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Dreaming Again

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo the first A Bertram Chandler story to be published in 24 year is now available in the Anthology Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann.

The Mentor No: 48 - Feb 1984
(Cover Lana Brown)

The Mentor No: 48 - Feb 1984


Most people have seen that classic film CASABLANCA. In it there is one memorable piece of dialogue - no, not “Play it again, Sam.” It is when Claude Rains, as the Police Chief, says, in a bored voice, “Round up the usual suspects.” I never dreamed when first I saw the film that I should, one day, be the cause of such a round up.

The evening started pleasantly enough - a P.E.N. dinner at which the film star Jack Thompson was the guest speaker. Very fortunately, as it was to turn out, I drank very little and, had I been driving a car, should have had no worries at all had I been asked to breathe into a bag. But I wasn’t driving a car. I returned to Potts Point from the Journalists’ Club by Eastern Suburbs Railway, walking the short distance from Kings Cross Station to my flat along my usual route. The time was shortly after 10.00 pm.

As I approached the block of flats there was quite heavy vehicular traffic both along Hughes Street and even in the normally quiet Tusculum Street. And then as I approached the ground floor door, there was a sudden lull. This ground floor door, admitting one into the vestibule, is an affair of steel and heavy metal mesh. It is spring-loaded and the lock is a spring lock, both of these factors playing an important part in what was to follow.

I unlocked the door and was just passing through when a young lad came up and asked, very politely, if I could tell him the time. I was looking at my wristwatch when another lad, a little older, appeared as though from nowhere, aiming a gleaming hunting knife at my belly and snarled something along the lines of, “Your money or your life!”

During my long years at sea I must have developed the ability to think quickly and, as I discovered, that ability is still with me. With the heavy spring-loading of the door in my favour I was able to force it shut, despite the efforts of my attackers to keep it open. The click of the engaging lock was one of the sweetest sounds I hove heard in my life.

The bandits melted into the night and I hurried upstairs to my flat, where I rang the Kings Cross Police Station to report an attempted robbery with violence. In an amazingly short time the police were on the scene, four very well-spoken young men. Well-spoken and well-dressed; I looked with envy at their holstered .38 revolvers...

They listened to my story. They asked me if I could describe the young criminals. I told them that I couldn’t, that I’d been too busy trying to slam the door to get a good look at them. But I could, I said, identify the knife...

One of the officers advised me to sit down with a good, hot cup of tea while the neighbourhood was being scoured. I didn’t quite take his advice but poured myself a really stiff Suntory whisky. I’d taken no more than a couple of sips when there was a knock en my door. (The local police, I think, must have pass keys to all the security doors in the area.) It was the senior constable. He told me that he and his colleagues had picked up four youths with one knife between them and asked me to come down to try to identify them. I said, “But there were only two of the bastards.” He said, “We’ve got four.”

So I went down to the Black Maria. In custody were four long, lanky louts and my two assailants were both less than average height. I said this. So the knife was produced. “Perhaps this will refresh your memory, sir.”

Out the weapon was a small Wiltshire kitchen knife. Such knives would make vary nasty weapons and being self-sharpening are, as any owner of such cutlery knows, often the cause of inadvertent self-inflicted wounds. And, although my knowledge of lethal ironmongery is confined to firearms I should never mistake a small kitchen knife for a quite large hunting knife.

And that was that. The usual suspects had been rounded up. Possibly the police were able to hang something on them, without my cooperation. But I wish that they’d caught my two “friends”. .A mugging, even an unsuccessful one, engenders a certain viciousness in the victim and an impatience with those do-gooders who bleat, “Poor, dear boys... It’s all society’s fault!”

Some time ago I listened to a talk—back radio programme. The subject being discussed was the absurdly light sentences for quite serious crimes being handed out by some judges. A caller, identifying himself as a retired police officer, listed the three qualifications for a “good” judge. (a) To have been run down on a pedestrian crossing by a motorist disregarding the red light (b) to have had his house burgled and (c) to have had his wife raped.

I’d add one more: To have been the victim of a mugging.