I Am the Messenger





  contents

  title page

  dedication

  Special thanks to Baycrew, the NSW...

  part one: the first message

  A the holdup

  2 sex should be like math: an introduction to my life

  3 the ace of diamonds

  4 the judge and the mirror

  5 watching, waiting, raping

  6 pieces

  7 harrison avenue

  8 being jimmy

  9 the barefoot girl

  10 the shoe box

  J another stupid human

  Q edgar street revisited

  K murder at the cathedral

  part two: the stones of home

  A aftermath

  2 the visit

  3 the envelope

  4 just ed

  5 cabs, the hooker, and alice

  6 the stones

  7 the priest

  8 juveniles

  9 the cops show up

  10 the easy one and ice cream

  J the color of her lips

  Q blood and roses

  K the face of clubs

  part three: trying times for ed kennedy

  A the game

  2 twenty dollars for the dog and the card

  3 dig

  4 the benefits of lying

  5 the power and the glory

  6 a moment of beauty

  7 a moment of truth

  8 clown street. chips. the doorman. and me

  9 the woman

  10 front-porch cyclone

  J a phone call

  Q the bell street theater

  K the last reel

  part four: the music of hearts

  A the music of hearts

  2 the kiss, the grave, the fire

  3 the casual suit

  4 to feel the fear

  5 ritchie's sin

  6 god bless the man with the beard, the missing teeth, and the poverty

  7 the secret marv

  8 each to each

  9 the swings

  10 audrey, part one: three nights to wait

  J marv's afterthought

  Q audrey, part two: three minutes to take

  K the end

  part five: the joker

  J the laughter

  J the weeks

  J the end is not the end

  J the folder

  J the message

  about the author

  copyright

  For Scout

  Special thanks to Baycrew, the NSW Taxi Council, and

  Anna McFarlane for her expertise and commitment.

  part one: The First Message

  The gunman is useless.

  I know it.

  He knows it.

  The whole bank knows it.

  Even my best mate, Marvin, knows it, and he's more useless than the gunman.

  The worst part about the whole thing is that Marv's car is standing outside in a fifteen-minute parking zone. We're all facedown on the floor, and the car's only got a few minutes left on it.

  "I wish this bloke'd hurry up," I mention.

  "I know," Marv whispers back. "This is outrageous." His voice rises from the depths of the floor. "I'll be getting a fine because of this useless bastard. I can't afford another fine, Ed."

  "The car's not even worth it."

  "What?"

  Marv looks over at me now. I can sense he's getting uptight. Offended. If there's one thing Marv doesn't tolerate, it's someone putting shit on his car. He repeats the question.

  "What did you say, Ed?"

  "I said," I whisper, "it isn't even worth the fine, Marv."

  "Look," he says, "I'll take a lot of things, Ed, but..."

  I tune out of what he's saying because, quite frankly, once Marv gets going about his car, it's downright pain-in-the-arse material. He goes on and on, like a kid, and he's just turned twenty, for Jesus' sake.

  He goes on for another minute or so, until I have to cut him off.

  "Marv," I point out, "the car's an embarrassment, okay? It doesn't even have a hand brake--it's sitting out there with two bricks behind the back wheels." I'm trying to keep my voice as quiet as possible. "Half the time you don't even bother locking it. You're probably hoping someone'll flog it so you can collect the insurance."

  "It isn't insured."

  "Exactly."

  "NRMA said it wasn't worth it."

  "It's understandable."

  That's when the gunman turns around and shouts, "Who's talkin' back there?"

  Marv doesn't care. He's worked up about the car.

  "You don't complain when I give you a lift to work, Ed, you miserable upstart."

  "Upstart? What the hell's an upstart?"

  "I said shut up back there!" the gunman shouts again.

  "Hurry up then!" Marv roars back at him. He's in no mood now. No mood at all.

  He's facedown on the floor of the bank.

  The bank's being robbed.

  It's abnormally hot for spring.

  The air-conditioning's broken down.

  His car's just been insulted.

  Old Marv's at the end of his tether, or his wit's end. Whatever you want to call it--he's got the shits something terrible.

  We remain flattened on the worn-out, dusty blue carpet of the bank, and Marv and I are looking at each other with eyes that argue. Our mate Ritchie's over at the Lego table, half under it, lying among all the pieces that scattered when the gunman came in yelling, screaming, and shaking. Audrey's just behind me. Her foot's on my leg, making it go numb.

  The gunman's gun is pointed at the nose of some poor girl behind the counter. Her name tag says Misha. Poor Misha. She's shivering nearly as bad as the gunman as she waits for some zitty twenty-nine-year-old fella with a tie and sweat patches under his arms to fill the bag with money.

  "I wish this bloke'd hurry up," Marv speaks.

  "I said that already," I tell him.

  "So what? I can't make a comment of my own?"

  "Get your foot off me," I tell Audrey.

  "What?" she responds.

  "I said get your foot off me--my leg's going numb."

  She moves it. Reluctantly.

  "Thanks."

  The gunman turns around and shouts his question for the last time. "Who's the bastard talking?"

  The thing to note with Marv is that he's problematic at the best of times. Argumentative. Less than amiable. He's the type of friend you find yourself constantly arguing with--especially when it comes to his shitbox Falcon. He's also a completely immature arsehole when he's in the mood.

  He calls out in a jocular manner, "It's Ed Kennedy, sir. It's Ed who's talking!"

  "Thanks a lot!" I say.

  (My full name's Ed Kennedy. I'm nineteen. I'm an underage cabdriver. I'm typical of many of the young men you see in this suburban outpost of the city--not a whole lot of prospects or possibility. That aside, I read more books than I should, and I'm decidedly crap at sex and doing my taxes. Nice to meet you.) "Well, shut up, Ed!" the gunman screams. Marv smirks. "Or I'll come over there and shoot the arse off you!"

  It's like being in school again and your sadistic math teacher's barking orders at you from the front of the room, even though he couldn't care less and he's waiting for the bell so he can go home and drink beer and get fat in front of the telly.

  I look at Marv. I want to kill him. "You're twenty years old, for Christ's sake. Are you trying to get us killed?"

  "Shut up, Ed!" The gunman's voice is louder this time.

  I whisper even quieter. "If I get shot, I'm blaming you. You know that, don't you?"

  "I said shut up, Ed!"

  "Everything's just a big joke, isn't it, Marv?"

  "Right, that's it." The gunman
forgets about the woman behind the counter and marches over to us, fed up as all buggery. When he arrives we all look up at him.

  Marv.

  Audrey.

  Me.

  And all the other hopeless articles like us sprawled out on the floor.

  The end of the gun touches the bridge of my nose. It makes it itchy. I don't scratch it.

  The gunman looks back and forth between Marv and me. Through the stocking on his face I can see his ginger whiskers and acne scars. His eyes are small and he has big ears. He's most likely robbing the bank as a payback on the world for winning the ugliness prize at his local fete three years running.

  "So which one of you's Ed?"

  "Him," I answer, pointing to Marv.

  "Oh no you don't," Marv counters, and I can tell by the look on his face that he isn't as afraid as he should be. He knows we'd both be dead by now if this gunman was the real thing. He looks up at the stocking-faced man and says, "Hang on a sec...." He scratches his jawline. "You look familiar."

  "Okay," I admit, "I'm Ed." But the gunman's too busy listening to what Marv has to say for himself.

  "Marv," I whisper loudly, "shut up."

  "Shut up, Marv," says Audrey.

  "Shut up, Marv!" calls Ritchie from across the room.

  "Who the hell are you?" the gunman calls across to Ritchie. He turns to find out where the voice came from.

  "I'm Ritchie."

  "Well, shut yourself up, Ritchie! Don't you start!"

  "No worries," returns the voice. "Thanks a lot." All my friends seem to be smart arses. Don't ask me why. Like many things, it is what it is.

  In any case, the gunman starts to seethe. It seems to come pouring from his skin, right through the stocking on his face. "I'm completely bloody sick of this," he growls. His voice burns from his lips.

  It doesn't shut Marv up, though.

  "I think," he continues, "we might've gone to school together or something like that, you know?"

  "You want to die," the gunman says nervously, still seething, "don't you?"

  "Well, actually," Marv explains, "I just want you to pay the parking fine for my car. It's in a fifteen-minute zone outside. You're holding me up here."

  "Damn right I am!" He points the gun.

  "There's no need to be that hostile."

  Oh God, I think. Marv's gone now. He's about to get shot in the throat.

  The gunman looks out the glass doors of the bank, trying to figure out which car belongs to Marv. "Which one is it?" he inquires--politely enough, I must say.

  "The light blue Falcon there."

  "That piece of shit? I wouldn't piss on it, let alone pay a fine on it."

  "Now hang on a second." Marv's getting all offended again. "Since you're holding up the bank, the least you can do is pay my parking fine, don't you think?"

  Meanwhile.

  The money's ready at the counter and Misha, the poor behind-the-counter girl, calls out. The gunman turns and heads back for it.

  "Hurry up, bitch," he barks at her as she hands it over. I assume this is the mandatory tone for a holdup. He's seen the appropriate movies, all right. Soon he's on his way back to us, money in hand.

  "You!" he screams at me. He's found new courage now that he's got the money. He's about to hit me with his gun when something catches his attention outside.

  He looks closer.

  Out the glass doors of the bank.

  A slab of sweat falls from his throat.

  He breathes hard.

  His thoughts churn, and...

  He goes off.

  "No!"

  The police are outside, but they have no idea what's happening in the bank. Word hasn't made it to the street yet. They're telling someone in a gold Torana to stop double-parking outside the bakery across the road. The car moves on and so do the cops, and the useless gunman is left holding the bag of money. His ride's gone.

  An idea hits him.

  He turns again.

  Back to us.

  "You," he orders Marv. "Give us your keys."

  "What?"

  "You heard me."

  "It's an antique, that car!"

  "It's a piece of shit, Marv," I abuse him. "Now give him the keys or I'll kill you myself!"

  With a disgruntled look on his face, Marv reaches into his pocket and pulls out his car keys.

  "Be gentle," he begs.

  "Blow me," the gunman replies.

  "There's no need for that!" Ritchie yells from under the Lego table.

  "Shut up, you!" the gunman yells back, and he's off.

  His only problem is the fact that Marv's car has about a 5 percent chance of starting first time round.

  The gunman bursts through the doors of the bank and is on his way toward the road. He stumbles and drops the gun near the entrance but decides to keep going without it. All in a second, I can see the panic on his face as he decides whether to pick it up again or go on. There's no time, so he leaves it and continues running.

  As we all get to our knees to watch him, we see him approaching the car.

  "Watch this." Marv begins to laugh. Audrey, Marv, and I all watch, and Ritchie's on his way over to us.

  Outside, the gunman stops and tries to work out which key opens the car. That's when we all crack up laughing at the incompetence of him.

  He eventually gets in and tries to start the car countless times, but it never kicks over.

  Then.

  For some reason I'll never understand.

  I run out, picking up the gun along the way. When I cross the road, I lock eyes with the gunman. He attempts to get out of the car, but it's too late now for that.

  I'm standing at the Ford's window.

  I have the gun pointed at his eyes.

  He stops.

  We both do.

  He tries to get out and run, and I swear I have no idea I'm firing the gun until I've stepped toward him and hear the glass shatter.

  "What are you doing?" Marv cries out in pain from the other side of the street. His world is crumbling. "That's my car you're shooting!"

  Sirens arrive.

  The gunman falls to his knees.

  He says, "I'm such an idiot."

  I can only agree.

  For a moment, I look down and pity him because I realize that I'm quite possibly looking at the most hapless man on earth. First of all, he robs a bank with unutterably stupid people like Marv and me inside it. Then his getaway car vanishes. Then, when he's onto a good thing because he knows how to get his hands on a different car, it's the most pathetic car in the Southern Hemisphere. In a way, I feel sorry for him. Imagine it--the humiliation.

  As the cops put the handcuffs on him and lead him away, I say to Marv, "Now do you see?" I continue on and become more forceful. Louder. "Do you see? This only goes to show the patheticness"--I point to it--"of this car." I pause a moment to let him think it over. "If it was even half decent, this bloke would've got away now, wouldn't he?"

  Marv admits it. "I guess."

  It's actually hard to tell if he would have preferred the gunman to get away simply to prove his car isn't so useless.

  There's glass on the road and all over the seats of the car. I try to figure out which is more shattered--the window or Marv's face.

  "Hey," I say, "sorry about the window, okay?"

  "Forget it," Marv answers.

  The gun feels warm and sticky, like melting chocolate in my hand.

  Some more cops arrive to ask questions.

  We go down to the police station and they ask us about the robbery, what happened, and how I managed to get my hands on the gun.

  "He just dropped it?"

  "That's what I told you, didn't I?"

  "Look, son," the cop says. He looks up from his papers. "There's no need to get shirty with me." He's got a beer gut and a graying mustache. Why do so many cops feel the need to own a mustache?

  "Shirty?" I ask.

  "Yes, shirty."

  Shirty.

  I
quite like that word.

  "Sorry," I tell him. "He just dropped it on his way out, and I picked it up as I went to chase him. That's all. He was a complete shocker, all right?"

  "Right."

  We're in there for quite a while. The only time the beer-gutted cop becomes unsettled is when Marv keeps asking for compensation on his car.

  "The blue Falcon?" the cop asks.

  "That's the one."

  "To be blunt, son--that car's an absolute outrage. It's disgraceful."

  "I told you," I said.

  "It doesn't even have a hand brake, for Christ's sake."

  "So?"

  "So you're lucky we're not fining you for it--it's unroadworthy."

  "Thanks a lot."

  The cop smiles. "My pleasure."

  "And let me give you some advice."

  We're almost out the door when we realize the cop still isn't finished. He calls us back, or at least he calls Marv.

  "Yeah?" Marv replies.

  "Why don't you get a new car, son?"

  Marv looks seriously at the man. "I have my reasons."

  "What--no money?"

  "Oh, I've got money all right. I do work, you know." He even manages to sound sanctimonious. "I just have other priorities." He smiles now, as only someone who's proud of a car like that could possibly manage. "That--and I love my car."

  "Fair enough," the cop concludes. "Goodbye."

  "What priorities have you, of all people, got?" I ask Marv on the other side of the door.

  Marv looks straight ahead blankly.

  "Just shut up, Ed," he says. "You might be a hero to most people today, but to me you're just the dirty prick who put a bullet in my window."

  "You want me to pay for it?"

  Marv allows me another smile. "No."

  To be quite honest, that's a relief. I'd rather die than put a solitary cent into that Falcon.

  When we walk out of the police station, Audrey and Ritchie are waiting for us, but they're not alone. There are media people there as well, and a whole load of photos are taken.

  "That's him!" someone calls, and before I can argue, the whole crowd is in my face, asking questions. I answer as fast as I can, explaining again what happened. The town I live in isn't small, and there are radio, TV, and newspaper people, all of whom will be presenting stories and writing articles for the next day.

  I imagine the headlines.

  Something like "Taxi Driver Turns to Hero" would be nice, but they'll probably print something like "Local Deadbeat Makes Good." Marv will get a good laugh out of that one.

  After maybe ten minutes of questions, the crowd disperses and we walk back to our parking spot. The Falcon's got a nice big ticket slapped on the windscreen, under the wiper.

  "Bastards," Audrey states as Marv rips it off and reads it. We were in the bank in the first place so Marv could deposit his paycheck. He can use it for the fine now.