Geoffrey Gates

Geoffrey Gates was born in Sydney, where he lives with his family. He is the author of IP Picks 2005 Best Fiction winner A Ticket for Perpetual Locomotion, as well as short stories published in a range of literary journals such as Southerly, LINQ, UQ Vanguard and Verandah. Geoffrey teaches English and creative writing to senior school students, and has worked as a teacher in Australia, England and Germany. He has spent many months in the Provence and Drome regions of France where he drew inspiration as the setting for The Copyart Murders, his second novel.


A Ticket for Perpetual Locomotion

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On the morning of his arrest, Blake Knox was asleep on a marble gravestone in the cemetery of Vaison-la-Romaine in the South of France. He lay on his side with his legs tucked in so that his feet did not stick out over the end. It was a French cemetery and he was a long Australian. Where he lay was a pleasant place, surrounded by purple orchids and yellow poppies and shaded by a cypress pine. Not that Blake had any wish to be aware of his surroundings. He was dreaming of Birna. They were in a rowboat together; she was lying back in his arms and they were looking up at a cloudless sky. He was trying to explain to her a complication in his novel.

‘It’s not what my character had intended,’ he said. ‘Sometimes actions aren’t governed by rational thought.’

‘Blake,’ Birna whispered, ‘I love it when you talk about writing.’

The sun was in his eyes and he couldn’t quite make out her face, but her shirt was open and he glimpsed a black, lacy bra, and soon he felt the warmth of her body beside his.

‘Kiss me,’ she said.

He reached out, groaning like a corpse exhaling a belated breath.

It was this noise that attracted the attention of a passer-by. Had Blake’s dream been less promising, he might have lain undisturbed a little longer. With the increasing sounds of day, he’d have woken, made his way to his car and driven to the café in Piégon. Louis would have told Blake the rumour concerning Genet’s death, giving him time to prepare for the coming investigation. Certain incriminating files might have disappeared from his laptop; pertinent alterations made to his manuscripts. But Blake slept through this small window of opportunity as his little scene continued. He was unclasping Birna’s bra when he might have been undoing the cemetery gate.

He felt a sudden jolt, as if the rowboat was being dragged under the formerly gentle waves. White water poured in; he experienced a terrifying sensation of tipping into deep water, green as Sydney Harbour.

Someone was shaking his shoulders. ‘Monsieur! Allez!’

Blake opened his eyes. A stocky man was kneeling beside him. He was closely shaven and wore a navy-blue suit. There was a concerned look on his face and Blake heard a rush of incomprehensible words.

‘Sorry,’ said Blake. ‘I don’t speak French.’

‘Are you hurt?’ the man asked.

Blake sat up, gingerly feeling the lump on the back of his head. As he went to stand, his helper grasped his arm to steady him. ‘I’m all right, I think,’ he said. He saw the man’s eyes move beyond him to read the inscription on the tombstone. In a second, his attitude seemed to change as he said forcefully: ‘Venez avec moi! Je suis agent de police.’

Blake had no time to turn and read the inscription, an action that might have made the next few hours more comprehensible to him. Instead he was dragged out of the cemetery and onto the road. He felt too ill to protest with any real conviction (‘Hey, what’s this?’ proved ineffective) or put up any sort of struggle against the man who was obviously much stronger than he was and who had a tight grip on his arm. Down the hill they marched.

He pointed at his car as they passed and murmured: ‘All this for a parking fine?’ Further on, outside the bakery, he felt his stomach lurch and he heaved into the gutter, spilling vomit onto the policeman’s polished shoes.

‘Merde!’ the man spat in disgust, temporarily letting go of Blake’s arm to wipe his shoes with a tissue he had produced from his inside coat pocket.

At the door of the Police Nationale, he said sharply: ‘Come in here.’

‘But why?’ asked Blake. ‘What have I done?’

There was no reply and Blake was assisted inside and led over to a counter where a uniformed officer was stationed.

‘Où étes-vous domicilié?’ he was asked. ‘Where do you live?’

‘Piégon,’ Blake replied. ‘I’ve been there for a month.’

The man’s eyes seemed to open wider with this information. He spoke a few hushed words to the seated policeman and then hurried down a corridor to the left. Blake thought, I wonder what can be the matter?

He felt the back of his head and his hand touched hair matted with blood; the same colour as the stain on the jacket that had served as his pillow. He tried to remember what had caused his injury. He vaguely recalled stumbling on the way to his car the night before.

Perhaps they think I have been mugged, he reasoned, turning hopefully to the desk sergeant. From somewhere, a second uniformed officer had appeared and stood behind him. He began to feel hemmed in.

‘I’m really okay,’ Blake said. ‘It’s just a bump. And nothing’s been stolen. Can I go?’

The policeman shook his head and said firmly: ‘Empty your pockets.’

When he didn’t react, the man repeated his instruction. Only then did Blake reach into his pockets and hand over his wallet, his keys, and the little black notebook he always carried with him. It was for scribbling ideas for his novel. He would have had a few things to add right now, given the chance.
He watched the policeman count out his euros, record the details of his credit cards and his New South Wales driver’s licence, and lastly, hold up a photograph, which he studied carefully before putting it under Blake’s nose.

‘Who is this?’

Blake stared at the photo, confused. Instead of the one he kept of his fiancée, Elizabeth, with her boyish haircut, her sharp eyes and wry smile – what he saw was a rather sultry-looking image of Birna. She was staring provocatively into the camera eye, her blonde hair dishevelled and teased up in a retro-punk style.

‘Umm… a friend,’ he said in a tone that sounded like a question.

The policeman put his things into a plastic bag and asked Blake to sign a form to say that these were his possessions. Then the stocky policemen led him down a corridor. A door opened and suddenly Blake was looking into a cell, bare except for a hard wooden bench. He felt a shove in his back and he stumbled forward.

‘Hey!’ he shouted. ‘You can’t keep me in here!’

The door shut behind him with a clang. He smelt urine and dried vomit. It was worse than the toilet block at the annual Christmas party back in his old days at the Copacabana Surf Club on the New South Wales coast.



These days, Police Inspecteur Roland Sauveur took his summer vacation reluctantly. Experience had taught him to avoid hotel rooms and vacation resorts, where he would inevitably be surrounded by noisy families and happy couples (or worse, by happy families and noisy couples). Last year, he had bought a 28 foot gaff cutter, a wooden yacht with a light and narrow hull, so he could take to the sea. It was a beautiful boat. Finally, he had arranged for some leave from work: he was to spend two weeks on his own, sailing the Côte d’Azur.

Then he had met Karin and she had offered to be his first mate (or he had asked, he really couldn’t remember). She was a doctor, intelligent and good-looking. She was also a recent divorcée with a fifteen year-old son, whose face wore a permanent smirk. In the end, they had agreed on perhaps two nights, depending on her sea legs and professional commitments.

‘It’s easier for you, Inspecteur,’ she said. ‘You’re the boss. Your family has grown up.’

But it wasn’t easy for Sauveur. Sometimes he felt desperate for romance to blossom again. But then he remembered his wife. A black mood would descend and he would feel that it was all quite impossible.

He was better in the daylight hours; he liked the routines and camaraderie of work. It didn’t matter if the task at hand was banal or dramatic; he was a policeman with his place in the world.

He had left Vaison-la-Romaine mid-week, had sailed out to sea each morning and returned to Cassis by twilight. In the evenings he cooked, read and relaxed. As his break entered its second week and the time for Karin to come on board approached, he felt an increasing nervousness. Finally it was Friday morning and she arrived, impractical in a short blue dress. Sauveur lifted her overnight bag on-board and showed her the little cabin. New bed linen and towels, along with the quality of the wood, drew an approving smile. They drank a glass of champagne before he started the outboard motor and steered them out of the harbour.

She felt ill almost straight away, although the sea was calm. While the earlier banter soon disappeared, the pureness of the day meant that he didn’t worry too much. But she was unable to eat the seafood dinner he prepared in the evening, and by nightfall, there was none of the romance that Sauveur had anticipated and all of the cramp of a small boat. They spent a sleepless night, physically distant. In the early morning she told him that it wasn’t his fault but she preferred to head back to land. Sauveur said that he understood and rigged the sail. Before getting off the boat, she’d said ‘Thank you, Roland.’ Then she’d walked all the way along the jetty without turning back to wave.

Their trip together had lasted fewer than twelve hours.

‘Quelle déception!’ he said aloud, tipping the remains of last night’s uneaten oysters overboard.

Then, as if calling him back from another world, his mobile phone came to life and he listened to a voice message from his assistant, Agent Benjamin Flague, wishing not to interrupt his holiday but asking if he could call him back at his convenience. Sauveur knew what it would be about: the sudden death of a celebrated local artist, Michel Genet.

A young Icelander named Birna Aronsdóttir had found the body. She saw him lying on the smooth tiled floor beside the coffee table by the entrance to his study, still as the comfortable lounge that surrounded him on either side. After checking his pulse and finding none, Birna had telephoned the ambulance as well as the police. Benjamin had been alerted and had arrived to find Birna sitting on a chair outside the house. At first, she had seemed calm but when asked what had happened, she had sobbed and then sat very quietly, seemingly unable to answer Benjamin’s quite straightforward questions. He had told her that they would speak later and asked her if one of the uniformed officers could drive her home.

A medical officer had just completed his examination when Benjamin entered the house. A sweet, putrid odour rose from the body of a grey-haired man, stretched out on his back. He was middle-aged, dressed in light trousers and a pressed long-sleeved white shirt, which was unbuttoned to reveal a mass of grey chest hair and a gold cross hanging from a chain around his neck. His face was expressionless, neither surprised nor anguished. The ambulance officers had laid out a stretcher and were standing by, ready to remove the body when requested.

‘What does it look like?’ asked Benjamin.

‘Possibly a heart attack,’ the medical officer replied. ‘There appears to be an injury to the back of his head, which might have happened when he fell down. Something else,’ he added, pointing with a small torch. ‘There’s a discoloration of his pharynx.’
Benjamin followed the light to the back of the mouth, where the tongue and the throat were spotted black.

Sauveur flipped open his phone and dialled Benjamin’s number.

‘Good to hear from you, Inspecteur. The autopsy results have arrived.’

‘Go on,’ Sauveur replied.

‘In the walls of the oesophagus and in the lining of his stomach there was a trace of a mix of black carbon, polyester resin, and other chemicals consistent with the makeup of photocopier toner.’

‘Photocopy toner?’ Sauveur queried. ‘Could you choke on it?’

‘Theoretically, yes, though very little was ingested. But something else,’ Benjamin replied. ‘The funeral service took place on Wednesday afternoon and Monsieur Genet was buried in the cemetery in Vaison-la-Romaine. This morning I found a man asleep on his grave. He knew Genet.’

‘Who is he?’ Sauveur asked.

‘An Australian. He’s been living in Piégon.’

‘Hold him,’ Sauveur replied, already rushing down into the cabin to gather his bag. ‘I’m on my way.’
As he started his car, Sauveur thought that there was always something so disappointing about holidays: the failed realisation of longed-for happiness.

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