I drove the old convertible, Louis beside me in the passenger seat. He looked slightly worse for wear: his eyes were bloodshot; his dark hair more awry than usual; his voice gravelly; his current disposition decidedly unfriendly.
He reached forward and killed the Dr Feelgood rock tape that blared from the car stereo.
Must have been a big night, I considered, but then remembered that every night for Louis was usually a ‘big one’.
‘Are we going to Darlinghurst?’ I asked him.
‘Nah,’ he said. ‘Drive to the Cross first. I’ve gotta see Fat Jake.’
I nodded. Fat Jake was a good source for information on the street.
I stopped the convertible at a pedestrian crossing to allow a young woman dressed in business clothes to cross the road. ‘Nice pair of pegs,’ I said to Louis.
‘How can ya tell?’ he replied with a grunt. ‘She’s wearin’ stockings.’
I shrugged. ‘They look nice to me…’
‘Huh… too skinny,’ Louis muttered. ‘Anything would look nice to you. Yer a little shit, aren’t ya? I only hired ya ’cause ya don’t smoke.’ He turned to face me. He was close enough for me to smell his stale breath. ‘The true judge of a woman’s legs is when she don’t wear nothin’ on them at all.’
‘I didn’t know you were such a connoisseur, Lou,’ I said with a laugh, and nudged the convertible forward.
‘Don’t call me Lou. The name’s Louis, kid…’ He scratched at his unshaven chin.
Louis often called me ‘kid,’ just to annoy me. He knew I hated it. I was twenty-three, and no longer a ‘kid’.
‘What’s wrong with calling you Lou?’ I asked him sulkily. ‘That’s what Honey calls you.’
‘Yer not Honey, are ya, kid? Call me Lou again and you’ll be out the door faster than a wino on pension day!’
I bit my tongue. He’s probably having withdrawals—he wouldn’t have had a drink for at least six hours…
Louis was alright by me. I’d learnt a lot from him since I joined his private detective agency four months prior, and he didn’t pay me too badly either. He could be a bit touchy at times, but what could you expect from an alcoholic? Sometimes I wondered why Honey stayed with him—she would’ve been around forty, but she was still a stunner.
I guess for his age—mid-forties as far as I could tell—Louis was handsome in a rough sort of way. Put him beside Honey, though, and, like all the rest of us, he was ordinary-looking. Louis was pretty tall—how much taller than me he was depended on the amount of slouching he was doing that day, and his degree of slouching was directly linked to the amount of alcohol he’d consumed the night before.
Louis was a hard man, but he was like putty in Honey’s hands. He’d do anything for her… anything, that is, except give up the grog. He was from the old school, where they lived hard and drank even harder. He was smart, though. Louis was no-one’s fool: anyone who’d taken on the bad streets of Sydney for over twenty years, and survived, was anything but stupid.
‘There’s only one thing that can come from livin’ on the edge…’ Louis said in his gravelly voice. ‘It’s which way ya fall, that’s the key.’ He turned towards me and I was struck by how animated he’d become. ‘Ya wouldn’t know too much about the real world yet, kid—not with that university degree bullshit ya did…’
I nodded, and suppressed the wry smile that threatened to dominate my face. Louis’s lectures often came out of nowhere.
He continued his sermon: ‘People are generally simple creatures, kid… it’s the shit goin’ on in their heads ya can’t control. Take the girl were lookin’ for. She don’t know how good she had it at home… she won’t last six weeks on the street. She’s a dumb rich girl who’s probably already realised how stupid she really is…’
‘Do you think Fat Jake will know where she is?’
Louis cleared his throat. ‘Who knows? We’ll lean on the fat bastard… see what he can tell us.’
‘Lean on him?’ I knew that Jake was one of Louis’s mates, and that he wouldn’t have to do too much leaning.
Fat Jake sat in his Kings Cross diner with a huge plate of bacon and eggs in front of him.
‘Hey, Louis!’ he said when we walked in. ‘Have something to eat, buddy.’
Louis looked at the greasy mess with distaste. ‘What scotch have ya got today?’
‘The best!’ Jake rose from his chair and waddled towards the bar.
‘Make it a double,’ Louis said, ‘no ice…’
‘Ya want one, son?’ Jake asked me.
I quickly shook my head. ‘No, thanks. Too early for me…’
‘Never too early,’ Louis said.
Louis seemed happier once he had the glass of scotch in his hand. He took several gulps, and again looked at the food. ‘No wonder you’re such a fat bastard, Jake…’
‘Fair go, Louis,’ Jake said. ‘I’m on a diet at the moment.’
Louis looked him up and down and scoffed. ‘It’s not workin’.’ He took another sip.
Jake ignored Louis’s jibe. ‘Why’re ya here?’
‘I’m lookin’ for a girl.’
A smile spread across Jake’s chubby face. ‘You’ve come to the right place, Louis.’
‘Not one of your girls.’ Louis glanced towards the back of the diner. ‘The girl I’m lookin’ for isn’t a pro… at least she wasn’t one till two weeks ago. She comes from a good family… and rich. She’s nineteen, with short, blonde spiky hair, five feet eight. Name’s Cathy—she’s probably not savy enough yet to give a false identity.’
Jake slowly shook his head. ‘She’s not workin’ for me, Louis. I haven’t come across her.’
‘Who’s runnin’ Darlinghurst Road now?’
‘The Demetrio brothers.’
‘That scum…’ Louis finished his scotch.
‘Want another one?’
‘Nah.’ Louis placed the glass on the table. ‘Pretty good drop, Jake… If ya hear anything about this Cathy girl you’ll let me know, eh?’
Jake nodded. ‘Sure, sure.’
‘Thanks for the drink,’ Louis said. Before we left the diner, he took one last look at the bacon and eggs on the table. ‘Better eat ya health food, before it starts growin’, Jake.’
‘See ya soon,’ Jake said with a wink.
On arriving in Darlinghurst Road, I could see there were only a few girls still out. They lined the pavement like the leftovers from one of Fat Jake’s greasy meals.
‘Anyone you know?’ I asked Louis.
He scratched his chin. ‘That chick over there…’ He pointed to a skinny girl with purple hair. She was wearing yellow hot pants and a pink top. ‘I think her name’s Roxy. She’s got a good eye for detail.’ Louis pulled a fifty dollar note from his wallet and handed it to me. ‘Go talk to ’er, kid. Tell ’er there’s more of this if she comes back to the car.’
I did as Louis said and approached the girl. She looked strung out, but when I gave her the fifty, she followed me and climbed into the back seat.
‘How’s tricks, Roxy?’
‘Louis Brogdite…’ she said with a shake of her head, ‘I shoulda known… What do you reckon, Louis?’ She pulled a filtered cigarette from her pants pocket. ‘Got a light?’
‘No smokin’ in the convertible.’
Louis described Cathy in detail, and then asked Roxy if she’d seen her.
Roxy nodded. ‘I saw a chick like that get into a black beamer two nights ago.’
Louis passed her another fifty over the front seat. ‘Ya get the rego?’
‘Nah… but I know who was drivin’.’
Louis held out another two fifties towards her, then quickly pulled his hand back. ‘Who?’
‘Ya sure?’ Louis again waved the notes in front of her.
Roxy grabbed them from his hand and proceeded to stuff all the money she’d collected down her pink top. ‘Sure, I’m sure.’
Louis nodded. ‘Get some food into you before ya stick any more of that shit up ya arm.’
Roxy sniffed. ‘For another hundred, I’ll hang around…’
Louis rolled his eyes. ‘Spare me.’
‘Do ya want some?’ she asked me.
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘Too early for me.’
Roxy shrugged. ‘Please yerselves…’ She opened the car door and stepped out into the street. ‘Easiest two hundred I’ve made all day.’
‘Who’s this Kurt Rogers guy?’
Louis bit his lip and furrowed his brow. ‘Not a nice bloke,’ he finally said. ‘No-one you’d invite home to meet ya mum, kid, that’s for sure.’
Louis and I had finished up for the day. Louis said he was going to give Fat Jake a ring to see if he could find out where Kurt Rogers was living. He told me he had a card game lined up that night in one of the back rooms at Jake’s diner, ‘invite only’, and he asked me to take Honey out to a nightclub as he’d promised her he would.
‘Buy her anything she wants,’ he said gruffly, ‘just don’t let any blokes chat her up.’ He slipped me a roll of notes and sent me on my way. I didn’t want to do it, but Louis insisted, so I picked up Honey in the convertible and we drove into the city.
Honey and I had a meal, then sat in a bar and watched a show. If I didn’t know her age, I would’ve thought she was much younger. Her long, black hair hung over her slim shoulders and her face was tanned and beautiful, her eyes a deep brown. She was the kind of woman any guy would die to bed, if that guy didn’t know she was Louis Brogdite’s chick.
‘Can you get me another vodka and soda, Steve?’
I went to the bar and bought her the drink. It was nice to be called by my real name, and not just ‘kid’. I bought myself a coke as I thought I should keep a clear head. I’ve never really been a drinker, and watching the effect it had on Louis was putting me off it for good.
We found a quiet area away from the music and sat and chatted. I became slightly concerned when Honey put her hand on my leg and started softly rubbing. She seemed like she’d had too much to drink.
‘I think I better take you home,’ I said.
‘Take me back to your place,’ she whispered. ‘Lou’ll be out all night.’ She curled her pretty lip. ‘All he does is drink with his fucking mates. He doesn’t want to be home with me! I get so lonely—I might as well have some fun with you…’ She grabbed for my hand. ‘Take me home with you…’
‘No, sorry… I can’t do that.’
She moved away and scowled. ‘Are you gay or something?’
‘No… but the men I have sex with are.’
She couldn’t help but laugh.
‘Listen, Honey,’ I said. ‘You’re the most attractive woman I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ll probably regret this for the rest of my life, but I can’t take you home with me.’
‘Why?’ she asked with a smile.
‘I want to live a bit longer, Honey…’ I shrugged. ‘And not only would Louis kill me, he’s, sort of… my mate.’ I tried to appeal to her loyalty. ‘Listen to me, Honey—Louis is a good man, he just drinks a bit too much, but that doesn’t make him someone you should give up on. If anyone can get him back on the straight and narrow, you can. I mean… he’d listen to you. You must know he’s crazy about you. You’re his world, Honey.’
She nodded and continued smiling. ‘Thanks for the advice, Steve,’ she said softly. ‘Okay… maybe I was just testing you,’ she said sheepishly.
‘Yeah, let’s leave it at that.’ I gently placed my hand on her shoulder. ‘Come on, I’ll drop you back at yours.’
The next day Louis wore an irrepressible smile. Clean-shaven, he’d applied a pungent aftershave that took my breath away. Sitting in the passenger seat, he looked at himself in the rear vision mirror and brushed at his dark hair.
‘Man,’ he said with a laugh, ‘I’ve gotta start takin’ those ugly pills.’ He pushed his Dr Feelgood tape into the slot, and the sounds of rocky blues dominated the small space.
‘Good win at the card game?’
‘Nah… I lost a bit, but I went home early.’ He smiled. ‘Honey was very pleased to see me…’
‘Lucky you,’ I said. Lucky me.
Just at that moment, a car cut right in front of me. I blew the horn and yelled.
‘Careful.’ Louis said.
‘What? He’s the one that cut me off!’
‘Yeah,’ Louis said, ‘but people like that aren’t worth worryin’ about, kid… ya never know they’re holding until they shoot ya…’
I recognised Louis’s homespun philosophy. Sometimes I wondered if he was performing the role of mentor as well as boss.
Louis tapped his large fingers in time with the music—it was all he ever listened to. ‘Fat Jake told me where Kurt Rogers is holed up,’ he told me. ‘He’s keepin’ Cathy with him in a unit in St Peters. He’s got two tough guys on his books, nasty types.’
‘When do we move on him?’
Louis scratched his head. ‘What’re ya like in a fight? Can ya box?’
I shrugged. ‘I can hold my own.’
‘Hmmm… I think we need more muscle, kid. What do ya reckon?’
‘You know the Scattered Boys?’
‘No, but I’ve heard of them… they’re both as mad as rattlesnakes, aren’t they?’
‘Yeah,’ Louis said with a nod. ‘Those are the ones, alright. Pay ’em a visit and offer them a grand each—they’ll be up for it.’
‘How much are you getting from Cathy’s old man to return her?’
Louis smiled. ‘More than enough.’
I found the Scattered Boys to be appropriately named: Jamie and Deek Edwards were a most unusual set of brothers, to say the least. They were dressed in track pants and beanies, and had an unwashed look about them. When I offered them the two thousand to do the job for Louis, Jamie said they’d do it for less if they were allowed to kill someone.
I stated categorically that there would be ‘No killing.’ They seemed disappointed but accepted the job anyway. It was difficult to determine which one was the older brother, and I wondered if they were twins. I’d heard some very strange things about them, and wasn’t sure why Louis wanted them involved.
‘I once put this bloke’s head through a plate glass window,’ Jamie said proudly. He scratched at his three-day growth.
‘He done sixteen months for that,’ Deek said with a nod.
‘There’s to be no killing,’ I said with a frown, ‘and no unnecessary violence.’
‘What about necessary violence, man?’ Jamie asked.
‘Kurt Rogers has two enforcers,’ I said. ‘Your job is to take care of them, but I don’t want any fatalities.’
‘What’s ‘fatalities’ mean?’ said Deek.
I drove the convertible with Louis beside me in the front seat, the Scattered Boys in the back. The Boys had brought baseball bats with them.
At least they’re not packing guns…
I slowed the car to avoid colliding with a large woman and her small child, who were hurriedly crossing the road.
‘Hey, man, that was 50 points each up for grabs if you hit ’em,’ Jamie called to me from the back seat.
‘She looked like she was up the duff, too,’ Deek said. ‘That woulda been a bonus 50.’
‘What?’ I turned to Louis with an eyebrow raised.
‘They’re talkin’ about an old movie that I showed ‘em once,’ he said nonchalantly.
‘It’s an old sci-fi flick from the early 70s,’ Louis said. ‘The year 2000 musta seemed a long way off back then.’
‘It’s a really cool flick,’ Jamie said, ‘heaps of blood and guts, man…’
I sighed. ‘I’ll look out for it at the video shop,’ I said, with a roll of my eyes.
‘Don’t worry,’ Louis said quietly, ‘the Boys are alright.’
‘What’s Aunty Honey doin’ today?’ Deek asked.
‘Shoppin’, probably,’ Louis said, ‘for a trip I’m organisin’. She seems real excited about it, lad. She’s never been overseas before.’
‘Aunty Honey?’ I asked Louis with surprise.
Louis shrugged. ‘Jamie and Deek are me nephews… me older brother, Vince, got himself into a lotta trouble years ago—I’ve been lookin’ out for ’em since their mother went bush.’
‘Yeah,’ Jamie said proudly. ‘Our old man’s papers say ‘Never to be released.’’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Right then.’
I knocked on the apartment door in St Peters and waited while it opened slowly.
‘What do ya want?’ a huge man in a black coat asked me. He peered through the partially open door and looked me up and down.
‘I’ve got a message from Cathy’s dad,’ I said. ‘He wants to talk business.’
The man turned to talk to someone behind him. I stepped aside and the Scattered Boys charged at the door, knocking the huge man to the floor. The man’s companion reached for a gun in his jacket, but was struck a savage blow in the face by a baseball bat before he could pull it free. Jamie continued to whack him while his brother, Deek, attacked the man on the floor. Within seconds, both men lay unconscious. Louis stepped through the doorway.
‘Enough, boys,’ he said. ‘Watch ’em,’ he added. He moved quickly to the side wall.
A door beside him flew open, and out rushed a semi-naked man brandishing a pistol. Louis stuck out his leg and tripped Kurt Rogers over, then moved rapidly forward to kick the gun out of his hand. Jamie also launched forward and struck Kurt a telling blow with his bat.
‘Bedroom!’ Louis yelled to me. ‘Get the girl!’
I charged into the bedroom to find a naked, blonde-haired woman cowering in bed.
She nodded apprehensively.
‘Your father sent us.’
She buried her head in her hands and shook. ‘I hate it here,’ she said, ‘but it’ll be just as bad if I go home to my father—he scares me when he’s angry.’
I felt a surge of anger well up inside me. ‘Do you want to stay here and be exploited? These guys will just extort money off your father… are you too fucking stupid to see that? Is that really what you want? Is it?’
She slowly shook her head. ‘No…’
‘You’re way out of your depth here, Cathy. Get some clothes on, now! I’ll wait outside.’
I returned to the lounge room.
‘Fixed?’ Louis asked.
I nodded. ‘She’s on her way.’
One of Kurt’s enforcers made groaning noises. Deek moved towards him and hit him repeatedly with his baseball bat—the groans quickly ceased as Deek’s blows sent the man back into dreamland.
Kurt returned to consciousness. Louis grabbed him by his arms, pulled him to his feet and threw him against the concrete wall, slamming his head against it.
Kurt yelled in pain and rolled his head on his shoulders. ‘You’re a fuckin’ dead man, Brogdite!’
‘Am I?’ Louis pulled a revolver from his pocket and held it to Kurt’s head. ‘Who’s the dead man now?’
I’d never seen Louis with a gun before. I felt a nervous shiver shoot up my spine.
‘You can’t kill him, Louis,’ I said worriedly.
Louis laughed. ‘I can do anything I want…’ He placed the gun in Kurt’s mouth. ‘It’d be good riddance to bad rubbish.’
The Scattered Boys nodded and grinned. Kurt’s naked torso shook, and it wasn’t from the cold.
‘Louis… you can’t do this…’
Louis briefly closed his eyes. ‘Yeah… not me,’ he said slowly. ‘But someone else can.’ He grabbed Kurt by the arm and threw him to the floor. ‘Take him,’ he said to his nephews. ‘Ya got the address?’
‘Yeah, Uncle Louis,’ Jamie said.
‘Unfortunately,’ Louis said, ‘he’s gotta arrive there in one piece, boys.’
Deek nodded. ‘We’ll just rough him up a bit for the trip.’
‘Take the convertible,’ Louis said. ‘Give ’em the keys, kid. We’ll catch a cab and drop Cathy off separately.’
Much relieved, I handed the car keys to Jamie, and he and his brother pulled Kurt to his feet and marched him out the door.
Cathy came out of the bedroom and looked nervously around the room. She shied away from the unconscious men on the floor. ‘Where’s Kurt?’, she asked, pulling her clothes tightly around her.
‘On his way to either heaven or hell,’ Louis said with a smile. ‘It all depends what your father wants to do with ’im…’ Louis stepped forward and held out his hand. ‘Louis Brogdite, at ya service, Cathy.’
I drove the old convertible with Louis in the front seat beside me. He looked well-slept, unusually sober as Dr Feelgood blared from the stereo.
‘Nice little job…’ Louis mumbled to himself as he flicked through a thick wad of notes. He turned to me. ‘I think your education is comin’ along rather nicely, too, kid.’
‘What did Cathy’s father do to Kurt Rogers?’
Louis cleared his throat. ‘Do ya really want to know?’
I shrugged. ‘I guess not, Louis.’
‘Yeah… best ya don’t.’ He stretched his neck. ‘Ya don’t know who Cathy’s father is, do ya?’
I shook my head.
‘Best, perhaps, that ya don’t know that neither… I’ll bet Kurt Rogers wished he never tried to cash in on Cathy… Stop here!’
I pulled the convertible over to the curb.
‘We’re closin’ up shop for two months or so.’ Louis handed me a large bundle of hundred-dollar notes. ‘’ave a holiday, kid… I’ll see ya in September. I’m takin’ Honey to Europe… she’s always wanted to go there, ya know.’ He bit his lip. ‘I might try and get off the grog while I’m over there… ya never know…’ He reached forward, pulled the Dr Feelgood tape from the slot and placed it carefully in his pocket, like the treasure he obviously considered it to be. He shook my hand firmly. ‘Let me know if ya need more cash, kid.’
‘Will do, Louis,’ I said. ‘Hope you and Honey have a good time.’
He nodded. ‘Ya know what life means to me?’
‘Tell me,’ I said with a smirk. I could see one last piece of Brogdite philosophy coming my way.
‘Ya should always honour the people you love…’ he said softly, ‘and reward ya mates well.’
With that, he opened the door, climbed out of the car and started walking.
‘What do I do with the convertible?’ I called to him.
‘Keep if for a while,’ he called back, ‘and Steve…’
‘Yeah, Louis?’ I asked with surprise.
He turned to face me. ‘Thanks. Honey tells me yer a good man, and I reckon yer alright too… for the little piece of shit that ya are…’ He grinned, and walked away with a spring in his step.
I shook my head and laughed. Coming from the mouth of Louis Brogdite, it was high praise, indeed. I sat there for a time, looking at the money he’d given me, then pressed the accelerator and rejoined the traffic.