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Once I thought I knew myself. I was kind and tolerant. A reasonable man.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but I know that the concept of a reasonable man is the touchstone of Western law. Judges, counsels and juries carry into court the ideal of a reasonable man. They endlessly ask themselves what that fine individual might be expected to do in particular circumstances and compare his behaviour to what the accused did or didn't do.

I see a reasonable man as a figure of decency, square dealing and common sense. A blend of Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.

I realise now that however reasonable I once thought I was, there was a point where I part company with the Boy Scouts. I am, I discover to my surprise, a dangerous man.

Now I have a theory. It is that every man or woman on this planet, no matter how rich, powerful or intelligent, can be conned. The best that any of us may hope for is that having exercised reasonable (there's that term again) caution in life, we never meet a shyster who is smarter and more ruthless than ourselves.

And believe me, the most insidious conman of all is the person who can push your compassion button.

The worst thing about a compassion conman is not what they take from you. It's what they make you become. After they leave you mauled, you will probably spend every day of your life fighting almost overwhelming battalions of cynicism, bitterness and disillusion. Iron can easily creep into your soul. You close your ears to the desperate cries of the genuinely poor and weak.

I'm not particularly proud of how I reacted in a desperate time. I can only record what happened. Whether this was the reaction of a reasonable man…Well, you be the judge, because I doubt that I'll ever appear in court.

I met the man I knew as Godfrey Wilson through my wife. What Wilson was christened, I don't know and, given his many transformations, I doubt that even he would know.

My wife, Kelly worked as a volunteer at an opportunity shop. She sold cast-off clothing from the generally rich to the bargain-hunting middle class, the proceeds then being distributed to help feed the poor in various soup kitchens scattered through our city. Kelly also spent some time in one of these soup kitchens. Her zeal briefly inspired me to lend a hand with the ladle on several occasions.

Most men - relatively few women for obvious reasons chose to live rough - had little to say to those who provided them with food. Many, I noticed, were shamefaced, glancing away, perhaps mumbling some thanks before they shuffled back to their chairs, wolfing down the meal and smoking a scrounged cigarette before heading to an early bed.

But Godfrey. Well, Godfrey was different, Kelly reported excitedly when she phoned me at work that afternoon. For a start, he was clean. That's some achievement when you're sleeping under bridges, in doorways or park benches. He was also, Kelly assured me, well-spoken, educated and sensitive. And did I mention how usefully practical he is? Well, yes Kelly, several times actually.

Somehow Godfrey had finished up on the other side of the serving counter at the soup kitchen, helping the volunteers ladle food. He spoke firmly to an old man who was drunk and abusive. He suggested several ways to streamline the food collection and distribution methods. It turned out that he was once a qualified management systems analyst.

And then, Kelly dropped a bombshell. She had invited Godfrey to have dinner with us at home that evening. Yes, she agreed, she had always been the first to say that her volunteer activities should be quarantined from our family life, but wait until I met him. I would be just as impressed as she was. After all darling, she said, he's one of us, just a professional man down on his luck.

So Godrey came to dinner and he proved to be quiet, respectful, discreetly amusing and well-mannered. Yet, I couldn't help feeling uneasy about a man who seemed to intuitively know what to say and how to impress Kelly. Then it began to rain heavily and it was too late for Godfrey to be admitted to the shelter that night. It seemed only natural to Kelly that Godfrey should sleep in our spare room overnight.

The next day, he went with Kelly to the opportunity shop where he quickly charmed the volunteer staff. That evening, he went with Kelly back to the soup kitchen, leaving me alone at home but returned with her that night.

And so the pattern for the next six months was established. Kelly and Godfrey became soul mates, often talking softly together and laughing at some shared experience. Increasingly, I found myself alone - marginalised in my own home.

It was soon evident that Godfrey had given up any hope of charming me. As Kelly had always been the more practical partner -looking after the finances, buying the food, arranging for workmen and so on- it hardly affected Godfrey what I thought. Sometimes, I tried to get Kelly to see reason, to send Godfrey on his way, but even the most muted criticism triggered heated arguments. So he stayed on and on.

Once, I went to the soup kitchen to show Kelly that I wasn't as selfish as she increasingly seemed to think, but I had a miserable evening being generally ignored by my wife and her friend.

And so there I was - sour, critical - my face aching with effort whenever I tried to smile.

Then one day, everything changed.

I came home to find Godfrey waiting for me. He thrust a letter in my hand.

'Kelly asked me to give this to you.'

'Do you know what it says?'

'In general terms because Kelly told me. I'll leave you alone to read it.'

'Yes. Do that,' I said, slitting open the envelope.

Kelly's letter ran for several pages. She listed the many faults that she had observed in me and patiently endured for the 15 years of our marriage. On the last page, I learnt she had met a wonderful man several months ago and had begun an affair. They had decided to live together and would marry as soon as our no-fault divorce was settled. Because this paragon was wealthy and Kelly appreciated that her news must be a shock to me, she had decided not to seek her half of our estate, providing I didn't attempt to contact her or contest the divorce.

Her concluding paragraph made me laugh bitterly. She begged me to take good care of Godfrey. After all, she pointed out, he is a far better man than I was and I could learn much from him on how to properly treat people in future.

Throwing down the letter, I stormed through the house. I found Wilson in the lounge room. He was smoking and regarded me coolly.

'Since when were you allowed to smoke in my house,' I demanded.

'A lot of things have changed now that Kelly has left,' he said quietly.

'You're right there,' I snarled. 'For starters, your meal ticket has just run out. You can clear out now and never come back.'

'I'm not going anywhere,' Wilson replied firmly.

'Then I'll call the police and have you evicted.'

He smiled and shook his head. 'You disappoint me. I thought you were smarter than that. The only reason the police would act is if I'm trespassing. As I've been staying here for six months, I'm clearly an invited guest.'

'So you're a backwoods lawyer as well? Did you pick that up in jail? That's usually we're your sort gain a legal education.'

He refused to be baited. 'Where I learnt about the law is none of your business. I've closely studied the law that affects my rights. I'd also tell the police that
I 'm not only a guest but also a tenant. When I realised I may not always enjoy Kelly's protection, I got a short-term job and paid off some of your small bills. I told Kelly that I didn't feel right living on her hospitality and she swallowed that line. So you see, I have a clear financial interest - an unwritten contract of accommodation. You won't find it easy to dislodge me. I've already spoken to a lawyer who is willing to represent me pro bono if you bring an action of eviction.

'In fact,' he continued, 'The question you need to address is whether you would happy living here with me. I may invite some of my friends around to stay. Let's face it, you'll probably be much more relaxed if you simply moved out now and left me here.

'And don't bother trying to change the locks,' he advised. 'Some years ago, I acquired a set of locksmith's keys. I can walk in here anytime I like. Figure it out. I'm here until it suits me to go. Even if you finally had me evicted, it would have cost you a fortune in legal fees and who knows in what state I'd leave your house.'

He reached down and picking up a beer can from the floor pulled off the ring top. He took a long draught and smiled tauntingly. 'This house suits me very well. Decision time. Will you leave now or shall I put you through months, perhaps years of hell?'

Having brewed the coffee, I toasted and buttered some crumpets. I then took my breakfast together with the morning newspaper onto the sunlit terrace.

I opened the paper, flicking through the pages, scanning each item.

The story had by this time, slipped to page eight and was assuming a slightly desperate tone.

It read, 'Police last night appealed for fresh leads in the "Faceless Tramp"murder case.

'The case concerns a man dressed in old, worn clothes whose body was found dumped in Thompson Park around midnight two weeks ago. The man, who has not been identified, was battered to death, by a blunt object, such a round piece of timber or a baseball bat.

'Detective Chief Inspector Frank Molloy, who is heading the case, said that the man's face had been beaten to an unrecognisable pulp and the man's fingerprints were not on record

'It appears that the victim may have been a vagrant, but this is only speculation. Surely, there is someone out there that knows and misses this man.'

Mr. Molloy confirmed that the murder appeared to be the work of a single assailant. 'What is remarkable is the frenzied savagery of the attack,' the detective said. 'It's certainly the most horrific murder that I've come across in my long career. We simply must apprehend the murderer as quickly as possible. There is someone out there, living in our community, who is deeply disturbed. While he may give the impression of normality, this individual is deranged. For the good of society, we need to swiftly identify this dangerous individual so that he may be appropriately treated.'

The article concluded with a telephone number that the civic minded reader could ring to offer information.

My coffee was rich and strong. Yawning, I took another sip and turned to the sports pages.

Stephen Collicoat

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The following comments are for "A Dangerous Man"
by Stephen Collicoat

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