Chapter 1 - extract
I got a dog from a drug addict named Rainbow Davis. It was an unusual dog for a drug addict: a poodle, a large one with brown dreadlocked wool and paws the size of fists. He wanted thirty dollars for him. He looked desperate and the dog looked desperate as well, sitting on the street corner beside him on the end of a piece of rope. Rainbow obviously needed a drug of some sort when he stopped me—his forehead was perspiring and it was twelve degrees Celsius. His hair was greasy and his hands were shaking and he smelled of urine and stale sweat and something else unpleasant. I told him to bugger off and walked on home and went inside and turned on the TV and sat down on the couch and watched five minutes of something. Then I got up and went out and walked back to the corner and he was still there. I took a fifty out of my wallet.
‘I’ll take the dog,’ I said. ‘Have you got change?’
‘Oh fuck, I don’t have change man! I don’t have change. Do I look like I have change?’ He looked at the note. ‘Make it an even fifty, an even fifty, man. Let’s just make it fifty and you take the dog.’
‘You said thirty,’ I said. ‘He looks like a thirty dollar dog.’
‘I’m not a fucking shop, man, I don’t have change! Fifty and he’s yours, drive away, no more to pay. He’s a good dog, outstanding dog.’ He was looking at the note. ‘He’s a fifty dollar dog, man.’ He put the end of the rope into my hand. ‘Come on, drive away, no more to pay. Fifty bucks, fifty dollar dog.’
‘Forget it,’ I said and handed the rope back.
‘Oh fuck me!’ Rainbow was trying to think on his feet, difficult when you’re that messed up. He was looking at the ground, trying to concentrate, shifting his weight from one leg to another, saying, ‘Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me!’ He was using it as a mantra to get a focus on the situation. He looked up and thrust the rope back into my hand. ‘Hold onto this,’ he said and snatched the fifty. ‘I’ll get change.’ And he trotted off down the street and tripped on something and fell and picked himself up and turned around and did a thumbs up. There was blood starting to run down the side of his face but he was smiling reassuringly at me and he went off around the corner. I squatted and ran my hand over the dog and he snorted and shook his head. You could feel his ribs, he was so thin. I waited a while, not really expecting Rainbow to come back, but he did. He had twenty dollars and a blender with its cord dragging behind him. He held it up. ‘You can have this for twenty. Take it and we’re square, drive away, no more to pay.’ He’d taken something, and was clearly feeling better—his pupils were pin pricks. ‘Outstanding machine,’ he said, ‘twenty bucks, no more to pay.’ The jug hadn’t been cleaned in some time—it still had something green in the bottom and Rainbow shook it and it came off the base and smashed on the pavement. He was bending to pick up the pieces so I pulled the twenty dollar note from his hand, gave a tug on the rope and walked home with a dog.
Chapter 5 - extract
Lyn Hoskins used to ride a horse. Recreationally. She’d ride it down the hill from the abattoir where she lived, round to the back of our hotel in Penolva, to the car park, usually to collect her father but once to try to get me to take something out of her shirt pocket. Her father owned the abattoir—it was all his, from the slippery-slide rides for the sledge-hammered cows to the huge circular saws they used to rip open the stomachs of the animals hung up on hooks. His name was Dave Hoskins and he was worth a lot of money and a lot of meat. Being the local hotel we used to get meat cheap from Dave, massive cardboard boxes of meat from the variety of different animals that Dave slaughtered up on the hill. There was so much meat, everyone was a walking coronary.
So, Lyn Hoskins had a horse, probably because her father worked a lot with animals. She’d be up on its back in the hotel car park chatting down to me and I’d be down at ground level, looking up at her, nervous and edgy, wondering what she was going to do. She took me on the back around the yard once, me behind her on the horse’s rump with my arms around her waist, tight, because it was a long way back down. I was surprised how soft she was and it caused a solid erection which lasted until someone arrived in a car and parked in a cloud of dust and startled the horse so that I nearly came off. It was frightening and awkward and embarrassing because before I slipped sideways my erection was pushed into her back in a way that was alarmingly unambiguous. It went down almost immediately and I’ve never ridden any sort of animal since.
I was packing my kit, getting ready for my second visit to Mr Seager’s. I had the telly on quietly in the background. Someone was interviewing Americans in the street. The country had been sliding ever since the end of the Cold War. Standards had been compromised by the sloth of creeping complacency. The country had put on weight, punched another hole further along its belt and started breakfasting on beer and cake. When the race is on to match Inter Continental Ballistic Missile with Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, nuclear this with nuclear that, you have to stay on your toes, keep more to your fighting weight. You’ve got to be in the ring there, practice-sparring pretty much every Saturday afternoon and at least one night mid-week. The interviewer was asking passers-by what they thought about Leonardo De Vinci and an attractive but heavy girl had just been saying how he was just so smashing in ‘Titanic’. A short, round middle aged woman got the closest to a neatest correct entry by saying he should have his mouth washed out with soap and water for that statue he made of that boy with his privates uncovered and she was all for burning all the art books that had pictures of it because what if children got a hold of one. She was referring of course to Michelangelo’s quite lovely statue of David but she got marks for being aware of anything that happened so long ago and in a totally different country altogether. I’m sure there is intellectual sinew aplenty in the United States of America but it formed no part of this show’s duty statement.
So I was packing my kit. In a large leather holdall with a zip top I had the following items which I’d checked against a list:
Folding shovel, of the type used by the soldiers to dig holes during a war
StopRite SG87 stun gun
A packet of six StopRite cartridges at forty dollars each unit (but you generally only need one)
Roll of duct tape
A small case which stylishly displayed my set of lock-picks
Gloves of the softest leather—kid, stripped from the body of a goat
A torch that can float
Spray can of black paint
A digital camera
A fresh pad and biro
A magazine with an article about how once one major disease was knocked on the head another more frightening one took its place, so providing the world with balance and harmony
A packet of Pork-O treats for Fletcher
Pork-Os have a cartoon drawing of a happy pig on the front wearing a sailor’s cap, looking through a ship’s porthole with the words ‘Pork-Os Aweigh’ tracing the bottom of the curve.
If you look at any pork product on the supermarket shelf that has the picture of a pig on it, they all look really excited about being part of the product, happy as happy can be, often wearing something crazy like a pork pie hat or a red and white polka dot neck scarf or bib and brace overalls, or in the case of a bacon flavoured bar purportedly eaten by astronauts, a space suit.
I also threw in:
A spare battery for the camera
Chapter 12 - extract
It’s funny, when you’re trying to find something, how you can check the same place twice or even three times, even when you know you checked thoroughly the first time. Hope makes you do it and it can be an irrational emotion, like with Alex’s night friend Hans Jergen, the German bomber pilot who bailed out of his Dornier one night at forty thousand feet with a faulty parachute. It was a long way down and he passed the time, his quarter acre of silk flapping uselessly overhead, imagining himself landing on something soft. Which he didn’t, but he was hoping.
So it was in that spirit that I looked about the immediate vicinity with my torch, in among the shrubbery, hoping that Viktor Mizzi was somehow there, behind a bush somewhere, because he certainly wasn’t in the boot. I checked it again, then the shrubbery again. I couldn’t leave—that would mean I’d lost him. That would mean the lid was capped on the thing and the night that was supposed to end there would instead go on and on, down a stretch I could never see ending. I even checked the back seat, and then more ridiculously the front passenger seat. That’s how crazy a thing hope is. Hans Jergen probably had one chance in a million of landing on something that would break his forty thousand foot fall but the chances of Viktor Mizzi being there in the front seat of my Torqueflite were incalculable—too many noughts, hundreds of millions to one—more—hundreds of billions to one, zeroes going off the edge of the page.
I sat in the car for a long time, with the door open, trying to think of what to do. Nothing would come. Fletcher sat beside me and occasionally got out and came around to my side and jumped up and licked my face.
When I knew finally there was nothing to do I turned to thinking what I’d tell Mr Dean. When that proved fruitless I closed the doors, turned the car around and drove back home, keeping an eye out for Viktor Mizzi on the way, the way you do for your wallet when you find you don’t have it and you’re retracing your steps. The sun was coming up when we got back.
I fed Fletcher then slept for a few hours and when I woke I sent an email to Mr Dean.
To: Mr Dean
We have a problem.
I said ‘we’, because a problem shared is a problem halved, but in my heart of hearts I knew Mr Dean was unfamiliar with the concept of sharing. Ten minutes later there was a reply in my inbox. It said, simply, ‘Meet me’.
Chapter 15 - extract
I got out and pushed the gate closed. It was wooden, dropped on its hinges, and it scraped over the ground, throwing up dirt and making a loud grinding noise. I stood behind the fence, waiting for the police car, but the lane stayed clear. The siren was sounding streets away, then it was turned off.
Minnie put her head up as the lights in the back of the house came on and the revolver inside my pants moved and slipped down my trouser leg, onto the ground. I bent and picked it up and as I stood I heard someone in the house say, ‘He’s got a gun, Arthur, I think he’s got a gun’. It sounded like it was going to be Frank and Grace over again.
I thought perhaps I should just sit in the car and let whatever was going to happen, happen. I might be able to have a sleep. It would be so much easier to get arrested and gaoled and let Viktor Mizzi have me stabbed in the toilets with a sharpened spoon. I got back in the car. Minnie said, ‘Do you think they’ll find us?’
‘No, I think we lost them.’
‘Oh, Art, people only ever say “We lost them” in a hell world.’
‘We’ll just stay here as long as we can.’
Red and blue flashing lights went down the lane behind us at a medium speed.
‘That was the police,’ Minnie said, stating the bleeding obvious.
‘Yes, we’ll wait here as long as we can.’
‘I thought we’d lost them!’ She half laughed, half cried, ‘Now you’ve got me saying it!’
There was a deck off the back of the house. A light came on and the door leading onto the deck opened. A middle aged man in his underpants and a singlet came out. He had something under his arm.
I got out of the car and walked towards him. I waved and said, ‘Hi’, forgetting that I still had the gun in my hand. It was a rifle the man was carrying and he lifted it and rested the barrel on the deck railing.
‘You’ve got a gun,’ he said. ‘Drop it, put it down.’
I looked at the gun in my hand and sighed.
‘Drop it now,’ the man said.
‘I can’t, it’s not mine, it might go off.’
‘I’m going to count to three,’ he said.
‘Look, we’ll just go,’ I said. ‘We came in here by mistake, we’ll just go.’
‘One,’ he said.
‘It’s a loaner, I’ve got to give it back. We’ll just go.’
I started walking backwards, towards the car. ‘Anyway, it’s not even loaded,’ I said.
‘Three,’ he said and as I turned I heard the rifle and felt a stinging pain in my left arm. I skipped back to the car and got in and started the engine. The man was shouting back through the door, ‘Bring me some more bullets—I think I got him! Bring me some more bullets, quickly for Christ’s sake!’