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Authors: Barry Jonsberg

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Ironbark (8 page)

BOOK: Ironbark
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Granddad parks up in the supermarket car park. The ute's engine runs for about thirty seconds after he's turned it off. It's a crack-up. We get out and Granddad doesn't bother to lock the doors, though he does wind up the window. It's not just that no one would be likely to steal the pile of junk. I reckon this is the sort of community where one crime is committed every two hundred years and that's probably parking in a disabled spot.

We arrange to meet up in an hour. I need to make my call and do some shopping. I find a bench next to a row of memorials to the fallen in various wars and get on the phone. I'm hoping for a text message or two, but there's nothing. Knowing I'm being so sorely missed gives me a warm glow. I try Kris's new mobile, but it's turned off. Probably in maths class and she wouldn't wanna mess with Miss Millner twice on consecutive days. Trust me, it's not an acceptable risk. I'll try her again during the school lunch break.

Of course, this leaves me with about fifty-nine minutes to kill, and a quick eyeballing of the main strip doesn't fill me with inspiration. The shopping for tonight's dinner is probably going to take fifteen minutes, tops, and for the rest of the time I can either check out the antique shops or sit on a bench somewhere and watch random seagulls wheeling over equally random fishing boats. I don't know which option fills me with more horror.

I pull out a smoke. There are only four left in the packet, so I saunter over to the newsagent's to stock up. There's an old biddy behind the counter, with this ghastly perm and a mouth that looks like it last smiled in 1952. I ask for a carton and she fixes me with the same runny eyes that Granddad has patented.

‘Do you have any ID?'

I try a winning smile.

‘I'm afraid I left it at home. I'm flattered, though. It's been a couple of years since anyone mistook me for being under eighteen. Oh, and a newspaper, please.' I reckon if I buy a copy of this sad-looking local paper she'll think I'm a responsible and sober citizen. It doesn't work, though. She points to the sign behind her.
No ID? No Purchase!
As if that's the final word, which, of course, it is.

‘Ah, come on . . .' I say, going for the heavy duty, hardcore persuasive tactic.

‘I'm sorry, young man, but I cannot sell you cigarettes without proof of age.'

‘Look, who is going to know? Come on, it's not like a whole bunch of police are about to storm the joint.'

But I'm talking to myself. She's gone over to tidy up some magazines. Not too far, though, in case I make a grab and do a runner. I'm seriously considering it.

I wander outside and scope out other possibilities. There's only the supermarket or the bottle shop, so I go for the bottle shop first. But I know what's going to happen. In Melbourne, there are dozens of places where I can get grog and smokes and no one ever asks for ID. But this place is a joke. A little community still clinging to moral standards. No one here would break wind in public. In the privacy of their own homes, they're probably all downloading porn and converting domestic appliances into sex toys, but they won't break the law, no sir.

The guy behind the counter can only be about twenty, tops. I'm hoping I can tap into a kindred spirit. That we will discover a common bond of disenfranchised youth. Turns out he makes the old biddy in the newsagent's seem radical. He's not even prepared to discuss it like a reasonable human being, so I give him the finger and get out of there.

So it's the supermarket or bust.

Trouble is, I don't want to do the grocery shopping and then be saddled for half an hour with a bunch of heavy bags. So I check out this antique store opposite the bottle shop. Man, I'm desperate. The shop is dark and smells of dust. So does the owner. He's something of an antique himself
and
he's wearing a red bow tie.

I'm so good I scare myself sometimes.

He looks up at me when the bell rings over the front door and he doesn't seem overjoyed at having a customer. In fact, he gives the distinct impression he's about to call the cops. For a moment I think I might have to buy something expensive, just to prove to him that appearances can be deceptive. But I won't. It wouldn't do any good, anyway. He'd only take my money and still think I wasn't worth spitting on.

‘Morning,' I say.

He peers over the top of half-moon specs and mumbles. I hate that. And I'll bet he's one of those geezers who constantly complains that young people don't have any manners anymore. I browse and it's as I suspected. More junk shop than antique store. I mean, there are one or two items that look fairly old and might be worth some money, but most of it is chipped and stained jugs and rusty toast racks and bilge like that. I check a couple of the price tags and it's clear that, despite his grumpy appearance, the dude has a well-developed sense of humour.

I'm tempted to keep on looking around, simply to annoy the bow-tied fossil, but I haven't got the energy, so I split.

I stroll up and down the main street a couple of times. I even think about having a cup of coffee in one of the sad cafes, but they've got red-checked tablecloths and chintzy curtains that are all frills, so I don't. It would depress me too much. There'd probably be a rosy-cheeked old dear trying to force homemade apple pie on me and I wouldn't be responsible for my actions. It's all so boring that when I get back to the supermarket and see Granddad sitting outside on a bench, I'm almost excited. I swear to God. He's staring off into the distance, like always, a whole heap of plastic bags at his feet. It looks like he's in a snowdrift. I plop myself next to him and rummage around in the shopping.

‘Got the basic provisions, Gramps?'

‘Thought you'd need some meat and veg.'

Ah, right. Either Granddad doesn't understand the basic principle that a chef chooses the menu and his own ingredients or he's worried sick I'm going to feed him sushi or some other ghastly foreign filth. I can't imagine Granddad would be the kind to suck on raw fish. Sure enough, the bags are full of steak and potatoes, with a few tins of processed meat. I'm guessing if it doesn't moo, Granddad won't eat it. Then I spot a little tray of pork chops, so that kicks that theory in the head. I hope he has somewhere chilled to store all this stuff, because I won't be needing any of it. I'm not going to tell him that, though.

‘Cool,' I say. ‘Just need a couple more items. You wait here and I'll get them.'

‘Are you sure you wanna cook?' he says. There's a note of desperation in his voice. ‘I don't mind, you know.'

‘Gramps,' I say. ‘Trust me. It's what I was put on this earth to do.'

That might be an exaggeration, but I
do
love cooking. I taught myself because I got tired of expensive takeaways and restaurant food. Dad reckons that because he's got money spilling out of every orifice, there's no need to use our top-of-the-range stainless steel stove or any of the expensive gadgets littering our kitchen. You know, appliances that look good on the off-chance someone from
Better Homes and Gardens
drops by for a photo shoot. He is the worst kind of phoney. So I made a point of cooking a few times a week while he was out with business colleagues, flashing the credit card and being sucked up to by a dude in a dodgy tux and a dodgier French accent. At first it was mainly to rough up the pots and pans, give them a few ‘lived-in' scratches, but, to my amazement, I enjoyed it. I liked discovering how some ingredients merge together to form new tastes. I realised I had a flair for it. And imagination. I'm learning all the time and getting better.

So I love messing with food.

I pat Granddad on the back and duck into the supermarket.

Life can surprise you sometimes. I'm not expecting the supermarket to be any great shakes. I'm willing to bet that packet soups are the red-hot specials, the newfangled idea from the mainland. But they have a deli and everything. What's more, there are fresh herbs, spices and even a good number of Asian vegetables. I'm staggered, but stock up. The only blip is when I come to pay with my MasterCard. I say it's my MasterCard, but it's actually an additional card from Dad's account. A thousand bucks limit. He doesn't trust me with anything more, in case I blow it all on wine, women and donations to Greenpeace. He'd be happy enough with the first two, let me tell you. It's a Gold Card, the kind that tells the world you don't have to bother with anything so working-class as price tags. The woman at the checkout turns it over a few times as if she's expecting to see a Monopoly logo on it somewhere. Even when it's scanned and the bank gives the thumbs up, she wears this expression that she's been robbed, but can't quite work out how. It's a long shot, but I try to get a carton of smokes stuck on the tab. She looks absolutely thrilled when she turns me down, like it's the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak day.

‘Done deal,' I say to Granddad when I get out. He hasn't moved as far as I can tell. ‘Just a case of reporting in to the cop shop, stopping off at the bottlo and we're ready to split the scene.'

Granddad steers me to this little rinky-dink building just off the main street and behind the supermarket. A thirtysecond walk. There's a police car parked outside, otherwise you'd never know this was a cop shop. It's almost quaint. The building is really small. Unless there's some serious warping of the space–time continuum behind those walls, there'll be no rows of cells waiting for public wind-breakers, serial disabled-parking villains and sexual abusers of domestic appliances.

I've seen bigger public toilets.

The front door is locked. I am not kiddin'. And – get this – there's a hand-printed notice on the door's top panel. ‘Please ring for assisstence', with a little arrow pointing to a buzzer on the doorframe in case you're a complete moron and can't find it by yourself. I wouldn't be surprised to see another notice saying the cop shop's only open on Mondays, Tuesdays and half-days Wednesdays when there's an ‘r' in the month.

I love that. Please ring for assisstence. It's an emergency, officer. Get me someone who can spell. Quickly.

Granddad rings. We wait. Good job I'm not slitting his throat because by the time ‘assisstence' arrives, rigor mortis would've set in. Eventually we hear the thump of approaching footsteps. Somewhere a needle is registering 5 on the Richter scale. The door opens and a mountain steps out. I instinctively take a step back.

The police officer is huge. I don't mean well-built. I don't mean stocky. I mean huge. He's so tall he should have a red, spinning light on his head as a warning to lowflying aircraft. He's so broad he's a one-man solar eclipse. He's got snow drifts on his shoulders. He's . . .

Trust me, if he toppled onto you, they'd have to peel you off the bitumen. I risk neck strain and scan the mountain's summit. There's a lumpy head up there, and teeth arranged in what seems to be a smile. You probably don't want to know this, but my bowels loosen slightly.

‘G'day, Richie,' says Granddad. ‘How are you?'

‘G'day, old-timer,' says the colossus. ‘Never better. Never better.'

I worry slightly about someone who apparently still uses the term ‘old-timer'. I thought no one said that outside of fifty-year-old American films.

‘This here's my grandson. I reckon you've been expecting him.'

‘Sure have. Sure have.' I'm beginning to think this guy says everything twice. ‘Welcome, young fella. Put it there.'

This huge ham of a fist hovers around my abdomen. I transfer the shopping bags into one hand, put out the other and shake his. His grip is firm, but not too strong. That's a relief because if he had a mind to, this guy could leave me with a soggy stump full of splintered bone. As it is, my hand disappears entirely in his. I check him out as we shake. I know I've already mentioned it, but he
really
is big. It's not the kind of bigness you see wandering around shopping centres either; you know, the huge gut hanging over the belt, all wobble butt and multiple chins. This guy is solid muscle. His uniform, which probably had to be made specially, since I doubt he fits regulation sizes, is tight with the strain of keeping it all in. Listen, if I was recruiting a team member for tug o' war, I wouldn't pass him over, that's all I'm saying.

‘Come in, come in,' he says, releasing my hand and stepping to one side. Granddad goes in to the cop shop and I follow.

There is a small foyer and a counter, but it doesn't have a grill or anything. In Melbourne they've got all these security measures, like ceiling-to-counter mesh screens and push-button keypads on all the doors. Worried, I suppose, that someone will jump over the counter and do serious damage. But this is Snoozeville, Tasmania, and I doubt anyone in the area is young enough to actually be able to jump the counter. Even if they could, they wouldn't want to come up against Richie on the other side. Take it from me, you'd be jumping back quick smart if you knew what was good for you.

There are a couple of chairs along one wall and a few posters featuring random missing persons. But it's the wall opposite the counter that's the real eye-catcher. I put down my bags to get a better look.

There are dozens of framed photographs, and they are all of Richie. I nearly burst out laughing, but manage to keep it in. I can't imagine old Rich would be too amused to see me take a quick scan of his gallery and then wet myself amid gales of laughter. Just a wild guess, you understand, even though he seems like an amiable giant on first acquaintance. But it's hard not to react.

BOOK: Ironbark
9.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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