Shotgun Party

Many of the episodes in Mouthful of Stones are ‘true’. However, this doesn’t mean that all of them overtook your humble narrator. This story belongs to a very good friend who had once been a member of the now-defunct armed robbery squad. After hearing it, I inserted a first-person narrator to make it fit the shape of my design.

I have been very fortunate in the course of my writing career to attract the assistance of Rodney Hall. Rodney is a highly distinguished Australian writer, who you can learn more about here. It would take far too long to start sorting through his laurels now – better you satisfy your own curiosity. 

Of all the advice he gave, the best was probably that writing a novel is not about planning the draft ahead of time and then travelling from go to whoah. The best thing to do is to simply start writing – about anything – and see where it takes you. After a while, this activity (which still requires a hell of a lot of work) will allow you to find out what you really think; what you really have to say. If you write consciously, you tend to hit all the cliches. Write what comes to you naturally, and you’ll discover what is floating around in your subconscious. The subconscious is as individual as your DNA.

 Before I wrote my first novel, I was sitting on about 500,000 words (bear in mind, the average 300 page novel is about 80,000). I don’t tend to look back over my shoulder much, but when I went looking for this piece the other day, I found I had a whole mess of stuff that was culled or excised from Mouthful of Stones which (I hope) will stand up on its own. I have decided to start a short fiction category for your delectation and edification.

 I hope you enjoy it. Yseult (GF) thinks I overwrite, and she’s better qualified to say than I. So if you have criticism to make, please record it – for my delectation and edification – in the comments section.

***

Our house in Danks Street was nestled up against near-identical terraces on either side. However, behind our front fence was Silvio’s shambles, pushing towards the door like a static wave of dirt and junk. The front fence intercepted the streetlight, so I scratched around at the lock with my key. The mail slot remained silent. If Silvio were home, the dogs would be inside. At the sound of a key in the lock, the mail slot normally flipped open like a peephole. Instead of an eye, there was a wet black snout like the muzzle of a double-barrel shotgun.

The naked bulb bathed the hallway in a piss-yellow glare. A neat little pile of plastic sat outside Sil’s bedroom, in the middle of the hall. Closer inspection revealed it to have once been a pair of sunglasses that Silvio’s Japanese girlfriend had bought him. One of the pups must have chewed them into junk. I threw them under a bush out the front door for the pup’s sake.

The empty house vibrated with boredom and sent it back as an echo. The answering machine light was blinking, so I pushed the play button. Silvio’s greeting, strained through a cheap speaker, scraped up the plaster walls:

“This had better be good.” Then, message number one.

“Sil, Dickie; Knackers here. Meet us at the Sheriff’s Office at eight AM, we’ve got an eviction to go to. Any problems, give us a call. ‘Bye.”

Message two:

“Boys, Knackers again, tomorrow at eight’s been cancelled. Cancellation cheque will be in the mail.”

Not bad – fifty bucks for leaving the answering machine on. The last message was from Rob.

“Dickie, having a couple of beers at my place. Come over; I’ve got something to show you.”

I found Rob drinking in the garage. His wife and kids were banished to the house and seemed pretty happy to stay there.

“Dickie, this is my mate, Shitflaps.”

I put out a hand to shake, but didn’t say anything. What was I going to say, ‘G’Day Shitflaps?’ It was one of those situations where you aren’t sure if the joke is on him or you.

Rob’s garage was standard issue. Bench along one wall, chipboard above with nails for suspending various tools. Some tools were there; the absence of others was spelled out by a pencil outline, not unlike the chalk outline you see on the street where the body had been, enclosing nothing but space. Cardboard boxes were stacked from where the moving had petered out and clotted in the corner. And a red and black punching bag, unscuffed as the day it was bought from Rebel Sport. The battered hulk of an XY GT squatted in the center.

“Want a beer?”

“Okay,” I said, taking the Melbourne Bitter that Rob handed me.

I squatted behind the indicator light of the GT, shut one eye and stared down the side of the car. If the lines bowed or bubbled, then the metal chewed out by rust has been patched with bog. Painted over it looks okay, but the structural integrity of the car is undermined. Classic Fords and Holdens are basically metal crates with big, thumping engines. Modern day cars have comparable brakes and suspension systems, bound together with enough thought and technology to ensure that the car can cope with the power coming from under the hood. These old things; the engine takes off and the rest of the car keeps up as best it can. Under the bonnet, the engine bay was a greasy mess of mechanical entrails. The block was caked in black grease, clotted with dirt, the leads and pipes and cables snaking away like tumorous growths.

“Where’s the compliance plate?” I asked.

Rob opened a drawer under the work bench and sifted noisily through the metal inside it. He pulled out a bent and tattered metal card, the size of a credit card, but squarer. It had the blue Ford oval on black enamel, along with VIN and engine numbers punched into it.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Found it. Wanna go for a ride?”

The car had a loose, unpredictable gait. The guide posts along the roadside elapsed like second markers on a clock face. Was time spinning out ahead of us, or simply elapsing until Rob ploughed into a stationary object and the car disintegrated into a maelstrom of shrapnel?

“How fast we going, mate?”

“Dunno. Speedo’s broken.”

Rob turned down an alley somewhere in Collingwood and parked at the end. We stepped out into a clear, dry night. Brick walls of factories climbed twenty feet on either side and the space in front was cordoned off by a chainlink fence, crowned with three strands of barbed wire. Shitflaps had sucked down more than a few drinks. He was swaying slightly to a tune that nobody heard but him.

“Want a Beam and coke?” he asked.

“Yeah thanks,” I said, cradling the damp curvature of the can handed to me.

“Put these on,” Rob said, slinging me a pair of overalls.

“What are these for?”

“Pocket money.”

We pulled up at a set of lights next to a Roller. Shitflaps leaned out the window and vomited.

The GT pulled up under a willow tree in a Northcote street. The features of occasional houses showed like burn marks, while the rest fuzzed away into dark. A burned-out chassis just up from where we parked sat like a half-squashed cockroach that had crawled as far as it could before giving up the ghost.

“Here, put this on,” said Rob, passing something back between the seats that turned out to be a balaclava.

Shitflaps and I got out of the car and stood at the boot as Rob slid the key into the lock. Just before turning it he gave us a look like you might see on a crazed magician about to pull a piranha out of his hat, instead of a rabbit.

“They’re loaded,” warned Rob, as Shitflaps spilled his can down my leg.

I’d never handled a pump-action shotgun before. And I’d never even seen one, other than in Mad Max. I racked the slide to test if it was real. It sure as hell sounded like it.  

“Where’d you get the guns?”

“Same place we got the smack,” answered Rob, grinning broadly before rolling his balaclava down over his face. The mask covered his lips, the hole revealing mainly teeth. I realized with a peculiar detachment that I had chambered a round before I knew what the guns were for.

“You’re not going to shoot anyone,” said Rob, reading my face correctly.

“Are you going to shoot anyone?”

“Depends,” he said, racking the slide for effect.

Both Rob and Shitflaps let their guns hang down by their legs. Considering all I had to do was pull the trigger to put a hole in something, I carried the gun in my arms as  gingerly as if it were a baby.

Rob stopped in front of a house that was sinking into its plot, the whole frontage drooping into a frown around the chipped and faded front door. He put a foot up on the rusted iron gate and propped like a marksman. Shitflaps tried to rack his shotgun, but the slide jammed. Rob exchanged guns without a word. Whatever the problem, it didn’t jam for him. And then he disgorged a filthy, astringent cloud of lead into the front door, which chewed a splintered hole through the middle. Shitflaps followed suit, the stained glass window collapsing into a merry shower of coloured glass. Splinters and fragments flew like a shower of eccentric Christmas decorations.

I pulled the trigger like you put your toe in a cold pool. The gun woofed and bucked, as if insulted by the chicken grip of an inexperienced kid. Rob pumped the slide almost as fast as he could pull the trigger. Shitflaps was considerably slower, but still pumping out the rounds. Pieces flew everywhere; splinters of wood, pieces of iron filigree from the roof. The render fell off the bricks in the shape of strange continents. One diaphanous curtain drifted through the broken window with the indecent abandon of a body that had lost control of itself. The door knocker clattered to the ground.

Not one single house light in the street went on. I hadn’t bothered to have a good look when we pulled up, but a large Mercedes saloon sat over the road. Tinted windows; sleek as a seal. Looked like a Mafia staff car until Rob punched a hole through the door. Shitflaps sprayed the bonnet and the windscreen. Then, in a supreme act of vandalism, Rob fired into the emblem on the boot and the lid drifted up with the graceful sweep of precision engineering. ‘Mercedes Benz defies even buckshot,’ I thought. Rob pulled back the carpet of the boot and reached into the spare wheel well, emerging with what looked like a brick wrapped in a garbage bag. He pulled out two more, handed them to Shitflaps and directed us back to the GT.

“Should have turned the car around,” Rob complained as he cranked the wheel a full turn and accelerated away, fast enough to print tread on the blacktop.

I had my third drink on Punt Road. My heart was pulling away from my stomach like an out-of-control speedboat.

“Shall we go to the casino?” asked Rob, turning around in his seat. His expression changed to one of irritation. “Pull your mask off, ya dill,” he said, seizing Shitfaps by the balaclava.

“Can I ask the obvious question?” I asked, half-raising a hand like in a classroom.

“Go on.”

“Why did we shoot the front out of that house with shotguns?”

“You have to stir up the waters if you want to catch fish.” Silence, the sound of stupidity, settled around the cabin. “Think about it; you’re a drug dealer. You’ve just bought a new Mercedes. You’ve got a lot of enemies. Who do you think it could be?”

“I don’t know.” I replied, conspicuously flunking my first foray into criminal arithmetic.

“Exactly. It’s like stirring up an ant’s nest. Piss ‘em off, get ‘em running everywhere, and it’s easier to get them into a jar.”

“I see.”

“In a business like this, you need a steady hand.”

“Fuck,” Shitflaps exclaimed as he cut his finger in the mouth of the can.

    

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