The Queenslander creaked as Pinky trod softly along the verandah. She seated herself quietly on the busted cane lounge at the far end under the potato vine. Mex was in Lennox tonight so the house was hers. She still couldn’t get used to those kinds of things. The house was hers tonight.
“Didja geddit?” Bilal hung over Solly like a last rite.
“Any tick, mate.”
“Better be.” As he moved away from the table, Bilal kept his lumpy head twisted back at Solly; a grotesque cookie jar with the lid on wrong. The threat was leaving the table, but not the room.
She watched the drops fall from the mango leaves in the last light. The wine glass felt huge in her hand, not like the ex-Vegemite jars she was used to in Darlo, back in the city. No sirens here, either. Just, sweet nothing.
No answer. Jesus. Solly jammed the phone back into his jacket, and kicked a wheelie bin, hard. Tiny the bouncer down at the entrance, didn’t move.
“No luck?” Bilal’s voice cut through softly from a black doorway behind Solly. It was more a statement than a question.
“I’ll get him... I’ll get it, he’s just...hopeless!”
“But I want it now, cunt”
Pinky looked down at her new brown skin, the cotton Indian dress with the paisley print, the ends of her hair, curly and clean, blonding up just a little from the new sun. She looked at her arms. They looked new. No hint, not unless you looked real hard, and she wasn’t about to do that. The cat from the tree house sat looking at her from the top step.
“So, here we are. Again.” Bilal stepped into the street light, Solly saw his trainers first. Impeccable. Blue with the red flash on the side.
“Billy, hey, you know the deal,” Solly said, edging away, “this Frank’s a friggin’ nightm...”
“How long have I been sorting you, Sol?”
“Bill, the guy’ll be...”
“Hey!” The sharp volume of the word made it ring in Solly’s gut. He was in close now, this squat sack of a man. “I asked, how long have I been sorting you? He could smell him. Onions and Blue Stratos.
The muggy air felt lush after the late shower. The soil all around smelt fecund. Primal. Mex reckoned you could spit a pip off this verandah, and you’d have a melon by morning. Potential, it was a new thing, a good thing, but Pinky worried just the same. What if it goes? She thought about her lives, the routine, the cliff edge she and Solly loved and despised. Solly. She gulped the glass in one.
“Billy, mate, you’ve been good to me. Absolutely.” Solly became aware his words were falling on the man’s dead face and washing clean away. “That’s why you just gotta wait till..”
“I don’t gotta do anything. You, on the other hand, have to..” Bilal stopped, then, mid sentence. He narrowed his watery eyes and peered at Solly. In deep. Following a new lead, maybe. In the moment he saw what he suspected, what was required perhaps, and flicked a glance away.
“Bill, I’m just on a bad run. You know, you’ve had ‘em, we all have.”
“Solly?” The question came soft from behind.
Before he’d even turned completely, the punch had landed, taking out the side of his face. Pain like no other, then nothing.
It was the wine that pushed her, she’d tell Mex later. ‘It’s been a year,’ she said to herself, hitting the speed dial number marked “DO NOT CALL.” ‘Can’t do any harm.’ Control. There it wasn’t again; the knight in shining armour that never shows up. All those other damsels. Just too busy busy. Solly’s answering message after a while. “Hey you,... you know what to do.” They’d come up with that themselves. She smiled.
“I’ll sort ya later, Tiny,” Bilal said as he lit a cigarette, watching the monolith stroll back to his post. ‘That’s it!’ he thought, ‘he looks exactly like the mountain thing that mad guy keeps drawing in Close Encounters of the Third Kind! Yes!” Bilal heard the ringtone, that annoying Crazy Frog, and turned back to Solly’s still heap. He reached into the pocket and lifted the now silent phone, some Jap thing, but fairly new. “Ah, payment,” he chuckled and slipped it into his track suit pocket. His kid could play that Angry Bird shit on it, at least. “See? that wasn’t so hard, was it?”