Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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“You’re back early,” Wally remarked as Pat walked into the office, dropping the car keys on the desk. “Johnny will be pleased.”

“Where’s my replacement? There was no bouncer on the door when I came in.”

“Getting stoned, around the corner.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“He’s an old mate of Johnny’s,” said Wally, lifting his hands in a gesture of hopelessness. “What can I do?”

“Thank Christ,” said Johnny, storming in and picking up the car keys. “Come on, you two – let’s go.”

Johnny hunched grimly over the steering wheel, nose pointing into the windscreen like a heron. Wally sat in the back and said nothing. The fact Wally hadn’t tried to fill him in meant that the matter concerned Stevie but was more likely delicate, rather than fatal.

One good thing about working in a pub was that there wasn’t a lot of down time for feeling sorry for yourself – someone else was bound to interrupt with a disaster of their own.

By the time they had driven up City Road and into South Melbourne, Pat was pretty sure he knew where they were going. Johnny pulled up at the kerb, across the road from the bordello.

The street was empty. Pat knew the figure standing on the footpath was Stevie, even with his back turned. The streetlight marked out his silhouette like a length of copper wire.

The security guard stood on the corner, hands folded in front of him.

“Thanks for calling us first,” said Wally as they climbed out of the Val.

“No worries. You’d better get him out of here quick, though. Things like this, the neighbours will always blame us. You’ve got to take him so then we can call the cops first.”

Stevie stood in front of a silent, darkened office building. He’d broken five out of the eight windows on the first two floors, and managed to smash one up top.

A bell-shaped bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon dangled from one hand. Johnny got back in the car and turned it over.

“I’ll do a u-turn,” he said. “Grab him.”

Pat and Wally crossed the road as the lights of the Val arced across the bitumen.

“Stevie,” said Pat. “Hey.” When Stevie turned and the streetlights hit his face, his eyes were blurry from the drink. “We’ve come to take you home.”

“I don’t wanna go home.”

“It’s that or the police station, mate.”

“I’d rather go to the police station.”

“Well, I don’t wanna go to the police station. Come on, come home.”

Pat could see Wally’s face over Stevie’s shoulder. Wally was famously useless around any kind of physical confrontation; he wore a facial expression similar to a man who has just swallowed a bad oyster.

“Come on, mate,” said Pat, reaching out and touching Stevie’s wrist. It could have been a gesture of friendship, or it could have been an overture towards restraint.

“Don’t Pat,” said Stevie. “Please let me go.” Tears were moving underneath his voice. As Stevie stepped away, Wally moved to the side, letting him past. Pat glared and Wally shrugged. “Just let me go. I just wanna… go.”

“Where are you gonna go, mate? If we don’t take you and you get arrested, you’ll go to court for vandalism, drunk in public, all kinds of shit.”

“Good.”

“Not good, mate, not good at all.”

“I’m not a little kid.”

“I know. Which means they’ll arrest you and make you go to court,” Pat continued. “The judge will institutionalise you and take you away.”

Pat wasn’t sure how true this was, but suspected it was true enough. Stevie pulled away and began to stagger up the street. He lashed out a kick at a milk carton lying beside a bin. Johnny threw the Val into reverse and it started burbling backward along the kerb.

“Grab him, Pat!” hissed Johnny, eyes visible beneath the sill as he leaned over the passenger seat.

“Stevie, please!” said Pat, and then, frustrated, he grabbed Stevie by the arm.

“NO!” Stevie yelled, and Pat pulled him into a bear-hug. Stevie swung the bottle in his free hand. It shattered like a glass club against a ‘No Standing’ sign, showering them both in the sweet, syrupy reek of bourbon.

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