AUSTRALIAN HISTORY - STILETTO INHERITANCE
like you to tell us how you obtained this knowledge.' I'd become their
here,' the other woman said as she led the way down a passage to a
larger, better furnished room.
man who had spoken before spoke again: 'We'd like you to sleep for a
second woman took a syringe from her bag. 'Please roll up your sleeve,'
they planned to murder me, an overdose would be less painful than a
knife so I lay down on the couch, put out my arm and looked up at the
three men gathering around us. As the one who had spoken bent over me I
noticed that he had a smear of mascara on his left eye lid.
like you to tell us how you got this knowledge.' I've been awake for
some hours but I don't know how long I slept. I was fed quite well,
allowed to shower and given some clean clothes. 'Our patience is
inexhaustible, professor, but our time is limited. Please help us to
clear up this little matter. You know that Deakin was murdered. All we
need to know how you found out.'
hard do I peer into my interrogator's eyes for some sign of make-up that
he backs away.
mock heroics, please,' he says. 'As you've seen not all my colleagues
are as polite as I am. You can stare me down easily enough, but she will
draw the eyes from your head and give them back to you to eat. The
others are quite uncivilised and cannot imagine torture without hatred.
If you prefer I'll leave and they can ask our question. How did you find
out about the murder of Deakin?'
seemed little point in not telling them since my explanation is entirely
I begin, 'as you possibly know I'm completing a biography of the
Victorian politician, John Murray. A full-scale life and times really,
but in one volume. Interesting times. Murray had twice been Chief
Secretary and I thought it would be worth my while if I got to
understand the workings of the police force. So I set about tracing the
life o[ a typical policeman. By chance, I'd asked for a file at the
archives about a certain Constable Bramble whose name I'd picked at
random. Well, instead of getting his file I got another man's file -
some mistake - a fellow by the name of Brumbie. But as a mistake is
still random, I decided to use what I'd been sent. Brumbie turned out ro
be a rather untypical officer. An Ulsterman and graduate of Glasgow
University who joined the Victorian force in 1905. He'd been sent out
from England to keep an eye on Tom Mann, the British union leader who
set up a Socialist party here and led some of the biggest strikes
Australia has ever seen. There was one at Broken Hill ...'
Professor,' commands the knife-lady.
look towards the mascara man: 'l'm doing what you asked. Do you want me
to go on?'
course, professor. But try to recount only your recent researches and
not the whole book. We'll read that later.' He moves towards me as he
speaks and now stands behind my chair. None of the others show any
reaction and they obviously accept his leadership. If I can content him
I might yet be allowed to live. The knife-woman raps her hands on the
back of a chair so that I can see ringless fingers, roughly trimmcd
nails and thickening joints. My chances against her are non-existent.
on with it,' she drones.
the time Mann left Australia, Brumbie was married to a Ballarat girl and
promoted to Inspector. When war broke out in l9l4 he was attached to the
Governor-General's staff and helped his aide to run British military
intelligence in Australia. That was how he came to investigate Deakin's
death. As you know, Deakin left politics a wreck. His mind had gone. In
the last months he began raving. His remarks were lucid in one sense but
the oratory ran on ridiculous lines. He seemed obsessed with his
childhood and referred to himself as "Alice". After he died,
his son-in-law, Herbert Brookes, used his own intelligence network to
obtain copies of the coroner's report. That report contained nothing
unusual. But in Brumbie's file there's a penciled draft of another
report to Brookes which rules out assassination by the Sinn Fein while
acknowledging that Deakin had been poisoned.'
Brumbie's report give any reason for this extraordinary action?' The
question comes from the mascara man who has been waiting for a pause
rather than an opportunity to ask it; it is as if he is reading from a
television interviewer's clipboard.
keep him from raving. That was all.' I hear my own voice, high and fast.
it suggest in any way what Deakin was raving about?' This time his
question sounds almost spontaneous.
No. We know from La Nauze's biography what some of Deakin's obsessions
were and we can surmise that these preyed . . .'
suppositions,' my interrogator breaks in, more impatient than
uninterested. 'Just your facts please. As if your life depends on it: do
you know what Deakin raved about to so alarm the government that they
else in the room reacts to this question. The two silent men stand near
the door, the knife-lady by the window and the other woman is sitting at
the table where I had eaten. If the government murdered Deakin, what
hope is there for me? My right leg is shaking and I can't unclasp my
hands. My mind is having too many thoughts for my brain to form words
into an answer. My interrogator, and even the knife-lady, say nothing. I
know now what to say.
never said the government ordered his death. You're trying to trap me
into admitting things I know nothing about. That wasn't Bramble's
interjects the knife-woman. 'Brumbie. Not Bramble.'
it matter whose report it was. I’ve said nothing about any government.
I'm telling you what I read.'
the problem. What you read is our problem,' and the interrogator goes
and sits on the end of the bed where I had been drugged. 'Even before we
. . . we enticed you here we'd checked back on your research activities
and found Brumbie's draft. There was such a document. What we can't
decide is how soon you will join that draft in the past tense. You'll
appreciate that such a matter isn't treated locally and could take a
little while. We suggest a little more sleep.'
time it is the knife-woman who produces a syringe and my terror catches
the interrogator's eye.
be afraid. Charley won't hurt you.' I lie down and Charley stands over
my bed. From that angle she seems over six feet tall and the last thing
I remember after she gives me the injection is a hair growing out of her
wake up a second time to find only my interrogator in the room. He says
nothing as I dredge myself from the bed and try to walk towards the
table where he is sitting.
be all right after you've eaten,' he says as he stands up and moves
around to pull a chair out for me. 'A full stomach will dilute the
drug.' For some minutes I sit still, thinking about how I will cut up my
meal and how tiring it will be to lift it to my mouth and how exhausting
me,' volunteers my mascara-man and he holds a forked piece of
offer you some wine but that would fog your recovery.'
the first time I see my interrogator for what he is, a clerk, 54, 55
years old, but the worse for wear.
you have a name?' I venture.
draws in air, and dares a truth: 'My colleague call me Monte’. The
expression on his face shifts a fraction before freezing somewhere
between a wink and a smile. I can think only that I am going to live. I
know it. I know it. I keep saying that over in my mind. His intimacy is
my life sentence.
pours Maxwell House coffee from a thermos. Sitting opposite each other
saying nothing, he waits for me to finish eating.
sense that you sense that you are going to leave us happily.' He
hesitates and I wait for him to begin the explanation. 'There are
certain conditions, certain promises required.'
in no position to bargain. 'l stand up and walk to the armchair. The
food is helping to revive me but there are shudders of exhaustion.
no rush,' says my companion. 'lt's important that you're alert when I
explain the conditions. Neither of us would benefit from a
language avoids the cliches. He says 'now' and not 'this point in time'.
Yet it is no less bureaucratic in its choice of words, in its avoidance
of immediacy. He flirts with elaborate double negatives, 'Neither of us
would benefit from a misunderstanding'. Is he telling me that his life
would be in jeopardy or is he simply being polite about my murder?
tell you if I'm tired and don't follow.'
pushes out his tongue, running it along his top lip before smearing the
spittle on the bottom one by drawing them together back over his teeth.
proposition is simple. We'll tell you all the truth and if you promise
to publish all of it, or none of it, you will be able to go about your
work. But you may not select the bits you want. The credible bits. It's
publish all, or nothing, or be damned.'
fairer than most sources allow me.'
haven't heard all of the story yet. You might prefer to publish none of
it.' My interrogator is becoming my confidant. He pours himself a cup of
coffee, sugars it, and walks across to the window intending to raise the
blind but then not doing so. 'Deakin was a transvestite. That's what he
was raving about. That's why he was helped along. He wasn't alone. He
was part of an organisation.' My confidant pauses to stop himself
smirking. 'Australia is run by transvestites. Always has been. Well,
ever since federation.' He is no longer talking to me. What he is saying
is meant for me but his voice is aimed beyond this room, defiantly.
office of prime minister has always been in the organisation's gift. All
Australia's prime ministers have been transvestites. From Barton to
Fraser. All of them. Deakin endangered the secret. That's why. That's
why what you found out had to be done. And that's why you're here.' l
stop myself laughing by coughing and sneezing into a handkerchief but my
informant does not notice. He is too intent on his fantasy to
you part of the organisation? I noticed mascara the first morning.'
also serve. But in an attendant capacity. Waiting upon the prime
ministers.' He stands up straight, pushing his chest forward. 'We are
waiting for one now. They knew your trained mind wouldn't accept my
word. So one of the prime ministers is coming to tell you what I've
prepared the way for you to comprehend.' What can I say to him? He's
obviously more than a little unbalanced.
matter how friendly he feels towards me it's obvious that he is not
amenable to reason. Not that I am capable of rational argument either.
All I can think to say is that I am tired: 'l'd like to lie down again.
So that I'll be alert when your prime minister arrives.'
all means. I'm sorry if I've overtaxed you. One has so few
opportunities. The truth is not always ours to protect.' He draws in his
lips again, several times quickly, biting more than pursing them.
problem is already mine. To whom could I tell what is happening to me? I
could amuse dinner parties with an extravagantly fabulous and
embroidered version. No one will believe me or my story. It will be like
my account of Archbishop Gough's departure. Even people who know I am
telling the truth about his affair expect me to make it up as I go
door opens unannounced and there he is, out framing the doorway.
Unmistakable even in a tweed skirt, blouse, sensible shoes, make-up and
wig. 'We met in Adelaide on the 164th anniversary of the battle of
Austerlitz.' He moves towards me, takes my hand and squeezes it till I
wince. 'l'm looking forward to reading your biography. Biography is my
favourite form of fiction.'
is no mistaking him; no possibility of a double.
heard about my double life. Mv task is to convince vou. rOr make sure
that you aren't game to tell anyone else for fear of being made a fool.
The easiest way to do that is to take my clothes off.'
begins to undress and reveals a woman.
tell me I've surprised you? Did you expect a man? How old-fashioned you
gays really are. 'We have kept up with the times. Our group has
contained women since 1904 but we were never considered eligible for the
prime ministership. Fraser and I put an end to that prejudice. And, I
might say, encouraged us all to be a little daring. For as long as the
PMs were men they had confined their dressing-up for private gatherings.
Once our sisterhood secured control we demanded the right to appear in
public. That's why Fraser goes to Fancy Dress Balls in dinner suits.
People think he's being dull or cautious whereas she's laughing up her
is almost dressed again and I'm keeping my eyes lightly closed. 'Do you
agree?' 'To what?' I respond. 'To our conditions.' He is sitting in the
lounge chair, pointing at the coffee, knowing that Monte will interpret
his finger. 'Our condition is
don't follow. You want me to tell everyone that Australia is run by a
conspiracy of transvestites.'
The fullness of his breath turns the letters into syllables. 'We'd
rather you said nothing at all. But we've nothing to fear from the whole
truth. We always tell people the truth; all the truth and nothing but.
That's how we’ve confused you. We ourselves, of course, never function
on the truth. All our decisions are made on the basis of gossip and
cannot think of anything to say. He is the proof of what he is saying
but I cannot accept the evidence of my eyes.
you agree to our conditions?' he repeats. 'Or are you having some
difficulty is that I don't believe you. All my training, experience,
research has taught me to reject conspiracy theories. And now I'm
confronted by the most bizarre and impossible story I've ever heard. Or
seen. I simply can't accept that transvestites rule Australia.'
accept that politicians run the country.'
you are those politicians. You appear as one thing but you've been
crosses his legs, lets one shoe drop to the floor and wiggles his toes:
'We manage only the government side of things,' he confides. 'There's
more to running a country than that.'
what I mean. How do you get away with it? What about the power of the
press? The banks? The Jews! The Masons! Don't any of them have a say in
running the country?'
'l see that our black propaganda has been very effective. You rattle off all the old conspiracy theories. A man of your learning would recognise the name of Zaharof.'
so. And one of our English circle's finest creations. He took the blame
for the Great War.'
not trying to tell me there's an international gang of transvestites
running the whole world?'
is an international body but we don't run anything. It pains me to admit
it. I once had ambitions too. I found out that our function is purely
decorative. We are, so to speak, the costume jewelry of power. The
diamantes. Not diamonds, still less the crown itself. We dazzle. That's
sit up and press my thumb and middle finger against my temples, trying
to see the traps.
you frightened the press will expose you!'
do, and we’ve encouraged them. Particularly the cartoonists who have
always pictured us as women. Barton and Reid were two old washer-women;
Billy Hughes as a little elf; Menzies as Queen Victoria. The iconography
distracts attention from the substance. If it's been in a cartoon it
can't be true, can it? So the more exposure we get the safer we are. A
little truth, on the other hand, is a dangerous thing. So you must agree
to all or nothing.' He is standing over me lopsided on one shoeless
can't trust you to keep your word. It's not the Deakin business or the
transvestite thing. It's the boy. I saw Charley kill him. I'm a witness
to murder. Not just the discoverer of a murder that happened 60 years
waste your time being sentimental. The boy means nothing.'
why kill him? He'd done nothing. Knew nothing. Seen nothing. You
obviously knew his hair was my colour before I went bald. That's why you
picked him as bait. There was no need to kill him. I'm easily frightened
if that was your aim.'
frighten you, yes. But we didn't kill him. The knife had a retractable
blade. It was stage managed. He's alive.' The ex-prime minister waves
his hand in front of his face to wipe away the words: 'He's alive. It
was a trick. To frighten you.'
let me see him,' I repeat. 'l can promise nothing till I know he's
alive. I don't care what happens to him but if he's dead then so am I.'
man sorts through the files of his mind to find an answer: 'We could put
him on the seven o'clock news. Have him interviewed in the street.
You'll see him live on television.' His eyes stopped blinking.
will do.' l relax at the thought of seeing the real world again. The
television news will orientate my mind, let me know the date, let mc
relate to people and events. I'm out of touch. That's why I'm so
glad you've agreed.' The leader wrings my hand again, and walks out, one
shoe on, and the other in his hand.
lie down and consider the possibilities. Monte serves tea and leaves me
with a dozen magazines and newspapers. One of them has a report of an
accident involving me. I am in hospital and my condition is stable.
Monte returns with a portable television set.
couldn't manage the news so he's on a current affairs programme on one
of the commercial stations.'
programme is about toothpaste and advertising. A street reporter is
stopping people asking them to smile into the camera. The Titian-tinted
boy appears. He smiles a set of perfectly white but slightly uneven
you believe advertisements?' the reporter asks. 'They're the best things
on telly,' he laughs, and smiles at me.
turns off the set, and turns to me: 'An ambulance will take you home and
a nurse will stay with you for a day or two until you're fully
stand up, gently nodding agreement' but not moving.
'You're free to go.'
am about to say something like 'Thank you' when he opens the door and
adds: 'l'll see to it that your book is favourably reviewed.'
pass him and get to the end of the passage when he calls after me: ‘I
must caution you against spreading rumours.'