Tuesday 29 December 2009

The third shoe

Anyone living here knows how hot it has been. Working in a kitchen is even hotter, so we took a break and drove over to Warana beach for a swim.
So tired after long days baking, packing hampers and delivering hams, cakes and puddings all over, we dumped our clothes next to the flag and staggered into the cooling surf to loll around, not enough energy for real swimming, pushed in and out by the small waves, luxuriating in the relief, relaxing tired muscles and tireder minds.

I was born at the peak of power of the Third Reich. Hitler was plundering and killing, demonising Jews readying his constituency for the coming genocide while France was still drinking wine in her delightful cafes, not quite believing it was happening again.
Chamberlain still called the mad dictator Mr Hitler and hoped it would all go away. Of course it didn’t and as they say, ‘the rest is history’.

For most Australians of my age, that and the threat of rape and pillage by rampant militant Japanese, systematically gobbling up the Asian land bridge to Australia, was a traumatic time. I use the term in its correct meaning. It wasn’t just extremely threatening. It created a life long fear that still reverberates through people who were children then. Whenever we hear German spoken or see Japanese people we remember. It fades but never leaves.

When guilt drove us back to the beach, nowhere near fully refreshed but feeling better than before, we collected our clothes and returned to the kitchen. An hour or so later we had had enough for the day and headed home. Stopping for petrol, I couldn’t find my wallet.

I remembered having held it in my hand as I picked up my clothes at the beach and was reminded with a pang of fear that it contained several hundred dollars, money I had loaned to IXL that she paid back in cash.

A frantic search of the car drew a blank so we raced back to the beach, arriving just as the life guard was packing up his toys. “No”. No wallet had been handed in.
Back to the sand, looking for a mark where the flag had been. Nothing.

Then we noticed an excited looking lady, waddling her plump frame in our direction and waving her arms frantically with a wide smile lighting her sun burnt face.
Her husband dragged himself to his feet and followed her slowly, clearly the less agile of the two.

He held in his hand my old wallet and was calling out in a mixture of German, of which I understand abut ten words and very accented unintelligible English.
They were so excited we had returned looking for the wallet, we must have appeared unenthusiastic in comparison. The man pressed the wallet into one hand while he vigorously shook the other and the woman hugged LJ in her joy.

I resisted the temptation to look inside to check on the cash until we had thanked them, said our good-byes and were back at the car and out of sight. It was all there as I had expected.

We used to say; “The only good German is a dead German.”
Of course I haven’t thought that for many decades, but the simple honesty of those lovely people who must have suffered so terribly at the hands of Hitler then from Allied bombing and then on through the cold war and the partition of their fatherland were still able to rejoice in such a simple thing as the loss and return a stranger’s old wallet.

Waiting for the third shoe to drop.

The happy ham scammer was soon forgotten in the rush and looking back, it was a hundred invested in our education. But the well dressed elderly lady at Noosa was something else.

She came to the stall and pushed to the front when we were busy.
“I’ve come for the pudding I ordered last week.”
She looked classy and proud, a no-nonsense lady of maybe sixty-five.
I was busy serving and handing out change, only partly aware of the exchange beside me.
LJ began flicking through the orders, carefully arranged by numbers, with names, addresses and phone numbers recorded along with the amount paid.

“Do you have your receipt?”
She delved into her shoulder bag for a second.
“Must have left it at home. Name’s Smith. Paid Wednesday.”
“We’re not here on Wednesdays, we’re only here on Sundays.”
That’s it, I paid you on Saturday. I paid for a pudding!”
She was becoming excited, attracting attention as onlookers became aware something out of the ordinary was happening. She pointed to the Christmas cakes and Dolce Fortes.
“I got them too and ordered the pudding and paid for the lot on Saturday!”

LJ was still leafing through the order book as the crowd thickened. Some grew tired of waiting and drifted off, sales missed.
“You say you paid on Saturday?” LJ asked. “Did you pay at Eumundi?”
“No, I paid you here on Saturday.”
“But we’re only here on Sundays. We were at Eumundi on Saturday, in the sheds.”
“Well it must have been Sunday. All I know is, I paid for a pudding and I want it now!”

On the way to look at LJ, my eyes passed over the crowd. They had the fidgets, becoming impatient as she frantically leafed through the order book for the third or fourth time. I engaged her eyes, shrugged and picked up a pudding, handing it over.

My wry ‘Merry Christmas’ was as lost on her as it was on the perplexed onlookers. She was gone. I lost sight of her as she had disappeared into the crowd clutching her purloined pudding and I was drawn back to the waiting customers.

But I continued to follow her progress in my mind, maybe on her way to claim other real goods, secured by imaginary deposits made last Wednesday, or Saturday or Sunday on other imaginary orders.

Come in Spinner!

If took twenty-four hours too long to recognise the trick. We should have known, but when the tall New Zealander turned up at the kitchen door with a wad of cash and an order for six premium hams and six puddings, a sale of somewhere like six hundred bucks. It got IXL’s attention!
“Look! she grinned, “I’ll take one ham now and pick up six hams and puddings tomorrow.”
I collected the ham, placed it in a cool bag and deposited it into the boot of her beat up Nissan as instructed.

As I walked in again, she had placed the ham money, seventy something dollars on the desk in front of IXL and the money for the future sale of six in front of herself and was saying,
“I just won twenty-five grand on Lotto and I want these people here,” she said, waving a fine brown arm towards the kitchen where Deb was baking Christmas tarts and Rae was packing hampers, “to have some champagne on me.”

She took two ten cent pieces from a dish on the desk, handed one to IXL and held one in her hand.
“Here’s what I’ll do… mind, this has nothing to do with the six hams and puddings I’ll pick up tomorrow. I’ll bet you the seventy there against the six hundred I have here that I can pick heads or tails of two coins we throw up like this.”
She then flicked one of the coins and caught it, slapped it down on the desk and grinned.
It was a tail.

“It can’t be fairer than that. Here,” passing the other coin to IXL, “You try.”
IXL flicked the coin and slapped it down, revealing another ‘tail’.
“That’s it!” the Kiwi laughed. “Now this has nothing to do with tomorrow’s six hams. You call heads or tails and then we throw the coins until we get two of what you call, or I get the opposite. OK?”
We both nodded, wondering why she would bet her six hundred bucks against IXL’s seventy on what was clearly an even bet.

As if she head read our thoughts, she assured us that “I don’t care if I lose, I won plenty and I just want those people there to have some champagne on me!”

That’s when I had a mental niggle but nothing specific came so I said nothing.
IXL chose tails, I guess because two tails had already been thrown and the bet was on.
Up went the coins and they were slapped down. My side had a tail and the other was a head.

Next throw, again IXL got a tail and the other was a head then it was over. IXL threw a head and the other coin was a head. A big brown hand grabbed the pot and it disappeared into her jeans only to reappear accompanied by a hearty laugh.
“Look, I really do want you to win. I’ll give you a chance to get it back!” she grinned. “I bet all this against a pudding.”
I couldn’t believe it. She was betting almost seven hundred against a thirty dollar pudding. I knew the puddings were then best around, but seven hundred bucks!?

IXL looked at me for assurance which I stupidly gave.
“Chances are even and you’re on a hundred to one shot.” I said, airing my impeccable knowledge of odds. “You’d be crazy not to try.”
So on it went. IXL chose tails and after a few tosses she lost again. The pudding disappeared out the door to join the ham.

Next day it hit me. I hardly had the heart to tell IXL, but I had to.
At school when I was about ten years old, we learned to toss a shilling in the same way. We could almost always predict the outcome. Start with a ‘tail’ showing and flick. Catch it and turn it over and it almost always came up heads.

With the call made before the throw, our wily ham snatcher knew what she needed to get. In the excitement and in front of a gathering group of bystanders, nobody noticed how she carefully chose which side was up before flicking.
There was always a chance she could lose but I remember at school, way back then, throwing maybe a hundred correct calls in a row.

Of course, she didn’t come back for the six hams and puddings. We had been scammed, victims of just a little greed and my faltering long term memory.