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1 One Million Dollars

Kooringal Golf Club, Altona, Melbourne,

Friday night

 

"If they wanna fucking watch footy, they should fuck off to the fucking game and stop fucking interrupting me while I'm fucking trying to fucking sing, the fucking fucksticks."

"Shhh, shhhh."

"Don't fucking shoosh me."

Gino's pupils zipped like quicksilver. Rage cut them loose. 

Rick pressed his hands against Gino's shoulders and gently pushed him against the wall. 

"Hey, hey, dude, calm down."

"I'll be fucking calm when they fucking get the fuck out of—"

"C'mon, Gino, give me a fucking break, please."

Gino sighed and shook his head forlornly.

"Yeah, okay. I'll calm down."

Rick thought: thank fucking Christ. 

"But all you need do is ask, Rick. No need to swear."

Gino saw Rick's are you kidding me? expression and smiled. 

"Jesus, Gino. You're like Robert de Niro in Raging Bull."

"Oh right, like de Niro, am I? Because I suppose all of us Italians are the same to you, am I right?"

Gino's angry-to-affable transition took milliseconds.

Rick smiled. "Fuck off Gino. Just try not to be a psychopath after intermission."

Gino chuckled. "I'll do my best. Are we still on for tomorrow, or have you got the shits with me?"

"I'll be there."

"Cool. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a smoke before we go back on." 

Gino disappeared out a side exit to the floodlit car park. 

Rick walked back to the green room. Raymond and Andy looked nervous. 

"It's okay guys. He calmed down. He'll behave."

Raymond seemed antsy. "Cheers Rick. I just want to get through the second half, and then… uh…"

Raymond sideway-glanced at Andy.

Andy stood. "Rick, don't be upset. But maybe tonight is the last gig. I mean, it's been interesting and all, but… ah, I'm not sure it's working, so… "

Rick chuckled. He was amused that Raymond and Andy thought that he would be angry or disappointed. Maybe a couple of months ago, but not now. 

"Yeah. I know. I mean—fuck it—right? Time to end this."

***

The first half of the performance was a Mongolian clusterfuck.

Two causes:

a) the thin partition between the ticket-paying performance area and the general bar and TV zone. It was one of those 70s-style floor-to-ceiling folding fabric room dividers, resplendent in beige. 

b) liquored-up Carlton and Collingwood supporters in the bar and TV zone watching their teams slug it out at the MCG. 

Light schmaltzy opera and footy don't mix. When you're bracing for the high notes in Time to Say Goodbye or Regresa a Mi, you can do without fucksticks yelling goal celebrations or profanity-laden abuse.

It makes for interesting juxtapositions. 

 

♫♫You raise me up… ♪♪

You're a fucking dud, Bryce Gibbs!

Awwwww, get fucked umpire, that’s fucking holding the ball!

 

The 40-60 punters in the audience seemed relaxed about it. But it was too much for Gino. He stormed off stage between songs to confront the fucksticks. You could hear the yelling through the beige. 

The fucksticks told Gino to get fucked. The fucksticks ridiculed Gino's tux and cravat ensemble. Gino fouled the air with an astonishing stream of profanities. He dropped c-bombs. He spoke of lewd sexual acts which he had allegedly performed with the fucksticks’ girlfriends/wives. He relayed their compare and contrast feedback: Gino, A; fucksticks, F. 

Wannabe tough-guy security staff intervened and calmed things down. 

A minute or two that Rick would long remember: standing on that little makeshift stage, body tense with awkwardness and indecision; partially blinded by stage lights, but enough vision to see the punters giggle at the Gino/fucksticks argument booming through the beige.

***

Gino returned and they got ready to go back on. He preened in front of the mirror, combing his perfect mane of thick, dark hair, copying the debonair style of the ultra-Italian looking one from Il Divo.

Gino spied Rick watching in the mirror reflection. He commented on Rick's baldness. 

Raymond did a couple of quick arpeggio voice runs. 

Andy caked on theatre make-up to minimise his pale and pallid complexion, cruelly exposed by the lights. Poor Andy. A lifelong struggle. Like Sisyphus and the boulder. 

A woman appeared in front of them.

"You boys are magnificent."

They looked at each other, confused.

Gino spoke first. "Thanks. It would be okay if it wasn't for those football supporters."

"Pay no attention to them. They are scum. Their future is bleak."

Gino looked at Rick. His facial expression was all: get a load of this lady

"I would like to be your manager."

A pause. Broken by Gino's giggles.

Raymond was more polite. "That's very kind, but, ah, this is probably our last performance."

"Nonsense. We are just beginning. You will have tremendous success. Tre-men-dous."

Raymond looked nonplussed.

Rick took over. "Look, thanks so much. We have to go back on."

"I will deposit one million dollars into your group bank account. We will talk on the weekend about our plans."

Gino's giggling intensified. Rick nodded for them to move along. 

"Once again, thanks for your kind words, Miss ah, sorry, I didn't get your name."

"Ximena. Ximena Terreblanche."

 

2 The Riches of China

Birdcage Café, Altona, Saturday morning

 

“Check out the description, Rick: situated in a sought-after pocket of Sunshine West.”

Gino jabbed his finger at the iPad, as if to accuse the machine of gilding the lily.

“Since when has Sunshine West had a sought-after pocket? And if it had a pocket, what would be in it— methamphetamines? Guns?”

Rick rolled his eyes. “You really have no idea about the western suburbs, Gino. You’ve got to drop these preconceptions. The west is where it’s at. The east is dull and overpriced.”

“I agree it’s overpriced, but at least where we grew up you could walk around without getting stabbed by triads or violent teen thugs.”

Rick lolled. “Triads? What the fuck are you talking about? Anyway, you want to live in Ashburton? You’ve got a spare two million bucks lying around? Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s either over here or so far east that you’re half way to Gippsland.”

Gino sighed and shook his head. “I know, I know. Fuck, man, how did it get to this?”

“Well, I think I don’t know. The tax system, I guess.”

“My old man came here in ’68. A year later he had a wife and house in Ashy. These days the average person can’t even afford to live in their own fucking city. It’s fucked.”

“I agree.”

Gino looked up to the café TV. Weekend Sunrise news update. Washington shenanigans.

“I’m hoping that Trump shakes things up. Maybe the situation will improve.”

Rick nearly spat out his coffee.

“Are you kidding me, Gino? You think Trump’s going to help you buy a house?”

“I’m not saying he’s gonna, ah… fucking… help me buy a house, directly… but maybe if he puts pressure on the Chinese or something.”

“Pressure on the Chinese? Like how? A military confrontation?”

“No, no, I mean I don’t want anybody to get hurt or anything. Maybe sanctions or something, to knock them back a peg or two so there isn’t Chinese money floating around.”

“So you want Trump to somehow impoverish China so that it puts downward pressure on Melbourne’s property market?”

“Yeah. Something like that.”

“Which will in turn tank the Australian economy.”

Gino smiled. “Which will in turn lower Australian property prices.”

Rick laughed. “Anybody else you want to see Trump target?”

“It’s not just the Chinese. I mean I’m not prejudiced or nothing like that. But there’s also the real estate investors and speculators. Trump’s gotta do something about them.”

Lulz.

“Gino, you know how Trump made his money, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I’m just hoping that, now that he’s President… who knows? I mean, I had it at this joint in Derrimut a fortnight ago. I thought I was a real chance. There I am at the start of the auction, all excited, thinking: finally, this is it. I've got my strategy ready: stay quiet and don't enter the bidding until they hit $550k."

"So I'm guessing it didn't work out?"

"Didn't work out? The auctioneer started bidding at $580k, my limit. Twenty seconds later there's a bidding war between Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka on one side and a retired couple on the other side looking to pick up their twentieth investment property. Two minutes after that they've gone past $750k."

Rick peered around the cafe for a reaction. Gino's casual racism came with a slightly-too-loud voice. But nobody paid them any mind.

“I mean, fucking Derrimut, Rick. It’s not like I was bidding for the Playboy Mansion.”

"So Gino, by listing the cast of Monkey, I assume you're referring once again to our friends from the People's Republic of China."

"Absolutely. They were a family or something, cashed up with Chairman Mao's trust fund."

“It’s interesting. Monkey was a Japanese TV show, but based on a Chinese story.”

“Whatever.”

"If they had access to the riches of China, they wouldn't be buying in Derrimut, don't you think?"

"All I know is that I couldn't compete with Jackie Chan, or Mr Fuji, or whoever they were.”

“Mr Fuji? The evil wrestling manager?”

“Yeah.”

“He was meant to be Japanese, not Chinese.”

“Whatever. Plus they were bidding against a retired couple looking to pick up another investment property for their portfolio."

"How do you know they were investors?"

"Are you kidding me? The dude turns up in an Audi convertible and parks in front of me. His parking is sloppy, away from the curb, as if to say: ‘I’m rich. The petty rules of society don’t apply to me.’ He's dressed yacht rock, like… uh, fucking, that guy from Love Actually. His wife is decked out in a bright Armani sweater, like Roger Federer's wife at the tennis. I check the number plate on the Audi. Personalised—REALST8."

Rick smiled. "I see your point."

"I mean, what sort of fuckhead has a personalised number plate?"

Double-take.

"Wait a minute. I believe I know somebody else around here with a personalised number plate."

Gino tore off a corner off his croissant and threw it at Rick.

"Fuck off. That's different. My car is a second-hand Toyota people mover with 140k on the clock. My cousin Vince went to Pick-A-Part and repaired it for one hundred bucks because I couldn’t afford to get a real mechanic. The number plate is DONS4EVR. There's nothing pretentious about a number plate that indicates I'm a fan of the Essendon Football Club."

"Fair point."

"Meanwhile Mister Real Estate with his twenty investment properties locks out the average family guy like me from a slice of the Australian dream. He's cheating me. He's not playing fair."

Rick couldn't help it. "With respect Gino, cheating does seem to be the common link between Mister Real Estate and the Essendon Football Club."

Gino threw the rest of his croissant at Rick. It missed and hit an old man at the table behind them.

Rick lol-ed. Gino apologised profusely as the old man's wife helped wipe crumbs and strawberry jam from his shirt.

Gino caught the attention of a waitress and ordered another double espresso.

“I tell you what, Rick, I need a solution soon. I’m happy to lower my standards and compromise to get a house. I feel like a greyhound in a race, chasing after the rabbit, but never getting there. Did you see before on the TV they had a story about real estate prices? In the last twelve months the median house price rose by sixteen per cent in metropolitan Melbourne. That rabbit’s surging further and further ahead.”

“You’ll get the rabbit, Gino.”

“I hope so, because it can’t go on like this. You’ve been to our rental in Glenhuntly plenty of times, right?”

“Yeah. It’s nice.”

“It is. It’s no palace, but it’s good enough. Four bedrooms. Guess how much rent I’m paying?”

Rick pondered. Not far from Glenhuntly train station. Solid old Californian bungalow.

“I don’t know. Maybe… $500 per week?”

“Try $680 per week.”

Rick shook his head. “You see, this is my point, Gino. That’s more than my mortgage repayments. Come west.”

“It was $550 per week until a couple of months ago. Then we get a letter from the estate agent saying that the rent’s jacking up to $680 per week. I was outraged. I mean, we’d been there four years, never given any trouble, always kept it clean; and then—boom—just like that, an edict. No consultation. No loyalty to good tenants.”

“That’s fucked.”

“I had Andrea in tears because she thought she was at fault. Some of the tiling in the shower fell off. She asked the estate agent to fix it but they did nothing, so she hassled them. She thought, you know, that maybe they wanted us out because we complained.”

“That’s terrible.”

“And I said to her: ‘it’s not your fault. These people are scavengers, that’s all.’”

Rick nodded. “Too right. Of course it’s not her fault.”

“Yeah. So I ring the estate agent, and I’m fucking giving it to him over the phone, asking him why he’s doing this; and he said: ‘look, you’re a nice guy. We like you. You have been good tenants. Don’t take it personally. Four bedroom houses around you are selling for $2 million. It was inevitable that the owner would want your rent to go up.’ And he’s probably right.”

“It’s still atrocious. And I like it how they blame the owner. That gives them a convenient excuse. It’s like the public service and IT projects. It’s like: ‘oh, yeah, sorry we wasted those tens of millions of dollars, delivered six years late and accidentally leaked the medical records about your micro-dick condition to everybody. IT contractors, what are you going to do?’”

“Yeah, I know, but he’s got me by the ‘nads. What am I going to do? Walk out? And do what?”

Rick sighed. It was all too depressing.

“I need another coffee before I can deal with real estate agents again. That’s my idea of purgatory—or maybe hell—forced to spend eternity in a room full of them.”

Rick nodded. “That’s definitely hell.”

“Yeah, absolutely. You’d have, uh, every single one of them approaching you with their stupid clipboards, writing your name and phone number down, telling you what a great prospect the house is, what a great neighbourhood it is, what a great street it is; then six months later they’re on the phone saying: ‘Oh, hi. I’m So-and-So from Bloodsucker Estate Agents. Remember me? Why am I calling? Oh, you know, just to say hi. How’s the family?’ Imagine having that for eternity. Jesus. Fuck them. Fucking scum.”

“I agree, Gino. Let’s be honest: they deserve death. If we woke tomorrow and every real estate agent on earth had died overnight, would the world be a better or worse place?”

“Better. Much better. That’s a no-brainer.”

Gino contemplated for a second. “Mind you, where do you stop that logic? What other professions do you go for? Soon they’ll come after public sector workers and IT people like us. Are you ready for that?”

Rick thought about it. “We probably deserve it. But they’d go after the politicians and the lawyers first.”

Gino smiled. “Do you remember that Simpsons episode where Lionel Hutz is horrified at the thought of a world without lawyers? They visualise his thought process. He sees a paradise, with people across the globe holding hands and joyful.”

Rick laughed and nodded.

Gino flicked through the Herald Sun aimlessly.

The waitress brought his coffee.

“I think the important thing, Gino, is not so much that all real estate agents are eliminated, but the manner in which they are eliminated. I mean, they can’t die painlessly, in their sleep or something like that.”

Gino nodded. “Fuck no. It has to be some sort of… uh, hideous death, like a medieval torture implement of some kind. Like the rack, or, uh, head crusher.”

Rick laughed. “Head crusher?”

“Yeah I saw something on TV about that once. They used it in the Spanish Inquisition. It was basically just a vice. They put your head in there and turned the screw so that there was gradual crushing. The victim would scream and die slowly over one hour or something like that.”

“Excellent. Personally I haven’t used a vice since woodwork class with Freddy Moses at De La. Remember that?”

Gino nodded and imitated old Mr Moses. “Smoove. See? See, boy? Smoove.”

Rick yukked. “One time we had to make a photo frame thing. Freddy Moses always thought it looked classy to have that burnt look on the wood, you remember that?”

“Yeah.”

“But I must have put mine over the flame for too long. So this picture frame, it was poorly put together in the first place; and on top of that it looked like, fucking, a charcoal picture frame or something, like somebody picked it up from the remains of a bushfire-gutted home. And Freddy sees it and yanks my arm. He’s saying: ‘You stupid kid.’”

Gino chuckled.

“So, to return to the topic at hand, there’s no point to the mass death of real estate agents unless we can hear them crying out in pain and anguish, just for our enjoyment.”

“Yeah, and maybe they could confess during the torture that they are evil bastards. They could yell out for forgiveness before they die.”

“I wouldn’t forgive them.”

“Fucking oath, Rick. Why forgive them? Actually, the other thing they had on that program was the coffin torture method.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Yeah, it’s awesome. The Inquisition people put a lot of thought into this sort of stuff. So what you do is put the victim in, like, a giant bird cage, hung from a tree, leave them in the open for a week or two, exposed to the elements and without food and water. The victim dies and ravens swoop in to eat him. Sometimes, close to death, the victim is too weak to scare the ravens away, so they have to watch as their own flesh is devoured.”

Rick laughed. “You seem to know a lot about this, Gino. But yeah, I like that one better, because the death takes longer and is more horrible. Also you could visit them during the process and yell abuse. There’s plenty of time. With the head crusher…”

“Maybe you’ve got an appointment.”

“… yeah, exactly; and you’re like: ‘fuck, I would have loved to have gone to that crushing, but they were impaling one of his colleagues at Hockingstuart on a spear down the road at the same time.’”

“Yeah, it gives everybody plenty of opportunity to swing by at their convenience to throw rocks at them or whatever they want to do.”

“Yeah. I prefer that method. The problem with the vice is that the real estate agent is going to know that he’ll be dead shortly. They don’t suffer for long enough. There’s not enough sustained, hideous anguish.”

They both paused and smiled at their happy thoughts.

“We joke about it here, Rick, but I’ve got to tell you… after that Derrimut auction shemozzle, when I was well and truly pissed off, when the fucking estate agent that underquoted came over to get me interested in other houses in the area; I really could have… could have…”

Rick shook his head. “You could have done what, Gino?”

Gino smiled. “Do you ever have spells where you just sit there and imagine things? Like, you imagine ideal scenarios?”

“Ah, I’m not sure. Like what?”

“It’s almost like a waking dream, except you’re not on the cusp of sleep. You’re perfectly awake. You find your mind drifting to scenarios where… where, like, your enemies are vanquished.”

Rick chuckled. “Real estate agents?”

“Maybe. But it can be anything. Sometimes if there’s somebody at work who you don’t like, you can find yourself sitting there imagining him getting in trouble. Maybe getting sacked or… something more.”

Rick laughed. “I’m guessing that something more means something that is incredibly disturbing. Am I right or am I right?”

Gino smiled. “You’re right.”

“Do tell.”

“So there is a co-worker who bugs me. He’s snooty and thinks he’s King Shit. Sometimes I find myself sitting in my chair at work imagining this scenario where, somehow, I have the power to make him go insane. I can direct his actions.”

Rick giggled. This was cool.

“So I’m pulling the strings on his thoughts and actions. I make him lose his mind so that suddenly, without warning, he starts screaming profanities and smashing up the office, throwing computer monitors out the window from the sixth floor, putting his fist through office windows, spraying photocopier toner everywhere.”

Yukks.

“That’s fantastic, Gino.”

“Yeah, I know. And it sounds corny, but then in my imagination people gather after the incident and say: ‘you were right, Gino. We should have listened to you about him. You were right all along.’”

Rick doubled over in his seat, giggling.

“Other times it’s, uh, admittedly, quite a bit darker. I imagine that I can make him drop dead on the spot; that somehow—I don’t know, telekinesis or something—I can trigger an aneurism in his brain and he collapses at his desk, instantly dead. I watch it happen. Everybody screams and wails in shock and grief—and I play along with it—but inside I’m thinking: ‘who’s the smart one now, Poindexter?’”

Intensified giggling.

“They’re not always vengeful stories. Sometimes it’s just something… like, uh, I’ve come up with a business idea or new invention. Initially people scoff, but then they realise that it’s a stroke of genius on my part. So the CEO and management call me in and say: ‘Gino, we’re sorry we doubted you. Here’s tens of millions of dollars and you now own a mansion on the beach in Ibiza.”

Rick blurted out an extra-loud laugh at the mention of Ibiza.

“I know it sounds pathetic, but when I do it I feel so happy. Sometimes I’m so lost in my thoughts that when I snap out of it I see people looking at me, because I’ve got this idiot grin on my face.”

Rick regained his composure.

“You never do that, Rick? You never imagine scenarios where you come out on top?

Rick thought about it. “I don’t think… I mean not in that much detail. Because, you know, I’m not a fucking deranged psychopath like your good self. But yeah, I do it. When you think about it, what are hopes and goals? They’re just a future state that exists purely in your imagination. So we probably all do. And even when you’ve lost all hope in life, you still use your imagination, but it’s suicide ideation. They say it’s a big warning sign.”

Gino nodded. They sat in silence for thirty seconds or so.

“So, anyway Rick, I shouldn’t say it, but in that moment with the estate agent, I really, truly and honestly wanted to kill him. I wanted him to die. I wanted him to suffer. I pictured it in my mind. If there wasn’t, you know, the consequence of a life-term in prison for doing it; if there wasn’t that sort of constraint, I really think that I would have committed a great deal of harm to the man, perhaps killed him. I wanted to. I did in my mind.”

Rick chuckled. “The fucking law, am I right? I understand why it’s there, but, ah… sometimes …”

“Yeah, I know. Sometimes. It is fucking… inhibiting.”

“Yeah. It’s overrated.”

“Sometimes I just want to be lifted out of… out of, this shit. You know? Bills, work pressure, yadda yadda yadda. It never stops.”

“Yeah, I know. But you’ve just got to hang in there.”

“Yeah, I suppose so. So Rick, apart from imagining that I have supernatural powers to vanquish my enemies, I was just thinking about another solution for real estate agents.”

“Which is?”

“The idea of a world without real estate agents may not be wishful thinking or something that exists purely in my imagination. It could happen. We may not have to kill them after all.”

“That’s disappointing. How so?”

Gino sipped.

“You know all of that doom and gloom commentary on technology and automation, that it’s going to put us all out of work? That applies to real estate agents too. Look at e-commerce. eBay. Amazon. Alibaba. The whole idea is to create a perfect market, where buyers and sellers interact without the need for middlemen. You don’t need some prick in the middle saying: ‘in order to sell your old DVDs online to somebody across the world, you need me to come in and take ten per cent.’ The same logic applies to real estate agents.”

“Gino, I think you’ll find that those companies get a cut of the sales price. That’s how they make their money.”

The point seemed to stun Gino.

“Oh, yeah. I guess I… well, anyway, my point remains. It’s the same principle. These days you don’t need some fucking tosser real estate agent to tell you about the expected value of a house. You can just look it up yourself. You can see sold prices of houses in the same neighbourhood on the ‘net. Nor do you need them to run a fancy advertising campaign for you. You can do it yourself and put it up on realestate.com.au or whatever. Hopefully real estate agents will go the same way as the dinosaurs.”

Rick was impressed with Gino’s enthusiasm, if not his analysis.

“I hope you’re right, Gino.”

“Mark my words. It won’t be tomorrow, but sooner or later you’re going to see real estate agents cast aside, unemployed and in the gutter; maybe camping outside Flinders Street station, pulling cones, their once impressive suits all tatty and stained, the Herald Sun writing editorials calling for Robert Doyle and the council to move them on.”

Rick chuckled. “What a beautiful vision.”

“I know, right? And let me assure you, if one of those guys looks up at me from the gutter and asks for a donation, I’ll give him a donation alright. I’ll whip out my wang and piss all over him.”

“Nice.”

Gino collected his stuff.

"I feel good now after that conversation. Let's get the fuck out of here."

***

5 Delamare Drive, Albanvale

 

Albanvale was full of little circuits and cul-de-sacs with drab houses. Solid brick, some with beige cladding, air conditioning units protruding from tiled roofs. Most had double-fronted garages.

It had a desolate feel that you often get in new housing estates, that lack the people and infrastructure to provide a sense of a living community. But this part of Albanvale wasn’t new. It had been around maybe forty years. It was as if the Council contracted somebody to go street to street and hoover the atmosphere out of the place.

They lurked in the backyard.

"Good-sized block, Gino. Traditional quarter acre. I like the pergola thing. This place is nice."

Gino people-watched.

"Check the couple near the back door. There's no way they're looking for a place to live. No way. Look at them."

Rick glanced. Hipster-ish. 30-ish. The dude rapped his knuckles on the wall cladding. Maybe he knew something about building materials. His partner looked disinterested. She had little earphones on, from which one could hear the faint and muffled sounds of Missy Higgins.

"They’ll rent it out to poor fuckers like me. Mummy and daddy gave them a slush fund to get started in the investment property market. Pricks."

Rick sighed. "Jesus, Gino. You're so, ah, fucking down on everybody. The Chinese. The retired. Real estate agents. Anybody with cash. Don't worry about other people. This is a prospect. You've got to think positively."

Gino nodded. "Yeah, I know, I know. Sorry Rick. I just I just regret not buying earlier, when it was more attainable."

"That's cool. I know what you mean. It's tough."

“I also regret not being more careful with money when I was younger. Like, when you add all the money I’ve spent on beer and cigarettes—and on dope in my teens and twenties—I reckon that’s maybe two-hundred grand right there.”

“Yeah, but Gino, you can’t think that way. You would have slashed your wrists without that stuff back then. You would have turned out to be a boring fuck without those vices. Well, let me rephrase that: even more of a boring fuck.”

Gino chuckled and rubbed his stubble, middle finger prominently directed at Rick.

"I should have bought when you did. You did well. Nice little pad out there in Altona for your Colombian mamacita and Mariana."

"It's tougher for you, Gino, with three kids. That makes it really hard."

"Yeah I know. Should have worn a rubber."

Yukks.

"And now I have to come out all the way here to Bumfuck, Melbourne to find a house at the uh, Nutbush City Limits.”

Rick's heart sank as the god-awful junior real estate agent emerged from the back door to hassle everybody. Mr Slick. Probably 25 years old. Armani suit. Plastic smile fixed to his stupid face. Rick figured that he made a mint in his so-called job. Bring on the day of the gutter.

Gino saw it and whispered in Rick’s ear.

“This guy. What torture device do we use on him?”

“I don’t know what you call it, but when I did Roman history at uni I read about how they put victims in a sack with dangerous dogs and venomous snakes and threw the sack in the Tiber. The dogs and snakes would panic and fight and bite everything. Then they’d all drown.”

Gino laughed. “Fucking hell man, that’s awesome! Italians rock!”

Gino broke into Rocky-style shadow boxing jabs.

Mr Slick finished with the yuppie couple and turned his attention to Rick and Gino.

Saved by the bell. Phone call—Raymond.

"Hey Raymond. What's the happs?"

"Ah, well, uh, the happs is that there have been some developments."

"How so?"

"Do you remember that strange woman from last night in the green room?"

"Yeah, sure. Ah, Ginella, or something like that."

"Ximena. With the, you know, with the zjim sound."

"Right."

"Remember how she said she'd give us one million dollars?"

"Yeah."

Raymond paused.

"Yeah, well, um, she's done it. It's appeared in our joint Four Tenors bank account."

Da fuq?

"Are you fucking with me?"

"No. I'm completely serious."

Rick thought: Raymond's not the bucket of chuckles/fix-up type.

"Wow."

"Yeah, I know. Crazy, huh?"

"But ah, Raymond. Tell me. You’ve worked with banks. This has got to be smoke and mirrors, right? There's no way that this could, uh, that this could be real."

"Well, yeah, I have had the misfortune of interacting with senior bank personnel.”

“So you think this is some sort of scam?”

“I can’t claim I’ve got technical banking knowledge. The main thing I’ve learned about working with senior bank executives is that every single one of them should be lined up against the wall and shot, without exception or mercy. Wait, maybe they should be tortured first. Waterboarding, or maybe a Soviet sleep-deprivation interrogation.”

“That’s nice, Raymond, but what about this bullshit funny money?”

“Well, I don't know, Rick. I don't know how anybody could do that to fake that. Plus she wants to meet with us tomorrow."


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

This is Chris’ fourth novel, following The True North Strong and Free (2015), The Bali Stranding (2016) and The Chemtrail Chronicle (2016). Chris lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Marcia and daughter Mariana.

Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
I always liked Bayeux Tapestry memes. So I created my own and my buddy Kieran adapted it.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
The book is about the anxieties and melancholy of men in mid-life—the longing for the jouissance and freewheeling experiences of youth to come back; their listlessness and ennui.

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