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He relaxed back into his chair. That was me, always putting people at ease. He must have a bladder of cast iron, since he never pees during surveillance — in fact, he never hangs a leak ever, despite sinking copious quantities of Coopers Pale. And the chicks Girls don't do that.

But that had been different. I'd known him for at least twenty-four hours, we'd been shot at, I'd been drunk Nick laughed, clapped his hands and sat back, looking satisfied. Curtis was right.

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He'd got me fired from my last job, knocked up my best friend and was writing a book about a case I'd been involved in. He was a pest. We were just having lunch at the Stokehouse with our mutual publisher and a couple of other writers from Wet Ink Press. I'd like to spend a bit of time with you, maybe tag along on a couple of jobs, really get an understanding of what it's like, being a woman and a private detective.

Look, I'm happy to answer a few questions but I don't want any more publicity and I usually work on my own. I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere, see how you go about things. It's the little details that add veracity. Like the whiskey bottle. I wouldn't have expected that from a female PI.

Along with the chrome desk fan. Cheeky bastard. I'd gone into the red to get myself started and the paying jobs were only just starting to dribble in.

I wasted a lot of time talking to window shoppers and freaks who'd seen me in the paper, knew I'd worked as a stripper and wanted to gawk or, worse, ask me on a date. I had debts coming out my arse and the combined rent on my office and one-bedroom flat in Elwood was nearly five hundred bucks a week. I'm pretty flush after the TV adaptation. I'll pay your going rate just to be able to ride around with you. Say, a couple of days, sixteen hours or so? You'll be doubling your money for the same amount of work.

What is your hourly rate? I briefly considered lying, but it was advertised on my website and in my newspaper ads.

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I shrugged. He was right, but being a relatively inexperienced one-woman operation who'd gotten herself very publicly in trouble more than once, it was the only way I could get work. It was my unique point of difference, to use small-business parlance. Nick showed up at six the next morning looking relatively chipper and I wondered if he'd quit drinking and crashed out early, or woken up and consumed a heart-starter. The job, though boring, was a great success.

Tooling around in my work car, an innocuous nineties-model white Ford Laser, we tracked the target from his home in East St Kilda to a lumberyard in Moorabbin and eventually to a house site in Carrum where I got plenty of photos and video of him lugging timber, bending, stretching and even clambering about on a roof with the agility of a spider monkey. He knocked off at three, drove to an industrial area in Cheltenham and parked around the back of what looked like an old factory. We stayed on the street. I've got more than enough here to keep the insurers happy.

Want to knock off and go to the pub? The Balaclava Hotel sat half a block down from my office and was one of the last watering holes left in the area that actually looked like a pub. The place was the size of a large lounge room, crammed with chipped tables and covered with well-worn carpet patterned in hieroglyphs of orange, brown and green. The bar in the back left-hand corner was just a metre and a half across and completely devoid of mirrors or fancy downlights.

The only adornments on the beige walls were an old footy tipping chart and two posters, one for Fosters and the other advertising Carlton Draught. Half the patrons were over sixty and wheeling vinyl shopping trolleys. The other half sported faded tattoos on their arms, necks and, in one case, shaven scalp.

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The Balaclava was my kind of place. Unpretentious, with cheap booze, and the regulars were friendly, regardless of the rough-looking tatts. Nick mustn't have minded it either because despite his flash clothes, which got a few looks from the locals, he seemed quite at home as he sauntered off to the bar. I grabbed a seat at the window facing Carlisle Street, watching trams, traffic and pedestrians go by.

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Balaclava had been sprucing itself up, but still wasn't as trendy as nearby St Kilda and Elwood. Old ladies trundled past, dodgy dudes in shiny tracksuits, mums with prams and the occasional hipster who hadn't been able to afford the soaring real estate prices over on the leafier, prettier side of Brighton Road. The shopping strip was dotted with discount stores, delis and bagel shops, and orthodox Jews strolled by in full regalia. The suburb had character, and if I tried really hard and squinted I could almost imagine I was living in some borough of New York.

Nick returned with a pot of Coopers for himself, champagne for me, and a whiskey for both of us. What with the warm day and the cheap champagne it wasn't long before a fuzzy, pleasant sensation washed over me, and it took a second or two to distinguish the unfamiliar feeling as contentment. Winter had been harsh, and not just because of the temperature. Summer was going to be different. Sean would be back, work would trickle in and life would be calm and cruisy for once.

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I clinked my glass against Nick's and grinned. Nick just shuddered and I couldn't really blame him. It was no sexy, low-slung velour number but a cheap grey fleece that ballooned out in the middle and came in tight around the wrists and ankles. The set had cost twenty bucks at a discount store and made me look like a pregnant rhinoceros.

I'd teamed it with no makeup and my hair tucked into a cap. Not even a builder was gonna look twice. Soon as we'd got back to the office I'd ripped the vile thing off, changed into jeans and a Willie Nelson t-shirt and slapped on a little powder, mascara and lip-gloss. We use cookies to give you the best possible experience.

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