A Dose of Reality

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Another in the Australiana series. A bit rough and ready and badly needs revision so just putting up here as a work in progress. Story of two brothers, drugs, cars and street fighting. Just another day in Sydney, right ? ;)

The three of them were bundled together on the warm leather seats of a vintage Humber, the poor man’s Rover, or perhaps Rover was the lesser beast, Mick did not really know. Except Rover still made cars while Humber had faded into history, gone to that great parking lot in the sky where Mick assumed all defunct car manufacturers eventually ended up.

He had swapped it at a wreckers in another state, given up the ubiquitous but constantly failing Holden station wagon when the leather seats and walnut dash of the grey beast had stolen his heart. But it drove like it looked, an English gentleman’s car built for slow English country lanes and not the fast paced parallel ribbons of asphalt and concrete or the dusty corrugated tracks that surrounded Australia like an ever expanding web of black and red varicose veins.

Mick was no English gentleman and would never be mistaken for one.  A larrikin and a bit of a rev head, he also had an academic bent which defied his genre, confounded his critics and led to rash decisions like swapping a hot, fat tyred, mag adorned shagging wagon for an strange looking antiquated English gentleman’s car. It was in character but defied his culture.

He had driven the beast to pick up his brother from the rehab centre. There was a popular saying at the time, at least among the stoners, that reality was for those who could not handle drugs. And in the way Mick's mind worked, he could see a warped truth in that.

Anyone could take drugs, in Sydney at that time it was easier to get any number of illicit substances than it was to get a solid job. So one half of an entire generation was funding their futures with a few deals on the side while the other half was paying through the nose for the privilege of keeping their hands and their court records clean while still being able to fill their lungs, noses, arms and brains full of chemical enhancers.

The thing was, according to Mick, while anyone could take drugs, much the same as anyone could get a car licence, the problem was when the whole thing slid sideways and you were rocketing to oblivion with no brakes and little skill at manoeuvring. It was rarely an "if", hard drugs seemed to have a way of undermining the strongest will power.

Most of Mick’s childhood friends had got through it somehow – crashed but never burned. Almost hit rock bottom but somehow, inexplicably, managed to pull back on the rudder at the last minute. They took a sort of bleak pride in it, a feeling that they were somehow "drug compatible", street wise enough to ride the demon and still get off at the other end.

Not so James. He was of the other sort, the ones who should have stuck with reality, not got into drugs in the first place and, for Christ's sake, never the hard varieties. Mick himself had done the odd bit of dealing, usually when he himself was getting dependant and the bills were rising and it was that or no joy. Drugs were like that, creating their own needs and microcosmic worlds that outsiders scratched their heads at.

But all this was back in the old town. He always thought it strange that the drug warnings, tales and movies centred around the big cities whereas, in Mick's experience, it was small towns that were the breeding place for drug addictions. Too much boredom, too much cash and a distinct lack of excitement led to Friday night country pubs full of surreptitious dope dealers and their hopeful dependants.

The one thing he quickly learnt, as any survivor learnt, was to tell the difference between the serious players and the marks. Everyone, even dealers get ripped off at times. It was a mugs game but if you knew your shit, you just offloaded the poor quality stuff onto the marks, the unsuspecting schmucks. Kept the good stuff for your regulars. Something that you quickly learnt or paid the price. James, Mick’s younger brother, was definitely in the schmuck category.

“Hop in bro – the back is all yours. Is that all the gear you got?”

James had been waiting on the side of the road outside the redbrick Odyssey Rehab centre, looking pretty much the part of a three time loser, his longish blond hair in oily unkempt bangs around his sallow face while the ill-fitting, ill matching “city uniform” of black jeans, torn t-shirt and worn jacket spoke not of wasted chic but rather the soiled remainder bin of some off street op shop.

“Hey Mick, Rob. New wheels? Cool. Yeah, only this thing. I will put it on the back seat”

Rob was the younger brother of Mick's old school buddy, Steve “Johno” Johnston and had come along for the drive for want of anything else to do. He was James age and though both of them had been in the same form at school, they had never became mates, just acquaintances with social connections. A quiet reserved kid, Rob just nodded back, probably unsure of how to start a conversation with a guy who had just done two weeks in the tank for a heroin overdose. Something school or your parents never told you how to deal with.

 “Mum was worried about ya. She said she has your room all setup but you can only stay a couple of weeks. Some renovations or something, whatever”

Mick kept his eyes ahead on the busy road. The Humber was a tank on inner city roads and while he was not that concerned about someone running into him he did worry that his statutory third party insurance did not cover the other vehicle if Mick was at fault. Considering his current finances, he was lucky to have a car, let alone pay the repair bill for one that wasn’t his. 

His eyes flicked up to the revision mirror where he could see James, his head half hanging out of the open window like some drongo blue heeler lapping up the air and imagining it was him creating all the fury.

“What? Oh yeah. That’s cool, I was thinking of heading to Perth anyway”.

Mick sighed inwardly. He doubted James had the proverbial two coins to rub together. If past form ran true, he would be relying on the next dole check to boost his funds and it would be back to some doss house in the city, followed quickly by a needle chaser.

No way Mick was going to support the little shit and Mum, well Mum was tighter than a fishes arse and he wouldn’t get much out of her either. Their new stepfather, her new husband Richard was well enough off but followed Mum's ideas on the subject of spending money.

Their credo was that poor people wasted money to live like they were rich while rich people got that way by living like they were poor. Mick was never sure who got the best deal in such a philosophy but would bet his last two bob James would not be getting any financial help from that lot.

It was difficult enough to arrange James to spend a couple of weeks grace at the family home. Richard had disliked the kid from the word go, which to be fair was not that bad a call while Mum had often said that just because  you love your child you don’t necessarily have to like them. Belatedly adding at the end that she was talking about James, of course. Mick always chimed in innocently.

"Yeah, of course Mum"

She asked why Mick could not take him in, after all James was his only brother and they both lived in the same general area. So he had to go through the whole one-bed studio flat in the city thing again. There was no place for James to stay and god knew he had barely enough cash to keep himself going. If he got any worse, it would be him, Mick, coming back to stay at home. He imagined that was the clincher that swayed the deal and she reluctantly agreed, with the strict stipulation for two weeks only.

“That might be the go. Always want to see Perth – you got any mates over there?”

The mumble of James’ reply was lost in the wind and sounds of the dense traffic around them. Not that it really mattered to Mick – the ability of James to make up grandiose lies at the drop of a hat was legendary. Almost as legendary as the implausible nature of his lies.

But James never saw it, never understood that the few around who listened to these improbably tall tales of past successes and lavish future plans never actually believed them. Perhaps that was the idea, as the rare few who did believe were quickly befriended as kindred souls and allied with for the next stage of his topsy turvy existence. The blind leading the blind.

“They feed you well in there?”

At the mention of food, James dishevelled visage suddenly animated and turned forward where Mick could see him clearly in the revision mirror, the wounded puppy like look transformed with an eager disdain.

“Crap mate, all crap. Yellow pasta, stale sandwiches, vegies to the eyeballs but not a steak in sight. No bloody coffee allowed and the tea was like weak piss”

Mick gathered from the volume of the tirade that this was a common subject at the rehab.  All the fuckups who probably hadn’t had 3 square in months, whinging about the quality of a regular supply of fresh food. He doubted James had paid for a steak in his life.

“There’s this new American King Burger joint on the way, I reckon we can stop in on the way through”

“Fucking unreal mate, I could murder a burger at the moment but …” James voice trailed off and a cunning look came into his eyes “I’m skint mate. Haven’t got a razoo and my bank card is not working”

Bank card? Mick almost burst out laughing. If James had a bank card (and he seriously doubted he had had a permanent residence long enough to collect one) it would be as empty as a dam in the Simpson in the summer.

“My treat mate. Gotta feed the man, right?”

James gave a contented cheer and went back to looking out the window. There was a disdainful smirk on his thick lips, as though he had pulled off yet another scam, notched up another success in his litany of trivial con jobs. In that sick grin, Mick saw all the reasons he disliked his younger brother so much. 

It was not just that James couldn’t see that Mick hadn’t been fooled for a second but was being polite. Nor the fact that the stupid sod couldn’t keep $20 in his pocket without rushing off to score. The kicker was he was so transparent, his face openly showing his ignorance, every line one of arrogance at his success in living off the sweat of others, Never thankful for the assistance or even smart enough to pretend to be, instead judging those who showed pity as the real schmucks, never himself.

Rob, who had been sitting quietly, a spectator to the reunion of the brothers, looked across at Mick with puzzled look, as if he too had understood the hidden undertones but not the reactions of James.

“You mean American Burger? That new place out on Parramatta Road? I could kill one of those too – but don’t worry, I can pay my own way”

Mick nodded at the backhanded sign of support and looked up at the revision mirror to get his brother's reaction. James of course had missed it all, no doubt contemplating the sort of scams he was going to need to run on Mum. Now he was sorted for a ride and a feed to boot it was onto the next conquest. Mick shook his head and both he and Rob shared a knowing glance.

The American King was a fast food drive-in restaurant, obviously themed on all things Americana and so drew a steady crowd of the rockabilly/Happy Days type genre. With its large wide car park alongside one of Australia’s best known strips of Used Car dealers, it was hardly surprising it drew a healthy amount of classic American car owners out to strut their stuff.

As Mick pulled into the driveway, the panorama of old Chevs, Corvettes, Pontiacs and Caddies interspersed with hot rodded Holdens and Fords was a sight for a rev heads sore eyes. All the ruminations on James flew out of the window, which Mick had wound down to get a better view of the shining array of steel, glass and plastic horsepower that surrounded them. Pure rev head heaven.

Then there was a bang and the old English warhorse shuddered

“Fuck, that guy reversed into us”

Mick peered out at the side mirror of the Humber, inspecting the high tail fin of a Valiant “S” that hovered near his rear fender.  Shocked by the suddenness of it all, Mick had left the Humber in gear and the car had rolled forward enough to allow the Valiant to finish its reverse, straighten and start heading down the exit ramp.

Without a word and before Mick or Rob could stop him, James reached into his rucksack and pulled out a couple of pipes joined together with a six inch chain at one end. A set of homemade Nunchucks, the Asiatic fighting weapon first popularised in the west by the martial arts legend, Bruce Lee. Typical James.

Still without signalling his intention, the younger brother leapt out the side door and ran to the back of the Humber where he brandished the nunchucks and shouted at the gradually disappearing Valiant. Which abruptly stopped with a squeal of brakes and four looming giants of blurred ethic origin exited.

Mick's father had once instructed his sons not to carry weapons unless they were prepared to use them. His reasoning was that if you had a weapon and pulled it in a fight, two things happened simultaneously. Firstly, you just upped the ante. While your opponent might have been all about false bravado or in for a simple dust up, by pulling a weapon you signified you were willing to inflict serious bodily harm.

If your opponent did not take the bluff and continued on regardless, you had better be willing and have the knowledge to use the damn thing as you have just given you opponent all the moral, legal and opportunist reasons to take the weapon and use it on your own person.

The second reason was a flow on from the first. If you pull a weapon, legally you were now guilty of threatening GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm), a whole different level of violence from a simple dust up. If you use the weapon, you are up on an actual GBH charge - a charge that drew a pretty heavy sentence. If you don't actually use it but your opponent does, he pleads a perfectly plausible case of self-defence. So you are screwed either way.

Mick's biological father was a fuck knuckle of the highest order, a veteran foot soldier of two wars and a former boxing champion (albeit welterweight). While Mick would not take his advice on most things, fighting was one thing the older man knew about and it all seemed good advice.

Beside, his father would continue, there are all sorts of weapons available in most places – chairs, bottles, pool cues and so on. Nothing that could prove prior intent and entirely defendable in a plea of self-defence . Use your environment and play it dirty, it was easier and safer. Their father was a real charmer.

So here was James, just released from rehab,  in his ill-fitting black op shop garb, in the glaring sunlight of a parking lot of a burger joint, surrounded by muscle cars and their muscular owners, poised in a classic kung fu fighting stance with nunchucks brandished. Mick did not know whether to laugh or cry. What a fucking idiot.

So this wannabe ninja warrior was all poised to go in front of scores of witnesses in a bruisers parking lot. Perhaps he belatedly realised where he was or maybe fear finally erupted in that thick skull of his but that was the moment he choose to abruptly freeze on the spot.

Mick and Rob watched with disbelief as two of the Valiant’s occupants approached James with caution, corralling him in a typical pincer type movement that showed they weren’t exactly strangers to the art of team street fighting. Meanwhile, James stood still as a statue, only his widening eyes flickering from side to side giving any evidence of life as the attention of the entire parking lot turned on him and his two menacing attackers.

As usual, James was all bravado and hot air and the inevitable happened. One of the guys, a tattooed monster composed of what looked like traces of blended Maori warrior and Russian mafia genetics finally got close enough to snatch the nunchucks out of James frozen grip. With a crack on the head that was audible, James was sent sprawling into the arms of the two backup guys who beat the living crap out of him.

The initial two front line guys kept Mick and Rob back with the purloined nunchucks and menacing words. Not that either Mick or Rob were going to intervene anyway, both very aware there wasn't a snowballs chance in hell that any good would come from a scenario where they aggressively engaged four hardened street fighters. All over the stupidity of a idiotic schmuck – brother or no brother, he was getting what he asked for.

So there was no burger that day. James' pounding was brutal but did not last long. If Mick was being fair, the guys did not look like bullies but had just reacted to a taunt, like bull dogs threatened with a stick. Once they realised they were dealing with a fool, they gave him a beating anyway, perhaps to assuage their egos, perhaps to teach him a lesson about waving nunchucks around at strangers but nothing life threatening.

With a last couple of boots into the ribs, they left James lying, sobbing, curled up on the concrete driveway. There were no cheers from the parking lot, the whole thing had been too pathetic for that, but the crowd were content enough that they had got a floor show with their burgers, something they could relate with studied boredom at later parties and other meets. The four attackers got back in their car, slamming the doors loudly, hooting at the day's adventure and taking off with a signature squeal of white walled tyres.

The parking lot crowd turned away once the entertainment was over and promptly ignored the crumpled body on the concrete apron. Mick and Rob walked the few paces to the moaning James and helped him to his feet and then slowly and gingerly into the back seat of the car.

The brother's face was bruised and already swelling while a couple of the cuts looked particularly deep so Mick drove them all up to the local hospital, somewhat conveniently only a few blocks away. Rob took James into emergency while Mick parked the car. A couple of stiches to a bad gash on his lips and a couple more to the broken skin over his eye and the worst of the damage was fixed.

The trio had not spoken about the incident. When Mick had checked his car in the parking lot, there wasn’t even a scratch on it which made it all too embarrassing and stupid for words. So they had vaguely related to the reception that there had been a fight and the worldly staff there had merely shrugged and told them to wait their turn.

“So who did it?” the young nurse asked as she was putting the final iodine and plasters over the remaining cuts

“We don’t know”

“Now, that is unusual” quipped the nurse with a smile and she was suddenly finished and they were free to go.

Rob said he had some pressing business in the city and would catch a bus home, obviously wanting out and away from the whole affair. Mick drove the 50 odd miles to his mum’s house in a morose silence, James huddled in the back nursing his wounds. For a brief moment Mick felt guilty at leaving his mother to deal with the idiot but that brief moment of regret was quickly squashed by the thought of taking the dickhead back to his house. He had had enough reality for one day.

Submitted: June 02, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Paul R. All rights reserved.

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As always so well written, Paul.

Wed, June 3rd, 2020 7:14pm


Thx Hully. Still no contract from Penguin though ;)

Fri, June 5th, 2020 7:37pm

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