by Michael Botur

 

Deano kicked off the whole Fatal Attraction-stalker-terror-friendship shebang at The Swing, right, which was like a key party, but in a club. The Swing’s logo had the Gemini twins on a garden swing-seat. The twins looked like boys, like bros, like buds – not a sexual thing. Me and Sandy were, like, the youngest couple there. Sandy’d made us go there, not my idea. We both knew it was because we weren’t fucking any more. Everyone at The SDOWNLOAD BUTTONwing seemed all greasy. One sticky-looking guy looked our whole bodies over, like he wanted to buy himself some slaves. I’m surprised he didn’t notice my deformity and get grossed out. Sandy says I’ve got a belly like a pregnant chick so my gut was sucked in the whole time and I had to fart real bad. Sandy never farts and never has any fake bits on her perfect body. You ever seen a white Asian chick? That’s sorta what she looks like; skin the colour of a seashell and this black hair and black eyes. Like Sarah Silverman, I spose. Immaculate.

The sticky guy who’d been starin’ at us had skin all stretched over his cheekbones. It made him look wide awake. Crystals sparkled under his nostrils. The blue light made his freckles purple. He danced like a dickhead, clutching himself, sniffing a little tiny bottle of something, and I couldn’t stop watching him. All he wore was a Rolex and sandals.

‘Get a loada that cock!’ I yelled to Sandy over the drum ‘n bass. There were like twenty doors leading off the hallway, and the end of the hall was this big floor covered in leather cushions. I supposed they were real easy to clean spoof and pussy-juice off.

‘I said get a loada that dope over there!’

Sandy does this thing where she’ll tug your ear into her red lips like phone sex but then she’ll say something that’ll rip your guts out. ‘Who? Thanks for being so specific. Please, continue talking.’ She stroked this statue of David with a black mask on his head, like she was choosing the statue over me.

We stood at the door of this room like a motel room and watched a couple of blonde folk rolling and twisting on a bed like wrestlers. The white sheets were blue. Felt like we were in an aquarium, bud. I was trying to decide where the fuckers were from. Sandy gave me this look, like, Why aren’t you a stylish European? I looked at her and shrugged, like, Sorry hon.

The skin-tight dude appeared beside me. His drink sloshed onto my arm and he wiped it off, pinching my bicep, and I wanted to say something tough like, ‘Don’t touch what you can’t afford.’ He started yarning away like a sports commentator. He had that Crocodile Hunter accent from that country with all the poisonous shit; real squeaky, like the sound when Sandy makes me squeegee the windows. I studied these scars across his ribs and spine. Somebody had mistook his guts for a pizza. Then I jerked him off – not like that – I jerked him off me and tried to get some girls to look at me, but they were too into each other and I was too into the Crocodile Hunter’s back, it was all moons and stars and crescents. Looked like he’d come off a bike naked and collided with a truck full of cookie cutters.

‘Oi don’t know what they put in thees,’ he squeaked into my ear, ‘But oi brought me own, coulda saved em the effort.’ He put his car key up to his nose and snorted something off it. ‘Oi carn’t dreenk elcohol, bud, only got one keedney now and she’s faarked. Gotta smoke me drinks now, bud. What’s up with thees?’

He was talking about my hand. I’ve only got three fingers and a thumb so I drop coffees and pies and remotes all the time. People always stare, probably wondering how a loser like me got such a hot bitch as a missus. It’s not what is looks like. Sandy’s like a principal. Y’ever picture marryin ya school principal?

‘Eh?’ the freckly scarred blue fuckwit kept going, ‘Want a toot while ya theenk?’ He held the key up to my nostril and I winced and batted it away. Sandy sat her butt on the bed and tickled the feet of the people fucking, and a girl sat down behind her and started massaging her shoulders, then Sandy the Sandcastle just sorta dissolved in the waves of sex and blended into the orgy.

‘It’s Deano,’ the man said, givin’ me a bro-hug. Our cocks sorta touched and I shoved him away and tried to find an open door further down the hall.

‘I’ll be in the pearl,’ the guy said, jogging ahead of me and into a room with steam coming out of it. I heard the splosh as his body plopped into the spa pool, and found myself alone in the hall with no one to fuck me. I tried to squeeze into Sandy’s gangbang room but it was too tight and I would’ve been sandpapered to death squeezing past the hairy bears crowding the room. I headed for the toilets, figured I’d smoke a blunt inside a stall ’til daylight, but as I went past the spa, Deano wrapped a towel around me and went, ‘Ya wouldn’t fit one single jet-ski in there, am I right?!’

‘Leave us alone.’

‘Too right, that’s the gospel. Got a tonne of boats at me place if ya fancy accomp’nering us. Need a jet-ski though.’ He snatched us both some white robes off a coat hook and pushed me through what I think was a green door and we were on the fire escape deck, in the cold, nipples and ball-sacks hardening up. ‘Can’t have a bud smokin’ all on his lonesome,’ he went. I looked around the metal deck to see how little room I had. Our breath instantly formed white shapes: fah-reezing. The walls were orange and black and brick. Half a mile below were black cabbages, huddling in the alleyway. Garbage bags.

‘How’d you know I smoke? Where’d you stash… never mind.’

‘Crack-up,’ Deano went, ‘Let’s just say one of us is psychic. So how ye garn for grin?’ Grin? Grin. Grin. Greeeen. I blinked at him. Short prick he was; dark skin. I was considerin’ jumpin’ off the balcony and dying on a nice garbage bag full of broken glass and crockery. Sandy might give me some attention if I made her feel mega-bad. ‘Bud,’ he went, ‘You don’t need to tell me twice.’ He pulled a Glad bag from – God, I don’t know where he pulled it from – and tucked it down inside my shirt, and pulled the lapels of my robe together.

‘I’m, uh, going good for green… .’

‘Well y’are now, ya greedy prick!’

I stepped forward into the moonlight, pointing my chest away from him, feeling the bag. I felt like Sandy was watching me, fraternising with another loser. We’d only porked like twice, before she realised what a loser I am. The severance issues on me hand had pretty much killed our sex life. She always made out like she actually wanted to stay with Muddy and didn’t mind if he came round with a shiv and hollowed me out like a jack o’lantern. There were rumours he’d done that to a guy he didn’t wanna pay for a bag of green.

‘SO ME OLD BUDDY HERE’S ADMITTING HE’S A POTHEAD!’ Deano shouted into the city.

‘SHUT UP BRO! HERE!’ I sort-of pulled the bag of weed out of my shirt, and paused.

‘Relax my old friend, relax. Takes gold as well as green to make a nation.’

‘How much? Could go to my car, I s’pose. And I’m not your old friend, FYI.’

‘Good good,’ he went, pulling a blunt out of thin air and sparking it, ‘New friend it is. Here’s me card, that’s me.’ The business card he tucked behind my ear bore the logo of a major timber firm – major. The card had the word Mister before Deano’s legal name, followed by some quals.

‘This is you?’

‘Some would say,’ he said with a shrug, swaying a little, holding onto the railing. ‘Oi, know what I’m buying meself tomorrow, bud?’

I pulled the fire door towards me and took a quick puff on the blunt before I ghosted back inside. ‘What?’

‘Two brand-spankin new jet-skis, bud.’ He laughed himself into a coughing fit and I thought he was gonna lose a lung until he sucked some more bud and calmed down.  ‘Ya welcome to come –

I slammed the door on the cunt and went into the aquarium to find my woman.

 

Sandy had her feet up on the dashboard, kickin’ my McNuggets around. I’d had to wait ’til almost dawn before she was done getting licked and explored. I got bored, honestly. Deep down, no one finds their partner hot.

I could hardly see the road with Sandy’s cream-coloured feet and glossy toenails all up in my face, but I knew that if I killed us, Sandy would kill the shit out of me, so I just tried to drive as best I could. She’s the only thing worse than death. The bud that dingo-baby guy’d made me smoke was making me think black thoughts.

My hatchback coughed and the petrol light came on. Japanese fuckin’ piece of shit… There was this rattling, too, rust in the muffler, I’m pretty sure. ‘What’s the point of having a muffler if it makes things louder?’ I joked.

‘I’M AM ATTEMPTING TO SLEEP,’ my beloved wife said. If I had a jet-ski, I could have ridden the bays home, maybe partied with some dolphins. ‘And a muffler is for muffling the ENGINE OF CARS THAT PEOPLE ARE TOO CHEAP TO BUY BETTER.’

‘Sorry,’ I went as we sat at a red light, listening for a clunk if the wheels fell off. ‘Oi, that fella was unreal, eh.’

‘Don’t drive with your shit hand,’ Sandy growled, ‘You’re driving me, remember. Who you talking about anyway, who was unreal?’

‘That guy, that gigolo from Down-under. Tried to suck my cock, pretty much.’

‘Who’d suck off a loser with nine fingers?’

‘I don’t have nine fingers, I have four – oh. See whatcha mean.’ One of those new model Dodges that’s chiselled like a diamond pulled up alongside us, wound down its window, and the driver pretty much sucked Sandy up through his eyeballs.  She lolled her head at him and yawned.

‘You should’ve learned to count before you dropped out of school.’

‘Sorry, honey.’ I squeezed her thigh with my bad hand and she went, ‘Don’t touch me with that thing.’

‘I can make a bit on the side,’ I whispered, ‘Got a big bulger of a bag to sell. Two ounces, I think.’

‘Who in their right mind would give you more drugs?’

‘My frien…er, that man from the club.’

‘I didn’t see any man. I thought we were there for US.’

‘Yes, ah, well, you were somewhat… you were busy.’

‘Are you trying to get slapped?’

‘I’m just saying, it’s a good wad of green, anyway… .’

‘We don’t need to sell drugs,’ Sandy said, taking her feet back as our house neared, ‘I’ll just go back and live with Muddy and you and your little friend can be with one another.’

‘Yes, Beautiful.’

I slept on the couch, watching the game. It’d been a pretty average birthday.

*

When you stock vending machines for a trade, there’s not much to do on your break. You don’t wanna go get something from a vending machine, do ya, that’d be like not taking a break at all. I usually just sit in the van and listen to talkback radio. The most knowledgeous people in the world ring talkback, bud, I think it’s all the people that are so successful that they don’t need to be at work, they can just stay home and tell the DJs what’s what. Economists and whatnot, stay-at-home scientists.

I took Deano’s card out and puzzled it over. His position sounded pretty up-there. I Googled him on my phone and his name didn’t come up. Probly one of those elite-level corporate types. His company had all this plantation land out west. Trees, bud, that’s the way to go: you chuck a few seeds in some dirt, sit back and watch the money grow, literally.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all the junk Deano’d said to me on the landing when I was trying not to even listen, going on about how he’s got diamond-toothed sawblades for cutting into the heart of the logs to get the timber samples, and how he grows his dope in roads so remote they don’t even have numbers, and you can only fit one vehicle down ‘em and you have to reverse all the way in if you wanna drive out.

I guess the swingers club had given me some shit to think about while I carefully arranged Doritos packets and macadamia cookies in the vending machines. I wondered what those Euro-trash people had done to Sandy that I couldn’t do… some twisty geometrical Cirque du Soleil upside-down fucking, I supposed. I’d never know how it felt ‘cause who in their right mind would wanna bang a man with only nine fingers? Sandy was right.

There was this timber laminating factory out by the sewage ponds where all those mosquitoes get mashed on your windscreen and I was stocking their Snackmaster Ten24 when my mobile went off. Unknown number. Workers queued behind me as I replenished the snacks with one hand, phone up between me shoulder and me ear.

‘Bud,’ said a drongo voice down the phone line, ‘You bin beck?’

Beck. Back.

‘Ah… nah? That was only last weekend. I’ve got to go, I’m – ’

‘I won’t detain ya unlawfully. Listen:  how ye garn for green?’

I looked around me, thinking about the bodies on the workies. They had flaky, dry skin. They had paint deep between the scales on their knuckles. They stank of burning plastic. Would Sandy fuck these guys too? Would she let the whole world do things to her except me? ‘I’m well stocked, ah, on that front, thank you.’ I had to pretend I was talking to someone work-related because everyone was staring at me, I tried to think of the guy who invented Coke. ‘Thank you, Colonel, ah, Sanders.’

I told the boys the Snackmaster was good as gold and moved over to the window looking out onto the parking lot. You could see what cars the bosses owned and what ones were the regular boys’s. This one Jeep Cherokee stood out, the colour of fresh and dying leaves in a forest, lime and cheddar, the colour of oven roasted buds. A gaggle of suits came out of the factory and shook hands goodbye. Most of them dug their mobiles out. One little guy headed for the Jeep, pressing his phone against his ear.

‘Sorry ’bout that,’ came a chirp from my phone, ‘Anywho, I’m always here for ya, bud. I’ll satisfy ya needs.’

I closed my phone. The floor manager wandered into the smoko room and looked at me perving on his parking lot. ‘I was just watching my deal-clea- friend. That was my bud.’ I spied on the floor manager to make sure he didn’t rock the machine or stick a stack of drinking straws up the coin hole.

The Cherokee rolled out, thank Christ, but paused at the end of the driveway with its nose in the road, not indicating where it was garn.

*

Sandy put in a game of squash against that woman you’ve seen on 60 Minutes who won a defamation suit against the people that said she’s married to one of the biggest suppliers of party pills in the state, who testified before the Supreme Court that she’s not and she doesn’t sell bags of the shit directly to the Angels, except that she is and she does. Typical Sandy friend.

I wasn’t really thinking that much about Muddy and his martial arts weapons and the tattoo below Sandy’s belly button reading ‘PROPERTY OF MUDDY’ and the shit people at parties \ said he was gonna do to the rest of my fingers when Muddy found out where I lived. I can’t hold a squash racket too well, obviously, on account of my hand. I was really thinking about the sport centre’s varnished teak as I sucked my milkshake. Woulda been a nice, big, secure contract for whoever supplied that timber. Some of those trims were twenty feet, bud, I swear to God; I appreciate timber and flashing and car park design and crap like that. Thinking about it then was helping me keep the dark thoughts out, all the grumpiness. When you run in our game, people tend to follow up on the casual threats they make, like if somebody goes, ‘Put sugar on my cappuccino and you’ll wear the cup,’ they’ll actually smash it over your skull, so when I heard Sandy screeching at this other drug queen, I was like, Here we go again. See, if you must know, Sandy worked as an escort for Muddy, but one day she was totally ragging and seeing as I used to distribute ‘Doritos’ for Muddy by the bag (them Doritos had some wild wild seasoning on ‘em, I’ll tell ya that much) I was the first one she saw when she strutted out of his yacht after a big screaming match and she jumped into my van and went, ‘Drive or you’ll be parking in a handicap spot,’ and I was like Yes Ma’am.

Proper fairy tale, eh?

So, yeah, it was Saturday and I just sort of shuffled around the top deck looking down on games. I wasn’t allowed to go far ‘cause Sandy kept yelling out ‘DID YOU SEE THAT?! DIS-QUALIFIED!’ and I had to say supportive things. She would’ve had heaps of energy in her, I’d cooked us omelettes for breakfast, bought cream for the coffee and all that. Sandy doesn’t have to cook. It’s a rule we have.

My phone went off. Sandy looked up towards me on the viewing platform, pissed off about the ring tone.

My phone told me who was ringing: Unknown.

‘How’s it, bud?’

Sandy spat on the court then pounded a serve, which came back and hit 60 Minutes in the forehead. I covered my spare ear, turned away. ‘I can’t really talk, Deano… .’

‘How’s ya kidneys after the other night, y’bin back?’

‘To the club club?’ I whispered, crouching. ‘Hell nah, it’s fifty bucks to get in.’ I heard cars whizzing past. Deano wasn’t calling from his office, then. ‘I hardly drank that much anyway. Kidneys all good. Why you ask?’

‘I lit a cigar with a fifty, one time,’ he went.

‘You don’t really have a hard-out job, do you Deano?’

‘Maybs; maybs not. Still got time to do a bit of repo on the side.’

This cold flush went down my throat and through my lungs. Repo. Of course.

‘Why you ringing? I’m not gay, if you’re wanting to do gay stuff. I have to tell you up front. If it’s about money, like– ’

‘You’re not at home, I was gonna swing by, bring some muffins. I’m outside ya flat actually, bud. She’s cute, she’s a keeper.’

‘She’s a wh –wait– eh?’

‘Yeah I was actually lookin’ to drop off a tray. If ya interested. And with the butt-fuckin’ thing, hey, ya don’t need to convince anyone but yaself, cool? Methinks ya doth protest too much.’

Sandy’s shoes squeaked on the court. She grunted three times in a row. I didn’t hear anything from her victim.

‘I’m allergic to muffins,’ I lied. It sounded pretty faggy to me, a bloke with muffins. I wished I’d never secretly looked at his penis in the club, maybe he’d caught me looking.

‘Oi said methinks ya doth protest– ’

‘I heard you, alright? These ‘muffins,’ did you bake them yourself?’

Deano chuckled. I heard cars going past him – past my house.

‘Sure I baked ‘em. Listen, I know where you live now, so, if you’re ever in need, I’ll come drop ‘em rou– ’

Why you threatening me? Muddy send you after me?’ My face was pressed hard against the phone. There were just squeaks for a few moments, and then Sandy screaming my name like I’d left the oven burning our dinner.

‘Listen, bud,’ he whispered, ‘Oi don’t do threats. Oi just do people.’

I didn’t hang up. Mighta made him mad.

*

Sandy had this thing about art, you had to stay out of her way when she was being artistic, else she’d break coloured Perspex over your head or throw needles at you. Art helped bail out the depression-water that trickled into her rowboat every couple of days, she’d smoke a few crystals and make the curtains all stinky and get paint and glitter and ribbons everywhere. She had a bag of clay that I’d dug out of a river bank ‘cause I was a bit short on dosh, because I’d been buying her Jenny Craig tuna instead of the regular kind, and with the clay she was sculpting these designs of dope leaves that she was going to bake and give to all the gangster wives to hang in their kitchens. What she was sculpting just looked like green baseball mitts but I pretended not to even see her work… if I was gonna be picky, I could have pointed out that our strain of Cannabis sativa is actually just one of around one thousand varieties of the useful product known as hemp which belongs not so much to Western culture as it does to Tibetan traditional weaving, and many cannabis forms actually do have smooth, non-serrated leaves which do look like the bunches of bananas she’d sculpted… but all Sandy wanted to hear was that her Art Fails were impressive. Before I’d taken her off Muddy’s hands, Sandy’d been a model who’d smoke through a light bulb if she was too blitzed to find her crack pipe. The ice had messed up her moods. Half of it was just paranoia that Muddy was going to find out where she lived and come tax her. The gang gals she played squash with weren’t supposed to tell anyone they’d even seen her alive. Don’t even ask me the shit that was said after Sandy won that game of squash. Being Sandy’s bodyguard was nothin’ like that Kevin Costner movie.

So she was out of bed on the Friday afternoon, depressed, with smoke creeping into the hallway, working in her art office and I was looking for my tool kit, wearing the duvet around me shoulders – my shoulders, sorry – like a Superman cape and she had the music on so loud I hardly even heard the landline ring. I squatted in the hallway and covered the mouthpiece of the phone with my hand. I noticed our wallpaper was mouldy and moist. My fault, of course. My job to replace it.

‘I like ya poppies,’ Deano went.

‘WHAT POPPIES?! I DON’T WANNA BUY NONE.’

‘The ones on ya lawn out the front here.’

I dumped the phone on the ground, pulled a hoodie on and went for the front door handle, wishing the dappled glass was more opaque.

Deano was on the porch wearing shorts and Oakleys with no shirt, just a set of dog tags dangling around his neck. His nipples were pointy. His scars were purple and thick. Deano scratched one which bothered him, behind his ribs. With his other hand, he held out a Glad bag.

‘The international seembol for housewarming, em I roit?’ Deano opened the baggie up. I could smell the stinky, oily delicious smell from metres away. Smells like compost and grass clippings, I’ve always reckoned. He came at me with buds in his fingertips and I flinched. The man’s teeth were like a light-bulb inside his lips. His scars were like the patterns on the embossed wallpaper Sandy’d probly make me buy soon enough.

‘What happened to your shirt?’

‘Got blood on it,’ he went. ‘Where’s Muddy’s missus? I wanna meet the world-renowned Sandy.’

‘KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN! She’s inside – working. She’s a artist!’

‘You’re just snarky ‘cause you’re worried Muddy’s onto ya. Just chill for the time being, bud. Deano’s here, the love of ya life.’ He nipped at my face with his perfect teeth, landing a small kiss on my cheek. I smeared the kiss off. He was already down the hall, finding the lounge easily, like he was accustomed to invading people’s bloody houses. His jandals slapped the floorboards. I tiptoed past Sandy’s office then rushed after him.

Deano already had a bong out when I got to him and it looked like he’d poured a Heineken into it and he was separating sticky buds from a bag between his legs. ‘Sand in her knickers, that one.’

‘No smoke in the lounge!’ I hissed, ‘New rule.’

‘Check this out,’ he went, ‘Smokeless.’ His Jeep key-tag dangled from a key-ring attached to his lighter. He basted the buds with his Zippo, shook off his jandals and put his feet up on the coffee table.

‘Don’t do that, Sandy’ll kill ya.’

Deano snorted. ‘If that Muddy taught her anything about killing, then I’ll bet the bitch is useless.’ Deano nodded towards a portrait of me, sitting in the kindling box beside the fire. It was too big to burn as one piece, Sandy reckoned. She refused to snap it herself, didn’t want to sprain a wrist. She’d only painted a quarter of it before she’d started on a triptych of portraits of herself.

‘Grab a seat,’ he went. I stopped pacing and took a seat on Sandy’s couch. Deano was wearing this camouflage short which came down to his shins and he kept his black sunnies on. He looked around the lounge. ‘Lovin’ ya widescreen. I got a tonne of them at mine. Who done the shitty paintings? I seen some at Muddy’s one time.’

I smoked a couple buds so that he’d feel comforted, supported enough to leave. I looked for patches of sweat or spilled ash where Deano was sitting, but the man was leaving no trace. This bastard was unreal; any messes would get blamed on yours truly. ‘These… art you’re lookin’at… it’s all Sandy’s. See… she used to be the girlfriend of this cunt I bought my tinnies off and… ’ I took a big bong hit. ‘And she shagged me one time ‘cause she needed a place to crash, and… ’

‘ –and Muddy didn’t think mucha that,’ Deano said, ‘Yeah, he mentioned that.’

‘You… you’re his friend?’

‘The preek’s a bit possessive. Just wants his property back, that’s all he’s focused on. Debt collection.’ He formed a fist and patted it with the other hand. I tucked my bad fingers into my pocket and reached for the remote control.

We split a box of cereal and cracked a couple Heinies and flipped on the game and had a quick debate about whether they should’ve let more imports into the team. Like Deano, I took off my shoes and gave my feet some oxygenation. I supposed we’d already seen each other’s wangs at the swingers’ club, feet were not that big a deal, all things considered.

‘How much you wanting for the bag? Cause I don’t have any funds. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.’ I was too fucked to haggle. Let him hurt me. Let him take my TV.

Deano flung the bag across the table at me, thick buds.  ‘Not my bag mate: She’s yours.’

‘Look, the other day, when you said on the phone that you ‘do’ people,’ I drooled, half asleep, ‘D’you mean do them like in a homo way, like up the bum-hole… ?’

‘Don’t you worry too much about that.’ He made me clink beers with him. ‘Cheers for inviting us over.’

‘I didn’t,’ I went. My seat felt so marshmallowy-soft, I stayed there for ages.

*

Sandy’s new portrait was unveiled at the University. Big unveiling, bud: nibbles, champagne flutes, cheese, pearl necklaces. She’d done a piece for one of the stuck-up bigwigs there, the type that don’t take brews into the movies, you know, and pick up litter when they drop it. Sandy’d glued leather onto a canvas and painted the bits of leather different colours, ‘cause that was supposed to be different angles of the bigwig’s face.

I told her her portrait made the Mona Lisa look shit in comparison. She went ‘hmph’ which is as near as you get to a Thanks from her.

The conservatory had a mirror taller and wider than me, above a marble fireplace. Quite a few deadly people were there, blokes with goatees who kept their backs against the wall and squatted when they needed to sit down, but the ignorant hoity-toity university pricks couldn’t spot a contract killer or a speed cook from an inch away. They mingled and slurped their bubbly wine and ate orange bits of salmon; the killers and cooks kept their black shades on and put their ciggy butts out in the plastic pot-plants.

There were sculpted leather armchairs, palm trees and fancy bits of potted grass and I sort of hid behind those and tried not to talk to anyone. I had a bad feeling Muddy was gonna show up and Sandy would be so proud of her puke-on-paper art that they’d embrace each other. I checked for Deano in the mirror. That’s how you tell if a person’s a vampire or not. I’d been having these dreams about him sneaking up on me and thieving my kidneys by opening me up with a lino cutter.

I read the trivia question on the bottle-cap of my beer and said to some faggot sipping dessert wine, ‘This shindeeg sarks.’ Sarks? My necktie was choking me, fucking up my words. I pulled it loose. The fag looked at the fingers I was holding my beer with. He said he had to go and attend to his partner. It’s hard to make friends at these things, especially when no one wants to shake hands with you. I wished I had a partner.

Sandy summoned me into some group of rich people she was talking to by raising her eyebrows. ‘Did you bring anything to party with?’ she demanded in front of everyone. One of the contract killers tipped his ear in our direction. A meth cook rose up off the carpet to listen in.

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘I’m not allowed, you said, honey.’

She didn’t blink. ‘Well is your imaginary friend coming or not?’

‘What friend? I don’t have any friends.’ I pulled the tie which was choking my neck.

Sandy leaned her mouth into the ear of the princess of some weird little Mediterranean country, ‘You should see him on his phone, he has this little pen pal from the 0900 service, honestly, they’re attached at the hip, which of course reminds one of Magritte’s…’

My phone started vibrating.

‘What’s happening brothaaa!’ I walked through the boiled goose-eating old fogies and rested my brow against the mirror.

‘Ya diggin’ the shindig?’ said the voice in my head.

I used the mirror to check behind me. I couldn’t see Deano. ‘Tell me you’re not following me.’ His invisible mosquito whine was getting louder. I looked down at my gut and smoothed the tails of my shirt.

‘Ya shirt ain’t tucked in, bud!’ His voice was split in two.

‘I can’t afford a belt… ’

‘Not to worry,’ said the voice, closer and less divergent. There was a tap on my shoulder. Deano was standing there with two beers in one hand, grinning. In the other hand he held what looked like a snake. ‘Here’s moi one.’

His belt was snakeskin. It was hot from being wrapped around his excitable guts. I weighed it.

‘How much you wanting for it?’

‘Nothing, nah, she’s keepsies, brother. They won’t let me wear it at me day job. Uptight wankers.’ He pushed a beer into my good hand. I sniffed it for roofies. ‘Salud!’ He drained his beer. ‘That’s on me, bud. Two for one.’

‘They’re free anyway. Plus, I thought you smoked your drinks? Didn’t Muddy stab you in the kidneys?’

‘Aw, didn’t I tell ya?’ Deano squiggled his eyebrow. ‘I’m gettin’ a new kidney! Orf a fella who owes me one. Repo pays off sometimes.’

I pulled the folds of my shirt down, held the belt against my jelly-belly.

‘Let’s roll, Thelma,’ he said, fighting with a set of French doors blocking the courtyard, swatting a palm frond out of his eyes. He battled with knockers and struggled to hold the curtains back. I slipped through, behind him. Raindrops fell from the arch and smashed on our heads. Deano pulled out a packet of smokes, like yellow Crayolas, and took a thin rollie from between the ciggies. He drew a scalpel from his pocket and sliced the end off.

‘What’s in this?’ I said as he sparked it. We spread a table umbrella, each of us pulling one side of it.

‘Oh, it’s laced-as,’ he said, fetching the joint back.

‘What, the curtains?’ The lace behind the French doors began to dance and ripple. Deano looked right through me and laughed.

‘Bin havin a few refreshments have we, ha-ha! You’re good value, bud. There’s goodness in ya.’

I took a puff. ‘Speakin’ of good value bud – I still can’t …Look, I’m flat broke, mate. Honestly, I can’t pay… tonight… .’

Deano blew a smoke ring. ‘There’s other ways to settle what’s owed. She’s almost toime, then.’

The hedge stammered. The drizzle whipped. ‘Time for what?’

Deano took the fading smoke from my paralysed lips and stomped it on the wet tiles. ‘Real thick bones too, it’s a shame. Woulda made a great fullback. Real pain in the kidneys though, that preek.’

‘Whuss… in this…’ I fell into the rain, rolled onto my back and could only stare up. Deano was short, but he towered over me, his sharp white predator teeth grinning. I stared at his scalpel. It looked expensive.

The French doors slammed and flapped in the wet wind. ‘YOU WANT HIM TO CUT OFF YOUR OTHER FINGER? I’LL PHONE HIM RIGHT NOW, YOU USELESS LOSER!’

‘S-Sandy! S-stop it!’ Somone smacked my head with something leathery with a metal bit on it. Her Chanel handbag, it had to be.

‘THOUGHT YOU COULD WALK OUT ON MY SPEECH, DID YOU?!’

‘HelpmeI’msick… .’

She leered right into my face, and I understood what she meant, yup, in the foggy white noise, there were still some people clapping, and some awards being handed out by a guy with a  podium and a microphone, and all the chatter about Sandy’s magnificent pottery or mosaic or whatever the fuck it was drowned out and melting diluted swirling paint running –

‘You there? Muddy? It’s me. Yeah, me. I need you to come get me, baby. I know, I’m – you heard about that? Naww, you’re the best. I’m proud of me too. And honey? Bring the sharpest fuckin’ knife you got.’

I felt headlights on my face. The lights went out when the car boot slammed shut.

*

Lapping water. Birdsong. The air smelled like the insides of a snapped tree branch; green and fresh.

‘Morning sunshoine!’ Deano carried a breakfast tray around the pool and set it on one of the glass tables beside the pool recliners. His bare feet slapped the dry tiles around the pool. He chucked another snake at me, silk this time. A tie. ‘I had to cut ya necktie off, you were choking on ‘er.’

The twin recliners were positioned perfectly. The surface of his pool water was so neat that it looked like it had been raked.

He handed me a fizzing glass of juice. ‘Voitamins in that,’ he said. He took the silver lid off of a plate, revealing steaming muffins with what looked to be spinach and white chunks in them. There was coffee and green tea and fruit juice, and napkins and napkin rings.

After breakfast, I felt myself drifting. ‘The vitamins are supposed to keep you up!’ he said, ‘Too much goodness in the muffins, ya reckon?’

‘I don’t think my guts are agreeing with that spinach.’

‘What, the grin bits? That ain’t spinach. And those aren’t technically vitamins.’ He bit into a muffin. ‘And you need to take care of your guts, my man. They’re my guts, now.’

I patted my stomach all over, twisted and writhed and rolled off the recliner but I couldn’t find the surgical scar.

‘My guts!’

‘Settle, petal: ya need a bud to feed ya proper. Deano’s here, you’re alright.’

I stood up and looked around for a way to escape. Palm trees, a pond, some vegies growing anda wall of forest. I couldn’t see any neighbours to run to. The water lapped against the bricks. The pool filter hummed. My mobile didn’t make a peep. My legs felt hollow and fizzy.

‘We’ll take the dirt bikes out later, or the jet-skis, if ya like. Up to you.’

‘I told you, I don’t have any cash on me, Deano. I don’t have any cash, full stop. I normally only buy about one bag a month. I don’t know what to tell ya.’

Deano put his hands up in self-defence. ‘Bud, I told ya, we’re sweet. Milky bars are on me.’

‘Even if you had jet-skis, where would you ride them?’

He shrugged. ‘Pool, if ya fancy. I got a lake, though.’

‘You’re off your meds.’

‘Oh and I fixed your car by the way. That fuckin’ rattling bullshit? Solved that, I just trimmed the brake lines a little.’

‘No you didn’t. And it was the muffler that was the issue.’

As the sun drooped, I sipped on macchiatos and cigarettes, then had a swim. It was useless running away if I was gonna get a bullet in the back. He dressed me in a plush robe. I kept waiting to get pinned down and dismembered at any moment, why else would someone be nice to you? I kept thinking there was somebody I was supposed to call. Deano brought out a bong on a golden platter, told me it was a hookah from the wilds of Lebanon. He packed it with buds so thick that it was impossible to peel them apart. Deano had to use his scalpel to cut the bud so it would light.

My mobile finally went off: Unknown caller.

It was the pigs.

They said that something had happened to a woman fitting Sandy’s description and would I come down to the hospital to help identify the body? Her vehicle had left the road with two people inside. It was my car, and it appeared to have been sabotaged, the police said.

I stared down at my phone and let the ringing wane. I suppose I could’ve done a runner then, but instead I lay back in a daze with a game of footy on a screen overlooking the pool, watching Deano slumber, the flaps of his robe open, his scars resting, the scalpel slipping from his hand. I wanted to go and run my fingers over his scars just to be sure, but it was obvious no one could have survived what Muddy done to him.