Weekend Excerpt!

This week we have an excerpt from Remains to be Seen, available as a standalone short story from Danielle de Valera.

Undercover narcotics agents Michael O’Neill and buddy Baby Johnson, still suffering PTSD from the Vietnam War, decide to quit their jobs in the Australian Bureau of Narcotics and move to the far north coast of New South Wales. Johnson hopes to renew his relationship with Star, whom he met when tracking down the notorious heroin dealer, God, while O’Neill thinks settling down with long-time girlfriend Azure might be the solution to his problems. But that remains to be seen.

EXCERPT:

Baby’s in jail again. He went back and got the doorman after I fell asleep. He chose to go into Brunswick Heads lock-up, for word on the street has it that’s the best place to work your fines off. He took in his portable record player, a swatch of vinyl records and a dozen Robert E Howard novels.

“You and those bloody Conan novels,” I told him.

“You can laugh, y’ bastard,” he said. “I’d give anything to wake up one day in one of those Robert E Howard kingdoms. ‘Stead of hanging around this shithouse planet.”

We drive to Brunswick Heads to visit him in the afternoon, Azure and I, though we’re still separated. At the last moment David and Doreen aka Crystal arrive. Rather than leaving them there to wreck the place—they’re already well into the port and on the way to one of their innumerable arguments—we cram them in with us, flagons of port and all, and drive into Brunswick Heads.

We find Baby doing the police station’s laundry at the laundromat down the road, drinking a can of Fosters and eating a pie as he aimlessly watches the dryers whirling around.

“Where’re the cops?” asks Crystal Doreen, who has warrants out for her all over south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales.

“Aw, they’re off duty, the place’s all locked up. The sergeant’s taken ‘is wife down t’ Ballina t’ do ‘er shopping.”

“How are you going to get back in?” I ask him.

Baby looks sheepish. “Well, I can’t. Not until they open the place at four.”

“You mean you’re locked out?! They’ve gone away and locked you out?”

“Get fucked, O’Neill.”

“Want a snort of the port?” Crystal asks him. “It’s in the car. Two flagons.”

When Baby has got the laundry out of the dryers, we go back to the police station and lie on the front lawn in the sun, drinking port out of empty Coca-Cola bottles. It’s a beautiful day. Little clouds are scudding across the sky, seagulls wheel overhead, and dimly in the distance you can hear the sound of the breakers smashing against the rock walls at the river’s entrance.

I stare up into the sky and watch the seagulls, while Crystal keeps on refilling the Coke bottles and the levels of the flagons in the car go down.

Up the path to the police station comes a little old lady carrying a straw basket and looking confused at finding the place locked up. Baby lurches off the lawn and lumbers across to her in his board shorts, tank top and thongs.

“Can I help ya, ma’am?”

“Oh, officer,” she begins; she’s mistaken him for an off-duty cop. I don’t bother to listen to the rest, she’s probably lost her cat or something, poor bitch, it’ll only ruin my day.

Baby takes down all the details with a pencil and pad he’s miraculously whipped out of his back pocket. He asks her to come back at four.

“So’s the sergeant can see ya, ma’am.”

“Thank you, officer,” she smiles at him bravely. “You’re very kind.”

“Think nothin’ of it, ma’am. That’s what we’re here for.”

David and Crystal are fighting again, and the grog is running out. They say they’ll go round to the Brunswick Pub and get some more, but I know they won’t come back. They’ll end up going nine rounds in Casuarina Park and throwing one another off the bridge to Main Beach. I don’t care. It’s good just lying here, listening to the drone of everyone’s voices and watching Azure laugh. She laughs a lot, when she isn’t crying.

I think a great deal about Azure and me that day. I wonder if it might’ve worked if we’d had more money, but there’s a catch-22 in that. As long as Az is poor, she can’t reacquire a habit. If she gets a job (and she’s applied for one at the Top Pub back in town), she’ll have the money to start again, and I won’t be there to keep her on the rails.

The heat comes up out of the ground and soaks pleasantly through my body. I gaze up into the sky. My head is in Azure’s lap and I’m not thinking straight—or maybe I’m thinking too straight. It’ll be my birthday in five more days. In five days’ time I’ll be thirty-seven. Half my life’s gone, probably more; four combat wounds ’ve got to do something, and I don’t mean something good.

What if we’d had a kid, Azure and I? She’d wanted one but I told her I was scared of the Agent Orange. Christ knows I saw enough of it, so that part’s true. But the real truth of the matter is I don’t want a kid. I lose my head completely every time the subject comes up.

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