M I C HAEL S M AL L, W RITER MONDAY, 7 FEBRUARY 2011
THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR Security is body-language. You look at human nature for self-survival, chew it over. As usual, Ron was on the door, looking for signs. Looking for the way they rocked up; looking for a slight bulge in the sock where nine tenths of knives are secreted; looking for whether they were left-handed or right as they paid their dosh to the cashier. Anything that makes you react quicker. Not anti- but pro-reaction. You’re reading them, so make eye-contact for mood – are they stoked, cranky, spoiling for a fight? When you go inside, check where they’re parked, how many together? Any fireworks, you can hit the spot real quick. If some tough guy skites he slept with your mother, just tell him to cool it and leave your mother out; don’t shirt-front. And remember to soft soap the locals, more than the regulars even, as it’s their turf, while the regs can nick off to other clubs along the drag. Most of these bouncer guys landed the gig at the Ace of Clubs because they knew someone. Sure, they’ve done their three-day basic training and they come on strong and six-pack. They can wrap their biceps round a trouble-making prick who’s off his face and they can stare as mean as a cut snake if they have to act Stallone, but they don’t need a punch-up, not inside any rate. They just want to sweet-talk the girls, screw them at night’s end if poss. But root rats don’t know how to read people or even wise up to the necessaries. Nor do they know how to speak to ratbags without riling them some more or how to keep a lid on their own boiler. Off the premises, they might throw one. Take the honchos of The Ace. They don’t want to get involved. They just want a sweet trouble-free night where they can make some moolah, pay the protection racket a divvy of the monthly take, and nudge the bar staff to water down the drinks. Doesn’t seem to bother the clubbers, guys on their Scotch and coke or Scotch and bourbon or pot of amber fluid, whereas the cats go wild for mixed drinks, like vodka and lime, voddie and orange, or tequila, which is all the rage on today’s scene. The chicks rub black pepper on their wrist, lick it and suck on a lemon. They die for it, but
three tequilas and they’re woozy, so if by midnight they haven’t snared any bod they have the hots for, they won’t be itching for some nookie. Then it’s ok to keep drinking, like it’s safe. As a bouncer, Ron was a bit of an oddball. He had no pals in the underworld, but he’d make damned sure he kept his enemies close. Talk sweet to them, don’t ruffle feathers. The last thing you want is slashed tyres. Well, not quite the last thing. Every now and again he’d check the whereabouts of that night’s team, just in case, six bouncers in black shirts, black pants, black shoes. Most clubbers he saw through the door were right on; they just wanted a fun time with a mating dance or five, but he’d stand by his three cardinal rules: first, you can abuse me as much as you like, it’s water off a duck’s back; second, when I say enough drink, that’s it, enough; third, if someone’s bugging you, don’t try and sort it yourself but come straight to me, no messing. Other times he’d work the interior: ‘How’s your day?’ ‘How’s it hanging?’ ‘Is there anything you want to talk about?’ And now and then find beauhunks as well as teenage birds and thirties-something cougars crying the blues on his shoulder. But the crying buddy wouldn’t tolerate any guy getting into a chick’s grundies in the most intimate areas of the club, where subdued lighting invited a quick grope. On the door, Ron would squiz the guys, check they weren’t wearing jeans or runners but fronted up decent, not daggy; the girls could get away with virtually anything, often sporting skimpy hip gear beneath their jackets and sometimes smart runners with pants, less as the night wore on, so that by the time they had honed in on a guy they fancied they’d be flaunting their wares, even shimmying their ass against the guy’s crotch. Many of the blokes just shuffled like marionettes poking the air, a bit spacey with it, or still beating the shit out of the funky chicken. If there were more girls than guys, chances are it would be a pretty peaceful night. Unless the girls got aggro because of the competition and grabbed the initiative. If more guys were hanging out, Ron would put the mcginnis on the grog artists to even up the numbers: ‘Hey, you guys, I reckon you’ve sunk too much booze. There’s an .05 blitz on tonight, so you’d better get a shifty on.’ Let that be another club’s headache. Of course, management would tell him not to get his tits in a twist about drugs, but
Ron had witnessed what abusive substances had inflicted on a couple of his mates: one from an overdose, the other stabbed for not delivering the bread for some gear dealt to him. Whenever the cops or council bods dropped by to check restrictions and count heads, the managers would do a speedy Gonzales, calling on the locals to slip into the lane outside and dole out free drinks. Now pushing fifty, Ron was thinking retirement. The mental strain was catching up with the physical. ‘Am I happy copping all the bullshit?’ This was a young feller’s job and the hotel security men, as they were now called, were pressing to make a name for themselves, big-noting if Sergio Marinelli’s shadow fell across their path or if the mobster even glanced at them. What’s more, the new Mr Bigs were getting younger and ever more vicious. So a sense of the unpredictable might bubble up and hang in the air like the odour of sex barely repressed: would the joint be going off tonight or would the night turn ugly? Besides, those recently installed security cameras were diddley-dick as a deterrent, only serving to show who was right or wrong in a dustup. Even DJ’s crowd music no longer seemed groovy cool throbbing with sexual promise but more of an incessant, tiresome racket, what with hits from the Top 40 pops or reggae or skunk, even the last rites of techno. Ron put on his earplugs when he patrolled inside, dazzled at first by the two crystal balls suspended from the ceiling above the dance floor which reflected the flicker of multi-coloured impulse lights skittering up and down the wall, the sound and light show in sync with the beat of the music controlled by DJ in his raised box. ‘If you wanna dance, now’s your chance. Come on down!’ To get the crowd to lighten up, DJ might bring in a few mates to take the floor, encourage the shrinking violets to dance the light fantastic, get the party rolling. A bit of a shocker, DJ, he didn’t always look the real deal behind his console of switches, preferring to dress down - jeans, T-shirt and runners, not even a fluoro shirt, but he did okay getting the clubbers dry as a nun’s tit, alco sales being the biggest moneyspinner. Guys might hold back at the beginning, specially if there was a real stunner on the floor, ‘protected’ by her girlfriends, but when they’d plucked up some bottle they’d mosey over, have a perv, manoeuvre closer, start chatting, probably loosen up when they won a spot prize, like a drinks card.
‘The next birthday request is for Rachel. Where is she? Give us a wave, Rach! Wowee, she’s still sweet sixteen!’ Thirty-five, more like. A bit antsy about a few beatings he had copped at The Ace, both inside and out, Ron knew the drill if knocked down: curl up tight, dial to the deck, arms over your noggin and never, never show fear. When carted off to hospital after a stoush, he’d always discharge himself the next day so as to confront his attacker that evening, just to let the guy know he wasn’t chicken. Since Hookesy, the gross behaviour of some security guards, meat and drink to media headlines, was on the nose. ‘We’re creating a violent society,’ Ron reflected. ‘How many dudes have been brain-damaged at nightclubs lately? Or glassed with a beer bottle from jawbone to temple when standing up for their girl after she’s been hit on by three punks?’ On his hand radio Ron had called up Igor, the ex-basketballer, a 215 cm Russian, so he could be relieved from the door to make a final sweep: again check out the mood, spot potential stirrers and those who’d bail out, usually those guys with tatts on their knuckles or propped up stewed against the main bar by the dance floor, have a yarn with the locals, ask if they required a taxi. It was about two o’clock, a warm October night. ‘Come on, get close!’ DJ himself was coming on smoochy for the last groove, dead chuffed with the volume of turps nudged by the clubbers. ‘Have it with feeling!’ Ron wandered outside to air his lungs, his eyes sore from the dazzle and his throat scratchy. He was about to retreat down the steps when two sauced-up ladettes stopped and teetering unsteadily on high heels asked if they might enter. ‘Sorry, love, we close at three.’ ‘Aw, come on, be nice,’ implored one, pursing her mauve lippy gloss into an O and leaning forward to reveal ample cleavage, then snuggled real close up under his beak. ‘We ony wanta coupla dwinkies, don’t we, Larwa?’ The other chick, less blowsy, less merry, smiled coyly enough. ‘Yeah, go on, be a
sweetie.’ ‘I’m sorry, girls, we close at three. It’s too late to let you in.’ In any case, he disliked late entries who’d probably been sousing most of the night away in other clubs. You hadn’t time now to read their character or state of mind. In his early days he might’ve teed up a one-night stand, but had learnt you can’t afford to confuse business and pleasure, not in a nightclub. This was a life-threatening gig. He’d lucked out in the early seventies when he took up karate during his spell on the Tigers’ footy list to build up muscle mass, but this martial art had also sharpened his senses, speeded up his reflexes, alerted him to a shadow closing up behind or if there was something not quite rigi-dig in a situation that later, with more savvy, he put down to body language. Which was how he discovered Bishido, The Way of the Warrior, rooted in ancient Japanese culture. So he boned up on its philosophy based on the harmony of mind and body. ‘Don’t be such a tight-arse, big boy,’ whispered Miss Lippy, her tongue dabbing the underside of her top lip. We ony want a teeny weeny quickie.’ She measured it out with finger and thumb and held it up to his eyes. Sergio Marinelli, The Swordfish to his enemies and cold fish to the floozies who hung about his aura of infamy, was coming up the steps flanked by two tall timbers, strapping bodyguards a good 185 cm. Sergio always had a word with Ron since the bouncer did a steady job keeping the tit-suckers away. ‘I wanna be with The Man,’ these show-ponies would sneer with swagger, making as if to push their way towards Sergio’s private room. ‘Don’t turn the girls away,’ Sergio would confide, low, matter-of-fact, deadpan, just a glint in his eye. ‘No dogs, mind. The sluts, yeah, I can be of service.’ ‘The crims may be tough,’ Ron thought, ‘but they’re just like puppy dogs when these on-call girls twist them round their pinkie. Shows the skirts can enjoy a power-trip in exchange for sex or drugs or a favour in kind. And don’t they know it.’ Sergio held genuine respect for Mr Reliable on the door. Like all the other crims as well as the local cops, he’d heard the gab about Ron’s frantic dash into the car park to
rescue a Hell’s Angel who’d been jumped by ten bikies from a rival gang, bashing the bejesus out of him with knuckledusters and bike chains. Ron had grabbed the cricket bat kept in the stores for an emergency and launched himself among these hoods, swinging the handle with all his might at their skulls, overcoming his own fear, driven by animal impulse and the surge of adrenaline. For which reckless deed he was made an honorary member of the Hell’s Angels. His skills as a secondary black belt in karate had again come in handy. ‘See you later, Ron. I’m heading off to the Casino.’ As Ron turned to shake the mobster’s hand, he heard a sharp squeal of brakes close behind. Then three shots whistled from a car roaring by with growly exhaust. With a gasp, then grunt, Sergio Marinelli dropped to his knees. The leading bodyguard, shot in the chest, crashed backward into the other bod, who began yelling: ‘Fucking hell! Where’s fucking security when you fucking need it! Sergio, you’se all right, mate?’ Already he was reaching for his mobile. ‘Christ, he’s been hurt bad!’ The two tipsy girls, who’d hit the deck shrieking, were holding onto each other, tottering to their feet, snivelling. ‘Look, blood!’ stabbing fingers at the doorman’s leg. Ron looked down, stupefied. A crimson stream was flowing from his own knee. ‘Holy dooley! I’ve been shot.’ And, blacking out, crumpled down on the pavement with a bang to the back of his head, out cold for the next five or two minutes. Straight into contingency, the unharmed bod was ringing round the clubs for wheels and one of the gang to drive up lightning quick to beat both cops and ambos. ‘We’ll be needing youse urgent, Doc. Can youse stand by? Yeah, two guys. One of them is Sergio. Both is hit bad in the chest.’ Consciousness ebbing back, Ron heard another screaming of brakes, opening of doors, shuffling of footsteps, the prop and drag of limp bodies into a car, slamming of doors, an engine’s roar rapidly receding. Evidently, these guys didn’t intend to make a statement to the cops. Or have the divvy van screech round to bang up the wounded.
Next he knew, the ambo boys were reviving him and had pushed something into his mush to relieve the pain. Being stretchered into the ambulance, Ron suddenly became aware of two sherlockos standing over him, chiacking: ‘Did you get a good look at the shooter?’ ‘Did you recognise him?’ ‘Who was he trying to kill?’ ‘What model car was it?’ ‘What colour?’ His mind drew a blank. There was numbness in his hands, tingling. Something soft bound his head tight. Funny, he hadn’t felt any impact of a bullet; his brain hadn’t reacted. The following day in hospital Ron paid Sergio a courtesy visit in a wheelchair. Bandages confirmed that the mobster had been wounded an inch above his heart. ‘Piss off!’ muttered Sergio. ‘You don’t need to get involved. Ciao.’ But he was already, albeit an innocent bystander, in the City’s turf wars. A bullet had passed straight through his right kneecap into the wall of The Ace. The cops found the stolen car in Sunshine, burnt-out. There were no fingerprints, so obviously the attackers were pros. Someone must have given them the drum by mobile from inside the club the instant Sergio made to light out. Ron recalled the shooter crouched in the back seat with a hood over his mug, recollected the tinted windows. Nothing more. For six months the police psychiatrist showed him a drawing of the well lit road outside The Ace of Clubs. Forensic had determined where the car had stopped, where Ron had stood, where Sergio emerged from the entrance from the angle of the bullets lodged in the wall, all to prompt Ron’s memory, but he could only confirm the shooter’s gloved hand that held the gun. Try as he might, he could offer no mugshot. ‘How big was the gun?’ probed the psychiatrist, inviting him to squiz the twenty illustrations of various hand guns before him. ‘What shape was it? Did it flash?’ ‘Yeah, I did see flashes.’ ‘Okay, so they didn’t use a silencer.’
Ron picked out three pictures that were close enough. Suddenly stripped of a job, permanently disabled, the ex-bouncer discovered to his dismay he had no chance of getting even grunt work, since the patella would never heal. A plastic kneecap was fitted but he was obliged to walk with a stick. ‘Why me?’ bugged his brain. ‘I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m finished. Bloody oath, how am I going to make a quid?’ For fifteen months he was confined to hospital. Complexities were discovered, mainly diabetes, a toe amputated, arthritis. Occasional family visits petered out, but two of the managers who’d found him personable and respected his solid attitude and timely interventions did drop by, until, it seemed, The Ace of Clubs grew concerned about liability. Out of frustration and a sense of growing helplessness, Ron got narky. And seriously angry when the sharp suits from insurance threw up churlish obstacles. ‘Why were you chatting up those two women outside when you should have been keeping close watch on the people inside?’ ‘Why did you allow those three blokes in? They were obvious trouble.’ ‘What were you doing out on the pavement?’ ‘Look, chum, my job was doorman. I’d often step out to breathe some fresh air, check if there was any malarkey outside. And I didn’t blast my own kneecap off!’ The endless form-filling for Centrelink and delaying tactics by insurance were taking their toll. When he claimed compensation through his solicitor, there were X-rays, blood samples, interviews with various medicos and psychs firing same old questions, then legal eagles taking advantage of psych reports to press his buttons. ‘Are these arseholes trying to make me out a complete nutter? They’re going for the jugular. I can’t believe this! I was the one who was shot, for god sake!’ A depresso watching the chips fall, Ron was persuaded by his solicitor to sue The Ace of Clubs. But became ropable on hearing that The Ace’s management threatened to sue him for damaging their outside brickwork. His bloodstains had been located on some bricks alongside the pavement. In any case, so the argument ran, the angle of the street cameras clearly demonstrated that he’d been wounded on the pavement, not within the boundaries of the club.
‘What! Less than two metres out! Where’s the fucking justice!’ he ranted. ‘My life is ruined!’ Five years dragged by before the insurance company settled payment: a paltry sum at that. What the hell was he going to live on? The disability pension was chicken feed and his medical bills alone were running at $800 per month. Isolated by family and friends, he found himself with no support anywhere. Apart from his brother, who had the knack in his own life of always being in the right place at the right time. Malcolm had won a scholarship to a spanking new high school opening up in the eastern suburbs. When awarded an army cadetship, he’d trained in catering, where his flair for organisation shone through. As a chef in South Africa, he quickly established a glowing reputation, before being headhunted as a conference manager in Kuala Lumpur. Now he could hire himself out to luxury hotels the world over for whatever fee he deigned to ask. ‘Just snap out of it!’ Malcolm, who worked his mealie off, would advise by phone or email whenever his older bro got the miseries. ‘Things can’t be that bad.’ No one understood Ron’s particular circs or seemed to care. Shuffling uncomfortably through life, he found himself snatching at lungfuls of air that creased him up in his tracks. His GP dismissed it as a reaction to his diabetes medication. But when compelled to rest on his walks more frequently to ease his bronchial discomfort, he insisted on obtaining a referral. The hospital gave him a blood test, then ‘the rattler’, but after a few minutes of slow padding along on the treadmill he threw up. In the spew were traces of blood. Following a second x-ray, the medico levelled with him: ‘I’m afraid you’ve got cancer. The hole in your lung is quite large, but we cannot operate because it is too close to your heart. What we can offer is a course of chemotherapy.’ Ron was still nursing his grievance against his GP’s oversight. In any case, the notion of sacrificing even more of his sense of maleness was a no-no. Who or what had he got to live for? What was the purpose of carrying on? ‘No, I don’t want chemo.’
‘Think carefully about your decision,’ the medico replied. ‘You could live for another five years, but you might only have two years left.’ Inwardly, he was a broken man. Yet not that long ago, Ron had believed himself fearless, invincible, confident in his own physical prowess in The Way of the Warrior. Even as a young kid at Technical School, most teachers he couldn’t hack, his chemistry teacher instructing the kids to read the text book, answer the questions, get their heads down while he put his feet up on the desk and read the paper, Ron would throw himself into the ruckery after the final bell when the Tech lads mixed it with the High School kids. So bad were relations between the kids from the Commission estate and those from the well-to-do neighbourhoods lying beneath the leafy canopy of the golf course and creek that five police cars were often stationed in the road dividing the two campuses. In the Skooll of Hard Jocks Ron could cut it only in sheet metal, just so he could be a motor-head and work with cars. He signed on as apprenticed panel beater for four years. By eighteen, he was rucking for Richmond u/19s. A big, brawny, confident lad, fit as a Mallee bull, he would make sure he threw all his strength into that first tackle so his marker knew he wasn’t to be taken lightly and rub his face into the mud. ‘Hey, mate, you’re a girl. Where’d you get your dresses from?’ After three such heavy tackles, the other guy tended to stand off ten metres. ‘Don’t pike it, sunshine!’ His marker would be broken-winded ten minutes into the second half, mentally gone. If by chance the guy was still up for it, the coat-hanger round the neck and squirrel grip on the balls would do the trick. And then the secondary reward, the groupie chicks squealing outside the rooms, hungering for a close-up of those musclemen’s bulging thighs in short shorts. But Tigerland in the late sixties was a fierce battleground for selection and he’d never win out over the precocious talent of Royce Hart or Francis Bourke. Sports mad, he took up kick-boxing and was packaged as The Hammer of Hamer Hall. Against some of the best that Thailand could pitch at him, with their broken noses or jaws slightly skewed or cauliflower ears, he quickly acquired the skill of Matai: keep the knee and elbow up for blocking, grab your opponent by the shoulders and jerk your knee hard up against his jaw, or even better his ear. Invariably, his own
calves were bashed black and blue, as the shorter Thai boxers could always spring higher in the air and land on his kneecap or aim to break his leg by kicking from behind that vulnerable spot between foot and ankle. But by reflecting on the wisdom of Bishido, The Way of the Warrior, Ron was still young enough to believe himself capable of daring bravery in battle, at the same time showing respect for others. That was the Oriental way of the gentleman. Together with the discipline of rehearsing moves and stretching exercises and the mere act of focus that he’d never learnt at school, he was infused with self-esteem in spades. Unbeaten, he remained. Those were the days. To kill time, now that he was down, Ron watched hundreds of action or fantasy videos, Bond, Rambo, Dr Who, in his second-storey unit, which was compact but darkly lit with a burnt orange penumbra, sitting in the wrought iron chair with leather cushions and half-carriage wheels for sides that his old man had fashioned fifty years before. Often he would look at the glass frame hanging up on the wall at Carlton jumper number 25 signed by Alex Jesaulenko above a photo of Jezza soaring for a mark on the shoulders of Jerker Jenkin in the 1970 Grand Final, while his own grounded knee was giving him gyp in cold weather. And there were bonzer highlights, like his bouncing days at the old Sunbury concerts, Fleetwood Mac or Deep Purple playing in front of humungous crowds, some six or seven hundred thou, cracking down alongside the cops on blatant shooting up, when the sickly smell of cannabis was tangible, or the six a.m. sweep, where he’d notice hundreds of condoms in the mixed showers and makeshift toilets on top of the hill in front of the stage. And then the revelation in the idols’ motel rooms, the two glass bowls on a table containing cocaine and amphetamines, uppers and downers, and their bizarre requests for a completely black room to sleep in or one with stars painted on the ceiling. And then he could chuckle at the memory of casual shifts as a stuntman alongside the likes of Mel Gibson in ‘Gallipoli’, sitting around playing poker or gin rummy in a tent for three days, nursing his bruises from falling off a horse during too many takes; yes, it was tough work all right, waiting for the weather in South Australia to clear up and morph into Egypt or bucket down for the assault on Turkish trenches; but if it didn’t, the crew would resort to a giant water tank and hoses. And he still saw
himself going over the top and tripping over his rifle and finding thirty different ways to be shot. ‘I’ve been a bruiser my whole life through,’ he muttered. Saskia, his Maltese cross with the dislocated hip that he couldn’t afford to have treated, had the sense to realize that Ron should get out of the flat and stretch his legs, even if the arthritic knee caused pain and he was limping slowly with a walking stick. Every day they shambled through the Mall to the local parks and became a familiar sight. Too familiar in their routine. Gangs of half a dozen youths would breeze in from the Ranges by train to buy drugs in the stairwell of the car park, ride through the Mall on skateboards, bikes and scooters. They noticed a wrinkle, an old fart with heavy build, balding, crippled with a walking stick, who pocketed large sums of notes from the ATM. What’s more, he’d got a small old dog, like he was nuts about the dog. And would protect the critter at all costs, for sure. A soft touch, no worries. Ron was sudden death, corralled, set upon, kicked and punched. Handicapped by a gammy leg, mobility was impossible, no kicking a kid into touch, but he lashed out wildly like a wounded bear, stick and fist by turns, till the knives flashed. Once knocked down on the ground, he was most vulnerable, jumped on, pants ripped with knives and wallet seized. More youths saw or heard some old bodge being worked over and dashed along to stomp on the old fuckwit, put the slipper in, relishing the frenzy. When at last he hauled himself to his feet, crying inwardly at the indignity, his legs were battered and bruised and nicked by the blades of knives. ‘Used to be a copper on every corner when I was a kid and if you gave cheek he’d slap you round the ear’ole and threaten to lock you up in a cell. Today that’s a mark of honour.’ Several Asian shoppers passing by stubbornly refused to see his pain. ‘I’m a foreigner in my own country,’ he sighed through midget, yellowish artificial teeth. ‘Kids round here would stab me in the back, not front, they don’t want to be recognised, but they sure as hell enjoy taking the piss and belting the crap out of me. I’d swear a couple of them were only ten or eleven, kids with street smarts who can suss out the blind spots of fixed security cameras. Fucking ferrets on speed.’
Wrong bloody place, wrong bloody time. And he no longer had the ticker. Now a serial victim of these teenage muggers, he discovered that reporting assault and robbery was useless; the cops could do nothing unless they witnessed the crime and in any case the make-up of the gang changed from day to day. ‘Hand over yer wallet, mate,’ they’d demand and how could he refuse? ‘Otherwise yer dog gets it!’ was the implication. Saskia also drew the attention of a security guard working nights at Centro, as Ron was escorting her through the walkway. ‘Hey, feller, you can’t bring that dawg in here!’ The guard spoke with an American accent as he threw his chest out, the big I AM. ‘I’m the law here.’ Disarmed, Ron was not utterly cowed. ‘No you’re not,’ he retorted, noting the identity number on the guy’s navy blue tit. ‘You can’t make the laws up as you go along. You’re only head of security. This is a railway entrance after eight o’clock.’ But when he ducked into a café to buy a coffee, having tied Saskia to a bike rack, he eventually discovered she’d been penned up in an electrically wired switch-room. His world was shrinking fast and he was powerless. ‘Where’s the compassion?’ he bellowed with a splutter of tears. Not out the window, he couldn’t help notice, where a row of old weatherboards was being stripped and demolished with chronic slowness, rotting planks and puddles, snaky bits of wiring and brown-stained porcelain left lying among the scrub of weeds. On the odd occasion an old cove or biddy in a wheelchair would nod and smile at Saskia. Ron was chuffed his little white terrier with the fringe flopping over her eyes struck a fleeting moment of happiness for the geris, so that he himself began to make a point of stopping and asking how they were and how was their day. They were unable or unwilling to talk, their jaws locked aslant with grim determination; perhaps they’d suffered a stroke or road accident, perhaps they’d also been robbed and were frightened of him. Gradually, Ron found himself looking forward to saying a few kind words to these strangers, began to feel a tad better that he’d given someone a gee-up. ‘What am I whingeing about? This old slowball can still get about,'
he said of himself.’ Then his memory clicked: one of the virtues of Bishido was care for the elderly. Whereupon followed a rush of warmth for his late parents, for it came back to him, of course, how both Mum and Dad’s gang, comprising some forty or so like-minded battlers from various parts of the City whom they used to visit or receive open-house, would always look out for one of the gang who needed support, whether financial or moral. It was an act of generosity that he’d taken for granted as a boy but now recognised: okay, so he still held onto a scrap of respect for his fellow creatures. But that was as much as he could manage. Nights threw up the toughest enemy. Not just the restlessness, the insomnia, the right leg and broken knee stuck out the side of the bed for least discomfort, but the trauma, the injustice, the callous and dismissive treatment at the hands of the insurance mongrels, those few seconds of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bolts of anger and drips of resentment would always be boiling away in his bones. ‘No-one understands,’ he whimpered. ‘I just want someone to talk to, a friend, not a girlfriend. One morning I won’t be able to get out of bed. That time’s not far away now. I don’t smile any more and I want to smile. I don’t want to be angry for the rest of my life. I want someone to care for me, but it’s too late. I did try on the Internet, a couple of times, but those birds came to sniff round my living room, cash registers in their eyes, calculating how much all this was worth, this dump. They weren’t interested in me for myself. And why should they be? They could see I’m worth nothing!’ He stopped to brush away the tears with his sleeve. ‘I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be a quitter. It’s only Saskia that keeps me going, she understands my mood, plants a paw on my foot or wags her tail at me when I’m staring out the window, bored rigid and down in the gutter, but she’s an old girl now, fourteen.’ Ron’s pinched face was creasing up like a wounded seven year old harshly dealt with, the lower lip puckering out and the voice peevish and whiney. ‘What’s going to become of her?’ he sobbed.
Michael Small July15 - August 28, 2010 P O S T E D B Y MICH A EL A T 03:01
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► 2012(4) o ► September(4)
▼ 2011(37) o
SNUFFLING FOR BLACK GOLD
THE SCORN OF BECKY PILBEAM
THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR
WHERE THERE’S A WILL
A LEGEND LAUNDERED
BRIEFED FOR BERLIN
ROAD TO KAROL BAGH
A BITTER SPACE
BEYOND THE GIRRAHWEEN STEPS
THE BOUNCING STONES
HER MASTER’S VOICE
DUST IN YOUR EYES
RAKING THE ASHES
HARVEST–TIME IN PROVENCE
I DON’T TELL STORIES
THE ODD FLUTTER
THE MODEL UNVEILED
HER NATURAL LIFE
THE PLAY’S THE THING
BETWEEN TWO STOOLS
MI C HA EL V IEW M Y CO M P LETE P ROF ILE