LEN HARRIS RUNS HIS HANDS affectionately down the steering wheel as he sits parked in the two-hour limit in Grange Road. The whine and rumble of the tram down the main street is somehow comforting. It is action. Action. That’s what he needs. Some action. He winces as the tram driver applies the brakes.
You’d think they’d put a bit of oil in the works, wouldn’t you? How long does it take to squirt some oil. Trouble is, they’re too bloody lazy to get off their fat arses those union blokes. Always calling strikes. I’d smarten ‘em up if I was the union boss. There wouldn’t be a squeak in a single tram right across Melbourne.
The mental ruminating prompts his body to raise his right arm and sweep it across the dashboard as though he were addressing a mass of rebellious workers. He’d set ‘em right.
The morning sun warms his shoulder as it timidly pushes through his window. He closes his hands about the steering wheel, enjoying the cosy warmth of the leather. He smells leather combined with oil from the nearby engine - better than French perfume as it travels with the deeply drawn breath. None of this plastic stuff for him. Leather is the real stuff... Dear old Bessy. He’d called all his cars Bessy. But this Bessy he loved more than any of the others; a 1963 Jaguar MK11 sky blue, lovely lines, shiny bumpers leather seats, walnut veneer dash with a pretty burr, fins like a slippery fish. Roomy. Yes, he’s glad of the room now his tummy pouts and keeps him back from the wheel. He has pushed the seat back and lunged the back upright to push his shoulders forward above his pot, so that his arms, regrettably short, reach the wheel comfortably.
Yes, action. How about some action Lenny boy. Got to get out there and sell some advertising. Well, it’s early yet. He yawns and pushes his legs straight and rotates his feet in a sort of work-out for getting on with it. He looks down at his shoes. Shoes, now I like smart shoes. They define a man. Somewhat. And look at the shine on them. Shows a man has standards. Responsible. Tells you a lot really, how a man keeps his shoes. Now Phil Bradley, his shoes are a disgrace. A disgrace. Spends a fortune on a top label shirt and cost-the-earth-tie and you think there’s a smart man and you look down at his feet and what do you see? Dull, scratched old shoes, worn down at the heels. Ruins the image. I’d smarten him up if I had my way.
Lenny twists the rear vision mirror and checks his face. He shaved in a hurry and nipped a small pimple just under his nose. Stopped the bleeding with a block of ice, but you could see a dark red spot. I might grow a moustache. That’s an idea. It would give me a look of ... well, I’d look distinguished. Women like moustaches, like the tickle so they say. Yes. I might just do that, start on a long weekend.
He tries a whistle to set him up for the day but could never in his life manage more than a windy half-whistle. Cripes, remember Danny O’Brien at school? he could whistle like getall. Hear him for miles. School? Hell, how many years ago is that. I was a skinny kid then, running like a hare. Funny, the memory. The things you can see as though it was yesterday. Catching taddies at the pond down the back of the brick yard ... keeping them in a jam jar of water on the kitchen window sill and watching them lose their tails and grow into frogs. Gee wasn’t that something.
His mother had been tolerant and caring. Plenty to spare as Lenny was their only child. And when his father died, Lenny was only ten, his mother had said to him, and he can hear her right now as he sits there in his car: “Lenny dear. I’ve only got you now. You’ll have to be the man of the house from now on.” And he had taken on the task with bravado, relishing the job of being in charge. In the end, he ran the place and his mother bowed to all his wishes.
He was glad he married before she died. It made her happy to think her Lenny would have someone to look after him. He married Stella, a girl just like his Mum. And he managed her, just as he did his Mum.
He sighs and lowers his head on his chest as though the memories are heavy. Stella was a good wife as far as it goes. She just needed direction. He feels satisfaction at the thought that he passed on to her all his mother’s recipes, demonstrated how his mother had organised the washing, ironed the shirts. Stella didn’t do anything without approval. If he’d had the power to command her to have children, she would have had them, but it wasn’t to be.
With home life so well organised he was able to concentrate on building his little travel magazine that was distributed all over New Zealand, stacked with advertisements from just about every travel agent in the land. He still carried, and on occasion handed out, his business cards Leonard G. Harris - Editor and Publisher - ENZED Traveller. Staff of six he had then. Two full time on wages, four commission advertising sales. If he hadn’t been so ambitious, he’d still have it. But Syd Fallon was persuasive and flamboyant, and the cash for partnership was too good to turn down. Trouble with Syd was he wanted to take over and Lenny was never going to let that amateur usurp him. Syd was all over the place, travelling here and there, claiming he was making deals, spending the company’s money like water. To be fair it wasn’t only Syd who caused the crash, it was the economic slump, no one was travelling. The printer’s bill mounted and mounted and in the end he had to close down. The memory was painful. And to tell the truth, he resented Stella up and dying on him just about then. You’d have thought she could hang on and see him through.
He slumps, letting the weight of his shoulders sink down to his tummy making it fatter than ever. He draws in his breath, raises chest and shoulders in a brave effort to face the day. Failing the whistle, he hums Oh What a Beautiful Morning as a confidence booster because truth was known, he was a little shy of it this morning.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees a shapely pair of legs passing by and looking up finds they belong to Joanne Smart. He jerks up, toots the horn, waves through the window, pops a mint in his mouth from his top pocket, runs a palm over his hair, grabs his jacket and leaps from the car.
‘Joanne. Good to see you. Looking great this morning. As always. Hey, time for a coffee? Just about to have one.’
‘Sure, how nice. Half an hour to spare. Where?’
Slipping his arms into his jacket, jingling keys and money in his pocket, he swings in step beside her, feeling a sudden energy. Joanne is divorced, unattached, attractive and Lenny has an idea she fancies him. Hell this is a chance not to miss. Life could turn around with a girl like this in my arms.
‘How about Cafe Bon on the corner? Sit in the sun. Good coffee.’ They stroll along main street past the classy boutiques, coffee shops and bakeries, two banks, dry cleaners, greet familiar locals, cross with the lights and find seats at the coffee shop.
‘Latté for you?’ He raises an arm to attract the waiter. Obvious and loud.
‘Cappuccino,’ she says.
‘OK waiter: One cappuccino, one double-shot latté.’ Double-shot is the man-about-town fashion.
‘You have double-shot?’ She smiles, not intending to seem critical.
‘Sure. Sets me up. Busy day ahead.’
‘Hear you’re working on Green Place now. How’s it going?’
‘Only been there a few weeks, early days.’
‘How is it, working for a lady boss eh?’
Lenny feels a tingle running up his spine, like bristles rising, scraping his shirt.. ‘Hardly my boss I’m freelance y’know. Run my own show.’
‘She does a great job, Francy, with that paper doesn’t she? Everyone reads it.’
‘Oh yes, of course, but a paper stands on its income you know. Without advertising dollars you are nothing.’
The waiter comes with the coffee and Lenny heaves himself up to reach deep for the coins in his pocket.
‘I admire her for the way she’s carried on all the same. A one-woman show. Courageous in what she writes, gives it to them. Lots of humorous stuff as well.’
Lenny is caught between desires: to impress Joanne and to be agreeable company. And Joanne was a good friend of Francy. I could go on about the need for advertising and how I will rescue this little paper but I’ll bite my critical tongue. Instead he leans back and sighs one of those sighs that give the impression of well being.
‘You know, I do like living here. I mean in Melbourne. In Toorak to be precise. It’s the big smoke over here after New Zealand. Of course,’ he leans forward in confidence, ‘over there I was a big wheel in a small smoke you might say. Ran the most successful travel magazine in the country. Over here, well, a small wheel as yet, but time will tell. Can’t beat experience.’
‘Yeah, sure. Competition’s stiff around here though and money’s tight. I should know. Selling real estate. Must say the big ones are selling. Like expensive jewellery. And art. It’s the medium to lower that’s not moving. That goes for small business of course, and that’s what you’re dealing with. I mean, look at the closing down signs, vacant shops.’
‘Still, always someone starting up. Hope springs eternal. Three new shops opening from here to the post office.’
They sit in silence for a few minutes. Drink their coffee. Lenny doesn’t want to talk business ... work ... getting out there. He wants to tell her he’s writing a novel, but decides against it.
‘Sooo .. you seeing anyone these days Joanne?’
‘Not seriously, Safety in numbers.’
He laughs. ‘I wouldn’t mind being a number if it could be number one. Numero uno.’
What can she do but laugh. He must be joking she thinks. Surely he doesn’t seriously think I’d even consider him as a date. OK fun to flirt with in the Tok H bar, share a drink amongst the mob, but ... that stomach, in bed? What a put off. Imaginings of how he would ever get it up force her to glance at the traffic over his shoulder in case he can see in her eyes what she is thinking.
Lenny is wondrously unaware of her thoughts and when he notices her gather her bag ready to go, he throws out a rope of hope: ‘You going to the Tok after work? See you there?’
‘Not sure. Thanks for coffee Len. Must rush.’
And she is gone, her high heels clicking on the pavement and the cheeks of her tight bottom flicking side to side; Lenny’s eyes follow until she is out of sight. Sure like to take charge of those little mounds of flesh, not to mention those delicious boobs.
With a shock Lenny realises it is mid-morning and he hasn’t progressed. Better get back to Bessy and sort out the action list.
There is no air of purpose in the way he rises to his feet. More like a man reluctant to face what is ahead. His legs feel heavy, like wading through knee deep water. He catches sight of his reflection in the cafe window, sucks in his stomach and buttons his jacket. Damned if it doesn’t make it worse buttoned up. He undoes it at once and pulls the sides down. That’s better. A bloke always looks slimmer in a swinging jacket. He smiles at the thought that skinny guys look bigger that way. Suits were going out of fashion except for lawyers and the like, and he hoped jackets wouldn’t go the same way because a man can feel mighty exposed in shirt and trousers. Not blokes like Paul Hogan of course. They look trim hunks in a torn T-shirt and huggy shorts. Not easy for us men who have to front up properly dressed, sit at desks getting no exercise. That’s why we put on weight. Our occupations are to blame.
He pushes the button on the pedestrian crossing just as the tram makes its stop short of the crossing. Damned cheek when you think of it - I’m sure those drivers have a special button they press to make the lights wait while they pick up passengers. What about us? Us pedestrians. Isn’t right. I might send a letter to the transport people about it.
The driver clangs his bell and shoots through and the lights come green before Lenny has submitted the matter to his mental files. He lifts his feet over the tram lines as he crosses and keeps his eyes down. Easy enough to trip on them and plenty had. Like Alan Purdy, only a few weeks ago, poor bugger. He’d had a few at the Tok bar of course and took a mighty trip right in the bloody middle. Broke three ribs and his arm. Not the drinking arm, mind you, he said as soon as he made it back to the bar.
Safely on the other side he hesitates. To the right, up and around the corner is his car. To the left is the Tok H wine bar door only yards away. Right now I could do with a heart starter. But no, mustn’t. Right after coffee. Work to do. He slaps his palms, turns right and quickens his step, showing the world he has purpose. But deep down in his stomach he feels a hollowness. Or is it a fear?
He stops before the window of costume jewellery. A row of headless busts catches his eye. Around each is a necklace of glass flowers and buds and leaves. They look like exploding ice in stunning colours: bright green, intense lemon, blue, aqua, orange. They are large, statements, glaring headlines. Women who liked show would love them. He begins to design an ad. Yes, use all the colours, set them in frames. In a row. Right across the top of the page. You wouldn’t need much copy, they spoke for themselves. Yelled more like it.
The shop was new. Sign in the window said Opening Specials. Sure to want an ad.
A thin woman, in a black dress too short for her ageing legs, comes to the door, balancing uncertainly on extremely high heels. Her hair is tied at the back with a black ribbon and around her neck is an icicle necklace in black.
‘Gorgeous aren’t they? Just arrived. From Paris. Looking for your wife? girlfriend?’ Poshy words fire out of her red lipstick mouth. Bright red varnished nails float like butterflies.
Lenny stares for a moment at the long deep line between her brows and the downturn of her mouth even when she is smiling.
‘Uh ... uh ,,, just looking. Yes, they are gorgeous. I ... I’ll tell my wife about them. For sure.’
With frozen smile, she scowls and picks her way like a bow legged bird on sand, back to her desk to kick off her shoes behind the scenes.
He lingers a moment in front of the window to give the impression of retained interest. and moves away when the thin black creature turns her back. After all, he might have to try for an ad later.
He has an urge to scratch his balls. If I put my hand in my pocket I might get away with it. He slips into the alleyway next to the bank and walks to the carpark at the back; out of sight, he gives his balls a good scratch and settles them down with a heave and jiggle at the waist of his trousers.
In any case the car’s on a two-hour and I sure can’t afford a hefty fine. Those bastards are out to get you. Merciless. I reckon they’re on commission over and above wages. Bastards. It’s money for nothing. Nothing. Just having your car parked, doing nobody any harm. Even if you get there before they’ve written up their lousy notice, they won’t listen. Just go on writing and stick the bloody thing on your window. Well stick it up them I say. We pay rates and taxes. What right has the council to fine us for parking on our own land.
His heart is beating fast as he rounds the corner at Grange Road and hurries to his car. Thank god! no ticket. Lucky that. I forgot to check my watch after I saw Joanne.
He sits a moment slowing down his breathing. Heart shouldn’t beat like that after a bit of a hurry. Hope the ticker’s OK. Might see a doctor. Check up. Fellow ought to. Look at Harry O’Conner. Stroke at, well he can’t be much over fifty. Half his body gone stiff. Gawd, must be awful. Yes. I’ll make an appointment. Not this month, won’t have time. Next month perhaps.
He takes out his notebook, runs his thumb over the soft leather. Now, what was it I said I’d remember to write down. Can’t think. Well, anyway, I’ll make a note of Harry’s stroke, that sort of thing would come in a story somewhere. Midlife crisis stuff.
He takes out a list of shops he plans to visit, view to inviting them to be in the special fashion feature in next issue. His idea, he reminds himself with pleasure.
She wasn’t keen on the idea, but he won out. She could see the sense in it after he pushed it. You had to push with that woman.
Stubborn, that’s what she is. Thinks she knows everything. She ... she ... Founder and editor she might be, but so far it’s just been luck. It could take a few months for me to knock it into shape. She’ll see.
He feels his heart-beat slowing down and breathes deeply. Looks at his watch. Only eleven. A bit early to call on the shops. Some of them don’t open until ten around here and they take an age to settle in, unlock the cash, dust the place, fix the displays. Then they rush out and get a take-away coffee, leaving Back in Five Minutes on the door. That’s just about half a day’s pay before they get started. No wonder there are all those closing signs. Customers get used to late starting so they don’t start shopping until after lunch most of them. I should get on the Village Committee and do something about that.
He gets out of Bessy and checks all her tyres. Not a chalk mark to be seen. Good for another two hours he decides and gets back in.
Yes, she, Francy Franklin, founder and editor. He closes his eyes. The scene behind his lids is black. All black. No, wait, red and purple and yellow flashes can be seen. He squeezes his lids and relaxes them. Ah, now he can see the editor’s office and himself standing firm, though inside he isn’t feeling firm but won’t let that show. That was only two weeks ago.
‘Now lissen Girlie,’ he’d said, standing square in front of her desk. His verbal spelling gave listen a double s. ‘Lissen here. You might think you know all about publishing and writing and so on, but I can tell you, you don’t know damn-all (he wanted to say fuck-all but thought better of it) about advertising.’
Shoving both hands in his pockets to give the impression of relaxed debate but more to hide any sign of shaking, Lenny turned forty-five degrees and looked out the window, raised his eyes to the sky visualising a gathered audience out there hanging on his words.
Turning back to Francy he shrugged his shoulders, took both hands from his pockets, opened his fingers and pumped his forearms up and down, a shunting freight train with an ominous cargo. ‘You see, what you don’t understand is that you need a system, a programme. You can’t expect to just get out there and ask traders to advertise. Good heavens. In what? they’ll say’.
The look in Francy’s green eyes was one of bored tolerance. ‘Girlie’ she’d let pass since it was less offensive than saying what he really meant: Listen fuck-wit. Spare me all this she was thinking, but dared not say in case this inflated ego might actually sell advertising. She’d had them all, in the way of advertising sales people working on commission only.
There’d been the ageing, overweight, know-it-all Muriel Tandberg, who claimed she could sell iceblocks to eskimos, who lumped noisily up the stairs with her thick legs and flat feet in lace-up shoes to inform Francy, in her Pommy voice, that to do any good atawl, she must enlarge the distribution areah to include a small shopping strip just outside the boundary.
‘And further, the name of your publication is completely wrong,’ Muriel had declared, folding her sausage arms like an aggressive police officer. ‘You need to change it from Green Place. Toorak Tatler is what it should be called. I mean, what madness not to use Toorak when you are in Toorak. Now can that be organised by the next issue?’
‘Hang on a minute,’ Francy said. ‘I can’t just dump Green Place. Everything’s registered in that name, letterheads, sign on door. It’s been Green Place for fifteen years.’
Things being desperate, and no other ad seller in sight, Francy weakened, yes she told herself she was being weak: she compromised by printing Toorak Tatler on the masthead with The Green Place immediately below.
Upshot was, the aggressive, overbearing, overweight, Muriel Tandberg turned out to be a bloody failure and an alcoholic. With possible advertising promised, Francy had sportingly invited Muriel to an after work glass of wine in the office on Friday. On reaching the door to leave the building, Muriel gasped that she’d left her house key upstairs and could she borrow the office key and get it and she’d drop the key in Francy’s nearby letterbox. With a view to getting stuck into the wine in the little office refrigerator.
With the disappearance of Muriel, the title Toorak Tatler also disappeared and the extended distribution area cancelled.
There’d been Trixie Fauntleroy (if you could believe the name). Four feet something, sparse red fringe like a wide-tooth comb, a pot belly, tubby legs in fish net stocking and knee high lace up boots with high heels, a skirt just covering her fat bum, tattoos to be seen poking out of the sleeves of a leather jacket, false eyelashes like a cow’s, no upper teeth between the eye teeth and altogether an air of baby you wouldn’t believe what I could tell you. This queer little strumpet had leaned streetwise against the office wall declaring she sold thousands a month for an opposition paper and she just got shit of the publisher and the lot and she could bring all these ads with her. She just had a way with selling ads, she said.
Again, desperate, the paper was always desperate for an ad seller, Francy had allowed herself to believe this strange person might actually sell ads. And for two months the ads started pouring in; the paper flourished. Trixie gained favour despite everything.
Francy actually trusted her to mind the office while she went to the bank to get cash to pay the ad commission. What she didn’t know was that, while Francy was at the bank, stumpy Trixie was busy removing all the carbon copies of invoices relating to her ads, so that it took some time for Francy to discover that they were fake, all of them; all non-existent businesses, one turned out to be a phone box in Williamstown.
Pursuing a case of fraud and theft, police records were consulted; Trixie was a prostitute with a long record, carrying out abortions, stealing, running a brothel, assault - oh a long, long list of criminal convictions. Added to that, the entire thing was a set-up organised by the publisher of the opposition paper.
Another hen’s tooth: Derek, fresh from the Old Country. Derek of the golden voice. When the voice appeared for the first time before the editor’s desk it was taken to be inhabiting the wrong body. Instead of Richard Burton, there stood Derek, whose body odour preceded him by a yard or so, a broad smile showed the large gap between two oversized front teeth, a chunk of black curly hair fell over his left brow, a shirt twisted into his pants in such a way as to leave a triangle of flesh and hair visible. Francy couldn’t keep her eyes from trailing downwards to where his trousers stopped eight inches above his socks giving the appearance of something resembling a clown. Guileless, an innocent, it was hard not to feel sympathy towards him.
Could it all be done by phone, she wondered. He certainly had his heart set on selling, to the extent that, on the occasion when he sold a contract to a travel agent, he rushed to phone Francy the good news and smashed straight through the first floor window at the end of the corridor, down to the street below, ripping those short-legged and only trousers apart. Regardless, he picked himself up and made for the office, appeared breathless, unaware of the state of his pants, smiled that big-tooth smile and announced the news of his sale. You couldn’t dislike him.
He didn’t last long and moved on to who knows where to earn a crust, perhaps a voice-over job? leaving behind a sympathetic memory. Poor Derek.
Despite these, and others, lots of others, fraudulent, deceptive, idiots and cheats, Francy always held out hope of getting someone who could genuinely sell advertising.
Len Harris didn’t apply for the job. He wouldn’t, on principle. They met at the pub and it was more a case of Lenny offering to save the paper, than Francy inviting him to have a go.
He took the upper hand from the outset, as he tended to do with women. As he had with his mother and his wife.
‘Lissen Girlie, for starters, where is your white board?’
‘What! You haven’t even got a white board. Essential. How can you expect to know what your plans are with no whiteboard?’
‘I’ve never needed a white board to know what my plans are.’
‘There you go Girlie. No planning, no programme. When I was running my magazine in New Zealand I would consult my white board first thing every day.’
‘And did it sell ads for you?’
‘Don’t try to be funny Girlie. It was simply the essential focus point and planning control for all advertising. And I can tell you, I had stacks, stacks of advertising from all over New Zealand.’
‘What do you mean “Sure”. Are you taking the micky or something?’
‘Look, OK, get yourself a white board if you must. All I care about is getting advertising. Whatever way you can.’
The following morning Lenny arrived lugging a whiteboard three feet by two; from a small zipped bag he withdrew a hammer and nails and proceeded with elaborate measuring on the wall, standing back a few feet, moving forward to check the level of his arm to the proposed spot and finally hammering in two nails. On to these he hung the board from two screw-eyes positioned to meet the nails.
The board had a grooved ledge at the base, into which he laid two felt pens and a square foam wiper.
‘Now see this Girlie. Let’s put at the top PROGRAMME.’ He wrote it in large capitals, left out the second M, wiped it clean and did it over again.
‘Simple see. Fix mistakes in a jiffy. Now, what is our theme for next issue?’
‘Yes, theme. The season. Some event?’
‘The Cup? Racing carnival next month.’
‘There you go, see Girlie. Racing Carnival.’
Lenny wrote out RACING CARNIVAL.
‘Raft of advertising bound to come in on that. See, you need to have a feature. A feature. Around which you place relevant ads. Hats.’ He wrote Hats. ‘Dresses.’ He wrote Boutiques. ‘Catering.’ He wrote Catering.
Lenny loved his white board and writing on it. With every thought his arm rose like an orchestra conductor’s and came down on the board, writing as though playing a musical instrument. He had soon covered the board with accessories related to the racing world. Wine. Catering. Car Hire. Shoes. Handbags.
‘Enormous, you see. Wouldn’t be surprised if you have to go up another eight - are your segments in eights? - at least.’
He turned to find the editor busy over papers on the desk.
‘Are you paying attention Girlie? Look at that board. Look at it. Full. That’s how your paper’s going to be. Get it?’ He stared at her in triumph.
‘Well, sure, sure. I’ll leave it to you then. Just let me have ad copy as soon as it’s ready and I’ll accommodate it. But if they want me to write about the business, instead of a formal ad, get in early.’
‘There you go. Told you, no idea about advertising. All these so-called write-ups you do, they’re not strictly advertising.’
‘Well, they pay for them. And they like them. And readers like them. I make them interesting, not hard sell stuff.’
‘Highly unprofessional. Likely to be illegal in fact.’
‘Shouldn’t be surprised if there’s not a law about it.’
‘Misrepresentation for a start. You present it as a sort of news item when in fact it’s downright advertising. That is misrepresentation. You are misleading the readers of the paper.’
‘Come on! It’s not hard sell in the least. If the lady at the plant nursery, for instance, has a poodle I make a story around that. Poodle lovers call in to see the dog and become customers. I mightn’t even mention her plants. What’s wrong with that?’
‘Well, you do it your way and I’ll do it mine.’
‘Lissen Girlie. I want open field on this. You can’t grab shops for so-called write-ups that I might sell straight-forward, down-the-line advertising to. That’s directly competing with me. You do your editorial writing and I’ll do the advertising.’
Francy yearned to tell him to stuff the white board up his shirt and piss off. But ... she did seriously need advertising dollars and she didn’t have time to write enough little advertising features to pay the print and distribution bills. Instead she bent again over her work and let him go away.
He sits in the car and picks up a notebook from the passenger seat. In fact it has a separate leather wrap-around with Leonard G. Harris in gold, into which he tucks an ordinary notebook. It pleases him to take it out for his notes. Same as his business cards. Image is important in his line.
His line! He shudders at the thought of being referred to as an advertising salesman. He could handle advertising manager. It was salesman he didn’t like.
After the collapse of his magazine in New Zealand Lenny came to Melbourne, another world, with just enough to buy himself a small flat in Toorak and within a month he’d landed a job with a city newspaper. Selling advertising, sure, but it was only a stop-gap. He tried for a spot on travel writing but they had oversupply there. The Advertising Sales Director of the paper was impressed with Lenny’s experience and put him on a reasonable base salary with twenty per cent commission on sales.
After three months he was out of work.
Trouble is nobody knows me here. Back home everyone knew Len Harris and ENZED Travel. It was pretty much a legend. Legend was description he avoided, carrying as it did a claim to longevity which belied his years. The cover carried the line Established 1949 and older readers knew his father-in-law, Stella’s old man Harold Jones, started the magazine when Lenny was still at school. He reduced that legendary line from fourteen point to eight point type when the old fellow willed the paper to him, and he claimed, to all who didn’t know better, that he, Leonard G. Harris had given birth to the publication. In time the myth became the reality. His truth.
He would never let his mind believe that the paper made a gradual decline from the time it was in his hands. No indeed, Leonard G. Harris would knock this paper into shape. He set up new rules, schedules, working practices, changed the cover. Fell out with the printer, changed the distributor.
Where the office had been a one-room affair with Harold Jones in shirt sleeves at a desk at the far end, Lenny ordered a partition to be built to form the editor’s office with a sign on the door, Editor Leonard G. Harris. And when he strode into his office each morning, dressed in the finest gear, the staff were expected to stop work and bid him good morning as he passed.
When he decided to drop all by-lines (allowing him to claim authorship when it suited) Mike O’Brien went berserk.
‘You pumped up bastard,’ O’Brien yelled, in front of the typist and two ad salesmen. ‘Couldn’t run a chicken coop if you were cock hen. Stick your job. You’re gutless anyway.’
Lenny went white, then red; stormed into his office and slammed the door. O’Brien was the best journo on the paper, had a following for his lively, cheeky pieces and wasn’t the sort of fellow to kowtow to this upstart editor. He went to a city paper and drew the readers with him, along with the advertisers who liked to have their ads around his articles.
The thing that Lenny couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge was that he had no skill in writing and he was no damned good at selling advertising.
A fresh start in Melbourne gave him a clean slate, as it were, whereon he could write his own history, and proclaim it in the big city.
I’d have been a darn sight better off if I hadn’t run into that little bastard Russell Dunlop the night I was sacked. Went into the Press Bar for a farewell drink, and Dunlop grabbed my arm.
‘Just the man I want to see. I’m Rrrrrrussell Dunlop. I’ve seen you around the traps.’ He had a way of rippling his r’s. Handy when your name is Russell and you’re pint-size trying to be noticed.
‘Heard you got the axe Lenny. See ... fate plays a hand. I’ve been waiting for someone with your experience to float this great idea.’
‘What great idea?’
‘Hundreds of them around.’
‘Not like this one.’
‘A magazine for Man.’
‘There’s already one called that.’
‘No. I mean for THE man. All about the man of the moment. The finest clothes, best books to read, best watch to wear, best wine to drink, best restaurants, best airlines ... endless interest. And think of the advertising that would follow. Men’s gear, tailors, wine shops, restaurants, airlines, book shops. Y’can see can’t you? They’d be knocking on the door to get into the pages. Classy ads I mean. Imagine it. Full colour, good paper.’
‘So do you have the money to start this thing?’
Russell had a way of looking up at you with his head on the side, peering intently through his horn rimmed glasses with his glinty eyes.
‘Look, within two issues you’d be paying off a start-up loan. From then on, mate, wallowing in it.’
‘And I suppose you’d be the big shot. Editor and all that?’
‘No, no mate. not me. That’s where you’d come in. Editor in Chief. ‘
Despite his high sense of caution, having just been sacked, Lenny felt confidence rising, dreams floating, his name in lights, meeting celebrities, addressing conferences, The only way was up.
Russell slapped him on the back, as far as he could reach.
‘I knew you’d be interested. With all your talent and experience. Look, I’ve got some sketches and layout samples, mock-ups and all that. Why don’t we go and have a look at them. Got your car in town? No. Well, we’ll catch the train to my place in South Yarra and you can have a gander.’
They downed their beers, waved to the crowd in general and went out into the scurry of workers heading for Spencer Street station. Like sheep pens, pushing and shoving to get on the train, packed like sardines ... Lenny just realised how similar sheep were to sardines. Might write that down. No. No room in this bunch. I’ll try and remember for later.
They stood, crushed and held in place by fellow passengers; when some poured out at Flinders Street, even more pushed in. It was hot and smelly, the end of work-day odour that was suffocating. Lenny looked down on the thinning patch on Russell’s head. Thank god I’m not gonna end up bald like he will. No one in our family went bald. He felt a superiority over the little man and at the same time he was sorry for him; being small must be tough when you’re ambitious like Russell. He got to thinking about little men. Funny how they dominate. Napoleon was only little, wasn’t he? And then Hitler, a midget, and look what he did. Bob Hawke’s only little too. I’ll bet this man magazine he’s talking about won’t have any little men models in it. They’ll all look like ... let’s think now, Errol Flynn? Nah, he was a ratbag really. Someone classy. James Bond. Yeah, that fellow who plays James Bond. Image of James Bond asking for his martini, Lenny’s lips whispered ‘lemon with a twist’ or was it ‘stirred not shaken’ ? The train jolted to a stop and Russell grabbed his arm and pulled him out to the platform. What a relief to be in open air. They walked up the ramp and out to main street.
‘My place’s just around the corner. Darling Street. Only four places up.’
Dunlop’s flat on the ground floor in a block of four; two bedrooms, large living room, richly furnished, paintings, antiques.
‘Say, nice place. Lucky you.’
‘Not mine mate, regret to say. Mate of mine, gone overseas for a year and doesn’t want to let some bugger in who’ll make a mess of it. He trusts me. Modest rent, so I’m happy to take care of it.’
He got a bottle of wine out of the fridge, picked up two glasses from the kitchen shelf and nudged Lenny in the direction of the second bedroom.
‘I’ve set the spare bedroom up as my office.’
He poured wine and they sat down at a trestle table where half a dozen sample pages were spread. There were cut-outs of men in suits, men in cars, men in restaurants, in bars.
Russell was alight with enthusiasm. ‘See this one.’ He pointed to a sample cover with a man in pin-stripe suit standing in front of The Melbourne Club. ‘Not sure if the old club would approve use of their renowned edifice, but I’ll damn well give it a try. But sets a standard don’t you reckon? Soon as you spot the cover you’ve gotta have it.’
‘You’ve obviously had this in mind for a while. I mean, you’ve done a bit of work on it.’
‘Always wanted to publish a top mag.’
‘Done any before?’
‘Nuh. But I know how to make it work.’
He stood up and moved along the table. ‘See this one.’ He picked up another sample cover. ‘Now I can tell in my bones this isn’t right.’
‘The model’s stiff. Starchy. You’ve gotta have a figure that looks as if it’s walking off the page. Know what I mean? Walking right at you. Apart from the gear he’s wearing, it’s the look he‘s wearing that gets ‘em in. A man’s look ... for a man.’
‘You don’t mean ...’
‘Nah you dope. Not homo anything. Gay. Not that. Not at all. Farthest from it. This is a he-man mag. The ol’ huntin’, shootin’ sort of man. Hemingwayesque. Hey, there’s a word we might coin. Whaddaya reckon Lenny. Write something around that could you?’
Right at that moment, Lenny was sure he could. He never had, written that is, anything worth reading but he knew he had it in him. It was just a matter of getting it out.
‘Say, hear you’re writing a novel Lenny?’
‘Yeah. On the way. Keeping notes and all that, but it’s in here.’ He tapped his forehead. ‘Yeah, all in here.’
‘Seen you taking notes in that little book of yours. Must be full of treasures. Secrets. All that. Well, maybe you could do ... hey here’s an idea: we could run chapters in the mag as you go along. Heaps of great writers made their names that way. Hemingway for sure. And Dickens and Tolstoy. Yeah, that’s how they wrote their novels. Bit by bit. You’d be follerin’ in big footsteps there Lenny.’ Russell’s wide mouth appeared to open and shut from jaws back near his ears, like a ventriloquist's dummy.
Dunlop could see Lenny was hooked. Time to pull in the line.
‘So are we pardners mate?’ Russell thrust out his hand.
‘Sure. Sure, why not?’ Lenny shook hands. ‘Where do we go from here?’
‘Have another wine, go on, celebrate our venture. Our joint venture.’ He poured generously.
‘Now, to get the first couple of issues off the ground, we’ll need to have something in the kitty. A printer won’t do it first up without advance payment. I reckon ten grand would do it. We’d ask upfront from advertisers. By that I mean on printing, not a month after printing, on the day of printing, that way we’re covered for sure. Eh Lenny.’
‘So you have the ten grand I take it?’
‘Well, not quite. But half. I’ve got half. Now if you put up the other half, we’re off.’
‘I haven’t got five grand Russell. In fact, I’m pretty broke right now.’
‘But, you own your apartment, right in Toorak. Just get a five-grand mortgage. You’re laughing. It’s nothing.’
Lenny’s uncertainty was over-ridden by his desire to be Editor in Chief of a classy magazine and he plunged in, confident that he’d dismiss the mortgage in a couple of months. And from then on, sky’s the limit with the ads that would roll in.
The pair left behind the dream magazine and walked to Toorak Road.
‘Hang on a minute Editor in Chief,’ Russell nudged him. ‘Don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Could eat a horse. Little Italian place across the road. Let’s have a quick bite before we go imbibing at the pub.’
Lenny wasn’t hungry but the urging, rustling Russell, pulled him through the traffic and into a little restaurant half full of noisy diners..
‘Bowl a spag bol for me Mario,’ he called to the sweating Italian behind the bar. ‘And for my mate here ... what’ll y’have Chief? Just a coffee? Come on need some blotting paper where we’re going. No? OK Mario, just a coffee for m’mate.’
Within two minutes a waiter brought a bowl piled high with spaghetti and sauce and Russell attacked it at once, twirling the fork round and round, raising it to his mouth and losing it at the last minute. His upper denture leapt briefly out to snare the slippery threads; Russell dropped his fork and resettled the teeth with his tongue.
‘Damn, bloody Ities, why’d they invent this stuff. I’d take a knife and fork to it but I don’t wanta risk getting shot. Have to get something done about these teeth - bit of glue might help.’
He chased the spaghetti like a dog after its tail, a gardener winding in a hose, slipping and slithering to get enough in his mouth to suck it in like a bunch of straw, entrancing Lenny, who was temporarily relieved of the Russell rhetoric.
Wiping the oily tomato dribbles around his mouth with the paper napkin, Russell announced they should depart for the watering hole. The waiter presented a docket, Russell fished in his pocket, cursed and passed the docket to Lenny.
‘Sorry mate, er Chief, this’ll have to be on you. Only this time mind you. Just happen to have left m’wallet at the flat.’
Somewhat aggrieved, Lenny paid. After all, it was only a few dollars
They caught the tram along to Toorak Village to join the mob at the Tok H with the air of men on a mission.
A moment before going in the pub door, Russell gripped Lenny’s arm, his bony fingers like metal pincers. ‘By the way mate, not a word to anyone, anyone, about our publishing venture.’ He winked and drilled Lenny with his open eye. ‘Lotta envious buggers around. Might want to get in on the act. Get what I mean?’
Inside they were five deep to the bar, drinks passing over the heads of those who clung to their spot.
‘Over here Chief. I’ll grab a chair and you get the drinks. House white for me.’
With Chief ringing in his ears, Lenny forced his way to the bar and bought two whites, struggled back to where Russell was sitting, already in heated argument over the chair.
‘Lissen, mug. This is our chair. Been here two hours. Just went to get a drink. Piss off.’
‘Piss off yerself mate. As much right to this chair as you have.’
‘Oo sez you miniature man. Yer like all runts.’
‘You calling me a runt, you stupid no-brain lump.’ Russell shoved the big bloke with his spiky elbow and was rewarded with a thump on the back.
Lenny, with a full glass in each hand, watched in alarm as a fist fight developed. The big wharfie guy picked up Russell, lifted him clear of the floor and tossed him under the table, where he lay stunned for a second or two before rising to his mini-height to shout abuse at the big fellow. At this point Jimmy, the bar manager, rushed across, grabbed Russell by the back of his collar and literally the seat of his pants, charged for the door and threw him on the street, dusted his hands, and walked back inside.
‘Stupid little bugger. Warned him often enough about foul language.’
Immediately Russell flung his way inside shouting from a gummy mouth, ‘M’teef. They fell out under the table. At leash lemme get ‘em.’
Jimmy raced toward him, grabbed him as before and threw him out again.
‘You can come back on Monday for y’choppers,’ he called after him.
A weekend without his teeth is hard yakker for a talker like Russell Dunlop. It meant isolation and sops. Bad as prison.
Lenny sat at the now deserted table and took his time over drinking the two glasses of wine. He wasn’t in the mood to join any clutch of fellows. His mind was elsewhere: strolling into a cocktail party; lunching on a luxurious yacht; the centre of an admiring group; directing his staff; television interviews. He walked in a cloud the short distance to his quiet flat in Gordon Street where he continued his dream as he slept.
There were two more meetings at the Darling Street apartment with Russell winding him up like a clockwork toy. If Lenny expressed doubts on any point, Russell grabbed the key and wound him up again. He no longer called him Lenny; always Chief. The second meeting was to sign a document on the handover of Lenny’s five-thousand dollars; a document that looked solid, official, binding, in which the loan was to be repaid from the first profits of the publication, not named, as the title was yet to be decided upon. If it looked loose, suspicious and not binding to another eye, it didn’t to Lenny’s. His eye was caught with the reference to Leonard G. Harris, Editor in Chief and couldn’t be dragged off to examine the rest of the wording.
Dunlop let the five-thousand dollars lie on the table where Lenny had counted it out to give the impression it belonged to the magazine, whose sample pages lay alongside the money. Grabbing the cash would have given the impression, true as it turned out, that Russell was eager to get his hands on the money. He persuaded Lenny to make it cash due to delay in setting up a bank account for the magazine.
With an editorial meeting set up for the following week and the signed document safely in his pocket, Lenny had left for Toorak Village covering the mile or so with winged feet, the present earth being an unwelcoming place at that time.
He’d done nothing more than phone around for a job after the sacking from the city paper. A bloke who’s going to be Editor in Chief could hardly stoop to selling ads. His mind virtually closed to all work possibilities and he used the waiting time to study men’s magazines, mensware shops, wine shops, hotel brochures, travel brochures.He lingered over the editorials in the magazines, saw his signature on the glossy space. Russell Dunlop was on to something all right. None of the magazines rose to the glorious sample pages of their proposed magazine, or to the power of Dunlop’s description.
He arrived, as arranged, at the Darling Road apartment for an editorial meeting. Rang the bell. No answer. Pressed heavily several times. No answer. He could hear it buzzing inside. Perhaps Russell had been held up. He waited. Half an hour.
Cursing, he walked away. Perhaps the little blighter was in the pub? Lenny took the tram to Toorak and went straight to the pub, found Bloo leaning on his usual portion of the bar near the entrance. No sign of Russell.
‘Have you seen Russell Dunlop?’
Bloo looked about the almost empty bar.
‘Not today mate.’
‘I need to see him.’ Lenny coughed nervously. ‘He was to meet me at his flat - waited half an hour and no sign.’
‘In Darling Street.’
‘You mean Charlie Braithwaite’s flat? Just up from Toorak Road?’
‘Well, I suppose that’s the one. Said he’s live-in minder for a friend overseas.’
‘No mate, doesn’t live there. Just checks the mail for Charlie. Russell rents a little flat in Prahran, Shares it I think with another bloke.’
‘Oh. Do you know the address. I really must see him.’
‘Urgent is it?’
‘Yes. It is rather.’
‘Didn’t lend him money didya mate?’
‘No. Well, in a way, yes. Not a loan. Partnership.’
Bloo reached his arm out and wrapped it around Lenny’s shoulder. ‘Not the old magazine racket again? Don’t tell me you got caught in that?’
The heavy words landed like a punch in Lenny’s stomach.
‘Old magazine racket? What d’ya mean, racket?’
‘I’ll buy you one and explain. Beer?’ He bought two beers and steered Lenny to a table in the corner.
Hunched over bony elbows on the table, Bloo’s eyes squinted through the tobacco smoke he puffed; even half-slitted you could see the irony, along with a small measure of sympathy.
‘Ooh Lenny.’ Bloo coughed, a smoker’s cough. That little bastard’s been playin’ that game for a couple of years. Perhaps longer for all I know. Puts himself out there as a house-minder. Sets up a room with this magazine stuff, finds a sucker - like you mate - and gets dough out of him to be partners in this magnificent magazine. How much did he do you for? Go on tell us.’
Lenny blushed with shame. Sucker, that’s what he said. ‘Five grand. I got a mortgage on my place.’
‘Gees, I feel sorry for you sport. Really do. See, once he gets the money, he does a flit. Goes up the Gold Coast or somewhere far away and stays there till he runs out.’
Lenny dropped his head into his hands and sobbed.
‘Oh my god.’
‘Nothing you can do Lenny. I know, he’s given you a signed document, repay the loan and all that, not worth the paper it’s written on.’
Leonard Harris knew it was true. He felt panic in his stomach, heart pounding, head dizzy. He dragged himself up, managed to thank Bloo for the drink and staggered out of the pub.
He walked down Mathoura Road like a man from outer space, alien to everything and everyone about him. When he woke in his bed around two in the morning he couldn’t remember anything after the pub door closed behind him. What he could remember was that verbal punch; it was still there like a solid ball of lead in his stomach.
He stayed there. In bed. All the next day and night. His mother’s voice comforted him.
‘Lenny, you will have to be the man about the house from now on.’
He tossed and turned. The lead ball moved from side to side. He drifted mournfully to sleep and found himself on the shore of a lake. The water was warm and inviting and not far off in the lake was an island with a golden palace, sweet music drifted to him. He began to wade towards it, drawn to the certain glory of what he saw. There were sharks and crocodiles and grasping seaweed all around, but he couldn’t see them; his eyes were fixed on the golden palace. As he got nearer he became excited and quickened his stride through the water; he felt no alarm when the water reached his armpits. Suddenly he was over his depth, trying to float, breast-stroking. To no avail. The lead ball in his stomach weighed him down, down, down, until he could no longer breathe. He was drowning, drowning.
He spluttered away, fiercely drawing breath. He could feel the lead weight. Still there.
Lenny decides to take a little walk down to the river. Exercise the mind ready for the challenge.
Will you look at that ... some kid’s stuck a pair of dollar coins in this bit of new paving and a couple of hand prints above them and they’re set there forever. More or less forever. Walking to school I remember every day looking down at JIM and BARRY traced in the pavement just outside Sticky Marshall’s place and wondering who those kids were when they wrote their names in the wet concrete? How old would they be now? Might have been years and years ago.
At the end of Grange Road he turns left along Buddle Drive and down to a park alongside the road across from the river. The peace is suddenly shattered by brrrrrmp, brrrrrmp, brrrrrrmp as a string of motorbikes appeared, a dozen or more. Lenny stands amazed. Some of the riders are dressed in suits, two are in black tie and tails, half a dozen wear white shirts and red ties. One holds a top hat on over his helmet. A girl in a pink suit and pink top hat. They are gone in a flash, replaced by another gang dressed up like the first lot. A few cars separate the next gang; and then another and another. Lenny didn’t think there were that many motorbikes in the world, let alone Melbourne.
Some riders lean back with their legs straight just reaching the pedals like someone on a sun lounge. Others hunch over their handles. Shiny steel exhausts, bright lacquer in red, blue, black, white flash by.
Aren’t they something, those Harley Davisons. Always wanted one. Must be great having all that power under your control. They say some of those bikes cost more than a house.
He sticks his hands in his pockets and kicks a fallen gumnut. And another. Playfully, kicks all the gumnuts around his feet. His mother’s voice comes as clear as if she’s standing beside him; he can sense her hand on his shoulder. ‘You’ll go a long way my Lenny. Bright boy. You can do anything. Anything you set your mind to. Remember, when I’m gone, I’ll always be there somewhere, proud as punch of my boy Lenny.’ He taps his shoulder gently, feeling her hand there. Yes Mum. You will be proud of me. Wait and see.
He snaps shut the gap between perception and reality and quickens his step, crosses the park and walks up steep Winifred Street. Will you look at that. Someone’s built a little swimming pool right to the fence and put this panel of glass here right at the footpath. Why would you want people seeing into your pool? People sure have funny ideas. He rounds the corner into steep Balmerino Street. Cripes, hilly around here, takes it out of you, this climbing. A new wonder appears as the street levels out: gateway pillars a metre thick, random stones cut to fit together without cement. Yellow, honey, caramel. What a bit of work is that! They used to build like that in ancient times. Just shows, some techniques never go out of fashion. Must’ve taken a mighty long time. More money than brains.
Lenny is figuring out the likely cost of those gate pillars when he is pulled up short by a little boy who has stopped his red scooter right across the path. Loose blond hair, blue and white check shirt, jeans with a bib and straps, red canvas shoes.
‘Wot’s yaw name?’ says the kid, screwing up one eye and the side of his mouth and staring with his other eye at Lenny.
‘Yaw not a rabbit.’ He scooters a few yards up the path, pushing with his right foot, turns and does a free run back with both feet on. He slams his little foot back on the ground at Lenny’s feet.
‘My name’s Danyawl.’
‘Danny’s a nice name.’
‘Danyawl.’ He corrects with a stamp of his foot.
‘OK Daniel. Still a nice name. People call it Danny for short.’
‘I’m not short. I’m big ‘cause I’m four.’
Daniel holds his ground, literally. The option is to step around on the nature strip and walk on, but Lenny welcomes the delay to the pressing engagement ahead of him.
‘I’m gonna be a pie-lert when I grow up.’
‘I thought you might be a train driver, the way you handle that scooter.’
‘I wanna drive a nairyplane.’
‘Have you been in one? An aeroplane?’
‘ ‘Caws. Lotsa times. Have you?’
‘Lots of times.’
‘Will you come in my airyplane when I’m big an’ drive it?’
‘Sure. If I’m still alive. Captain Daniel.’
‘If you’re good, I can fly you to heaven.’
‘What’s your Daddy do?’
‘Wot d’yew do?’
This kid answers a question with a question.
‘You should go into politics when you grow up.’
‘Were does she live?’
‘Where does who live?’
‘Never mind. I just think you’d know how to handle it by instinct. If you can do it at four, you’re sure going to be a master at it when you grow up.’
He has a yearning to sit right down on the gutter and have a yarn with the little fellow. Daniel would understand about Lenny becoming a famous writer. He’d know how it’s all in your head, like knowing you’re going to be a pilot - when you were ready. But cripes, a bloke would look a fool wouldn’t he? sitting in the gutter with these posh houses all around.
‘Well, Captain Daniel, I’d better keep going, so if you wouldn’t mind moving your machine aside, I’ll say goodbye for now. Nice talking to you.’
‘Will you come tomorrow? Y’cn have a ride on my scooter.’
‘Thanks. Keep an eye out for me.’
Daniel scooters beside him to the corner, turns his wheels around and races home.
Lenny crosses Bruce Street, and because there is a public seat right there, he sits on it. Wallace Avenue presents a slow climb and a rest is in order. The sweet scent of a gardenia bush peeping over a fence gives him a brief delight, perhaps a reminder of something - his mother, the garden in New Zealand? Smells link you forever. But he dismisses lingering there, rises slowly, walks past the red post box to the corner and turns into moderately sloping Wallace Avenue.
With both hands dug in his pockets, he notices the awkwardness of walking without a hand swinging: the entire side of the body moves forward, and then the other, like a ... a ... that’s it, a penguin. Waddling. He pulls one hand out and swings it as he passes Washington Street, Douglas Street, Jackson Street ... where a large real estate sign captures his attention. Pictures of houses for sale with descriptions under. ‘Invites you to indulge’ ‘elevated benchmark of luxury’ , Lenny reads ‘contemporary sophistication'; ‘captivate’ ‘discerning’ ‘immerse yourself in the delightful synergy between innovation, architectural design and superb functionality’ ‘Scintillating’ ‘charismatic’ Do people really get sucked in by those phrases? They know how the words sound but do they know what they mean? Now if I did their copy I’d use words that sound simple but convey a lot. Instead of ‘invites you to indulge’ I’d say ‘You are invited to look at this well designed and built house, which is luxurious and ...’ - before he translates any further he catches sight of Murray Summers strolling up main street. Heading for the bar for certain.
He likes Murray, perhaps above all the people he’s met in Australia. Didn’t matter that Murray is a communist, Russian line, or that he lives in a mud brick house in a bush suburb, or that he smokes pot. Murray is an accountant, does mostly trade union work due to his leaning. He is warm, kindly; listens to you, gives a word of encouragement.
A few Sundays ago Murray had a group of the pub-ites up to his place for lunch.
‘One proviso,’ he’d said. ‘You have to make a dozen mud bricks before lunch.’ A whoop of boozy agreement all round. It had been a happy day for Lenny; he picked up Bloo and Lambie, Mike and Johno in Bessy before the traffic built up; they laughed all the way at Bloo’s ironic humor and Lambie’s string of jokes.
They arrived to find Murray, bare to the waste, a red kerchief holding down his longish curly hair, out the front on the dirt road to wave them in to his bush retreat.
The Summers’ smile matched his name. His moon shaped face had an almost constant smile, like the bottom half of a circle drawn ear to ear and below it, ear to ear, a narrow beard along his chin line. His body was brown and shiny and fit, man, fit, from the physical work he did around the place.
The house was finished, and he was working on a barn or workshop. There was a neat ten feet long stack of drying bricks, piles of mud and clay, a hose and buckets.
‘OK you guys. Strip off and get stuck into it. A martini, dry, awaits on completion of your dozen.’
‘A dozen each. Mate you said “a dozen bricks”. Legally I could take you for that,’ challenged barrister Lambie. ‘Argue m’lord that you had given us to understand that between us we were to produce one dozen bricks.’
‘I might well argue, my learned friend, that I clearly said ‘a martini’ ... not each. Now I don’t think you’d have come for one martini between five of you. So ... get on with it you lazy bastards. Each brick will be part of your soul, your personality, living on in this little building.’
Lenny smiles at the memory, and is about to follow Murray into the Tok H Bar when something snaps in his brain. As though he passes over a line into a semi conscious state, he walks unseeing the length of the Village, turns into Grange Road and gets into his car.
Still in this strange state, Len Harris drives to his flat in Gordon Street, into his garage and locks the door. He attaches a hose to Bessy’s exhaust, takes it with him into the car, winds up the window and turns on the motor.