Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues (Muse 6)

Plane tree's hand sized leaves flutter waving in the sunlight constrained by concrete beds lining rough slab pavements. Light and lush linings to a seedy street. Her boughs, bedrooms for parakeets who flock in carnal habitation while the lust of humans plays out below. They suck in carbon as the inebriates snort cocaine. As morning breaks, they're ready to breath light with the golden kiss of dawn. To flutter once again, flirtatious under sunlight's gaze.

He had a nasty mouth that curled in a perpetual sneer. He was flashy and ostentatious, clad always in the best of suitings, and the most iridescent of shirts and ties. He was just a dapper little braggart, but he wielded amazing influence over gunmen, burglars and pick-pockets. They elevated him to the stature of a demi-god. To an assorted crew of morons he became a hero, a legendary figure, an exemplar of all forms of criminal daring, the new lord of the underworld.

One who thought him a demi-god was Alexander Vale, the twin brother of Thomas, Jack and Kate's first born by five minutes. Always in a rush to enter the world, then in a rush to conquer it. The antitheses of his younger brother. Thomas was the gentler soul, a quiet man with purpose and dedication. Studious and serious with a sense of honour and respect.

"Chalk and cheese, those two," Kate would say as one played peacefully in the sand pit while the other sprayed the yard with imaginary bullets.

How one became involved in Melbourne's underworld and the other joined the force was anyone's guess. Thomas says it began with a girl.

Marleine Strouthos was beautiful. Petite with dark brown hair and a complexion that gave away her Greek heritage but Australian born and bred. Beautifully manicured and even in these hard times managed to look like something straight from an Anthony Hordern's catalogue.  In their late teens, both identical twins held some fascination for the flirtatious Marleine. They enjoyed playing tricks on her pretending that one was the other. Most times the deception worked until she became intimate with Thomas. He had a small strawberry mark on his thigh that only she'd explored with her hands and tongue.

One evening when such an escapade was in progress, she succumbed to the seduction of Alex, only realising at the point of no return that she'd been fondling the wrong twin.  Too late for turning back, Alex' mean streak took over and despite her protests, he'd slapped her hard on the side of the head and pressed her against the seat in the back of his father's Bugatti Type 38, before forcing himself inside her.  The hand over her mouth disguising all but horrified eyes as a supposed friend violated her body and made her whimper. The drive home was silent. Neither spoke until he pulled up outside her house. "Say nothing bitch, Tom'll kill me if he finds out and I'll kill you if you blab. You're mine, always were, always will be and don't forget it." Terrified, and aware that he was capable, Marleine nods in acquiescence and flees the car in tears. It's the last she sees of Alex for two years.  Yet each year on her birthday comes a card, "I want you back. Happy Birthday."

Sydney is growing up and while they make movies about gangsters in Hollywood,  Sydney's underbelly is more subtle.  Anyone can own a pistol in New South Wales, making it the weapon of choice for gangsters. A more silent dispatcher of undesirables became the cutthroat razor and the Razor Gangs begin to catch public imagination as they slash their way to power in an attempt to break the lucrative vice market. Prostitution becomes controlled and Kings Cross is the hub. One small area, so much crime. Cocaine in particular is the drug of choice and profit.  Harry Newman was at the top of the corruption pyramid, the demi-god invisible with an armada of eager thugs to ply his dirty trade. Importing 'snow' at £1 a packet and selling it for £50, using a stall at Paddy's Markets where he sold gramophone records as a front. In these times possession of cocaine is not an offence and Police are powerless to act unless they actually catch him selling. He never touches cocaine, just pushes it on others.

Alex being fond of the ladies of the night was a regular visitor to the Grand Hotel, a well known cover for the women of the night. It was here he met Newman. Whilst standing at the bar, he'd ended up in a stoush with another man and drawn a razor. The vanquished left shivering with a nice gash across his cheek and Newman invited Alex over for a congratulatory drink. "Alex Vale" the handsome stranger introduced himself. "Well Mr Vale, I could do with a few men like you, unafraid to defend themselves." The two proceeded to get drunk and talk of profit and potential, how to get rich quick and the rest as they say, is 'history'. Alex soon found himself driving a flash Dodge with a police tuned radio and became Newman's front man, warning of impending raids on the lucrative dealership.

Tom took the noble path and joined the NSW Police. He married Marleine who never spoke of the rape. They were happy, comfortable, three nippers at their heals and a nice house in Bondi, life was good. Until Newman who's ability to evade arrest was legendary. The Force had been briefed and an ambush organised although their intelligence was weak. This day, a shipment had been received and at Woolloomoollo Wharf, ferried by an immigrant boat and passed on by a mule.

Customs were told to let it through. Newman's ostentatious car not hard to spot in the tight backstreets had been seen picking up the loot.  Tom is assigned to wait and apprehend Newman as he leaves. He sits patiently on the corner of William Street. As the Dodge rounds the corner, he lunges at the door and forces himself inside. Fast and surprising. But it wasn't Newman in the driver's seat, it was Alex, the evidence neatly packed in a shopping bag at his feet. "Alex what the fuck?" Time to pull over. "Tom, turn around, turn a blind eye. You didn't see anything. You bust me and they'll come for you, Marleine the kids . . they'll kill  you all! Fuck off let me go."  Tom know that look in his brother's eyes, menacing and serious, a look that says, 'I'll kill them myself if I have to'. A look that takes him back to the time when Alex tortured a rabbit with a pocket knife for the sheer joy of making it suffer while he himself had sat there crying and pleading for him to let the screaming feral go. He knows what Alex is capable of. "Duck down Plunkett, they're waiting further up and for Christ's sake, get rid of this shit. You stand out like a sore thumb and they'll be down on you like a ton of bricks once you turn the corner."   Alex mindful of his brother's advice hurls the shopping back into a back alley, he'll retrieve it later. Tom leaves the car as a snide and victorious smile leaves Alex' lips. Back-up apprehend the twin but there's no evidence and the smooth-talking, sweet-lipped Alex is left free to leave. Newman's given them the slip once again.

Relaxing in their sitting room, Marleine and Tom are listening to the radio, things are getting tough around the world as depression sinks in and there's trouble in the north as Germany rises against. They agree, they're lucky to live where they do, far from the madness although times are tough, life is good to them. Food in their bellies, a roof over their house and three lovely children, all tucked tight and sleeping. The peace is shattered by a brick which smashes the front window a dangerous projectile delivering a threatening note. "I want her back" says the note, "Deliver her to 85 Bayswater Road or I'll come and get her," clearly in Alex' hand. "What does it mean, 'I want her back' who?" says Tom. Marleine knows better. She'd lived with the black shadow, the sword of Damocles above her head and knew he'd never let her go. "He wants me," she says, dipping her head in guilty shame, "Why?" Tom's naivety making him all the more charming. "Tom, remember when you used to make fun and date me. pretending you were each other?" He sits, he's worried. "Well I never ever did anything with Alex. Except one time. I thought it was you. We were in the back of the car and, well one thing led to another and then I noticed there wasn't a birthmark . . " Tom is turning pale, feeling nauseous. "As soon as I realised I stopped but he didn't. He swore if I told, he'd kill me. I thought this was all over. I thought he'd gone away I thought . . ." she can't suppress the hysterics and Tom can't suppress the numbness of disbelief. Then rage . .finally . .one thing the twins have in common.

Nothing happens. Nothing. Life goes on after the brick incident. Kids are scurried to school, the banality of housework is completed. Tom heads off for three weeks rotation, days, evenings nights. All seems well until . . .

A two-toned Dodge follows Marleine as she walks along the Beachfront on Campbell Parade and turns left up Wellington to pick the children up from school. It's a familiar walk to the driver who's been shadowing her for weeks.  She's looking fresh and pretty in a floral dress, tanned arms, slender legs, new shoes. She looks much as she did 10 years ago when he took advantage of his twindom.  The dodge crawls to a slow but she doesn't notice. The sun is shining in all it's glory, one day before it will be darkened by the moon's shadow. So . . . slow, so . . quiet. She doesn't hear the back door open, nor the body of the man behind who puts an ether stained cloth to her mouth and drags her once more unwillingly into the back seat.

"Mr Vale? Your children are still at school, nobody came to pick them up." says the voice on the end of the phone. Officer Vale's face drains. She always meets them at the gate, always. "I'll be right there." Feigning his professional voice, he makes apologies for leaving early and takes a police car to pick up the kids. "What happened? Where's your mum?" Puzzled faces of  Elaine, George and Peter stare blankly, "She didn't come". A feeling of foreboding and an almost instinctive knowledge of why, swells over Tom like a king tide.

He's a religious man and before making any hasty decision he takes pause. What he's about to do could cost his life, her life, the lives of countless others but it has to be done and he needs the blessing of the Gods, or more particularly one God. He walks purposefully, uniformed and resolute into St Mary's Cathedral. It's quiet in the late afternoon. He kneels before the Blessed Virgin and thinks how her image reminds him of his beloved Marleine. He looks sideways at the body of Christ and in a dark moment sees his twin crucified and speared, suffering for his abduction. He prays to a God he is beginning to doubt.

As she comes round, Marleine knows not where she is, but knows exactly who her abductor is.  In the back bar of the Grand,  she's tied to a chair, hands and feet bound and mouth gagged. A flotilla of well dressed pin stripes smoking and drinking, some gathered around a table, wads of cash exchanged for chips. None pay her attention - except one. Alex moves in close, breath reeking of booze and cigar. He brushes her face with the cigar hand and she feels it's heat near her eye.  She winces in a poor attempt to avoid contact. "Hello baby. . I told you and I warned him . . . I want you back." She has the same stare as that night which terrifies her but clearly excites him, even in the smokey room he struggles to control the urge to once more have her, anywhere, anyway.

April 22 in1922 and the Gods interfere. A total eclipse darkens the already dim room. What sunlight danced on dust through each window fades and the room is swathed in black. Within moments, there are screams. The ladies of the night used to fleeing during raids are frozen.  An army of blue suits surround the bar. They're heavily armed as are their adversaries but at this point mutual respect or fear of death or the dark hold them at bay. Tom emerges. "Alex! . . " No one comes forward, nobody moves against the battalion of police, "Alex! . . .Bring her out. Now! Bring her out and we walk away. Refuse and Newman's Empire is dust. Bring her out, no retribution, no punishment. Just bring her the fuck out."

The backroom stirs, quiet but purposeful as arms are loaded, switchblades unfurled. Pin stripes load. Alex, knowing of the danger releases Marleine. "You fucking bastard, you prick!" a swift swipe shuts her up and she cowers against the wall. Inching towards the door. This is going to be a bloodbath. She ducks and covers and waits.

The pin stripes burst through the two-way mirrored door, guns blazing and eradicating anyone in their wake. Flashes fill the void. Prostitutes fall like felled trees, innocent punters hit the floor to avoid the spray. Police open fire and the exchange is cartoon-like as each side faces off and cuts each other down. The thrash of mutilation, crash of glass, the unmistakable ping of projectiles cutting through smokey air and the occasional thud as they pierce their victim's skin.  The walls are alive with splatter, the floor crawling with damage, the bar mirror shattered and the cacophony unbearable. Until there are two left.

"Fuck you, fuck you to hell you bastard" Tom is inconsolable as he peruses the carnage in new post eclipse light,"I just wanted my wife back. I turned a blind eye to the drugs, the prostitution, the killings . . I just wanted her back." He sinks in tears, sure that she's dead. "Tom. You were always the weak one. The soft one. You don't get anywhere that way. Look at me, look at me! I get what I want. Women, booze, a table in an nice restaurant. I get respect because I instill fear. You're soft. You don't deserve her . ." He cocks the pistol previously hidden in his jacket pocket and the sound of the last gunfire reverberates through the room.

He kicks the body of his twin and smirks disrespect. Once a child, a sweet suckling thing has turned monster. How it happened he doesn't know but blood lies bleeding on the floor. They're all dead. Every damn one of them. Except her. She creeps quivering and quaking, teared with panda eyes and dishevelled hair. Rope still tied to her fragile wrists, "Shit Tom . . . is it over?"

He walks to her and embraces her. Squeezes her tight and kisses the top of her head. "Darling it's fine. Everything will be alright . . I have you back."

It hits the newspapers as the greatest gangland bust up in history. A Trojan war where nobody won. A fight over a woman, misguided and misplaced, brother against brother, friend against friend. A pyhrric victory that bit at the Achilles heels of gangland Sydney.

She and he are now at peace. The children sleep upstairs in the safety of their Bondi home. She lies in erotic anticipation on their bed, silk nightgown pushed gently upward by his loving hands. She turns expectant of sweet sex and a lover's sensual touch, until she sees his thigh . . .

Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory - River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Continued at:
Threepenny Bet


  1. "Relaxing in their sitting room, Kate and Tom are listening to the radio, things are getting tough around the world as depression sinks in and there's trouble in the north as Germany rises against."

    From that point through the end of the chapter, you changed Marleine's name to Kate.

    Other than that and the fact that the climax is a bit "Hollywood action movie ending," I like it.

  2. Thanks again, my lovely little proofreader. Yep fixed that. Haha . . Hollywood here I come! Jeffscape, be careful what you wish for!

  3. i like seeing a nice big plane tree, and its funny little seed pods.

    oh crap. you got me.

  4. I wanted her to torture him like that rabbit with a knife, just for the hell of it. Well, he had it coming.

  5. PS couldn't get to muse 5 link. Said no page.

  6. Could not find the 'faint' jump.... so I'm here.
    You are simply/and not so simply so good. -J

  7. Very hard to believe, all of it.
    Write what you know isn't a bad idea.

    "pressed her against the seat in the back of his father's Bugatti Type 35"

    Would be difficult to do. Rare car, priceless, doesn't have a back seat.

  8. I knew it! "I have you back" gave it away, just as you probably intended. Good stuff. And I care not what cars are available when. It's fiction! No offense, Geoff ;-)

  9. It's naive, all of it.

    My opinion.

  10. Well spotted Geoff, yes it's naive romantic fiction and doesn't try to be anything else. Although thanks for the hot tip on the car.

    Fiction is a bit like television, don't like it? Switch channels.

  11. I took the time to read it.

    However if you only want praise then maybe you should have said so, and I wouldn't have bothered.

    PS: I'm not a motor racing fan, but I know the Bugatti Type 35 was famous on the racetracks during the period you mention. I've got a wooden cutout of one.
    I bought it in a $2 shop.