Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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50

Pat had figured out where they were going once they got into the backstreets of South Melbourne. Johnny drove into a well-lit, expansive underground car park. There were quite a few other cars, most of them modern, expensive ones.

A uniformed security guard stood by the entrance to the stairwell. He had a square head that looked like it had been bolted directly onto his shoulders.

“Evening, gentlemen,” he said, hands behind his back. Pat felt the guard’s eyes slide over them, sensitive to every detail. He was suddenly conscious of the fact they were all clean, sober and relatively subdued. They walked up the pale grey concrete stairwell and emerged in a luxurious bar.

The room itself was long, with big mirrors behind a bar which spanned one wall. There were several banks of couches and a few pool tables at which both men and women played.

The surreal quality of the place came from the fact that all the women were in various stages of undress. In fact, there was another odd disjunction; the men were dressed in all kinds of clothes, but the women wore period costumes.

Victorian dresses, Arabian Knights-style outfits, a fifties’ cigarette girl and even a seventies’ roller derby girl. It was like the lavish green room for several period films all at once.

A girl in a French maid outfit cat-walked toward them, one black patent-leather shoe eclipsing the other. She carried a silver service tray with freshly poured champagne beading in its flutes.

“A complimentary drink, gentlemen?” Both Johnny and Stevie took a glass, and then Wally did. They all took a sip, and Wally looked guiltily askance at Pat. “If you’d like to sit down, I’ll organise some introductions.”

“We’ve got a private room, I think,” said Johnny.

“It’s my birthday,” said Stevie.

“I see,” she said, “Marvellous. The name?”

“My name is Stevie,” he said, grinning.

“Decarli,” added Johnny. The maid returned to the bar and they were met by a woman in a hostess uniform.

“Happy birthday, Stevie,” she said, clipboard to her chest, arms folded across it. “Follow me this way, gentlemen?” Stevie reached out and took one of her hands.

“Right you are, then!” she said, and led him away. Soon as Johnny was out of immediate earshot, Pat grabbed Wally by the elbow.

“What are you doing?”

“It’s champagne! It’s not as if I like it or anything.”

The hostess led them down a corridor. The carpet was a cappuccino colour and the walls were painted black. Soft tungsten lights projected cones of warm illumination onto the carpet.

She led them most of the way to the end and pulled back a Japanese-style, sliding paper door. Inside were couches and a low table.

“Thanks,” said Johnny, going in and sitting down on the couch nearest the door. A large plasma television stood in a sliding cabinet with a variety of black, rectangular appliances stacked under it. Pat went in and sat against the back wall, Wally beside him.

“Can we smoke?” he asked.

“No,” said Pat.

“You can if he lets you,” said the hostess, pointing at Pat. Stevie let go of her hand and sat down next to his dad. “We have a humidor and a range of cigars at the bar.”

She handed them each a laminated card with a drinks-and-cigar menu on it. “You have the karaoke suite. Do you know how to work the machine?”

“No idea,” said Johnny. The hostess leaned forward and flipped open the menu on the table. Pat looked along the line of her nose that pointed towards the creamy channel of cleavage welling up beneath her collar-bones.

She explained how to turn the machine on and off and make a selection.

“I love karaoke,” said Stevie.

“Can I get you drinks?” asked the hostess. “Would you like singles, or a bottle of something, like champagne? Whisky?”

“Coffee. Black. Long.”

“Ok!” she said, stretching those big red lips all the wider, sensing something was amiss with Pat. He felt like he had his back up against the wall and was looking down the double barrels of a firing squad. “And?”

“Whisky and dry,” said Johnny, raising his hand. “The bottle, please.”

“The house is Johnnie Walker Red.”

“That’s fine.”

“White Russian,” said Stevie. “The bottles!”

“No bottles,” interrupted Johnny. “You’ve got work to do.”

“You’re the chaperone, then,” said the hostess.

“I’m his dad.”

“I’ll have an orange juice. With my dad,” said Wally, indicating Pat with a nudge of his elbow.

“I’ll get the drinks, and I’ll send in the girls,” said the hostess, pulling the screen shut behind her as she left.

Johnny picked up the controller and switched on the television. A few more jabs of the buttons and porn switched on. “Speak of the devil,” he said, pushing a few more buttons.

Mariah Carey appeared on the karaoke channel. As she warbled, the lyrics scrolled along the bottom of the screen, changing from white to green.

“Ugh,” said Stevie.

“Righto,” said Wally, getting to his feet and taking the microphone from where it sat beside the television. He started to sing along to ‘All I want for Christmas is You.’ The table was solid and sturdy under his feet.

Evidently, brothels took the same attitude to furnishings as nightclubs and bars; if it isn’t industrial strength, it isn’t going to see out the week. Wally directed his serenade at Stevie, who crossed his legs and batted his eyes.

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