DOWN TIME

DOWN TIME 

“That’s $25,257 and 42 cents you owe me.”  Dressed in greasy black jeans and tee-shirt, he addressed two empty chairs.  Beside him on the burnt scarred melamine a foil pie dish spilled roaches.  His oriental face, strewn with zits and cicatrized with the word ‘RANT” over one eye, supervised his hand’s gathering of the cards.  He shuffled.

A stoned monologue.  “Want another game?  What’s keeping Flick?”  ‘Probably  The Greek.  Biiiig Dick!  Gotta meet Troika….”

A dark big-boned girl, wearing a baggy Highstation coverall, barged-in boot first through the grey and scratched swinging door.  She was carrying a heat shrink pack.

“Look what I’ve got!”

“Spray cans, a whole pack and mixed colors.”

          “Back off, I got, I show.”  Shaved head catching highlights from buzzing fluorotubes, she sat down.

“Where jaget them Flick?”  He grinned.

“Bunnings!”

“How much did The Greek give you?”

“Paid in kind.”  Hand, fingers stained, went to slung surplus knapsack, came out with a plastic sandwich bag holding crunchy green.  She tossed it.  “Loop, roll one”.

“Hey!  You pinched a whole pack, at once?”

Flick preened. “Some kids knocked over a stack of paint tins, “You’ve gotta be quick”.  The kids got away with cartons of Duracells.  Whooee!  There’s a pretty new white wall up on Pigdon Street.  Let’s go child”.

“Hey!”  Loop waved a fat white tube closed at each end with a twist.

‘We’ll kill it on the way, come on, Troika will have given up and gone.”  She tore the plastic and the pressure packs went into two ragged canvas bags.

 

“Slit!”

In darkness:  the sound of fumbling.  A Dolphin torch clicks on, a yellow and black chiaroscuro tangle of limbs, tousled heads and ragged covers. “Girl, we late!”  Light bounces from crusty steel walls.  The tangle resolves into two girls and a quantity of old sacks and less identifiable scraps of ragged fabric.  The faces are twin: dark, thin, cheeks high, eyes burning blue and black haired.  Their features – hybrid examples of the genetic mélange, mixed by the waves of migration to Melbourne’s inner suburbs.  A hot pink scar, a ragged asterisk, is branded on each greasy left shoulder.

“Move yourself pretty girl, we late!”

“Ok already.  Knickers dry?”

“Dry enough”.  From the pile of clothes on the floor they both dress quickly, donning what ever comes to hand.

“Flick will be mad!”

“I got two lefts. You wearing odd shoes pretty girl?”

 

Hand in hand and out of breath, Troika arrive at the burnt and twisted phone box – agreed meeting place.

“Pretty girl, we too late, they gone”.

“The Dream, maybe they there?”

“If they not there, soon will be.  Hungry!”

“Coffee!”

“Hey!”

Wedged in the gap between the frame of the box and it’s buckled door fluttered a draggled paper.

“They know we don’t read.”

“It’s a picture, good one, must be Flick  ‘It’s the cemetery gate, east side.”

“That new wall!  Hey, they done a run”!

“Without we!”

 

Above the boiling floodlit orange haze, the sky was a dull chrome. Like an angular ideogram in flat black vinyl paint, a gunship circles the CBD, it’s engines muffled.  It breaks its surveillance pattern, drifts out over South Carlton and stoops.  A dull crump and a cloud of gas blooms, top lit by batteries of meshed aerial floods.

 

”Slit, we sprung!”

“We were nearly done, dead pretty dragon.”

A crump and a burst of gas, fallen short.

Choking.  “Down here, we screened by sickygas!  Come on Loop!”

“Ditch those cans, we gotta travel.”

“Pity!”

“Just drop the fuckers!”

Corrugated iron fences stagger past, their base color broken by rust, overall is a peeling lichen of graffiti: a cryptic history of desperate fashions.

“This way!”

A bluestone guttered easement, half a metre wide, between two factories.  Foul water splashes head high.

“We lost them.”

“Dead good dragon.”

Racketing over the dark terraces dove the gunship.  Spot lights hunting.

“Out of here!  Split!

“See ya at The Dream!”

Alleys swallowed.

 

Tense, the pilot and his co stared out of the darkened cabin through tinted armored plastic.  A telltale winked on the console, a beeper sounded.

“Infra-scan contact!”

“Found them again!”

The co-pilot bent over his keyboard. A screen lit, traced with crosshairs, a fuzzy blob swam with the gunships motion. “Looks like only one…, positive contact!”

“Arm forward gun, gas canisters. Lost it! Swing back South, there it is, standby to fire  Fuck! gone again. The bastard’s are in a real narrow alley. Going….South… Shielded! Gone! Lost contact.”

“Either gone down a storm drain or found something with a roof on.”

“Yeah-but!  Last positive contact was real close to Sector 9, South of Carlnorth.  The perimeter none to tight there.”

“This is Hawk 1 to Peacock Base, Hawk I to…”

 

Loop, light with alkaloids, ran easy.  The broken alleys bled around the edges of his peripheral vision. The edges of things jazzed polychrome – light through a cheap lens. Exalted by his headlong flight, oblivious to the clatter of rotors, he jumped, both feet high, over the corpse of a dead dishwasher.  From behind a line of houses a line of light intersected the delta vee of the approaching gunship.  It exploded and fell, burning.  A sheet of flaming avgas sheeted down.  Loop screamed writhing and burned.

 

The night lit up orange.  A dull loud thump left ears ringing.  Three heartbeats and then the distant sound of falling ruin.

“Slit, pretty girl, what was that!”

“Gunship down, Street say Sisters got presents from Auntie Sam.”

“Maybe present was missile?”

“Hit near Princess by the flames.”

”We better be elsewhere!”

The lurid orange died.  The hysterical whoop of emergency transport sounded distantly.

“The Dream.  Maybe we find Flick and Loop.”

 

Flick saw the gunship fall.  The burning fuel lit the roof of the constant inversion layer back-lighting Flick as she shouldered through the jerkily automatic dilating door of ‘The American Dream’. Sack shaped, the room glowed red, veins of blue and orange neon snakedthe walls and danced to the woofy crippled beat of Machine Dub.  Antique holograms flickered from the ceiling:  Mohamed Ali, Doris Day, Mickey Mouse, The Twin Tower ruins and Elvis Presley, the images constantly distorted by the revolving electromagnetic loci of a powered mobile.

All the tables were occupied.  In the corners back packers crouched over keyboards, downloading their emails, faces shadowed rather than illuminated by video light.  Locals drank murky bath-tub arak and sat impassive.  Sisters sat, in tie-dyed fatigues, a careful space around them, drinking mineral water and passing joints.

A wave, through the ruby smoke:  “Flick, You ok’?”

“Did a run on that new wall near Pigden”.

“Slit, that was you?”

“You toooo late!  Seen Loop or Troika?”

“Things have been busy”.  His face, half fractured in shifting shadow, was acned, thin and Slavic.

Across the table, a girl, white face crusted with mascara all but lost in a thick black matt of hair and a high collared overcoat, leaned forward.  “A Gship down and more bodies pulled from that wreck than flew it.  It crashed on People!”

“Troika and Loop?”

“……..Not Troika.”

Hey!”

The Dream stopped.  Troika stumbled through the jerky door.  ‘The Dream’s’ cool returned with an almost audible snap.  Avoiding The Sisters, they came over to the table and sat down.

“You ok?”

“What you been doing? You near that crash?”

“No, saw it.”

“Where Loop?”

……………

“Slit!”

“Yeah!”

“Those bastards!”

“Are dead, Loop bin paid for!”

Through tears:  ”Those nicking Sisters……!”

“Will make you meat.”  Hands waving shush.  “Dump it!”

Tears.