I’m staying at the Parkville Motel, Brunswick and it’s all good. I haven’t come across anyone then, there he is, right in front of me. Standing outside the Barkly Square Shopping Centre on Sydney Road, Brunswick. The man they call The Doctor (as in Doctor Feelgood). He looks at me, a smile starts to spread across his face in recognition. I stop walking for a moment, he grabs me, bear hugs me in front of the whole street.
“Where you been, man? I thought you were dead.”
“Hiding in the open like,” he says.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“You reincarnated mother… I thought you were dead.”
“You said that, Doc. What’re doing with yourself?’
“For work like?”
“Growing hydro, mate. I got a great set-up. Can’t grow the stuff quick enough and…”
“Jesus, Doc, keep it down would you.”
“Sorry mate, you know me.”
The Doctor is wearing blue footy shorts, thongs and a red flannelette shirt topped off with a brutal mullet haircut.
For the past year I’d been living in Sydney, in Meadowbank. A very quiet and peaceful part of Sydney as the name suggests. A bit of an unknown delight or maybe that’s because I was from Melbourne and didn’t know shit. I lived around the corner from a tiny shopping centre that had a milk bar, video store, Italian restaurant and a Chinese joint. There was a small ferry stop in a secluded park. The ferry took you to Darling Harbour along the Parramatta River. There were never more than three or four people at the ferry stop although I did make my journeys out of peak hour times. I got a call Jako was in Barwon Prison and I came home.
“Listen Doc, I’m meeting someone and…”
“No worries mate. And hey, don’t worry about Jako, he’s inside. I gotta go to Coles, get some food in. Here, take my mobile number down.”
He reads it out. I put it straight into my phone and for a few seconds I feel lousy about blowing him off but he slaps my shoulder, walks through the automatic doors of the shopping centre and disappears. The Doctor, growing hyrdo as he put it.
I keep walking up Sydney Road on the right-hand side, past the chemist warehouse, Hot Potato $2 Shop, looking to my right and left. Bikes everywhere. I reckon there are more bikes per capita in Brunswick than anywhere else in the world. Sydney Road is bustling with people. I keep walking. I walk past the yellow sign belonging to Two Little Pigs that says ‘coffee’ but I keep walking and slip into Tom Phat, a Thai restaurant that opens early on the weekends. It always did great coffee too, which is weird for a Thai place but there is another reason too. I order a strong latte from a girl with a long nose and brown, wide set eyes, slim and tall. I watch her walk to the coffee machine. She’s wearing see-through harem pants and a black singlet. I stare openly at her and she asks me,
She puts the coffee down and I ask her,
“Does Philippa still work here?”
“Yeah, how do you know her?”
“I used to come in here all the time about a year ago.”
“Uh huh and you two were friends?”
“She’s working on Monday. We open at 11 on week days.”
“Hey, what’s your name?”
On Monday, I walk into Tom Phat at 11.15AM and there she is, Philippa, just like she’d been one year ago. Long wavy red hair and I hate this word, ethereal, but damn it, that’s what she was, goddam ethereal, out of this world. Shining light blue eyes like a cloudless sky. My heart beat a little faster, my palms got sweaty, she turned and saw me and that smile.
The last time I saw Jako was in the tiny flat I lived in on Pearson Street. He was lecturing me on the finer points of dope dealing and he said,
“You need to pay me more heed, young man.”
He talked like that sometimes, like a school teacher from the 1950’s, only he never got past year eight in school. Maybe he got it from watching movies.
Anyway, I said,
“Indeed, Jako, indeed,” taking the piss a bit but he stood up in his cut-off denim shorts and blue singlet, muscles like steel bars on his arms, his huge barrel chest puffed out, the veins in his neck, face and forehead popping out like crazy, sweat pouring off him, he yelled,
“Fuck your indeed, you scum! Show me some respect you shit!”
He grabbed me and held my face right up next to his stinking cigarette breath mouth then threw me aside like discarded rubbish onto the floor. It scared the shit outta me but it didn’t stop me stealing his dope and money and taking it to Sydney. Hiding in the open as the Doctor had also said. I knew the Doctor was cool because he hated Jako as much as me.
“Hello stranger,” Philippa said, all natural and calm like it hadn’t been a year since I called and told her some guy called Jako might want to kill me. “Trish said you came in the other day.”
I shrugged my shoulders, said,
“We’re good. You’re not angry.”
“You’re not as memorable as you think.”
“Can I have a strong latte?”
“Sure,” and she pointed to the end of a row of tables along the wall opposite and said,
“Go sit way down there. The lights are off until we get busy later. I’ll bring your coffee and we can talk for five or ten minutes.”
“Thanks,” I say and walk past the open kitchen, take a seat. I wait and she brings my coffee. I can smell her peppermint tea. She sits down all angelic like, smiles and says,
“You’re back for good?”
“Your friend Doc came in, he said to tell you to call him.”
“How did he know, ah, old Doc, he’s not stupid. He knew I’d come looking for you.”
“You better call him.”
“What happened to the guy who wanted to kill you?”
“He’s in jail.”
“How much did you steal from him?”
“Forty-thousand and change.”
“When you told me a year ago you were leaving I felt like maybe I didn’t know you at all. I know we smoked a little grass together but you’re a full on dealer and you stole from your supplier. Who are you?”
“I didn’t think. I mean I didn’t think through the consequences when I did it. I was mad at him, furious because he embarrassed me when he tossed me round like a rag doll, but he’s in jail now. That’s why I came back and to see you.”
I sipped on my coffee, felt like a cigarette.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “We can sit out the front and smoke. I’ve been given fifteen minutes. We walk through the café to the seats outside, find the last two seats,she hands me a pack of Alpine. I take one and say,
“When we were kids at school, say ten or eleven-years-old we used to say that if you smoked menthol cigarettes you became sterile only we didn’t really know what sterile meant.”
She stares at me.
“I thought it was funny.”
“Yeah, it was hilarious,” she says and starts laughing. I laugh with her and in that instant I fall back in love with her.
“Meet me in my room at the Parkville tonight?”
“Motel assignations with a drug dealer. Oh my, I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on.”
“I was joking. How about seven tonight?”
Philippa knocks on my door right on 7PM. I open it and she’s wearing this great royal blue mini dress with white trim on the neck and at her wrists, she’s got a black umbrella she’s shaking the water off and I grab her hand and say,
“You look like a movie star.”
“Oh no, you’re one of a kind, like no-one else.”
“Such a sweet boy for a drug dealing thief.”
I close the door, go and sit on one of the black plastic chairs, she sits on the bed her legs dangling off the end, asks me,
“What did you do with the money and dope you stole?”
“I still have the money but I ran out of dope. I sold a bit here and there and used it myself. I have a couple of joints left only.”
“What kind of people stay here?”
“Drug dealers, bikies, thieves, assassins.”
“Is that a joke like the sterile thing?”
“Honestly, I haven’t noticed anyone although the housemaid was very friendly and inquisitive.”
“How nice for you.”
We don’t say anything for a while then she says,
“Let’s go away with your money. To Asia. To Thailand. We could live like royalty in Thailand for a year and by that time things might have blown over for you.”
Shit, I think. Normally, I’m the one with the wild ideas.
“Look, people like Jako, they’re different. They don’t make sense. If he gets out. When he gets out he’ll still want to kill me.”
“We could keep travelling. Go to Europe. If we came back to Australia we could go and live in WA. I hear Fremantle is great. Or a small town.”
“You’d do that with me?”
“Maybe. If you told me you loved me and asked me to come with you.”
She lay down flat on the bed, her legs still dangling off the end. I walk over and lean down with both hands on either side of her breasts, kiss her on the mouth, gently lay down on top of her.
I’m sitting up in bed smoking a cigarette. Philippa is sitting next to me under the covers, her hip bone just touching me,she’s talking about how work gives her the shits sometimes and there’s a knock at the door.
“Doc,” I say, “I told him to drop off some weed.”
I get out of bed, step into my jeans, walk across the floor,open the door. Jako is standing there and he thumps his flat hand into my chest. I stumble back and he comes in and closes the door.
“Get out of bed, put some clothes on,” he says to Philippa. She stares at him and he says firmly,
“Now, get out of bed, now, get dressed and stand in the kitchenette.”
She looks at me and I nod. She slips out of the bed, starts putting her dress on. Jako walks across to me and I put my hands up like a coward, scared stiff, he grabs my left ear and twists it hard like it’s a bottle top. The pain is excruciating and it keeps increasing as he twists and squeezes my ear harder and harder. I slump to my knees, my hands still in the air pleading.
“Where’s the money dipshit?” Jako asks coldly, “the money and the dope.”
He slaps my face hard twice.
“How’d I know you were here?” Jako asks me.
I don’t say anything. I can see Philippa out of the corner of my eye, dressed now, holding her arms around her waist tightly.
“How’d I know you were here?”
“Doc,” I say.
“Not Doc. Who called you in Sydney? Think back.”
“Yeah Lino. You wanted to believe I was gone so much you believed a junkie like Lino and the Doc took the bait too.”
I nod my head, he slaps my face twice again, my head jerks back and forth and I know Philippa is watching me be humiliated. He pulls out a gun, puts it to my head and something flashes to my left, Philippa stabs him with fork! It’s sticking out of his neck. Jako turns and looks at her, says,
“You finished?” And pulls the fork out of his neck. You can see three dots of blood opening up, starting to trickle down his neck. He says to her,
“Get back over there.” And he slaps me hard in the face again, says,
“Where’s the money?”
“In my bag.”
He looks around. Sees the hard purple suitcase on wheels standing in the corner of the motel room, turns to Philippa,says,
She looks at me and I nod. She walks over to it and fiddles with the lock and there’s a knock at the door. Doc opens the door, walks in, says,
“The door was open…Oh.”
Jako smiles at him, says,
“Shut the door. Join the party, Doc.”
Doc closes the door still wearing those footy shorts and he looks at me with the gun at my head, swallows. Jako says tohim,
“Stand over there next to her.” Then to Philippa again,
“Open it.” She tries to open it but can’t and I remember I have the keys in my pocket and Philippa says,
Jako raises his eyes to the roof for a second. Doc charges himlike a rugby player, knocks the gun out of his hand. I jump on Jako, hold him down but he’s bucking like a bronco so I start gouging his fucking eyes. Doc is scrambling round on the floor for the gun. Jako makes one huge effort and bucks me off but Doc picks up the gun and cracks Jako over the headwith it. He drops like a fucken sinker into the ocean. I look at Philippa and she’s frozen. Doc says,
“Grab your stuff. Let’s get out of here.”
I walk quickly to Philippa, kiss her on the lips and say,
“You OK? You’re OK?”
She nods and I grab her hand and my suitcase and we run to Doc’s old Holden.
The Doc took us back to his place and it took us a few days to get over it. Me and Philippa not looking each other in the eye. We checked the news services for the next couple of days but there were no reports of a man being bashed at the Parkville Motel and I’d given the owner a false name when I checked in. There was no way in the world Jako would have reported it. Philippa went to her mum’s place for a couple of days. Jako didn’t know where the Doc lived and besides Doc had aligned himself with some pretty heavy dudes and it was these heavy dudes he was growing the hydroponic dope for.
Philippa and I bought tickets to Thailand and on to the UK. We would be officially on the Doc drove us out to the airport. At the gate just before we left he said,
“Keep a low profile man.”
“Like you, Doc.”
“Yeah, you know me, the soul of discretion.”