Is it strange for something to begin with tomato sauce and end in blood? If two people run into each other, and they hold the same desires and orbit the same circles, is it really a coincidence? Some would say so, but they don’t know this town. Those who do, the ones who’ve seen the servos close and the police station move to Halo, the ones who’ve noticed the needles piling up in the dirt behind the video store, they would say what happened was long overdue.
We’d been slaughtered by Halo Bay again and our coach, a flat-nosed bruiser with thin blond hair, screamed himself hoarse for half an hour. Surprisingly, when he ran out of spit he sought me out, shook my hand with his calloused pincers, and palmed me a crisp twenty. He even had a few rare words of praise for Bull and Shorty as he went past. It merited a few stubbies and later, as the sailing, water-skiing, and booze-cruising masses flocked to Main Street for sunset fish and chips, so did we. I investigated my shorts pocket and found a few leftover coins. Spread out in my sweaty palm I realized they combined to make exactly two dollars. A sign.
The best value feed in Hurstville was the two-dollar fries deal at Grego’s. The place’s namesake was a surly bastard, but he wasn’t stingy with the fries, and he even grudgingly threw in a few little tomato sauce packets. The queue stretched out the door as always, a mass of sunburnt skin standing around in thongs complaining about the air con. Half the customers were hungry, the rest were local blokes eyeballing Cindy.
I knew her only by her rep. She was in the rare category of girls who everyone thought would drift away to better things but stayed. Not the sort you found in the Old Pub, spinning on a stool, Bacardi Breezer in hand. When she was sixteen she disappeared for a year and went to school somewhere else. Rumor also had it she was into visual art. As far as I know, that was the sum total of her crimes, and the reason the town gavel had come down declaring her an exotic snob. The fact you could be considered upper class while scratching away at a place like Grego’s says everything you need to know about Hurstville.
I finally reached the front and dropped my coins into her waiting fingers. They were creamy brown, short, and pointy. Mischievous hands, like an elf or monkey might have. Shorty and Bull made some joke and laughed like wild dogs, drawing concerned glances from the waiting crowd outside. My own hands, usually nimble and steady on the field, got too big and I felt like I’d been lit up by the world’s biggest spotlight.
Grego himself handed over the warm paper packet. In a hungry rush, I tore it open to grab the sauce and squeeze out a bit. The packet snapped and went off like a water pistol, hitting Cindy’s white shirt dead center. We eyed each other. She had a perky nose, dimples, and thin pink lips. In a flash her picture-perfect face turned sour, as if I’d shot her with a revolver, and she marched off muttering. I heard the word dickhead from the back room pretty clearly.
As soon as I cleared the plastic flaps, the heat hit me like I’d opened an oven door. “Where did she come from?” I asked.
Bull wiped tears from his tiny eyes and broad cheeks. He had a head like a smooth boulder and it was flushed from stubbies and laughing.
“Came out to clean the windows mate,” he said, hefting his bulk out of his chair.
I threw the sauce packet and it rebounded off his forehead. He stopped laughing and his face went blank.
I saw this late-night docco about Pretty Boy Floyd once, and I remember thinking the nickname was misleading. The guy’s face was puffed, piggish, and vacant in the worst way. A baby-faced mask on a stone-cold killer. When Bull’s features glossed over like that I got twitchy, and I thought about Floyd.
Whenever we hit the Old Pub on a Saturday night and Bull cruised to the bar, the sea parted and even the most grizzled locals turned away from that face. Tradies who worked in forty-degree heat without noticing, weather-beaten fisherman purposefully bankrupting themselves against commercial operations, and local footy heroes who didn’t tell stories because their exploits were already mounted on the walls, embossed in silver. It didn’t matter, they all stood aside for the doughy man with the big baby face, the four o’clock shadow, and the empty eyes.