The Good, the Bad and the Fugly

Chapter 1

What I want to be when I grow up

 

 

My name is Anneliese Caulfield and I am 25 years old. I decided to be something different when I grew up after I was grown up already. I remember the moment like it was yesterday which perhaps isn’t surprising because it was only the day before yesterday. I was sitting at my desk in a parent teacher interview – I was the teacher and some Amazonian woman, tall intense and model-like sat in front of me as the parent. And she was miffed.

‘I came in to talk about my Sophie,’ she said flicking her hair back and her voice was a half-octave higher because she was angry and didn’t want to show it because she was trying to look Zen. ‘Yesterday you accused her of bullying!’

‘Well, I think accused is a harsh word…’ I said in the calm voice I adopt for morons and small children. ‘I certainly spoke to her about an issue on the playground when she and three of her friends cornered Kathleen and made her cry– ‘

‘Yes, but my point is that it couldn’t have been Sophie.’ Mrs Amazon’s voice rose another half-octave towards hysterical.

‘We don’t make a fuss of these incidents.’ My voice was smooth and camomile-tea-calm. ‘I spoke to the girls and we sorted it out. Everything is fine.’

‘But you don’t understand. It couldn’t have been Sophie,’ she blurted. ‘She is one of the truest souls I have ever met.’

‘Huh?’

‘It’s her aura; she’s a pure soul.’

‘I understand that you’re her mother and a mother doesn’t like to think her child is capable–’

She interrupted again. ‘No, you don’t understand! It’s not because I’m her mother. If I didn’t know Sophie and I walked past her on the street, her aura would be glowing! Sophie has a pure soul not just because she’s my daughter; it’s just pure.’ Sophie’s mother was almost breathless.

Sophie with her pure soul and shining aura still managed to call Kathleen fat, though.

At that moment, Sophie’s mother passed something across the desk in a brown paper bag. At first I thought it might have been bribe money but my next thought was that she had nothing to bribe me about. She raised her eyebrows and nodded towards the bag. I took it gingerly in case it might alternatively be one of my dog’s ears in a mafia-type threat.

Luckily, no dog’s ear. Instead, I drew out a little book, one of those miniature ones you get at gift shops. It was entitled Angels. I opened it; there were little pictures of angels on one page and an inspirational quote about what your guardian angel can do for you on the opposite page. If guardian angels are true, then why did mine let this idiot past my classroom door? Sophie’s mother tells me that I might find this book on angels helpful for my karma. Again, huh?

And it was at that moment that I realised that teaching had its limitations, which increasingly seemed to be that the children had parents – some of whom were completely insane. Every teacher has idiot-parent stories. Anyone capable of reproducing will end up on our doorsteps once their kid reaches school age. I think after three years in the classroom – or at the coalface as we like to say – I’ve seen most things and I reckon I’m pretty good at sorting out the sheep from the goats. It’s just that I think I’m in the middle of goat season. And the sheepdog of fate is nipping at their heels and herding them all towards my classroom.

 

The night of Sophie’s mother’s parent teacher interview, I went home and poured myself a Mudshake – or nectar of the gods as I like to call it. I’ve been drinking them since I was 20. I started off on bitch-fizz when I was 18, but now that I’m 25, I like something a little smoother. To be honest, I don’t like the taste of alcohol, but being a teacher, I want to drink. Mudshakes taste like chocolate milk which suits me just fine.

I live alone since I moved out of home last year. I have a little black Moodle called Humphrey and some ants that I haven’t named. They come and go across the bench and I didn’t think it was worth us getting too close since I’m considering a bottle of Ant-Rid in the very near future.

I always said that you could tell a lot about people from their houses, like Mum’s neighbour Mrs O’Donnell has everything in dull cream, and a black faux leather (vinyl) couch and it’s about as interesting as her personality which is not interesting at all. I only talk to her because she says funny things without meaning to like when her husband set up a pool table in their garage, she told me that she could hear his balls clacking from her kitchen window.

As I said, I used to think people’s homes reflected their personality – that is until I moved out. Now that I have my own flat, or apartment as I like to say, my mind has changed completely. It has off-white walls, a lounge room joined on to a kitchen, one bedroom and a bathroom that you can only get to through my bedroom which means that if Mum is coming over, I have to clean both. It’s wearing me out.

I have a bit of old furniture from when my nana died which smells like my grandpa, and an old TV from Dad’s garage. I’ve got one wall-hanging from my holiday last year in Thailand but it’s off-centre because the real estate agent said that I couldn’t put any hooks in the wall aside from what’s already there. So all in all, my apartment doesn’t reflect my personality which is way more colourful and interesting.

I like to pour my Mudshake into a wine glass and hold it in one hand as I prepare dinner. It makes me feel grown up. Heat for seven minutes… frozen dinner in the microwave. All grown up.

I hit my messages while I waited for the microwave. ‘Anneliese, this is your mother. I haven’t heard from you lately. Just ringing to see if you’re okay. And alive. Call me.’ I put Mum off for another night, another Mudshake. ‘Hi Liesy! Are we still on for Friday? Call me!’ That was Emma, my best friend. If she wasn’t my best friend, she’d be the neighbourhood scrubber, but she is, so she isn’t. When she’s your best friend, her indiscretions are funny and endearing. Not slutty.

I rang Emm back immediately. There was just enough time between now and John Edward at 8.30 to hear all about her latest conquest or break-up or maybe both. I love John Edward. He is such a spunk and he sees dead people which is so cool. I have always suspected that I have psychic talent if only I could set my mind to it, but I never have. My other favourite show is the Dog Whisperer. He is such a spunk and he can talk to dogs which is so cool. I once tried one of his methods of dog control on Humphrey, but he just looked at me out of the corner of his eyes and then wee-ed on the doona.

As Emm told me how she spite-rebound-bonked the bouncer at Lucky Joe’s where we go most weekends, I half-listened and half thought about getting a different career. What was I good at besides teaching? We teachers have heaps of skills – problem solving, good organisation, accurate record keeping, gentle persuasion, and manipulating people mostly less smart than ourselves. While Emm was describing the bouncer’s anatomical similarities to the guy who just dumped her, I came to the conclusion that I had the same skill-base as a standover girl for an SP bookmaker, if we even have those any more.

‘…and then he did this weird moaning thing…’ said Emm.

‘Huh?’ I said.

‘Are you listening?’

‘Sure… weird moaning noise. Go figure,’ I replied, reaching for the remote. The theme music for John Edward came on. ‘John Edward’s on,’ I interrupted her.

‘Omigod,’ said Emm, ‘I’ll call ya later.’ Emm was a fan too. Ever since her grandmother died last year, she has been waiting for a sign; or at least a sign telling her where Gran might have hidden her diamond ring before she left for the old people’s home in the sky.

 

I teach Grade 5, thirty all up. God bless them. They say being around kids all day keeps you young. I’m 25 but some days, I get so tired, I feel like I’m 27. Most of the other teachers here are way older than me. Some are like 45. I get along okay with them, but the age gap is more like an age canyon.

Old Mrs Baden from the classroom next door came into my room first thing this morning for a whinge. She’s like about 50.

‘Anneliese!’ she said in a voice that would have made my dog hide his face under my armpit, ‘Yesterday, your Jeremy took Sadie Fluke’s lunch money!’

‘Well, I’m sorry about that,’ I began from behind my desk, reaching automatically for a note-pad to write down Jeremy’s latest indiscretion. Sadie Fluke’s lunch money

Mrs Baden had her hands on her hips – never a good sign. ‘And.’

‘And?’

And. He changed one of the group names on my blackboard!’

‘Huh?’

Mrs Baden snorted and tilted her head towards her classroom. I followed her in to her room to see for myself what Jeremy had done this time. Last time he had drawn tiny male genitals all around one of the geography posters in her room showing the city of Rome and hidden them like Where’s Wally? He called it Where’s Willy?

Mrs Baden was really into groups – which she pronounced with the emphasis on the final ‘p’ so she could almost spit the word out. GrouPs. Children in her grade sat in grouPs and worked in grouPs and thought in grouPs. It was her only concession to modern teaching practices. I scanned my eyes down the group names on the left-hand side of her board. Underneath the name was the amount of points each group had been awarded that week. The Dingoes had 47 points, the Wallabies had 72, the Amazing Acrobats had 68 and way ahead of their rivals, the Far Canals had 94.

I immediately saw the problem and smiled. Mrs Baden wasn’t smiling. In fact, she was so mad that her breathing went faster; so mad she had tears in her eyes.

‘It’s been on the board for a week!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’ve been saying it for a week! They were called the Pelicans.’

I got an immediate mental picture of her saying things like: Far Canals, put away your textas, or Far Canals, I’m waiting! Mrs Baden looked like she wanted to shrink into the floor or retire. I gingerly patted her on the back and drew my hand away when I felt a fat-roll under her bra-strap. I’m only capable of so much sympathy and then the well dries up.

‘Maybe it was an accident…’

Mrs Baden spat, ‘It was no accident – it was Jeremy!’

It did look like something that Jeremy would do. Funny, he went to other places to work his evil. You have to give him points for his sense of humour but I thought it prudent not to say as much to Mrs Baden just in case her head exploded. I beat a hasty retreat back into my own classroom. It was nearly time to open the doors to the children.

 

Jeremy stood in front of my desk with his angel face. His blonde hair hung in messy tufts and he had the naughty-boy’s smattering of freckles over his nose and cheeks. Blue eyes the colour of the ocean topped things off.

‘Jeremy, did you change the Pelicans in Mrs Baden’s class to the Far…er Canals?’

To his credit, Jeremy didn’t flinch. Little sociopath that he was.

‘No, Miss Caulfield. I don’t know what you’re talking about and if I did know what you were talking about, it wouldn’t have been me because I would never do something like that.’ Blue eyes wide and almost innocent.

Lucky for me, kids in Grade 5 are kind of transparent. Pity the police officer in about fifteen years time when Jeremy perfected his craft. I’m a big fan of true crime and I have hundreds of books at home. When serial killer Ted Bundy was in prison, some journalists visited him to ask about unsolved murders they suspected he committed. Bundy clammed up until they hit upon a method of questioning him that worked. They asked him to imagine theoretically how the killer might have thought and why he did what he did. When Bundy was talking about a third person, he sung like a canary. I use the same method on Jeremy.

‘I believe you, Jeremy,’ I said in my most sincere voice – he wasn’t the only one who could act. ‘I personally didn’t believe Mrs Baden for a minute. You would never do something as silly as that; you’re much too clever. But,’ and here, I looked to the side and lightly touched my fingertips to my chin, ‘I wonder why someone did such a thing…’ Then I stopped as if I didn’t expect him to answer.

On cue, Jeremy blurted out, ‘I reckon the person who did it might have wanted it to sound like Mrs Baden was saying rude words when she was calling out the groups.’ Freckled face sincere with helpfulness.

‘Wow, I think you might be right!’ I said as if we were both in this together. ‘And maybe the person snuck in there at recess and changed the name…’

‘Or lunchtime,’ Jeremy offered helpfully.

‘And maybe they didn’t mean to be mean…’

‘Yes,’ said Jeremy, ‘maybe they just wanted to make people laugh.’

‘Mrs Baden’s not laughing.’ I made my eyes go sad. Sad for Mrs Baden and her not laughing.

‘Maybe I should offer to go in there and clean it off the board!’ Jeremy said, all boy scout and earnest. ‘That might make her feel better.’ Jeremy’s version of an apology. I nodded and he skipped off to work his magic with a blackboard duster.

Just as he was leaving the room, I called out, ‘And Sadie Fluke’s lunch money…?’

‘I never saw it, Miss Caulfield,’ he called back. ‘But if it was $3.20, I found $3.20 on the floor of the locker room. That might be hers. I’ll give it back now.’

‘Thanks!’ I called after him, ‘What would I do without you?’

‘I don’t know, Miss Caulfield. I guess you’re just really lucky to have me!’

Cases closed.

 

By lunchtime, I had not only cleared up the case of the Far Canals and Sadie Fluke’s missing lunch money, but I’d also solved the mystery of the missing Smiggle highlighters, and got a confession out of Ciara Mullen for the anonymous note saying Georgia Sackett was a poop-head.

Now I was on yard duty sorting out who-started-it between a rotund Grade 4 boy who allegedly barrelled into a kiddie with Asperger’s Syndrome who had repaid him with a blow to the side of the head. We were up to the now-both-say-sorry-and-shake-hands part when it dawned on me what my new career could be.

I was a pretty good detective. At least, I thought I would be. I’ve never met a kid who could pull one over on me. How hard could being a detective be? Before I could ponder any more, I was interrupted by a Prep boy dobbing on another Prep boy for saying the rude-f-word.

‘What did he say? I asked, thinking that unless Jeremy had been giving the Preps lessons, they shouldn’t even know the rude-f-word.

‘He said shut-up,’ answered the child.

Dobbing is problematic when you don’t know your sounds yet.

 

The first thing I did when I got home that night was to Google private detectives and how to be one. Well, actually, it was the second thing after pouring a Mudshake. There was a promising website for the World-Wide School of Investigation run by a man called Ed Habdecker. He even had a picture of a badge that looked like a police badge, but it wasn’t. There was a glowing testimonial from a campus security guard called Miram Finkelstein who said he was so impressed with the online course offered by the World-Wide School of Investigation and his being impressed started when he called the detective hotline and Ed Habdecker himself answered the phone. Apparently when Ed answered the phone, he told Miram he really, really cared about his students.

‘Since taking the course there is not too much that happens on my campus that I can’t get to the bottom of, thanks to World-Wide and Ed,’ Miram wrote glowingly.

I downloaded Ed’s helpful e-book on how to be a private detective. I might not even have to take the $475 online detective course. I figured with all my true-crime reading and my classroom experience that I was one step ahead anyway.

I allowed my heart to fill with hope – most of it was hoping that Ed Habdecker answered his own phone was because he really cared about his students and not because he couldn’t afford a secretary.

Just as I was reading that my first step was to go through the door of opportunity now open to me through Ed Habdecker’s course, the phone rang. It was Emm. I was almost breathless in my excitement to tell her about my new idea.

‘Like why would you want to be a private detective?’ she said in a tone that she normally reserved for when she was criticising my choice of clothes.

‘Um,’ I said, considering her question and trying to find reasons that didn’t sound dumb. ‘Because I think I’d be really good at it…and maybe one day I might not want to be a teacher any more…and…and I think my mother would freak if she found out…’ Sometimes things that seem logical and exciting in your head don’t sound like that when you say them.

‘The idea sounds kind of weird,’ said Emm like she had never enrolled us both in belly dancing lessons because she thought we’d be good at it.

‘Hey, no weirder than belly dancing!’ I let a bit of annoyance creep into my voice. I had always supported her in all her bizarre ideas and gone along with her for most of them. I had drawn the line at sky diving, though I did bungy jump from a really high bridge, enter a skulling competition at Lucky Joe’s which I don’t remember, and just last week we both adopted a gorilla at the Melbourne Zoo.

‘Okay, but what would you investigate?’ she said in a conciliatory tone.

‘Um, I haven’t thought of it. Maybe I could put an ad in the local paper…’ Funny, I had been so busy thinking about being a private detective, that I never gave a single thought to the kinds of case I would like to work on.

‘So would you like have a gun and stuff?’ she asked.

‘I don’t think so. I don’t think I would be comfortable shooting people. I’m a pacifist.’

‘I’m Episcopalian,’ said Emm.