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Authors: Tim Richards

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Thought Crimes (8 page)

BOOK: Thought Crimes

Hizu doesn't know what to say. He hasn't been asked in the way that a wealthy man asks a servant, but in the way an Australian asks his mate. He could tell Ben that his story's untrue with an easy conscience. He'd been there. It was Hizu who'd given CPR to the banker's big mate. Last time he'd seen the two men, they were alive. What happened after that was rumour. If he said that, Nori, listening nearby, could have no reason to complain to their supervisor. But this situation was entirely new. It was a question of honour.

‘It's bullshit,' Hizu tells Ben.

‘Didn't happen?'

‘Nah, they both drowned.'

‘Then why would the doctor lie?'

‘The bar staff had seen them getting legless and did nothing to stop them.'

Ben and Craig were impressed. ‘Fuck, that's great arse-covering. This place couldn't be more Australian if it tried.'

Later, having shared two beers with their new mates, Norichi was furious. ‘If I told admin what you said, you'd be out of this place in an hour.'

‘What choice did I have? They wanted a story with a credible ending.'

‘That man could be a private eye or ASIS … You'd threaten everything to give someone a yarn to tell his mates.'

‘Better that than the truth.'

‘Truth's got nothing to do with it. If truth mattered, this place would still be wasteland.'

‘Nori, if you've got a problem, put it on paper and shove it up your clacker … You think you wouldn't go down with me? Do you really think your willingness to lie would count for anything?'

While studying for his final exam and the Permanency interview, Hizu begins to question some of Missy's balder assertions.

Even if a guest asks about your family, or where you went to
school, don't imagine that they're doing anything more than satisfying
their desire to seem friendly. As likely as not, the facts won't
interest them. They'll be just as happy with bullshit that sounds
like bullshit.

Whenever he told tall stories about his childhood – the kamikaze grandfather, and the aunt who was kidnapped by the North Koreans – the guests had a good laugh, and responded with yarns of their own, but the genuine types were really touched by his tales of a mother who struggled to give him a chance after his father died. When he's told guests that staff are only free to leave the resort for six weeks every three years, and that admin encourages them to take pay in lieu, they've been shocked speechless.

No one understands what it is to be Australian until they fully
grasp the terms of Australian friendliness. For Australians, friendliness
is a superstition; a way of defraying the fear of being considered
selfish or mean-spirited. To refuse friendliness is much worse
than refusing a gift, since refusal is likely to activate the tensions
implicit in ‘the friendliness paradox'. The more you try to be sincere,
the further you are from true sincerity. If inscrutability is the
cliché one attaches to Asians, one ought to approach Australians
with an appreciation of their paradoxicality.

Hizu chooses to see this paradoxicality as a quality worth nurturing. What better than to be someone whose candour generates a sense of mystery?

He is in the canteen, reading
Recollections of Ludowyck B.
, when seized by an appealing fragrance. A hand descends to clasp his own. While her fine hair caresses his cheek, Nobuko whispers into his ear.

‘I worked late-shift at the casino with Nori last night. What did you do? He's after your balls.'

‘He thinks you can stay Japanese and wear Australianness like a mask. And he says that's what admin expects from us.'

‘He might be right.'

‘In terms of head office, I'm sure he is. But only a cretin would be in this for show. One day, he'll triple guess himself.'

Gently squeezing his arm, Nobuko warns Hizu to watch his back.

Probationary staff are attending their final culture class when the General Manager arrives to ask them to help search for two female singers who've managed to leave the entertainer's annex and enter the casino. Hizu finds himself paired off with Missy, who treats the matter as a grave emergency.

‘Entertainers don't always maintain a good-faith relationship with the resort and its clientele. Some of them have history with our guests.'

‘They just want to rub shoulders with celebrities in the gaming room,' Hizu suggests, trying to sound laconic as possible.

‘Well, the guests pay top dollar to make sure their shoulders are only rubbed on request … One bad incident, and all this could vanish like it never happened.'

If it vanished, would she return to Sweden, or try her luck in Australia?

‘Australia's not an option. This is Australia now. All that's worth keeping.'

He wants to ask, worth keeping for whom?, but even in an intimate moment like this, it's more than his job's worth.

In the year he's been at the resort, there wouldn't have been more than thirty unaccompanied female guests, and willowy Suzette is by some distance the youngest, no more than forty or forty-one.

She travels with a black and white border collie named Max.

As he pulls back the curtains to show that the casino complex can be seen from her living room, she says that she has no interest in gambling. She expects to play thirty-six holes each of the ten days she's at the resort.

‘You'll enjoy Von Nida then. Plays long this time of year, but that adds to the challenge.'

‘Do you like golf ?'

No one asks obvious questions like that, and he's unsure how to answer. Though a competent caddy, he's only played two rounds in his life.

‘I'm interested in what the game represents to people,' he tells Suzette.

While Hizu answers her request to pour two whiskies, she tells him she was just about to turn pro when the transitional government outlawed pro tournaments. During the past two decades, she's played in the States, India, China, Scotland and Siberia, but even for the well-connected it's too dangerous to play in Australia now. A Green Brigade mine took her ex-father-in-law's leg. But she's always dreamt of playing an Australian course, and striding down eucalypt-lined fairways.

Meeting so few young guests, this kind of intense sentimental yearning is new to Hizu. After one glass of alcohol, he should be angling to leave, but when Suzette invites him to refill their glasses, he does so without protest. Returning to the living room, he finds that she has removed her jacket. There is a pile of American notes where he'd been sitting next to her on the sofa.

‘Tips aren't necessary. Best to treat the resort as part of Australia.'

‘Is it too little?'

Oh, I see
… I'll ask the Activities Director to send a folio of available escorts.'

‘And what if I double that wad of notes?'

Though there seems no inoffensive way to tell Suzette that such exchanges are forbidden, his downcast expression does the trick.

‘I'm sorry.'

‘Don't be … You're a very attractive woman.'

‘No, I insulted you … What I should have done was ask you to do me a favour …
Between mates.'

'Ah … A mate thing. That's different.'

While removing his trousers, Hizu watches Suzette peel the black leather from her long legs, and recalls the strife given to female staff who'd been accused of servicing men. A guest only needed to hint that you'd acted inappropriately, and you were gone. But once Suzette's muscular thighs clench his these concerns evaporate. Her cries of ‘Oh shit!' and ‘Oh Jesus!' soon alternate with the dog's low growls as he watches them from a futon in the corner of the room.

Having few problems with the written exam, Hizu barely sleeps the night before the Permanency interview. When he finally gets out of bed, he feels dizzy, and sore in the joints. Believing these to be anxiety symptoms, he takes a sedative and does some breathing exercises before carefully re-ironing his shirt and trousers.

He might have saved himself the trouble. By the time he is escorted into a small room to face three previously unseen administrators, his shirt is soaked with perspiration. Two of the inquisitors are of Japanese descent, while the huge man with the rough, red beard is quite obviously Australian.

‘You look pale, Hizu,' the one tagged Ken observes, ‘Are you sick?'

‘No, I'm fine.'

Ken asks his assistant to get Hizu a glass of water, before inviting him to sit down. For several minutes, the three panellists sift through various documents, waiting for the water to arrive before the short man named Jacko leads off.

‘The feedback from guests is excellent. You should be pleased.'

He does his best to smile laconically. Then the bearded man, Hendo, asks if he considers himself to be ambitious. This is the type of question Hizu has dreaded. Every company wants employees who are hungry to take on additional responsibilities, but seeming too ambitious might be considered unAustralian.

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