Authors: Daniel Mason
Daniel Mason is twenty-one years old and lives on the North Coast of New South Wales. RUSH, his first novel, is the winner of the 2001 Young Author's Award. He is a full-time writer.
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A BANTAM BOOK
First published in Australia and New Zealand in 2002 by Bantam
Copyright Â© Daniel Mason, 2002
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Mason, Daniel, 1981â.
ISBN 1 86325 316 51.
1. Journalists â Fiction. 2. Violent crimes â Fiction.
3. Murder â Fiction. I. Title.
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Definition 1. detailed statement with intention of explanation 2. act of explanation
Here's everything you need to know: I was born and I'm going to die. That's all you ever need to know, because that's where it starts and for all anybody cares it may as well end right there. Nobody really cares about what happens in between. The world doesn't even care that you were born, and it certainly isn't going to mourn you when you're gone.
I don't expect you to care about the fact that I am going to die.
When I was born nobody took any real notice apart from the doctors and my parents and their immediate family and friends. Small circle of people, really. Nobody cares when you're born. They call birth a miracle, but it isn't. It's just nature. Birth, life, death. It's just the cycle. That word between birth and death: it's just a word, isn't it?
is what they give to mass murderers when capital punishment isn't available.
Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for blowing up a government building in Oklahoma, but when you see Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star, the audience cheers.
Aren't they both acts of terrorism? That's a rhetorical question. The answer is, both men struck out against a world they felt had restricted their freedoms. Terrorism can be that simple. But in Luke Skywalker's case, nobody stopped to count the innocent workers killed.
The thing about film is that sometimes you're not supposed to care.
The power of film is manipulation. Tugging on your heartstrings. Keeping you at the edge of your seat. You cry when I tell you to cry, you laugh when I tell you to laugh.
When I was ten years old my father took me to see
, and I cheered when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star. I cheered when Charlton Heston activated that bomb at the end of the
Planet of the Apes
sequel too. And every time I see
, I grin when Travis Bickle kills the Harvey Keitel character in cold blood, shoots him in the street and says, âSuck on this.'
My father died when I was twelve years old. Not that you care.
I was eight years old when my father took me to my first professional hockey game. I played in a Little League, but this was the Big Stuff. This was a packed arena, big padded men on ice, slamming against the plastic barriers, hacking down on each other with sticks. But it wasn't the game that captured me. It was the
crowd around us, filled with big drunken cheering men. When a player went down and bloodied the ice, the crowd cheered around me. When their team suffered a loss, they moaned and shouted obscenities. When it was all over, I asked my father, âWhy do people care so much when it's just a game? It doesn't really matter, does it?'
And my father, he looked down at me, and he said, âTo some people it isn't just a game. It's their life.'
It was a long time before I understood that. Last week, I'm watching the news and I see that twenty-four people were killed in a stampede during a riot at a soccer game. I don't cry, though.
The first time I saw Bambi's mother die, I bawled my eyes out. I was conned into caring about something that wasn't real, just because the movie told me to.
When you see it enough times, you just can't seem to care anymore.
Every day the news is telling you that somewhere, somebody has died in tragic circumstances. Cancer. Suicide. Shark attack. Car accident. Sporting incident gone wrong. But do you care? I mutter, âHow tragic,' and change the channel.
Sport, the movies, life itself. The lines are blurred. We're all just characters in different scenes.
Character profile and motivation: I'm a white male, thirty years of age. Those people who campaign for affirmative action, women and minorities, they say that as a white male I've had it my way for the last two thousand years. But they haven't been living my life. It's not right to wake up feeling empty every day of the
year. It's not right to feel so unfulfilled. It's not right to be so much background scenery.
What your parents might tell you is that everybody has the chance to make the world notice. To make an impact. Do something that matters.
You can change a life, but you're never going to change the world and it's never going to care. So don't get worked up over it. And here's a hint: the easiest life to change is your own.
I live my life like it's on film, just another series of pictures on a screen. Establishing shot. Close-up. Cue soundtrack. Fade in. Pan right. Cut.
It's never really what you think it is. Sometimes it's a movie. Sometimes it's a game. Sometimes it's just a ride in an amusement park. When the ride is over and you get off, you're dizzy and all you want to do is throw up.
Hayes is saying, âOne shot. That's what it's all about. One shot,' and he's thinking that I don't know he's quoting
The Deer Hunter
, when in actual fact I do. But he's already on to something else, talking away while I'm barely listening on the other side of the table. It's a close-up on his face as Hayes says, âThe most common place for a suicidal gunshot wound is usually the right temple. Statistically, a man is more likely to shoot himself than a woman is, did you know that?' He's babbling excitedly and tapping his foot, jerking the knee up and down.
âI think I read that somewhere,' I tell him, not really paying attention. This is the essence of my relationship with Hayes. He will talk endlessly with his heart on his sleeve and I will listen with one ear, indifferent. This man, he thinks he can teach me something about myself. Right now he continues to talk but I'm focused on whatever is happening around us.
We're sitting beneath a dim lightbulb in one smoky corner of the room, and I'm wondering what this place is used for during the day when it hasn't been converted into an arena. The building is surrounded by silent warehouses; there were a group of young men outside throwing rocks through windows across the street when we came through the door. Above our heads a bulb swings loosely on its cord. The shadows distort our faces and
leave the features looking monstrous. I stub another cigarette in the ashtray.
Across from me, Hayes is adjusting the sleeves of his tattered jacket. Beneath it he wears a floral shirt, like he's ready for a day at the beach. His way of dress is decidedly haphazard. He's speaking regardless of whether or not he has my undivided attention. He raises his voice slightly to be heard over the murmur of the crowd. âA woman is going to cut her wrists, or take a bottle full of pills. That's stupid, and it takes a long time to die that way.'
The room is crowded and the people mill about in anticipation of the event. It's hot in here under the bright lights and there isn't really any air. I can smell sweat and alcohol and blood and smoke.
âThis close up, when a bullet enters the human body, it goes in clean, like punching a hole.'
âDoesn't come out so clean on the other side,' I mutter, and reach for my drink.
âThe way that most bullets are designed is to hit their target without exiting,' Hayes explains. I can feel him staring into me and I don't return his gaze. âSo it enters the body and stays lodged there. The severity of a wound depends on the bullet and position of the weapon.'
He elaborates: âAn exit wound is more likely to occur when the bullet expands after entry. The bullet comes to a sudden stop when it meets flesh and it will flatten out a little. The pressure here will force a larger exit wound than entry wound.' He makes a circle with the thumb and forefinger of each hand, grinning through his imaginary holes. âExit wound, on the other side of the entry. The bullet punches a tiny hole in front and the pressure blows a giant hole out the back. An entrance wound to the skull
will cone the bone inward, away from the face of the weapon, if the muzzle is close enough. You fire a hollowpoint bullet from a muzzle pressed against the side of the skull and the exit wound is going to be messy.'
I look at Hayes and admire the way he gesticulates with his hands as he speaks, but I'm not really listening to whatever it is that he has to tell me. I'm sick of listening to other people. Instead, I watch his face: the rhythmic movement of his wet lips, flashes of white teeth, expansion and contraction of facial muscles, his wild eyes entirely focused on me.
âWhen you're in the roulette trade, you see a lot of these wounds,' Hayes is saying. âThe hollowpoint causes massive tissue damage at such close range. In order to penetrate skin, a projectile must move at one hundred and sixty-three feet per second. To break bone it is required to reach two hundred and thirteen. A bullet fired from a handgun will lose most tissue-damaging quality at one hundred feet. For the bullet to cause extensive damage to human tissue, it needs to impart all of its kinetic energy upon the target. Kinetic energy, that's the energy it gets while it's picking up speed.'
He smacks his hand down hard against the table. âBam! That's a bullet meeting a human body. That sudden stop is where the kinetic energy is imparted. You understand?'
I nod and tap another cigarette from the packet. I'm beginning to get used to these Asian cigarettes that Hayes has recommended. He reaches over and plucks one for himself. We light, and draw.
âNow,' Hayes says, puffing smoke like some kind of brooding dragon. âWhat we use here are hollowpoints. A hollowpoint is exactly as it sounds: the tip of the bullet is
hollow. This bullet is designed to flatten or expand upon impact. Henceforth, upon impact it imparts more kinetic energy onto the target, which in turn will result in more extensive tissue damage than a normal bullet. A normal bullet can often pass right through the target and leave a clean wound, like stabbing yourself through the hand with a pencil. A straight line from entry to exit wound, both wounds the same size. You don't want that.'
I say nothing because I am busy drawing on the surface of the table with a pencil that I've found. Maybe later I'll be stabbing myself in the hand with it.
âThe survival rate is lessened dramatically when playing roulette with a hollowpoint bullet,' Hayes says wickedly. I look up to see him grinning like a madman.
The rest has already been explained. The roulette trade takes place one night a week. Different time, different basement or warehouse. The only things that remain the same are the dim light and the smoky air. The bodies are disposed of discreetly, and most of the time they don't turn up. Every so often one of the players will request a proper burial and fork out the funds to a friend before the game begins. Burial funds include money to bribe authorities.
Each player brings a gun, bullets are supplied. The serial number on each firearm must be filed down. Every weapon has been reported stolen. The weapons go into a bag and for each match a new weapon is drawn at random. A man never acknowledges whether he has drawn his own weapon or not. At the end of the night all of the weapons are wiped down and dumped in a river or a swamp somewhere.
The rules are simple. There are two men to a game and they sit opposite each other at a small table. There might
be as many as fifty people in the room watching this; sometimes it's a small crowd, sometimes they come in droves, but the game is always kept very quiet. Loose lips will get you killed. A toss of the coin determines who goes first. A referee will produce a firearm from the drawer in the office, and he will bring with him one bullet. He will select one of the six empty chambers from the firearm and insert the bullet. Whoever wins the toss will spin the barrel, and then he has to put the handgun to his temple and pull the trigger. Click or boom.
If the leading player is a survivor, he hands the gun to his opponent, who must then take the next chamber by default. His odds are lessened by the fact that one chamber has already been played. The game will proceed in this fashion until one man draws the losing chamber. Odds are different for each chamber, and so, in turn, is the payoff. This is the sport of gambling men. There are very few professional players.
One man will draw the losing chamber. The room will fall silent as he fingers the trigger, and everybody hears the clickâthe hammer strikes home. What happens next doesn't matter. Click or boom. What matters is that he proved himself by pulling the trigger.
It's going to take a man a lot of nerve to pull the trigger. His palms are sweaty and the muzzle is unsteady where he's pressing it against his temple. There are very few confident men who would play the six-chamber roulette wheel. Most of them are cowards who've hit rock bottom. They're willing to risk their own lives for any kind of money to pay off the debt that they have already accrued, because either way they're dead men. They toy hesitantly with the trigger.
This is all going on in the middle of the room as Hayes and I watch from a corner. There are two men sitting on opposite sides of a round table beneath a bright floodlight. They don't look like brave men, and they don't look like stupid men. Their faces are like stone as they stare each other down.
Different men are in the game for different reasons, and there are always a few new faces to replenish the stock of players. These men don't state their own personal reasons for being in the game. They don't much talk to one another. You don't get to know a man when the chances are you're about to see him blow his brains out the side of his head.
âOne shot,' Hayes says quietly.
I place the pencil carefully on the table, my drawing finished. It shows a stick-figure man blowing his brain out the side of his head with a blocky-looking pistol. His eyes are x's.
Across the room, the lead player takes the weapon from the table. He's a Vietnamese man, maybe thirty years old. He does not seem nervous at the prospect of putting a gun to his head. There seems a slow deliberation to his movements as he steadies the gun against his temple and fingers the trigger. And then it comes suddenly, the pull of the trigger. He squeezes his eyes shut as he pulls, and then there is a dull click of the hammer as it hits home on an empty chamber.
He breathes easily and returns the weapon to the table, a grin on his face.
His opponent is a Westerner, maybe thirty-five or forty. He's balding and his hair is short. There is a fear in his eyes, but he knows there's no backing out now. He takes
the weapon and in one swift motion has it against his temple, and he pulls the trigger. Click, nothing. He's a survivor. With a shrug he places the weapon on the table, and the Vietnamese man stares at it for a short while before reaching out.
His movements are slow again, and he's exceptionally hesitant on the trigger. With a deep breath he lets his eyes fall shut, and he pulls the trigger. The explosion is deafening, and he seems to sit there for a moment, stunned. From where I'm sitting, I don't get to see the other side of his head, but I know it's been blown out because I can see the blood spattered all over the floor and it's hanging in the air like mist. He sways, then seems to lean forward and his entire body collapses.
There is a wet smack when his head hits the floor.
The room is silent, and then a cheer breaks out, and there is clapping.
Hayes looks at me, and then he starts to laugh.
From where I'm sitting I get the faint whiff of gunpowder residue.
Hayes is still laughing at what seems like some kind of sick private joke, drink in one hand and cigarette dangling from his lip, when he tells me that the next game is ours.
I ask him to repeat himself.
âNext game,' he says, seriously. âWe play.'