Mud Crab Boogie
To Les everything seemed to be somehow happening too fast. Time, events, places, people. Everything. Like he was locked into some weird satellite of life zooming around the world. Close your eyes, sit back for a few minutes and you woke up in Florida, Jamaica, Hawaii, Melbourne, Terrigal. Go to new places, meet new people; then either watch the people get killed or the places get blown up. Most of it thanks to boss, friend, and mentor Price Galese.
Les had again escaped a life-threatening situation by the skin of his teeth, this time on the Central Coast. George and Eddie had gone back to the house at Terrigal where they picked up Jimmy’s belongings. Then, after leaving the old motorbike somewhere for the rightful owner to collect and squaring things off with the prison authorities, they’d laid poor Jimmy Rosewater to rest. Les didn’t go to the funeral. Apart from George and Eddie, the only ones there were a young couple from Empire Bay and the Shamash hoping there might have been a wake. Bad luck. George was a bit down for a few days then, like all the other incidents and events that revolved around the Kelly Club, it was more or less forgotten and life went on as usual. The only unusual thing at the moment was that the club had closed and Les, along with everyone else, had a week off.
Price had been forced to make renovations because of the punters smoking their heads off upstairs. It was punishing. Some nights you could barely see your hand in front of your face and you’d think somebody had lobbed a tear gas grenade through the window. Billy Dunne swore he saw a rat in the kitchen with its head tilted back dropping Murine in its eyes. Not that the smoke worried Price. The punters could smoke ten cigarettes at a time if they wanted to -- pipes, cigars, old army blankets, anything -- just as long as they kept gambling and he got his whack. But with the new health regulations and insurance exemptions, if some employee went off with emphysema or asbestosis Price would have to wear it. So he decided to close the club for a week, put in new blowers, carpets and air conditioning, and take a holiday. Which suited Norton admirably. He wanted to get in a few early nights, do some work around the house and keep an eye on Warren: AKA Croden the Fugitive. Time and events may have been slipping past Norton, but he was convinced he’d retained most of his sanity. Warren definitely appeared to be losing increasing amounts of his.
Warren’s latest squeeze or craze was Debbie, a homely blonde hairdresser who owned a trendy salon at Coogee, drove a purple Ford Mustang convertible and was a full-on trekkie. Norton was a bit of a Star Trek fan and liked to watch the New Generation when he got the chance and joke about it, but Warren’s girl was the triple-A rated, industrial-strength version. Though her real name was Debbie, she'd convinced Warren she was Zanna, an Eymorg from Sigma Draconis VI, a class M planet where the men live underground and the technologically advanced women live on top. Debbie, or Zanna, had her own third season Star Trek duty uniform, communicator pin, phaser and tricorder. She even got Warren fitted for a first season duty uniform and had managed to convince him that he was secretly Croden, a humanoid fugitive from Rakhar in the Gamma Quadrant. Though Les was more of a mind that with all the home-grown pot Warren had been smoking lately and all the vodka he’d been tipping down his throat, it wouldn't have been hard to convince Warren he was John the Baptist back from the desert. At one time Debbie ran her tricorder over Norton, gave him an anapestic-tetrameter reading and tried to tell him he was secretly Kahless the Unforgettable, a great warrior who united the Klingon Empire fifteen hundred years ago. Les shook his head and tactfully told her that because of the odd hours he worked and his numerous comings and goings he was just a plain, garden-variety ELF: extra-dimensional life form.
The reason Norton went along with all this craziness was because even if Debbie did have a few rungs missing off her ladder, she had a cheeky sense of humour and she used to cut Norton’s hair for him at home, and for an Eyborg Zanna was a pretty good barber. Also she could cook. Baked dinners, casseroles, fish mornay; give Zanna a bit of butter, flour and cocoa and she could whip up a mean Tavokian pound cake in a nanosecond. Plus she was kind enough to give the boys her old answering service from the hairdressing salon and install it for them.
Thank you for ringing Earth Colony Seven. Our hailing frequencies are shut down at the moment as we are performing routine dilithium vector calibrations. If you care to leave a message it will be locked into our isolinear adaptire interface link and our interconnecting sensor subsystem will reconnect with you as soon as possible.
It was Monday night, star date whatever, halfway through Autumn at Planet Norton or Earth Colony Seven, and the three of them were sitting in the lounge waiting for a sports show to start on TV. Les was sitting back in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt sipping a Eumundi Lager, a sports magazine open on his lap. Warren and Debbie were on the lounge dressed much the same, pulling cones from a bong on the coffee table while they tore into about a gallon of vodka and Ruby's Red grapefruit juice. Working most nights and preferring to relax and listen to a good CD, Les didn’t get to watch a great deal of television. But they had the giant screen set up with the sound pumping out of the speakers on the stereo, and when he did he liked to kick right back and get into it. Only this time Les couldn’t quite relax. He just stared at the magazine Warren had handed him earlier and tried to remember something Warren had been telling him. It seemed that as well as time and just about everything else going over Norton’s head, the potential for a nice little earner had too. He stared at the magazine on his lap, shook his head for the umpteenth time and then looked at Warren who was just about to pull another cone.
‘What are we watching again Woz?’
Norton continued to stare at the magazine spread open on his lap. There was a four page article on water polo and it looked like a page had been torn out. Standing in front of one team was a smiling man about forty with lidded eyes, a pointy chin, and neat, sandy hair going a bit thin on top. His standout feature though was his smile. It was one of those warm, genuine ones that seemed to radiate from his eyes and light up everything around him. He was wearing a blue suit and standing in front of a water polo team. But instead of Speedos the men around him were wearing full-length black lycra body suits with red, blue, and dark green scales all over them. Their faces were partially hidden by the thick, black rubber caps on their heads with a number on top, snake’s eyes on the sides and venomous, yellow fangs in front. They were all holding webbs and jet fins, called themselves the Sydney Sea Snakes and as well as looking lean, mean and menacing were equal favourites to win the coming Grand Final.
"Extreme Polo: The Wildest Game on Water", was the heading and spread amongst the article were action photos of players surging through a swimming pool throwing around something that looked like a chunky, white, gridiron ball. Each team wore the same wild-looking, multi-coloured, Lycra outfit that matched their name. The Murrurundi Manta Rays, the West Wyalong Water Rats, the Tumbarumba Tiger Sharks. The full-colour, action photos of the players in these outfits were truly spectacular. They were flipping in and out of the water like performing dolphins, crashing and tackling into each other, sending waves and great sprays of water splashing everywhere. Where normally you might happen to see a photo of a water polo player kicking up out of the water to his waist to take a shot at goal, the extreme version had them out up to their ankles or slithering up another player’s back, spinning the ball through the air like an American quarterback. ‘See the big men fly’ might have been the slogan for Australian Rules. For Extreme Polo it was ‘See men walk on water’. The game had developed a huge cult following on cable and regional TV, now it was going national and Les had to admit it looked pretty good on paper. But it wasn’t the game so much that was bugging Norton. It was the man in the blue suit. Neville Nixon. He was a rock ’n’ roll promoter from around the Eastern suburbs and one of those unobtrusive, low-key people who were always helping others out or doing them favours. A real nice guy. Which was how he got the nickname Nice guy Neville. Or just plain Nizegy. Oddly enough, Nizegy was always convinced he owed Les a big favour, while as far as Les was concerned it was more the other way around. But Norton being Norton he let Nizegy think whatever he wanted and even used to play on it a little.
Les had first met Neville Nixon outside the Bronte R.S.L. Club where he was promoting some black, American blues singer. It was a miserable, cold, Wednesday night in the middle of winter and Les had gone to Bronte to take a girl out for dinner who he’d given his phone number to when he was drunk and had got mixed up with someone else. He’d been crook all day from something he’d eaten earlier, didn’t feel like going out at all let alone having another meal; and when he got there, Hebe was a complete hump and uglier than a hat full of arseholes. They were driving up McPherson Street when Hebe told Les to pull up, as she wanted to get a packet of cigarettes. Les parked up near the R.S.L. and Hebe walked over to a shop across the road, taking her time to stop for a chat with the owner. While Les was waiting patiently in the car and wishing to Christ he was somewhere else, he noticed a man walk past in a stylish, black leather jacket taking a joint from the back pocket of his jeans. Although there weren’t many cars or people around he didn’t notice Les and he didn’t notice three stocky men, one taller than the others, in jeans, jackets and Doc Martens, walking towards him; through Norton’s windscreen they looked like English soccer hooligans. The bloke bumped them, then stepped back, smiled and apologised and got shoved around by one for his trouble. Another one grabbed him by the collar of his leather jacket and the third hood came round with his fist back to king-hit him in the back of the head while he wasn’t looking. Les jammed his fist onto the car horn and gave it a blast. The tall hood dropped his fist and the one next to him swore something then kicked Norton’s car. So Les decided to get out. When he walked to the front of his car he couldn’t believe it: they were pommies. Possibly off a ship or just washed up around Bondi with all the rest of the smelly Eurotrash.
One came charging towards him. ‘Oi! This is got nuffin’ to fuckin’ do
wiv you cunt. So keep art of it.’
When he got within range Les dipped, threw a merciless left hook, and the pom walked straight into it, lifting him off his feet and smashing out most of his front teeth. He crashed back between his two mates and hit the footpath out cold, his eyes still wide open in pure shock. Then he began shaking -- like he was throwing a fit or trying to swallow his tongue -- as blood started pouring out of his mouth. While his mates were watching Les slammed another left hook into the face of the hood on his right, mashing his nose across his cheekbones; he howled with pain, brought his hands up to his face and half-turned away, so Les dropped him with a short right to the kidneys. As he fell to his knees, Les went into a crouch and came round to find the tall hood had shaped up to try and have some sort of a go. Les charged up underneath him and slammed his head into the hood’s stomach; he then grabbed him behind the knees, straightened up, and shoot-slammed him down onto the footpath. Unfortunately the poor fellow either didn’t have the time or the nous to break his fall and his head split open like a rockmelon, sending blood oozing out over the cold, hard concrete.
While he was engaged in all the fisticuffs, Les didn’t hear a woman screaming in the background, or notice the bloke in the leather jacket standing there with a sort of bemused smile on his face still holding the joint in one hand and a lighter in the other. All Les noticed was that two of the hoods were gone but the one in the middle holding his nose didn’t quite look sick enough. So Norton stepped over and sank the toe of his R.M. Williams into his mouth, kicking out nearly all his front teeth.
‘You animal! You kicked him! You animal!’ It was Hebe still screaming
her head off at all the blood and prone bodies. ‘Take me home. I wouldn’t
go out with you. I never want to see you again. You’re an animal.’
Twenty minutes later Les was back home in front of the TV with a mug of Ovaltine. As far as he was concerned the fight was a bit of a hoot and the bloke in the leather jacket had done him a favour.
The following night the bloke came up to the Game and introduced himself. He didn’t go in, just thanked Les again for what he did and apologised for ruining his night and cruelling things between Les and his girl. Les repeated that it was okay; he’d get over it and find a new girl somehow. Neville left saying he owed Les a favour. A few days later he bumped into Les down at the beach and gave him a bag of big, juicy, heads. Les smoked some, gave some to Warren and some to the girls at work, telling them he’d found it. Apart from the team at the Kelly Club Les didn't tell anyone what happened outside the R.S.L. -- and Neville, knowing Norton’s situation, didn’t say much either. After that, if they bumped into each other, they’d always have a yarn or a bit of a joke, Les found Neville to be one of those friendly, easy-going blokes you couldn’t help but like; quick thinking and alert but very genuine too. Nizegy still insisted he owed Les a favour and Les always said he still missed Hebe. Yet Nizegy couldn’t help feeling Les was pulling his leg, because from what he remembered of Hebe, she was that big a dog if you took her out anywhere you’d have to drive her around in an RSPCA wagon. Whatever Nizegy’s thoughts he did Norton another favour not long after.
Les was home one afternoon early in the week when Neville rang to say if Les wasn’t doing anything that night he had a girl for him and he'd shout dinner and drinks. The girl wasn’t in town for long, but Les should like her; she was at least as nice as, maybe even a little better than, Hebe. Les had the night off, he was doing nothing, and for a free feed and drinks he’d go out with Elle McFeast -- so long as he didn’t have to kiss her goodnight. Neville called round at about seven-thirty in a BMW hire car and they drove over to Milsons Point, parking outside North Sydney pool just down from Luna Park.
Around them some film or TV crew was packing up, and through the windows on the street Les noticed part of the pool was roped off and a small crowd of people were watching a game of water polo in progress. Water polo never interested Les. Swimming up and down indoor pools was not Norton’s idea of a good time. However, from some players he’d met and people he’d spoken to Les knew it to be one of the most demanding sports going. As well as being super fit you needed the endurance of a champion fighter because it was virtually nonstop and players swam up to three kilometres or more during a match; a lot of it in sprints. You also had to be mentally alert to follow the ball and the plays and, although the game might look a little slow at times, there was plenty of physical contact involved. It was definitely no game for slouches. But Les had never seen a game, apart from a bit of one down Bondi baths before they got blown up and the numbered caps bobbing up and down in the pool below. Some sports didn’t interest Norton. Grand Prix, golf and water polo were three of them.
‘You ever play water polo, Les?’ asked Neville.
He was about to say more when what had to be the most beautiful woman Les had ever seen in his life came walking down the street towards them. She was quite tall with cafe latte skin and a body equally as good as Elle MacPherson’s. A shock of honey-blonde hair crowned a flawless face and two flashing brown eyes that were matched only by the beauty of her smile. Somehow she’d managed to pour herself into a pair of pink jeans and a tight, maroon top that showed you a dainty navel pierced with a gold ring sitting on a firm, flat tummy. Several thin, gold chains sat around her neck and two shorter ones hung from her ears. She was with another good style of a woman, blonde and a little older, wearing denim jeans and a Bermuda jacket over a white T-shirt. Neville saw the look on Norton’s face and began to turn round as the woman in the jacket called out.
‘Neville my treasure. There you are.’
The two women walked up to Nizegy and the one in the Bermuda jacket threw
her arms around him. Nizegy gave her a cuddle and a peck or two on the
lips then turned to Norton.