The ball landed two yards from the pin and Bill Morgan’s ball had just plopped on the outer edge of the green.
Breaking custom in his anxiousness to pot the ball, Harvey Thomas pulled out the flag and tossed it on the grass, lined up his golf shoes to a mental ruler’s edge, bent his knees a little, drew his putter a calculated distance back and nudged his ball into the hole. With immense satisfaction and a trifle of difficulty on the rising motion, he picked out his ball and walked to the edge of the green to see Morgan, huffing up the rise to the last hole.
‘C’mon you old slow coach. You’re right on the outer.’
Up and on the green, Morgan noticed the flag was down. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve gone and potted your ball without waiting for me. Where’s y’manners?’ he growled.
‘Well, go on, pot it for goodness sake.’ Thomas reckoned on Morgan taking a couple or three to get in the hole. It didn’t matter how many, because Harvey had the game won with a score of eighty-two and Morgan was on eighty-seven before he got to the last green.
Morgan took three to make the hole and grunted in annoyance as he picked his ball out. But then he remembered why he’d lined up this game with Thomas. He lifted his shoulders and gave a short laugh. ‘Well, it’s only a game. C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink Harvey.’
The pair walked to the clubhouse shouldering their bags, only just noticing what a fine day it was. The sky was that bluebag blue of early summer and the air was slightly warm in the nostrils. The sort of day you remembered as a kid when school holidays were almost there and you would spend a couple of months roaming the countryside, building tree houses in the bush, fishing in the river, spending time at the beach house on the nearby coast and no lessons or homework. The cheeriness of it reached both men.
Morgan ordered a whisky and soda for Harvey and a whisky and water for himself.
“Let’s sit over there near the window Harvey. Want to talk to you about something.’
‘If you’re trying to sell me some real estate investment, Morgan, forget it.’
‘No, no, no. Harvey.’ When Morgan said no three times, you knew he meant yes three times. At which point Harvey behaved like a fox watching out for a snake. Oh, he liked Bill Morgan well enough, but he was a real estate animal. The most successful in the town, dealt with all the big farms and pretty well had everything around the district in his hands.
‘Don’t know how you stand that fizzy stuff in your whisky,’ he went on. ‘Like mine with a dash of water. Like the taste of the stuff. Whisky I mean.’ He coughed and ahemed to announce, in a way, his intention of getting on to something serious. Or perhaps to not announce it, like bluffing around a hill or something.
‘Now Harvey, here you are retired and you’re still a young - relatively young - man. I mean sixty-five these days is young. People live longer. I reckon you’d have a good twenty years ahead of you.’
‘Well, my father’s eighty-seven and still going strong and his father - my grandfather - was pretty good at ninety-five when he went. So, yes, I suppose I could have it ahead of me. Mind’s still sharp as a tack.’ Tacks. Now that reminded Harvey that he planned to buy some of those tacks the hardware store advertised, at a price he couldn’t resist. Packets of a hundred tacks, say - hmm how many would he need to last a lifetime, assuming he lived until he was ninety. Allowing for the fact that some days you’d use more than one tack and on others you’d use no tacks. For ease of calculation, Harvey settled for a hundred tacks lasting three years, so three into say twenty-four years came out at eight packs. Then again, one might find a little task requiring forty tacks in one go, so to be on the safe side he’d buy twenty packs. He was just settling on this little transaction when Morgan’s voice broke into his mind.
‘Well what d’y say to that then eh?’ said Morgan.
‘Sorry, sorry, what was that you said?’
‘Not listening Thomas, not listening. I was just asking you what you and Gwen planned to do. Not going to see out your days in Pinewood are you? I mean, retired, kids long gone and living in Melbourne. Wouldn’t you like to be somewhere nearer them in the city?’
‘What are you getting at Bill? I can see you’re leading up to something.’ Harvey gave him a cunning glance and drained his Scotch and supposed he’d have to shout a round. Couldn’t very well get out of it, but rejoiced in the fact that Morgan bought the first and would buy the third, after which they would call it a day. Harvey was noted for his skill in avoiding shouts, to the extent of faking urgent phone calls requiring him to leave at once when his shout came up.
‘Another?’ he invited Morgan.
‘Look, let me do the honours today. Celebrate your retirement.’ At which Bill Morgan grabbed the glasses and made for the bar, calling for more of the same thanks Charlie, signed a chit, and came back with refills.
Harvey’s mind flooded with ideas of what Morgan was about. He was about something, no doubt about it. He crossed his legs and folded his arms in a form of defence. Impenetrable.
‘Now hear me out Harvey, hear me out.’ Morgan had a habit of saying words and phrases twice over, due no doubt to his years of auctioning houses ... ‘and for the last time going at .... going at ...’ ‘going, going, gone’.
‘You might not know this, but Ritchie left his girl a row of Edwardian villas a short walk from Toorak Village down in Melbourne. She’s gone and pulled them down and built four of the smartest looking, free-standing, single storey town houses you ever saw.’ He chopped his hands up and down marking off the town houses, one, two, three, four. Then lifted his auctioneer’s arm high and swept it back and forth in front of his face like a conductor calling the orchestra to a big finale.
‘She must be into her sixties. Why’d she do that when she could have rented the old ones out for a nice income without the trouble of putting up a huge sum developing.’ Harvey quickly calculated four times so much a week, that’s so much per year, but pulled himself in. ‘Yes she’d be sixty-four. She was in the class below me in primary.’
Morgan sensed, as the second whisky started taking effect, that he stood a chance of a sale. A little more bait and he’d hook him.
‘Well, thing is, Stella, that is Mrs Goodwin as she’s been for about forty years, though we all talk of her as Ritchie’s girl, well she’s made it a sort of alternative to a retirement village if you see what I mean.’
‘Not quite,’ said Harvey leaving back in his chair and unlocking arms and legs, warmed by the whisky that dulled his sense of danger.
‘She’s selling them only to people from Pinewood and only to people she thinks fit in, fit in, you see. And I must tell you, the town houses are remarkably good, open plan, latest modern kitchen, heating, cooling’ - Morgan could feel himself move into spin mode - ‘sunny back gardens with entertaining decks, under cover car spaces, and just a stroll, a stroll Harvey, from the most eclectic and famous little Village of Toorak.’ Morgan’s voice rounded and raised itself a little, enough to catch Charlie’s ear at the bar and have him stop rattling glasses like someone making a noise at the high point of a theatre performance.
‘And I reckon, Harvey, you and Gwen would just suit for one. I have instructions to offer the houses only, repeat only, to select persons of our little township. Which translates, Harvey dear boy, that I consider you select.’ Harvey noted that Morgan had used his, Harvey’s name, twice just now, and he was not losing sight of the fact that Morgan was usually inclined to refer to him as Thomas and often in a gruff way. Perhaps he’d better buy the next round and shore up his independence, but Morgan was on his feet and off to the bar with the glasses for a final round.
‘Now see here, Harvey, what about you and Gwen taking a drive down to take a look as these little gems. Never get anything like them again. Architects and developers don’t build like this, they put as much brick and mortar as they can get on land, boundary to boundary, trick them up with little paved courtyards that don’t get any sun and call them classical lifestyle some such. Won’t hurt to take a look anyway, will it?’
Harvey was feeling a little light in the head by now and couldn’t see why taking a look would commit him to anything, so he said, ‘I’ll ask Gwen. Might take a drive down Sunday ... not Sunday, too much traffic. Monday maybe.’
‘Good, good. Thought you would be in’erested.’ Morgan, job done, drained his glass. ‘Well, suppose we’d better get going then. Here, I’ve got a brochure of the places, just happen to have them in my pocket. You and Gwen have a good look. And call in for a key before you go so you can look through.’
As he strolled to his car, lifting his legs as though in a dream and not sure how far down the ground was, Harvey’s mind went back to the tacks. Maybe they didn’t have a hundred in each packet. In that case, he’d have to do his calculation all over.
He was an accountant by profession and by nature, and although he had built up a large and profitable practice in the district and handed the boring stuff to junior accountants, at heart he was still an accountant, ruled by numbers.
Harvey Thomas was a big man - a pip over six feet and very solid legs. ‘Legs like tree trunks’ his father used to say when he was only seven. These legs led up into a substantial backside to the extent of needing the aid of a personal tailor to allow for the disproportionate proportions.
His body was quite suitably solid to match the lower limbs, though you wouldn’t call him fat. Just on the large size and not pot-bellied. His arms were thick, hands large and square, suggesting farming ancestors. His head was in harmony with all other aspects, with a nice strong nose, even features and healthy thick brown-now-greying straight hair. He generally wore a kindly smile, although two deep lines between thick brows gave a hint of annoyance behind his thick horn rim glasses. His grey-brown moustache masked the modest over-bight where his slightly crossed front teeth rested on his lower lip.
Altogether surprising, though, were his shoulders, which, instead of ranging out like a large coat hanger, were small, and sloped sharply down, giving him the appearance of a friendly bear, an image enhanced by the way he walked, moving one entire side of his body forward, and then the other, without any sign of independent leg movement. When he shook your hand you could swear it was a bear grip. Harvey had a deep voice that came over as though it echoed off the sides of a vessel held close to the mouth. Which is not surprising, since as a boy he’d discovered, when making telephones with two jam tins attached with string, that they afforded depth and authority to the voice when spoken into. He’d spent many hours on the back steps at home talking into a large jam tin, until he found the tone he wanted.
Everyone in Pinewood was surprised when Harvey married Gwen Taylor just under five feet; and many were the jokes about how they managed in bed, what with her head around his belly button and so forth. They certainly made a funny pair at their wedding with Harvey bending so far down to kiss the bride he fair knocked the best man sideways with his backside.
But the town got used to them, as small towns do, walking around like one-and-a-half people. Harvey set them right though with his remark that he was giving one quarter over to her side of the books making them about average size. At first they walked around town holding hands, but Harvey found himself listing in order to reach Gwen’s hand, and her arm tired from holding it upwards, so they let go, Harvey gliding in his way and Gwen taking hurrying little steps to keep up.
At a Pinewood reception recently Mayor Gillford was talking to Harvey and at one point said, ‘Gwen not with you tonight Harvey? Not ill, I hope’, at which Gwen called upwards over the Mayor’s enormous stomach ‘I’m here Mayor’ and Gillford bent over like a rotating globe ‘Well bless me, so you are. And blooming too. You do look good in that green dress I must say.’ ‘It’s red. Thanks.’ Gillford was colour blind but made a habit of mentioning colours whenever the opportunity arrived.
Harvey and Gwen took that Monday trip to look over the townhouses and saw the sense in selling their big house and, as the saying goes, downsize; within a month they’d sold the Pinewood house and moved to Toorak.
One thing Harvey enjoyed about living in the townhouse was the supermarket, close enough to walk and carry home. He made these little journeys without Gwen, who disliked shopping because she could only reach the second shelf and he could never find her amongst the trolleys.
He grabbed a trolley and, whistling quietly through the gap between his crossed teeth and his lip - he had perfected this little musical device and employed it especially when he was ‘thinking things out’ - he made his way around the aisles with a sharp eye for signals like Discounted, Special Price and - particularly to his fancy - Four for the price of One, Buy one, get one free. At such enticements he would place his trolley against the shelving to allow himself free range and take four or five of the bargains, think again, and double up, so that by the time he’d been the rounds his trolley resembled more a supplier’s than a shopper’s.
‘Well, will you look at that,’ he whispered, feet astride, hand rubbing his chin and let out a couple of whistles. ‘Shopping trolleys for $9.95. My god, you couldn’t make the wheels for that. Last week they were $19.95 and I thought that was cheap. Should get one. Even two. Four would be just under forty dollars. I’ve seen the same at the hardware store for $69.’
Sense prevailed after he considered the perplexity of steering four trolleys, and in any case they were a bit womanish - old womanish. A puckish thought arose - he could pop Gwen in one and wheel her about.
Harvey hunched his shoulders and leaned forward, his jaw set, with the weight of four shopping bags. He had the appearance of someone who had found a treasure and was keen to get to his hideout as fast as possible as he pushed his gate open and lumbered to the door, his head dodging forward with each step. His mind was going over the bargains; twenty cans of tuna - quarter price, you wouldn’t believe it, such a bargain; ten pairs of rubber gloves at fifty cents each - normally two dollars a pair; nine packs of frozen peas - they were three for price of one and you could always do with frozen peas on hand thought Harvey, even accounting for the ten packs already in the freezer; ten packets of after-dinner mints - never get them cheaper and it didn’t matter that he had quite a decent stack in the cupboard, never knew when you might whip them out after dinner. Then today, there was this bacon - a stack six inches high for almost nothing - a sort of ‘pressed’ bacon it said, most likely from bacon bits, but taste the same, and he’d freeze that right away. Good thing he’d bought that second deep-freeze.
Goody was standing near the window taking in the sun and staring out on the garden.
‘Hey Goody, c’mon in here and look at this,’ Harvey called him into the kitchen and, with that pause before curtain up, threw open the doors of a tall cupboard. ‘Look at that.’
Goody gazed in wonder at the shelves of perfectly stacked cans like regiments of soldiers, tuna, sardines, diced tomatoes, baked beans, baby corn, lima beans, kidney beans, mixed beans, pineapple, sliced peaches, dark plums; jars of peanut butter, Vegemite, chutney, curry paste, pickled onions, gherkins; bottles of tomato sauce, vinegar, olive oil; packets of tea, soda biscuits, chocolate coated biscuits, potato chips.
‘Not just what you see at the front Goody, all the way to - they go right to the back of the cupboard.’ Then in feverish excitement he swung open the doors of the adjoining cupboard. ‘See, half full. Have to move the crockery from the lower shelves soon to make room for more.’
The top half of this cupboard was stacked with an assortment of chocolates and lollies. Pyramids of chocolate truffles with gold ribbons and bows, bars and bars of chocolates with edges matching like a stack of cards, boxes of mixed chocolates, after-dinner mints variously presented but knocked in order according to shape.
‘Expecting an invasion Harvey? Planning to open a shop?’
‘All bargains Goodwin. Bargains. Why I reckon on this lot costing no more than - well, I could work it out.’
‘But the stuff ‘ll get out of date before you use it surely. Bargains aren’t always good buys when you do it like that.’
‘No worries there m’boy. You should see the way Gwen can add variety to the basic. Once when a row of tuna chunks were out of - well out of date - you can’t take the dates stamped on ‘em as gospel - well out of date, we lived on tuna for a week. Tuna salad, tuna shepherd’s pie, curried tuna, tuna patties, baked tuna roll, tuna canapes, tuna dip. Wouldn’t know you were eating tuna, honest. Fantastic little imagination has Gwen when it comes to knocking up food,’
Harvey closed the doors and rubbed his hands in satisfaction. ‘I suppose you wouldn’t care for some salted peanuts with that drink. I’ve twenty-four packets of ‘em, so let’s open one.’ At which he reached right to the back of the cupboard so at not to disturb the soldier-like front row.
‘Oh, I forgot the pièce de resistance. Tuna in cream sauce with capers. Now that was classy of Gwen don’t y’reckon. Capers! Bought half a dozen jars on special, but to tell god’s truth wasn’t sure what they were beyond being a bargain too good to resist.’
He held his thumb and first finger to describe the minuteness of the caper. ‘Minutest little onion things, brown, size of a pea. But so tasty, only needs a few. Ever eaten ‘em Goody?’
‘Now and then. Bit sharp for my taste. Nice on a bit of smoked salmon - with an onion ring. Mmm. not bad that way.’ Goody munched on the peanuts and finding them on the soft side, tipped the remains of his handful into a small blue-glazed china dish on the side table the far side of his chair out of Harvey’s line of sight, shaking off the salt and rubbing his hand on the upholstered arm of his chair.
‘Must tell Gwen about the smoked salmon and capers. S’long as you can freeze the salmon, bound to be cheaper by the dozen so to speak, eh.. More peanuts Goodwin?’