A short story/vignette part of a longer thing. Written last year.
Tail end of the 70’s. They’re sitting there thinking about cocaine, like everyone else. A ceiling fan purrs away, wafting smoke from myriad glowing dots of cigarettes to the walls that are stained in yellow grease in their top centimetres. All the parties were coming to an end. It was late Sunday afternoon but felt like morning. They’d only been up long enough to register their heavy heads and light a desperate gasper. A packet of redheads sat on the table around which they were arranged in various degrees of motleyness. John and Rod were wearing the same clothes as the night before; Clancy had woken up and changed immediately, before even lighting a cigarette.
The day outside was getting hot which would mean they would spend it all inside, hiding from their dehydration and comedowns. Roy boiled a kettle and placed it in the middle of them, “Coffee?” he asked. There were murmurs of ambiguous assent from the others. He pulled the coffee and a big tub of sugar out anyway and thumped them down. Everyone made exaggerated gestures at their heads.
“Fuckin mutts. Both of ye.”
They weren’t inclined to disagree.
The night had started 48 hours before at noon on an inconspicuous midday, when they all decided to use the last of the cocaine they had scored from the overturned police cruiser. John was in favour of getting rid of it, as was Clancy, the youngest. The kid barely blinked without putting something in his bloodstream. Only Rod wanted them to exercise prudence. He had sworn off the good times a million, but always capitulated to the scenes of revelry and excitation that other two painted bespoke for him with their hungry words. They were all safe, and all back together, which is all he asked to wash up on the shore after the foam of their self-destructive benders had abated. He habitually checked the corners of the room and the windows as if he expected someone to be standing there watching them, maybe with a secret pocket of cocaine to share.
They called Rod “The lightning Rod”. If you asked him why he’d say because he attracted drama that he never wanted or sought, and which always left him scarred and bereft of valuable time. He could sit in his room and be pulled by unsolicited adventures into the jaws of wide world, but all he actually wanted— calm, leisure, finality—was not on the playbill. The real reason the other guys gave him the name though was that he’d heat up to a life-loving, effervescent pitch after a few innocent bumps of cocaine, only to turn back into a miserable bore when he was coming-down or not on it. The Time magazine some snobby cocaine-curious guest had left on the small coffee table that was never used for stimulants as soft as coffee had an article in it about neurotics that John had read, and now John called Rod a ‘neurotic’ and thought he had him all worked out.
Clancy shrunk lower in his seat like a downtrend on a graph, and wheezed out of an unclean vocal passage. His eyes were rimmed in red like they were gyrating with his nieces cherry hula hoop.
The sat there chain-smoking out of boredom. Someone would go to say something, then would anticipate the gravelly response from his listeners, and instead just take a drag from his cigarette and stay silent.
John always liked to eat when coming down from coke, something the other two could not understand or even really think about—not without their stomachs letting out nauseous protests anyway. He managed to get to his feet and walk to a cupboard that creaked open hollowly. His head filled the darkness and came out with nothing but loose pastilles of gum, which he nonetheless put into his mouth and chewed loudly. Clancy’s chin had fallen onto his chest now and Rod poked him with one finger outstretched delicately.
“Don’t fucking touch me man!” he responded, his eyes shooting open.
“Just checking you’re still with us,” Rod replied. He was tired and regretted being older than Clancy, regretted how he felt like he had a responsibility to keep him safe and send him back to his careless parents in NSW one day, only mildly burnt out—with a few bruises and and a serotonin disorder maybe— but more or less indistinguishable. Rod often lamented these better parts of his personality, cursed them as they pulled him into awkward and painful scenarios time and again— where someone else would have just gone home and wiped their mind clean. Rod wanted to be more selfish, to look out for number one more. He wanted to never do cocaine or any other drug again. He was over dealing with the highs that turned into abysmal depressions before your eyes, the happy-chemicals draining out of your bloodstream in a torrent like you had been punctured. He wanted stability, boredom, the boredom of regular people who are so content and stable they ask for bad things to happen to them to for the sake of feeling alive.
John slopped his gum like the virtuoso annoyance Clancy thought it was. Clancy despised John’s carefree good humour and aplomb in the face of any precipitous come-down or hairy standoff. Sangfroid, John was calling it, since the Time magazine had dropped that word in his vocabulary. Clancy thought all the big words and psychiatric terms in the world couldn’t stave off the feeling after a cocaine binge, worsened too if you’d been drinking because then your body felt dry and sickly. His mouth felt like it had feathers. Furry and stiff. The feeling of a comedown for Clancy was like the emotional turmoil of finding out both your parents had just died while you were out of town and the last words you said to them were angry and dismissive and you got back to to town and they’ve been buried already and everyone is looking at you like you’re responsible then your girlfriend breaks up with you because she can finally see the horrendous arachnid that lives at the core of your soul and you have to wake up early and go to work the next morning and hide every stray tatter of trauma that currently composes you and pretend to be OKAY while the tears prick at the back of your eyes and your medulla sends hot jets of sweat down your back. The only thing that could make a comedown better for Clancy was to smoke marijuana, which they currently were out of and had no money to go get more. He let his head rock back and force gently,
John watched Clancy puddled in his stiff-backed chair start rocking his head gently. John thought this was a comforting regression to the childhood luxury of a mother’s tenderness, when her rocking arms are the world taking its fangs out to plant a soft kiss on your head; a deep psychological expression of the urge for stability and the discharge of pain. John sucked in some dusty air through his nose, feeling the mucous start to adhere again and thinking maybe that familiar burn could have been a few stray grains of coke. He looked at Rod who had his arms crossed and his brows the same and tried to conceive what he was thinking. Probably just saying over and over “Never again, never again, never again” as he did in frequent paroxysms of self-loathing after every bender. Then he’d feel good a day or two later and by the weekend, at the latest, you could easily induce him to run down to the furtive clubhouse of The Satan’s Mithraists, a local biker club and surefire retailer of various recherché chemicals, and come back with his face painted in an ambivalent rictus, already chastising himself for something he hadn’t yet done but odds-on would.
John thought Rod was a neurotic, after reading the article in the Time magazine about Freud and psychoanalysis. Rod wanted to do cocaine, liked the rush and the euphoric confidence and the drip, but then afterwards wished he had just gone to church and went to work like his picture of a normal person, though he deeply hated such programmatic ways of living when they were imminent. John thought Rod had neurotic guilt, maybe from something that happened in his childhood, probably to do with his mother. He had read that neurotics repeat actions and attitudes because they couldn’t deal with the original cause of that behaviour, buried the original event deep in the nighttime of the unconscious so it’s ugly face could never be looked at and fuel nightmares again. John though Rod calling cocaine ‘Mama Coco’ in moments of drug-induced rapture was a freudian slip revealing this.
Rod was younger than John but no one ever remembered this because Rod’s precociously wrinkled face and dourness contrasted with the calm energy that John exuded. John was unflappable in the face of disaster, like it was a concept he wasn’t familiar with; but he would modestly claim this derived from years of losing it and realising it never helped the situation, as it existed in reality, for him to personally fall to pieces. He was fine to do cocaine for several days until they could barely stand up, and definitely couldn’t sit down; and he was fine when Rod or Clancy would run back from the Mithraists with tears in their eyes and no cocaine sticking to little baggies in their pockets. He was calm and resolute when trouble found him, with arms and a tan like Paul Hogan, and even when people called him ‘Stoic John’ and made fun of the fact that he never lost his cool or lashed out, he laughed along with them and took it in his stride. Losing it and lashing out at another was a commonplace amongst crowds who habitually hoovered-up cocaine like it was going out of fashion, which it incidentally wasn’t, but John never lost his temper or took his emotional depletion out on anyone. Clancy resented him for it. Wanted him to wake up and smash things, pick the bong up off the counter and smash it loudly into glass shards, and to point his round nails at him and say “Get the fuck out Clancy, you don’t pay rent and you use too much of the cocaine that we all score together and I’m sick of seeing your nose running and your leg twitching and your fucking face,” but he never did. Clancy resented John for this attack that never came, almost longed for it, for a resolution, like how the discomfort of sitting on the edge of the chair made you want to fall off, surrender to gravity. Clancy was paranoiacally aware that he overindulged in the collective coke. He would sometimes, on the way back from the Mithraists when it was his turn to score, open the little baggy and shove his pinky in there and get the party started without the other guys, and then would show up at the door with his pupils expanding visibly in realtime and flat-out lie to the other guys. They both knew. Rod would get angry and call Clancy “a rude little fuck” but wouldn’t care after he got his beak wet; but John never got angry or betrayed signs of disappointment. He would sit down last of them all and professionally tuck in, throwing the head God had carefully moulded for him back as the cut in the cocaine stung his sinuses.
“Jesus, who made this?” He would joke every time after they opened a virgin baggy, like it was the greatest thing he had ever consumed. But really it was the same old cocaine mixed with the same ingredients by the drudges The Satan’s Misthraists employed. Sure, good, reasonably pure gear that’d leave your teeth feeling like you’d just gone to the dentist, but not as good as they had occasionally got when they traveled the long highways to the city where the real hard shit came into the ports, completely unchanged from the original Latino recipe except that it had several thousand kilometres extra travel on it.
John had spent his university years in the city and that crystalline powder had been his study companion and best mate, instigator of many lasting friendships, and benighted scourge on his wallet. He would walk the city some nights with a roaring in his stomach, with nothing but his ID and a condom in his wallet, and wander around in the subterranean darkness watching junkies an publicans fight in the street, waiting for that person with the racing fingers and glinting eye that’d say they were flush with coke still, hadn’t binged it all away, and he’d steel himself and walk right up to the person and tell them that they were high off his gear, that he was something of a baron and could recognise his product from the way it set the leg to tapdancing, and he’d ask for his cocaine back, and the mark would always equivocate and palter and make excuses why he couldn’t return it but would you like to come round the back of this club and try some with me and my friends to be sure? He’d snort a few lines and pocket the guy’s 10-spot and say, ‘Yep, that’s definitely the family’s vintage, unmistakable’ and he’d excuse himself and go buy breakfast with the money and try to study and the hapless guy would be left standing there feeling like a celebrity and cursing himself for not asking the drug baron for his personal contact. But nowadays he couldn’t care less to brag about the purity of gear or compare his with others’, it becoming unimportant somewhere down the line to compete with anyone else, leaving sore losers in his trail that might come at him, pump him full of holes like that Dingoes lead guitarist at a party. It wasn’t worth dying over. They were all just escaping the boredom or depression of their minds one shortening moment of euphoria at a time. As he moved northward and his white collar began getting bluer he gave up tripping to the city to stockpile the wondrous salmon-tinged coke he was privileged enough to have a connect for, and started buying the cheaper, regular gear from the local bikers. Plus it became too nerve-racking to will the old Holden down the highway over and over again, never certain if it’d make the distance or not, with a fiery hot conflagration burning away under his driver’s seat for any pig to smell. Better let the outlaws do the hard work.
Rod snorted his cocaine hungrily, but with a furtive flick of the eyes in both directions first, like some authority might be suspiciously watching. He never dipped into the bag before anyone else and actually liked to volunteer to pick it up from the bikers. He’d say, “No, I’m not fucking doing any more drugs,” after every sesh and would suggest he go get the coke because obviously he was done with it, finito, not even slightly tempted anymore. He’d leave and articulately talk the Mithraists into stuffing him a swollen gram into a bag, telling them the whole time that he thinks their cocaine, which they called yao, was brilliant but that he’d retired from indulging and this was just for the boys. Then he’d get home and watch the others chop up little angular lines and someone would offer him a tubule of currency and he’d make a show of rejecting it, saying he was over that stuff, but his eyes were pretty much jumping out of his head trying to grab a damn rail before they all disappeared. He’d stand there and watch you do a line or two then his eye-muscle-jiggle would become too much and he’d say, “fuck it, maybe i’ll have just one, I did go through all the trouble of getting it after all.” He’d put down a line and the consternation on his face would increase and peak, then a dumb smile would appear like a bull through a matador’s cape, and he’d go “wooooooo…”
Clancy like to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. He was young and liked experimenting, but the boys wondered whether he could find a way to experiment with chemicals that wasn’t just him throwing anything down his throat like it was an old mechanic’s funnel and seeing what mixed and what didn’t in his stomach. Clancy was fixated on never coming down. He had a perpetual fear of sobriety, its normalcy and everyday-ness. He would be special, he would live a life of imagination and creativity and blessing, always breaking through to new highs, a scientist of bliss, a nobel laureate of drug states. He sat now with his spine bowing, his head falling like an overripe apple on a thin branch onto his chest, white spit flecking his teeth. He would never say much when he was coming down, just complain and complain. Clancy tried to avoid coming down altogether, and had already spent the last reserve of nervous energy he had left looking for a small nug of weed or some errant flakes of coke in a baggy somewhere. Rod worried about someone so young doing such heavy drugs, even though he was doing the same thing at his age, not that many years ago really. John worried about him to. You had to comedown. It was inevitable. You couldn’t chase the sun forever. Eventually you’d run out of steam and fall on the ground as darkness became ascendent and feel your scorched face cracking and hurt. John read Clancy the story of Icarus, but Clancy didn’t get the implication. Clancy thought John was a sanctimonious prick, sometimes. He was a decade older than Clancy, who could care less what John knew or thought he knew from years of supposed recreation. Clancy mostly thought that John was boring, a boring, reliable friend who you could mistreat as badly as you wanted because he’d never abandon you or lash out. Clancy wanted girls and adventure and universal adoration, but his avaricious rashness and bony pinched face often prevented this, so he settled for riding the eclectic fabric of narcotic’s magic carpet. John had given Clancy the advice of never trying any drug for the first time if he were already on another substance, wise words so you would be able to take care of yourself and discover what works and doesn’t work for you personally, and had seen Clancy disregard this advice a thousand times. They’d be in the squalor of someone new friend’s squat or a pub somewhere and someone would offer them something, a drug the guy couldn’t even name or vouch for, and John would send him sailing but not before Clancy took one or two of whatever the guy offered in his un-calloused palm and take it ostentatiously in front of John. He wouldn’t yell at Clancy though; he felt that’s what Clancy wanted. He would just drink his beer and worry, trying to not let on that he cared.
More cocaine was always the escape from cocaine. From the ills wrought by it in its tantrums. When it was playing nice it was the best partner in the world. The rest of the time, yeeeesh. Like any poisonous lover everyone had a different name for it. Clancy sometimes called it ‘speed’, possibly as a joke but more probably because he did speed too and often got so desperate and uncritical as to not be able to distinguish the difference. Rod called it ‘Mama Coco’ when he was zonked and thought no-one would remember, but mostly he called it “that bitch” and frowned at her mention. John tried to call it like it was and not get caught up in any religious delusions about the drug hating or loving them. He put it into his body, he controlled the supply that entered him and he was the only one responsible for his aches and joys. The highs, the lows, the comedowns that come screeching into your psyche like a battalion of greedy mandrills wiht a thousand arms keen to take everything away, it was all wrapped up in the experience of cocaine. John realised this, his veteran’s deviated septum and the years of sordid experimentation had given him wisdom beyond his years. He had cocaine wisdom, from years spent on cocaine time, which is like three years rolled into every one. John took his comedowns with stoic surrender, knowing that to thrash around was to be injured by the bars of his cell, which was inescapable until it was ready to fall down itself. He’d light a cigarette maybe, if he had one, and try not to relive the past hours, he’d just sit there, his mind as open as the sky.
Rod watched him jealously in moments like this, sitting at the opposite side of the table, his knee joggling under the lip of the wood, and shadow, much later than the dusk of five o’clock, darkening his cheeks. His mouth would be set and closed but god, the tongue in his head would be lashing out in a glossolalia of recriminations and insults like the mind of a schizophrenic. He hated himself for doing cocaine again, but hated life when he wasn’t on it, but also thought that if he just had long enough off of it his nerves would repair and he’d be fine, finally, but then he’d think that he’d been doing so well a harmless bump would be a good reward and he’d do that then the cycle would start again. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, a claustrophobic agony that was so much worse because their were threads of euphoria in there, even if they were getting harder to find and pull, harder still knowing that one day there’d be no threads left and he be standing there naked and deprived without a copper in his pocket, licking the bottom of an empty bag like the Christ’s feet.
In a random moment the silent energy in the room would peak and everyone would find they were making eye contact and then Rod would said, “Should I run down and see what the Mithraists are up to? I think I heard some Harley’s pulling up before. Could use a walk to clear me head. Maybe they’ll even give me something to run back for you boys. Fix you right up. Get it on tic, naturally…” and the shit-talking continued and before they knew it they’d be looking at each other’s eyes stretching back out wide and their noses mucous-y, and then they’d see their own grey faces hovering over the mirror cleaning the white powder off it and the rush would jog their hearts back into stride and they’d push aside and laugh at the condemnatory thoughts they had developed for each other, and they’d babble about nothing and try to bum cigarettes until it was time for someone to look like the junky and suggest they chop up a few more lines and go again. It was the tail end of the 70’s, after all, and they were sitting there thinking about cocaine, like everyone else.
(One Cop Town PDF Version)
One Cop Town
”Lloyd, what are you doing right now, are you not out patrolling?”
“No Joyce I’m right here in my office talking to you.”
“Well why aren’t you out patrolling, there could be anyone out there.”
Sergeant Locklear parted the off-white Venetians he sat in front of and looked at out Malkerns Rd, the main street of Malkerns. Too lonely for even the stars to be out.
“It all looks good to me Joyce,” he mumbled.
“What do you mean, you just went out and patrolled the whole town then did you?”
“Now Joyce it’s freezing tonight, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble makers out there.”
“Freezing? That’s no reason to not do our job is it? I’ll get knocked on the head one day and you’ll be to blame.”
“Mrs Williams now don’t —“
“Don’t take that tone with me you’re a public servant—you’re my servant and therefore I’ve something to report. I saw a dangerous-looking man outside the Queens Arms earlier and I bet he’s still there now.”
“Oh, why didn’t you call these suspicious figures in earlier Mrs Williams?”
“I DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO DO YOUR WHOLE JOB FOR YOU MR LOCKLEAR. I’m gonna drive past the hotel in fifteen minutes and I either wanna see you there or him gone—.”
Sergeant Locklear swore under his breath. He dreaded walking from his heated office into the cold and to his 4×4 which was capacious and clean on the inside but always freezing at this time of night with the dials silently reflecting frozen light. He slammed the phone receiver in an attempt to release anger. It shuddered lifelessly. When he was in his car and the seatbelt was wrapped around his blues, the engine humming away, he took off, letting out a mild rebellious skid that kicked the dirt of the police parking lot into an evernescent tornado.
The whole way from precinct to pub was a merciful five streetlights—very handy for the days when he finished before the pub’s 9pm closing time—and they now flew by with the rapidity of a self-determined speed limit. Whoosh whoosh, they streaked by, the visual equivalent of driving past a truck at high speed with the window down. He pulled up in front of the Queens Arms, by where the horses used to be tethered in Malkerns’ heyday Gold Rush period. No sign of any devils, but the mark of the beast was in the night sky. He went to reach for his torch but it was redundant in the light of the full gibbous moon.
Sergeant Locklear opened his door into complete silence and stillness. There were only shadows on the street corners. He squinted his eyes as if to hear better and with his dark tan and commonsense air he cold almost be mistaken for some aboriginal tracker from deep in forgotten history. He thought he’d wait for that nosey old thing to drive past just to see him, so hit lit a PJ Red and sat on a long bench, putting his hands on his knees as he sat heavily down.
Inhale. Exhale. Think about warmth. Inhale… Crunch.
“Huh”, his head swivelled both ways but all he saw was both ends of the lonely decking, no rails or anything bordering it. No anything in general.
“The Fuck… WHO’S THERE?!”
His hand swung immediately to his service revolver, instantly clammy from a deluge of adrenaline. He unclipped its holster and by the stillness of his hand knew he was ready to fight a man.
“COME OUT. COME ON”, he shouted, not knowing if there was even anyone there but not caring, the stillness was unsettling him and his voice only increased the desolation.
“WHO’S THERE?”, he shouted, now removing his weapon completely and putting it between him and the mystery sounds.
“POLICE, COME OUT NOW!”
He pointed his gun barrel into the night’s sternum. He was almost wishing he had a partner when the man appeared.
“STOP STOP DON’T MOVE!”
The figure, only silhouette, seemed to be semi-opaque and effusing light. It put its hands up as Sergeant Locklear pointed the barrel at where its face should be.
“DON’T MOVE. Come here, show me your face.”
The shape moved closer to him and he felt his trigger finger stiffen with a blue curl of blood. It was wearing a hood and Locklear’s first impulse was to get it’s face exposed. He knew from being a longstanding public servant the importance of making eye contact with someone you’re trying to control, and the corollary that anyone who didn’t show fear when being ordered at high volume by a police officer pointing deadly metal their way needed to feel 250k volts because they were unstoppably insane.
The figure stopped. It reached one long-fingered hand up to the apex of its hood and pulled surely. The trimming round the opening receded and a face that was white and angular beamed out from below.
“Hello,” it said.
“WHAT THE FUCK MATE?” Sgt Locklear screamed in a voice gone tremulous anticipating the worst, “Put your hands up— I’m this close to fucking ending you.”
Sgt Locklear started to move aggressively, grabbing wrists, which turned out to be thin and innocuous, and placing them into his handcuffs, which he cinched closed with a robotic zzzzzzk.
“What the fuck are you doing out here, huh, you tryina’ rob the place or something?” Locklear interrogated. As soon as the metal arms encircled the arms of the figure, Locklear felt a calm coolness descend on his frustrated system. His voice lost any of its unsteadiness and a sadistic fixity entered into his prematurely arthritic hands. He felt in control again.
“Huh, you tryna rob the place or somethin’ are ya? Huh!”
It was usually at this point, when you levelled an accusation at someone without any evidence, that they would either start arguing feverishly until they inculpated themselves or just admit guilt. The person said nothing. Locklear reached up and ripped the hood from its head. He looked at the mess of hair underneath which appeared more like feathers shooting out at all wild angles.
“Where did you come from? Do you speak English, huh?”
“Yes sir,” the voice fluidly replied.
“What were you doing walking around these premises huh. Robbing it?”
“No Sir, I was waiting for my mum.”
“Your Mum?!” Sergeant Locklear was flabbergasted such a thing as what he now held could even claim to belong to or come from another human. It was over 6 foot tall, had near-transparent pale skin, bones that seemed to poke out at incongruous angles, feathered hair and a voice that sounded like a humming power outlet.
“Yes, my mum should be picking me up soon, I caught a wrong bus and fell asleep and then the driver said we were at the last stop.”
“You sleep on buses for 10 hours do you mate?”
“I happened to today, I had been working flat out with these guys from Sri Lanka that I’ve been teaching English to and I must have gotten on the wrong bus haha.”
Sergeant Locklear led him over to one of the front benches and pushed him down unceremoniously. He yelped a bit when his restrained hands landed knuckle down on the wood and then his thin waist finished the sandwich.
Sergeant Locklear could now see the man fully, and took a step away from him to even the perspective. He put his hands on his hips and took air deep into his diaphragm.
“There’s only one bus to here and it only comes by twice a week. Bill Asper down the road drives it and he’ll be drunk ’til Monday’s run.”
“Oh no, I guess I’d better get ahold of my mother then if I want to be home in time for my classes tomorrow.”
“I’d guess you better.”
“Yes, well would you be able to take these off of me so I can try and call her again?”
“Mmmm, not so easy mate. Had several complaints about a strange person here trying to enter the Queens Head. That you?”
“Ummm, I don’t know sir. I saw signs advertising a hotel so I walked here hoping someone would be able to help me find a main road or give me a place to stay.”
“The hotel closes after dinner service, and they aren’t interested in new reservations. And this is the main road.”
The man, or rather, young man, cut his eyes down both sides of the street on which he now found himself detained and saw nothing but funereal stillness. Sergeant Locklear thought “Nother city kid with no idea of country living.”
“You’ve got a wallet on ya?”
“Yeah, it’s just in my jacket there.”
Locklear hesitantly reached into the pocket that the man nodded his head at and pulled out a fake leather wallet. He opened it. No fire and brimstone just a few plastic bank cards, a red $20 note, and a faded ID. He grabbed the ID out expecting to read some answers on it’s face like from a rap-sheet. But it was just a normal P-platers license even though the name had been rubbed out. The address had a big-city ring to it, Locklear could smell the waste and traffic fumes and foreign cooking. He put the wallet back together and dropped it at his feet, crouching now to the level of the subdued stranger and fixing his gaze.
“Something’s not adding up here mate.” He let whatever implication hang in the air, hoping the little prick would be nervous enough to supply him with some answers.
“Oh, I’m sorry Sir it’s just everything happened like I explained.”
“Nah, nah, there’s no way you fell asleep on the bus for that long. No way mate. Now I reckon you intended to come here.”
“No Sir I didn’t.”
“What reason do you have for being here?”
“None Sir, that’s why I was trying to call my mum, or find a place where they’d tell me where the bus leaves from.”
“I’VE told you the bus doesn’t leave here it only comes here; if you wanna leave you either get a return bus pass with your accomodation or you drive your own car away.”
“But I have neither of those things.”
“Well then how do you expect to leave. Isn’t this turning into a nice little sob story?”
“Look Sir I haven’t done anything wrong. I got left here, now all I’m trying to do is call someone to pick me up and you’re stopping me.”
Sergeant Locklear saw a flash and at first he thought it was his anger exploding in his head but then he heard the noise— TOOOOOT— Joyce driving past, head turned half around to stare out the window at the tableaux she called into existence. She might have yelled something out the window too but passed too quickly.
Cold, adrenaline receded, frustrated at the whole way his night had gone, Locklear decided to leave the Queens Head and not return until tomorrow when drinking business resumed. Now he just had to work out whether to take the young freak with him or not. On one hand, he had identification and cash and the scribblings of an explanation; on the other, if he were some sort of crazed psychopath and murdered someone later that night then Joyce would 100% let his superiors in Vic Pol Melbourne know that he’d made the call to free him and he’d probably lose his job to one of those city-raised, former-athletes who become Police Officers purely because they have the size. But he’d got Locklear out in the cold, away from his tea, and jacked his heart rate up above 200, and so he deserved to be thrown in a cell to ponder while some ‘background checks ran’. It was a shit decision to make because, if he arrested the kid for vagrancy or loitering (which wasn’t exactly and offence warranting a night’s stay at the public’s expense), he could get in trouble, again, especially if the mother arrived during the night, and, not being able to find her son or the semi-hidden police station off the main rd, called the metropolitans. She’d probably accuse him of kidnapping—the mothers of kids like this are always incredibly vengeful when it comes to their pale, pathetic spawn. His embeddedness in the community was strong, he knew every pothole in Malkerns and all the people who called it home, but knew also, from the shouting matches regularly encountered at the bi-weekly council meetings, that the people of the perennial Tidy Towns winner were more than happy to replace him, or really any of their neighbours, if it meant some betterment or even entertainment for the other residents, however fleeting.
FUCK, he thought.
Back at the station, he dunked his earl grey again, letting it steep a little longer. He was warming his hands over the gas heater in the reception area of the small Police station. He now had a sweater on and was looking out at the rain thinking. “Maybe I should have just brought the little prick in, he’ll probably catch hypothermia out there and it’ll somehow be my fault.”
It was now nearly 3 AM and the clear night’s flash downpour was becoming torrential. He wanted to go rest and decided that now was as good a time as any to lay down with his steaming cup beside him. He sank into the small couch in the reception room, where bad guys would have sat if there were any bad guys in Malkerns, and fell asleep with his cheek pushed heavily into the cushion weave.
At 8 AM the next morning he awoke to his computer beep beeping and got vertical like a ship in rough seas, rubbing his eyes mightily with his workman’ hands. Fresh sun streamed through the venetians and was instantly distressed by the dust in his office. Every morning one of his first awarenesses was his goddamn back pain. It chimed its part in the morning crescendo now. Sleeping on the couch had been a bad choice. He popped himself up with an arm and went to the computer monitor to see what emails had come in. The usual shit, not worth the bits it was composed of. Not worth waking him up, that’s for sure.
Then the phone rang. It was Joyce again, and he could hear Mr Williams yelling in the background too.
“Loyd get down here immediately this is an emergency!”
“Wha— what’s happened Joyce, are you at home?”
“Does it sound like I’m at home? I’m at the Queens Head with the criminal you, apparently, failed to apprehend last night.”
“Huh?” What was the old bag on about, the kid had left with his mum by now surely.
“What are you talking about?”
“WHAT AM I TALKING ABOUT? YOU HAD BETTER GET DOWN HERE AND FIND OUT!”
Officer Locklear rolled his eyes and checked his face in the reflection of the computer monitor. You could still see the weave of the couch impressed over his auburn stubble. He looked tired and angry and felt the same. His shirt wasn’t ironed. He picked up his keys and went to spin them around his finger but they accidentally fired off and landed behind him somewhere in a sonorous puddle.
“FUUUUUCK” He yelled.
In the Pajero he raced down to the Queens Head, his aggression making his foot 10 pounds heavier. There were a few cars out the front, mostly thrashed four-wheel drives but an immaculate Forester as well that belonged, he knew, to Joyce. He entered and smelled the customary smell of spilt bitters and ladies’ over-applied perfume.
Joyce found his eye immediately, and as soon as he looked her way she signalled him over silently with an imperial wave of her finger. He saw behind her a figure in a black jumper—the kid from last night—seated at the bar. He looked again at Joyce who was still waving her finger at him, eyes bulging dyspeptically so the veins looked like wild flags rippling in a typhoon. He walked straight past her off-candy coloured hair, which she was dying off her head at an alarming rate, and toward the young man.
“What are you doing here mate?”
“Oh, Officer, well I was just getting something to eat.”
“Still waiting for that mum of yours to come get you right?”
“Yes sir, I couldn’t get a hold of her last night.”
“So you decided to go in to the very pub that you were suspected of robbing?”
“Who accused me of robbing anything?”
“He hasn’t stolen anything Lloyd… At least not yet.” Bruno the publican yelled from behind the bar. “Just bought a schnitzel, so far.”
“Thanks Bruno.” Sergeant Locklear pulled a stool screechingly up to the kid. He sat down, much bigger than the boy, and was able to see his etiolated reflection across from him looking all tired and wounded in a mirror gone rheumy with fingerprints.
“Okay mate well looks like we didn’t have the right conversation last night. Where are you from and what are you doing here?”
“I missed my stop on the bus Sir,”
“Yes that’s right you slept for 10 hours without waking. What are you doing here though?”
“I’m waiting for my mum— Oh, you mean in the pub here?”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING MATE!?!”
He had lost his patience and everyone in the pub, maybe 15 people all up who had been pretending to look into their beers and mind their business, now looked directly over to the little scene that was unfolding around the strange kid with Bruno and Locklear.
“YEAH YOU GET HIM SARGE” someone called out.
“You’ve got no reason to be here, no way to leave and only excuses that aren’t making sense.”
“What on earth are you doing here in Malkern? There’s nothing for you here.”
“I, I know sir I’m trying to get out of here I swear. Here, look at my phone you can see the messages I sent my mum.” He held the phone out to Locklear who glanced at it then smacked it out of his hand so hard it hit the ground and bounced, revealing a shattered screen as it wheeled through the air. The kid’s angular face dropped open. Locklear had had enough; he grabbed the back of the kid’s head and shoved it onto the beer-soaked bar mat while wrenching his pale outstretched hand behind him in a balletic move that pirouetted into a BANG. Glasses on the bar hopped a centimetre into the air and back down.
“YEAH!” people cheered.
“Get him Lloyd!”
“Huh, who are you NOW mate, huh!”
“CRETIN. Get him Lloyd!”
Normally a policeman’s worst enemy is confusion and chaos, but this time Lloyd appreciated it. As soon as the kid’s head hit the timber the pub erupted into cheers and Lloyd realised that half the town was probably in the venue having lunch, witnessing him doing his job—keeping Malkerns, one of Victoria’s tidiest towns, clean. He wouldn’t have to worry about Joyce calling the Melbourne office now, about them talking about how useless he was at the council meetings or possibly losing his job. It was all alright and he felt the comfort he instilled in the town wash over him, articulated through his arteries and emanating from the position on the back of the kid’s head where his big paw rested. His grimace of courage and effort almost could have been mistaken for a grin and in the brightness of the downlight he looked years younger and more virile, as attested by many of the witnesses in the weekly paper later on.
Sitting on the couch in the reception area reserved for criminals, the kid didn’t seem as strong. He had a mild bump on the top of his forehead, a region that didn’t normally swell, and a cut on the corner of his eyebrow. Lucky he didn’t buy a beer- the measly cuts he had could have been far worse, thought Locklear. He was complaining though, asking for panadol and his mum, and telling Locklear that he couldn’t attack someone like that when he hadn’t done anything wrong. Saying there were witnesses and that he’d get in trouble if his mum saw his bruises and wanted to press charges.
“Yeah right,” thought Locklear, no-one in town would rat on him now, he was their hero and protector. He was amazed the kid still claimed to be waiting for an unseen mother.
He went to get the little prick a cup of water since he was apparently too parched to answer any more questions; on the way back he walked up and put his foot on the seat beside the kid, the height of his knee reaching reddened eyes.
“Answers. Then a sip.”
“Sir, I’ve already told you everything.”
“No, you haven’t told me anything yet.”
“I have. I told you about the bus. About my mum.”
“Lies. You cant be too parched, dribbling all these excuses.”
He grabbed the plastic water and poured it all over the floor. It barely puddled.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know”.
“I told you.”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE”
“YOU SHOULD KNOW YOU HANDCUFFED ME AND BROUGHT ME HERE! …oh”
Locklear lifted him up by the chain of his handcuffs, his anger getting the best of him; painting his face incarnadine. He pushed the pale annoyance back against a wall and the kid gasped and fell to his knees before landing on his face, completely horizontal. His hands wriggled behind him manically; powerlessly. His wiggling fingers looked like albino earthworms.
“You’ve got no money. Spent it all at the pub did you mate. Shame. Away from town with no money? Shame mate, that’s called vagrancy in these parts!”
Locklear’s phone rang and he walked off to answer it.
“Lloyd, it’s Joyce. Where are you the meeting started 10 minutes ago?”
“Sorry Joyce, I’m with the young suspect at the moment.”
“Well, get down here Lloyd I’m sure there are many people who want to talk to you right now. The town is at a fever pitch.”
“Just get down here we need to see you.”
Sergeant Locklear grabbed his keys off the bench, a little thunderstorm in his hand, and went out to his 4×4, locking the precinct door as he left. He started up his car and drove away. He was very aware the young man was still incapacitated on his office floor.
“No don’t leave m—“ the figure had heard the conversation and was protesting into the nap of the carpet. He didn’t even see Locklear stride out the door. He didn’t see much at all.
At the Malkern Council Meeting everyone wrung his hand enthusiastically and said they’d either been there to see, or had heard from a neighbour, what he’d done. He had many people tell him he was great for this town, that he’d done what they wanted to do and were going to do if he didn’t; a woman whose chooks he rescued from the highway several times a month said, “Thankyou for keeping this town safe,” in a meek voice that seemed almost embarrassed. Maybe even flirtatious.
When he finally took a seat it was at the back of the modest congregation. He slowly placed himself down, with paparazzi firing their flashbulbs in his head. He felt chuffed. He felt it befitted his status as ‘Town Protector’ to sit at the back of the room and expose his hind to the first arrow, should it come. He would protect the undefended town.
The minutes of that meeting will recall that the town discursively talked through sundry issues relating to local grievances, upcoming events, and recent occurrences. At the mention of the latter the townspeople perked-up a bit. It was related an (un)certain shadowy presence had invaded the town and had wandered the streets for 24 whole hours before (finally) being accosted by a policeman. One Sergeant Lloyd Locklear was acknowledged for his bravery in eventually apprehending the suspect, but it was noted that he could have responded much faster, after all lives are at risk everyday and people only seem to be getting worse and more bloodthirsty. It was asked if the identity of the suspect was known, to which Sergeant Locklear replied in the negative and that it was a police matter now anyway. One Joyce Williams remarked on the contrary that these matters are always first a town matter. It was suggested Mr Locklear needs to receive some training from his metropolitan colleagues on proper action and that he’d better get to the bottom of things soon. It was noted that Sergeant Locklear left the town meeting early, though with a spring in his step.
Driving back to the office, his knuckles whitening around the steering wheel thinking about the coral head of Mrs Williams, Locklear was adamant to ‘get to the bottom of things’ …whatever it meant. He slid to a stop on the loose gravel outside his station. He slammed the door as he got out and put on his policeman’s hat as if someone was watching. He unlocked the heavy station door and went in.
“Alright you jackass we’ve all had enough of your games—“
The floor of his reception was empty. There was no one there. Locklear searched his office frantically, knocking cups of old tea onto fresh white paper. He made both his knees crack getting onto the ground to look under his desk. He ran into the consulting room and then the storeroom vocally. No-one. He had vanished.
How?! He ran back through the whole building again, nothing was in disarray, no broken windows or any way for him to have left. His booming voice, obese voice meant nothing to the unreceptive silence.
Sergeant Locklear walked into the bathroom in the back of the station. He threw water across his face and looked into the stony eyes reflected at him. He sat on the toilet with the lid down and his pants up. Who could he call? He needed help. He couldn’t tell anyone that he had let the suspect go… twice.
He jogged back out to his 4×4 and burned away from the station. He flew down the main street looking for signs of life but there was no-one about. He went passed the Town Hall, which was now empty, and then about 10 kms out of town on the old highway. It was no use. He was seeing faces in the forest everywhere but none of them were his quarry. There were hundreds of square kilometres of dense bush around Malkerns, and the figure could have ducked into any anonymous nook and evaporated forever. It was no use.
At 3 am he arrived back in his office and fell asleep on the couch in the exact position his great catch had been in earlier that day
BRRRing BRRiing …. BRRIing BRring
Locklear got up hazily from his improvised bed and stumbled to the phone on instinct alone. His eyes weren’t even open when he heard,
“Locklear get up, it’s an emergency, he’s here!”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHO?! HE’s here.”
“Oh Fuck!” Everything that preceded his comatose rest suddenly resolved like a cockatoo in a good camera frame.
“WHAT WHY HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO…”
Locklear had dropped the phone and was running out the door to his car. His keys were still in his pocket from last night. He smelled like women’s perfume that still clung to him from the meeting. After driving with his eyes in hyphens for a few angry minutes he saw some form of commotion occurring in the diminutive main street. There was the kid, clothes torn and covered in mud, his face lit up by a wild-eyed stare. He was running shoe-less down the street gesturing at the horrified residents of Malkerns who stood stoically in front of their stores holding brooms and shovels and whatever tools they had to defend themselves.
Locklear jumped out of his car and tore off down the street, leaving doors open and lights spinning.
“Officer he just ran passed! He’s there!”
“Came past here screaming about a phone Locklear!”
“Said he’s been in the bush all night!”
“Chase him back there Officer!”
“Trying to get money off us officer!”
“Wants and ATM or…”
“Help me I’ve been out in the woods all night—”
“He’s a criminal mate!”
“Help my wallet is gone!”
“He’s trying to steal”
“Ugh get off of me!”
“GAH, he’s on Christine!”
“Get him Locklear!”
‘Gotcha’, he reached his big fist out and grabbed threads of the kid’s jacket and pulled him into him mightily. He held his baton high above his head and brought it tomahawking down with the full strength of his meaty arm on top of the suspect’s head, whose legs buckled and faltered. He shrunk forward, maybe to run, so Locklear bought the still vibrating metal down over the same spot on the man’s head again, and again, until he wasn’t running no more. And the motion felt better than sex, better than catharsis, and he got hypnotised by the pain in his hand and the way his tricep stung from repetition and then there wasn’t even a head to look down at, just an empty cauldron whose contents had been haphazardly disregarded on the Tidy Towns-winning street and there were bits of eggshell dropped there in the mess and some hair and the dark reflection of death bubbling in the waters. The streets became silent and orderly again. Locklear caught a reflection in the coagulating blood, watching the grin widen until he realised.