>NEVER A FRONTWARD STEP, PART FOURTEEN

>“Nice night for it,” I said out into the air, hoping secretly my words might be carried away by the wind.

“Typical,” said Yvette’s voice from the end of the pier. “The one night I dress up, and here’s everyone dressing down.”

I looked down at my T-shirt and boardshorts: my Brisbane summer specials. “I don’t always wear a suit,” I said.

“Struck me,” said Yvette, “that you’re the type of person who always wears a suit.”

“Only since I was nine,” I said, “Unless sailor suits count, in which case since eighteen months.”

Yvette laughed. I squeezed my eyes. It seemed I had become a wielder of punchlines.

“So why no tuxedo tonight?” she asked.
“I didn’t have to go out to dinner with people who liked them.”

Yvette turned around. Her eyes hit me between mine, the quick cobra-strike of intensity. “It was him up on the hill,” she said, “that you were having dinner with.”

I peered back instinctively over my shoulder, looking up at the businessman’s awfully gaudy home. “Yes,” I said. “I was having dinner with him.”

“Friend of yours?”

“Not really.”

“So why where you there?”

“Call it professional courtesy.”

“And what profession is that?”

I sighed, and sat down next to her. “If you really want to know,” I said, “you’ve got far too much time on your hands.”

“Don’t know about having too much of that,” said Yvette, “but I’m curious to know, anyway. Call it professional courtesy.”

I smiled. This was what I needed to hear, more than anything else in the world. After a deep breath, I said, cautiously, “I suppose you could say I fix things.”

Yvette looked at me quizzically. “Fixing in a home handyman sort of way, or in a Godfather sort of way?”

“Okay, scratch the fixing. I’m an investigator, really.”

“An investigator. Like a detective?”

“Yes. You could say that.”

“And what are you investigating at the moment?”

I looked out over the river, where some sort of light was travelling through the darkness. A ghostly, unattached light, the prow of a boat or an unmoored buoy. I weighed up words in my head. They were all too heavy. “Yvette, I just hope you understand I do what I do as a job, and it doesn’t reflect any great personal values on my behalf. I just happen to be very good at it.”

Yvette picked up a length of tangled fishing line from her lap and began to pick at it with her fingers. “I don’t get the preoccupation with occupations,” she said. “The way we give so much weight to what people do, as if this is the only way of working out what sort of person they are. So don’t think I’m going to judge you, Julian, for whatever it is you do to earn a living.”

“I often end up hurting people, in order to get what my employers want.”

“You kill people.”

I swallowed hard. My throat felt like a razor-wire fence. “Yes,” I said.

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