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Authors: Alastair Sarre

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Ecstasy Lake (4 page)

BOOK: Ecstasy Lake
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Tasso was keen to start shaking the town that evening, so after a clean-up, a bite to eat and a few drinks at the hotel we headed out. Tasso wanted to go to White Pointer, which he said was the most popular nightclub in town. It still mightn't be much: it was a small town.

White Pointer was a two-storey establishment on Hindley Street with a large neon shark's fin mounted above it. The fin was white, and a couple of pulsing, blood red ripples ran across the outline just below the tip. Bert was driving, and we pulled up in a no-parking zone. There was the loud thump-thump of electronic music, and coloured lights flashed to get the waiting crowd in the mood. Dozens of young women and men were gathered on the pavement in a loose line-up, waiting to be admitted. Most of the girls were clutching purses and many were looking at their phones. All were wearing short skirts and some were wearing shorter skirts. There were girls wearing too much make-up, girls with piercings, and girls with tattoos in the smalls of their backs and halfway up their thighs and on the tops of their breasts and no doubt in other, slightly more private places.

There were plenty of lads about, too. Most seemed to be there for the party, full of laughter and energy, ready to dance and sweat and drink and dehydrate and slur words at the girls. But there was a group that looked like it might be there for other reasons, tough-guys wearing shirts with truncated sleeves so they could flash their engorged muscles at girls and rivals and cops, young men and not-so-young men with shorn heads and piercings and tattoos that flexed when their biceps flexed, observing the scene with volatile eyes.

Bert clicked on the hazards and stepped out of the car with a flourish that caught the attention of a couple of grinning youths.

‘Nice moves, old man,' said one of them. Tasso had also climbed out and was admiring two girls standing next to the no-parking sign. They were holding hands.

‘Nice car,' said one of them to Tasso.

‘Like to go for a drive?' Tasso made a big gesture with his hand. They looked at each other and giggled.

‘You work quick,' said one.

‘You boys are a bit old for us,' said the other, but she was wearing a coy look that seemed to suggest that the age barrier was negotiable. Her legs disappeared into a short, black-and-white-striped dress with no shoulder straps. It was unclear how the dress was staying in position. The other girl was wearing a dress of a similar style, without the stripes. ‘We're lining up to get into the club,' said the girl in the stripes.

‘Well, let's go into the club, then,' said Tasso. Bert had been standing at a respectful distance and Tasso caught his eye. ‘Come in with us, Bert.'

‘I probably won't, sir. Not really my scene.'

The girls laughed and looked at each other. ‘Nawt really my scene,' mimicked the one in the striped dress. She had a confident mouth and cheeky eyes. She looked at Tasso. ‘He called you sir. How cute.'

‘I've told him not to do that. Be cute, I mean.'

‘Is he your chauffeur?'

‘I guess you could say so.'

‘Are you rich?'

‘Rich enough.'

‘I'm Juliana,' said the stripy one. ‘And she's Caitlin.'

‘Mr Tasso.' A man was calling from the entrance of the nightclub. He wore a dinner jacket that fitted his chest like it would have fitted a fridge. A bow tie was stuck like a fridge-magnet to the top of his white shirt, and he didn't appear to have a neck. ‘Mr Tasso.' He was heading toward us, and the crowd made way for him like they'd make way for a runaway van. His arms didn't want to hang vertically. ‘Mr Tasso, no need to wait back here. Come through.' He had a small earpiece in his ear with a looped cable that disappeared into his shirt collar.

‘Hello, Tiny,' said Tasso. ‘We're happy out here with these lovely ladies.'

‘We don't mind jumping the queue,' said Juliana.

‘No, we don't want to start a riot,' said Tasso. He winked at her. ‘You could cause a riot, just with your legs.' She beamed at him.

‘Suit yourself, Mr Tasso,' said Tiny. He held his finger to his ear as if a message was coming in. It seemed to take a while to get through.

‘Excuse me,' he said, and returned to his post. He spoke to a bloke in a better-fitting shirt, who looked at us and strolled over.

‘Tasso, good to see you again.' He was a short, earnest man of about thirty with slicked-back black hair, a long chin and wild eyes. He had thick dark eyebrows that arched up and seemed to be asking a perpetual question, and a turned-down moustache as thick as his eyebrows that seemed to be answering in the negative. Tasso turned to me. ‘This is Peter Coy.'

‘Steve West,' I said. Coy nodded and we shook hands. He had an intense stare and his eyeballs seem to move more than they should. He looked at the girls, but Tasso didn't introduce them; I wondered if he had forgotten their names. There was a deep cackling noise that grew loud. Very loud. We turned to watch as a fleet of about twenty-five motorbikes cruised past, ridden by men clad in black leather with black helmets on their heads and club patches on their backs. I couldn't see which club.

‘Mad Dogs,' said Coy. He met my gaze again. ‘I used to be one.'

Judging from the noise, the Mad Dogs had done a U-turn and were on their way back again.

‘This could get interesting,' said Coy, looking at Tasso. ‘Harlin and me are not so popular with the Dogs these days.' Tasso didn't seem to care much about Coy's popularity. The bikes didn't stop; they cruised past on the other side of the road, their riders not even looking in our direction. Soon the racket had faded.

‘Harlin will be along soon,' said Coy.

‘Good,' said Tasso. ‘I want a word.' Coy went into the nightclub.

‘I don't like him,' said Juliana. ‘He's got a creepy moustache.' She looked around, furtively, and opened her purse. She extracted a small packet. Inside were two fat, round, colourless pills about the diameter of Tiny's earpiece. A picture of a butterfly was engraved in the surface of both. Juliana handed one to Caitlin and looked at Tasso. ‘Sorry, I only have two.'

‘That's okay. I don't use them.' She shrugged and popped the pill in her mouth and took a swig from her water bottle. Caitlin waited for the bottle and then did the same.

‘You're not cops, are you?' said Juliana. She giggled. ‘You don't look like a cop,' she said to Tasso. ‘You do a bit,' she said to me.

Tasso laughed. ‘Hear that, Steve? You look like a cop.'

The attention of the two girls drifted; they began chatting with other girls in the queue. The queue shuffled forward.

Tasso said to me, ‘I can't get it up if I take ecstasy.'

‘That's more information than I need, Tasso.'

He nodded at the crowd. ‘Half these people are probably on E now and the other half are on speed or alcohol or both. Hiskey knew the drug scene in Adelaide like he knew the veins on his own forearm. White Pointer is a distribution hub. When you met Coy you met Mr Big's right-hand man.' He gestured at the neon shark's fin. ‘This place is owned by a guy called Harlin, who also runs the city's drug trade. Not a great fan of drugs myself, but I don't care. Everyone needs a prop.'

‘Everyone needs to make a stand, too, remember?'

‘That's right. Make a stand, propped up.'

‘What's your prop?'


‘I should have known.'

‘And booze.'

‘Everyone needs two props.'

‘Drugs are as common as bat shit these days.'

‘Do the cops know about this place?'

‘Yeah, of course they do. Every now and then they'll bust a couple of kids here, but they haven't been able to touch Harlin. He's a smart guy.'

Juliana and Caitlin were starting to look at peace with the world. Tasso was watching them.

‘Young,' I said.

He tore his eyes away. ‘They'd be eighteen or nineteen.'

‘Not much less than half your age.'

He grinned. He was showing no ill effects from the beer we had drunk on the boat. In fact he looked to be in rude health, the sunburn he had acquired on the boat giving his face richness, almost a glow. He was ready for a big night.

‘Why Fern, Tasso? You like women. Young women. Young, skinny women, just above the legal age. You have fun, you move on. Fern doesn't fit the pattern.'

He shrugged, and for a moment he had a look I might have called innocent if I hadn't known him better. ‘It's complicated.'

A black Merc pulled up at the curb and a woman emerged from the passenger side. She was of Asian appearance, possibly Chinese. She was wearing a conservative black dress and high heels and not much expression. Her eyes met mine and held for a moment, and her mouth moved in what could have been a micro-smile. The driver's door opened and a man emerged and she lost the smile, if that was what it was, and looked away. The man zapped the car to lock it and touched the woman on the arm as he walked her to the entrance of the club. He spoke to Tiny and then to the woman, who nodded and entered the club on her own. Then he turned and walked towards us.

‘Hello, Harlin,' said Tasso. He stepped away from the girls.

‘I was real sorry to read about Hiskey,' said Harlin, taking Tasso's hand in a shake that was almost absent-minded. ‘He was a good man.' He had a gentle voice, almost a whisper. He looked at me and Tasso introduced us. He offered his hand to me in the same off-hand way, and I shook it. It was difficult to get a read on his eyes; they were hard but not empty. The tough-guys who had been standing around had moved closer to us.

‘He owed you money,' said Tasso. ‘I
you're sorry he's dead.'

Harlin's face was very still. ‘He owed me a little.'

‘I heard it was plenty.'

‘Where did you hear that?'

‘Hiskey told me all about your drug empire.'

Harlin's hands closed, slowly, until they were fists. He looked left and right in a measured way and stepped in very close to Tasso, who didn't move. The neon sign pulsed red. ‘Jesus, Tasso, you take a chance.'

‘Is it true?'

Harlin swallowed, and his Adam's apple jerked up and down under his skin, sharp as a knife. ‘Hiskey was a friend of mine,' he said. ‘But he was a fucken liar, and he didn't repay his debts.' His voice had risen. ‘You shouldn't believe anything he told you.' He stepped back. He took a couple of breaths. He grinned. It was a tense grin. ‘Come on, Tasso. Relax. It's Friday night.' He patted Tasso's arm.

‘It was bad luck for you that Hiskey was murdered,' said Tasso.

‘How's that?'

‘He was about to come into money. Lots of money. He could have paid you what he owed.' For a moment a look that might have been knowing passed across Harlin's face, but it was gone before I could be sure. ‘That
bad luck,' he said. Then he shrugged and gestured towards the entrance of White Pointer. ‘Have fun. My club is yours.' He nodded to Tiny, who was still manning the door. ‘Look after them,' he called.

‘Sure,' said Tiny, but there was no smile.


By now Juliana and Caitlin were at the head of the queue. They were looking at us, eyes wide. We joined them, and Tiny tried to usher us past the pay booth.

‘No, I want to pay,' said Tasso. ‘Here's some advice,' he said to the two girls. ‘Never get in debt to a drug dealer.' They thought it was funny. He put two hundred-dollar notes on the counter. ‘I assume that will buy us our first drinks, too,' he said to the cashier. ‘Beer and champagne, two of each.'

Our wrists were stamped and Tiny led us upstairs. We walked through a large, sound-insulated door into the main room of the club. Manic, flashing lasers were searchlighting the room in no apparent pattern, and there was a deafening noise that I guessed was music. A jagged, fluorescent silhouette of sharks' teeth was painted on the wall. A dance floor that seemed too small was packed with people, most of them in extreme, jerky motion. Tiny led us around the edge of the floor as if we were negotiating a swamp. We made it to an elevated lounge, which Tiny cleared of a group of teenagers with a wave of his hand. Once we were seated he nodded to us and waddled back towards the front of the club. The drinks arrived. Tasso toasted the girls with his beer. They sipped their champagne.

‘Let's dance,' said Juliana, her eyes happy. She and Tasso departed for the dance floor and were lost in the melee. I looked at Caitlin, sitting in a state of bliss next to me with her knees together. She leaned into me and looked into my eyes with a smile on her face as wide as a king-sized bed.

‘Isn't this great?'


‘Do you want to dance?'


‘I feel great.'

‘You look great.'

‘Do you want to touch me?'

‘No I don't, sweetheart.' It was just the pill talking. Her smile narrowed a little and a look of disappointment crossed her pretty face. Then she seemed to have a good idea because she brightened and straightened. ‘I'm going to find Juliana.'

‘Alright. Have fun.' I watched her strobe her way onto the dance floor. I cradled my beer. I was tired, I told myself, jetlagged. Not old. Not drunk. Not heartbroken. I drank my beer and rocked it some more. The music never seemed to end and never seemed to change. I contemplated leaving but didn't move.

The Asian woman who had been with Harlin slipped onto the lounge next to me. She glowed and waned in the flash of the lighting. Maybe my heart beat a little harder. She leaned in close.

‘You looked so sad I thought I'd better come over.' I strained to hear her. Her accent was as Australian as mine.

‘My plan worked.'

She didn't overdo the smile. ‘It was an evil plan.'

‘Like a drink?'

‘Vodka and tonic.' It wasn't easy to catch the attention of a drinks' waiter. She let me try for a minute.

‘What's your name?' I said.


‘I like the sound of it.'

That joke didn't crack her up either. ‘And you?'

‘Steve. Maybe I need to go to the bar.'

‘No.' She held up her hand. A young woman came to us, almost running. I gave her the order.

‘Strong,' said Melody. ‘No ice.' The waitress nodded and looked ready to bolt, but Melody held up her hand again. ‘And another beer.'

‘She's scared of you,' I said, after the waitress had fled.

‘She's not scared of
.' I studied her for a while. I liked studying her. She had an oval face with a squarish chin flanked with long black hair. Gentle eyebrows. The music thumped.

‘You were with Harlin, right?'

‘And you were with Tasso.'

‘I don't think they're friends. Should you be talking to me?'

She made a gesture with her hand, opening her fist and spreading her fingers. ‘Harlin doesn't hold the copyright on me.' Her vodka and tonic arrived, no ice. She took a sip, seemed to like the taste, and sipped again. Then she got serious and took a proper mouthful.

‘How do you know Tasso?' I said.

‘I don't, not much. I met him a couple of times with Hiskey.'

‘So you knew Hiskey?' I had to lean in close to the side of her head every time I spoke to her. I could smell her breath. I liked the smell of her breath. It smelled of risk, or vodka and tonic.

‘Yes. I liked him. When he was high.'

‘Harlin says he liked him, too.'

‘I actually think he did.'

My phone vibrated. I looked at the screen. It was a text from Bert. ‘Bikes outside club' it read. ‘Looks nasty. You and Tasso should leave.'

On impulse I showed the text to Melody. A tiny frown creased her brow. I liked her tiny frown. I liked a lot about her. She was looking across the dance floor towards the entrance. The lighting made it difficult to see what was happening.

‘Go get Tasso,' she said. ‘Bring him here.'

‘I should take him out.'

‘Yes, but we can go out the back.' I waded my way onto the dance floor among the dancers. Most were oblivious to me. I couldn't put a name to the dancing style. I held my forearms in front of my face to ward off their flinging arms. Juliana and Caitlin, when I found them, were hammering the floor with their feet like maniacs. Tasso was sweating and apparently enjoying himself. The two girls were grinning and had their arms in the air. They were rubbing against Tasso and he wasn't objecting. I grabbed him by the arm and shouted in his ear.

‘A gang war's about to happen. We need to get out of here.' He nodded and grabbed Juliana and Caitlin by the shoulders. They came along, still dancing. I led the way across the dance floor to Melody, who was standing. She had drained her glass. As our eyes met there was a gunshot, and she dropped the glass. People screamed, and dancers scattered from the dance floor, a tangle of flickering movement. Some of the tough-guys I had seen outside were now inside, foremost among them Tiny. In front of them were a dozen leather-clad men, some bearded, some carrying baseball bats. A handsome man with longish, swept-back hair strode onto the dance floor with his right hand held high, pointing a pistol to the ceiling. He and Tiny met in the middle of the dance floor. Tiny gesticulated excitedly, looking a bit like a fridge door opening and closing. He was yelling, but he was also wary of the pistol. After a few moments the good-looking one shrugged and fired again, provoking more screaming. He seemed to enjoy the effect. A little dust fell in the jerky light, and the young folk clambered over each other in a panic to get to the door. The gang started swinging their baseball bats and Tiny's men moved towards them, some armed with chairs they used as shields. A couple had knives, but I wasn't sure they'd ever get close enough to use them. One of the men in leather swung so hard with his bat he smashed the chair out of a man's hands. The next blow broke his arms. The third knocked him unconscious or killed him.

We couldn't get to the front entrance of the club without negotiating the brawl. Melody yelled in my ear. ‘Come with me.' She led the four of us to a door at the back marked ‘Private'. She used a security card to open it and we slipped through. There was a pot plant inside the door and she dragged it so that it propped the door open. Others followed, girls screaming and boys yelling in fear and excitement. We half-ran down a lit hall, with doors on either side, to what might once have been a kitchen. No one was there. There was a door that looked like an exit, and Melody used the security card on it. We ran into a backstreet lit by a single light. Cars were parked along the street, but otherwise it was deserted. There was a distant sound of sirens. Soon, dozens of scared nightclubbers were milling around like strange, wide-eyed nocturnal creatures whose habitat had just been destroyed.

‘Oh my god, oh my god,' a girl was chanting.

‘Call Bert,' Tasso said to me. ‘I don't have my phone.'

‘Tell him to come to Rosina Street,' said Melody. Bert was there in less than a minute. I opened one of the car doors.

‘Are you coming with us?' I said to Melody. She hesitated. Her face was flushed. ‘No point staying here. You can't go back in until the brawl has played out. And if you go back inside you'll be talking to cops all night. We'd be better company.'

She smiled but still hesitated. I didn't think it was such a big decision. Then she nodded. ‘Alright.'

There weren't enough seats to go round, but Tasso, Juliana and Caitlin didn't seem to mind sharing. I was in the front passenger seat and Melody was behind me. We were all buzzing.

‘Where to, sir?' said Bert.

We all laughed. ‘I simply
you, Bert,' said Caitlin.

‘I love you, too, ma'am,' said Bert. More laughs. Caitlin leaned forward and rubbed Bert's neck with her hand. She was sweaty, but Bert didn't seem to mind.

‘Very nice, thank you, ma'am,' said Bert.

Juliana pulled Caitlin back into the seat.

‘Behave yourself,' she said. ‘He's driving.'

‘You behave yourself too, Bert, for fuck's sake,' said Tasso. ‘It's just an act,' he said to the rest of us. ‘He pretends to be Jeeves in public but in private he's more like Sid Vicious. And he only calls me sir to irritate me.' Bert smiled.

‘You're high, aren't you?' said Melody to Caitlin.

‘So what?'

‘So nothing. Ecstasy, right?'

‘We're just having a good time,' said Juliana.

‘Take it easy, okay?'

‘HQ, let's go to HQ,' said Caitlin.

‘Good idea,' said Tasso.

HQ was another large and loud venue at the north-western corner of the city mile. Tasso and the two girls were out of the car in a flash. I lowered my window.

‘I'm not coming in,' I said to Tasso.

‘Suit yourself.'

‘I don't think I will, either,' said Melody.

I turned to look at her. ‘Can I buy you a drink?'


‘Mind if Bert drops us back in the city?' I said to Tasso.

I got out of the car. Tasso studied me. ‘No problem at all,' he said. He came in close and lowered his voice. ‘Be careful. Drug-dealer bikie chick. That's all I'm saying.'

I grinned. ‘Have a good night, mate.'

‘I intend to.'

I got into the back seat with Melody. There was space between us.

‘A quiet bar, Bert, if you know one.'

He took us to the Ambar Lounge on King William Street and dropped us at the door. Then I supposed he returned to HQ to keep it under surveillance in case the gang war decided to move there. Inside the Ambar Lounge I asked for a booth and Melody ordered a vodka and tonic, strong, no ice, and I ordered a beer. We looked at each other for a while.

‘What's Tasso doing with those two young girls?' she said.

‘Having a good time, I suppose. I think it's allowed. What are you doing with me?'

‘I guess I liked your face.'

‘My sad face.'

‘Yes, that one. Why are

‘I guess I like your face.' The drinks arrived and she took a mouthful. A biggish mouthful. She smiled. Not much. She kept a tight grip on her glass. We did some more looking at each other. Her phone rang. She pulled it from her purse and looked at the screen. She didn't answer it.

‘We don't know each other,' she said.


‘We only just met.'

‘True, too.'

‘This was a bad idea. Don't know what I was thinking. I have to go.'

‘At least finish your drink.'

‘No.' But she took a gulp and finished it. ‘This was a bad idea.'

‘Let me take you home.'

‘No, I'll get a taxi.' She shuffled her way out of the booth and stood up. I did the same, waving to the waitress to bring the bill.

‘It was nice to meet you,' she said.

‘I thought it was a bad idea.'

‘It was. It is.'

‘Will I see you again?'

She shrugged.

‘Give me your phone number.'

‘No. Sorry.'

She walked away and I let her go. I didn't hold the copyright, either.

BOOK: Ecstasy Lake
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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