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Authors: Ron Elliott

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Now Showing (29 page)

BOOK: Now Showing
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Dave nodded and waved, but as soon as the worker turned, he joined a luggage trolley heading out towards a Qantas jumbo connected to the departure gate number printed on his boarding pass. ‘Is this the plane to Amsterdam?' he yelled.

‘Man, you can't come out here,' yelled the baggage driver.

Dave pointed to the emblem on his shirt. ‘Telstra.'

The guy was already driving away towards the open stomach of the plane. The engines were warming, whining painfully.

Dave went under the back of the plane near the wheels and up the rear steps where they were loading sealed containers of food and drink.

A hostess blocked his way, just inside the rear door. ‘Hey.'

‘Telstra.' He tapped his chest insignia as though it was a police badge. ‘Your inboard communication system has problems?'

‘You'd have to see the captain,' she said, pointing forward.

Dave stepped past her into an aisle where early passengers were getting seated. Another hostess stepped out, her smile on hard.

The first one said, ‘Doesn't it get fixed by engineers?'

Dave reached into his envelope and produced his boarding pass and waved it at both of them. When they looked confused, he said to the hostess who'd met him, ‘Just professional interest.' Then he turned to the hostess in the aisle and said, ‘I wandered back here for a look. I'll come back later, when you're not so busy.'

Dave wandered down the aisle, with his boarding pass out and a studied expression of seat-searching, fighting the tide of passengers coming the other way.

He found his window seat but someone was in the way. In the aisle seat sat the beautiful woman who had smiled at him from the airport newsagents. Serendipity is a glorious thing when the converging items aren't jeeps and Telstra vans. He put his empty carry-on in the overhead locker, then gave the woman his winningest smile. ‘I can hoist myself over, or we can shuffle?'

She stood and stepped out into the aisle and Dave slid and sat too heavily on one of the mounds of rocks in his back pockets. He gasped.

The beautiful woman moved back into her seat with a swish of knees from her ruffling skirt, looking at him oddly.

Dave said, ‘So, flying eh?'

‘Yes. That's what my ticket suggests.' She reached for a magazine.

Dave considered this first rebuff as no more than part of the process like, say, the haka before a good rugby game. He offered his hand, smiling. ‘Angus MacFergus.' He thought that next time he said it he might try to put a bit more Scots spittle in ‘Fer'.

She said, ‘And don't tell me. You work for Telstra.'

Dave looked down at his shirt in shock. ‘How did you guess?'

Dave saw her supress a smile. There was hope. She had dark brown eyes and dark hair and a kind of perfect Italian nose.

‘And you are?'

‘Not looking to make a new friend.' She opened her magazine and started reading. She hadn't said it that rudely. It wasn't irrevocable.

Dave adjusted a couple of the rock bulges in his back pockets. ‘I'm betting that by around the thirteen hour mark, I'll have worn you down.'

‘Given that this flight goes to Singapore and that's only five and a half hours, those will be very long odds.'

‘My favourite kind.'

***

Her name was Margaret St James. Dave had shaved and showered as she'd instructed and stepped out of the bathroom and into the main room of the houseboat in Amsterdam wearing nothing but his best smile. Margaret was waiting for him.

‘You're a legend, Ken.'

‘Cheers, Bruce. Unfortunately, also waiting were Campbell and Karushi, although I didn't know that was their names. Not then.'

‘Oh,' said Dave on seeing the men in the dim kerosene lamplight. They looked as displeased as Dave felt.

‘Angus,' said the tough-looking one in a thick Scottish accent. He stood blocking the stairs leading up to the deck. Campbell.

‘Ah,' said Dave.

The Indian man held a briefcase and looked from Dave to Margaret. Karushi. ‘What the...' he said in a London accent.

Margaret got up from the table. ‘Angus, you've obviously got things to do. How about we take a raincheck. I can see this isn't a good time.'

‘Wait,' said Campbell. He had scars crisscrossing both cheeks. ‘Whit's she daein' here?'

Her name was Margaret St James and he did wear her down but somehow she got ahead coming off the plane from Singapore to the Netherlands and Dave couldn't seem to push through all the other passengers to catch up to her as they filed into Schiphol airport. Then he saw the two dodgy business guys up ahead. They were scanning the passengers. The younger one was tall and tanned and fit-looking.
The older one was in his mid-fifties, with an angry red face and rumpled body. They stood with a new thin man in a much better suit. The thin man talked into a walkie-talkie, also examining the incoming passengers. Dave finally felt the prod of alarm and ducked away to the toilets.

He went into a toilet stall and considered a new plan. Every pocket of his pants was stuffed with the uncut diamonds, the delivery of which would bring him twenty thousand somethings, which it was not unreasonable to assume was cash. Twenty thousand was a very good number to be dealing with, given the debt to Mungo. It was seriously worth the punt.

Dave figured he might as well get comfortable. He emptied the stones from his pocket into the carry-on bag and joined the dazed and addled line of passengers trudging to customs. He had his passport ready. He felt his breathing go shallow, his pulse begin to get up towards the happy level. He recalled that in many airports today, apart from having men in dark uniforms carrying machine guns, there were also cameras pointing at the incoming. Trained professionals, possibly mothers and priests, scanned the faces of passengers looking for signs of guilt. Dave wondered if the mounting excitement he felt as he approached his customs official would be mistaken for guilt and unleash the machine guns.

‘Hello,' said Dave to the customs man as he handed him his passport.

‘Good morning, sir,' he said. ‘Anything to declare?' Before Dave had time to manufacture his lie, or make up a really good joke, the customs man looked over Dave's shoulder.

Dave turned. The thin man in the good suit stood examining Dave, his left hand cupping his chin, his index finger tapping on his pursed lips. He looked past Dave, and nodded, precisely.

‘Thank you sir,' said the customs man. ‘Have a nice stay in the Netherlands.' He put Dave's passport on the counter and looked up for the next passenger.

A more circumspect man, given to cosmic questioning, might have taken a moment at this point. Dave, on the other hand, believed in gift horses and never looking them in the mouth. He picked up his passport and walked through.

***

Dave stood in the freezing wind looking down at the houseboat. It was sagging and badly in need of paint and possibly a bilge pump. It was dark inside.

Dave looked back at the row of well-preserved three-storey brick buildings squeezed along Amstel, Centrum. They had shiny brass number plaques and warm yellowish glows from upstairs windows. Across the canal were other houseboats and street lamps and pretty trees. Dave barely had time to note its olde-worlde charm before a cruising police car sent him scurrying onto the deck of T.0.59.

He hurried to the door of the upper cabin, pushing it open to reveal wooden steps leading below. ‘Hello. Um, Angus, here,' Dave called.

He moved slowly down the steps searching the wall for a light switch. There was one at the bottom of the steps, but it clicked uselessly. Dave bumped into a table and then a chair before he found a curtained window. He pulled them open allowing in some dim yellow light from across the canal. The cabin was threadbare and dusty. There was a kitchenette and a dining room table with a kerosene lamp. He put his bag of diamonds on the table and got a thin blanket from the bunk bed built under the stairs.

Dave went to a door at the end. ‘Hello. Angus MacThingie here.' He opened the door to a little toilet and shower. He went back to the bag of diamonds and put it under the pillow of the bed. He sat on the bench seat under the window shivering in his thin Telstra shirt. He was cold and hungry and tired. He could use a beer. He looked at the bag poking out from under the pillow under the stairs. He got the bag and emptied the stones into the drawer in the kitchenette. He stood, shivering, and looked out the window. Across the canal, on the wall of a big building, the sign said Amstel Diamonds. ‘The glamorous world of international diamond smuggling,' said Dave, a little ungraciously.

***

There were many bridges and many women sitting in windows in their underwear. There were blonde women and dark women, fat women, gaunt women, African women, Thai women, Japanese women. There were women who may not have been women. Men window-shopped,
occasionally being let in the front door.

Dave roamed, freezing and hungry. He passed ‘video cabins' with X-rated signs in neon pink, Live Shows, Live Girls, sexual memorabilia shops, marijuana cafes amidst the Heineken signs. And there seemed to be drunken youths from every country in the world stumbling and staggering with forced laughter amidst the red and occasionally green lights.

However, Dave could not find a real shop. He needed warm clothes. He asked some young guys who replied in American accents. ‘You can get sex and drugs twenty-four seven, but try buying toothpaste.' ‘Or a decent hamburger.' ‘All the shops shut at six.'

A man in a black leather jacket stopped next to them to light a cigarette.

Before Dave could approach him a youth appeared in front of him. ‘Hey, how you going? Havin' a nice time?'

Dave doubted he was the diamond contact, but said, ‘I'm Angus MacFergus and I'm cold.'

‘Cool. Cool man,' said the Moroccan. ‘You want anything? I got ecstasy. Really good gear.'

‘How much for your jacket?

The Moroccan wore a denim jacket with a fleecy collar. ‘Jacket? What's that? I can get anything, man. Not sure we call it that here.'

‘Your jacket. I'll buy your jacket. And some warm pants.'

‘Fuck you, man. You want that, then go to the flower district. I'm selling drugs.'

The offended youth pointed his finger at Dave then lost tension and floated away with the other pedestrians. The guy in the black leather jacket was talking to his cigarette packet but caught Dave watching and turned away before Dave could make an offer on his jacket.

Dave saw a bright blue and red parka ahead. It was on a young guy outside a shop window where fat African women were gyrating in their underwear to no discernible common rhythm. The parka looked waterproof. It looked like it was full of some eiderdown or equally Nordically-tested warm material.

Dave tapped the youth on the shoulder. ‘How much for your jacket, mate?'

He said, ‘Fifty euros for the fuck and suck,' in a French accent.

‘How about fifty pounds?' Dave peeled off a fifty from his envelope.

The youth in the parka stepped back and abused Dave in seemingly unpunctuated French. The youth's two mates slapped the French youth on the back and pushed him in the chest, laughing and obviously urging him to accept Dave's unintended offer.

‘The girls, not me,' the youth finally said in English.

Dave raised his arms in apology. ‘Sorry, mate. I want to buy your jacket. I'm freezing.' Dave took out a hundred pounds and waved them.

One of the African prostitutes banged on the window and gestured for them to move off.

‘Why should
I
freeze?' said the French guy.

‘Two hundred pounds.'

More French. His friends were urging him on. ‘Get his shirt. It's cool,' said one of them pointing to the Telstra shirt.

‘Okay,' said Dave, ‘jacket, pants and shirt. Two hundred pounds for the lot.'

Dave looked around for a place to change then dug another fifty-pound note out of his magic envelope and waved it towards the African prostitutes behind the window. The door opened and Dave and the French guy and his mates all piled in. The African ladies started yelling in Dutch. The French guys started assuring in French. The African women smiled and started speaking French to the boys.

There was now no room to change in the window area so Dave grabbed the parka youth by the elbow and started up the stairs.

A big Maori stepped out on the landing above. ‘What's going on down here?'

‘Just a bit of a fashion parade, mate. Hands across the ditch?'

‘Not bloody likely.' The Maori looked past Dave and yelled, ‘Hey, what are you lot all doing in here and not buying?'

‘They're making sure this man doesn't try things,' said the Frenchman.

‘How about ten pounds for the use of the room? To change. Mate, I need some warm clothes. You can chaperone. Two minutes.'

‘Chaperone, yes,' nodded the French guy.

‘Twenty,' said the Maori.

‘The All Blacks are losing it.'

‘Thirty.'

‘Fair call.'

The Maori opened a door to a tiny, windowless room. There was a single bed, washstand and tiny dresser. The ceiling globe cast a smoky blue light.

‘Very classy,' Dave said to the Maori bouncer as he went in.

‘I'll thump you,' offered the Maori, mildly.

Dave took out thirty pounds and gave it to the Maori, and then another two hundred pounds and handed it to the young guy. He peeled off his Telstra shirt and his pants. The French kid was doing the same but watching Dave very warily.

As they swapped clothes Dave became aware of a slightly different tenor to the general commotion downstairs. He could hear a loud Aussie voice. ‘Let's go darlin'. I like 'em big and meaty, like me. Up this way? Fifty euros eh? Only place in the world where the prices haven't gone up. You know, I reckon I've been in here before. Hope they've changed the sheets.' The Aussie swayed into the doorway. It was the older businessman from Perth, from Schiphol. He was puffing from the stairs, his face bright red and sweaty.

BOOK: Now Showing
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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