Operation Camilla

By: Tabitha Ormiston-Smith


For several days, no one in Yarrangong talked about anything else. At the Commercial Club, where Blackman went every day for his lunch, his cronies discussed it endlessly. The consensus was that Polk and Mills had had it coming and that they deserved what they got. The men’s disapproval was not so much of the immorality of their conduct as of their stupidity in getting caught. At the barber’s, when he went for his haircut, everyone was talking about it. The conversation there centred around sympathy for the betrayed wives, and speculation about whether divorces would be in the offing. Blackman listened and said nothing, for Janet Polk had already engaged him, and Shirley Mills had made an appointment for the following Monday. When asked for his opinion, he contented himself with tutting and shaking his head sadly. “A dreadful business,” he said, chortling inwardly. This seemed to satisfy everyone, each hearer of the stock remark reading into it agreement with his own position.

***

Tammy, by this time sunk in misery, read the news as she sat in her kitchen, hunched over her morning coffee. She broke down in sobs as she read. Having already had her own life overturned by adultery, she was the ultimate sympathetic audience. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she squinted to make out the increasingly blurry newsprint. At least, she thought, when she’d caught Neville, pants round his ankles, communing with her best friend over the kitchen table, it hadn’t been public knowledge. Tom, sitting on the table, stared worriedly, and after a while, stalked over and interposed his body, trampling down the shaking paper and standing on it, turning round and round, rubbing his face on hers, headbutting her with his loud, rumbling purr.

When Ben rang up that night, all happy because he was coming home in two days’ time, she almost started crying again as she told him about the story. Ben couldn’t understand why she was so upset. “But you don’t even know them,” he kept saying. She hadn’t told him anything about the dark thoughts swirling in her mind. It wasn’t a subject for the telephone. Serious subjects had to be discussed over the kitchen table, with tea. She started to sniffle again as she imagined talking about this with Ben in that situation. Their kitchen table had always been such a warm and happy place.

On Thursday she got up early, and worked frantically to get the last of the trim painted, so the paint smell could air out before Ben got home on Friday night. He had booked a late flight rather than staying the extra night, although he’d raved about how much he was enjoying the luxury accommodation. The hotel had a big swimming pool and a gym. There was a sauna and a spa, and twenty-four channels on the television. Ben, who had grown up in a poor family, and was a country boy through and through, revelled in it all. He’d been having saunas early every morning, steaming out the effects of drinking in the bar with the other police on the course. The course itself, according to Ben, had been deeply technical, and almost impossible to understand. “I can’t see the point of it,” he had said. “You don’t get computer crime in the country. It’s a city thing.”

***

On Monday, the next story hit the stands. Two more local men and one woman were outed as clients of the agency.

Blackman, in his office, fumed and ground his teeth. He had put the pages up on the website at two hour intervals on Friday afternoon, and had been hoping it would make the big Saturday issue of the Yarrangong Times. The circulation of the Saturday paper was more than double that of the weekday editions. Still, he supposed it didn’t matter in the long run. The woman, although single, was a teacher at one of the high schools, and had described herself as ‘a connoisseur of a tight butt’. She had already left three messages on the voicemail when Shelley checked it on Monday morning.

Blackman, reading the paper, was in too good a mood to do more than shout cursorily at Shelley for not writing the messages more neatly. He sent her off to the shops to find something to remove the smell of cat piss from his front door, and settled down to enjoy the story, which this time had rated a double page spread, plus the editorial. He had to turn the pages with extreme care, as the paper was once again damp, and smelled rather strongly of what he suspected might be dog piss. In addition, the outer pages were scored through by what looked like claw marks. The dog and cat repelling crystals he had bought to scatter along the edges of his property did not seem to work at all.