“He keeps looking over here, that guy in the Bluey jacket. He’s looking at Susie.”
“Relax, Dom. What are you gonna do? Start a fight?”
“You think I couldn’t take that guy.”
“Listen to you. Take that guy. You’re not De Niro. This isn’t Taxi Driver.” Susie starts to laugh and says,
“Oh no, Dom is a tough guy. Can’t you see his muscles bulging out of that black skivvy he wears seven days a week.”
I shrug. I’m not even sure why I’m upset. Everyone looks at Susie. Bridget sits quietly like always and Mario has one last go.
“Hey, you know in Taxi Driver that the De Niro character takes Cybill Shepherd to see a porn movie. On their first date, he took her to a porn movie. Is that where you took, Susie?”
They all laugh, even Bridget breaks out of her shy smile and laughs out loud. I go to the counter, order four coffees, three hamburgers with the lot and a Souvlaki with garlic sauce for Mario. We’ve been coming in here for a month nearly every night, ordering the same thing every time but the guy behind the counter still acts like he’s never seen me before. There’s a row of booths down the right-hand side and five or six stools at the counter. We sit in the first booth on the right where we can see people walking by on Bridge Rd and coming in and out. We can’t work out why it’s called the Hollywood Diner because there are no pictures of movie stars. No Hollywood sign. Nothing.
The food comes and the guy wearing the Bluey walks past the table, right next to Susie, when he leaves. She doesn’t give him anything. No smile, no look, nothing. Just keeps eating. She’s in my politics tutorial. I’m studying film and television. Writing and directing and editing. No acting. I took the politics class for interest. It has nothing to do with me passing my course. It’s on a different campus, there’s no pressure. Susie was sitting next to me and she likes films and movies. There’s a difference between films and movies but I won’t get into that. I did get into it with Susie and we clicked in other ways too. We’re not alike. She’s blond and wild when she wants to be. People stare at her. High cut cheekbones. Long, lanky limbs. That coltish look some young girls have. Deep brown eyes and long thin eyelashes. On top of all that she has a long white scar, maybe five or centimetres long, but very thin, running along her cheek from when she was ten years old and ran through a glass door.
Mario’s at the film and television school too. An actor. He’s done a few plays. No film or TV. He’s tall, dark-haired but not typically handsome. Not a square jaw guy. He has acne scars on his right cheek, bright light blue eyes. There’s something special and different about him that attracts girls; nothing you can see. Mario and I live in a share house in Mary St, Richmond. Bridget works in a second-hand clothes store and plays bass in a band. Everyone congregates at our house in Mary St for drinking, smoking weed, music and DVDs.
The four of us are ex-private school but we don’t go to glittering balls and twenty-first birthdays that require you to wear a dinner suit. Susie is quite fashionable, very daring. Bridget doesn’t care. She’s op-shop central but not fashionable stuff. Old jeans, old jumpers. She’s medium height and solid, short brown hair, tom-boyish and quiet. So quiet, next to Mario’s loud brash ways. We’ve been somewhat rejected by our old school peer groups and we like that very much.
Mario has been taking a lot of speed. Nearly every day. I know he feels like he has to be entertaining, the main guy. He wakes up in the morning and walks around the house in only his boxer shorts (Melbourne is freezing in winter) and smoking a joint. A joint and coffee before even the first cigarette of the day. He drinks every night too, drama school or no drama school. All this sounds very expensive and it is but his parents are very well-off, um, no, they’re rich. His dad owns a transport company and I don’t mean, Man with a Van. It’s more like every semi-trailer on the road is owned and operated by his dad. Yeah, I’m worried about him but I have enough of my own shit to deal with.
Someone puts Bowie on the jukebox and I sit back and light a cigarette and smile. Young Americans.
We finish our food and Susie stands up and says,
“Let’s go out.”
She’s wearing this short, purple gingham skirt, with a blue blouse, a dark blue pea coat to keep her warm. Her long blond hair is tied back and she’s wearing these neat, black ankle boots and I think again how lucky I am.
“Where to?” Mario asks. It’s a Thursday night at midnight and I think I know the answer. The Espy pub in St Kilda for a band, followed by The Lounge Bar and maybe breakfast at Stalactites.
“The Espy.” We exchange looks and smile. Walk out the door and cut down Gleadell St and hop into Mario’s dark blue Mercedes. I’m always embarrassed by this car. I feel weird when people stare at me when I get out. We drive along Church St and hear a siren. Mario says,
“Police,” and slows down. We haven’t started drinking yet. A young cop signals to Mario to bring the window down; he does. Cop says,
“Name, license, registration papers.” The cop is standing straight-backed right over the driver’s side window. Mario gives him his license and the cop says,
“Registration papers. Don’t make me ask again.”
“Who carries their registration papers with them?” Mario asks getting pissed off. Cop says,
“Get out of the car.” Mario turns back to me and smiles, but it’s a nervous smile. He takes off his seat belt and gets out. Bridget looks questioningly at me like maybe I should be helping Mario out. Susie looks out the window.
“Is this your car?” The cop asks and I see a second cop get out and walk by Susie and knock on the passenger side window next to Bridget. She takes the window down and the cop says,
“Get out.” She turns to look at me again. All I can do is nod and try not to look concerned. I hear the cop with Mario ask again,
“Is this your car?”
“Yes, we can drive to my house from here in two minutes. I’ll give you the rego papers.” The cop says,
“You don’t remember me do you?” Mario’s trying to look away from the cop who is right up close in his face and it stops Mario, like he’s trying to place the voice and the face from some other time. Mario steps to the side and looks hard at the cop and he says,
“No, I don’t know you.” The first cop looks at the second cop and nods and he says again to Bridget,
“Get out.” She gets out and he leans in and says,
“Everyone out.” Susie looks at me and I’m trying to find a reason why it’s happening and I just say it,
“Is everything OK? Have we done something wrong?”
The second policeman says,
“I think you have drugs in this car.”
I’m relieved because I know that no-one has any. Maybe he’ll find some tiny scrap of grass from a joint rolled some other time but nothing of consequence. I get out on the same side as Mario and the first cop says,
“Don’t look at me. Get on the footpath.” Shit, what is this? “Come with me,” the cop says to Mario who lowers his head and follows him off the main road a little way down Hall St. The second cops says to me,
“Come here.” I walk onto the footpath still keeping an eye on Mario. “Empty your pockets,” he says to me. I do and he tells Susie to open her handbag. She does and he tips everything onto the footpath and I look at Mario and the cop slams his fist into Mario’s stomach. Shit.
“Stay.” The second cop says to me like I’m his dog but it’s exactly what I do. I see the first cop hit Mario again and Bridget sees it and she runs at the cop and he holds her back and the second cop pulls her off and says to all of us as we gather towards, Mario.
“We can do this here or you can come to the station. Up to you?” Bridget looks at me and to my shame, I turn away. The first cop hits Mario with his fist in the stomach, in a rhythm with his words,
“Bring (punch) your (punch) registration papers (punch) with you (punch) at all times.” And then he stops and says,
“It’ll come to you. You’ll remember.” And picks up his nightstick and walks back to the police car and the second cop follows him and they get into the police car and drive off. My first thought is it could have been much worse. The damage is more to do with Mario’s pride than any physical hurt.
None of us says anything. Bridget goes to Mario and kneels beside him. I look at his face and he’s scared. My friend is very frightened for the first time in his life. He looks at me and then ducks his head, too embarrassed to face me. I look at Susie and she hugs me tightly and asks quietly,
“What, why did he do it?”
“I don’t know, babe,” I say, “I don’t know.”
Bridget asks Mario,
“Do you know him? He said that you knew him. Who is he?” Mario just shakes his head and then holds Bridget away from him and says with false bravado,
“Come on. Let’s go to the Espy. See that band Susie was talking about.” I look at Susie and say,
“We might just take the tram home. Put this one behind us, you should go home too, Mario.”
It stopped us all dead. Bridget and I leave and go back to her flat in Fitzroy. We talk about what happened in small whispers and I tell her I never want to get into that car again. She lights a cigarette and I kiss her mouth and her tongue pushes into my mouth and we kiss deeply for a few minutes. She keeps smoking as I kiss her neck and breasts and move down to her stomach. I look up and she smiles and takes a drag on her cigarette and blows smoke into the air and I keep going down and she says,
In the morning I wake up with a dry throat and climb out of bed naked and get a glass of water from the kitchen and Susie yells,
“Me too.” I put the kettle on because I think she thinks I’m making coffee and drink two glasses of water. I feel weird making coffee naked, go back to the bedroom and put some underwear and jeans on and my black skivvy that she hates. I bring the coffee and the water in on this stupid tray with flowers on it and she laughs when she sees me. I put the tray down beside her and take my coffee and sit on a swivel chair at her desk and she says,
“What are you doing way over there, lover.”
“Don’t call me that. I fucking hate it. If I get into bed you’re going to want to start something and I should be at college ten minutes ago.”
“Don’t yell and can you stop swearing so much? Go, if you have to, go.”
“I’m worried about what I should say to Mario. He must have known that policeman. The cop said to him as he was leaving. It’ll come to you.” Susie turns over, puts her head under her pillow and says,
“I don’t want to talk about that policeman ever again.”
I walk out onto Brunswick St and hail a cab. The driver knows Mary St and we don’t talk after I give him the address. He pulls up outside the house and the blue Mercedes is in the drive. I get to the front door and I hear Mario yell,
“Fucking go, piss off and don’t come back!” And Bridget nearly knocks me over as she flies out the front door past me. I stand for a few minutes on the small veranda not sure what to do. I sit on an old armchair and smoke a cigarette. Walk in through the front door.
Mario is at the stove trying to light the gas to put his coffee maker on. He turns as I walk into the kitchen. His eyes are bloodshot. His black hair sticking to his sweaty forehead.
“Alright?’ I ask. He looks at me, bereft.
“Alright,” he says. He lights the gas ring and places the coffee maker on the stove without looking at me. I put my hand on his shoulder and ask again,
“Alright?” His back tenses and he shrugs his shoulders and I can hear him start to sob and he lowers his head onto his chest, sobbing more.
“Mario,” I say and he turns around and buries his head in my chest still crying and says,
“I know him. Jesus. I know who the cop is. He won’t stop.”
He starts crying and shaking and I hold onto him and wonder what the hell this is all about.
Sean O’Leary has published two short story collections, ‘My Town’ and ‘Walking’. His novella ‘Drifting’ was the winner of the ‘Great Novella Search 2016’ and published in September 2017. He has published over thirty individual short stories and is a regular contributor of short fiction to Quadrant, FourW, Sudo, Close to the Bone (UK) and other literary and crime magazines. His crime novella ‘The Heat’ set in Darwin and Bangkok, was published in August 2019. Drifting and The Heat are both available on Amazon. Another crime novella ‘Preston Noir’ has been published in Crime Double Feature…Neo Noir (Zombie Pirate Publishing) and his short crime collection ‘Wonderland’ is due through Close to the Bone Publishing on May 28th 2021. His interviews with crime writers appear online in Crime Time magazine.