The knock of someone unfamiliar.
“That’ll be the new lass.” Garth Gawler looked up from his newspaper. An older, compact man, a morose terrier of a man, he refused to be ruffled. Yet there was a faint crack in his voice.
“Of all nights to start new staff, of all nights…” Lana McGrath, a plumpish, henna-haired fifty year old, shuffled some papers for no reason, shaking her head. Exasperation was usual with Lana.
It was up to Simone, being the least senior, to respond to the knock.
“Come in! Just come on in!”
The door was opened meekly and a young woman entered, after a nervous lean-in. She was tall, even in flats, and wore a pointy-shouldered electric blue jacket over a lavender dress. Her hair – the year being 1989 – was big, with elaborate sweepbacks. She had one of those open, wholesome faces that imply life in a large and happy family.
“Hello, I’m Annette Hurley. I hope I’m not late for my first day. Or first night, I should say.”
“No, no. The rest of us are early today. You’re right on time.”
It was Simone who had eventually risen from her desk to make the greeting. She was about thirty, squat, and wore an outsize top over tight stirrup leggings. The lank hair and the long scarf she trailed were marks of a certain intellectual bent – at odds, perhaps, with her too-teen clothing.
“Hi, Annette, I’m Simone Nyfield, sort of a clerical person here. This is Garth Gawler, senior supervisor.”
“And this is Lana McGrath, Mr. Glossop’s admin assistant.”
“Hello, dear. Put your things down at your desk there. Get yourself organised, then we’ll chat.” Lana sounded friendly, but breathy, on edge.
Annette had nodded to each by turn, only saying “hi”, being uncertain about using first names. She located the empty desk. After arranging her things while the others remained silent – too silent – she moved hesitantly toward the one internal door.
“So, I suppose I should report to my new boss. This is Mr. Glossop’s office?”
Lana started forward in her chair. Garth reacted more promptly than he ever liked to do.
“Don’t go in there, young lady. Don’t disturb His Nibs now, whatever you do.”
“Oh, of course not. It’s just that they told me down at the main branch to introduce myself to Mr. Glossop when I arrived. Maybe…maybe someone else can tell me about the job?”
“The job? They didn’t tell you?”
“Well, they said it was a clerical and public relations position, all nights, five till one in the morning.”
“And that suits you? It’s a brutal thing, constant night work.”
“Oh, I don’t mind, Mr…”
“Call me Garth. Call her Lana. Call that one Simone. No titles around here. ALP country. So, you were saying you don’t you mind night work?”
“Well, my fiance, Scott, he works nights. We’ve bought a taxi, you see.”
“Keen, eh? That’s good. I worked a fruit barrow when I was your age. Did all right, too. I was keen. If you’re not keen – forget it!”
“Yes, Scotty, he’s…keen. Anyway, I’m not too sure on what I’m to do here.”
“Well, first thing is learning to pace yourself. Eight hours of night shift – you need to pace yourself.”
“Of course. But…it’s just that I don’t know my responsibilities yet.”
“You don’t? Why not?”
“It’s like I just explained. When I was approved and briefed down at Admin, they didn’t really tell me. They just said to show up here and introduce myself to the boss, to a Mr. Glossop.”
“That’d be right. Keeping everyone in the dark. That’s their form. Never mind, we’ll steer you along. But don’t disturb Superman…Donnie Glossop, I mean. He won’t want to be disturbed for a bit.”
“Oh, I noticed someone had written ‘Welcome to Krypton’ on the door outside. And you mentioned Superman…”
Lana cut in, shooting a cool glance at Garth.
“It’s just a silly joke between the men, Annette. Just call him Don when you meet him. Everyone’s first names around here.”
The new girl continued to stand awkwardly, waiting for more information. Finally, Simone ended the silence.
“Annette, we’re called Sydney South Community Operations, or SSCO I’m sure they told you that much. Put quite simply, we co-ordinate all public and civil functions after hours. That’s why we’ve got these phones, you see.”
“Oh. And what kind of functions, more exactly?”
“Anything. Anything at all. So, you see, it’s a very wide brief we have. And they don’t pick just anybody for these positions – not in recent years. You must be well thought of in personnel. I’m a degree student myself…”
“Oh, what do you study?”
“It’s called Semiotics. Fascinating. Pretty rarefied, though. Most people have never heard of it.”
Annette caught an exchange of sarcastic grins between the two older staff.
“It does sound…fascinating. So, when the phones ring, we…what exactly do we do?”
“Oh, answer them. We answer the the phones. Then we do appropriate response. Look, I might go and freshen up. The others – who seem so amused by something I’ve said – they can fill you in.”
Simone, suddenly flushed and with a sob in her voice, took an Asian style shoulder bag from her desk and headed out the door.
Annette was left bewildered, facing the two older staff, who now grinned more openly. Lana explained:
“Bit sensitive, our Simone. Complicated girl. She’ll be gone for a good half-hour.”
“Half an hour? In the bathroom?”
“Don’t ask what she does in there. Or what she takes. Sometimes she goes in with a red face and bloodshot eyes and comes out normal. Sometimes she goes in normal and comes out looking like she’s been crying the whole time. Really, who can tell?”
Garth added: “She’ll get in your ear about seniority soon. Got a bug about it, like a lot of the younger ones. Gets cranky when people who’ve been here thirty years aren’t busting to promote her because she’s got some qualification in something that’s as useful as tits on a bull. Excuse the French.”
“Or half a qualification, in Simone’s case. She’s not what you’d call a finisher. But I can see you’re not the type to get in a tizz over office policies and politics, Annette.”
“Yep, just pace yourself, young lady. Get that experience under your belt. You’ll go real good.”
Annette was still standing near the door, uncertain about returning to the desk where she still had nothing to do. Finally:
“So, should I just sit at the desk and wait for calls? Then make notes? Or…?”
“Suit yourself, for now. There may not be many calls tonight. Still, we’re ready. You know what they used to call us? The Black Watch. ‘People in South Sydney know there is a light burning somewhere in the night’. That’s how some journalist described us once. I’ve got the clipping somewhere. Bit of history.” Garth was fiddling with a discreetly folded form guide as he spoke, glancing at it, then peering above his specs at Annette.
“Well, I’ll sit down then. And wait. In case there’s a call. If you’re sure there’s nothing else.”
Lana decided to ease the faint tension. “What we should do is have a cuppa. I’ll put on the kettle. Normally we bring in our own stuff. Simone likes her weird herbal things. Garth likes to re-use tea-bags. Dries them out at home. He probably won’t want anything to drink till second supper. Of course, muggins here always ends up buying the milk and sugar for everyone else…Now, Annette, tea? Coffee?”
Just as the kettle began to sing, they heard a door slam in the corridor. There was a hiss through the old plumbing. Lana screwed her mouth into a knowing grin.
“Someone’s heard the kettle and knows the work’s all done. I swear that girl must think anything that even looks like a tea towel is a spider’s nest. No wonder she can’t keep a man longer than five minutes.”
The office door opened and Simone stepped in. She was sniffing, but was no longer flushed. Placing her bag back on the desk, she asked with weary sarcasm:
“I suppose they’ve filled you in on all the medieval history, Annette?…By the by, Lana, I’ve brought in some seaweed crackers, if you’d like to try some. They’re in the cupboard.”
“No thanks. No seaweed for me. If you bought normal bikkies, you might get takers. Or maybe you don’t want any takers.”
After more bustle and niggling, the three women were seated at their desks with their cups. At that point Garth rose, folded newspaper in hand, and walked to the door, with mincing strut and some flexing of shoulders. “I’ll leave you lot to it. Remember, don’t disturb the boss, for any reason. Any calls for him, just take a message and I’ll deal with it later.” Then he was gone, his deliberate little steps receding down the corridor.
Lana and Simone exchanged knowing giggles, then the older woman explained:
“He’s off to the pub. Not to drink, unless someone buys for him. He’s gone to place his bets. I don’t know how many years I’ve been forced to cover for him while he sits in that pub making tiny, tiny bets on favourites. For many of those years I was being paid a lot less than a man, don’t forget. You younger females don’t know what it was like before equal pay.”
“And what’s changed, Lana? Here we are, stuck with all the work and responsibility, and there he is, sitting in the pub. Annette, if South Sydney is the last outpost of chauvinism, this office is the citadel. You would not believe what these old men expect of us, while they do nothing. Much of the time they’re not even here.”
“But Mr. Glossop…the boss…he’s in his office now, isn’t he?”
“Oh, yes. Of course.”
“Absolutely. Absolutely, he’s in his office. In fact, we really should lower our voices.”
Time passed awkwardly. Lana pulled out knitting and occupied herself with that, while occasionally shuffling some papers. Simone drew a textbook from her bag, as well as folders and a notepad. She began to leaf distractedly through the book, wiggling her pen or rattling it between her teeth, staring ahead and only sometimes making notes. When Annette shifted impatiently in her seat, and gave little coughs, they ignored her, or smiled vaguely in her direction.
Annette’s unease became harder and harder to ignore. At last, Simone approached, holding out the textbook she had been reading.
“Since we’re quiet for the moment, you might want to read about Semiotics. It’s a very basic text, but it will give you the gist. Just while we’re quiet. Till the phones start ringing.”
Lana had interrupted her knitting a moment to roll her eyes at the word “Semiotics”. Nonetheless, paralysed by boredom, Annette began to browse through Introduction to Gender-Referential Semiotics. Meanwhile, Simone drew out a copy of Marie Claire and began reading it, with far more attention than she had given to the book. Lana cast jeering grins and winks in the direction of Annette at moments when Simone was too engrossed to notice.
And so more time passed.
Steps in the hall. The door swung open and Garth was back.
He went back to his desk, sat and unfolded his newspaper. Silence set in. Then Simone:
“It’s nearly supper time. Annette, we usually eat about now. I suppose you’ve brought sandwiches or something to eat? If not, the service station down the corner sells snacks. But come straight back. I’m not racist – quite the contrary – but the Eveleigh Street mob spill out of the pub around now.”
“You know…the Redfern lot. Aboriginals.”
“Oh. No, I don’t need to go out. I have a sandwich made up.”
“Great. Think I might use the bathroom before…”
“Uh-uh, Simone. Then we won’t be able to get in for half an hour. I’ve been stuck here on the job – again! – while the rest of you wander about. I’ll be using the loo first, then Annette can have a turn.”
Lana bustled out the door, as if some matter beyond it was urgent.
Simone and Garth sniggered.
“Got your stopwatch?”
“One and a half minutes, I’ll give her. Sorry, Annette, it just a little in-joke. When Lana leaves the office, she’s terrified we’ll talk about her, or undermine her, or discuss her weird marriage arrangements. Nice person, but a total neurotic. You’ll see, she be back in here in a flash…”
There was a thud and a hissing in the plumbing. Lana bustled back through the door.
“That was quick, Lana.”
“Quicker than some, Simone…Annette, you can go and freshen up before we eat, if you like. Just in the corridor. Second door on the right.”
For something to do, Annette left for the bathroom.
As soon as she was sure the new girl was out of earshot, Lana put her back dramatically against the door, as if to hold it against possible intruders.
“So. Not long to go.”
“No. Nearly time.”
“But can we trust the nephew? You organised it with him, Garth.”
Garth sat straighter in his chair and flexed his shoulders.
“I told him straight out. I’ve got mates in the Labor Party and I’ve got mates in the old South Sydney mob. When I told him I was mates with Bunny Sheedy…well, you should have seen his face. I once saw Bunny pick up a bloke with one hand and…”
Simone snipped him. “Christ! We’ve heard all that before, Garth. Mates, mates, mates. Blokes, blokes, blokes. We’re sick of hearing about how old Bunny Sheedy did things to people with one hand or by parking his gigantic bum on them. Actually, we’re generally sick of your small man’s compensatory behaviour. The only question is whether we can trust the nephew. Can we just stick to the present?”
“Compensat…What’s all that? More of your Semi-idiotics? Anyway, you seem better at reading magazines than books, far as I can see.”
Lana intervened, keeping her usually shrill voice low: “Don’t start, you two. Let’s just make sure tonight goes well. And when the new lass comes back, give her your magazine, Simone. I think she’s a bit…you know…”
“A bit bored? Is that the word you’re looking for? Maybe if you faced the truth about this place, and shut up about the wonderful job you all used to do back before Captain Cook arrived…”
“You know what this place is, after four years here. And don’t start taking shots at me, young lady, just because you can’t find yourself a decent feller – with all your university drivel and your tarty clothes.”
“You can certainly find a feller, Lana. All you have to do is put a second mortgage on your home so he can buy an excavator – and you’ve got yourself a new husband!”
“And I’m sure you had a good time discussing my marriage while I was out of the room…”
“Put a sock in it, the pair of you. Listen. The new lass is coming back. Not long to go. Soft hands! Straight bat! Got it?”
“I didn’t start this. She’s the one who loses the plot. Simone, you may as well go and hide in the bathroom and do whatever you do in there. We need you calm tonight. For this one night we need you calm!”
“I might just do that, to get some peace for a while. And, just so you all know, everything I take is on prescription. Moreover…”
“Quiet. She’s coming back. Just hold your nerve. We’re nearly home free.”
“Yes, back again.”
“That’s the way.”
Before another embarrassing silence could congeal, Simone rose and handed Annette her magazine.
“I’m off to the bathroom. You might want to read something lighter for a bit. Just while things are quiet.”
“Thank you, but I think I’d rather…maybe I could clean the office or something like that?”
“Oy!” Garth bristled. “You don’t clean anything here, except your teeth. There’s blokes responsible for cleaning these premises. I’ve got mates in that union.”
“I didn’t want to take anyone’s job. I just saw some dust, and some smearing on the windows.”
“Then you can put in a complaint about it. But I’d be careful complaining if I was you. That can cut two ways.”
“Oh, sure, of course.”
Simone left the office with sarcastic head shakes, Annette sat down tentatively, and began to read Marie Claire. For a long time, the only sounds were of Lana’s knitting needles and the occasional tap of a pencil as Garth puzzled over his form guide.
Simone finally returned sniffling from the bathroom, calmer, less flushed. Without comment, Lana rose and filled the electric kettle. It was time for supper at the SSCO.
Hours had passed and a second supper time had come round and gone.
The women sat cradling their cups as Garth dismantled a mandarin as if it were a carburetor, removing the tiniest fragments of pith, absorbed in the unending task.
Suddenly, there was a loud sob, as Annette plunged her face into her hands and then downward on to the desk. The others looked at her with just a little more surprise than seemed authentic – as if they knew they had been too lucky to this point. Lana made her way over to Annette and put an arm right round her hunched shoulder.
“You poor pet. First days are like that. New people, new things to learn and do.”
“But there’s nothing to do! Nothing! I’ve been sitting here for over six hours and no phone has rung, nothing has happened. How can I just sit like this.?”
“It’s a quiet night. We’re…what’s that word I’m looking for, Garth?”
“Monitors. We’re here to monitor. That’s the job description as far as the union is concerned.”
“Exactly. We’re monitoring. And if there’s nothing happening, that’s a good thing. The main thing is: we’re here.”
“But why was I hired? If three – or four – people don’t have anything to do, why did they hire a fifth?”
“Well, that’s not your concern. You’ve got a well-paid position, and that is your concern.”
Garth again: “Pace yourself. Learn to pace yourself and you’ll go good.”
“But there’s no pace, there’s no work, there’s nothing!”
By now, Annette was sobbing. The others shot glances at each other. Even Garth showed slight uncertainty, before he spoke in the halting drone he preferred:
“You seem like a good type, head screwed on. I’ll let you in on a couple of things. Normally junior staff aren’t told these sorts of things, but you seem like you’ve got a bit of common sense…”
Simone snarled: “Lose the patronising, Garth, and just tell her! Or I will.”
“Shoosh up,” put in Lana. “Go on Garth, now that you’ve started. She may as well know.”
“Right, well, I’ll assume you know what an amalgamation is.”
“Yes. Sort of.” Sniff.
“Well you probably know that the City of Sydney starts on this side of the road. This is not South Sydney any more. Happened because of an amalgamation of the councils before the last break-up of the councils. You following me? But the building we’re working out of – the Macmillan Centre – is private property, leased to South Sydney for next to nothing by the Macmillan estate – before the amalgamation before the last break-up. You following me? Macmillan was the millionaire who got his start selling rabbits in the streets around here, a century ago. He was a do-gooder type. You following me? He left all this money and property for do-gooding. But only for South Sydney. As long as we’re a cultural, recreational, or community interest centre, staffed to a certain level after normal hours, the building stays part of South Sydney’s administration, even though we’re now located in the City of Sydney. Old Macmillan really wanted the place to be a reading library and a live theatre for workers – Simone was recruited for that sort of stuff – but there’s no interest now and no dough to outfit it. You following me?”
“I…think so.” Annette was sniffling, but seemed calmer.
“Right. So we have to keep up staff levels. That’s where you come in.”
“But, if there’s nothing going on…no culture…no recreation…”
“Well, then, there’s community interest. We’re here in the community interest.”
“But what community interest, if we’re doing nothing?”
“We’re doing plenty. You don’t see what goes on. You’re not meant to see the gears when you’re driving a car. Take state and federal funding, for example. We lose this building and South Sydney gets smaller. There’ll be less funding. Then there’s jobs to think about. Close this place and all our jobs go, then cleaning and maintenance jobs, plus jobs down at the main branch. Three or four unions lose members.”
“But if we – I mean you and I, not some branch – if we have nothing to actually do…”
Simone broke in: “We should be doing more. Annette has a point. We do have staff and space that could be used for creative leisures, art installations…”
Lana cut her off savagely: “You’d lose interest after five minutes, my girl. We know your form. Plus, you’d faint if you had to face the public. How long did you last in that sandwich shop? And who do you think will pay for all the insurance and fittings and renovations? Use your loaf. These days, people around here have got televisions as wide as their rooms. What could they do here in the middle of the night to look at some pictures or bits of stuff stuck together called art? And what if the Eveleigh Street mob come wandering in here? With a gutfull of grog? Who’ll be hiding in the bathroom then?”
“Right. I won’t hold any more opinions! I’ll be a good little lass and say nothing till I’ve sat here another thirty years!”
“Shoosh up, Simone. You’re upsetting her.” Lana drew Annette up from her chair and toward the door.
“Come on. Off to the bathroom to clean up. Then we’ll have a cup of tea.”
“I don’t want another…”
“Go on, off you go. Tidy up that lovely Oirish face and then its cuppa time with Auntie Lana.”
When Annette had slumped out the door, Lana turned about and faced the others. A sulking Simone had her head plunged low over Introduction to Gender-Referential Semiotics. Lana kept her nervous, piping voice down:
“Why you two want to stir this lass up is beyond me. We’ve only got to keep her way from Superman for a little longer. Is that so hard? Garth, what’s the exact time?”
He replied after a suitably virile delay.
“Seven minutes to midnight.”
“Seven minutes. Seven. Think about that. In seven minutes, it’s all over…
“I have an idea. I’ll go into his office and talk to him, if you know what I mean. Then, after midnight, I’ll come out again. You two can keep the new lass busy. But don’t stir her up!”
Garth shrugged, his way of agreeing. Lana went into the internal office without knocking.
Some minutes later Annette appeared with a changed expression. She seemed not merely calm but severe. As she passed, Simone grabbed the fringe of her jacket.
“Love this material, Annette. Is it synthetic?”
“Oh, probably…” Annette turned toward Garth. “Can I see Mr. Glossop now? I’ve got to see him. I’ve made a decision about something…”
“No. Lana’s with him. He’s not feeling too good. He’s feeling real bad, in fact.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but it won’t take long…”
At that moment Lana came out of the office. Garth, though he disliked reacting quickly to anything, turned a little in his chair and asked.
“So, is he okay? The lass wants to see him about something, some decision or other.”
“Oh, no. He’s feeling crook. And cold. Cold all over, he says.”
But Annette had already advanced to the door and knocked loudly.
“I said no!”
Annette opened the door and walked in. The others were paralysed with indecision. Then Garth let a shrewd smile invade his normally deadpan features, and pointed at the clock on the wall, which indicated nine minutes past midnight. That clock was accurate, had always been accurate. Lana gestured at Simone to sit back and stay quiet. They waited. There were shuffling sounds from within. And then…
Annette was shrieking as she came running out.
“He’s dead. That man is dead. He’s lying there, across his desk, completely cold!”
“Really? He was all right a few minutes ago. I’d say less than five minutes ago. Definitely less than that. He was very cold, but…”
“See for yourselves!”
“Well, I must say, he was very cold…”
It had taken some time for the others to check and agree that Donnie Glossop, chief supervisor of South Sydney Community Operations, was indeed very cold and very dead.
Annette sat slumped and sobbing, the others gathered about her desk. Garth looked sly as he addressed Lana, just a bit too theatrically.
“So, he seemed all right to you just after midnight?”
“Was it after midnight I spoke with him? You’re right, it was definitely after midnight. He did seem very weak…and cold. Simone, did you say he was looking unwell lately?”
“Not the best, that’s for sure. And cold – cold all the time.”
Annette looked up and glared at all three. Beneath the tears, she was still stern.
“I don’t believe you people. He’s been dead for hours. Nobody gets that cold in minutes.”
“You’re not a doctor, Annette.”
“No, but I’m a qualified St. Johns volunteer – for Netball NSW – and I’m a lifesaver. That man’s been dead for hours, and you people know it. You think I didn’t notice that you were doing everything to keep me away from him? He’s been dead for hours. Why didn’t anyone report it? Don’t lie to me!”
The others looked at one another, then gave mutual nods. Lana nudged Simone, as being the best person to speak next.
“Annette, you seem like a compassionate person, so we’ve decided to share someone’s private information with you. We hope you’ll keep it confidential. I can assure you nobody has been harmed here, and nobody will be harmed. It’s the opposite, really…”
“Someone’s been dead for hours, you’ve known it and haven’t reported it. That’s probably a crime!”
“Listen to me. Superman…Don died at home this afternoon, just before he left for work. We think it might have been too much excitement over his birthday. So his heart or something just gave out.”
“Well, what on earth is his body doing here?”
“Don wasn’t married, lived alone in his flat in Maroubra. His only family was his nephew, sort of an unsavoury surfie type who lives nearby. The nephew came round to see him this afternoon around four, before Don left for work. It was to wish him a happy birthday for the next day, which is now today. When the nephew found him dead, he rang us first rather than anyone else. He rang to see if we could help him with…with a kind of technicality, a technicality which would mean everything to him and to Don. If Don was still alive, of course.”
“What technicality? The man was dead!”
Lana decided to speed up the explanations. “Annette, why do you think everybody called him Superman? Because of his muscles? You’ve seen what a scrawny little wisp of a bloke he was!”
“I don’t know what I was supposed to think. How can that matter?”
“How can it matter?” Lana looked at the others, who grinned knowingly, though with restraint, in view of the circumstances. “How does it matter, she asks?
“Superman is short for superannuation-man. Get it? Don Glossop was a man who lived and breathed superannuation. He was a mad saver to start with. When superannuation came in, he took one of the earliest plans and fattened it up for years and years. For decades. It was all he thought about. God! How he used to bore us about the ins and outs of super! He went on and on. Others started calling this place Krypton, after some timekeeper made a joke about it. That’s all the SSCO was for him: a place where Superman, Don Glossop, came to sit and think about the day he would turn sixty-five…
And, since the big hand turned to twelve, today is that day!”
Annette was now dry-eyed and gaping up at Lana, who continued:
“Can you imagine the size of his payout? And how much he would lose for dying eight hours too early? No, you can’t imagine that, because you can’t imagine the size of Superman’s payout. Nobody planned and plotted like him. He was like…like a superannuation tycoon. And that payout is reduced by an absolute fortune if any one of us opens our yaps. Does that seem just to you? You’re a compassionate type of a lass. You tell me.”
“You’ve done all this, out of some sort of…respect for his memory?”
“Well, yes. You could put it that way. He was an ordinary man. A sad little chappie, really. But through his super he was, well, almost great. He did just the one thing with his whole life, but did it better than anyone else. Never did a tap of work around here, of course. That was all left to muggins. But don’t you think he’s entitled to his full payout, after a life spent building and waiting for that single thing? It’s like one of those amazing domino stacks, where the last one can make the whole thing collapse. Do we really want that to happen to Superman? To his whole life? Today was his last domino. Can’t we lay it down for him? To honour him?”
Annette was shaking her head.
“How did the body get here?”
“Delivered by the nephew in a rug. That Maroubra mob, they don’t muck about. He used Don’s key and carted him up here in a rug, just before the rest of us arrived.”
“The nephew rang you?”
“Rang me,” Garth said, with quiet self-importance. ” I said right-oh. Gave it my okay.”
“And the nephew…he inherits everything?”
“I suppose. Ask a solicitor. I just wanted Superman to get what he’d spent forty years putting together. Seemed fair, like him or not. Bit of a twerp, but he was still an old South Sydney boy, a Rabbitoh, same as me.”
Annette was pensive for a moment. “No. It’s wrong. I won’t be a party to any of it. I’m not going to help cheat a superannuation fund for someone I don’t know! It’s wrong. And if anyone works out he’s been dead since yesterday, we can be guilty of fraud. No. It’s crazy. You shouldn’t be doing this. None of you should be involved in this. Unless…”
Annette examined their faces, the straining half-smiles.
“Unless the nephew is paying you all. Is that it? The nephew is paying you!”
“What business is that of yours, even if it’s true.”
Annette reached for the phone.
“What are you doing?”
“There’s a dead body in the adjacent office. I’m ringing the police. I’m going to tell them what I know about that body. I’m not here to commit fraud for people I don’t know. And since I’m the one who supposedly found the body, I’ll be asked about it.”
“You don’t have to tell anyone anything. You can say nothing, leave work right now, come back tomorrow, and there’ll be no corpse.”
“Wait. Give us one minute. Just one minute.”
At Lana’s beckoning, they all walked well away from Annette and began talking in whispers. The whispers were intense. Finally, they walked back. Garth took a pen and a piece of notepaper from her desk and quickly wrote something. He pushed the paper toward Annette.
“I’ve written a number on that piece of paper. It’s your share in what the nephew is going to pay us. And he’ll pay up, you can be sure of that. I’ve got mates – if you get me.”
Annette’s eyes widened at what she saw written on the paper.
“Still want to make that call?”
She stood and gathered her things. Soon she was heading toward the door.
“See you tomorrow, Annette.” Lana managed a crumbly smile.
“Good decision, Annette. It’s a win-win,” added Simone.
Even Garth was willing to force some cheer. “Hooroo. See you tomorrow.”
Annette’s reply was chill.
“You won’t see me. I won’t be here.”
“Keep Superman. Keep his corpse. Keep the money.”
Annette walked out. As she headed off down the hall, Lana put her head out the door and called after her:
“What’s the problem, Annette? Simone’s right. Everyone wins here. You’ll have a nice nest egg from Superman’s nephew. And you’ll be able to start thinking about your own super. What about that? Come back in tomorrow. I’ll show you how I’ve set up mine. Simone’s got her plan, different but good. Super is going to be the biggest game in the world in twenty years. And it’s for all of us…something we can all live and work for…Getting in now is like…like getting BHP, or even Ken Done, before they were big…”
Annette paused near the steps and only half-turned.
“Sorry. Stack all the dominoes you like. For as long as you like. I’m escaping Krypton…
“Someone else can be Supergirl.”