Definition of Shikhari – noun, plural shikaris.
- (in India) a person who hunts big game, especially a professional guide or hunter.
It’s not every day your niece gets stuck in purgatory, but on this particular Thursday afternoon a trip to an unknown place, between lives, to save her life didn’t exactly come up on my radar.
How could it? I’m selectively telepathic not a damn circus fortune teller.
Most women are mesmerised by store front windows due to the retail delights contained within, but in my case, the three ten foot tall shimmery bars reflected in the glass, pushed their energy out, demanded my attention but, I pushed them out of my mind, focussing instead on my niece Renee.
In my defence, until that point all visions involved people, usually dead although sometimes the living so the sparkling bars offered no reference point, seemingly random and weird.
Scheduled for a minor procedure the next day, I figured the time to discuss the unspoken issue Renee kept from me had come, or at least try and coax it out of her. Yeah, I know she’s nineteen now and entitled to her privacy, but its pretty hard to keep secrets when you share the inside of your mind with each other. She’d relegated a portion of her mind to a dark hidden cupboard, and only she knew its contents, which got me curious.
Plus maybe it would distract both of us from surgery the next day, a tonsillectomy so no biggie, but surgery all the same.
“When did you think you’d spill your guts then?” I said, a deliberate attempt to keep things light, which worked better with her, or had during her early teenage years anyway.
“I’m entitled to my privacy aren’t I? I’m not a little girl any more.” Renee said, flicking her hair back over her shoulder and pursing her lips deliberataely.
“Most people are yeah, but we’re not most people.”
“Okay you win that one, but it’s not something I want to talk about.” She concentrated on her shoes, a brand new pair of shiny black boots. I knew how much she loved them, reflected in the price she paid. We’d gone shopping for them together.
“That means its either sex, money or somewhere in between.” She rewarded my direct comment with a sly smile. “You can only keep it from me for so long you know, then you’ll run out of energy.”
She frowned, assuming her usual expression which meant I’m thinking, leave me the hell alone. Fat chance.
“it’s not exactly sex, but….I’m a bit confused.”
‘By what? Some guy at university? Get in line”
“It’s my bestie, Janie. I’ve known her since uni started but it feels like a lot longer.” Renee twirled a lock of hair behind her ear and chewed on he lip.
“I’m glad you’ve got a bestie, I wouldn’t want to through my teenage years again.”
She stopped walking abruptly, and turned toward me, taking a moment to come out from the veil of long dark shiny hair. “I think I’ve got feelings for her and its totally not normal. Is it?”
I laughed in relief. She hadn’t committed a crime or contemplated some elaborate eloping ritual. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh” Renee eyes had filled, and intensity shone from them. “It’s just if you’re thinking there’s a normal in the world to measure yourself against, you’ll be looking for a while.” I wrapped my arms around her, and hugged her gently, before letting to go to take another look at her. Tears had blossomed, spilling over the rims of her eyes. “Oh honey, there’s so many ways to judge someone. Kindness, ability to help, generosity, by the time I get down to what someone does with their private points, well I give up.”
She smiled through the waterworks. “Thanks, I guess.”
“Look, I understand where you’re coming from. Coming out as gay can mean life becomes more difficult than being straight, but I think you’re jumping the gun here. Being attracted to someone you’re close to can happen. How does Janie feel?”
“No idea. It’s the last thing I want to ask her about.” We began walking again, with my right arm around her shoulders.
“It’s okay, my advice for what its worth, is to play it by ear for now. You’re smart, it’ll work out in the end, I promise.”
“I hope so.” She said. “Can we not tell Mum yet? Until I’m sure?”
“Course we can” I said, although keeping a secret like that from my sister would hang between us like a water filled bubble. It could burst at any moment. It hadn’t exactly been smooth sailing between us but thankfully at the moment peace reigned supreme.“Besides” I said, thinking it over as I spoke “I’m no expert on relationships, me and Connor have been together more than four years and I still can’t pick a date.”
She laughed, a beautiful sound like a clear crystal bell. “Why the hell not? Most women would jump at the excuse for a wedding. Are you sure you’re actually female?”
“Yeah, last time I checked.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know I said, changing the rhythm of my steps to dodge a leaking fire hydrant, water gushing onto the footpath “Best guess is the idea of respectability. I’m not exactly known for my conservatism. Rebellion maybe, Connor reckons I’m a rebel without a clue. Charmer isn’t he?”
“He’s all right as far as old guys go.”
I swatted her playfully “Easy on the old” I said. “The pomp and ceremony doesn’t exactly thrill me either. All those eyes on me as I walk down the aisle doesn’t exactly thrill me.”
“So go to a registry office. Come on Gypsy, it’s a no brainer!”
Out of the mouths of babes. I filed it in the too hard basket for later, but forgot in the mad panic of the phone call from my sister Leah the next day.
“Gypsy, come now!” Leah’s voice wailed, a keening stricken sound that stripped the marrow off my bones. Oh god, Renee, No, please not Renee, I pleaded anything but that.
I ran to my car and started it up with hands shaking so hard I almost couldn’t get the damn key in the ignition. I made it into the hospital somehow, and sped to Leah’s side, and all walls collapsed as she clung on to me, a drowning woman hanging on to a life raft.
“Find her Gypsy, go get her, for god’s sake.”
In the flurry of my sister’s grief and nurses walking to and from her nieces bed to check on her vital signs what seemed like every few seconds, I’d almost forgotten about the warning I’d ignored. It was my fault, she should have known better. Don’t cry Gypsy, I warned myself, stay strong, they both need you. But it ended up like not opening Pandora’s box, the more I willed myself not to do it, the harder the waterfall of pent up grief, remorse, regret, a mish mash of emotion, and the shared memories. Not now, not like this, never like this.
The spectacles perched on the fat underneath the sweaty torturer’s eyes, so high that they gave him a gleefully psychotic appearance, a dictator about to emit a hysterical laugh at learning of some pain inflicted upon ex-detectives wanting to get back into the force, grasping at straws, or in this case, the straws of a regular pay packet.
As his sausage like fingers encased the door handle and it clicked closed sharply, the room closed in on me, and I gained some understanding of the thinking behind the desperate eyes of abandoned dogs at the pound, terror-stricken, pleading and hopeful of rescue.
The bone-coloured walls of the interview room, packed with stuffed filing cabinets and a desk jammed between them offered barely a glimmer of hope. The chair swayed, and I prayed it would hold my weight for at least the next few minutes until I could talk my way out of there. A chair falling apart mid job interview would be far too prophetic for my liking, after three years as a private investigator.
Could the interviewer smell the desperation, or did he smile smugly because he knew he’d never have to chase after criminals or attempt to get sense out of drug addled criminals?
As he waddled across to his desk, my attention followed his sweaty form, struggling to take a breath. Rubber necking at his humiliation, I knew I shouldn’t stare, but as every rubber necker knew, car crashes were a double edged sword and this man gave the impression of a car crash waiting to happen; etiquette and safety demanded drivers keep their eyes on the road, but the fascination of seeing carnage meant voyeurs slowed progress for everyone.
The man, who’d introduced himself as Will Mathers when he greeted me at reception, filled with the self importance that came from secure long term bureaucratic employment, reached the desk and squeezed into the narrow space between the desk and the office chair. The frayed leather belt cut into his waist, the fabric where he’d tucked his shirt in stretched to capacity.
Mr. Mathers leaned back in the chair. “What made you return to the force?” he said, shuffling through papers, probably looking for the interview script powers that be insisted he recite.
The front right corner of the interview desk had fallen apart so the disintegration showed, and small particles appeared to make a regular, if rather flaky appearance. When I’d entered and sat as instructed, I’d shaken the mans wet fish of a hand noticing the lack of strength in his passive damp fingers. My father Harry, a jaded cop himself, had always told my brother Dan and I we could test the character of a man by the type of handshake, and based on first impressions, the fish didn’t exactly swim upstream.
I glanced down at the card he’d handed me proudly, Senior Human Resource Officer for the Victorian Police department. William Matthers had been employed either for his bean counting ability or tendency to say “Yes Sir” as ordered, rather than agility or fitness. I wondered if he’d been moved to a desk job once the pounds piled on, a sad state of affairs capable of blunting any man’s once noble goals.
I’d delayed committing the words to air for far too long knew, and the tubster knew it. “I lost a lucrative contract with an insurance, plus my son in law Ryan Sheehan’s been well…encouraging me to come back into the folder for more than a year now. So when an opening came up at my old station…”
“Yes,I understand” he said, but how in hells name could he? Sounded like a ‘but’ perched on the tip of his tongue, and while I’m sure many would accuse me of cynicism, judging by the flicker of the corners of his mouth, I wondered if he enjoyed the power play. He fiddled with a silver pen. “As your brother in law told you, there is an opening within the branch you were a part of at Carlton, within the Homicide and major crimes unit, however due to budget restrictions, there won’t be any pay increments due for more than twelve months.”
I paused, stunned. The room stood still. The pen pusher stared back at me, a deer in the headlights. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of losing my cool. I stared out the window, thirteen floors up, an attempt to distract myself. Office dwellers, scurried across the scorched pavement, ant like in their mission to get whatever meangingful task office workers were given. Hopefully Will Mather’s wasn’t concealing a magnifying glass in his desk drawer.
“What about the media reporting the increases in funding for police? Don’t detectives with a decades service and exceptional close rate count for something?” I’d brushed aside my reasons for leaving the force originally, politics. “I take it you’ve read my record?”
“I have, your case close is unusually high.”
He couldn’t say what he thought, particularly as a Human Resources drone. Not unusual for a detective with an unfair advantage.
Did anyone say Sentinel?
See this pissed me off. The idea that occasionally seeing visions from the dead, and a unique ability to cut a spirit connection particularly as a protection mechanism; made me greater not lesser than other cops. After years of pushing my ability aside, and minimising my own strength and power, I’d had enough.
I sensed it, the unspoken accusation; a Sentinel doesn’t have to do the hard graft. What a load of bullshit. I only used it where appropriate and it didn’t mean I hadn’t worked my arse off to close cases, including walking into an undercover operation with a blown cover, stakeouts in rain sleet and frost, being spat, kicked, punched and sprayed with my own pepper spray.
You didn’t get promoted without hard work, and any winds of dissension were ignored. Better get used to it though if I were heading back to my old station, although hopefully I’d earned enough respect that snickers would be nipped in the bud pretty damn fast.
“You’re a tremendendous asset, but we just don’t have the funds to pay you what you may have been used to as an investigator” A pretty little lie. He’d been worded up, most likely the Chief of Police that had suspended me years ago, probably pissed it got overturned.
“Heard any talk about my record Mr. Mathers” I said, what the hell, I knew his creative abilities probably ran to failing to answer the question but I’d enjoy watching him squirm, even if only for a few seconds.
He wouldn’t look at me, suddenly fascinated by the pile of papers front and centre of his desk. “Of course not, all placements are based purely on merit.”
Yeah right. Was that a sneer that moved across the inverviewer’s sweaty upper lip?
“Some things stay the same” I muttered. My ventriloquist skills came in handy not just was a party trick.
Will Mathers sat forward to learn his forearms on the desk, pushing back his seat to allow room for his ample stomach, which pushed against the desk with alarming pressure. “Excuse me?”
“A touch of nostalgia, nothing more” I said rubbing my hands across my face. I had neither the time nor the energy to take him on. Let him roll around in his own little bubble.
“Alternatively, there is a place within the Academy, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that your knowledge would be put to good use there. You’d be contributing to the next generation of police men and women.”
And maybe Will Mathers could lead the next generation of administrators in eating donuts, one bite at a time.
“Thanks but I think I’d rather be part of operational duty” said Connor. Languishing behind a desk at the Academy, a slow decay would be torture.
“Do I have the job or not? What’s the process from here?” I tried not to look at my interviewer too long. I couldn’t shake the idea that he might explode, like something out of a monty python farce. I bit my lip.
“You’ll get an email in the next few days. As you might remember it can take some time for the administrative wheels to turn. You’ll need to be set up again in the system as a sworn member, a week or two perhaps.” He frowned, and picked up a pile of papers, tapping it against the the desk. His chair squeaked in protest as he pushed his bulk up from the seat and leaned across the desk for another limp handshake.
“We’ll be in touch very soon” he said and leaned his right hand on the top edge of the door.
“Okay thank you for your time” I said. His smugness, irked, but no need to be rude, the guy probably had no idea he rubbed me up the wrong way, just doing his job. Besides, I had a regular pay packet, which had been the aim, no matter how crap the pay. I walked through the maze of corridors back out to reception, where I nodded and smiled at the receptionist, waiting outside the lift doors, pushing the button to wait for what usually was an eternity for them to arrive. The police budget didn’t run to upgrades or maintenance to the lift either.
The text message had landed without a murmur, simply an unobtrusive almost apologetic ping,a clear bell, demanding my attention. I swiped the screen. As the lift doors slid open with a quiet swish, I thumbed the text.
“Renee won’t wake up. Bad. Please help.”
Usually I’d tell her to call for an ambulance, but considering Renee Gypsy’s nineteen year old niece lay on a hospital bed after a somewhat routine operation to have her tonsils removed, I wasn’t sure what I could do to help. Other than be by Gypsy’s side of course, which was exactly what I had planned.
Gypsy had told me a few days before that Renee would be at Pinewood Private Hospital. Leah, Renee’s sister had apparently got herself into a lather about it, worrying about her daughter, while Renee herself seemed fairly cool calm and collected about the whole thing.
Two grown women anxious to the point of hysteria, just what I needed. Just when I thought we’d put those days behind us, the days of lurching from one disaster to another. Some things never change.