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The Diggers Rest Hotel : A Charlie Berlin mystery - Geoffrey McGeachin

The Diggers Rest Hotel

A Charlie Berlin mystery

eBook Published: 31st May 2010
ISBN: 9781742530680
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Two years after witnessing the murder of a young Jewish woman in Poland, Charlie Berlin, ex-bomber pilot and former POW, has rejoined the police force a different man. While he is investigating a spate of robberies in rural victoria the body of a young girl is discovered and Berlin's pursuit of her killer reveals that the war has changed even the most ordinary of people and places.

About the Author

Melbourne-born Geoffrey McGeachin has spent much of his life shooting pictures for advertising, travel, theatre and feature films. His work has taken him all over the world including stints living in Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong. He is now based in Sydney, where he teaches photography and writes.

He has written several novels, the most recent of which are his Detective Charlie Berlin series. The first two Charlie Berlin novels, The Diggers Rest Hotel and Blackwattle Creek both received Australia's highest crime-writing accolade, The Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction.

One

Berlin joined the afternoon drinkers at the Port Melbourne corner pub which, like many pubs in the docklands, was dedicated to easing the aches and sorrows of the working bloke through the worship of beer. It was also a tribute to the art of the tiler: every surface that could be tiled had been tiled, right up to the ceiling. The tiles might have been white at some stage, but years of neglect and the smoke from thousands of durries and tailor-mades had left them coated with a nasty yellowish brown stain.

The tiling was a masterstroke of functionality. At six o'clock, when the mad rush of the post-work swill was over, the landlord would hose the public bar clean, flushing spilled alcohol, cigarette butts, sometimes blood and more often vomit out the doors and across the footpath to the gutter in a tidal wave of carbolic suds.

Berlin leaned back on the bar and studied the other drinkers through a thick, blue-grey haze of cigarette smoke. There were the blokes who laughed with their mates as they drank – the ones who were lucky to be alive and knew it. These men had seen death but it had passed over them, and they took each new day as a gift and tried to put the horror behind them. But there were also the solitary souls, men with haunted, downcast eyes and shoulders stooped from carrying a great burden. They had advanced once too often at the machine-gun nests or had watched a mate blasted into a quivering, screaming, bleeding mess of shattered bones and torn flesh and would never forget it.

A heavy-set man in his thirties ambled up to Berlin, choosing a spot at the empty bar right next to him. He was wearing a smart grey woollen overcoat. Underneath it Berlin could see a tailored suit and an expensive silk tie.

The man sized Berlin up quickly. Nicely polished shoes – always a good sign – overcoat clean but showing its age around the cuffs, same for the hat. Office clerk, he guessed, skiving off for the afternoon. He didn't look into Berlin's eyes, which was his biggest mistake.

'Whisky, eh?' He indicated the glass of Dimple on the bar at Berlin's elbow.

Berlin ignored him.

In a pub like this, non-beer drinkers were regarded with suspicion. Whisky was for toffs or for toasting the memory of a loved one who had passed away, or a mate crushed on the docks when a sling slipped and a couple of hundredweight of crates fell from a crane. The barman had poured the drink and taken Berlin's five-pound note without comment, but he'd slapped the change down squarely in a puddle of stale beer.

The stranger held up his empty glass. 'Beer's the go with me, cobber.'

'You should buy yourself another, then.'

The man smiled. 'Just trying to be friendly, mate.'

Berlin picked up his glass and emptied it. He put it on the bar and nodded to the barman for a refill. 'I'm not your mate and I've got all the friends I need right now.'

The second part of Berlin's statement wasn't a lie – at this point in his life having no friends at all suited him just fine.

The man studied the plain metal watch on Berlin's wrist. It had been issued when Berlin was demobbed, along with his now shabby dark blue woollen overcoat. The watch had a plain brown leather band and the letters RAAF on its face.

'Air Force, eh?'

Berlin stared past him.

'New Guinea? The islands? I didn't go. Busted an eardrum from standing too close to a shotgun going off.' The man winked. 'Got me a job on the wharves.'

Berlin knew all about ruptured eardrums and jobs on the wharves. 'Bet you do alright for yourself, then.'

'Can't complain.' He ordered himself another beer. 'You a mechanic or something?'

'Pilot.'

'Fighters?'

'Bombers.'

'Up north?'

'Europe.' Berlin turned his back on the stranger.

The man smiled. 'Nice. Three meals a day and a bit of night bombing? And all them grateful Pommy sheilas to come back to every morning. Bloody cushy billet.'

Berlin let that one go. He picked up his glass.

'You boys had it easy.'

Berlin sipped his whisky. 'If you say so.'

'Get any medals?'

He shook his head. Jesus, couldn't this bastard take a hint?

'Bet you gave those Jerries hell, though.'

'They gave me some back. I was a POW.'

The other man was silent for a moment. 'Right.' He took a swig of his beer. 'In Europe, but. I heard the Germans were okay with our boys. Not like the bloody Japs – in Changi or on the Burma Railway. Bastards.'

It was all relative, Berlin was about to say, but when he thought about some of the shattered men he'd seen during his time in the repat hospital he decided it wasn't relative at all. Emptying his glass in one swallow, he pushed it back across the bar and straightened up to leave.

The man looked Berlin up and down. 'I'm off the wharves now, but I still have . . . connections. I can put my hands on anything a bloke might need at short notice. Like a new overcoat, for instance. Bloody good prices too – mates' rates.'

Berlin studied the worn cuffs on his coat for a moment before he spoke. 'I don't have any coupons.' And even if he had the coupons he knew his lousy pay wouldn't stretch to a new coat till next winter.

The other man finished his beer and licked foam from his lips. 'Bugger the coupons, mate, she'll be right. So, what do you do for a crust?'

Berlin took a pair of black leather gloves from his pocket. 'I'm a policeman.'

Several drinkers turned towards them then quickly went back to studying the racing results in the pink pages of the Sporting Globe.

'And right now,' Berlin continued, 'I'm trying to decide if I should run you in for contravention of the clothing rationing regulations or just take you out the back and belt you till you piss blood.'

The man in the smart overcoat looked a little pale.

'You seem to have a lot of opinions, sport,' Berlin said, pulling on his gloves. 'You got an opinion on that?'

ISBN: 9781742530680
ISBN-10: 1742530680
Series: A Charlie Berlin Mystery
Format: ePUB
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 31st May 2010
Publisher: Penguin Australia

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