Something wasn’t right. Johnny peered through the darkness. He could just make out a bunch of kids, up to something…
“Hey!” he shouted, and broke into a run. The kids looked up, startled, then legged it up the beach. As he reached the bench where their victim lay prone, he could hear their cackles and whoops taunting him as they faded into the night. A wallet lay open on the sand a few feet ahead, two chubby-cheeked children smiling up at the sky. Johnny picked it up. Empty.
He inspected the man.
He shook him but there was no response. He didn’t seem hurt, just rotten. Not homeless though. Anything but. No shoes and socks but his suit looked expensive. The soiled pin-stripe shirt was adrift, exposing a healthy beer gut to the night air. His grey hair was balding but neatly groomed. Work party? Long lunch?
Suddenly the stranger convulsed. Johnny leapt back, but not fast enough to stop his high-tops getting splashed as whatever the man had eaten for lunch spewed out.
“No fucking gratitude”
What a night. He’d gotten into a fight with Chrissie and stormed out of the club, forgetting about the lock out rule, now he was being spewed on by some fat old man. His buzz had well and truly worn off. Resigned, he waited until the convulsions stopped, then lifted the man’ head clear of the vomit and used a loose tail of stripey short to wipe his mouth. The man’s head lolled.
“C’mon old mate”
Johnny hefted the dead weight upright and balanced him in a sitting position. The effort in the heat made him sweat. The guy still hasn’t stirred. He reeked of vomit, sweat and stale booze. Johnny looked at the smiling children again as he placed the empty wallet inside the man’s pocket. Someone’s gonna be in the shit.
He’d walked away then, figured he’d done his good Samaritan bit but the kids pricked at his conscience. What if the stupid fucker died? So even though he felt like shit and wanted nothing more than to go home, smoke a cone and pass out, he went back and slapped the guy’s face until he started to stir. The fat man came out fighting, drunken arms flailing wildly.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m the good guy.”
The man fell back against the bench. Almost immediately his eyes started closing again. Johnny shook him.
“Mate, c’mon. Time to wake up. You can’t stay here. You’ve already been robbed.”
The guy opened his eyes and struggled to focus.
“You’ve been rolled, mate. Some kids took your money. You need to get yourself home.”
No response. Fucking lockout. Johnny kicked himself mentally. If he’d just stayed in the Fubar he’d have had none of this hassle.
“Alright? I’m off then. Have a life.”
Johnny started to walk away but the man gripped his arm with a meaty hand.
Never fucking volunteer.
“Whatever, mate. I’m done.”
The man gripped his arm tighter.
“Carn go ome”
Johnny tested the sounds on his own tongue.
“Can’t go home?”
The man nodded. His grip stayed firm.
“You gotta go sometime mate. She’ll forgive you eventually. Look, I’ve gotta go.”
No fucking way.
“Look, mate. You’re mistaking me for someone who gives a shit. Sort your domestics yourself.”
Johnny was pissed off but he couldn’t pry himself free, despite being younger and more sober than the big guy. The man stood, still gripping Johnny’s arm. He stunk, and when he spoke his rancid breath made Johnny turn away but his words were clear.
“I can’t go home. Please help me.”
Christ on a bike. Johnny thought for a moment. His sister was one of those new age freaks. She’d be gloating about karma if she was here. How many times had he got messy?
“Alright. Come with me. You can shower at my place.”
“Thank you,” said the man, finally releasing his grip. Johnny thought briefly about doing a runner, but didn’t.
They didn’t talk much on the short walk to the dilapidated old Queenslander Johnny shared, just enough for Johnny to learn the man’s name was Mitchell. The front of the house was dark. Johnny led Mitchell inside, switched on the living room light and gestured Mitchell in.
“Have a seat”
When he came back with a towel, Mitchell was sitting on the floor in the hallway, head in hands.
“There’s…someone…in there,” he said. Johnny was puzzled for a second.
“Ah Christ, Marek”
Sure enough, his housemate Marek and a hairy stranger were sprawled naked on the lounge, cocks flopped against sweaty skin. The living room, a tongue and groove cavern filled with charity shop furniture, was littered with the debris of their party: open poppers, wraps, razor blades, even a pump-pack of lube. Johnny slapped Marek awake.
“What’s the fucking rule, dickhead?”
Marek, bleary, waved him off.
“Everyone was out”
“Not the point”
Mitchell watched. His face brought the expression ‘stunned mullet’ to mind. Johnny caught his eye.
“Come with me”
Johnny led Mitchell into the kitchen, last decorated sometime in the seventies. Dishes were piled in the sink and bottles spilled out of the recycling bin onto the floor around.
“The house rule is you keep it in your bedroom unless everyone’s invited.”
“Is he a…junkie?”
“Marek? Nah, he just parties hard.”
Johnny regarded the fat, balding man in his rumpled and stained suit.
“Not in Kansas anymore, eh Toto?”
“Don’t mock me.” From zero to angry in 5 seconds.
“Settle, petal. You invited yourself. If you don’t like it, fuck off.”
A stiff silence settled. Mitchell rubbed his face and head with his hands.
“You’re right, sorry” He sat down on a flimsy chair that creaked under his weight.
“I’ve always been anti drugs.”
“You don’t mind booze”
Mitchell grimaced. Johnny handed him the towel.
“There’s a pair of shorts there too, that someone left here. The shower’s down the hall. I’ll clear Marek out of the living room and you can sleep it off in there. I still reckon you should go home though.”
Mitchell shook his head. He stayed where he was, staring at some far off point in his imagination. Johnny felt a buzz of irritation.
“Is there something else?”
Mitchell looked up at him, his expression unreadable.
“Have you ever done anything crazy? I mean really crazy? Insane?”
“Every day and twice on Sundays”
Mitchell acknowledged the quip with a slight twitch of his mouth.
“Look man, it’s just a bender. It’ll be a story for your kids one day.”
Mitchell said nothing. After a moment he stood.
“Down the hall?”
“Second on the right”
By the time Mitchell came back, Marek and his friend were sitting in the kitchen with Johnny, the three of them laughing at some story. The tang of pot hung in the air.
Johnny introduced everyone.
“The lounge is free if you want it.”
“Is it alright if I get some water?”
“Go for your life”
Mitchell fished a glass out of the dish pile and washed it. He filled the glass and drained it where he stood, then filled it again. Johnny picked up the bong and took a long hit, and passed it on.
“Mind if I sit?”
Johnny shook his head: go ahead. He blew out the smoke in a long, satisfied stream.
“Is this what you do all the time?”
Johnny shrugged agreement.
“What about jobs? Career, family?”
“What about it? Life sucks, then you die. I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”
Mitchell put the empty wallet on the table, stroked the leather absently.
“You were right before. This is another world to me.”
“Each to their own, man”
“I never knew there was a choice.”
Marek and his friend were ignoring them, their hands entwining as they flirted with each other. Mitchell stared momentarily, then looked away. Johnny took another hit from the bong. Mitchell nodded at it.
“Can I have some?”
“I thought you were anti drugs?”
Mitchell looked bitter.
“I think I’ve been wrong about a lot of things”
“Are you always such a misery guts? I had a fight with my girlfriend tonight too, y’know. It’s not the end of the fucking world.”
“You don’t understand”
Johnny snorted, exasperated.
“I helped you on the beach because I didn’t want you to drown in your own vomit. I’m not your mate and I’m certainly not a fucking tour guide for alternative lifestyles. You can sleep it off here but that’s it.”
He grabbed the bong and the weed off the table and stood up. Mitchell stood too and tried to apologise but Johnny brushed him aside. As he walked to his room, he could hear Marek telling Mitchell he could party with them. Fucking morons the lot of them. He slammed the door to his room and flipped the lock.
Alone in his room, he could let the THC do its work on his mood and he soon started to feel mellow. He fished his phone out of his jeans and thumbed an apology to Chrissie: wanna come over? She texted back with a smiley face and begged him to come out to party on a houseboat. It was still an hour or so before dawn. He seriously considered it for about 30 seconds but he could hear Marek winding Mitchell up and decided he’d had enough of people for the night. He told her to have a good time, finished off the cone and drifted off.
He was woken abruptly by Marek banging on the door and screaming. Sounds of struggle came from the kitchen. He pulled on his boardies, wondering what the fuck was going on.
“Your fucking friend’s eating all my E!”
“He’s not my fucking friend!”
Johnny pushed past Marek and into the kitchen. Marek’s friend was wrestling with Mitchell, trying to control him, but the big man was holding his own. Johnny leapt into the fray, grabbed one of Mitchell’s arms and twisted it behind his back. The shock of pain slowed the man long enough for them to pin him down.
“Get the E, Get the E!”
Marek’s friend prised open Mitchell’s fingers.
“There’s only two left”
“How many did he eat?”
“I dunno, maybe 7?”
“Fuck. You stupid fucker.”
Marek’s friend looked worried.
“You’re not gonna call the cops are you?”
“No cops, no cops” said Mitchell
“No one’s calling the cops,” said Johnny. To Marek he said “Mix up some salt water, we need to make him sick.”
Mitchell started struggling again, his fat face ruddy with exertion.
“Let me go”
“I want to die. Let me go, I want to die.”
He stopped struggling then and started crying. Johnny took the mug of salt water from Marek and held it to his mouth.
“Come on, drink”
Mitchell twisted away.
“Let me die, I want to die”
“Don’t be fucking stupid. Drink.”
Johnny was furious at the man’s self-pity and selfishness and furious at himself for stopping to help him in the first place. He forced the salty water down Mitchell’s gasping gullet. Fuck. If he hadn’t been such a fucking hothead with Chrissie, none of this would have happened. The man retched and thrashed about but nothing came up.
“More. More salt,” said Johnny and thrust the mug at Marek. He gripped Mitchell’s face, his fingers biting into the flesh.
“Listen here, you prick. You OD, we get the shit. Whatever crap you’ve pulled, we’re not part of it. So drink the fucking water, get the pills out of your system and get the fuck out of our lives? Understand?”
Mitchell didn’t answer. Johnny twisted his arm viciously.
“I killed her!” he screamed. The men froze. Mitchell started crying again, heavy sobs of anguish. His story eked out between sobs.
“She was leaving me. Taking the kids. To another man. After everything I’ve done. I just wanted to stop her. I just wanted her to stay. But she didn’t get up. I tried, I tried, but she didn’t get up. Why did you save me? Let me die.”
Marek’s friend was the first to react.
“I’m out of here”
They heard the front door slam. Mitchell sobbed into the tiles, floored by his misery.
“What the fuck do we do?” said Marek.
Johnny stared into space as he considered the options. None were good. All he wanted was a peaceful life and all he got was aggro.
“Start cleaning up,” he said to Marek, “We’ve got to call the cops.”
Before either of them could make a move the fat man rolled to his feet with a roar. He grabbed a knife from the sink, eyes wild. Johnny and Marek froze.
“Don’t try to stop me!”
They didn’t. He edged past them, holding the point of the knife towards them and they heard the front door slam shut again.
“Crazy shit, man,” said Marek with a nervy laugh. Johnny could only shake his head in disbelief.
“What are you going to do now?”
Johnny thought about it.
“Go back to bed”
“What do you think will happen?”
Johnny picked up Mitchell’s wallet off the table, looked at the smiling kids again. He folded it shut and threw it in the bin.
“It doesn’t matter.”