George and Carlo, John G’s boys, are flashy tracksuit-wearing roid ragers. They both sport wog mullets. They both drive hotted-up European sports cars with the windows down and the stereo up and drag off other motherfuckers in European sports cars down busy Melbourne streets.
And I’m the one who draws attention to myself.
I roll a rollie quick as, light it up. Not really supposed to do that, but as John owns the café, nobody says boo. John even waves a waiter over with an ashtray. He plonks it down in front of me and I feel a little weird as I am about to ash on the glowing, pre-Raphaelite face of the Virgin Mary. But I get over it fast.
‘Sorry, John, but you told me if I worked for you, I wouldn’t have to cut it. A deal’s a deal; I’m not cutting it off.’
He’s not really telling me to cut it off. I’m the only tough guy with brains he really has. His boys are all testosterone, gym muscle and barely-restrained violence. Great at the You fucken looking at me, mate? and little else. I do the workouts with them coz I agreed to be a part of John’s weird buff-boy fantasy for the job and, really, why the fuck not? My flash art tatts look better already. Beulah, the 50’s style pin up chick who sashays her way down my right arm, has picked up some extra sass as my bicep has picked up some bulge.
John slurps from a glass of water.
‘Whatever, mate. I do like that jacket though. What is that? Is that a cowboy jacket?’
It’s a fucken two-hundred and ninety dollar denim hombre jacket is what it is.
‘You want another macchiato? Something? We do some fucking great toasties here. They’re the business.’
‘Nah, I’m good. So, what’s the hubbub, John? I thought I was supposed to be at Doherty’s, blasting my lats into epic standover man proportions today.’
‘I need you to do something special for me.’
‘The boys. They fucked up.’
‘I’m not taking any more sheilas to the abortion clinic. Fuck that. You know I’m pro-life, man. It’s a serious compromise to make.’
John shakes his head. ‘Nah, mate, nah.’
He waves Carlo over from another table. Carlo, head hung, slouching, tracksuit pants dragging. The old man has clearly chewed him out for something but he still looks wired. His eyes are popping all over the shop - he’s on more than short blacks, I’m guessing. He sits down next to me, plays with some mullet-strands; his biceps doing a watusi.
Carlo shoots a look at John G, John G shoots one back of larger caliber, clips Carlo on the back of the head.
‘So fucking tell him.’
Carlo sighs, pats me on the shoulder and goes for it:
‘So you know how me an’ George have that apartment that we turned into a gym? Yeah well, so across the road from that, right, is a barber shop, I get my hair cut there. So does George. We like the guy, you know, he gives a good haircut for like seventeen bucks and he talks a bit, you know, not like he’s your best fucken mate or anything, but he talks. Place has a good vibe and all. Half the fucken apartment block gets their hair cut there. That’s the problem, it turns out. Anyway, so we know this other guy, right, who gets his haircut there too; he doesn’t live in the apartment building, but whatever, right. So anyway, he goes in there, gets his haircut coz we say to ‘im, hey it’s seventeen bucks and the guys real good. So he goes in there and sits down in the fucken chair and the barber snips away and starts talking all this shit about some stuff going on in the building. Some stuff he reckons we’re doing. Whether we’re doing it or not isn’t the issue, okay so maybe we are doing it, but it’s not the issue. He starts telling our mate how other people from our building who get haircuts there told him about, like, how the cops showed up on our door a few times, how people told him dad’s parked cars without license plates in the car park, about the punch-on we got into with a cunt upstairs, shit about people coming and going and how they’re getting’ drugs from us, all this dodgy shit, right? So our mate just plays along, right? He’s all Yeah? Yeah? Really? How’d you hear this? No shit? all this stuff, right? So of course, our mate, he, like, comes to us and tells us what this cunt said and me and George, we can’t fucken believe it. I mean we recommended this cunt to ‘im to cut his hair. It’s bullshit, mate. Fucken bullshit. George, he’s pissed, like, fucken pissed, yeah? So yesterday arvo, we go over there, right? There’s nobody around, dude’s about to close up. he says g’day as he sweeps up some fucken hair. I pull the blind down, turn the sign around to closed and snip the lock. Georgie, right, he goes up to the guy like a fucken maniac and starts shoving him. Guy’s freaking out going, What? What? What? Like this. Georgie bitch slaps the dude who falls to the fucken floor and starts crying. I’m thinkin’ fuck me, this all going a bit wrong. I’m like, George! George! Take it easy, mate! George hauls the guy to his feet and spits in his face and goes You talk shit about us, huh? You talk shit, you motherfucker? all this kind of stuff. Guy knows who we are, obviously, yeah? He’s going, I never did! I never did! Now this makes me angry coz I fucken hate it when people lie, it’s pussy shit, you know? So now, I’m pissed and I go over and go, you know you did! You know. You cut our fucken mate’s hair! He told us! He told us all the shit you said. Guy’s still like denying it, right? Georgie goes and picks up this straight razor the guy shaves our necks with, pushes the guy into one of them chairs, puts the fucken blade to his throat and gives the guy a bit of a nick. Turns out to be more than a bit of a nick and all this blood starts coming out and the guy’s lookin’ in the mirror and he sees all this red everywhere that’s coming out all pshhhhhh like a fucken tap and flips out and starts wiggling in his chair and screaming and Georgie starts yelling Shut up shut up and is punching the guy in the face to get him to be quiet. Pop! Pop! Georgie’s landing jabs but they aren’t landing flush because the guy’s wriggling and screaming and he flops out of his chair. I’m going, Georgie! What did you do Georgie! He’s all, I didn’t know how sharp it was! I didn’t know! I’m all, You fucken spastic. It’s a fucken straight razor! Meanwhile the guy’s totally spazzing out on the floor in a pool of blood and we’ve got to shut this guy up. So I run into the back and grab some towels and we just start smothering the guy and then he’s, like, dead. We figure, well, what’s done is done, right? We go to our mate who told us all this and go, Hey, we fixed that cunt up. And he goes What, Who? And we go, The barber, the barber who was spreading all this shit, and he goes, I was taking the piss. Yeah. Turns out the only thing the guy said was How do you like your haircut?’
At the rear of the café, parked next to a dumpster, is a white, late seventies Ford Escort. In the boot of the Escort is a body rolled up in plastic sheeting. John lights up my rollie before lighting up a Stuyvesant of his own.
He hands me a piece of paper. It has a rural address and the word EGGMAN scrawled on it.
‘John, fuck, I hate the country…’
‘You have to do this. The normal guy moved to fucking Noosa. The boys would only fuck it up, get pulled over for playing that fucking doof-doof music too loud, something stupid like that. You, with your Elvis, or whatever, I don’t think the cops would really care. My boys, they rub people the wrong way. They’re a couple of smug little cunts. They get that from their mother. But everybody likes Elvis, right? Everybody.’
‘Who the hell is Eggman?’
‘He’s The Eggman. He sells eggs.’
I give John a look.
‘Just tell him I sent you. He’ll know what needs to be done.’
‘Okay, but this is a long way. Can’t we just --
‘No we can’t. The safest and best way is The Eggman. You stick to the speed limit, don’t do anything dumb on the way, there will be no trouble. I had the car serviced, the lights and shit all work, there’s no way you’ll get pulled over unless you fuck something up and we both know you’re not the fuck-up type.’
‘Besides, you like weird shit, right? You’re always crapping on about the weird shit. About experiences and all that hippy shit. You’re like a rocker-hippy. Fucking fifty percent Dennis Hopper, fifty percent Elvis or something.’
‘Was Dennis Hopper a hippy? He took a lot of drugs but I don’t think that made him a hippy.’
‘I don’t really care. I was just trying to make you feel better about being a mental case. Anyway, The Eggman, the point is he’s an experience, Mark.’
‘Now, mate, this is very important: when you get to Eggman’s, be polite and don’t be a cunt.’
‘Surely me being polite would entail me not being a cunt, John.’
He stands there, mulling it over. Cigarette burning down between his raised fingers. Zen-like: If a man is polite it therefore follows that he’s not being a cunt. He snaps out of it.
‘Just be polite and don’t be a cunt, okay?’
I get in the car. A six pack of light beer, a big pack of corn chips and an I-trip sit on the passenger seat. Say what you want about John G, but he’s a thoughtful fucker. I slip my I-pod out of my jacket pocket and get ready for some tunes.
‘He doesn’t like cunts, Mark.’
‘I know, I got it, Jesus. I’ll be…what’s the opposite of a cunt? I’ll be a prick.’
‘Mark. There is a dead man in your boot. His name was Joe. Please, let’s be a little more…somber here, okay? Shit, you should’ve gone to this guy for a chop. You would have liked him. Joe, his name was. He had a picture of Elvis up in his window, getting his army haircut. Carlo actually asked Joe if it was him doing the cutting. Fucking moron.’
Now I realize why this all sounds so familiar. I’ve heard this story. Carlo actually once asked the barber if it was him in the picture cutting Elvis’ hair. Despite the fact that Elvis is like 23 in the picture and the barber is about 50. Georgie got a big laugh out of it and the two nearly came to blows during a workout session. They may be morons, but they are prideful morons. I learned a valuable lesson that day: never talk down to John G’s boys. They are big, they are mean and they have a puncher’s chance. Anyway, getting back to it, I run a hand through my hair like the cool motherfucking cat that I am and dish out my own hair care advice.
‘He may have been good, but it’s too late now, eh? Anyway, costs more than seventeen bucks to look this good.’
I pull a card from my wallet and give it to him. It’s for Jimmy Boy’s Cuts. It features a cartoon cat looking all greaser, snapping the fingers of one paw and running the claws of the other through his immaculate ducktail hairdo.
John G looks at it and scrunches up his face like he just got handed a photo of some guy tea-bagging some other guy. He scrunches up the card, maybe to match his face, and throws it over his shoulder.
‘Could’ve fooled me.’ He leans in and hands me a roll of cash. ‘Take this. Oh, you’ll be getting the bus back. One of Eggman’s boys’ll take you to the bus stop. I know it’s a pain, but I’ll fix you up properly when you get back. You’ll be able to buy a lifetime’s supply of pomade. Okay, now fuck off.’
The car comes to life with the turn of the key. My tunes come on with a tune of the radio. Swing Cats’ sultry version of Summertime.
And the living is easy
For some maybe, sweetheart.
Goats, sheep, dogs and chickens all wander in front of my car as I pull of the highway and roll on down past the sign that reads ‘EGGS’. It’s hand painted in a font that I’m pretty sure would be called ‘Retard’ if you could use it in Word. To my right, there’s a donkey ripping into a four foot milk thistle weed.
Up ahead, there’s a beat-up old caravan. It looks like God took his fists to it for whatever secret abominations go on inside. Scabs of rust with weeping blood-coloured trails scar it up. Its tires are flat or missing and the whole thing leans at an improbable angle. Peering at it as I inch closer, I almost run over an old blue heeler that moves out of my way at roughly the speed of stillness. I get out of the car. The old dog looks at me and kind of thinks about barking, but in the end he can’t be fucked and takes a piss on the flat tire of the caravan instead.
The caravan door swings open just as I belch and a hot burst of beer and corn chips nails the largest woman I have ever seen right in the face.
‘Faaark, mate, Jesus.’
I give her a proper look and decide that she’s really more of a vague approximation of woman than woman itself. She’s large and squat and it’s clear that God punched more than just the caravan when He passed through. She waves her hand in front of her face, bingo wing flapping freely underneath, and looks like she’s about to chuck.
‘That’s farken rank, mate. Rank. I’ve smelt dead livestock fresher than that.’
‘Sorry. I err, was aiming it over…’
‘What do you want? If you’re here about the caravan, I changed my mind. I’m not selling.’
A rooster struts past, gives me the hairy eyeball.
‘The--? Uhm, no…I’m here to…John says I…’
She stares at me.
‘John? John? Who the fark is John? You better not be talking about Cunt John, coz if you’re talking about Cunt John, I’ve got a shotgun loaded with shells with his farken name written on them.’
‘Um, no. I, um, need to see…The Eggman.’
She lets it all hang there just long enough for me to feel like this is all some fucking practical joke.
‘Oh, John John. Wait, John John sent you?’
‘Yeah. I’m the new guy.’
‘You don’t look like one of John’s guys.”
‘Yeah, I know. They’ve got me on a program.’
‘You’re kinda scrawny for one of John’s guys.’
‘Uh, well. I’m on a program. They’ve got me on a program. John has.’
‘The last guy John sent, he had muscles out to here. He was some deadlifting champion or something. Mate of mine, he saw this guy at a comp in some pub in the big smoke. Said the guy lifted some heavy weight, I can’t remember how much, but it was a lot. Ripped the skin off his hands it was so much. You know that guy?’
‘Well, a lot of John’s guys are in those comps.’
‘Yeah. Look, love, I need to get moving. Could I possibly see The Eggman now, please?’
She gets a look like I just belched in her face again.
Be polite , John said. Don’t be a cunt, John said. I smile. I flash a peace sign. Can’t hurt.
‘Follow the track down to the big shed.’ She points to one of two large tin structures on the horizon. Even from here they look like the kind of places in which unlucky travelers are tortured and killed. Possibly by the smell alone. Between them and us is a whole lot of nothing dotted with weeds, animals, haphazard barbed wire fencing, animal shit and the rusting, stripped carcasses of long dead paddock wagons. ‘See the shed? Down there. He’s in the shed. He’s not in a good mood today. We lost some chickens.’
‘Maybe you should keep them cooped up better.’
‘Huh? They didn’t run away. They died, mate, they farken died. Are you an arsehole or just a spastic? Nevermind, either way I don’t really care.’
Okay. Fuck this shit.
‘Uhm. Well. Thanks for your time.’
Walking back to the car, I’m pretty tempted to kick a duck that waddles in front of me. I resist (Be polite, John said. Don’t be a cunt, John said) I kick a big clod of dirt instead. It spins through the air like a fucking off-cutter and nails a ginger cat between the eyes. On impact, it explodes like flechette and mini break-off clumps fly scattershot into all creatures great and small.
Big Bertha screams at me, bingo wings whipping like fleshy sails, and threatens to get her gun. I slam the car door and pump up some boss tunes.
‘Do me a favour, bitch, do me a fucken favour,’ I say. With Batmobile’s Bambooland booming, it is said mostly to me, thus I have not broken the don’t be a cunt rule. Officially. However, I do a dirty fucken burn-out, spraying fleeing animals with pebbles and grit as I head towards the shed, which I’m pretty sure puts me on the cusp. Sure enough, in my rearview mirror, I can almost lip read her going: Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrkkkkkkkkk yooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuu, as she gyrates angrily, wobbling like a sumo in both drag and slo-mo. I sing along:
Way down in the jungles of Bambooland!
There are times when you think about your life and the events that led you to a particular moment. Perhaps it’s fate, perhaps it’s just the way it goes, but often you can trace back through the days and the happenings, identify a plot thread from your life and track it like dots on a map. As I head towards my date with The Eggman down a dirt track that’s so haphazard it looks like a straight line a blind man had a stab at drawing, I wonder what, if anything, will come of this aside from a job hopefully well done. Perhaps Eggman and Big Bertha back there have bred a fine country filly and I’ll stumble across her in the filthy shed ahead, strand of straw in her mouth, check flannel shirt tight across her chest, daisy dukes riding high up into the crack of her firm peach-shaped arse. She will look at me with a carnivorous gleam in her eye and a swagger in her step like a Russ Meyer chick (hopefully Erica Gavin) and she’ll take me hungrily in a rickety chicken coop while roosters cluck and eyeball us.
It could happen.
My fantasy is shot to pieces as soon as I get out of the car. Chickens bob their way past me and cats too fat to care lie in the sun on dirt scattershot with chicken poo. I stare up at the huge tin structure with its filthy, rusting corrugated iron paneling jutting awkwardly at odd angles, and immediately hear hissing and wailing behind closed doors that lean off busted up hinges. For a second I think that an Aussie Leatherface, named either Shane or Dave, most likely, will burst on through with a fucken Makita roaring and it’ll be curtains. Of course it doesn’t happen, but that wailing keeps on keeping on and the more I think about it, the more I’m pretty sure it’s actually cats. A whole lot of cats.
I open up the door, getting a splinter in my index finger, and poke my head in.
You know that film The Birds? That creepy shot where all those fucken birds just sit there outside that house? Well, imagine if all those birds got eaten by cats and you’ve pretty much got it. A whole lot of cats? No. Shitloads of cats.
‘Hello? Uh. Eggman?’
Nobody replies. Unless you count the hissing of a couple of tomcats mixing it up to my right.
No animal on the planet can eyeball you like a cat. The mangy fuckers that don’t bolt for the open door eyeball the shit out of me as I head toward yet another door at the rear of the shed. Beyond it, I better find Eggman, or I’m going back to my car, getting Joe out of the boot and leaving him face-down in animal shit.
The shed smells like cat piss and stale air and chicken shit. I inhale some random strands of floating fur as I breathe and pull hairs off my tongue. I step in one of the numerous food bowls that lie about the place as I try to avoid treading on cats who moan at me horribly. Inevitably, I step on some tails and paws and I’m pretty sure my eardrums blow out because of the screeching that results.
This is not cool. I’m a dog guy.
I reach the door. It’s like an office door. The wall it’s a part of is just some kind of cheap partition that divides the shed in half. I knock. Nothing. I knock again. Nothing. Fuck it, I’m coming in.
I open the door. And now, after running the cat gauntlet, I face another; this one made up of chickens. The fur in the air is replaced by feathers and it’s all a weird squawking mass of brown and white dotted with the red of the bobbing combs. Cages are mounted to the length of the walls, but the cage doors hang open and chickens nest within.
I close the office door behind me and enter the coop and at the end of it all, against the rear wall, is an office desk. Behind it sits he who must be The Eggman. Cartons of eggs are stacked up behind and around him. He’s old and wrinkled. He wears a stained tank top with Hawaii written on it. He looks up at me from behind his issue of Picture featuring South Australia’s hottest home girl twins and above all the clucking I hear him go:
I walk towards him and I see him wince as chickens scuttle to get out of my way.
‘How many eggs do ya want? I’ll give you four dozen for ten bucks because I like Elvis and you look like a man who does too.’
‘Yeah, I uh.’
‘Mate, I can’t go much lower than that. These are good farken eggs, laid by happy birds, secure, guarded birds.’
I wonder if he means the cats.
‘Do you mean the cats?’
‘Yep. Those farken cats out there, mate, they’ll stop pretty much anything.’
‘They didn’t stop me.’
He looks at me like I’m an idiot. He has tufts of hair on his shoulders. He scratches something on his face I’m pretty sure is ringworm.
‘Nine dollars then. But that’s it.’
That’s crazy cheap and for a moment I consider it. I’m one of those clowns that goes to Vic Market and buys three kilos of spinach just because it’s cheap. I then get home and realize I just bought three kilos of spinach just because it was cheap and spend the next few days living like Popeye before it goes bad.
‘Don’t the cats eat the chickens?’
‘Sometimes. Sometimes. But you take the good with the bad.’
A look of profound sorrow comes over him and I remember what Bertha said about losing some chickens. Time to change the subject.
‘I’m not here for eggs, uh…Eggman. John sent me.’
‘You better not mean Cunt John, mate.’
Jesus Christ not this again.
‘No – ‘
‘You tell Cunt John…’
Eggman leans forward on his desk and points a bony, old man finger at me and by this point I’ve kind of had enough.
‘Listen, I’m not from Cunt John, I’m from John John. I know I don’t look big enough, but I’m on a program and I will get bigger and, look, if you’ve got some problems or don’t believe me then just get on the fucken phone and call John John up and I’m quite sure that he will be more than happy to clear all this up for you.’
He sits there, finger still pointed at me, digesting what I said. The noise of too many chickens in an enclosed space saves this from becoming an uncomfortable silence. He says,
‘Are you being a cunt?’
‘No, I’m not being a cunt and I apologise if I’m coming off cuntish. It’s been a weird day. I have some beers in the car and if you like I’ll go get them and we can share them and start all over again and have a laugh about all this.
He stares me down. He opens up his desk drawer and pulls out a bottle of Bundy rum and a pair of plastic cups. He pours a generous measure into each and indicates I should pick one up. Which I do.
‘How much do you know about chickens?’
‘Not very much I’m afraid. I know they taste pretty good and they lay eggs and that’s pretty much about it.’
He reaches down and picks a hen up off the floor.
‘Chickens are smarter than children. It’s been proved that they understand the permanence of stuff.’
‘They know that stuff still exists even once it’s been taken from view. They also recognize each other. They also have thirty different kinds of vocalizations.’
‘Wow. Some bird.’
He holds the hen out for me to take. I put my cup on the desk and take the bird from his hands.
‘Look into her eyes.’
I do, kind of almost expecting something profound to happen. Nothing does. Just looks like chicken eyes to me.
Eggman puts away more Bundy.
‘This chicken now knows you about as well as I do.’ He scratches his ringworm and looks at me as though he just imparted the ultimate universal wisdom.
Eggman, holding a rooster under his right arm, takes a look in the boot. He uncovers the plastic from Joe’s head, gives him a soulful look.
‘Looks like a good bloke. Kind face. Nice head of hair on his head. What did he do to deserve this?’
Not wanting to look at poor Joe anymore, I lean against the side of the Ford, busy myself with rolling tobacco and papers.
‘He didn’t say some things some people thought he said.’
Eggman shuts the boot and joins me. We stare at the bare open expanse of his land. The drought has scorched and dried patches of it. He looks at me. I hold out my tobacco. He pops the rooster on the roof of the Ford. He takes a pinch of tobacco. He takes a paper I offer. He declines a filter. He rolls the single worst cigarette in the history of hand-rolling. It droops like a limp cock, long strands of tobacco poke out the end like pubes in need of trimming.
‘Terrible. Fucked up world, eh?’ he says.
I nod in agreement and spark him up. His smoke lights with a burst, like flash paper going off, and before long it’s burned down all uneven and has a large red glowing tip. He spits out loose tobacco threads.
‘Right, mate. Let’s get to it.’
‘Get to what?’
He pulls a filthy, rumpled photocopied pamphlet from his pocket and hands it to me. It’s entitled:
THE BENEFITS OF BLOOD AND BONE FERTILISER .
I skim it. Part of it reads:
…the use of organic Blood & Bone will aid the growth of both fruit and flower, as well as reducing plant stress caused by adverse or less than optimal weather conditions. Organic Blood & Bone is also beneficial to the general health and structure of your soil and will help rejuvenate and fortify tired soils by replenishing essential soil microbes.
No fucken way.
We’re about to turn Joe the hairdresser into plant food.
It’s Eggman. He’s on a bike. A little girl’s bike. It’s pink and white and has a weave basket filled with eggs strapped to the front. Bolted to the back: a thin pole with a plastic, triangular flag at the top.
‘Get in the car. Race ya to the other shed.’
And with that, he’s off; knobbly knees almost bashing into the handle bars as he weaves his way towards a smaller, but equally sinister, shed nearby. He yells out:
‘Give us a two-minute head-start though, eh?’
It’s like some kind of mirage. Beside shed number two is a garden full of the most spectacular roses that I have ever seen. They smell sweet and clean and fresh. It’s an oasis of bloom enclosed in a cage of chicken wire. A flimsy wood panel gate separates it from the rest of the land, dry and sickly. The flowers are so rich in colour I can’t resist entering and touching a petal on a golden flower with dark crimson margining like a bloodstain. It’s soft and velvety like a dog’s ear and I cup it and inhale its perfume and it kinda smells like a girl I once loved.
‘Easy on the merchandise there, ballbags. That’s a farken Victoria Gold, bred to commemorate the centenary of the Rose Society of Victoria. It’s a special farken rose, that.’
Eggman’s behind me. He’s breathing heavily from his bike ride. The rollie is extinguished but still hangs off his bottom lip. His comb-over sticks up in long greasy tufts. I let him win the ‘race.’ Thought it might be for the best. He’s come out of the shed with some rubber kitchen gloves on and a mobile phone in his hand. A big white hen follows him around.
‘We’ve got the Spring Rose Show coming up. Don’t want you trampling on and groping me buds now, eh? The sheila from Gardening Australia will be there.’
‘I gotta say, Eggman, these are pretty fucken lovely, mate.’
‘Ta. Yeah, some real prize-winners there, hopefully. Ok, pop the boot and give me a hand with our mate here. Simmo’s gunna be late.’
‘Me mate. He works at a slaughterhouse. Handy bloke to know.’
‘Wait. I can’t –‘
‘Nah, nah. Keep your hair on, ballbags. You’ve done your job. The rest of it is up to me and Simmo.’
Christ, I wanna go home.
I grab the head end, Eggman the feet. We hoist Joe up and out of the boot and towards the open shed. I’m going backwards and have no real idea of what waits in the shed, but whatever it is, it sure smells ripe.
We place Joe on a large, presumably homemade, wooden workbench at the rear of the shed. The ground is stained with dark black blotches. Tools hang from hooks on the walls, their outlines crudely traced in texta on the plywood. It’s mainly saws and hatchets. An open vinyl bowling bag sits on the bench. I take a peek. It’s full of blades. Flies buzz around my head.
I feel a little faint.
‘C’mon, mate,’ Eggman says. ‘Let’s go outside. You can get some air and we can drink some piss.’ He winks at me conspiratorially and makes a drinky-drinky motion. ‘Then, if you’re up for it, you can help me dig the pit.’
We sit on a pair of fraying camping chairs in the middle of a paddock, passing the bottle of Bundy back and forth, and Eggman gives me my crash-course in the production of bone meal fertiliser. In-between us is a small pit we’ve dug for “trench-firing.” Or, if you prefer, burning bones. It’s not much of a pit – maybe thirty centimeters deep. We’ve got some logs ready to go and Eggman strums his fingers along some thin metal strips that have been welded into a grid which is apparently going to be placed about halfway down the pit. Once the grid’s in place and the fire’s burning, we whack on the bones and burn them until they are reduced to Calx, or the ashy remains. The Calx is then ground down even further using a mortar and pestle, common to what you might have in your own kitchen to grind up peppercorns and shit, only Eggman’s is way bigger. From there, the powder that remains is added to dried out, ground-up blood and the mix is pretty much good to go. It’s high in phosphate and calcium and the proof of its benefits can be seen in Eggman’s roses. The only question I really have is how much bone meal is being used in the roses upkeep and where the hell is it coming from? I reckon it’s coming from John G’s secrets. Should I trust a man with enough secrets to turn into powder?
Simmo arrived a couple of hours back in a cloud of trailbike fumes and testosterone. I immediately figured that there was something wrong with the guy. His left eye pointed towards the bridge of his nose and his words slurred when he spoke. While we dug the pit, Eggman told me he got kicked by a horse, which explained things a bit. He seems diligent though, I’ll give him that, as he’s been in that shed presumably dissecting Joe for the better part of three hours.
All I want to do is go home and hit the pub and have a session with the boys. It’s been explained to me, however, that the car I drove up here in is now the property of Simmo, who, when not slaughtering cattle or helping Eggman with his body disposal racket, enjoys nothing more than tinkering with cars. It is to be his payment for this job, along with a cut of the “product” (which he will apparently turn into an additive to the feed he gives his cows. I know. Fucked up, right?) and a small slice of the wedge of cash I gave to Eggman. Simmo wanted to get stuck right in to the task at hand, and Eggman and I are so wasted that we can’t drive.
Bottles of Bundy become empty bottles of Bundy, and by the time the bones get trench-fired, I am boozed up under a tree, a sleeping bag over me, staring up at the stars that whirl and blur together like an alternate Milky Way and I’m actually feeling not too bad about Joe’s contribution to the environment. Shit man, he’s becoming roses. What do the rest of us become?
‘Wake up, ballbags.’
I open my eyes and there’s a piece of toast with butter and vegemite being thrust into my face. Eggman wiggles it impatiently and a grain from the bread shakes loose and drops in my eye. I sit up, grab the toast and rub my eye. Fuck me, it’s in there good. He smiles and also hands me a steaming plastic cup filled with weak tea.
‘Rise and shine, mate, you’ve gotta bus ta catch.’
The grain makes me blink like someone afflicted with Tourettes. I haul myself to my feet. Simmo’s passed out near the pit, empty beer bottles scattered about him like giant spent cartridges.
Eggman rubs his head, flattening his comb-over out.
‘Yeah. Good news: you’re lucky you passed out, ballbags. Simmo can get a touch maudlin after a few. Bad news: he’s too fucked up to take you to the bus stop which means I’ve gotta do it. I don’t like driving. I’m half tempted to put you on a bicycle and point you in the right direction. But I won’t. Get your shit together.’
I’m disappointed that Eggman didn’t offer me any of his eggs for brekky, but on the other hand, I’m so seedy I doubt I could keep them down. He did give me a few dozen as a thank you, however, and they sit on my lap in old beaten-up cartons. He handles the Escort okay, aside from some gear-grinding and bunny-hopping upon ignition, and for a man who claims he hates to drive, he sure has a big grin on his face.
We leave his farm and pull out onto the highway. I wind down the window and take in that good country air everyone craps on about. The wind whips up wiry comb-over strands and I look away before I laugh.
‘You’re welcome back anytime, okay ballbags? You’ve been a good sport and you went above and beyond last night, what with the delays and all.’
‘It’s fine. I can’t remember the last time I slept under the—‘
Eggman’s looking in his rear-view. He doesn’t look pleased. He doesn’t sound pleased either.
‘Fark. Fark. Fark.’
I spin around. There’s a car speeding up behind us. An old mud brown Torana. Eggman’s burst into a puddle of sweat.
‘What’s up, Eggman?’
‘Cunt John, ballbags. Cunt John.’
I spin back around. The Torana is close. A big guy leans out the front passenger window. He’s got a shotgun. The shotgun booms and our boot makes a strange thunking sound as holes are torn through it and our back windscreen is gone.
‘Oh, fuck, Eggman. You better boot it, mate.’
Eggman boots the fuck out of the Escort, but it’s only an Escort and can only be booted so much. Still, we whip by fields of canola flowers, blurry and golden. It’s oddly beautiful and I’m sure if I was not on the verge of shitting my daks, I’d be paying slightly more attention to it.
Cunt John weaves around to and pulls up level. His mate hangs out the window with the shotty. There’s another boom and the driver’s side window explodes. Hot things sting my face as I cover up and it all begins to feel like I’m in a country highway road-toll telly commercial from hell, which is actually quite apt as Eggman’s got blood in his eyes and he’s lost control and we weave off the road skidding and go straight into a huge gum tree driver’s-side first.
Things are black, then blurry. Slowly coming into focus is my Erica Gavin of the Aussie sticks. She beckons to me all cleavage and sass and she touches me but her hands are all rough; a surprise as her skin is so creamy. She opens her mouth and goes:
‘John, this cunt’s still alive.’
Erica fades away, just like in the movies when the protagonist gets called back from the light, and I’m going, Don’t leave, you’re so beautiful and then I’m back and staring into the sunken-eyed, acne-scarred face of some dude I’m assuming is Cunt John. Leaning in my side of the Escort, he says to me:
‘What the fark are you on about, mate?’
I pull away from him and I bump into Eggman, who’s gone all post-fall Humpty Dumpty on me – inner red yolky parts bursting through his soft shell. I pull away again, but where to go? I’m trapped between someone like an open wound and someone like a closed.
Cunt John slaps me across the face. His palm comes away all bloody.
‘Hey. Elvis. Get the fark outta the car.’
Head’s ringing and vision’s gone like those fireworks that pop and then you think they’re done and they pop again and maybe they pop a third time I’m not really sure coz my thoughts seem kind of messy. I can make out Cunt John opening up the door and motioning to me. He gives one of those sharp, sheep-herder whistles and, bizarrely, I find myself responding to it like a fucken kelpie on the round-up. I crawl towards him and once I’m there, I keep crawling and fall onto the road. I get up on my hands in knees in a kind of cat-arch yoga position and hurl my guts over the road. The smell is intense.
‘Fuck me, Daz. This cunt’s been into the Bundy.’
I flop onto my back, right into my spew pile, and stare up at perhaps the last two faces I will ever see. It’s a shame they’re so fucken ugly.
Cunt John leans over. ‘Pretty sorry state of affairs, this.’ He’s wiry and his skin looks like leather from too much sun and I can’t help but notice the hair coming out of his nostrils in bushy tufts.
Daz, his mate, is big and broad. He squats down. He grabs my arm and gives Beulah the tattoo the once-over. ‘This your old lady, mate? Nice norks.’
I pull my arm from his grip and try to roll away from him. I get as far as my stomach. So now I’m face down in my spew. It really does smell like Bundy. The good news is that the grain’s gone from my eye finally.
Cunt John kicks me in the ribs and puts his Blundstone boot on the back of my head, pushing my face right down into the spew.
‘So who the fark are you then eh, mate? You steal my farken plants? Huh? Farken Eggman get some Elvis poofter from the city to come up here and steal my farken plants? Gonna sell my shit to uni students and art wankers eh? Well no farken way, mate. No farken way.’
‘I…don’t. I didn’t.’
‘Mate. I get up this morning, and go tend to the plants. They’re gone, mate. They’re farken gone, so don’t you lie there and…lie…and tell me lies, allright?’
He takes his boot off my head and Daz rolls me over. His eyes are red and glazed and dry.
Daz waves a finger in my face. ‘You better talk, mate. Things will get pretty farken bad if you don’t.’
I thought they already were pretty bad. Live and learn. I wipe some blood from my nose. Quickly weigh up my options. Doesn’t take long.
‘Guys, I think you’ll find that this is all one huge misunderstanding. I have nothing to do with any plants and I think you’ll find that we can talk about this reasonably and like proper gentlemen do. In the pub. I’m buying.’
They look at each other. They look back at me. They look back at each other and shrug.
There’s a dinosaur in the beer garden. For a second I think that the accident and the arse-kicking have irreparably damaged my brain, but I rap my knuckles against it and am relieved to find that it’s made of plastic and not of my imagination.
I clean myself up in the bathroom, under the watchful eye of Daz, then head to the bar and order us a jug of draught. It’s too early for chicken parmas, but once the kitchen opens, I have a feeling I’ll be shouting lunch as well as the continued rounds to come.
I struggle to keep the first beer down, but it settles and from there on in I’m drinking like a mate, not a hostage.
Cunt John tells me his story and he may well deserve to be re-named Misunderstood John. Except for the fact that he pretty much is a total cunt. A big time consumer of Eggman’s blood and bone meal, he fed it to his dope plants with quite spectacular results. Got so that his demand exceeded Eggman’s supply. Eggman didn’t have enough for his prize-winning roses and a battle of seriously demented neighbours emerged. Words turned to scuffles, scuffles fights, fights to vandalism and vandalism, it seems, to theft. It appears that last night, while I was passed out under the stars, a highly intoxicated Eggman and Simmo stole all of Cunt John’s plants. It was the final straw for this permanently stoned, pretty much mad-as-a-cut-snake dope dealer, whose crop was due to be packaged and sold today. They hit the farm just as we were leaving. They gunned down Bertha. They gunned down Simmo. They found their plants either burned or tossed into what remains of Eggman’s dam. They have no product left to sell. They just have seedlings and plants too immature to bud.
It is, at the mentioning of this, that I see an out.
‘Do you know what’s in the fertiliser?’
‘No farken clue, mate.’
From my pocket I pull a creased, blood-stained, grubby paper pamphlet:
THE BENEFITS OF BLOOD AND BONE FERTILISER .
‘Well, I do.’
Their eyes light up. They smile and laugh and when I offer to teach them how to make it, the next round is on them.
They fill my pint glass. I empty it. They fill it again and in the spirit of things I tell them about blood and bone meal and how to make it. It’s a bit of a task and explanations don’t go to well until I grab some napkins and a pen from the barmaid and draw some fucken diagrams and shit. It takes a whole bunch of time, but that’s fine. I want it to.
Back home, I know, John G will be fretting. He will wake Carlo and Georgie up, he will instruct them to fill the waistbands of their tracksuits with whatever weapons they have handy and they will be on their way.
Soon, the quiet of the country will be killed by the sounds of shitty house music pounding from the speakers of Georgie’s Beemer.
Soon John G’s boys and me will make our own blood and bone. It won’t be trench-fired. It won’t be ground into powder. It will most likely be left, meaty and whole, in some shallow country bush graves to rot in the ground, denied the chance to become anything but dirt.
Pretty sure that’s how Eggman would want it.