From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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An assignation in the Marlborough

11 May 1999

I was sitting in the sun outside Customs House at Circular Quay on Friday morning when three FA 18s screamed overhead in formation, wingtip to wingtip, banking sharply towards the east. What the hell were they celebrating, I wondered. And then I remembered that Hitler had suicided on 30 April 1945. The Third Reich must have capitulated only a few days later, so this must be VE Day. The war in Europe had ended 54 years ago.

I have to play these mental games to keep myself from going crazy during long stakeouts. Get too engrossed in reading the paper, for example, and you're liable to miss the moment, blow the job ... blow the job ... blow job. I thought about Alexandra Long and Bob Ellis again and started to get the giggles. A bunch of young koories, who were shooting a grab for TV nearby, looked around. I pretended to be laughing at something in the paper.

More time passed. I double-checked the Nikon and scanned the square for any sign of my targets. The Ellis-Long-Cooper paternity business was turning out to be a nice little earner.

And it wasn't just the Bob Ellis affair. Fat times come along only once in a blue moon for a cheap detective like me. The Phil Coles imbroglio had paid off handsomely when I trundled up a sackful of documents to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Talking on the mobile phone is another thing you can do to kill time and cover lingering in a public place. You can keep watch and kill the conversation quickly if the target turns up. The trouble is, it's expensive, so I normally just pretend to talk to people. I find the more animated you get, the less people look at you. There's nothing more embarrassing than a merchant banker gabbling on a mobile phone.

But I didn't have to abase myself with these devices because at 11.05 the mobile rang of its own accord. It was Tommy, calling from somewhere in Indonesia.

"Good morning, Tuan Nick", he said, "We have some arrangements now for the shipment. Can you meet our sales manager to talk with her of delivery?"

"How about Sunday night, at Newtown, in a hotel called the Marlborough?" I gave him the details.
"She will not have trouble recognising you?"

"I'll probably be the only old grey possum wearing a trenchcoat", I said.

He laughed and hung up.

I gave up at on the stakeout at 11.45. It was obvious that neither Carl Scully nor Alexandra Long were going to turn up. It just was another lucrative false lead. Fuck these people. Dealing with them is like living in some dated play by David Williamson while ugly deals are going down in Timor and people are being done to death with machetes in roadside ditches and buried in shallow graves.

· · ·

Even a quiet Sunday night in the front bar at the Marlborough Hotel is noisy enough to cover a conversation from all but the most sophisticated of electronic snooping. The Nightwalkers were playing to a subdued audience as I sipped a cider, waiting for the "sales manager". When she arrived I was mildly surprised. She was a worn-looking dark-skinned Timorese woman of maybe 40, dressed in rumpled off-black, so as to blend in with the locals.

We exchanged codes disguised as pleasantries, and I bought her a beer. "We have two hundred units and spare parts which must definitely be delivered next weekend to this address. They are very urgently needed to cover orders. To catch the client at home it will have to be in the evening, rather late I'm afraid", she said.

She handed me a business card which described her as 'Maria', the sales manager of an import-export agent specialising in Indonesian teak furniture. On the back a grid reference was carefully printed in biro, disguised as a phone number.

"If nobody's home, we'll just drop them on the porch. Do you have a contact number?".

She scribbled a radio frequency under the grid reference.

"I'm sure you have a good memory for figures", she said.

I went to the toilet, memorised the numbers, burned her card and flushed the ashes down the toilet bowl.

When I went back she was gone. Why did I let myself in for this, I thought. I'm much too old for this desperate stuff.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999

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