Read The Big Whatever Online

Authors: Peter Doyle

The Big Whatever (4 page)

BOOK: The Big Whatever

“Tell whoever you're scoring for that you got ripped. You needn't tell them about this—” she nudged the roll of twenties with the gun barrel.

She turned to Johnny. “I'm sorry.” Back to the openmouthed drug dealers. “As for this one” – she nodded at Drew's corpse – “I'm sorry, okay? But, you know? Anyway I'll leave you lot to deal with it. Call the cops if you think you can handle it. Or just take care of it your own way.”

She looked at me, made the “let's go” sign, and backed towards the door she'd come through. I followed. Then I stopped. “Wait a sec.”

Cathy was standing with the screen door pushed half open behind her. She tilted her head, waiting.

Now this Drew character was – had been – an unloved piece of work: he'd been disowned by his rich family, who were no doubt a pack of cunts but maybe had a point in this case, because the guy was without scruples of any kind.

Being of the moneyed class however, he was also a member of the yachting fraternity. And that corpse lying there, bleeding now, was super tanned, the hair sun-bleached. So Sherlock Mel gerried: he was just back from a voyage – he'd brought the hash in. And was suddenly convinced: there was more stuff here, dope, who knows what.

To Cathy I said, “We're not finished here. Keep your wits about you.”

Next to the chair Drew had recently vacated was an overnight bag. I peeked inside. A couple of plastic shopping bags. Smaller bags inside them. A lot more . . .

I closed it up, slung it over my shoulder. “All right, Cath. Off we fuck.”

We couldn't go back to the Castle, obviously, because Dutch Harry would have wanted some dope or his money back. Even with the .38, neither of us was too keen on another showdown right then. But we couldn't exactly hang around either.

The Joker was closed that night, so we drove to the back entrance, took Drew's overnight bag inside and checked our booty.

Three more blocks of hash and what looked like a hundred or so tabs of acid. Also a sandwich bag of double-O caps, with sparkly white powder in them that we judged to be cocaine. Now this may sound strange to you youngsters, but back in 1969 – not so long ago, but in some ways another fucking epoch – people weren't so interested in powder drugs, especially coke. A touch of heroin laced on a joint for special occasions, okay. But powders generally? Nah, not really.

There was one more sandwich bag with a dozen buddha
sticks in it. And at the very bottom a bottle of mandies – that's Mandrax to you sticklers for accuracy, or what the R&R blokes called Quaaludes. I dropped a mandy to ease the jingle-jangle. All grist for the mill.

We had a drink, then decided to drive to Melbourne, five hundred miles away. Right then. Fuck it. Why not? It seemed like the idea just kind of materialised naturally, on its own. When I thought back, of course it had come from Cathy. Anyway, sights were set on Melbourne, cool sister city of the south. But first we needed to get shit sorted out.

I lugged my Hammond into the station wagon – I'd chopped the thing down years before, best thing I ever did. It was still a bastard to move, but I could do it on my own with a dolly, and the thing was worth the hassle – it was my meal ticket. I took some bread from the safe – Sorry again, Johnny, but I was more than slightly CRAZY by that stage – and grabbed a change of clothes (I kept stage gear there), then we split. We stopped by Cathy's pad, the Koala Motor Inn near Taylor Square, cleared out her stuff, topped up on purple hearts . . . and we

The wee small hours. We were on the Hume Highway eighty miles out of Sydney.

It was too bad about the dead guy back at Bondi Junction. Don't get me wrong, my friends, I believe in the sacred law of karma and I wholly and unreservedly subscribe to the principles of peace and non-violence. But it was hard to think anybody in the world would really miss Drew. Maybe in some crazy way, Cathy had played her part in the cosmic drama by shooting him, just as I was playing mine by driving us to Melbourne with my Hammond B3 loaded in the back, those bags of dope hidden about the car, and a couple of fat money rolls in my pocket. Theologians and philosophers among you can go figure that one out.

In truth, I felt much worse about Johnny, about leaving him stuck in the middle of it all. Before we'd left the kitchen
back there, Cathy had asked him – did he want to come with us? Because the moment Drew copped that bullet, there was nothing else for it but to run. But Johnny just looked at her, shook his head slowly.

Thinking about it as we barrelled down the Hume Highway, I figured maybe that was just as well. If there was one soul in all the world who could slip out of a tricky situation, even one as tricky as that, it was our Johnny. So if you're out there, bro, I pray that it's all cool with you and me today, and if not, well maybe we'll meet again some time and straighten it out over a couple of cool ones and a couple of hot ones.

Ten miles outside Goulburn, the highway empty but for the odd truck lumbering over the ranges, Cathy said, “Look out for an all-night Golden Fleece. It'll be along here somewhere.”

“It's okay, we've got plenty of petrol.”

“Do what I say, Mel. Stop at the Golden Fleece.”

I looked at her. Man, had this chick gone COMPLETELY CRAZY? The closer we got to Goulburn, the more nervous she became.

The servo was on the near side of town. When I pulled in, Cathy was out of the car and across the road before I'd even put the handbrake on. I had the kid put a few bucks worth of juice in the tank while I stretched my legs. I went inside, paid for the juice, and when I got back to the car there was a bloke sitting in the back seat with Cathy. Young guy, wiry, short dark hair, green overalls. Head down.

I got in and turned around, but Cathy said, “Drive away, Mel. Keep cool and just fucking drive.”

So I did.

No one said a word until we were ten miles out of Goulburn. Then Cathy and this guy had a huge pash session, after which she straightened up and said “Mel, this is Stan. We're giving him a lift to Melbourne. That okay with you?”

This Stan character leaned forward eagerly, patted me
on the shoulder. I glanced back and saw a smiling face. A direct look, maybe sincere. A hand offered. We shook.

“Mel,” he said. “I can't thank you enough, brother. I owe you for this, and I won't forget it.” He wound down the window and looked into the dark, breathing deep. Then he sat back and said to Cathy, “Got anything?”

She rummaged in her bag and handed him a joint: “Starters.” They lit it and swapped it, then offered it to me, but I passed.

She gave him the cognac and he took a long swig. Then the sparkle powder was broken out, and mandies for good measure. Then they settled down together, all mellow and nice.

But man, I was wound tighter than a .013-gauge E string.

Soon afterwards, murmuring, squelching sounds started coming from the back seat. Holy Jesus, I thought to myself, she's making the bloke
at home.

I'd long since got hip: the guy was an escapee from Goulburn Jail, and Cathy had it planned all along. The sex and drugs were just to make sure I'd be a willing driver. The dope score, Drew, the hoist – she'd made all that up as she went along, improvising her crazy twisted melody, jamming WILD CRAZINESS.

I remembered that Cathy had been hanging out with some armed robbery boys. Was one of them Stan Something? Yeah, could be. They'd been tight one time, then came a big bust. Bye-bye Stan, good luck with sewing mail bags, and the buggery.

Now he was with us. Problem was, if the cops weren't already looking for us, they'd be after escapee Stan before long. How soon would the alarm be raised at the jail? No later than six.

But if the law
after us that night, we saw neither hide nor hair of them. We hit Gundagai with the sun coming up. I needed something in my stomach but Cathy said to keep going, don't stop this side of the Murray River.

It got hot. Baby, it got VERY HOT. The head gasket blew outside Holbrook. We limped to the edge of town. I pulled up and left the motor running, kicking and hiccuping, blowing steam, while I took a leak. By the time I came back it had stalled, and try as I might I couldn't start it again.

“That's it,” I said. “It's a job for a mechanic now.”

Stan said, “I can't stay here.” He turned to Cathy, “I'll get us some transport,” and walked off towards Holbrook. Ten minutes later he was back with a newish Ford Falcon.

“I'll never get my organ into
,” I said.

“Come on,” Stan said, “we have to move.
have to move.”

I looked at Cathy. “I can't leave the Hammond. Or the car. We should let Stan go on while I get this looked at.”

She looked me in the eye. I heard it coming: “Stan needs my help, Mel.” She put her hand on my shoulder, touched the side of my face. “Get the car fixed and meet us in Melbourne. Or buy yourself another car. Whatever you think, there's plenty of money. I'll make it up to you.”

“But where'll we meet?”

Stan said, “The George Hotel at St Kilda. The publican there's staunch. We'll get a couple of rooms.”

Cathy said, “But we can't leave the dope in your car, not if there'll be a mechanic crawling all over it.”

“I'll stash it,” I said.

She shook her head firmly. “Not a good idea. We'll take it with us.”

So we transferred the shit to the Falcon. Cathy and I split the money fifty-fifty. I took just an ounce of hash.

Stan shook my hand, firmly, looked me in the eye. “I won't forget what you've done for us. Get to Melbourne quick as you can. I'll look after you down there. You're solid, Mel, and I can dig it. Mind if I take the gun?”

Cathy gave me a long, lingering, full-body-contact kiss. “See you in St Kilda.” And then they were gone.

I was stuck in Holbrook until the next afternoon. The motor had a cracked head. But a good cat named Theo dug
up a second-hand Holden head and put it all back together, better than it had ever been. Thanks, Theo – you have a mystical connection to the Holden 186 motor, my brother, and I salute you.

I drove on for an hour then had to stop. The purple hearts, the acid, the grass, they'd all drained out of me and I came down hard, wide-eyed and exhausted at the same time. The few remaining molecules of dope in my system bounced around like pinballs, lighting up a frazzled nerve ending every now and then. Man, I was low. Friends, I was staring right into the big fucking infinite zero, the bardic abyss.

In fact, I was somewhere near Albury. I pulled into the scrub and slept for a few hours, drove into Melbourne late that night and went straight to the George in St Kilda. There was no sign of Cathy and Stan.

I put the book down and rubbed my eyes. It was one in the morning. Muffled music came from the main house. I set the kettle on the gas burner, toasted two pieces of bread, made a pot of tea, took it all over to the table. Ate a bite of toast, took a sip of tea, looked at the cover of the book again. I thought, how long since I'd had a ciggy? Nearly two years. I went to the kitchen drawer, got out the pack of B&Hs I kept on hand, lit one and drew deep. Two and a half years without a drink. I got the rum from the cupboard, took a swig straight from the bottle. I sat down, smoking the cig, drinking from the bottle, my mind racing. A gentle knock on my door.

It was Anna. “I saw your light on,” she said. “You coming over for a joint?”

I shook my head. “Thanks, not tonight.”

She was stoned, and a bit pissed. She shrugged cutely, glanced at the ciggy burning in the ashtray, the bottle of rum. Then she peered more closely at me. “Are you all right?”

I picked up the paperback. “You ever seen this?” I said.

She walked over to the table, then shook her head slowly, smiling. Waiting for the joke.

“It's about Max,” I said.

She tilted her head a little. “Really? Well, he is kind of posthumously famous, I suppose.”

“And it's about

She stopped smiling. “Some of the fame rubbed off. Who wrote it?”

I held up the cover.

“Mel Parker? Never heard of him.”

“Mel Parker . . . Max Perkal. Get it? And the character who's me is called Johnny Malone. It's written like a novel, but it's obviously about Max and all that happened. It
like Max. Actual Max, raving off his head. Not someone trying to sound like him.

She looked at me, waiting.

“Max has been dead for three years, Anna. More than three years.”

“Is it that long?” She took the book from my hand, turned it over, flipped through it. “Where'd you get it?”

“It was in the cab.”

She was thumbing for the title page.

“It's not there,” I said. “Ripped out.”

“Hey, that's pretty fuckin' weird all right,” she said, and handed it back to me. “
got their eye on you.” She smiled again. “Anyway, come over later for a smoke, if you feel like it.”

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