Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

28 September, 2016

Just sold a story.  Contracts not yet exchanged so details to follow, but a real-life sale of my stupid work will soon eventuate.  Who thought this day would ever come?


Crime Factory’s Hard Labour Easy To Enjoy
12 October, 2012

Australia is a nation chiselled from its indigenous inhabitants for and by criminals.  Our anthem kicks off by celebrating that most of us have since been released on our own recognisance.  It’s hard to think of another country where malefactors are such rock stars – sure, English Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs made it onto a Sex Pistols’ cover, but I’d like to see him front Ned Kelly or Chopper Read in a prison exercise yard.  With the intriguing Australian characters who share their stories in  Crime Factory’s new anthology, Hard Labour, we all have more reason to rejoice.

Book-ended by smash-hit stories by two greats of Australian crime fiction, Gary Disher and Peter Corris, the guts of this selection need no propping up.  Leigh Redhead’s “Grassed” is an authentic slice of the Northern NSW hash brownie, featuring her trademark pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and a sense of creeping paranoia resonant with the context.  In “Killing Peacocks”, Angela Savage’s signature lyricism sings the murder ballad of an authentic, empathic character.  Andrew Prentice builds a world as crystalline – and as empty – as the breakers his characters surf, in “The Break”.  In Helen FitzGerald’s “Killing Mum And Dad” cosy, slightly addled domesticity chills to horror.  JJ DeCeglie’s “Death Cannot Be Delegated” features a philosophical hit man wielding Occam’s razor, style cunningly morphing to reflect  both narrative and character arc.  With sparse economy, David Whish-Wilson depicts a career criminal and junkie as cold as the Ice he cooks – “In Savage Freedom”.  Andrew Nette’s “Chasing Atlantis”, where crims take on cultists in hippy country, is a bar-room brawl of Australian noir where the twists will king-hit you if you don’t watch your back.

The individual contributions to Hard Labour are unified by Australian flavour and realism – and the recurrent theme of stuffing up.  Narrators tell their stories: some in the clear dispassionate tones of hardened Narcotics Anonymous confessors, others in deceptively breezy voices or pleading laments.  They draw the reader closer before slipping a knife between their ribs, with a smirk, a wisecrack or a gentle kiss.

Jittery and seductive as a strung-out whore, Hard Labour is highly recommended.  Sampled one at a time or devoured in chunks, I’m sure you’ll want to book repeat visits with these characters.  Now available from Amazon, here.

If you’re not already addicted to these talented authors’ longer forms, check out their rap sheets here:

Zombie Scrub Turkeys Attack!
3 October, 2012

Well, that was fun.  We enjoyed a relatively uneventful trip up to visit Uncle and Aunt and all the tiny horses at the miniature stud, earlier this week.  Well, you know, I still had to drive through Gympie but since we were enthralled by a game of ‘I Spy Something That’s Not A Gun Shop Or A Redneck” I was too busy to even wince.

The journey home was strange, though, at a bare minimum with surreal flashes.  There was debate at the gate, which I won with my “If it’s shut when you get there, leave it shut” argument.

Rarely do I taste victorious vindication at all, let alone almost immediately, but less than 30 metres down the track we encountered a heifer who was reluctant to share the road.

“Lucky I made you shut the gate.” I observed, smug as a cat with a mouthful of budgie.  I crawled the car up, to ease past her.

“See, Mumma – I told you there were feral cows!” said Elf Boy, who’d spent a chunk of the day chasing the neighbours’ cattle out of Aunt’s mini-horse paddocks.

“Arrgh! It’s got horns! It’s going to charge the car!!” screeched Magic Man, who has inherited his Great Uncle’s distrust of large livestock.

“Blow the horn!” cried Elf Boy.

“Don’t blow the horn!!” countered his brother.

“My paintwork!” said Mother.

Maybe it was the horns on my radiator grille (Toyota symbol on Mother’s wagon), or perhaps the steely glare I fired at her through the windscreen, but the heifer grudgingly shuffled to the side so I could pass.

All good through the level crossing and past the pub, until we got to a stretch between farms, about halfway to the highway.  It was wettish from the showers, and the usual narrow, patchy, soft shouldered goat track, but conditions were no worse than usual and I know the road pretty well.  Round a gentle bend, four scrub turkeys seemed to be having a union meeting, right on the verge.  Well, that or they’d heard about vultures and thought they’d give it a try – there was a lot of road kill scattered about.

Having learned not to underestimate the ability of the scrub turkey to annoy – and destroy – I slowed down from 80 odd clicks to just over 60 to pass the . . . what’s the collective noun for scrub turkeys: a scraping; a cabal?  I think I’ll go with “devastation”.  Three of the turkey’s high-tailed  it for the paddock, away from my vehicle, but the forth, either braver or much, much stupider than his mates ran out under my wheels.  He fluttered up in a flight attempt that was more like something you’d see from a septuagenarian gymnast trying to relive the glory days.  He achieved just enough of a twisting leap before I hit him full on, that he smacked into the windscreen dead ahead of me.  I hunched down, sure he’d shatter the glass, yanking my right foot back to resist the urge to slam on the brakes on the wet.

The score:  No skid, no screams, not even time for me to curse, no damage to Mother’s car, journey continued without further incident.  And our feathered friend?  According to Magic Man, who watched his dismount through the rear screen, he shook himself to settle his feathers back into place and wandered off, not only unharmed but seemingly unperturbed.

Maybe it was just a random event.  Perhaps this turkey’s turkey was just a very dull example of a species known more for persistence than intelligence.  Or his acquired taste for carrion caused a strain of Mad Bird Disease to express itself in suicidal behaviour.  I can’t escape the gnawing suspicion that we survived a deliberate – hell, orchestrated – plan by Greybeard and his evil minions to wipe out, not only me but all of my offspring and even the Mother who bore me.  Revenge for a certain Medieval Archery Incident of more than a year ago, a vengeance so cold they probably hired Ötzi The Glacier Mummy as a consultant co-conspirator.  Try again, big fella.

Strange Days
29 September, 2012

Strange day yesterday, ladies and lurkers. I had a lovely day’s Brisvegas Holiday Excursion planned with MM, EB, a BFF and her two kids. Started off instead by having to: grief counsel my father through his dog’s terminal illness (progressive spinal cord stenosis) as I ate my egg on Vegemite toast; guide him through the decision-making process, i.e. that he needed to man up and have the dog put down because it had reached the suffering stage and had no prospect of remission, let alone improvement; and then drive them both to the vet when I was so successful he decided to do it. Right then and there.

EB is a big animal lover and also his Grandpa’s favourite, so when he said he wanted to come too I thought it would be doubly good: for EB to have up-close experience of death before it was a much-loved person involved, and so that he could console his Grandpa.

As you will have guessed, I was wrong. We ended up that Grandpa did the male-of-his-generation thing and pulled a strong, silent act, while EB spent the next hour or more sobbing uncontrollably.

I was correct about one thing – it was best I was there to drive them both home.

So I returned to my parents’ house to race through the preparations for our day out.  All the while EB was insisting that he needed to do a Great Garbo (I vant to be alone), with me trying to nurture him while he grieved, but equally adamant  that we had to proceed with the outing and he had to come with us.  We had gorgeous clear, sunny but not too hot weather and the excursion went fabulously well for 6 hours – fun ride in on the ferry, lots of fun in various South Bank water features, great company, awesome Lego robots, kids even behaving beautifully.

And then, just as we were about to pack up the remains of afternoon tea and make our tired but happy way home, MM’s BF-in-the-world slammed his head into a post while running in the playground.  Straight away, a lump the size of a small avocado and the colour of hailclouds swelled on his forehead. Naturally enough, his Mum panicked.  The helpful staff at the cafe next to the playground gave me a cup of ice without hesitation – thanks Steam Cafe- and then the South Bank lifesavers gave us a plastic bag full of ice.  By the time we were on the ferry home, the lump was down to a third of original size and Mum had stopped hyperventilating.  Mostly.

The evening turned out well, with a lovely BBQ with my cousin and his husband.  If anyone wants a recipe for marshmallow and sour-cream salad . . . much nommier than it sounds. . . I now have one.

And an odd footnote:  my horoscope advised that my day would start well, but unavoidable complications and difficulties would ensue.

Arrgh! Watch Treasure Island 2012 in honour of TLAPD, ye scurvy rascals
19 September, 2012

Ahoy, shipmates.  The first mate, the cabin boy and I lashed ourselves to the mast last weekend and viewed Treasure Island 2012, a BBC miniseries:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this version.  Featuring a talented cast who play well together, it’s a fresh modern production with a fabulous soundtrack.

Famous faces abound:  Donald Sutherland looks like he’s enjoying his role as the treacherous Captain Flint; Rupert Penry-Jones – fabulous in “Whitechapel”, another BBC production – is exquisitely nasty, playing the Squire so far towards the top of the upper crust that one wonders if he needed supplemental oxygen between takes;  Eddie Izzard imbues his Long John Silver with more chiaroscuro than usually seen in this character; Toby Regbo is terrific as Jim Hawkins and Shirley Henderson – Moaning Myrtle in the HP films – plays his mum, her fragile frame, pixie face and wispy voice perfect for the role of victimised widow.  Elijah Wood’s cameo as Ben Gunn is fun – with his love of cheese and the Bible, he was the kids’ favourite character.

A few characters have been invented for the series – including John Silver’s wife, played by Nina Sosanya – and some reassigned or re-imagined – the Doctor starts out as a cowardly drunk, but hits his hero straps eventually – in comparison with Robert Louis Stevenson’s original, but none of them seemed out of place or tacked on.

Beautiful art direction keeps you watching through the parts when your attention may stray a little, thinking you know what comes next.  And there’s an intriguing – if gory – keelhauling scene.  Four out of five pieces of eight.

Derp and the Boxing Kangaroo
27 July, 2011

I love the Courier Mail – better known, to a whimsical friend, as the Curious Snail. There’s often sniggers to be had. Sure, most of the laughs come from misuse of the beleaguered apostrophe, abuse of grammar or complete clause failure than from any attempted comedic content. Still, a chuckle’s a chuckle, in these troubled times.

However, in commenting on poor literature you might think they’d be extra careful to get things spot on. And you’d be wrong. Behold, the link to the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest:

“Think you’re writing is bad?” (as derped on the pre-dawn home page of the e-edition, 27/07/2011 – one can only hope they will have fixed it up by the time the normal world wakes up.)

Luckily, the derp link leads to some absolute gems. Like the first prize winner, a woman from Oshkosh, whose opening sentence reads, “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.” What a shame she didn’t take the opportunity to work the name of her home-town in somewhere.

Meanwhile, another link leads us to the tragic tale of Eddie, a red kangaroo who nearly killed a 94 year old woman in Charleville. She was hanging out her washing… has anyone else noticed, old ladies who are attacked and nearly killed are always hanging out their washing just prior to the assault. Bugger set-top boxes – if the Federal Government gave every woman over 80 a tumble dryer they’d slash assault rates to next to nothing and free up hospital beds, too.

Anyway, just like most delinquents, turns out poor Eddie comes from a broken home and has been misunderstood. Hand-raised by wildlife carers, he was released into the wild only to break a hip. Unfit to fend for himself, he’s been living in captivity. The man “minding” Eddie – the evocatively named Darryl “Dobbo” Dobbin – claims he’s gentle and tame. Dobbo also reckoned he has no idea who left the gate open, allowing Eddie to escape.

Two things spring to mind. Firstly, for a disability support pensioner Eddie is fit enough to rip strips off an innocent laundry lady. Secondly, is it just me or does this story sound eerily familiar? I’m pretty sure the mother of that kid who tried to steal a bike, winding up bashed by the bike’s lawful owner for his trouble made identical comments about her son. Down to the doubt about whose fault it was that he was out at night, breaking into people’s houses to steal their bikes (allegedly).

Still, the Courier Mail could misspell their own masthead and I’d be back for more. They’re much more fun when they get it wrong than when they allegedly get it right.

You Are Here: Why?
6 July, 2011

By now, you’re all well aware of my feelings about tourists: they park out the library; they stagnate the supermarket aisles; and often they have heads straight out of H.P. Lovecraft.

So, I’ve got nothing but praise for the new signage Council have plonked down the front. Isn’t it perfect? We call it “Four Ways To Die At Coolum Beach”. All it really lacks, in tourist-repulsion terms, is a big arrow pointing north that reads “Noosa That Way: Open All Hours”.

But I think the sign should be  more explicit. It is a matter of public record – police reports, death certificates, transcripts from the Coroner’s Court – that our proud beach-side community boasts many more ways to die than those depicted. There should also be a little stick man, hurling over the balcony rail out the back of the surf club – ALCOHOL POISONING. A stylised chalk outline  in the pub car-park, with a halo of blood – GLASSING. A hotted up V8, speeding away from a broken stickman – HIT AND RUN. And a little stick woman, bludgeoned in her own kitchen over a meal she was preparing – ANSWERING BACK.






WTF To Sleep
30 June, 2011

We’ve all been greatly entertained – thanks,Catty! – over the last week or so by listening to Samuel L Jackson read from the adult bedtime classic “Go The F*ck To Sleep”. Indeed, I’d replay it every time I try to GTF to sleep, only my gurgling chuckles tend to wake the children and send the cats scampering up the Venetian blinds.

So I think you’ll all be pleased to hear that, during our recent outing into the community, I found and purchased the strangest book ever published: an illustrated children’s book by Sylvia Plath. Published – for the first, and surely last, time – in 1996, so posthumously as to be bordering on the archaeological, I’d love to be able to comment on the contents but I’m scared to read it. If I ever wash up on a beach in pyjamas, with my pockets full of stones and used Kleenex, tell the coroner it’s Sylvia’s fault.

On the topic of strange things I did in Brisbane… The Surrealists at GOMA is fabulous. I won’t go on too much, because you pretty much have to go and experience it yourself. However, I’ve developed a huge afterlife crush on Andre Breton – he of the Michealangelo profile and deliciously tortuous mind – and if I can just work out a surreptitious way of sneaking a tonne or so of bronze out of the centre of a fortified, heavily guarded gallery, Magritte’s “Madame Récamier de David” bronze will soon be my new coffee table.

Since it’s school holidays, I think we should have an essay topic: What Strange Things Have You Been Up To? Answers with a double-ruled red margin on one side of a foolscap page, in your neatest handwriting, please. We’re odding it up, old school.

Geocache Challenge
12 May, 2011

It’s not my fault. It all started with a friend… have we had “Sophie” as an alias yet? Sophie forwarded me an email with pix of hilarious “missing dog” type flyers that random idiots with too much time on their hands have posted out and about.

This one struck a personal chord:

But I think this was probably the LOLest:

Anyway, I drank too much coffee and during a full and frank exchange of emails Sophie dared me to post one of my own. So I did, and I’m not sure how long it survived on the corner of The Esplanade and First Avenue at Maroochydore.

I think, if you read the title, you can guess the next bit. Anyone feeling silly and time-rich – in the spirit of performance art, slam poetry and public nuisance – post a flyer and upload your pix, please. We could all use a laugh.

Short story: “Tattoo You”
4 March, 2010

Well, so much for “Busted”. The judges didn’t approve so it WON’T be included in the anthology. So I thought I should post a piece that will be included:

Tattoo You

Morgana MacLeod

There’s a story behind every tattoo. I gotta say, but, nowdays they go on with a lot of bullshit about tattooing. Look at the names they give the parlours, hey? Sacred Skin – that joint’s run by some hippy chicks who fart-arse around painting henna on dance party kids. That’s not tattooing, mate. Tattoos are about steel and ink. Blood gets spilt, they’ve got to hurt, it’s part of the deal. My shop’s called Tradewinds Tattoo. Tells you all you need to know – it’s on Tradewinds Road and I’ll ink ya. Right to the point, like me. Ask me and I’ll tell you, straight up. No fucking around.

My father was a gambling man… nah, I’m just pulling your leg. He was a wharfie, but and some of the blokes he knocked around with had a lot of tatts. In the merchant marine and that, they’d get work done wherever they landed for a bit of shore leave – kind of like stamps in a passport. A Maori curl here, a bit of Tongan geometric stuff there. One bloke was a classic, talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve. He had an old-school valentine with a rose, high up on his left arm, scroll underneath with his old lady’s name, you know. Well, this joker, he ended up with, no word of a lie, 13 scrolls underneath, one after the other, all but the last one with some sheila’s name. He got ‘em inked out, see, whenever he had a bust up. He ended up staying with the last one, Mavis she was. Everyone used to ride him, said he’d only stuck with her ‘cause he was running out of skin.

We’re not all rough blokes. You know the image, beer-bellied bikers, all beards and balls. Yeah, okay, I’ve got a fair bit of work myself – wouldn’t trust a cleanskin tattooist, would ya? No more than you’d buy steak off a vegetarian butcher. But what I’m saying, from the jaw up I could be anyone – tradie, copper, office stiff. I got glasses, now, for reading and inking, but you get that when you’re speeding past fifty. Longish hair, grey mostly but still plenty of it, combed back. Clean shaven – these blokes with long beards, it’s not hygienic, hey, inking away with crumbs of yesterday’s lunch dropping into the open wound. It’s all about hygiene, these days, with AIDS and hep and who knows what-all else. I was always very careful about keeping clean, but, even back in the day – fussy old woman, the inkslinger who apprenticed me used to say.

But it’s serious, like, you know – serious business. A tattoo is for life – don’t get me started on those lasers – and you better know what you’re doing before you stick your needles deep into a person’s skin, squirting ink. It’s an intimate thing, the trust and the time – on the South Sea Islands, way back when, lot of times it was the priests, medicine men or witch doctors, whoever, used to do tatts, did ya know that? My work is there when the client is stark bollock naked – just him, his missus and my art. People take my ink to the grave. Think about it. Laying in a coffin, all alone, no family or friends, but they’re still wearing their tatts.

The pain… people worry about the pain, and it takes some different from others. I’ve had big strong blokes bawling in the chair – can’t even finish the outline on some of ‘em, that or they never come back to get the colour filled in. Sketch artists, I call ‘em. Others are hard, you can work away for hours without a flinch. People surprise you, hey? I had a dainty little lass come in the other day, wanted a lotus on her back… well, it was so far down it was just above her crack, really, you know where they get ‘em these days, so they show off with those low-slung jeans they wear. Here’s trouble, I thought, first time I put the machine to her she’ll squeal like a stuck pig. But nah, she laid there with her jeans pulled down and a dreamy smile on her face like I was… well, anyway, she didn’t so much as twitch.

I’m a bit old-fashioned, you’d probably call it, there are some things I won’t do on a woman. Nuthin’ on the face or neck, for a start. Trying to be blokes, some of the girls these days, and the guts of it is – they just look crap. No respect for themselves or for anyone else and I’m not gunna work on them, help them drag themselves down into the gutter. What’s a girl with a bloody great tatt on her neck gunna do with her life, you tell me? Make her living wrapped around a pole or lying on her back – dead set, talk about marked for life. I have done work for some ladies – working girls I mean – but I won’t touch their high-traffic areas, I think you get my drift. I saw one girl with pay before you enter on her belly, with an arrow pointing down. Nothing artistic about that, is there? What if she manages to hook some fool who wants to make an honest woman out of her – like I say, it’s not nice. There was a girl, pretty little thing, too, wanted a trail of ants marching up her thigh, leading to… well, use your imagination. I did that one, that was okay, a bit of fun, you know – not crass.

But here I go, rambling on. I wanted to tell you about this one bloke I had in. Quiet bloke he was, bit under six foot, not heavily muscled but not real soft, either. Normal, you’d have to say – just a bog-standard bloke. Anyway, in he comes one quiet arvo, mid-week. I heard the door chime – I was out the back mucking around with the autoclave, you know, sterilizing some gear and that, and the bell goes off and out I come. He’s there, hands in pockets, casual, just checking out the flash up on the walls.

‘Can I help you with anything, mate?’ I asked him. Just a sightseer, I reckon, nuthin’s happening here.

‘Yeah’ he says and strolls over to the counter. ‘Something a bit different.’

‘No worries. What have you got in mind? Did you bring a pic or drawing in, give us a start?’

‘No, nothing on paper. I can tell you, though. I… umm, want a girl. On my chest. ‘Bout here.’ He points to his chest, just above his heart.

‘A special girl? Wife, girlfriend, daughter? I can do ya a portrait from a photo, so real you’ll expect her to look up at ya and start nagging.’ I flip open one of my photo-books, push it across to show him.

‘Nah, a dancing girl. You know, Hawaiian?’

‘A hula girl? Grass skirt, bare tits, maybe a bit of surf and sunset behind her?’

He nods.

‘Too easy.’ I tell him. ‘Come on back.’ I lift up the flap on the counter, bring him around to the business side. You ever been in a tattoo parlour? I’ve got a big chair like at the dentist, black vinyl and chrome. All adjustable, like, so I can get ‘em at just the right angle. It’s bright lights and stainless steel, hey, my workshop, not a titty calendar in sight – can’t even smoke inside, these days. So I get him to strip off his shirt and climb up on the chair. He’s a bit hairy, there on his chest where he wants the ink, so I grab a throwaway razor.

‘I’ll just get rid of a bit of this, mate.’ I tell him and shave him down. I get him to swing his arm around a bit, watching how his flesh moves and reshapes with different positions. That’s the kind of attention to detail you don’t get from these backyard scratchers, teach themselves tattooing from a book. Anyway, while he’d got his arm up over his head I get an idea.

‘Flex your pec for me a bit.’

He kind of looks at me sideways, but does it.

‘You know, I could make her dance if you want, when you twitch that muscle, if I put her hips right here.’ I point where I mean.

‘Sounds good.’ he says and we’ve got a plan.

‘Bit cold, now.’ I warn him, and swab on the antiseptic. ‘So, you’re happy for me to go freehand?’ Sometimes I draw a design and transfer it, sometimes freehand.

‘Yeah.’ He says. ‘Go for it. I can suggest a few things, maybe, as we go.’

‘Alright, mate, it’s your tatt.’ I tell him, tilting a mirror so he can keep on eye on what’s happening while I work. Customers always right, they reckon, but once I start getting stuck in with the machine most people are flat out not screamin’ – forget about making design suggestions.

‘Here we go.’ I switch the machine on, put the needle into his skin for the first time. It’s just a test dot, really, the first one. You have a good look, next time you’re on the beach or in some other place where there’s a bit of skin on show – no, don’t tell me where, your private life’s your own. But what I’m saying is, check carefully and you’ll see quite a few lonely blue dots. Some people can’t cop it – one dot and that’s it, they’re out of there. Anyway, this bloke doesn’t flinch or sing out or nuthin’, so I think goodo and hook in.

I’ve got the outline of the girl’s body down, nice and curvy, hips tilted at just the right angle and not a squeak out of him. Mind you, the tattoo machine buzzes pretty loud – like a mozzie zapper taking out bugs the size of a chook – and most blokes under the needle aren’t all that chatty.

‘You need a break?’ I say.

‘Nah mate, it’s all good.’

‘I’ll get going on the colouring and shading, then. You want her light or dark skinned?’

‘Light on the body. On her face… something different.’

‘Different, how?’ I’m looking through the flesh-toned inks, thinkin’ I’d probably go for a custom mix to get the right shade of sun-burnished bronze.

‘Have you ever seen that Green Lady picture? Chinese bird with a blue-green face?’

‘Yeah, I know the one. My olds had one on the lounge room wall when I was a nipper.’

‘Like her.’ He looks really pleased with himself, settles back in the chair.

Hang on, I thought. Bugger that customer’s always right crap. I had to put in my two bobs worth. ‘She’s gunna look like she’s gone ten rounds with Kostya Tszyu.’

‘Yeah, maybe you’re right.’

Beaut, I thought, the silly bastard’s seen sense. I went back to loading the machine with ink.

‘Do it anyway.’

I shook my head but didn’t argue anymore. I changed out the ink for a seasick green and got to it, shading and tinting her face like he wanted. I glanced up and caught his eyes in the mirror.

‘Bring a bit more shading through the face there, mate.’ He tells me. ‘Show more of her bone structure.’

What did I care? He’d already turned my smiling Aloha girl into a freak. When I finished with her head she looked… creepy. I mean, I’m used to bikers gettin’ the Grim Reaper inked all over ‘em, you know – if it wasn’t for flamin’ skeletons I wouldn’t have eaten, some weeks – but this bird just looked wrong. Her lush curved hips and waving hands topped off with that corpse’s head. I dunno, I’m good with ink, not words – all I can tell you is that she looked wrong. ‘Mate, we’ve got a bit of a problem here.’ I tell him.

‘What’s that?’

‘I’m getting set to colour the body. It’s not gunna blend in with that face you’ve given her.’

‘Problem solved.’ he says, with a smart-arsed cheesy grin. ‘I want you to put a narrow red band around her throat.’

‘Hey? Like a choker? I was gunna put a lei around her neck, but lower, you know, half over her tits.’

‘Exactly right. A choker.’ He chuckled, a crazy high-pitched cackle. His eyes in the mirror were glassy, too bright and too wide, bigger pupils than Mickey Mouse. I’m a big bloke, know how to handle meself, but I felt a cold ripple like someone just run an ice cube up my backbone.

‘A choker.’ He said the word slowly and carefully, his mouth deliciously full with it, like ‘choker’ was chocolate melting on his tongue.

I had a bit of a word with meself, then, like, while I fiddled with the machine, pretending it needed adjusting. This bloke had more than one kangaroo loose in the top paddock, no question – did I finish the tatt or get shot of him? I kept going. Yeah, he was sus, but his money was the some colour as a sane person’s. Besides – the heart of the matter – I couldn’t come at leaving a piece of art half-finished.

I inked in her body, her grass skirt and the lei. From the neck down she was a top sort. I could have turfed him out then, but we had a deal.

‘So, we’re still going with sunset on the beach in the background? Ripple of water running up to her feet?’

‘In that wave, I want you to write something.’

Of course you do, I thought.

‘Put: Layla R.I.P 11.10.08.’

‘October the eleventh this year? Almost three weeks ago?’ I sort of felt better then, took the first full breath I’d managed since he’d started going on about chokers. His missus had carked it not long ago, that was why he was a bit off. I rolled my shoulders a bit to loosen up and started on the background, but old mate wasn’t finished.

‘Everything would have been alright if she’d just shut up. Break it up, I said, I don’t want to know, but she kept on and on… you know women. Even then it might’ve been okay, I maybe could have just walked away, left her to it, but she started going on about his cock. About how he was such a dynamite root and how she’d had her first orgasm, for crying out loud. First orgasm? We’d been married fifteen fucking years. I saw red. You ever had that happen? I actually saw red, like my eyes were filled with blood instead of water and when they cleared, when I could see what was going on –  Layla was dead. And then it was her eyes that were filled with blood. Wasn’t seeing much, but.’ Again he let fly with the cackle. ‘She didn’t go green then, in case you were wondering. That came later. I threw her in the boat, went out to Mudjimba Island. Bit of a project, landing her on the island. I didn’t have time, then, to bury her. Sun was coming up and I had to get back, didn’t want anyone to see me. I put her in that falling down shack, there, didn’t make it back until a week later. Waited for a cloudy night, no moon. By then she was green.’

Turned my guts, fair dinkum. Not the thought of her lying there, bloating in the sun, no company but the insects as her pretty face swelled and changed colour till it was just one big bruise. Don’t get me wrong, that’s bad enough, but I’ve seen a bit over the years. I used to ride with some boys who solved their problems by digging holes, ya know what I’m saying. It was the way he said it, the gloating gleam in his eyes and the way he savoured the memories as he filled my ears with poison.

‘You know my only regret?’

I shook my head, inking as fast as I could.

‘Now the bitch is dead I can’t have the pleasure of offing her again.’

I usually like to see my art on people out and about – walking billboards, I call ‘em. But as I finished up, smeared the tatt with vaso and slapped on a dressing, I was muttering prayers to any god listening that I’d never see this one again. ‘Keep that on for a few days.’ I told him. ‘Keep it clean for the next week or so, and stay out of the sun until it heals up. And mate?’

He was sitting up now, back to me as he climbed out of the chair. ‘Yeah?’

‘I’m not gunna dog you to the cops. Nuthin’ to tell, hey, just two old mates having a bit of a yarn.’

He’s nodding away, grin on him like a bull terrier and he’s still got that crazy cold light behind his glassy eyes.

I lean forward, then, closer than I wanted to get to his face. ‘I reckon you might want to pack up and move on, you know, for the good of your health. Sea air’s not the best for everyone. I’ve got a lot of mates around the Sunny Coast, mates with daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins…’

He gets a bit pale, then, well, more greenish like and his mouth screws up like his guts have just turned. Now he can’t leave fast enough. He’s nearly through the door when I call him back. He swings around all in one piece, like he’s stiff and sore all over.

‘And if you want any more work done, go somewhere else.’ Like I said, every tattoo tells a story – but some, you’re better off not knowing.