asked, " Don't suppose you want to hear about it do you?" I've been told I have a sympathetic ear so I replied that it was okay if he wanted to talk.
His harrowed face broke into a semblance of a smile . "Its a long story so we had better have another drink first," he stated as he beckoned the waiter. I insisted it was my turn to pay but he would have none of that and said that if I was to listen to his story, then he would buy the drinks.
This is what he told me:
"It started a long time ago when I was a cub reporter on a Melbourne daily. Judith, my first wife was a secretary when we met and thought it was glamorous to be escorted around town by a budding journalist. Everything was fine for a while and after we had been married a few years we had a son and daughter - Bob named after me and Margaret after Judith's mother.
I was advancing on the paper and like most joumos hit the grog a fair bit - nothing I couldn't handle - and by now I'd been made court reporter. Because I was out chasing 'Scene of the Crime' reports, researching background information and spending lots of time at after hours court hearings, I was spending less and less time at home with my family.
When I did arrive home in the small hours I must have reeked of the booze that seemed to go with the job and in the mornings I stayed in bed until long after Bob and Margaret had gone to school.
Judith had given up work to look affer the children and missed her friends from the office. We didn't go out much any more - I was far too busy carving out a career to waste time going to movies or the theatre and on my rare nights off preferred to spend the time with my feet up watching the telly with a can at hand.
It came as a complete shock to find the flat empty when I rolled home one night after a long day. A note told me the worst - Judith had left me and taken the kids.
I was hurt and angry and tried to drown my sorrows in the bottle.
After a few months of desperate drinking, the News Editor called me into his office one day and gave me an ultimatum. Cut out the heavy drinking or find another job! My work had been suffering and complaints had been coming in about my behaviour.
It was no good and before long I was again in his office. “Look Bob," he said," you are a really good reporter but you are no good to us like you are so we are going to have to let you go." He then added,' Why don't you try going freelance - travel articles and things like that ? Maybe you can find a new interest in life."
Just then the waitress came with our soup and we concentrated on eattng for a while as the main course came quite quickly after the soup.
When we had finished our main course Bob asked should he continue and I nodded in agreement.
He had drifted around for weeks after getting the sack but then one day the urge to write had spurred him to sit at his battered portable typewriter and start typing a story about some of the attractions of Melbourne.
As he had knocked around the nightspots often while chasing crime stories he concentrated on after-dark venues.
" I looked at the draft and thought that it wasn't bad and maybe worth publishing so I went to see the editor of one of the magazines put out by the group I had worked for and asked his opinion. He had heard what had happened to me but agreed to look at the article.
When he called and said he would run it but needed some pictures to go with it I said I would get some straight away and dragged out my old trusty Rollieflex and that evening did lhe rounds and got some reasonable shots.
I got the film developed first thing in the moming, wrote some captions and went around to the magazine.
The editor took a look and said " OK - I like your writing style and the pics are fine. I'll pay you AJA rates for any similar artides you write - we like local stories like this but we are also interested in wider travel . Can you get overseas and send us copy ?"
I'd developed a number of contacts over the years and a bit of time on the phone paid off and I was offered a trip to Singapore on a stand-by basis and accomodation at a modest hotel provided I gave the airline a mention in any article I managed to get published.
Asia was a whole new experience for me and over the next few months I began to get my life back together. The magazine was happy to print anything I sent them and had increased the rates they paid for articles and pictures. I was no longer hitting the grog so hard and the research and writing was giving me an interest I had lacked before, besides taking me to all sorts of unusual and intriguing places.
I was still lonely though. Have you noticed that you can be just as lonely in a crowded resort as you can be on your own in some remote spot ?
Over the next five years I filed stories from all over the world and my life was quite busy as by now I was taping reviews for a radio programme and contributing material to a couple of other magazines published by the same group.
I still had little social life beyond that involved in getting the stories and sometimes in the privacy of my hotel room the emptiness of my existance pressed heaviy on me and I longed for someone special to share my life.
Don't get me wrong - I was never short of female companionship if I wanted it. The world abounds with women anxious to give you a little of their time in retum for lots of your money and I'd met hustlers of all types during my travels.”
Coffee arrived just then together with more drinks and once again Bob drank heavily while I just sipped my brandy.
Waving away a trolley loaded with creamy cakes and confections he continued his tale .
"Sorry if all this is boring you," he remarked but I shook my head and told him to keep going.
"One day I was doing a piece on Rio and its miles of golden beaches and in the hotel one evening I noticed a girl looking at me as I walked across the foyer. She was in her late twenties, had short dark hair cut in a way that made her look elfin and her attractive features were emphasised by a pair of incredibly blue eyes.
I handed my room key in at the desk as I was going out to dinner as part of my research, and as I turned from the desk the girl got up from her seat and came over to me. Smiling, she introduced herself by saying she had been reading one of the magazines I wrote for and had recognised me from the little pic of me next to the bi-line.
She wondered if I could give her any background on Rio as she was a foreign correspondent for a London paper and had been sent to Rio to do a story on Ronald Biggs the 'Great Train Robber" and was finding it a bit difficult to get the feel of the place. Apparently she was quite new to the job of foreign correspondent although she had been very successful in the other 'rounds' of the paper including, it turned out, a stint in my old job of crime reporting.
I told her I'd be happy to help and suggested that for a start she had better come out to dinner with me and I could give her some information during our meal.
Her name was Tess and its amazing how well we got to know each other during that first evening together. Her background and mine were vastly different but we seemed to share a sense of humour and I found I hadn't laughed as much for years as I did in those short hours. We went from the restaurant to a night club where the noise of the boisterous South American crowd was overshadowed by the volume of sound from the five-man group belting out Sambas and Rhumbas.
Encouraged by the heady effect of the champagne we were drinking, I asked her to dance and I've never felt more alive as we did our best to copy the gyrations of the other couples on the donce-floor.
I don't know which of us tired first but eventually we decided to call it a night and got a taxi back to our hotel.
As we collected our room-keys I realised that although we had talked practically non-stop all night we had never got around to discussing Rio so I asked if we could meet again in the morning so that I could help with her story.
We met again next moming - and evening - and yet again the next day before her plane left to take her to her next assignment in New York where Tess had to cover a visit by the Queen the following week.
By the time the plane left I realised I was madly in love and that in such a short time Tess had filled a hollow in my heart that had been empty and aching for years.
Being freelance has its advantages and as soon as I finished my Rio story and sent the copy off to Melboume, I booked a flight to New York, packed my well-worn suitcase and left the warmth and ambience of Latin America for the chill of a drizzly New York in winter.
Tess had told me the hotel booked for her by her paper and I checked in to the same one and asked for her room number.
As soon as the porter had dropped my case in my room I rang her and asked her to dinner. She laughed, thinking me still thousands of miles away and then, realising I was serious, squealed with joy at what I had done.
For about three months I followed her around the world to wherever the paper sent her - sometimes I could write stuff myself but at other times I was just happy to help her when I could.
We had stopped booking separate rooms by now and, as my divorce had been finalised years before, decided to get married and honeymoon in a beautiful little Mexican seaside resort I had discovered a few years previously. It was an idyllic little spot I had found while covering a larger, brasher place a few miles away and I had never written it up as I felt it should remain unspoilt.
I had to retum to Melbourne to tie up some odds and ends of business so we arranged to meet in London and fly to Mexico together. Tess wanted me to meet her parents who live in a little Hertfordshire town just a few miles from London and her colleagues on the paper wanted to throw a party for her as she was resigning from her job so we could be together while I continued the travel writing.
That girl meant everything to me and she felt the same about me."
By now the waitress had refilled our coffee cups a few times and Bob had continued to knock back several more large Scotches.
He seemed to have run out of steam and stared morosely at his nearly empty glass.
"What happened ?" I asked. " Did you get married as you planned ?" 'Did you get on with her parents ?"
He said nothing for a minute and then floored me with his next statement.
"She died this afternoon!"
"The wedding was to be next week and I'm booked on a flight to London in the morning. Won't be going now. Won't be going anywhere again now. It’s over. Finished. Thanks for listening but I had to tell someone. Will you have another drink ?"
I told him how sorry I was - words seem a bit inadequate when someone has had that sort of experience - and said I would have one last drink.
"Did you see the PM 'Herald-Sun'?" he asked . I hadn't bought a late paper as in the bush we only get one paper a day so I hadn't seen the story that pushed our economic woes off the front page.
A Boeing 747 had been blown up in mid-air by what was believed to be a terrorist bomb and there were no survivors.
"My Tess was on that plane," he sobbed. " She was on her way back from North Africa from her last assignment and would have been there to meet my plane. Now its all over."
I repeated how sorry I was but said I must go to bed as it was getting late.
He was still seated at the table drinking yet another whisky as I left and seeing him hunched there with that look of sorrow on his face I felt deeply moved and thankful that my own family life was so happy and settled.
The drive home next day was uneventful and after dinner I told my wife about the tragic story I had heard the night before.
At breakfast next morning she had been glancing at the paper as usual and enquired, "What did you say that man's name was ?" "Bob - Bob something or other ," I replied.
"Just look at this," she said as she passed the paper over.
I stared at the item in the box next to the story on the aftermath of the plane crash.
Under the heading: ‘LOCAL TWIST TO PLANE TRAGEDY’ was the news that noted international travel expert, Robert Kelly, had been found dead of an overdose in his hotel room the previous morning.
A note had been found which explained that he had lost his fiancee and reason for living in the plane crash .
Police said there were no suspicious circumstances and they were treating the death as suicide.
The item continued with background about his career and tributes from fellow writers but I stopped reading when my eyes filled with tears as I remembered the way I'd left him staring at his glass with those haunted, lack-lustre eyes.
I'll never know if I could have saved his life if I had realised his intentions but at least I had been willing to listen as he gave his final report.
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|Reviewed by Tami Ryan
|Good story. I did expect a bit of a different ending.
(It would be helpful for the reader if you were to put spaces in between the paragraphs. Just a thought.)
|Reviewed by Divinity 11
|very well done!!!
a lesson in listening.....
'Life - that's what," he scowled. My goodness"--i like that line...
funny i came across this today
i just posted a poem called journalist joe