‘This guy I used to go to uni with, Mick Costa, he rang me at work today.’
‘And he wants to visit me. I told him OK but I haven’t seen him for five or six years and he lives in Sydney now.’
‘Randall, you told him he could stay here. Why? You’ve never spoken to me about this guy before and he’s coming to visit. For how long?’
‘Just a few days, that’s what he said. He just broke up with his girlfriend and…’
‘And he’s at a loose end and he’s going to want to re-live the great uni days with you while I die of boredom.’
‘You want to know the truth? I never went out drinking with Mick, not a lot anyway. It’s difficult to say, he went to the parties but he was with his girlfriend, always. Mick and I used to just talk about writers, films, books and art and politics; religion. All those things you’re not supposed to talk about in the pub.’
‘You used to sit and talk…’
‘Don’t even say it. I know. I know. How could I have possibly been this other guy that I’m now telling you about?’
‘I just can’t see you in black jeans and a black turtleneck sweater with patches on the elbows, on the lawn at Melbourne Uni, talking earnestly about Dostoevsky with this guy, what’s his name, Mick Costa?’
‘You knew I went there for a year.’
‘You never talk about it.’
‘It was great and you know I lived in Sydney for a year after that, well, Mick Costa and his lover, Sophie, they were there at the time, not that I saw them all that much…but like I said, I did see them, they were at these parties but…I have to tell you about those two. Inseparable is not the word for their relationship…they were…hang on, how can I make you understand.’
‘Just bloody tell me!’ Madeline says. And Randall runs his fingers through his thick mop of brown hair and smiles and says,
‘OK. Mick Costa graduated from Melbourne University with a BA in 1992 and he and Sophie Lang moved to Sydney and lived in Leichardt because they’d heard it had this great café culture along Norton St and they didn’t want to live in Glebe or Bondi or Newtown or Darlinghurst. Different. If there was one word to describe those two, it was different.’
‘You’re talking about them in the past tense.’
‘Mick just rang me. This is what I’m telling you. It’s hard to think of those two not together.’
‘Tell me all about the golden couple.’ Madeline says.
‘They used to have coffee every morning, and I mean every morning, at Bar Italia in Norton St. I went with them a few times. Mick used to just give the Barista the money, the guy knew his order. Mick had a strong flat white and Sophie had a short black. And they sat outside and smoked their heads off and didn’t talk to anyone but each other. They were in love, sure. It was more than that though. They found each other fascinating, the views they each held on everything from books to politics to religion and everything in-between. They went to parties together and sat down and talked to each other all night while the party went on around them. Mick and Sophie. The only place they weren’t together were their part-time jobs. Mick worked in a service station in Annandale two nights a week and Sophie worked at Sappho Books in Glebe Monday to Wednesday, from midday to five.’
‘Are they attractive, good looking? What do they both look like?’ Madeline asks.
‘Sophie was, is, beautiful. Ethereal. Voluptuous. Dark hair and olive skin but she has blue eyes. Amazing sky blue eyes. She didn’t have dark brown skin but still those eyes, the contrast, and she talked like…like an old Hollywood actress, like Lauren Bacall but it wasn’t ridiculous. Mick. Mick’s a good looking, strong, black curly haired, Greek guy. Intense. He’ll be here on Friday so…’
‘So, yada yada, yada.’ Says Madeline but she’s intrigued.
‘I’m at the office. Mick’s coming here at 5pm. We’ll have a couple of beers in The Windsor—nothing but the best.’
‘I’m going to order Thai when you get home, see you.’
Madeline kills a couple of hours making phone calls to her friends and trying to find just one who knew Mick Costa and Sophie Lang. Zero. They’re untraceable except for her husband.
Randall opens the front door and Madeline goes to him, kisses him on the mouth with one eye on her guest. Randall puts his briefcase under the telephone table in the hall, turns to Mick and with a big smile on his face says,
‘Madeline, Mick. Mick, Madeline.’ They shake hands and Madeline thinks he looks so much younger than she thought he would. Intense was what Randall said but beautiful is what Madeline thinks. Randall talked about Sophie’s blue eyes, the contrast. But Mick, he’s got these huge, almost black, eyes and his hair is wavy not curly, a thick, strong body. He stands like a boxer or an athlete, loose, waiting to move. And she says to him,
‘I’m ordering Thai take-away. Do you have a preference?’
‘Count me in. Just add one to whatever you’re ordering for you two.’ And Randall and Mick move to the lounge and Randall says,
‘Sit, sit,’ to Mick, who gravitates to the oldest arm chair in the room, the one covered with an old rug to hide the rips in the upholstery and it fits him like a glove. He’s dressed in black Lee jeans, thick, hard black walking shoes, not Docs, something heavier in style and a red shirt with the classic, slackers, black leather jacket, that sits tightly on his shoulders and finishes just below the waist. He lights a cigarette without asking and looks around for an ashtray and Madeline fetches one from the kitchen. Randall’s wearing a brand new, off the rack, Oxford suit, with a very clean white shirt, MCC members tie and black brogues. They look at each other and don’t know what to say. Five years, close to six. Mick still does a couple of nights at the Annandale service station and Randall makes over two hundred grand a year, not to mention Madeline’s solicitor’s salary. Mick tells them he took Sophie’s shifts at the bookshop when she quit and moved…back here…back to Melbourne somewhere. He looks at Randall and says,
‘Fantastic house, Randall. Brilliant.’
‘What are you doing, Mick?’ He asks even though he’s just been told. Madeline comes into the room.
‘The same stuff I did when you were in Sydney. The servo and I told you, I took Sophie’s job at the bookshop when she left and it’s difficult. I…’
‘It’s cool, mate.’ Randall says and Madeline asks,
‘How long do you plan on staying?’
‘Just a couple of days. I have ten days off but I’m going to find a cheap motel in the city somewhere.’ And no-one quite knows what to say. That awkward dead silence. Madeline breaks it open with,
‘I hear you and my husband use to be the campus intellectuals?’ And they both look at each other and remember and laugh and they keep laughing for a few minutes and Randall gets up and asks,
‘Beer, Mick? I got three Coronas and as many Stella as you can drink.’
‘I’ll take a Corona.’ And the night begins and Madeline wants in on this, the old stories and the story of Mick and Sophie from Mick.
‘Do you remember, Dale Watson?’ Randall asks and that’s how it plays out for an hour or so, small talk about people they knew at Uni and in Sydney but Madeline can see Mick’s not really into it and maybe it’s because of what Randall told her. Mick had his Sophie and that was enough for him and she can see he’s all kind of repressed and tightly wound up, energy wanting to burn right out of his body but he can’t lay it on Randall, he can’t lay it on anyone. An hour goes by and Mick kind of eases back into his chair, nearly relaxing but tense still and he’s knocked back the three Coronas and Randall just brought him a Stella Artois and he lights another cigarette which is driving Madeline crazy but she can’t bring herself to say anything. In fact, he looks so wound up she just has to ask him,
‘Do you want to tell us more about what happened with you and Sophie? It might help to talk?’ And Mick’s dumbfounded, twists in the chair and doesn’t know where to look. Takes a big swig of his beer, looks down, drags on his cigarette. Takes a depth breath and says,
‘Maybe later, huh.’ And he may as well have said, mind your own fucking business.
Three days later Madeline calls Randall at work.
‘Do you know where your friend, Mick went to stay, which motel?’
‘I thought you were glad to see him go, too morose, too serious for you.’
‘The other half of your chosen two, Sophie Lang just rang. It seems your friend, Mick, was the one who did the runner. She’s in Leichhardt wondering where the hell he is and thought as a long shot she might call you.’
‘Mick left Sophie?’
‘Did you get her number?’ Madeline gives him the number. She’s working at home today. The whole thing has kind of thrown her. Mick was intense, brooding. The old cliché of the dark haired brooding macho guy who says little or nothing and she found herself attracted to him, she doesn’t know the guy, just giving life to some of her thoughts.
Randall looks at the phone number he wrote down. Sophie Lang. No-one had a chance. You didn’t even bother trying. Firstly, because Mick would have killed anyone who went near her and secondly, she was so obviously in love with him and here’s the proof, she’s trying to chase him down. Why would Mick lie though and why would he leave her and make up all that stuff about taking her job. He makes the call to her mobile phone and gets that Hollywood actress voice saying,
‘Sophie would love to talk to you as soon as she gets a chance, please leave a message.’ And Randall felt a stirring at the sound of her voice and left the following message,
‘Soph, I got your message from my wife, please call me back.’ And he left his own mobile number and wonders why he called her Soph; he never ever called her that before. Mick, Mick, which motel did you say you were going to stay in? You said you’d call me but you told me the name of it, it…it’s…shit!
Randall can’t concentrate on his work. He’s going crazy trying to remember the name of the motel and he’s going crazy at the sound of Sophie Lang’s voice in his brain. He gives up at 4.30pm. He normally works until 6pm at least. Madeline can’t concentrate either, she wants to know why Mick left the beautiful, ethereal, voluptuous, Sophie Lang, who sounded to die for on the phone when she left her mobile number for Randall.
Randall gave Mick his number but he didn’t get his in return and Mick called him at work from Sydney when this whole thing started. So, he’s pissed off when he reaches home and opens the front door and Madeline’s all dressed up and about to go out,
‘Where are you going?’ He asks.
‘I organised to go out with Sam and Alice. A girl’s night, just dinner no dancing. I haven’t seen them for ages and… Did you call, Sophie? What did she say?’
‘I only got her voicemail and she hasn’t called me back. I can’t remember where Mick said he was staying and I gave him my number but didn’t get his.’ Madeline shrugs and kisses him on the lips,
‘See you later on. Not late. Love you.’ And she’s gone.
Sophie calls, Randall,
‘Have you seen, Mick?’ She asks him.
‘Yeah, he stayed here on his first night and then moved to a motel in the city but I don’t know which one.’
‘You’re not protecting him are you, Randall?’ She asks and Randall just loves the sound of her voice saying his name.
‘No, I’m waiting for him to call me. I have to tell you, Sophie, he told us, my wife and I, that you left him, he even said he took over your job at the bookshop.’ And Randall feels instantly like an arsehole for putting his friend in the shit but he’s talking to Sophie Lang again.
‘I had an affair, Randall.’ Sophie says and Randall gets a mental image of that and he says,
‘I… I’ll tell him to call you, Soph, that’s all I can do.’ But he wants to keep her on the phone and he tries to think of something else but she just says,
‘Alright,’ And hangs up.
Madeline is at a small bar in Flinders Lane, in the city, talking with her friends. She told them about Mick Costa and they laughed and said,
‘Ooh, where is he now?’ And she felt protective of him and twenty minutes later she saw him, saw Mick Costa, slouched on a bar stool, drinking coffee and smoking, then he got up to leave but changed his mind, sat back down and lit another one of those infernal cigarettes of his.
At 10pm she and her girlfriends decided to leave and she went with them but then cut back to the bar to see him sitting there, smoking, drinking coffee and brooding. She walks up and takes the vacant stool beside him but he doesn’t move, doesn’t acknowledge her so she says,
‘You don’t look happy, Mick.’ As he turns he starts to smile, which means he recognised her voice and he keeps smiling when he sees her blond hair and green eyed looks.
‘You’re so different to Sophie,’ he says.
‘She called our house, Mick.’
‘So, you know. You know I lied to you and Randall,’ and he exhales smoke as he says it and she likes it, likes the smell of him and cigarettes.
‘Why did you make it up?’
‘Sophie had an affair it seemed easier to lie.’
Mick walks out of the bar followed by Madeline and he stops at the front entrance and pushes a cigarette butt into the sand filled ashtray. Madeline looks at him like he’s a stray cat or something and says,
‘Don’t be a stranger, Mick. Come and see us. I… I don’t know what to say.’ Mick looks at her, touches her forearm and leans in and kisses her lightly on the lips and then leans back and smiles shyly. Madeline says,
‘You shouldn’t have done that.’ Mick sighs and brushes his hair back. Says nothing and they both look at the ground and then he says,
‘I have to go.’ He starts to walk off. Madeline says his name and he turns and says softly,
‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.’
She watches him leave and says loudly,
‘Mick!’ he turns and comes back a few feet and Madeline says,
‘What are you going to do now?’
She laughs and puts her hands out to touch his face.
Sean O’Leary has published 5 short story collections, My Town, Walking, Wonderland, Tokyo Jazz and Other Stories and This is Not a Love Song. His novella Drifting was the winner of the ‘Great Novella Search 2016’ and published in 2017. He has published over 40 stories in literary and crime fiction journals. His crime novella The Heat was published in 2019. His interviews with crime writers appear in Crime Time magazine. His crime novel Going All the Way is out now and his crime series includes, City of Sin and City of Fear. The third book, City of Vice drops late 2023. He has worked in a variety of jobs including motel receptionist, rubbish removalist/tree lopper, farm hand and night manager in various hotels in Sydney’s notorious, Kings Cross. He has lived all over the bloody place but now resides in Melbourne, thinks that test cricket is the greatest game of all and supports Melbourne Football Club. He writes like a demon, loves travelling, is mad about photography, does some AI art and tries to walk everywhere.