Read The Big Whatever Online

Authors: Peter Doyle

The Big Whatever (27 page)

BOOK: The Big Whatever

It's the bardo out here. But it's right for me. I had some dues to pay, and I'm paying them.

It's been maybe six months since I came off the shit in the rat motel. I began writing this the day after my memory started coming back, and I've been working on it three solid months.

Everything I've written here is true. More or less. Allowing for a certain poetic license, you understand. You've got to do that. But it's true in the important sense.

Some of what's here you alert students of villainy will already know from news stories, magazine articles, TV shows, even perhaps that shitty series the Fop eventually wrote in the
Daily Earth News
. But hearken, my young seekers, there's plenty here that is not known to a living soul but me.
And now you, of course. As for the places and dates, they're mostly accurate. And the characters are all real, even if I had to rearrange their faces, give them all another name. Well, rearrange
faces, give
of them a new name. Maybe not all. License, dig?

Cathy. Oh, brother. Cathy. Everything I said about her is true. But there was more to her, more than I could write, and no one has aired it. When Cathy said she was doing the dope thing for “our side,” that wasn't shit. She bankrolled a string of child-minding co-ops in inner Melbourne, set up a refuge for runaway kids too, got guitar players to come down, teach the kids to strum and pick. Got Denise and her mates to run writing classes. Introduced a bunch of people to one another, set up a newsletter for down and outs. Her politics were genuine, and whatever she did, however fucked-up, there was always an element of higher purpose in it. No one knew how much useful stuff she was behind, because she didn't broadcast her involvement.

I could go on. No one in that scene had the vision or drive or ambition that she had. She was a crazy chick all right, was Cathy. A
revolutionary. Nothing that's been written has given her the credit she deserves. Denise, the ‘heiress revolutionary,' was a sweet chick, sure. But Cathy was the real Ned Kelly, Frankie Gardiner, Jesse James and Che Guevara of our push. And, facing facts, maybe the love of my life. But she's gone, comrades.

Johnny Malone. Billy. Whatever. Old comrade. I left you in the lurch. In hock to the Big Man, the Greeks, some crime czar creep or other. I hope this tale reaches you. If so, I know the question you're asking. Answer: Yeah, this is me, right enough. Brother, you want proof that this is good old you-know-who? All right then:
I know about the Skull Cave
. Maybe you're there right now.

A quick explanation, my rabidly curious young hepcats. My old comrade “Johnny Malone” has a secret hideaway right in the guts of Sydney. No one knows where, not even me.
It's his own personal Batcave, Weddin Mountains, Sherwood Forest, Hole in the Wall, Mount Olympus, bunker beneath the chancellery. All I know is a Chinaman is involved. He's always been pally with the celestials. That good enough for you, “Johnny”?

Me, I'm here in
hideout. Hiding in plain view, you might say. I'm not going anywhere. It's late. Very still outside. I'm all alone at midnight, when the lamps are burning low. I can hear a mutt barking somewhere miles away. I listen hard, I pay attention, I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I'm developing my pictures. My mind a dark room.

So dig, brother, I want to make it right between us. I've done my time, and I want out of here.

But Barry is out there somewhere too. I can feel him. Circling.

So I'm here. I'm holding. Waiting. Got my treasure map. Got some money. Got my gun. Come and get me, Billy. We have business to conclude.

I drove a semi-double that Sunday. You get the cab for 24 hours, but only pay in for a single shift. The low pay-in is supposed to compensate for Sundays being so quiet. A little known fact about Sydney taxi driving: Sundays are a motza. No drunks. Little traffic. So more than half the Sydney cab fleet was off the road that day, and my competition was mainly students and new drivers. Plus Steve was radio operating. It should've been a good one.

But I was too restless to get on the wavelength. I didn't bother calling on radio jobs I could've won, drove past street hails without stopping. I was thinking about the book. And what it meant. Or what it
meant. I'd pull over and flick through it, then drive off again.

After a while things picked up. Woollahra to Balmain, Balmain to Paddo, Paddo to Kirribilli, North Sydney to Randwick
– most of the trips were like that, along contour lines of roughly equal income. Every half-good cabbie becomes an expert on how the different bits of Sydney fit together, and if you hit the right currents, you're laughing. By midday I was on one of those magic chains, each job bringing me perfectly to where the next was waiting, another fare on board before you've finished handing the change to the last. You see a hail standing on the corner, you know exactly where they're going, sometimes even the street, the building, before they've opened their mouth. Occasionally – it doesn't seem possible, but it happens – you know exactly what they're going to say: you recite it in your head before they speak, then nod to yourself when they say it.

Most regular drivers are doing their one trip, going from A to B, but you've been pushing it for five or six hours and by then it's like the other cars are going at half speed. You slide into gaps in traffic before they've fully opened up. You don't need to look in the rearview half the time because you
where every car is and where they're going to be next. You have this larger sense of how the whole city is, where people are headed, where they're bunched up or thinned out. And even if you end up somewhere thin, the thread doesn't break – you'll find the one stray fare, or snag the only radio job to come out of that area the whole day, the magic one which takes you right back into the thick of it. Everything is moving in a huge swirl, and you're just riding the currents, following invisible pathways. The passengers sense it too, know you're going to get them there fast and safe. More tips, fewer grumps.

In the taxi game it's called “running hot,” and when it's like that you don't stop for a drink or a stretch for fear of breaking the thread. But at one thirty Steve called me in. “Car 370 still on this channel?”

“Here basey.”

“Message for you. Says, ‘Ring Fred.' Got it, drive?”

“Yeah, roger.”

I stopped at a public phone. Slaney picked up after two rings. “Thought you might be still at mass,” he said.

“What have you got?”

“Mister sociable. Your commo mate.”


“The Vice Squad have an interest.”

“Old news.”

“Wait a bit. So does the Drug Squad. Your mate's selling a pamphlet about how to grow pot.”

“It's a free country,” I said.

“Newest agricultural science, apparently. Explains in easy-to-follow steps how you can cross-breed a better strain, then remove the male seedlings so the females try extra hard. Produces a stronger drug. The superintendent found a copy in his daughter's bedroom. She's a schoolkid. So they're planning on popping in there very soon. Tomorrow even. Druggies and vice together. They seem to think they can nail him over this one.

“Okay. Not sure what I can do with that.”

“This is where you having the right contacts pays off. The drug boys are still mates of mine. North Bondi Surf Club. They'll hold off if I ask them nicely. So what do you want? Do I ask them?”

“Hell, let me think. I'll ring you back.”

A girl I didn't recognise behind the counter. The R. Crumb hippie girl called out from the rear of the shop, “He's at lunch.”


“The Tai Yuen, probably.”

I headed for the door, stopped, then went back to the counter.

“You got a pamphlet about dope growing? Something about cross-breeding, removing the males?”

She looked at me warily. “You're Bill, right?”

My turn to be wary. “Yeah.”

“I know you.” She smiled. Leaned forward and pointed to her left. “That'd be the sensimilla book. Very popular. Back of that stand over there, in the Drugs and Counterculture section.”

I went to where she'd pointed, scanned the shelf. William Burroughs, Carlos Castenada, Thomas De Quincey, something
Opium and the Romantic Imagination
, a book on Keyline farming. At the end, a big stack of booklets.
Grow Your Own

I picked up a copy. The girl was watching me. I held it up to her. She gave a thumbs-up and I took it to the counter.

“How do you know me?” I asked.

“I'm a friend of Terry and Anna's.”

A head. She'd figured – guessed or been told – I was in the business.

I pulled out two bucks to pay, but she shook her head with a knowing smile. “On the house.”

Gould was sitting alone at a table in a dark, chintzy corner of the Tai Yuen. He had a foreign newspaper, Italian, open in front of him, and was eating short soup. Mostly with his fingers.

“They'll give you a spoon if you ask nicely,” I said as I sat down opposite him.

He grunted and continued eating.

“About that book,” I said.

He shrugged.

“I know you published it. I need to know how you got hold of it.”

He looked up at me. “How did
get it?”

A question I'd been asking myself. “Never mind. I got it, that's all that matters. So?”

“So what?” Barely hiding the sneer now.

“I can help you, Bob. But first you've got to help me.”

“How would
?” With a slight emphasis that said it all.

I shrugged. “Find out.”

He looked at me for a few seconds. “All right. What's the news?”

“Nope. You first.”

He sighed. “A kid came to the shop a year ago. Skinny, longhaired, a bit druggy-looking. He gave me the typed manuscript to read.”

“Why you?”

“He said because I publish
Zap Comix


-appropriate. Bootleg. Whatever. The kid said the manuscript might be in my line. I had a look. There was something there, but it needed editing, some rewriting.”

“More lesbian sex?”

“Among other things. I gave it to Stephanie to work on.”

“The girl at the shop?”

He shook his head. “Different one. She was doing English at uni. Wanted to try her hand at book editing. Steph's long gone.”

“So what did you make of it, the story itself?”

“What I told you. It's shit. Exploits genuine direct action for outlandish and sensationalistic effects.”

“I mean, who did you think wrote it?”

“I assumed your mate Perkal. I'd heard the rumours.”

“Right. The rumours. Rumours that . . .”

“He was still alive.”

“So who was the kid?” I said.

“Never knew his name. He came back once or twice, then I never saw him again.”

“So you printed the book but then you pulped it?”

He shook his head, closed his eyes. “I should've kept a closer eye on Steph. She was supposed to change some things. I was busy, didn't read it until it been printed. A thousand copies. Too hot for me to sell it. For all I know, it could be true, but you can't just say outright that the Victorian Police Armed Robbery Squad were complicit in the Moratorium robberies. I'd need a fighting fund if I went with that, and what for? I'd take up the cause against police corruption, but it's Victorian state politics, which would never be such a big deal in Sydney anyway. Plus the swearing, the druggy stuff. Too much trouble, and for what? Opportunistic bullshit. And for all that, Steph still didn't load up the lezzo sex like I told her to. Which is funny, because she's a bit that way herself. So yeah, I dumped the copies. I didn't know then, but Stephanie kept a few and gave them to her friends. She ripped out the title page with our name on it, the printer's address and all that. So no one knew where it came from.”

“Except for that symbol on the spine.”

“Supposed to represent a tractor and a pen. Intellectuals and workers. Steph got it from an early Bolshevik poster.”

He vacuumed up a wonton. Bits dribbled down into his beard.

“So, Brother Glasheen, what have you got for me?”

“The police are going to raid you.”

He laughed noisily. “That's not news,” he said.

“I know exactly when,” I said.


“Never mind. But the Vice Squad
the Drug Squad have you down for a visit. Looking for drug literature, mainly. Filth, too, if they can find it.”

His face went dark. “You fucking opportunist scumbag. That's criminal extortion. Just what I'd expect from you.” He said it without any bitterness.

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