Keeping My Hands Clean

( a short story)

Mods and Rockers specialised in Fifties and Sixties interior design furnishings. Modernist, plastic crap, smooth curve chairs with black ferrules on shiny spindly aluminium chair legs.

Baby boomers no doubt flocked in on Saturdays to pounce on green glass citrus juicers and exclaim rapturously over pointy nose tin openers with folded corkscrews while they sat giggling on pouffes.

The shop was a possible destination for the stolen diamonds I was tracking on behalf of a client; so I had been watching the place since early afternoon, hoping for a sign of the blonde woman who had stolen them.

At first, I had not paid much attention when the little man left the shop after locking up, just past 5 o’clock. Then he scuttled anxiously to the nearby bus stop, glancing around as if he expected pursuit. His puffy blue anorak and wilting pork pie hat didn’t quite suit him. He was short and chubby, not an athlete; a quintessential clerk.

My interest was drawn because he was not self-absorbed and inwardly projected like a routine commuter. Popping up from behind his newspaper shield to check the surrounds like a meerkat, peering through his pebble-lensed spectacles, he made me wonder why he was so apparently nervous.

When the bus came, I knew I must follow him. He did not notice me.

When he got off, I followed him surreptitiously to his flat.  As he opened the door I ran up and pushed him in, quickly closing the door behind me. He fell down and lay cowering on the floor like a stunned rabbit.

I said “Tell me everything”. This is what he told me:

His name was Hubert Philpott and he was the bookkeeper for Mods and Rockers, which was, he suspected, a money laundering operation for a local gangster, known as ‘The Tiger’. Up until today he had kept his nose to the books and never asked questions. Then that changed.

During the morning, the salesgirl Maria Fuentes reminded him he would need to shut up shop in the evening as she had the afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment. Just before lunch, a young woman appeared in the store and thrust a small package at him saying: “Make sure Bruno gets this – keep it safe until you see him” and left in a rush.

Bruno was the Tiger’s manager, a surly brute. He was away and would only return late on Friday.

Consumed by curiosity, Hubert opened the package and seen a fortune in sparklers. He knew then that he was in grave danger, so he hastily locked it in the safe.

As he said that he looked even more nervous, so I growled: “What aren’tyou telling me?”

He started blubbering and jabbering. Eventually, he scrabbled in his pocket and produced five of the largest gems. He swore he had not taken more. I believed him; not many people lied to me.

After a little prompting he told me about the security system and safe combination. He clearly perceived that playing dumb the next day was his best bet.

Leaving him, I made a call to a friend and we arranged to meet at the Savoy where, he told me, I would find the skilled operator I needed.


Strawberry jam is not as good with Camembert as raspberry but it will do,” said Larry, helping himself to another cracker. His canary yellow waistcoat and silk cravat underlined the exhibitionist bon-vivant persona he hid behind.

In fact Larry was a thief, an athletic cat burglar who scavenged through the richer suburbs of European cities. He had never been caught, but his flagrant lifestyle unsupported by any visible means of income had caught the eye of a friend of mine in Special Branch. They have been known to appreciate risk takers with unorthodox skills. Larry was on their tab, but they owed me a favour. I needed to get the diamonds back, but could not risk doing it myself.

I had sat down at his table at the Savoy, unannounced. His finely tuned eyebrow showed he had me ‘sussed’ but he greeted me politely enough. He must have surmised that I too had him‘sussed’.

I let him get to the point. “What can I do for you and you for me?”

“Missing sparklers,” I said. “Mine”.

“Not me – I haven’t seen much of that for some time,” he said.

“They are in a tiger’s cage and I want you to fetch them for me.”

A shadow flickered in his eyes and he shook his head. I pointed at the man leaning on the piano near the window. My friend from Special Branch

Larry looked at him then at me. Then we began to negotiate. He settled for five hundred quid.

He knew who the Tiger was and had a wise respect for him. I told him I had the alarm code and safe combination, so he wouldn’t need to ‘break’ to enter. He was to get the brown package out of the safe in the shop tonight; he was wise enough to know not to sample the product. Anything else was gravy for him. He was to leave the safe open, to deflect suspicion from Philpott.


We exchanged packages at breakfast. All the diamonds were there. I caught a plane from Gatwick to Dublin. Over a glass of champagne, I looked at my hands and smiled – they were remarkably clean.

I’d thought I might have to get them dirty.

Doing one’s duty

Lulu saw it first and when she showed interest I saw that it was a big bloody knife and pulled her away. It had probably been tossed from a passing car. It was a heavy duty butcher’s knife, with dried blood on the blade. Butchers look after their tools, so this one had probably been deliberately discarded. The blood suggested violence, so it should be reported to the police.

I dialled the emergency number, asked for police and said it was not an emergency and was transferred to another number, which rang for a while.

As it rang, I saw a black car with tinted windows approaching along the near side of the road perhaps looking for something on the side of the road. The police answered and I briefly explained. They said not to touch it and
to stay at the scene; someone would collect it immediately. The black car passed slowly and the passengers must have seen something as it turned and came back up the other side of the road, then turned again, stopping opposite me.

A large tattooed man got out. He was wearing a cap sideways on his head, a black vest and dark glasses; he looked agitated.

He asked what I was doing and I told him I was telling the police about the big knife on the ground. He said he would take it to the police and I said they were coming to fetch it. He was called from the car and had a quick conversation, then turned to me and jabbed forked fingers in my direction and then gestured at his face. I just looked at him. He then leapt into the car which sped away with wheels spinning and engine snarling. The rear number plate was obscured by mud; all I read was a P and a 3.

His gesture was clearly a threat to me to keep his identity a secret. It made me nervous, but also angry. I might be nearly seventy but I am not going to shrink from my civic duty.

The police were very interested in the identity of the people and the car. There had been a stabbing at the local hotel and it looked like the victim was going to die. They took me home to drop Lulu and then to the station where a detailed statement was taken. I was then showed pictures of people and tattoos, none of whom I recognised, but identified the car type from pictures. I would be called in to view film from security cameras later.

Sure enough a few days later I went in and viewed footage from the hotel cameras and was able to identify what looked like the car, which had a registration of PBY 243. The victim of the stabbing had died – the case was now a murder investigation.

A month later, I received a call to say there had been an arrest and asked to attend an identification parade at the Capalaba Police Station. There was a viewing room with a one way mirror. A number of men were paraded in batches of five, wearing vests in order to display tattoos, which all except two men had. I identified the big man who had spoken to me by his size, a distinctive rose tattoo on his shoulder and a black and white ear stud.

I was told that he was believed to have been involved in the stabbing and that he would also be charged for his attempted intimidation of me. He was known as Lani Diamond and was a known member of the Black Blokes criminal gang.

Months later a policeman knocked on the door and served a Court Subpoena on me to attend a murder trial at the Brisbane High Court. Lani Diamond had been jointly charged with two other men.

On the appointed day I reported to the Court and was directed to a waiting room. On my way there I saw the big man Lani Diamond coming in the main court entrance; he was quite smartly dressed. He was with four other men and when he saw me, he looked around. He then made the same two finger jabbing gesture at me and his own face. I stood my ground with my hands on my hips and stared back at him.

They moved off towards the Courtrooms and I, now a bit shaky, found my way to the waiting room. A barrister in a gown and bands approached me a few minutes later and reported that that my evidence may not be required as the murder charges against Lani had been dropped. The intimidation charge would be referred to a District Court. My report of the second attempt at intimidation pleased him as he said that there were cameras which would have recorded this and that the man would be re-arrested after the charges were withdrawn. He bustled off to arrange this.

An hour later a detective identified himself to me and we went off to an office where we viewed video footage of the court intimidation incident. He told me Lani had been re-arrested as he left the Court after his murder charge had been withdrawn. I gave a statement and was eventually released having been warned to be on my guard as the man would probably be bailed.

I can’t say that I was not somewhat apprehensive: gang revenge attacks were the stuff of movies and novels, but life must go on and we can’t submit to bullies.

The other two men charged with murder were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.

Nothing further happened about my case for months.

One Tuesday afternoon I received a call from a Police Superintendent who asked me to come the next day to the Police Headquarters in Brisbane in relation to Lani Diamond.

I was directed to a meeting room at the police offices. No-one else was there, but tea and biscuits were laid out.

The door opened behind me and I glanced over my shoulder, as someone said Aha!

It was Lani Diamond….

Such a strange surge of feeling, suddenly finding oneself trapped alone, face to face with a snake in the citadel of law and order!!

He stared at me and then grinned, which set my heart racing – this was it, I needed to face him down – he was a very big, mean looking man with that wolfish grin …

We stared at each other, each awaiting the other’s move. Just then a uniformed policeman entered and seeing what was happening grinned and said: Easy boys! There’s no problem, we’re all friends here…

Lani smiling came over and said Gidday and shook my hand.

I decided to sit down as my knees had got a bit shaky.

The superintendent explained: Lani was an undercover policeman who had penetrated the Black Blokes gang but had needed to prove himself as a gang member, so had threatened me and been arrested and charged. I had to be genuine witness so was not advised about him.

Based on his evidence, the gang was broken up with multiple charges being laid and drugs, guns and money recovered. It was a one of the biggest Police busts for years, still hush-hush, but they wanted to thank me for my little part which had secured the job.

Lani just did his duty, so I suppose, did I.

I feel good about it … now my heart has stopped thumping.