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Authors: Peter Doyle

The Big Whatever (44 page)

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Max, still in his chair, looked quickly at Mark, then at Charlie. “Maybe now is the time?”

Mark shrugged. Charlie nodded.

Max stood up. “Before you go. Better come for a little look-see.”

We drove across the property, all of us squashed into Denise's car. Through a gate, past a row of she-oaks, across a cattle grid, into what looked like another property. A large yard. A tractor parked under an open shed. All neat and tidy. Along the path another shed, much bigger and newer.

We got out. Mark pulled out a set of keys, opened the three heavy padlocks, pushed back the big sliding door.

The smell hit me instantly. Max gestured, be my guest, and stood aside. I walked in. A bank of flouros flickered on. In front of us, rows and rows of steel shelving. Packages like mini-wool bales, tightly wrapped in taped-up black plastic, neatly stacked along the entire length.

On the other side, racks with plants hanging upside down.

Mark was looking pleased now. Proud.

He walked over to the curing rack, picked up a branch, brought it over to us. Dense, gluey heads, with no seeds.

“Sensimilla?” I said.

“Certainly is.”

“The booklet from the Third World?”

“I've improved on the method in the book. Quite a bit, actually.”

“He's a clever lad,” said Max. “We get three harvests a year up here. Could get four next time.” He waited a few seconds. “And you've got a panel van.”

I walked along the row of shelves, patting the packages.

Max called out, “Equal share for you, Bill. Need I say, it'll be big bickies. All we need to do is arrange my rehabilitation.”

I walked back. “Forget the documentary. No one gives a shit about the old days. But you can have a part in our movie. A small part.”

“Eh?”

“You're the crazy old coot who runs a cantina in the hills, up in the rainforest. Strictly a cameo, though.”

A confused slow shake of the head from Max.

“It's the near future. A few years after the big crash, the big earthquake, big meteor strike. Whatever. Everything's been wiped out. Law and order has broken down. Every so often another bit of California drops into the sea, sends these sets of waves two, three, four hundred feet high across the Pacific to Australia. There's a band of outlaw surfers who wait on the high ground for each new apocalypse set to arrive. That might be the name of the film, actually –
Apocalypse Set
.” I turned to Denise. “What do you think?”

“The title is still up in the air,” she said.

“That's right. Just a thought. Anyway these surfies catch the big ones when they come through. Try to. Most of them die, actually.

“But that's not the main story. There are all these different communities who live on the hilltops, where the super waves don't quite reach. Anarchists, hippies, heads, blackfellas, musicians, fortune-tellers, separatist lesbians, artists' co-ops, angelheaded hipsters. They perform ritual magic. There'll be some lezzo sex there, but tasteful. Then there are these—”

“I know some musicians who'd be perfect!” Max piped in.

“Johnny Mugg and the Muggs?” I said.

Max was nodding, but surprised. “You see, we see the same things. That was part of my re-entry plan – take Johnny and the boys to Sydney, promote them as the next thing. You've seen them, obviously.”

“They were shithouse. Anyway, glam rock is the big thing now. This Bowie feller.”

“Ah, but that's about to change. It's your basic dialectics, comrade. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The thing gives birth to its other. The Muggs only play three chords, yeah, yeah, I know. But they've got spirit, you'll have to admit. And a new look. They'll be fast, angry, and rough as guts. Gonna call it ‘Mug Rock.' First
there was Rock. Then Glam. Now Mug Rock.”

“Whatever. Maybe we can use them. There's also a blackfella kid on the north coast, name of Wes, who plays incredible guitar. Good-looking kid.”

Denise said, “Lobby would be right for this, too.”

“And how about this,” said Max. “One bunch of the good people, the anarchists or whoever, are growing this sensational pot up in the hills. Every so often they have to do a run to take the harvest to the lowlands.”

“There are no lowlands,” said Mark. “It's all under water.”

“Bellevue Hill, Coogee, the Blue Mountains. Doesn't matter,” Max went on. “There are a bunch of survivor communities spread around, but they're starved for dope. So there's this brief moment when the waters recede, before the next big inundation. All the roads are dry for, like, three days. And there's this super-driver, he gets around in an incredibly hotted-up EK panel van, who does the dope run, brings the righteous shit to all the villages.”

“And it's weird,” Mark said, “because there are octopuses and seaweed and shit everywhere. There's
coral
growing in the main street of Bathurst.”

“So a cross between
Thunder Road
and
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea
,” I said.

“Yeah. Kangaroos and starfish.” Max again. “The bad guys are the drug squad and the CIA. They're evil murderous bastards in big grey government Kingswoods. Deep down they wish they could just turn on and be cool, but they're too fucked-up in the head.”

“The drug squad are trying to stamp out pot,” said Mark, “so they can force everyone onto methadone, which they get from—”

I cut in. “We'd need a bikey gang in there too. The Devil's Turds, something like that. All the different wayfarers and seekers pull into the cantina from time to time, because it's kind of neutral territory. ‘Crazy Max' tells stories about the old days, shooting up with Lenny Bruce and so on. He says stuff like
‘copasetic' and ‘daddio.' Kind of hipster nostalgia. But he's an oracle. Talks in loony but poetic riddles. You can play some low-down piano in the corner. A cross between William Burroughs and Hoagy Carmichael. Crazy Max, the Lost Troubadour.”

“Hell's Sphincters,” said Mark.

Everyone looked at him.

“The bikey gang,” he said. “And the cars, they're all made out of rusty corrugated iron, tractor parts, old farm equipment, stump-jump ploughs, tree trunks, rocks and shit. Like Ned Kelly on acid. But they go like the
fuck
.”

Denise spoke up. “Satan's Arseholes. Easier to say. Anyway boys, there's a lot to be sorted out yet, and we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. One thing, though, what if the hell-driver was a chick?”

We looked at her, suddenly silent. Then everyone burst out laughing.

Denise went on, “Like Cathy. With a young blackfella sidekick. The guitar kid, maybe. But like I said, we can fix all the details later.”

“You're right. Later,” I said. “So, the business at hand. This shit here—” I gestured at the dope inventory, “are we equal partners?”

Mark said, “Sounds all right. Max, me, you and Charlie. This is Charlie's land. Charlie has the water rights we need for the irrigation.”

Charlie, who'd been silent till now, smiled.

“All right,” I said. “We don't have long. A year or two, three at the most, before they legalise cannabis. And I need some right off – what are they, a couple of pounds each?”

“Five pounds,” said Mark. “Exactly.”

“I'll need three or four bags,” I turned to Denise, “to sweeten the Annandale squatters. The musicians, at any rate, probably the activists too.” To Mark, Max and Charlie I said, “So that comes off the top, before the split. Agreed?”

Mark nodding, said, “Okay. Four ways after that.” He glanced quickly at Denise.

“That's all right,” she said. “This is your thing. But I wouldn't mind a wee little something to share with my friends. A package. Or two.”

We all nodded.

“But we'll need to come to a clear understanding about the film,” she said. “Rights and whatnot. Who's the producer, who's the director. Who gets a writing credit. What each person's investment stake is. All that stuff.”

I said. “My friends Mullet and Kate, Terry and Anna – they need to be in on this thing too. If they want to be. Mullet can shoot the film. The others will help sell the dope – the Sydney branch office.”

More nods all round.

“So how
do
we fix all that?” Mark said.

Denise smiled. “Like I said, I have a lawyer.”

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