The Last Newspaper in the World
12 December 2014
19 GOODBYE MR BRAND, HELLO MRS BRAND
Later that day I found myself driving over to the town’s sports centre. It was the biggest venue in the place, so was better able to cater for the crowd expected for the mayor’s funeral service. Diana was with me. She was dressed in black, tight but conservative with a jacket to match. Her blonde hair touched the top of the jacket perfectly and she looked poised even sitting in the passenger seat of the work car. I kept on inventing excuses to look over her way as we drove, looking out for a stream of cars that wasn’t there coming to a side road. Then she turned to me.
‘So what did he want?’
I looked around. She was looking directly at me. Although I didn’t want to answer the question, I was grateful for the opportunity to check out her beauty face on, close up. I looked ahead and took the corner into the driveway leading into the sport centre.
‘The usual, you know, where am I going with the story, what am I doing with my life, some personal stuff? You know the kind of thing old folks ask kids?’
I glanced quickly over to Diana and she just slightly tipped her head so the blonde hair caressed her right shoulder.
‘Not really. What do you mean?’
Of course, her direction and her life had probably never been questioned. Then I remembered Stead’s attack on her, her strength and how she remained poised. Reflected in her blue eyes, my lack of commitment seemed weak, even shambling.
‘Let’s talk about this later. We’ve got a job to do now, haven’t we?’ I said, taking a stab at conviction. It was pretty much what I had said to Harry anyway, but probably a bit more gently than I’d cut down the old man’s attempt to piece my life together.
She reached over and put a perfect hand on the shoulder of my jacket, saying ‘I’m not letting you off that easily. We’ll talk later. Or will Angelique object?’
‘Of course not,’ I said, a little too hastily. Angelique probably would object, although not in the way somebody like Diana might. ‘Come on, we know what we’ve got to do here, right?’
We parked the car. I was nervous as I’d never covered a funeral before, although I’d been to one or two. Stead, having told Diana we should attend and hinted at looking out for somebody who stood out, was standing by the door with a couple of colleagues. I went to walk in but noticed Diana was looking through her purse.
‘You alright?’ I asked.
She looked up with a smile like a sunrise shining up from a morning sea.
‘Fine. Ready to go.’
We walked through the door, nodding at Stead and his team as we went by. He didn’t say anything but just kept on talking. In their suits and sunnies they looked like pretty tough guys. Inside, the hall was buzzing, but not with excitement. It was the low sort of sound like an amplified expression of concern. We sat at the back. Diana leaned over and told me I was going to have to go up front to take pics. I nodded and stayed where I was for the time being.
Mayor Brand certainly seemed to have been a great guy. Well, that’s what everybody who spoke reckoned. Seemed he was quite the old rocker too. His Harley was mounted on the stage next to his coffin, an old Credence Clearwater number was rumbled out through the sports centre’s faulty sound system. I caught some of the words as I walked down a side aisle to get closer to the front. From what I could hear ‘Lookin’ out my Backdoor’ seemed quite a happy song but some of the words were a bit strange for the Mayor. ‘Tambourines and elephants are playin’ in the band. Won’t you take a ride on the flyin’ spoon’. What was all that about? Maybe it was just a song, like maybe he was just a small town mayor.
The place was full and when I reached the front I took a couple of wide shots of the crowd. Some in the crowd looked a bit annoyed at me taking pics and when I added a long lens to the camera and started taking shots of the front row, a security officer came over and yanked my sleeve to clear me out. Stead was standing by the doorway. He adjusted his glasses as I went by and smiled. Or was that a smirk?
I walked across the driveway and stood at the front row of parked cars. Slouching against a car, I looked at the camera. Inside the hall, I could hear sounds from the service. Noise of a combined song mumbled along, more speeches. Then silence. This must be it, I thought, and raised the camera to fix the lens on the doorway. I looked upwards and saw the increasing cloud cover borrow some light from winter’s weak sunshine. The car I was leaning was a double-cab ute, so I went around the back, jumped on and took up position leaning across the cab.
Diana came out first, striding towards me looking serious in her black dress. She stopped and stood right there on the steps looking at me and mouthing something. I waved for her to get out of the way before the pall-bearers came out on to the steps carrying the coffin. They stopped briefly, before going down the steps to the back of the hearse. Behind them came the family and close friends. I was in business but taking pics of this group was tricky with the undertakers and pallbearers standing around the back of the car.
Jumping down from the ute and quickly moving closer, I crouched down to get a shot of the family. Mrs Brand, even dressed down appropriately for the occasion, was stunning. Tall, thin, and olive skinned, her light brown hair fell over her face as she looked down from the stairs through the screen of large dark glasses. Her lips were full and through the lens I could see they were coloured with what looked like an iridescent pink lipstick. I held her in my lens and followed her as she leaned over to her left to talk to a guy at the end of the row. I saw she was pointing at me and took a closer look at the tall man in a suit and heavy dark glasses. Suddenly his picture blurred slightly and I realised he was striding towards me. Standing behind him I could see Pat O’Rourke and Michael Chang talking and looking our way. Hauling the camera quickly up, I took a shot of the guy advancing on me. In my lens it registered he seemed like a larger version of Mayor Brand. I didn’t have time to digest these thoughts as he was approaching quickly, so I held on to Diana’s upper arm and pulled her with me towards our car.
‘Hey, what are you doing?’ she said and started to pull away. I let her go and walked on as if nothing had happened.
‘Come on let’s get back to the office. Now,’ I said as she caught up.
Behind me I could hear steps becoming increasingly loud. Diana tried to keep up with me, which she did surprisingly easily given her dress and heels. When we reached the car, we jumped in and I immediately locked the doors.
‘A bit dramatic,’ said Diana, pulling down the visor glancing into the mirror.
I was chucking my gear in the back when I saw our pursuer come to a halt next to her passenger side window and start knocking on the window. Diana jumped and I started the car, backing out as the suit continued banging on her window. At about this point I wished the company cars were a bit gutsier, but Diana called for me to slow down.
‘Maybe he just wants to talk to you. We haven’t even got our seat belts on. Stop right now.’
I gunned it out of the sports centre driveway and stopped when we reached the road. In the rear view mirror I could see the guy standing in the drive looking at me. He was joined first by Chang, then Pat and Stead.
‘What was all that about?’ Diana asked. She laughed and punched me on the shoulder lightly.
‘I think I just pissed somebody off,’ I said, looking unnecessarily in the rear vision mirror. Nobody was following us, but it was that kind of a day.
‘You know, you have a talent for doing that don’t you?’
‘No not really, but who was that guy chasing us?’
‘You, Bill, chasing you.’
‘Thanks for your support. What would you’ve done if he’d got hold of me?’
We were approaching a roundabout into town. Diana was looking straight ahead, but she quickly glanced over at me with a smile.
Taking the turn too wide, I asked her again about the chaser. Diana agreed he looked like the dead mayor, so maybe he was a brother or another close relative. But her attention turned to Brand’s widow.
‘Stunning looking isn’t she, even in grief?’
‘Even in grief.’
‘Did you see the dress she was wearing? That’s a lot of money right there.’
‘So where do you think the brother, or whatever he is, fits in?’ I asked.
‘Why don’t you ask him?’
‘No, why don’t you?’
‘Me?’ Diana said, shaking her head and laughing. I looked too closely as her blonde hair scuffed the back of her neck. She yelled at me to watch where I was going as I narrowly avoided a kid crossing the road on his skateboard. He gave me the finger and I recognised him from school, although he was younger.
‘Kids today – look at that behaviour.’
‘Just watch where you’re going,’ Diana said.
‘I do think the family guy might respond better to you than me, particularly as he seems to object to having his pic taken.’
Diana was silent. She pulled down the sun shade and quickly looked in the mirror.
‘Let’s ask Harry,’ she replied.
Dad was in his office when we returned. Diana went over to her desk and tidied something up. I saw her looking at the glass on her phone. What was she looking at? I downloaded the pics and added them to the access file. Opening the last pic, I saw it was a bit out of focus but thought it might still be useable. Walking over to Diana’s desk, I saw she was on her facebook page.
‘Let’s go and see Harry.’
‘Sure. I’m just letting my friends know about your drama. Do you do it on purpose?’
I shook my head and started walking over to Harry’s office. He looked up as I entered. Diana came is just as I was closing the door.
‘Sorry,’ I said.
‘That’s a bit rude.’
‘Okay, so you had a bit of fun at the funeral,’ Harry said, leaning back in his chair. ‘Tell me about it.’
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The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
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