Terrence Mulligan took a deep breath.
The humid sea air was tainted with the smell of rotting vegetables.
"What a dump," he thought. "And they call this a tropical paradise!"
He had wandered the streets of Suva for most of the morning. At
first he savoured the sights and smells of this, the cruise-liner's
first port-of-call. Mulligan had never been out of the country
before, but with the proceeds of his last service station stick-up
had thought it was time to pamper himself. A South Pacific cruise
seemed ideal... but it wasn't working out too well.
First night at sea had seen him green and spending most of the
evening leaning over the railing. The first day red and sore from
the relentless sun. The second night, rejected by all 14 young
ladies he approached in the disco bar. The third day, hung over. And
then things got worse. A touch of gastric trouble. A
misunderstanding with a snobbish matron over a deck chair. The
volley ball that hit him in the groin. Life on the ocean waves was
not all that the travel brochures had promised. And to Mulligan's
humiliation, he'd almost been caught when lifting those travellers
cheques from that old guy's wallet near the pool.
When the dazzling white liner nudged the wharf at Suva early on the
fifth morning, Terrence Mulligan was already waiting at the gangway
gate, anxious to leave the ship and explore his first foreign port.
He'd walked from the docks, past the already bustling markets;
stared incredulously at the windowless buses, heaving their loads of
Fijiians, Indians, boxes and poultry; wandered aimlessly along the
shopping district streets, avoiding the Indian touts outside the
duty-free shops, studiously avoiding eye contact with the Fijiian
youths crouched in the shady shadows and had had a warm beer in a
warm colonial hotel. It was not exactly palm trees, sandy beaches,
blue lagoons and exotic grass-skirted maidens.
Mulligan took another fetid breath of the tropical air and trudged
along a shadowy, narrow street back towards the liner. He was aware
of the shops lining each side of the street and of eyes that
followed his progress from the shadows.
Ahead of him ambled an old Fijiian lady, waddling doggedly towards
the brighter cross street at the end of the shadows.
Suddenly she stumbled, dropping one of her string bags of market
produce. As she stooped to gather her possessions, Mulligan halted.
He wasn't going to get involved. He wasn't going to help her. He
studied instead, one of the window displays in one of the shops. It
was another duty free shop, chock-full of electronic equipment from
Korea and Japan. He looked back down the street and noticed that
they were all duty free shops.
"Hmmm" he thought. "Maybe I should pick up some cheap gear while I'm
here. I could flog it for twice the price when I get home."
He smiled at the thought, and as the old lady moved off, he trudged
on. Reaching the spot where the woman had stumbled, he felt his foot
kick something on the path. He looked down, saw the woman's
forgotten money purse, looked around, and stooping down as if to
re-tie his shoelaces, palmed the purse.
As he straightened, he found he was looking directly into the eyes
of a wizened old Indian standing in the doorway of a shop. The
Indian smiled, his white teeth bright amongst the dark skin and the
Flustered, Mulligan managed to say, "Oh, hello."
"Hello Sir, it is very good to be meeting you this day."
"Ah... yeah." Mulligan, somewhat recovering his composure,
confidently walked towards the Indian. "Hey, lovely town you have
"Yes, we are being to like it. Is there something I can show you
from my marvellous range of goods, sir."
"Well, um, yeah, sure," Mulligan said with his friendliest smile,
thinking that he better humour the guy. After all, he might have
seen him palm the old girl's purse.
Entering the dim shop, Mulligan's eyes were immediately drawn to a
colourfully lit display. Above the grey-black cabinet of the largest
television set Mulligan had ever seen, was the flashing neon tube
sign proclaiming; "The television of the future. See it now!"
"Wow!" said Mulligan. "That's sure some TV set."
"Ah, yes, sir. It being very expensive though, sir," said the Indian
shopkeeper. "I have for you some very good but very much less
expensive television sets over here sir." And the merchant
endeavoured to manoeuvre Mulligan towards a stacked display of
"No, hang on... hang on," said Mulligan "I'm interested in this one.
The television of the future. Yeah, I like that."
"Oh no, sir. I do not be thinking it is for you."
"Listen, mate. I'm wise to your tricks, you want to flog me one of
the cheaper ones that you probably make double the mark-up on
anyway. No, I'll take this one!" Mulligan pulled a wad of notes from
his pocket and slapped them on the counter. "And I'll take it now!"
The Indian shopkeeper sighed, "Very well, sir. But I do not be
thinking the television of the future is for you."
Mulligan hailed two Fijiian youths from the street and, after an
exchange of forged travellers cheques, they helped him carry the TV
set, now in its carton, from the shop.
Mulligan, still chuckling over his ability to outsmart the Indian
trader, led the procession through the littered streets towards the
harbour and the cruise liner.
Finally, after negotiating the gangway, overcoming the purser's
objections and squeezing through the cabin door, the TV set was
deposited into Mulligan's cabin. By breathing in, he could manage to
slide between the door opening and the bed; and, by clambering over
the carton, he could reach the wash basin. But, to Mulligan, the
inconvenience was of no consequence - he had the TV set. He couldn't
explain, even to himself, the attraction the set held for him, he
wanted it, he had it, and he felt he couldn't let it out of his
sight. Just having it made him feel warm all over (or was that the
lack of air-conditioning in the cramped cabin?); he couldn't wait to
get the TV home so he could plug it in and turn it on.
However the cruise didn't improve. The tail of a cyclone lashed the
seas into a maelstrom, the waves slapping the liner like a nanny
with a naughty child. Mulligan was sick. Mulligan was green.
Mulligan was ever so pleased to see the outline of his hometown
emerge from below the misty horizon.
The docking complete, Terrence Mulligan ran down the gangplank to
arrange the trucking of his television set to his lodgings. Throwing
ten-dollar notes at a couple of waylaid taxi drivers, Mulligan
harangued them back up the gangway. The cabbies soon re-emerged from
the bowels of the liner, huffing the outsized carton between them.
The smirking customs official waved the puffing procession through
the barricade and, not long after, with the large carton strapped to
the roof of the cab, Mulligan rode home from his cruising holiday.
The inner-city terrace had long ago been converted into flats. Dingy
small flats inhabited by the dingy characters of Mulligan's world.
Above Mulligan's flat lived Andy, twice convicted of picking pockets
and whose small dream was the booty awaiting him at the upcoming
Royal Easter Show. Across the hall, Lennie worked his mail order
scams, whilst lusting after Doreen who plied her trade in the rooms
below. There were others who lived in the house, too, whose only
crime was poverty... a pension or a poorly paid job in the
warehouses adjoining the dingy suburb. And all was presided over by
Mrs Collins, who collected the rents, maintained the peace with an
iron hand, and occasionally swept the front steps.
It was on one of those rare step-sweeping days that the cab
screeched to a halt outside the converted terrace.
"Oh, 'ello Mr Mulligan. Did you 'ave a good 'oliday, then?" Mrs
Collins called from the stoop.
"Bloody awful," Mulligan growled as he began untying the cartoned
television. He snarled at the cabbie, "C'mon, give us a hand, mate.
Let's get this up to my room."
"Eh? What you got there then, Mr Mulligan? Some souvenirs?" crooned
"What? Oh, no, it's my new television."
"Hey, you ain't bringing that in here. You know the rules about loud
noise and stuff. You'll have that thing goin' all night, won't you?"
She eyed Mulligan shrewdly, "Hey, 'ang on! It ain't 'ot, is it?"
"No, Mrs Collins, it ain't hot. But, boy, did I get it at a good
price." He smiled his oiliest smile, "I won't have it on loud, and
maybe you might like to come up and watch it with me sometime?"
"Oh, Mr Mulligan!" Mrs Collins blushed. "You get on with yourself!
Oh, go on, then, take it up... but keep it down, eh?"
That night with a feed of good home-bought fish and chips under his
belt, Terrence Mulligan settled down in his small sitting-room for a
night of television entertainment. His new TV stood proudly in the
corner, and as Mulligan switched it on, the huge screen flickered,
and flooded the room with its eerie blue light. Mulligan watched the
news, a current-affair program, an American comedy and a movie. He
lapped it all up, until wearily he turned off the set and made his
way to bed.
The next afternoon in the welcoming and cosy bar of the
Tree-fellers' Arms, Mulligan sat at the counter on his usual stool.
He turned to Sharp Eddie beside him...
"Hey, Ed, did you watch that great movie last night? That one with
the guy in the car, and that huge truck that was after him?"
"What? Are you crazy?" Sharp Eddie replied. "That's not on until
"No, it was on last night. I watched it."
"Listen, it's on tonight. I'm planning to watch it. You're having me
on, aren't you?"
"Honest, Ed, I watched it last night."
"Look, I know it's on tonight! And, anyway, I haven't time to argue
with you. I want to get a bet on for the next race. You know, the
big one today. I've got a hot tip."
"Big race? Wasn't that yesterday?" questioned Mulligan.
"No, mate, it's today."
Mulligan looked a little perplexed, but shaking his head, he said,
"Well, I've been away on holidays... I guess I'm not up to date
"Yeah," said Sharp Eddie. "I guess you ain't. Anyway, I've got a hot
tip." He leaned closer to Mulligan and whispered, "It's Mabel's
Delight. It'll romp it in."
Mulligan stared at Eddie, and then with a cautious intake of breath
hesitantly said, "No, Eddie, Mabel's Delight ran third. Big Thumper
won it. Started at 10/1. I saw it last night on the news."
Sharp Eddie laughed heartily, "Now I know you're having me on!
You're a card, you are, Terry, a real card! Anyhow, I'm off. See you
Mulligan watched as Sharp Eddie left the bar. He turned back to the
counter, had another beer and sat alone pondering. He was totally
perplexed. Was Eddie having him on? Not being able to fathom what
Sharp Eddie was going on about, and knowing what he had watched on
television, he decided it was all just beyond him.
With that decision made, he thought no more about it, and cruised
the bar catching up with old mates, talking about his holiday...
keeping his ears open for gossip and hints of easy pickings. He even
played a frame or two of pool.
A couple of hours later Mulligan trudged his way homeward. On
passing the Newsagent's, the afternoon's conversation with Sharp
Eddie came back to him; and on impulse he bustled his way into the
shop and purchased the evening newspaper.
Outside again, standing in the middle of the footpath oblivious to
the passing stream of homeward bound workers, he turned quickly to
the sports pages. There it was in black and white: "Big Thumper wins
Big Race. Starts at 10/1. Seascape 2nd. Mabel's Delight 3rd." He
hurriedly checked the front page masthead. Yes, it was today's date.
The race was today! He turned to the TV Guide, and there listed for
showing tonight were the programs he had watched last night!
Mulligan reeled, and swaying grabbed hold of the No Parking sign to
support himself as he was buffeted by the passing pedestrians.
"What the hell is going on?" he thought. "This is screwy. Hang on...
no, it couldn't be... could it?" He returned to the Newsagent's and
purchased a magazine with the full week's TV guide. As he continued
his walk home, his face was set determinedly, his stride purposeful.
Terrence Mulligan closed his front door, hung his coat on the hook
in the tiny hall, went straight through to his small sitting room
and turned on the TV. He sat on the edge of the tattered sofa, the
TV magazine balanced on his knees. He watched the News, and as the
following programs came on, he switched channels, checking the
programs off in the TV guide. A few hours later, he knew. He did own
the Television of the Future! Terrence Mulligan's television set was
showing tomorrow night's programs tonight.
The enormity of Mulligan's discovery excited him beyond belief.
Tomorrow's TV shows today! Tomorrow's race results today! Big
Thumper 10/1! Mulligan danced a little jig around his sitting room,
and as a variety program came on the TV he turned up the volume and
sang along with the songs. He was still singing "I'm in the Money"
at the top of his voice as he went to answer the incessant knocking
on his front door.
"Mr Mulligan! Mr Mulligan!" Mrs Collins' voice could just be heard
through the door. "Oh, Mr Mulligan you must turn down that
television. Mr Mulligan.. "
Mulligan rushed back to the sitting room, switched off the TV set
and returned to open the front door to a red faced
"Oh Mrs. Collins, I'm so terribly sorry," Mulligan oozed. "I got so
carried away. It won't happen again. I promise you."
A somewhat placated Mrs. Collins accepted his invitation to join him
in a nightcap and no more was said of the errant volume of the
The next few evenings saw Mulligan
leave the Tree Fellers Arms earlier than usual. He hurried home to
catch the evening news service on his television and to note down
the next day's race winners. He was in the money. Every bet he
placed, he won... to the amazement of his cronies at the pub. He
occasionally shouted the bar, and delighted the barmaid with his
predictions of the continuing agonies of the characters in her
favourite soap opera. This was the life, he thought. No more petty
service station stick-ups... no siree, not for this Terrence
There was, however, the sporadic pang of regret at the lost
adrenalin pump he had always experienced during his illegal
adventures. So, it was too great a temptation to ignore for Mulligan
as that night, when seated in front of the TV with his note pad and
pencil ready to take down the next day's race results, the
television newsreader had said:
"In a daring raid just minutes ago, a lone bandit held up the
National Museum and escaped with gems and jewellery valued at over a
million dollars. Police believe the thief had inside knowledge as
the jewels, destined for a major exhibition, were being transported
to the museum in ultra secrecy. Officials carried the jewels in
simple briefcases, arriving at the Museum by ordinary taxi shortly
before 6PM. Half an hour earlier, an armoured car, under police
escort, had acted as a decoy with empty crates being carried into
the museum to convince onlookers that the valuable jewels were
already safe. More news at it comes to hand."
Mulligan jumped to his feet "That's it!" he thought. "That could be
me. I know how the jewels are coming to the museum tomorrow. I could
be the one to heist them. Yeah. That's it. This, Terrence Mulligan,
is the big one."
He excitedly ran to the bedroom and, rustling in the bottom of his
sock drawer, extracted the handgun he had so successfully used in
his earlier stick-ups. "What petty little stick-ups they were," he
thought, "compared to this one ... the big heist!"
He returned to the sitting-room to plan the heist. Yes, it would
work. Yes, that daring thief would be Terrence Mulligan.
As he worked through his plan, the race results came on. Oh what the
heck, he thought, a little extra money while he waited to fence the
jewels wouldn't go astray. In his excitement, he turned up the
volume of the TV set.
A few minutes later, there was loud knocking on the front door. "Oh,
Christ," he thought, "it's that bloody Mrs. Collins again." He
turned down the volume, closed the door to the sitting room and went
to answer the front door.
Alone in the sitting room, the face of the television newsreader
reappeared on the TV screen. His voice told the empty room:
"In news just to hand, police report that the daring thief who
earlier stole a million dollars worth of jewels from the National
Museum has been gunned down in a shootout with police. Undercover
police had followed the thief and cornered him in an alley behind
the Museum. Police have identified the dead man as petty
criminal.... Terrence Mulligan."