Sam, Jake and Dylan Want Money: Episode 1 - Black Market Prawns

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is short, stupid, crazy read, the permafree first book in a batso insano series.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Black Market Prawns

Submitted: March 16, 2016

Reads: 370

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 16, 2016

A A A

A A A

'Someone made a big mistake when they named it the "washing-up"', said Sam. 'They could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if they'd just called it the "throwing-away".'

His tone was imperious, as if his ratty old swivel chair was a high throne, his shaky old desk a great balcony on which he rested his arm, and his overflowing waste basket a treasure chest brimming with gold. He gazed at Dylan from his garbage kingdom as if from on high, somehow, despite being lower than Dylan's eye level over in the far corner of the living room. He swivelled away with a dismissive flourish, and quickly settled back into his fast-and-slow staccato style of typing, alternated with long periods of holding the delete key.

Behind the long counter that separated living room from kitchen, Dylan stood by the sink with his arms folded.

'That's not really an answer,' he said, 'to the question that I asked.'

Sam’s eyes narrowed. ‘Dylan,’ he said, ‘I don’t have time to help you with the washing-up, okay? I’m trying to meet my deadline. Now be silent and still. ’

Dylan knew that Sam’s deadline was entirely self imposed, and wandered about in time like Dr Who on LSD.

‘I'm not sure,' he muttered, 'that a widely unread blog really requires a deadline.'

‘What?’ Sam spun about in his chair, knocking over his trash and scattering banana skins and screwed up tissues across the floor. ‘What did you say to me?’

‘Nothing.’ Dylan picked up a saucer from the mounded heap on the kitchen bench. 'Look at this saucer. Isn't it astounding? It's very presence suggests that we are a household concerned with the possibility of spills. The fact that it is dirty means it was even used to prevent one, some time in the past. Which one of us, I wonder, was bothered by the idea of a few measly drips of tea, when there is peanut butter on the walls and anthills in the carpet? Not to mention you've just rolled your chair over half a banana?'

Sam glanced down at the squashed banana, then angrily waved it away. 'It's the cyclical nature of things!' he said. 'But you're right. There wouldn't be so much mess if everyone stopped trying to prevent it in the first place. And I won't be part of the problem, thank you very much.'

He turned back to thwack furiously at the keyboard. Dylan suspected he wasn’t typing real words.

Sweat built along Dylan’s brow. The day was shaping up to be another scorcher. His shirt was already stuck to his back, and pretty soon his bum crack would know what his neck tasted like. This far up, on the forty-second floor of the Hazy Towers apartment building, there was nothing standing between them and the raging sun besides dirty windows without blinds and a concrete wall that was hot to the touch. Above Sam's desk, an air conditioning unit rumbled uselessly, occasionally belching a puff of dust through the webs of desiccated spiders. Along the kitchen counter, all the way up to where the sink used to be visible, piles of washing-up baked in the light, ceramic grown sentimental for its time in the kiln.

‘If we knew someone with a ute,’ Dylan said, ‘we could stack these dishes in the back and take them to a car wash.’

'And if wishes were horses,' muttered Sam, then paused thoughtfully, 'then I guess we could use a horse and cart. I wonder if you can take a horse through a car wash? Have to put its blinkers on, I suppose.'

A blowfly surfed through the kitchen window on a dry breeze. Something? it buzzed. Is it something? If it is something, I shall try to put my tongue on it! Ha ha! It must be something!

‘Get out of here,’ said Dylan.

But I smell something! It comes from all directions! Everywhere is something!

Dylan shooed the fly away, causing the air to shimmer as any remaining moisture in smears of tomato sauce evaporated. He finally realised the hopelessness of the situation. Grime was being seared onto the crockery until it was actually bonded to it on a molecular level. No longer were pattern and stain separate things, but one and the same.

There wasn't really much else for it.

He started putting everything back into the cupboards.

 

Sam deleted everything he had just written and started again. It was hard work, constantly striving for perfection. Words did not come out on the screen quite as he imagined they should. The poetic concepts in his head were tricky to grasp hold of, like a panicking fish, or something else metaphorical.

Poetry is like a fish, he wrote, then deleted it.

How could he effectively guide readers through his dazzling and brilliant inner world? He knew he had an inner world, as he was always having deep thoughts about stuff. They just weren’t easy to verbalise.

Art isn’t easy, he wrote, then deleted it.

He had plenty of poems on his website, but they attracted few hits. How could he generate the web traffic necessary to monetize his work? He dreamed of watching the bucks roll in as thousands of subscribers scrolled through his painfully beautiful verses, framed by flashing banner ads for porn sites and fat burning secrets. He knew it was possible – he had seen it elsewhere. It was one of his greatest fears that he would only be recognised for his brilliance long after he was dead. Where was the money in that?

Maybe he needed to adopt a more practical approach. He’d recently read an article on how some successful bloggers expanded their readership by targeting niche areas, like ‘How to Photoshop Your Own Genetalia’ and ‘Gamble Your Way to Good Health.’ If he could capture the internet’s attention with something genuinely informative, then surely folk would grow curious about his other work – his greater work – and begin to explore the vast backlog of his site.

With newfound vim, he began to type.

 

How to Write a Successful Blog

A blog article starts out like a chunk of granite, which you have to chip away at, getting rid of all extraneous bits and pieces until finally you have created that famous statue of the guy with the little dick.

 

Sam frowned – he knew it did not speak volumes of his expertise to be so vague in the opening paragraph. He spun about to Dylan, who was still in the kitchen, trying to scrape some dots off a plate with his fingernail.

‘Look at you,’ said Sam. ‘You're like a blind person who’s just found their partner’s suicide note written in Braille.’

To Sam's satisfaction, Dylan's mousey brown hair began to turn red. The fiery hue travelled up the strands like mercury in a thermometer, all the way from the roots to the tips.

‘Are you speaking to me?’ said Dylan.

'Oh dear,' said Sam, with a grin.

‘It wouldn’t hurt you to be a little more polite sometimes, you know.' Freckles started to pop out all over Dylan’s cheeks. 'You know I turn into a redhead when I’m angry.’

‘Yes, it’s one of the few things I like about you. Anyway, calm down, I just want to ask you a question.'

'What?'

'What’s the name of that curly-haired fuckwit with the tiny cock?’

Dylan shrugged. ‘Julia Roberts?’

‘No, no, the statue. You know, famous.’

‘Oh. David?’

‘Yeah.’

Sam made the edit, but already he was losing heart with his new project. He had, it seemed, thought of a fatal flaw – if he gave out excellent free advice on blog writing, he would only create new rivals in an already overcrowded marketplace.

He deleted everything and stared out the window at the city skyline, a depressing horizon of broken tetris pieces melting in the sun.

It was too hot to think.

There was a knock at the front door and Sam leapt up, thankful for the distraction.

‘Stay in the shadows,’ he told Dylan. ‘I don’t want people knowing that I live with you.’

‘Why?’

‘You’re too short.’ Sam opened the door and scowled. ‘Never mind. It’s only Hayes.’

Standing in the doorway was the owner of the building – a pale-skinned man with pale eyes, pale straw hair, and a pale personality. He was dithering nervously, wringing his hands and dabbing his brow. His pupils darted about like the sinkers on a fishing line that had hooked a large fish, strong enough to pull his gaze ever downwards.

‘Er, hello,’ he said.

‘Enough of your relentless chatter!’ snapped Sam. ‘What do you want?’

‘Now, er, look, Sam,’ said Hayes. ‘It’s just that, I’ve come to check in with you about your, well, your, er ... your outstanding rent.’

‘What an amazing surprise.’

Hayes gave a nervous titter. ‘Now, you know, I really do think the time has come that you should pay at least some of what you owe. It really would be in your best, well, you know, everyone's, really, er, best interests.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, it’s sort of, it’s the way things work, isn’t it? I'm your landlord, and that means, you know. I mean, the fact is, you really haven’t, in all the time you’ve been living here, ever paid any rent, ever. Not even a single dollar. Now that's a little, don't you think, a little bit irresponsible?'

'How dare you.'

'Perhaps I used too strong a word, my apologies for that. I do very much enjoy having you boys as tenants, so I don’t want to have to, er ...’

‘Have to what, Hayes?’

Hayes' momentary attempt at assertiveness shattered. ‘Well, you know – have to come around here asking for rent all the time, is all.’

‘Sure, we’d prefer that too.’

‘Really?’

‘Of course. Who wants to have to deal with you constantly, you grasping old scrooge?’

Hayes was shocked. ‘I’m only thirty-eight!’

‘Yeah, well, we aren’t all lucky enough to be born into landlordship so early in our lives. So good of you to come down from your ivory penthouse to visit us peasants.’

‘Now that is hardly, er, fair. I actually have quite a lot of trouble making ends meet around here. Do you know what kind of upkeep goes into running a building like this?’

‘Oh, I imagine it costs a fortune to keep the paint peeling and the stalactites pointy. Not to mention the army of groundskeepers you evidently employ to make sure the carpet doesn’t grow back.’

Hayes gave a remorseful grimace. ‘I do appreciate that the place could do with some improvement, but, er, in the meantime, all I ask ... you have to understand ... er ...’

‘Look, said Sam, ‘maybe we can discuss rent once you get the air conditioner fixed. Honestly, it’s like Ethiopia in here.’

‘Er ... but ...’

‘Until then, you can just piss off.’

Sam slammed the door in the landlord's face. Dylan, who had sat down on the squishy brown couch in the living room, tutted.

‘What?’ demanded Sam.

‘Nothing, nothing.’

 

Dylan didn't really like how badly the other boys treated Hayes. The man was an idiot, of course, with a spine like driftwood, so Dylan was not especially compelled to champion his cause. He could not help but sympathise with him a little, however, for he knew a bit himself about the plight of the loser. Not that Dylan thought of himself as a loser. It was fine that he hadn't completed anything he had ever started, and had no education, no job, no prospects, no girlfriend, and lived on government handouts while residing semi-illegally in the worst apartment building in the known universe with two degenerate lunatics. It was fine!

And even if sometimes he didfeel a bit down on himself, well - there were losers and then there were losers, and Hayes was definitely in the italicised bracket.

Sam slumped down on the couch next to Dylan and pulled out a large spliff.

‘Are you sure you want to spark that?’ said Dylan. ‘We don't have any food, and you know how munchy you get.’

‘Don’t be so consequences-oriented.’

Sam lit up, took a deep drag, and passed the spliff over. Dylan regarded it dubiously, as inviting white tendrils curled around his fingers. Smoke us, they seemed to say.

He suspected this joint would lead to another wasted day, in both senses of the word. Oh, he would tell himself beforehand that he would still be productive, but then he would smoke, and then he wouldn't be.

Or maybe not! Maybe the drug would inspire him. Maybe smoking weed would actually help.

It seemed like a plausible enough thought for the moment it took Dylan's traitorous hand to raise the spliff to his mouth.

Sam reached for the remote and turned on their tiny shitbox television. On its crackling screen, a cheerful ad began to play. A family was having a picnic in An Ideal Location while an over-enthused voiceover blathered on.

Have you tried horse flu? It’s the craze that’s sweeping the nation!

Dylan leant back into musty cushions as a green fug stole over his mind. The heat made being stoned heavier, somehow. Maybe he was dehydrated? Somewhere in his heart, he knew he should be doing something else with his day, something remotely worthwhile, but what? What was there to do? He felt like he had missed every single boat. Instead he was now standing on a deserted wharf, watching the vessels once moored there disappearing beyond the horizon. He tarried in hope that, in time, the wharf itself would rot to the point where it would detach from the land and float out to sea. In the meantime he lived out of the suitcase he had packed back when he thought he was off to see the world, and his recycled underwear were beginning to get salty.

On the ad, a little boy raced up to his parents, beaming.

‘Mum, Dad! I want horse flu!

A commotion sounded in the corridor outside. Footsteps, the squeaking of wheels, Jake’s voice chattering excitedly. Something heavy thumped against the apartment door.

‘What's going on out there?’ said Sam, suddenly fearful.

Maybe you’ll get horse flu for Christmas, little Timmy.

The door banged open to reveal a pile of bulging hessian sacks on a dolly, with Jake’s idiotically grinning monkey-face popping over them from behind.

‘Hello boys,’ he said. ‘Guess what? We’re going to be rich!’

Jake pushed the dolly through the door. Behind him appeared three brawny men also pushing sack-laden dollies, all sporting bushy moustaches and heavily forested arms. They wore blue overalls smeared with grease and looked like they would be excellent at harpooning whales.

‘Are they here to kill me?’ whispered Sam.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Dylan, patting his arm. Sam's stoned paranoia was nothing new.

‘This way, gentlemen,’ Jake babbled happily. ‘Just set them down along here.’

Dylan watched with some concern as the muscled sailor guys dumped sacks all along the wall that housed their bedroom doors.

‘Are they narcs?’ whispered Sam, as he 'surreptitiously' dropped the still-smoking joint down the back of the couch. ‘You have to take the blame. I won't last a week in jail. I’m too young and pretty, I'll get passed around like a prize bitch. But you’re so ill-formed and stumpy, you won't be worth a brass cigar. They’ll just ignore you, or think you’re a paedophile.’

‘Thanks,’ said Dylan. He cleared his throat. ‘What’s in the sacks, Jake?’

‘All in good time!’ said Jake. ‘Come and help!’

As the salty sea dogs left the room, Jake insistently pulled Dylan off the couch. Meanwhile Sam yelped and began to beat at the flames shooting up from between the cushions.

‘Leave him,’ said Jake, steering Dylan to the door. ‘Come on! This is going to be amazing.’

‘What have you done this time?’

‘You’ll see!’

They went down the corridor to the service elevator, where the shark fighters were unloading more sacks with professional efficiency. Jake nodded with satisfaction and wheeled a full dolly at Dylan.

‘Put these with the others.’

‘Piled against my bedroom door, perhaps?’

‘Good idea!’

As Dylan pushed the dolly back to the apartment, he grew ever more curious about what the sacks contained. Jake might be madder than a psych ward at Christmas, but occasionally he had some pretty good ideas for making money – although usually after Dylan was there to filter out the bad ones first. He gave a sack a tentative poke, and something spiky jabbed his finger.

Back in the apartment he dumped the sacks with the others, and watched as the deck hands did the same.

‘That’s the last of ’em,’ said one.

‘Thanks lads,’ said Jake, tipping an imaginary hat. ‘Sure you don’t want to take any for yourselves? On the house, of course.’

The three crusty mariners glanced at each other, back at the sacks, and shook their heads.

Once they had departed, 'Who were they?' said Sam. ‘I don’t appreciate you disturbing the delicate equilibrium of our sanctum with unannounced invitation of the unpredictable working classes.’

Jake went to one of the sacks and begun to fiddle with the knot around its neck. ‘You’ll never guess,’ he said. ‘I was down at the fish market when an intriguing opportunity fell into my lap like a drunken stripper. You know old Captain Deckhard?’

‘No.’

‘No.’

Jake gave a dismissive wave. ‘He’s one of my Sunday friends.’

Dylan experienced a sinking feeling. Jake’s 'Sunday friends' were random people he took a shine to while out and about roaming the streets. Not all of them knew (or enjoyed) the fact that they had been adopted as friends, either. And it didn't even have to be on a Sunday that it happened.

‘Turns out,’ continued Jake, ‘that Deckhard has landed this haul which doesn’t pass government regulations, or whatever, and he’s sitting on the dock all worried about what he’s going do with it. So I say, “Don’t worry mate, if anyone knows how to shift illegal ocean produce, it’s me”.’

‘You?’

‘Why not? I have a background in advertising.’

‘Just because you once read a pamphlet about an advertising course which you didn’t take doesn’t give you a background in advertising.’

‘I know that, but does he? Anyway, who’s to let a few credentials stand in the way of making a fortune in ...’ Jake finally got the knot undone and opened the sack. Green, spiny bodies cascaded out onto the floor. ‘One tonne of black market prawns!’

Jake beamed in triumph.

Dylan stared around at the many, many sacks and realised what he had been smelling.

‘Do you know how much prawns are worth?' Jake ran his cupped hands through the prawns, spilling them through his fingers as if they were gold pieces. 'They’re a precious commodity. People love them!’

‘Um,’ said Dylan. In the sweltering apartment, the pong was already beginning to set in.

‘So we shift these for a handsome mark up – you guys help me and I’ll cut you in on the action – and we’ll wind up richer than the mook who invented mashed potato.’

‘Jake,’ said Dylan, ‘how do you imagine we’re going to store a tonne of prawns?’

‘Not store,’ said Jake. ‘Sell!’

‘Yes, but ...’ Dylan struggled to find the right words to penetrate Jake’s starry-eyed enthusiasm. ‘It’s not the easiest thing, you know. To sell a tonne of prawns illegally.’

‘Why not? People love prawns.’

‘You can’t just keep saying that like it's some kind of magical solution.’

‘Well,’ said Sam, stubbing out his joint and rising, ‘I’ll have some goddamn prawns.’ He scooped up a handful from the open sack and wandered into the kitchen. ‘How do you cook them? Just chuck them in the oven? Or do you need to put them in a plastic container first?’

Jake went after him and opened the fridge door.

‘Hey!’ he said. ‘There’s temperature differentiation in this white cupboard!’

‘Yes,’ said Dylan. ‘That’s the fridge.’

‘Fri ... dge?’ Jake tested out the word.

‘You know, the thing I sometimes feed you out of.’

‘Oh. I thought it was for playing hide-and-seek. Why don’t we put the prawns in here?’

'They won't fit,' said Dylan. 'Not a tonne of them, anyway.'

‘We’ll get one sack in, at least,' said Jake. 'Especially if we take out all these stupid shelves.’

Sam stood at the stove with an apron on backwards. ‘Is this how it works?’ he asked, fiddling with the stove top until all four burners were loudly hissing gas. ‘I mean, really, it should be you doing this, Dylan. You're the, you know ... household dogsbody.’

‘Do you think they would make good earrings?’ asked Jake, holding a prawn to each of his ears. ‘Once they’ve been hollowed out, of course.’

Dylan could feel his hair beginning to turn red. ‘If everyone could just calm down ...’

‘Who’s un-calm?’ asked Sam, as he begun to strike matches over the liberally spewing burners.

‘Yeah, Dylan,’ said Jake, taking an experimental twirl with his prawn "earrings". ‘It’s you who needs to calm down.’

Dylan rubbed his temples. ‘Listen to me,’ he said. ‘We can’t keep a tonne of prawns sitting here in our apartment. Do you know how quickly they’ll go bad in this heat?’

‘So let’s get busy and sell some then.’

‘Where?’

‘I figured we’d try Mr Chiu’s.’

Dylan had to admit Mr Chiu's was not a bad place to start.

 

Mr Chiu’s was a Chinese restaurant across the road from Hazy Towers. It was dark and narrow, its pink walls adorned with tattered red curtains and faded red lanterns, above scuffed plastic tables and a checkerboard linoleum floor with sweet chilli sauce congealed in the cracks. At the front counter a bubbling fish tank housed three goldfish who languidly circled a toy castle like the laziest of dragons. Behind them stood Mr Chiu, a smiley man who took great pride in his dirty establishment.

‘G’day, boys,’ he said, as Jake and Dylan entered, Jake pulling a dolly with a sack on it.

‘Traditional eastern greetings to you, Mr Chiu,’ said Jake. ‘Got some new goldfish, I see?’

‘Yep,’ said Chiu. ‘These are Smaug, Puff and Olakanzar. I named them after famous dragons from great works of literature. Funny, huh?’

‘Um, sure.’

'Anyway, what’s in the sack?’

‘Ah,’ said Jake, patting the sack, ‘wouldn’t you like to know?’

‘That’s why I fucking asked.’

‘Well,’ said Jake, ‘first, let me ask you a question. You make a few seafood dishes here in your restaurant, don’t you?’

‘I do.’

‘And would you suggest that some of these dishes contain prawns?’

‘I would.’

Jake picked up a menu. ‘Yes, you see here? You’ve got honey prawns, pepper prawns, prawn curry, prawn dumplings, special fried rice with prawns ...’

‘You going to quote me my own fucking menu? I already told you I cook fucking prawns.’

Jake smiled at Chiu, who smiled right back. Mr Chiu always smiled, but maybe this time there was an undercurrent.

Dylan didn't know what kind of dumb sales tactics Jake thought he was employing, but he decided it was time to cut to the chase.

‘Mr Chiu,’ he said, ‘we have some prawns that we could sell you very cheaply.’

Jake glared at Dylan.

'Oh?' said Chiu. 'I would like to see such a thing.'

'Show the man the goods, Jake,' said Dylan.

Jake tried to revert to a winning smile while he opened the sack. Slimy green prawns glistened from within.

‘Wow,’ said Mr Chiu. ‘That’s a lot of prawns in there.’

‘Yep.’

‘What’s wrong with them?’

‘Nothing.’

Mr Chiu picked up a prawn, turned it around and inspected it from all sides, broke it open and sniffed. ‘Seems okay. How much you want for these prawns anyway?’

Jake nodded. ‘Straight to the crunch, I like your style, Chiu. Well, normally prawns cost, what, let’s say like thirty five bucks a kilo?’

Chiu cast him a weary look. ‘What kind of salesman are you?’

‘I almost took an advertising course.’

‘Listen,' said Chiu, 'you can’t just say prawns cost “about thirty dollars” when that is obviously a figure you pulled screaming from your anus.’

‘Thirty-five,’ clarified Jake.

‘The price depends,’ said Chiu, ‘on the kind of prawn, the time of year, where they come from, all that fuck. Prawns range widely in value. Do you even know what type of prawns these are?’

Jake glanced uncertainly at the sack. ‘Ocean-faring harbour prawns?’

‘Harbour prawns? These came from the fucking harbour?’

‘Ah ...’ Jake wet his lips. Chiu’s tone clearly implied that coming from the harbour would not be a good thing. ‘No.’

‘You’re promising me these prawns did not come from the harbour?’

‘No, definitely not.’

‘Good, because then they would be full of carcinogenic pollution and no good in a fucking curry. You sell me harbour prawns and you kill my fucking customers. So, I ask again – what type of prawns are these?’

‘Cheap prawns,’ said Jake. ‘I only said thirty-five dollars as a starting point for the bargaining. Why don't you go for a low counter - like ten dollars a kilo, for example?’

Dylan realised he had no idea what Jake had actually paid for the prawns in the first place. For that matter, how had he afforded them? He never had any money. None of them ever had any money.

Mr Chiu tapped his chin. ‘How about eight dollars a kilo?’

Jake turned to Dylan with a querying look, as if to ask Dylan if he thought this was an acceptable price.

‘Mind if I have a quick consultation with my associate?’ Dylan asked Chiu, taking Jake's elbow

‘Take your fucking time.’

Dylan led Jake aside.

‘What do you think of eight dollars a kilo?’ said Jake.

‘What did you originally pay for them?’

‘Eight dollars a kilo.’

‘Right. So why are you looking at me with questions in your eyes if you already know that selling for eight dollars a kilo will result in zeroprofit?’

‘It’s a start.’

‘It's shooting the runner on the starting line with the starter pistol.’

‘Are you being sarcastic?’

‘More just generally deprecating.’

‘Ah.’

‘Hey, wait a second. You said you bought a tonne of these?’

‘Yep.’

‘So that must have cost, like, eight thousand dollars.’

‘Yah.’

‘Where on earth did you get eight thousand dollars?’

‘Don’t worry your little head about it.’

‘You’re as broke as I am.’

‘I had what you might call a “rainy day fund”.’

‘What?’

‘On rainy days I like to go and gamble on the dogs. I’m really good at guessing which of them will run the fastest on a wet track. It’s sort of a weird random talent.’

‘Is that even remotely true?’

‘Why not? It’s based on which dogs I haven’t secretly poked in the eyeball with an umbrella while posing as a kennel inspector just before the race.’

Dylan rubbed his brow. ‘So how much have you got in this alleged fund?’

‘Well, I had eight thousand dollars. I was waiting for a smart opportunity to invest it.’

‘And then you just happened to find something that cost exactly eight thousand dollars?’

‘Serendipity, right? Although I did round Captain Deckhard’s price up a bit, for the sake of mathematical ease.’

What? You paid more for a tonne of stinkin’ prawns than you had to?’

Jake shrugged. ‘Well, you know. Who's got the time?’

‘If you had kept any of that money, we could have used it to put some proper food in the fridge!’

‘Fri ... dge?’

Mr Chiu cleared his throat impatiently.

‘It’ll be nine dollars fifty a kilogram, Chiu,’ said Jake, ‘and that’s our final offer. You know it’s a good deal – you can freeze these guys and make curries for months.’

Chiu nodded. ‘Very well. How many kilograms?’

Jake’s look of pride at his own business acumen froze on his face. ‘What?’

‘How many kilos?’ Chiu asked, gesturing at the sack.

‘Ah,’ said Jake, ‘well, can we borrow your ... weighing device?’

‘What weighing device?’ Chiu smiled deeply. ‘Does this look like some kind of weighing device party in here?’

‘Surely a restaurant has a weighing device of some kind?’

‘Why?’

‘To measure out ingredients and stuff.’

Chiu folded his arms. ‘I cook by heart.’

‘You don’t even use a tablespoon or anything?’

‘You want to measure out a sack of prawns using a tablespoon?’ Now there was no mistaking the derisive nature of Chiu’s grin. ‘You don’t even know how many kilos of prawns you have. No deal.’

‘Wait!’ screamed Jake, more loudly than seemed necessary. ‘I have an idea. We’ll be back in a minute. Come on, Dylan.’

Jake wheeled the sack out of Chiu’s, leaving Dylan little choice but to quickly follow.

 

When Dylan caught up in the street outside, Jake was pulling the rattling dolly along so quickly that prawns were spilling off to either side onto the baking pavement.

‘Hold up,’ said Dylan. ‘What’s your idea?’

‘Dunno,’ said Jake.

‘Great.’

Jake stopped to look through the window of the local CGA supermarket, where fresh produce was laid out on display in air conditioned comfort.

‘I have an idea,’ he said.

‘Really this time?’

‘Just try to act subtle. And get a carry basket.’

Jake led Dylan into the CGA, then along the fruit and vegetable aisle until they were some distance from the checkouts.

‘What are we doing here, Jake?’

‘Come on, don’t you get it?’

Jake nodded towards a heap of pink apples. Above them hung a large produce scale.

‘Ah,’ said Dylan.

‘You’re damn right, “ah”.’

‘It won’t hold all the prawns at once, though.’

‘That’s why you brought the carry basket. We fill the scale with prawns, right, measure their weight, then we put them into the carry basket. Then we fill the scale again. And then we put the prawns from the carry basket back into the sack. No, wait.’

‘That won’t work if there's still prawns left in the sack.’

‘Quiet, I’m trying to think. It’s like one of those logic puzzles. You know, like where you have to get the fox, the goose and the grain all from one side of the river to the other, but you only have enough room in the boat for one thing at a time. And you can’t leave the fox with the goose, or the fox will fuck it in the cloacca. And if you leave the goose with the grain, the goose will shit all through it.’

‘I don’t think that’s how it goes.’

Jake bit his thumbnail, still pondering. ‘Ok – however you look at this problem, it starts with us putting prawns in the scale. So help me lift up the sack and pour them in.’

Together they raised the mouth of the heavy sack towards the scale, while Dylan glanced furtively towards the checkouts.

‘Don’t act so suspicious,’ said Jake.

‘I’m trying.’

‘Or is it “suspiciously”? I can never work it out.’

‘Let’s talk about it later,’ grunted Dylan.

‘Just try to make it look like we’re measuring apples.’

‘How are we supposed to do that?’

Jake cleared his throat. ‘Boy,’ he announced to the world in general, ‘we certainly are buying a lot of apples over here! Wow-eee, I do like my apples!’

A couple of checkout chicks and a manager, none of whom had not been paying the boys the slightest bit of attention, began to pay them attention.

Jake pushed up the bottom of the sack and prawns started spilling into the scale, perhaps a little too freely.

‘Jake ...’

‘Boy,’ shouted Jake, ‘I cant believe we've been without apples for so long! We’ll take them home and make apple pie, smothered with good ol’ apple sauce. Some folks might say that’s too much apple in one sitting, but the hell with those guys because I love apples!’

‘Jake!’

As Jake rose on his tippy toes trying to be heard, he pushed up the bottom of the sack much too hard. Glistening, ill-smelling bodies cascaded out, filling the scale and spilling over its sides to smatter down all over the fruit.

‘Hey!’ called the manager, a big lady with thick arms who held her mop like a javelin. ‘What are you two doing?’ She began to approach along on the other side of the fruit display.

‘Just gathering our apples, miss!’ sung Jake, as he desperately clawed up handfuls of prawns.

‘We have to get out of here,’ said Dylan.

‘Why,’ bellowed Jake, ‘I might cook a lovely apple soup tonight! Did you ever hear of such a thing? It’s a traditional family recipe, invented by my old grandmama. The trick is to use plenty of apples!’

The store manager was now close enough to see that something was terribly wrong.

‘What are those things?’ she said, wrinkling her nose. Horrible realisation dawned. ‘Are those prawns?’

Dylan grabbed Jake’s arm and dragged him away, while Jake stuffed handfuls of prawns into his pockets.

‘Stop them!’ shouted the manager, but the checkout chicks were clearly afraid of the prawn-strewing madmen dashing towards them, and made no move to get in their way.

As they fled through the automatic sliding doors, a hurled mop smashed through after them.

‘Home!’ shrieked Jake, and they fled.

 

Sam was stoned out of his mind and hungrier than a hippo at a marble swap-meet. He’d been looking up prawn recipes on the web, then going to the cupboard to see if they contained any of the garlic, salt, sugarcane and other various things required. Every time he checked, the cupboard was empty.

‘Well,’ he declared to a passing cat, ‘if prawn is all I have to work with, prawn it shall be!’

He set about cutting, blending, whisking and frying, and soon he sat down in front of the TV with a plate of prawn cakes topped with prawn puree, and a side of prawn with prawn sauce.

‘Shame I don’t like prawn much,’ he mentioned to a passing cat.

He reached for the remote, switched on the television, and was disappointed by the sight of the news.

Hello and welcome to the news,’ said news presenter Stacy Bleakbank.

‘Take your top off,’ said Sam.

As fire-fighters battle bushfires raging in the south, rising temperatures and hot winds continue to hamper their efforts. In international news, US President Root McTooty faces renewed calls to withdraw troops from war-torn Stanistan, an election promise he has so far failed to deliver on. McTooty had this to say.

President McTooty appeared at a podium. ‘There is still work to be done in Stanistan. No one said waging the War on Consternation was going to be easy. America and her allies made a firm commitment to liberate the Stanistani people, and that commitment has not yet been met. It will be a cold day in Hell before we abandon pursuit of the democratic process.

‘On a cold day in Hell,’ Sam informed a passing cat, ‘Root McTooty can suck my balls.’

This comment, stupid and incongruous as it was, did not seem overly significant at the time.

Sam realised there were more cats passing by than usual. He also became aware of a background noise he had hitherto not registered – a sort of satisfied communal meowing. As he turned towards the sound, he almost choked on variously textured bits of prawn. Several of the sacks piled along the bedroom wall had been torn open at their bases, their contents spilled out into a steaming pile. At the edges a dozen feral cats munched and purred happily, their whiskers slick and chins greasy, bellies bulging and tails held high. Former bitter rivals to the smallest bit of kitchen scrap stood shoulder to shoulder, glancing at each other with brightly shining eyes, all territorial disputes forgotten.

How good is this?

Better than a kick in the feline herpes, that’s for sure.

Hey, look at Lord Ratslayer – he’s got an extra set of whiskers!

The cats laughed at a big ginger tom who had prawn feelers sticking out of his mouth.

That’s funny.

Hey, I heard you shagged Lady Bumsniffer last night?

Could be, could be – but a gentlecat does not hook his barbed penis into a female’s vaginal cavity and tell.

Say no more. Hey, speaking of which, did you hear that Prince Arsehole was caught by the Cat Protection Alliance last week?

Really?

Yeah, they fixed him and let him go.

Ouch.

I sure do hate those guys.

Yeah. You know what they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Haha. Or rip its balls off.

Haha, yeah.

‘Oy!’ Sam rose shakily from the coach. ‘Get away, you dreadful thieves! Those are our prawns! Ours. Do you understand?’

What’s with this prick?

Dunno, but he’s asking to get hissed at.

Yeah. Does not know who he is fucking with.

Sam ran to the kitchen for a broom and, much to his surprise, found one.

‘Out!’ he bellowed, swinging at the strays. ‘Get out of here you vagrant scum!’

He’s got high tech weaponry!

Curse our lacklustre evolutionary development.

‘Meow at me all you want,’ said Sam, swinging hard at a mangy grey. As cats scattered throughout the apartment, one jumped onto the couch and knocked over Sam’s plate of prawn-on-prawn action.

‘No, no, no!’ shouted Sam. ‘I hatedeating that, but it was my choice to make!’

Several cats fled through open windows, and Sam steered others in the same direction. Some proved more stubborn than others, dodging him and circling back to the prawns.

The stink is too hard to resist.

Just one more mouthful! While he’s distracted!

‘You spit that out! That’s ours!’

A few more swings and the last cats fled, running away along the high ledges from whence they had come.

Sam slammed the window closed, which seemed to concentrate the sunlight upon him like a magnifying glass. The air of the apartment quickly grew stifling as the half-eaten prawn carcasses fermented on the carpet. Sam tried to get them back into the general vicinity of the sacks with a couple of half-hearted kicks, but in the end he gave up and retreated to the couch. He could not bear to look at what he’d been eating, and reached instead for a half-smoked joint resting in the ashtray. At the very least, he figured, he could create a protective cloud around himself to shield him from the smell, even if he was forced to smoke continuously.

 

‘Oh, man,’ said Jake, as he and Dylan emerged from the lift. Outside their apartment Hayes was tapping on the door so lightly that, should it have been a door-shaped cake coated in icing sugar, he would not have knocked any off.

‘Mr Hayes,’ said Dylan, making the man start. ‘What is it? We're kind of busy right now.’

Hayes pointed nervously at the ground. ‘There’s smoke coming out from under your door. I was worried that one of you might have fallen asleep with a lit cigarette, or something.’

‘If we did,’ said Jake, ‘that would be our problem.’

‘That’s not true. If one of you burned to, er, to death, that would make me very sad.’

Jake guffawed. ‘I’d rather burn to death than have to look at your stupid face ever again, Hayes.’

Hayes was so pale already that, when he actually went pale, he almost disappeared. ‘Well, er, be that as it may,’ he said, semi-translucently, ‘which was not a very nice thing to say, by the way – but there is also the risk of setting the building on fire.’

‘Bah,' said Jake. 'You’d get a big insurance payout, bigger than this festering ruin is worth, then retire to Rome and live like a king.’

‘I really wouldn’t,’ said Hayes.

‘Give me a moment,’ said Dylan, fumbling with his keys. As he opened the door, weed smoke mixed with the funk of rotting prawns billowed out over everyone.

‘What on God’s green earth ...’ choked Hayes, stumbling backwards.

‘Sam! Are you in there?’

As smoke wafted into the corridor, the apartment interior grew vaguely more visible. On the couch Sam huddled like a gorilla in the mist, a glowing spark rising to his mouth.

‘For goodness sake,’ said Dylan, rushing inside to open the windows.

‘No, no!’ protested Sam. ‘They’ll come for me!’

‘Who will? You’re just being paranoid. No one’s coming for you.’

‘You don’t know, man. You weren’t here.’

‘What happened?’ demanded Jake, slamming the door in Hayes' face. He scowled about at the torn sacks and floor-marinated prawns. ‘All this smoke! You’ve infused the prawns with weed, Sam. You’ve ruined them.’

‘Don’t you know anything about gourmet food?' said Sam. 'Chefs are always infusing stuff. I've probably raised the value.’

‘What a waste of eight thousand dollars,’ said Dylan. ‘Do me a favour, Jake – next time you have that kind of cash lying around, let me know before you spend it on some ridiculous folly.’

‘There’s got to be a way to recoup,’ said Jake. He clapped his hands together. ‘Of course!'

'Oh dear.'

'We have to be innovative to stand out from the other prawn merchants. Deliver prawns to the public in a new, original way.’

‘And how do you suggest we do that?’

 

Sam, Jake and Dylan stood at their ‘prawn stand’, which was a fold-out table they had set up in a little park beside the apartment.

‘Roll up, roll up!’ Jake shouted at passers-by. ‘Get your prawns here at Prawny and Sons, catering to all your prawn-based needs! Try our new prawnshakes – all the decadence of a milkshake, now with the fishy flavour of prawn!’

Sam turned on a blender full of prawns, and their bodies ripped to mush as he poured in milk. ‘The trick,’ he told Dylan conspiratorially, ‘is to add the milk gradually.’

Dylan was close to despair. He could not believe he was standing out here in the hot sun wearing a pink baseball cap that Jake had written the word 'prawns' on. He was embarrassed to be a part of this madness, and even more embarrassed about how desperately he hoped they would actually make a shred of money. It would be nice to have some food in his belly again, and not some prawn-based nonsense either.

Jake held out a cup of prawnshake to a passing mother and child. ‘Good afternoon, prawn fans! Would you like a tasty prawnshake?’ He took a demonstrative sip. ‘Mmm!’ He smacked his lips as he struggled to turn his urge to gag into a twisted smile. ‘The perfect refreshment on a sunny day.’

The mother looked dubiously at the differently labelled prawn products displayed on the table. There were ‘beer prawns’ in small bowls, an esky full of ‘prawnsicles’, a jar from which poked ‘prawns on a stick’, and Jake had been working on his ‘line’ of collectible toy prawns, which were basically prawns he had dressed up in doll’s clothing. A glass jug held a fresh batch of prawnshake with a couple of feelers poking up from the chunky surface.

‘What did you say that was?’ asked the mother.

‘Freshly made prawnshake!’ said Jake. ‘Only five dollars a cup. Care to try it, little master?’

He offered the cup to the child, who clutched his mother’s leg in fear.

‘Did you say a prawnshake?’ said the mother.

‘Yes, ma’am! Prawns and milk, together at last! Here, try a free sample.’

‘Is that even sanitary? You could poison a child, selling unrefrigerated prawns in this heat.’

‘Don’t be a stupid bitch, ma’am,’ said Jake happily, oblivious to the insults coming out of his own mouth. ‘All our prawns come with a personal assurance of authenticity.’

‘What did you just call me?’

Jake picked up several of the prawn toys he had been working on, then went on bended knee before the boy. ‘G’day there, little tacker,’ he said. ‘I bet you’d like to tell your friends about your brand new prawn toys. See ...’

He held out a prawn which he had put into a tiny polka dot dress.

‘This is Miss Prawnie, off to the ball ...’

He held out another, which had a pirate hat pinned to its head and a toothpick stuck in an excavated leg socket.

‘... and this is Captain Prawnbeard with his wooden leg. Avast, ye prawn lubbers!’

He made Captain Prawnbeard ‘walk’ before the child’s gaze.

‘What a delight! And look ...’

He held up a prawn that held a toy sword, and one wearing a black cloak.

‘Why, it’s Sir Prawncelot, Hero of Prawncastle – off to fight his evil arch nemesis, Lord Badprawn.’

As Jake made Sir Prawncelot and Lord Badprawn fight, he kind of smooshed them together, and guts oozed all over his fingers.

‘Fun, huh?’ He held his reeking hands towards the child, whose mother quickly bundled him away.

‘I’m going to tell the police about this!’ she said.

‘Please do!’ said Jake. ‘They also deserve a nice cool prawnshake on a hot day. Spread the word!’ He took another sip, and immediately threw up down his front.

‘I’m going home,’ said Dylan.

Mr Chiu, who was walking past, stopped when he saw the prawn stand.

‘Hey!’ he said. ‘Where’s my delivery?’

Dylan knew a moment of hope. Why had they not yet delivered their easiest order? Then he remembered the mop-wielding Amazon manager, and how fear for their lives had chased thoughts of sales momentarily out of their heads.

‘You still want a sack of prawns, Mr Chiu?’ asked Dylan.

‘Of course! Just get them weighed and bring them to my fucking shop.’

Chiu stormed off with a smile plastered on his face, and Dylan spun joyously to Jake.

‘Did you hear that?'

'Small fry,' said Jake. 'The prawn stand is about to take off big time! We don't need to get our hands dirty dealing with individual outlets.'

'Don't be ridiculous,' said Dylan. 'We're talking about the first and only sale we've actually made.'

‘You go and do it, if you want. Sam and I are better salesmen than you, anyway.’

‘Yeah,’ said Sam, as he squashed more prawns into the blender. ‘You don’t even believe in the product, you goddamn Judas.’

‘That’s fine. I’ll go fetch a sack from the apartment to take to Mr Chiu while you both stay here doing ... this.’

‘Want to take Miss Prawnie with you for good luck?’

Dylan stared at the offered prawn, who was dripping brine from under her tiny dress. ‘No thanks.’

‘Yeah, you stay with me, Miss Prawnie,’ said Jake, cradling her fondly. ‘You little minx, look at all those sexy legs. You might just be the one prawn I keep allllll for myself. Rawr.’

 

Dylan entered the increasingly foul smelling apartment, and was somehow not overly surprised to find a window smashed in, shards of glass everywhere, and evidence of a turf war between seagulls and cats. With rather a forensic eye, from the bloodied feathers impaled on the remaining pieces of glass, he deduced that the gulls had built to a critical mass outside the window until it had caved in, and had then attacked the prawn sacks. As they had greedily filled their beaks, they had proven a tempting target for the horde of cats still sniffing about outside, who had followed them in. The gulls, being vicious and stubborn, had evidently mounted a counter-attack, as three or four dead cats (it was hard to tell exactly) lay sprawled about with peck-holes in their throats and eyes. Amidst the blood spattered walls and surfaces streaked with the panic of bird shit, the survivors seemed to have developed a begrudging respect for each other. The two groups now fed warily at the edges of the strewn prawns, like shabby lions and bedraggled flamingos at the world’s most disgusting watering hole.

As Dylan moved into the kitchen, their collective gaze slid to him.

‘It’s all right,’ he said, ‘I don’t want any trouble. All I want is to make a few lousy bucks off Chiu, and maybe a complimentary fried rice.’

The cats and gulls seemed to accept this explanation.

Dylan opened the fridge and retrieved the only unmolested sack. Weighing it was still a problem, but he knew there had been some scales in the bathroom at some stage in the past. Carefully, and without making any sudden movements, he dragged the sack around the suspicious wildlife into the bathroom. He closed the door, then opened the cupboard under the sink. Inside was a packet of bandaids so mouldy they would have infected whatever wound they were stuck on, Jake’s box of ‘bath crayons’, and a square of rust clearly marking the perimeter of the absent bathroom scales.

Why is nothing ever where it’s supposed to be?

Leery of heading back into the savannah of the living room, Dylan sat on the edge of the bath. He wondered which of his two moronic housemates would be more likely to know where the scales were, and settled on Sam. He took out his phone and dialled.

When Sam answered, the first thing Dylan heard was Jake talking loudly in the background, evidently in the middle of a pitch.

‘... try and drink it without touching your taste buds. It’s excellent protein, packed with the goodness of carcinogenic effluent!’

'Please, get away from me,' someone replied.

‘What do you want, Dylan?’ Sam said into the phone. ‘You’re interrupting sales.’

‘Where are the bathrooms scales?’

‘Hmm? Oh, I destroyed them.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Why does a man destroy anything?’

‘I really don’t know.’

‘In order to make new room to create, of course.’

‘And what did you create in place of the bathroom scales?’

‘Peace of mind for you, fatso. Ignorance is bliss.’

Sighing, Dylan hung up.

‘Well,’ he said to himself, ‘I mean, really, Chiu won’t know if I fudge the figure a bit, will he? It's not like he's hosting a weighing device party, after all.'

He lifted the sack. It was heavy.

‘Twenty five point eight kilograms it is.’

 

Having made it unscathed to the corridor outside the apartment, Dylan dragged the sack towards the elevator, wishing they hadn't abandoned their dolly as they had fled the supermarket. As he was labouring along, he heard a tell-tale little cough.

‘Mr Hayes,’ Dylan grunted, with limited enthusiasm.

‘I was just on my way to your apartment to see what I can do about your air, er, conditioner. Sam mentioned it is on the, er, the, er, the blink.'

‘I wouldn’t go in there right now if I were you.’

The sack caught on an exposed carpet tack, which ripped open its belly and spilled its awful guts.

‘Drat it and bother, Mr Hayes!’ Dylan exclaimed. ‘These are not safe building conditions. You can’t even drag a sack of prawns along here.’

‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ said Hayes, wringing his hands. ‘I do feel responsible, I must admit. Do you think we can get them back into the sack?’

‘That would hardly be hygienic.’

Dylan had a flash of guilty inspiration. He didn’t really like taking advantage of Hayes, if it could be avoided, but these were desperate times.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I'll tell you what – since your building has destroyed my valuable produce, why don’t you just pay for it and we’ll call it square?’

‘Oh, er ... well ... or maybe I could deduct it from the rent you owe me?’

‘No, that won’t work at all.’

‘Why?’

‘It just won’t, you'll have to trust me.’

‘Er.’ Hayes nodded uncertainly. ‘Well, I suppose that’s fair. What were they worth?’

‘These are special Green Harbour-faring Prawns, worth ... thirty five ... dollars a kilo to Mr Chiu. And this being twenty five kilos, total cost is about nine hundred dollars.’

‘Nine hundred dollars?’ Hayes was flabbergasted.

‘These are rare delicacies, Mr Hayes. If you have a problem with the market price of prawns, you should have thought about that before you left so many random hazards scattered about the corridors.’

‘Oh dear, oh dear.’

‘You can go ahead and fetch me the money. And please, get this mess cleaned up.’

As Dylan headed back to the apartment, he had another bright and guilty idea. He opened the door and, putting on his most convincing performance, howled in dismay. For the sake of authenticity, he thought it would be good if his hair went red, as Hayes knew that meant he was genuinely angry. Searching his mind for something to piss himself off, he settled on the fact that, when his computer went to sleep, a bright light under the monitor would start to flash over and over again to let the user know it had gone to sleep.

I mean, why? he thought, letting himself live the frustration. What cretinous designer thought it was a good idea to make a computer flash unrelentingly as a signal that you aren’t actually using it? They should be taken out the back and have their spine beaten in with a railroad sleeper!

‘What is it?’ asked Hayes, doddering along at a rate of knots, glancing worriedly at Dylan’s newly raging red hair.

‘I can’t believe it,’ said Dylan. ‘The windows of this apartment aren’t even cat-proof. Mr Hayes, your rampant negligence has cost us our entire stock.’

‘What ... oh, dear.’ Hayes stared open mouthed into the mewling morass of murder and mayhem.

‘“Oh dear”, indeed, Mr Hayes,’ said Dylan. ‘This is beyond excuse. All we’re trying to do is get our prawn distribution business up and running, and look what happens! If the structural integrity of our apartment isn't good enough to keep out cats and birds, frankly I worry about the very floor collapsing under our feet. Maybe I should call the building inspector ...’

Hayes' voice rose in panic. ‘No, er, need for that! Listen, I’m sure we can work something out so that everyone is, so that everyone is happy. It really would be for the, er, best. What if I was to wipe all the rent you owe me?’

‘There you go, on about the rent again. Don’t you understand that for a business to be successful, it needs to have capital, not simply a lack of debt?’

‘But ... well ...’

‘Mr Hayes, forgive me, but you’re obviously no born entrepreneur. The idea is to generate income in an ongoing, sustainable fashion, so that we can pay our rent past and future. But unless you cover the stock you’ve ruined, we’re finished before we start.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘To think,’ said Dylan, shaking his head sadly, ‘that I had to sell my heirloom watch – the only thing left to me by my great-great-great grandfather – in order to finance the design of our signature letterhead.’

Hayes got an expression on his face that, for him, passed for determined. ‘Now see here,’ he said, ‘I feel simply terrible. I also know a little something about trying to live up to the standards of one's forbears. So I can’t just stand by and watch all your hard work come to naught. Especially when it was truly my fault.’

‘It truly was,’ agreed Dylan.

‘So let’s not have another word about it. You tell me what your stock cost and I’ll cover it. And I won't hear any objections.’

Dylan liked to think of himself as a moral man. Perhaps that's why he could only bring himself to gouge Hayes for ...

‘Eight thousand dollars.’

‘Oh my, oh my.’ Hayes fumbled for his wallet. ‘I don’t think I have that on me right now. If you’ll just give me a moment, though, I’ll run to the bank.’

‘Very well,’ said Dylan. ‘And I also expect this place to be cleaned up pronto. These are not humane living conditions.’

‘Right away, right away. Thank you, Dylan.’

 

Dylan sat on the couch, thinking about the paper bag full of money stuffed in his desk drawer, while he watched the cleaners at work. Hayes had done a good job hiring them, he had to admit. They had arrived in a white van on the street below, from which miscellaneous races had piled out, been herded upstairs and set to task. There were about five different languages currently flying about, so Dylan was impressed anything was getting done. Productivity was mainly due to the Lord High Cleaner, as Dylan had privately named him, who stood in the middle of the living room cracking a fearsome, studded whip. The language of suffering, it seemed, was universal.

The Lord High constantly checked his watch, and several times phoned down to the van to tell them to untie more workers. He seemed particularly interested in the seagull corpses, and ordered that they be put into bags separate to everything else. He sent Dylan a querying glance as if to ask ‘is it okay with you if I take these dead birds?’ Dylan gave him a magnanimous wave of ‘proceed’.

The cleaners steamed and vacuumed, shampooed and scrubbed, dusted and polished until everything was sparkling. The window was still broken and the air conditioner still busted, but with the cool of evening setting in, such things did not seem to matter. When the Lord High was finally satisfied, he clapped his hands, yelled something in ancient Mongolian, and drove his minions out.

Dylan marvelled at the apartment. It had never been this pristine before. Even when they had first moved in, they had brought their stuff still dirty from the last place. He wondered how long it would take for ruination to return.

There was a knock at the door.

Probably Hayes again, thought Dylan. Try and be nice to him for once, will you?

It wasn’t Hayes.

It was a barrel-chested man with an eye patch and a big bushy beard, flanked by two of the same sea dogs who had delivered the prawns earlier that day.

‘Ahoy thar,’ said the man, taking out his pipe. ‘I be Captain Deckhard of the good ship Drudge Bucket. Born in the swell of the ocean’s bosom, I bin sailing her waters ever since, may she devour my bones when my days are done. Is Jake home?’

‘Um ...’

Deckhard moved past Dylan, traipsing salty grime from his boots across the carpet. His lackeys followed, peering about as if expecting to be jumped.

‘Jake’s not here right now,’ said Dylan, trying to sound unperturbed.

‘Ar, an unfortunate turn of events,’ said Deckhard. ‘We have an unsquared debt, him and I, which he is due to deliver on.’

‘What?’ said Dylan, experiencing a sinking feeling. ‘I mean, really? What for?’

‘A skipper’s load of fine seafood – prawns, to be precise – which he agreed to take off me hands for the modest sum of eight thousand doubloons.’

‘But,’ Dylan’s sinking feeling turned into a full blown shipwreck, ‘didn’t he pay for the produce up front?’

‘Nay,’ said Deckhard, with a chuckle. ‘Where would a whoreson like that acquire such riches? Our parley was based upon sale of the goods, which he assured me he could make.’

That halfwit, thought Dylan. Of course he didn’t have eight thousand dollars. Why did I believe his ridiculous story about the dogs?

‘Do we wait for him, Captain?’ asked one of the sea dogs.

‘Aye, that we best.’ Deckhard sat down on the couch and stretched out his wooden leg. ‘I can only pray to the four winds that he has acquired the sum he owes. I do like the lad - be a terrible shame to send him off to Davy Jones’ locker. After a sound beating, of course. One must do one’s best to keep up appearances, savvy?’ Deckhard lifted his eye patch to reveal a perfectly healthy eye, which he winked at Dylan.

Dylan thought about the paper bag full of money in his desk. He thought about what an idiot Jake was, and tried to believe, for a moment, that he deserved to walk the gangplank for his stupidity. He could not, however, quite bring himself to condemn his friend to a watery grave.

Sighing, he went to his room and returned with the bag.

‘Here,’ he said, dully. ‘I’ll cover his debt.’

‘Oho!’ Deckhard seized the bag. ‘What an excellent first mate Jake has in you!’

‘On two conditions,’ said Dylan.

‘Yes?’

‘First, you are never to give Jake a tonne of illegal seafood on credit ever again.’

Deckhard nodded. ‘Seems fair.’

‘Secondly,’ said Dylan – maybe there was still a way to salvage something out of this, at least enough cash for a single meal? – ‘Jake told me that he rounded up your original asking price to eight thousand dollars. I, however, am not so flippant. I expect a little change.’

‘A parley is a parley,’ said Deckhard with a frown. ‘However, since you have proven so accomodatin’, I imagine I can see me way to compliance.’

‘What was the original figure, then?’

‘Seven thousand nine hundred and ninety six, so it’s four doubloons owing.’ Deckhard patted his pockets. ‘Ar, I’ve naught but a fiver. Do you louts possess anything smaller?’

The sea dogs glanced at each other.

‘I only carry a credit card,’ said one.

The other shrugged. ‘I gave all my shrapnel to that busker outside the boat shoe store.’

‘By Poseidon’s beard,’ said Deckhard, ‘that is vexing indeed. I’ll have to write out an IOU.’

Dylan rubbed his temples. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he muttered through gritted teeth.

‘Pardon me, laddy?’

‘Let’s just round it up to eight thousand,’ said Dylan, hating the traitorous words as they left his mouth.

‘Well, that does seem easier!’ said Deckhard, rising from the couch. ‘It’s only a trifling difference, after all. Nice doing business with ye.’ He offered Dylan a meaty hand, which Dylan forced himself to shake. ‘You know,’ said Deckhard, ‘if you’re a mite interested, I have some octopi that need shifting. They’re only a tad on the mutated side ...’

Dylan had had enough. ‘Out,’ he said.

The sea dogs bristled, and moved menacingly to either side of their boss.

‘Please,’ Dylan added quickly.

‘Very well, laddy,’ said Deckhard. ‘No need to get your mainsail in a bunch. Come on, boys.’

Deckhard led his men out, traipsing more grime across the floor.

Dylan went to the window and stared out at the sky. Before the setting sun, the silhouettes of seagulls rose high on thermals, squawking and wheeling in the dying light. A cat ran past on the window ledge swishing its tail, and paused to sniff at a bloodied feather. Below, Deckhard emerged from Hazy Towers and got into a boat on a trailer, while his lackeys started the Ferrari it was attached to, and drove him away.

Jake and Sam came through the door, dripping feelers and guts everywhere.

‘WHO STOLE MY PRAWNS?’ shouted Jake in horror.

Dylan’s hair went red. 

 


© Copyright 2020 Sam Bowring. All rights reserved.

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