A Case of Construction

This is an original Dave Warner story, not published anywhere else.

THERE is nothing worse than doing a “watch” for Bangers Gabbadini unless it is doing a watch for Bangers Gabbadini in February, next to the garbage dumpster at the Sebel Townhouse when it is 30-plus degrees. Bangers is a Private D whose suits wear a large portion of the end result of his enormous appetite. Smelling Bangers pass by, derros have been known to fasten Doberman-like to his buttons.

I venture to suggest that if Bangers had been on board that plane carrying those Argentine soccer players when it had crashed in the Andes, not only would they have not had to eat the team’s lesser players, but just by running a spoon over Bangers’ lapels they would have found so much food that by the time they were rescued they actually would have gained weight. Bangers’ shortcomings are many but high on the list is a total ineptitude with electronic surveillance gizmos.Bangers once inflicted three months of total deafness upon himself when he placed a bug underneath a blender. Today he had on his necktie camera. I should have known, then and there, that there would be repercussions.

But as it turns out, I am not thinking all that clearly about Bangers’ shortcomings – I am only thinking of my own. Or, at least, my own future shortcomings if I do not pay Lou Multegrande the hundred bucks I owe him. Fortunately, Bangers’ watching job pays a hundred and ten, and that is why I can’t turn him down when he asks me to go back-up on an adultery job, even if it is 30-plus and as humid as the inside of Jeff Fenech’s glove. Of course, Bangers himself is inside under the air-conditioning, playing with his necktie camera, and I’m stuck out by the dumpster, unable to get a better posish because three hundred screaming, die-hard fans – mostly the wrong side of 40 – are waiting for a glimpse of their hero, Gooz Bailey, the best white blues axeman of all time, who is also staying at the Sebel.

MY JOB is actually pretty simple. When the guy who is banging the wife of Bangers’ client leaves the Sebel, I am to follow him. This gent, I am told, is 35 or so, probably wearing Nikes and running shorts, and he is tall. This description fits 50 percent of the guys who emerge from the Sebel. The other 50 percent are short. At a classy hip hotel like the Sebel, all the guests dress down. Not that this guy is a guest. He is simply playing hide-the-sausage dot.com with Bangers’ client’s missus, whose name I have not been given. Fortunately, this Mambo-wearing adulterer I’m supposed to follow always – I am told – wears a red cap to hide a bald patch.

FOR THREE HOURS I’ve hopped from one foot to the other. I’m starting to smell more like the dumpster than the dumpster, and am about to collapse like a Laurie Connell horse when I snap to. A tall guy in a red cap is coming out the door of the Sebel, right behind a workman carrying a rolled-up carpet. Now that’s a job I would hate to have on a 30-plus day like today. Fortunately, my target hails a cab.

Fortunate because I get to slide into air-conditioning and tell my driver “follow that cab”, which in all my years of watching, I have never got the chance to do. I follow Red Cap to Paddington and check the address of the place he enters with his own key. It is an art gallery, with what looks like a residence upstairs. I know it’s an art gallery because there is a little sign outside that says so. If I relied on a peek through the window, I might have thought I was a pre-school because I am not an arty type, though I do like a good picture, especially waves on a beach or one of them old ones featuring horses like Archer of Carbine that you see on TV once a year at Melbourne Cup time.

SATISFIED I know where the target lives, I get back in the cab and make a beeline for The Crown, which is our agreed rendezvous and which has reliable air-conditioning. I pull up a stool and order a Reschs and am pleased to see that our bar girl, Michelle, is back to her usual happy self. Lately she has been gloomier than a critic’s choice film, which is a downer as we all rely on Michelle to keep us from thinking too hard about what we are doing passing our days in an establishment like The Crown. “You’re looking bright today,” I remark. “How come?” Though it is an absolute certainty that it has something to do with her fiancé, Michael. Well, I say fiancé in a loose sense because that is where the trouble comes about, not so much from Michael, who is a nice enough kid studying law, but from Michael’s old man, Sid Dennit, a big-shot builder.

Michael and Michelle want to get married, but Sid absolutely refuses his blessing – saying how Michael has his whole life ahead of him and shouldn’t throw it away on some floozy barmaid. This is rich coming from Sid. For a start, Michelle is no floozy. At some point or other all us guys at The Crown have tried to hit on her with as much success as Churchill at Gallipoli. She has eyes only for Michael. And she is bright, too, studying computers and stuff.

SID TURNS a blind eye to these qualities and, as is the way with so many blokes who start as nothing and get some toehold in the harbour view, private school set, forgets his own less-than-humble origins. Sid was a 10-pound tourist who knocked off his first set of tools during snap strikes and whose current status as a big-shot developer owes little to his engineering or design skills and more to the artistic use to which he has put the everyday tools of his trade – bolt cutters, blow torches, saws and hammers.

This art form has interested many people over the last decade, especially various government bodies like royal commissions, but as with most artists, Sid has been reluctant to talk about his art at any length and the government has been as confused as most confronted by the avant garde. To Michael’s credit he has threatened to marry Michelle anyway, but Michelle is a savvy young woman who knows that if she comes between the boy and his Dad, she will always be a loser.

For three weeks she has been all gloom, but now, here suddenly is sunny old Michelle again. “I’ll tell you why I am so happy,” she says. ” It’s about Michael.” Of course, I lay on the surprise as thick as butter on a CWA pumpkin scone. Then she says, “By the end of this evening Michael and I should be engaged.” And she proceeds to tell me the whole story.

IT SEEMS Michael’s mother, Mrs Sid, is not nearly so bull-headed as her husband, and she can see many advantages in her boy marrying Michelle. Not the least of which being it would deal the kybosh to any aspirations Michael’s former live-in lover and current affairs commentator Patricia Kennedy might have of rekindling the affair. Not only does Mrs Sid not hold much truck with Patricia’s long-legged, knitted brow style of interviewing, but she believes Mr Sid is at the age where he should be thinking of gardens and grandchildren, being spared contact with young blondes with long legs and knitted brows, certain of whom have a reputation that scorches up the fairway of Ladies Golf Day.

This reputation, however unwarranted (and when Little Women get to Mrs Sid’s point in life, it is often unwarranted), involves married execs, ratings parties, photocopy machines and messy divorces. During her son’s courtship of Ms Kennedy, Mrs Sid had seen enough to set the alarm bells ringing. Around the pool there had been impromptu displays which featured Patricia and several of her equally unsavoury girlfriends, their flagrant disregard for diet limits, swiss-cheese bikinis and Sid’s sudden bursts of strenuous butterfly, for which she ultimately paid the price as Sid was left moaning all night long about strained tendons and pulled muscles. Michelle, on the other hand, was brunette.

“I GET the picture,” I say, trying to hasten Michelle for the sake of two old Diggers with parched throats at the end of the bar who had been patiently waiting for their Reschs and looked in a state of imminent collapse. “But how will things change tonight?” “Gooz Bailey’s concert is tonight,” she says. I say I am aware but can’t see how Gooz’s blues lead to her rock.

By now one of the Diggers is clutching at his throat and slowly toppling from his stool. The other looks like the girl in Titanic when the baby-faced guy started to slip under the waves – distraught but holding on for grim life, just praying that Reschs would come soon. Michelle tells me that Mrs Sid tells her that Sid is such a huge fan of Gooz Bailey that if she ever asks him a favour, no matter what, during a Gooz rendition of WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN, Sid will grant it.This is romantic stuff I didn’t credit the likes of Sid with. Mrs Sid has got many things out of Sid just by asking when a recording is on. Imagine live!

BY NOW a paramedic has charged into the bar and has an oxygen mask over the prone Digger whose cheeks are slowly losing their tinge of blue and become a rosy pink again. Because Michelle did not find out about Sid’s being a Gooz fan until all the tickets were gone, she has had to use all her savings to buy one from a scalper. But, she asks me, what is money compared to a lifetime of happiness? Before I can say that, for me, money is a lifetime of happiness, a news flash comes across the TV.

It’s right before the maiden at Wagga so everybody in The Crown sees it, The Crown crowd being such punters that even a maiden at Wagga is accorded the reverence of the Cox Plate. Well, the news flash has Michelle in tears. She drops her bundle completely. She is gone. The paramedic’s trained eye notices the look and he leaps the bar to give her the O2, but she is in another place where air does not matter.

THE NEWS FLASH is that somebody has stolen Gooz Bailey’s legendary guitar, “Alistair”, from the Sebel. Gooz is refusing to play without Alistair, and despite the offer of other guitars is planning to fly out on the first available. To add salt to Michelle’s wounds, the interview with Gooz is conducted by none other than knitted-brow Kennedy, and I have the fanciful idea that maybe she somehow engineered this herself.

The proximity of an empty schooner glass at this crucial juncture does not help. Michelle heaves it right through the TV set, causing great disappointment to those awaiting the maiden at Wagga. Nobody says anything though, because nobody wants Michelle upset further. Without a word, she takes herself out the back. There I am, pondering the pitfalls of love, when in walks Bangers with shoulders slumped and a face the texture of melted rubber.

“Don’t tell me you had tickets to Gooz Bailey?” I say, but it goes over Bangers head. “I hate Gooz Bailey,” he says, and orders a schooner. I tell him he may as well order Kim Bassinger in the nude and explain Michelle’s problem, but Bangers has no time for anybody’s grief but his own, not even the old Digger whose seat he has swiped. “I followed the target,” I say, and tell him about Red Cap living in Paddo above an art gallery. “No use now,” he says, “the photos didn’t turn out.” With that he waves a sheaf of 10-by-8s in my face. “Just as I pull my tie to take the picture of red-cap and my client’s wife, this damn carpet guy walks in front.”

I SEE WHAT has got Banger’s goat. The carpet guy has totally obscured Red Cap and to all intents and purposes it looks like the woman in the photo, who I notice is about 28 with a perfect body and rich tan, is actually smiling at the carpet guy, whose face is also hidden by a cap, but different to the red cap of the obscured guy.

“There’s always tomorrow,” I say, trying to help out. “No good,” Bangers whines. The chick is back to Melbourne that night. I snap my fingers. “Tell your client his wife didn’t see anybody. He’ll never know.Bangers shakes his head slowly. “I cannot lie to a client.” I point out that Bangers has lied to many clients. “Not this client. This client is Natty Sidouris.” Now I see Bangers’ problem. Natty Sidouris. Sidouris is the sort of guy who will always find out, and when he does, he will cut out your tongue and use it as a fly-swatter.

THE SOUNDS of loud sobbing at the back of the bar remind me of the predicament of Michelle, which for all Natty’s nastiness makes Bangers’ problem miniscule. A tongue you can do without, but not a heart. And then I see it. “Wait a sec. Look there.” “It’s your fingernail,” Bangers says in that condemned man tone.“No, you clot, there!” I am pointing to a tattoo of a cricket bat on the wrist of the carpet man.

“So?” Bangers acts all smart arse. I explain the last time I saw this graphic it is on the wrist of one Carl Minton – “Minty” – he is playing indoor cricket, every day. For he is in Long Bay as a result, I hear, of the cops busting his flat and finding it stuffed with 150 microwaves. Bangers does not see how this will square him with Natty and, to be honest, neither do I, but I am not thinking about Natty, I am thinking about Michelle. “But how does it help her?”

“Have you ever known Minty to have an honest job?” I ask. He says he hasn’t.“Well, don’t you find it a little strange that Minty is carrying a rolled-up carpet at the Sebel at about the time Alistair goes missing?” “Alistair?” I explain about Gooz’s guitar and Bangers agrees that he, too, finds it an unusual coincidence.

A SHORT TIME later we find ourselves in a dumpy room in Marrickville staring at the cricket bat tattoo in the flesh. Ignoring a number of microwaves in the adjoining room, Bangers gets to the point of why we are there. Minty hears us out and then tells us to go do something to ourselves that these days nobody would contemplate doing without an AIDS test. Bangers, who is a dab hand at this sort of impasse, then pulls out one of the 10-by-8s and flashes it at Minty.

It could have been taken anywhere, no court will convict him he shoots back. We agree wholeheartedly, but clear up any misconception. Bangers would not be showing this to the cops but to the husband of the chick in the photo – who, as it happens, looks like she is smiling right at Minty. Minty is a tough bantam chook. “Husbands don’t scare me,” he says. “This husband,” says I, “is Natty Sidouris.”

WE ARE all waiting at The Crown for the news. Terry, the manager, has given Michelle the night off so she can go to the concert – because naturally, when an anonymous voice tells Gooz where he can find Alistair thanks to the keen eye of a bargirl named Michelle, Gooz not only does the concert but comes up with front-row tickets for her, Michael, and Mr and Mrs Sid. Michelle gives me the two tickets she had already bought and I manage to unload these for the hundred I owe Lou Multigrande, and then some.

But the concert has finished an hour ago, and there is still no Michelle. I have never seen so many grown-up guys so nervous. Terry has brought his own tele down from his room to replace the smashed one, but nobody is watching anything but the clock. Then in they burst and Michelle’s face is enough. “Yes!” she shrieks, and the whole place erupts like a bus-load of Rugby League players who have just seen a girl in a short skirt.

The next day Bangers and I are still high from our handiwork. Turns out Gooz thanks Michelle and personally dedicates WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN to her and Michael. This seals it with Sid, who turns to his wife and says: “I know what you’re going to ask and I would have said ‘yes’ anyway, but my heart would not have been in it. Now I see what a complete dope I’ve been. Michelle is a great chick, what’s good enough for Gooz is good enough for me.”

FOR A TIME we entertain ourselves with what we should get for a wedding present. We both agree we don’t want to go for the normal electrical fare. We want something classy, which Michelle deserves.This diversion does not last long. We both know that there is the problem of Natty, who will demand an iron-clad account of his wife’s infidelity. And so that is why, fresh out of any better idea, we have arrived in Paddo determined to bluff Red Cap into admitting his affair with Natty’s wife.

WE RING the bell and after a short time Red Cap appears, looks us up and down and asks what on earth we might want in his bailiwick. Bangers explains to Red Cap that he is in great danger carrying on with Mrs Sidouris, but he only laughs.This is one crazy or one very cool dude. He invites us upstairs, and though I am reluctant, there is little I can do but comply. We emerge into a nice parlour, which is spoilt by being crammed with stuff you haven’t seen since your old Aunty’s house. There is another guy there, sitting at the big table in a dressing gown.

Red Cap, who introduces himself as Bart, gives the dressing-gown guy the rundown. The other guy not so much laughs as sniggers. “What’s so funny?” asks Bangers, bluffing his heart out. “I got Bart here dead to the world.” Bart says, “Mr Sidouris has got it wrong. I am teaching his wife art appreciation.” Now I have heard some bulltwang in my time, but this is a lulu. Bangers says he himself has been giving art appreciation classes to the girls at the Giant Waterbed these last 10 years or so. Bart forces a smile and explains.

MRS SIDOURIS is actually the second Mrs Sidouris. The first Mrs Sidouris was a cow whose artistic pedigree was a subscription toHouse and Garden. Now I don’t read House and Garden myself, but from Bart’s tone I take it it is something like the Wagga Maiden compared to the Cox Plate.

Anyway, talk of the first Mrs Sidouris rings true to Bangers who recalls Natty bemoaning how much dough she wasted buying this and that, only to end up with furnishings that were remarkably similar in style to the afforementioned establishment, the Giant Waterbed. Bart explains how each time the second Mrs Sidouris comes to Sydney he teaches her a little more about what is tasteful, and what is like a mouthful of bilge water.

“I am an expert, you see,” Bart says with a swish. “Expert! Yeah, you’re an expert bullshit artist,” Bangers says, trying to regain the initiative. Bart laughs. So does his friend, who I now notice seems to have something the matter with his eyes. “Honestly,” says Bart trying not to hiccup. “You see, we’re pillow-biters.”

AND YEAH, you could have knocked me down with the feather boa I see slung over the back of the chair with little turned legs, but now I see what was funny about Dressing Gown guy’s eyes – he is wearing eyeshadow. A big grin spreads over Banger’s face. “Really? You guys really kick with the left foot?”

They both nod. Bangers is ecstatic, because Natty will be ecstatic. Not only is his wife not parking stray Stingrays in her garage, she is actually studying to save Natty money and give his place more class! “How about you gentlemen staying for a drink?” Bart asks perkily. I’m expecting Bangers to bolt, but he confounds me. “I wouldn’t mind a tea,” he says. Then as Bart moves to light the gas stove he adds: “My friend and I are wishing to procure a wedding present for a young couple, and in the matter of taste we would defer to you.”

Bart cocks an interested eye. “Well, an oil painting would make an excellent gift, and I would be pleased to advise you. May I ask your budget?” Here Bangers shuffles. “Actually, we are totally skint just at present but I reckon maybe we can help you, do a swap like?” Bart and his friend Mark exchange looks like “what would you guys be able to offer us?” Bangers says: “I can’t help noticing that you only have this old stove. As it happens, we have an acquaintance, a leg-spinner from Marrickville, who has some very fancy and cheap microwaves going.”

Copyright © Dave Warner, 2000

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