in a time of drought
had idled my way through a dearth of paying work when suddenly I was
rung by the cops. They were seriously overstretched. Would I like some
contract surveillance work in the Great Terror Alert? Why not, I thought.
did the subjects come to your notice?, I asked Inspector Shag
Pile when he called me in for a briefing.
aircon wasnt coping and sweat trickled out from under his cheap
neighbours. The subjects are Lebanese Muslims. Possibly a family. They
live in an old Federation-style cottage and theyve done it up
in the approved Federation style.
waited for some evidence, but Pile just cast me a significant look and
thrust a picture of a house under my nose. Nice little brick cottage
tastefully trimmed in cream, brick red and Brunswick green with a new
picket fence and rambling pink roses.
mean thats it? Youre putting them under surveillance because
they painted their home in heritage colours?
did you ever see a bunch of Lebs do that? Pile asked. They
always replace the original windows with aluminium frames and put in
an extruded brick fence and a cheap wrought-iron gate. No, these people
are trying to blend in, pass unnoticed.
integrate, in a word?
thats it. Spies and bombers always try to look like the people
theyre moving amongst.
come on, Ill take your money if you want me to, but do you seriously
believe these people are a threat?
dunno, but the government has called on the citizenry to be alert,
I know, the country needs more lerts. But now Howards changed
his mind. Reckons were probably not a serious target after all.
Hes flogged the media for exaggeration.
had to say that. The tourism industry got to him. Anyway, hell
change his tune soon enough. Now, we just need the surveillance report
from you. Well do any other investigation.
so I found myself holed up in a police surveillance vehicle, a battered
L300 van with mirror-finish windows in the back and Wombat Geotechnical
Services emblazoned on the side. Outside it was a murderous 32
degrees. Inside it was worse. Far worse.
little Federation cottage was at the junction of two streets, so Id
parked facing it, about 50 metres back, outside a nondescript 1950s
bungalow. Everything about it spoke of genteel poverty. Its buffalo
grass lawn was nearly dead, brutally trimmed and burned brown by the
drought. The only concession to gardening, a badly pruned hydrangea,
was on its last legs.
been there a couple of hours when an ancient Anglo lady shuffled down
the cracked concrete driveway of the bungalow holding a spray pack of
weedkiller. She must have been ninety. She stopped on the pavement and
inspected the van malevolently, then she peered down the street towards
the Federation cottage. Was she, perhaps, the informant? Bent nearly
double, she shuffled a few more steps and stopping where a tiny green
shoot thrust its way through a crack in the concrete, she triumphantly
sprayed the offending life-form and shuffled back inside.
looked again at the Federation cottage. I had to admit, this wasnt
the sort of suburb where you saw lots of Muslims and not many Lebanese
migrants were au fait with Federation colour schemes. Might there, perhaps,
be an innocent explanation? I rang my old mate Graham at the National
Trust, who knows everything about Federation houses and asked him about
I know that cottage, Thats the Ayoub place, hes an architect.
Nice bloke. Hes a member of the Trust. Why the interest?
drama. I happened to be surveilling a place down the road and I was
vaguely interested in investment properties I told him, and hung up.
said nothing of this to Inspector Pile when I reported back the next
day, after all, hed told me I was just to do surveillance. Stay
on the job, he said. I could see I was on a nice little earner which
might last right to the next election.