Contrappasso Archives: Noir Issue

cp noir front cover raw

From the archives: Here is the introduction to our special 2013 issue on Noir in film, fiction, and other arts. It has never previously appeared online.

The issue was edited by Noel King and Matthew Asprey Gear. Contributors include Luc Sante, Suzanne Lummis, Nicholas Christopher, Barry Gifford, Morris Lurie, Dahlia Schweitzer & Toby Miller, Andrew Nette, and Matthew Asprey Gear. We also feature interviews with Dennis McMillan and Adrian Wootton.

The Noir Issue remains available in print form at Amazon.com, for Kindle, and in other ebook formats at Smashwords.

INTRODUCTION: ORGANISING WHAT WE SEE

NOEL KING and MATTHEW ASPREY GEAR

When we decided to do this special Contrappasso noir issue—a grab bag of essays, interviews, and new and classic poetry—we were aware that some time ago two critics whose work we greatly admired, Luc Sante and James Naremore, had expressed fatigue with the term. In 2004 Sante told our colleague Peter Doyle, “noir is a category badly in need of a twenty- or thirty-year moratorium, at least in films.”

Naremore’s wonderful More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts (1998/2008) ends by saying:

Given the current situation, debates over whether specific films are “truly” noir, or over the problem of what makes up a film genre, have become tiresome. There is, in fact, no transcendent reason why we should have a noir category at all. Whenever we list any movie under the noir rubric, we do little more than invoke a network of ideas as a makeshift organizing principle, in place of an author, a studio, a time period, or a national cinema. By such means, we can discuss an otherwise miscellaneous string of pictures, establishing similarities and differences among them. As I argue throughout this book, every category in criticism or in the film industry works in this fashion, usually in support of the critic’s or the culture’s particular obsessions. If we abandoned the word noir, we would need to find another, no less problematic, means of organizing what we see.

Naremore’s book is now widely accepted as a canonical text; Tom Gunning described it as “the first study of film noir that achieves the sort of intellectual seriousness, depth of research, degree of critical insight, and level of writing that this group of films deserves.” Gunning continues:

The basic paradox of film noir lies in the fact that no one who made the original series of films ever heard the term; it has always been applied ex post facto, in contrast to the way other genres (such as the musical or the western) were used by Hollywood to plan production schedules and distribution strategies. Instead film noir is, as Naremore puts it, a discourse, a way of processing and thinking about films as much as a pattern for their production.

While Gilles Deleuze referred to film noir unproblematically as a “great genre” in Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, and the late actor-director Dennis Hopper felt able to call it “everyone’s favourite genre” while he was directing The Hot Spot (1980), film critics have spent the last forty years debating whether film noir is a genre, a sub-genre, a film style, or a film movement.

noir

Whatever the case, if film noir was not a genre at the time of its first appearance—if by genre we mean a film industry-recognised way of producing and marketing films—it has certainly become one, in the industry and the academy, in our time. International mainstream movie makers, makers of art cinema, and independent filmmakers alike have their work defined as “neo-noir” or “noir-influenced,” which no longer has to imply corny pastiche; convincing recent Hollywood examples include Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) and Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012). Noir, when it rises above a series of clichéd filmic gestures (trenchcoats, fedoras, cigarettes, lipstick), seems to be the language to express the darkness at the heart of our troubled times.

Meanwhile film courses around the world have devoted themselves to the film noir, accompanying the surge of scholarship since the late 1990s. On the film-critical front there has been since that period a deluge of books on classic film noir (roughly 1941-58) and on whatever we call the films noir that emerged from the sixties onwards.

In 2001 Foster Hirsch both published Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir and updated his 1981 account of classic noir Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen. There are many other important new books: a few include those by Edward Dimendberg (Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity, 2004), Wheeler Winston Dixon (Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia, 2009), Vincent Brook (Driven to Darkness: Jewish Émigré directors and the Rise of Film Noir, 2009), Alistair Rolls and Deborah Walker (French and American Noir: Dark Crossings), Dennis Broe (Film Noir, American Workers, and Postwar Hollywood, 2010), Gene D. Philips (Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir, 2011), and Mark Osteen (Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream, 2012).

Some excellent material was gathered in a special issue of Iris (no. 21, Spring 1996) devoted to “European Precursors of Film Noir”. Fine anthologies of essays include Alain Silver and James Ursini’s Film Noir Readers (1996-2004) and Eddie Muller and Donald Malcolm’s ongoing Noir City Annual (collecting the best of the Film Noir Foundation’s quarterly e-magazine, formerly the Noir City Sentinel). And as the British Film Institute series of Film Classics and Modern Classics (now combined into one series) trundles along it delivers new forays into the world of noir and neo-noir.

Film noir is seemingly everywhere—on our screens, in the academy, and in the hearts of movie lovers. But we’re also interested in looking at how the notion of noir is travelling in other cultural contexts.

We looked, for example, at Lars Nittve and Helle Crenzien’s Sunshine & Noir: Art In LA 1960-1997 (1997), which contained Mike Davis’s essay ‘A Double Funeral’ on the race rivalries and gangs of Latinos, Koreans, and African Americans inside and outside LA jails. Catherine Corman’s photographic book Daylight Noir: Raymond Chandler’s Imagined City (based on her photographic exhibition at the 2009 Venice Biennale) might have had trouble spelling Fredric Jameson’s name correctly but it came in a clear line of descent from Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s photographic rendering of the world of Philip Marlowe’s LA, Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles: A Photographic Odyssey Accompanied by Passages from Chandler’s Greatest Works (1989).

annex-lancaster-burt-killers-the_02

In her introduction to Manila Noir, Jessica Hagedorn said, “it made perfect sense to include a graphic noir since one of the many ways I learned to become a writer was through the Filipino horror komiks of my childhood.” In 2013 we are abundantly aware of Hollywood’s enthusiasm for graphic novels, especially those with a noir slant (Sin City, V For Vendetta). Darwyn Cooke’s recent graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels deserve a mention, too, because they’re more faithful to the mood of the classic noir novels of Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) than anything Hollywood has yet come up with. John Boorman’s classic film Point Blank (1967) creates a rather different noir mood—as Adrian Wootton informs us in this issue, Boorman never actually read its inspiration, Stark’s The Hunter (1962)—and Taylor Hackford’s Parker (2013) is perhaps best skipped over entirely.

Recent generations of Batman comics are practically synonymous with noir. Frank Miller steered the comic franchise in this dark direction in the 1980s; the latest collection illustrated by Eduardo Risso, Batman Noir (2013), is a another fine example. We also looked at anthologies such as Dark Horse Books’ Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics (2009). We could have easily devoted an issue to the subject of comic book noir, which attracts many of the best contemporary illustrators and has an enormous fan base.

The noir sensibility has found expression in video games. An Australian contribution was Team Bondi’s hugely successful L. A. Noire (2011), the first video game officially selected for the Tribeca Film Festival. The game inspired a spin-off ebook anthology of noir short stories edited by Jonathan Santlofer.

In noir matters literary and poetic we felt on secure ground.

Noir fiction is now a distinct category within the crime genre. It wasn’t always that way, at least in the United States. Paperback publisher Black Lizard, founded and edited by Barry Gifford in the 1980s, played a crucial role by reviving mostly forgotten mid-century American hardboiled crime novels (which were much more enduringly popular in France, published in translation through Marcel Duhamel’s Série noire from 1945). Moreover, Gifford focused on republishing crime writers with a distinct noir sensibility. Noir fiction turned out to be something slightly different from the masterful hardboiled detective tales of Chandler and Hammett. The prose of James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, and David Goodis was certainly hardboiled, but their narratives focused less on tarnished heroes and more relentlessly on the self-destructive, the hopeless, and the insane.

Luc Sante—who examines a series of haunting New York City police photographs in this issue, revisiting the terrain of his book Evidence, an inspiration for Australian writer-researchers Peter Doyle and Ross Gibson—once wrote in the New York Review of Books of how

[James M.] Cain spawned a genre. The ingredients of compulsion, self-destruction, revenge, and blind chance awakened a kind of poetry in pulp writing, and in the movies adapted from it.

scott-and-bogart

In 1997 the Library of America, under the guidance of then-Executive Editor (now Editor-in-Chief) Geoffrey O’Brien, published a two-volume anthology of Crime Novels: American Noir, attempting to establish a canon of the subgenre. The first volume (The 1930s & 40s) collected authors James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Edward Anderson, Kenneth Fearing, William Lindsay Gresham, and Cornell Woolrich; the second volume (The 1950s) featured Goodis, Willeford, Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, and Chester Himes.

To this tradition of American noir fiction should be added writers such as Paul Cain, W. R. Burnett, Richard Hallas, James Ross, Peter Rabe, John D. Macdonald, Gil Brewer, Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Lawrence Block, Leonard Gardner, Floyd Salas, James Ellroy, Kent Anderson, Walter Mosley, Andrew Vachss, Ed Gorman, Denis Johnson, Christa Faust, James Sallis, Duane Swierczynski, and Megan Abbott.

Many new noir stories have found a home in independent ebook and print-on-demand journals such as Beat to a Pulp, Thuglit, Noir Nation, and Melbourne’s Crime Factory. Independent publishers New Pulp Press and Stark House Press are doing important work publishing new and vintage noir, respectively. And we decided the work of independent crime publishers Dennis McMillan and Matthew Moring deserves attention; interviews with each appear in this issue and point the way to unjustly-neglected writers in the noir tradition.

We were aware of early American poetic noir offerings, from Kenneth Fearing’s Dead Reckoning (1938) and Stranger at Coney Island and Other Poems (1948) to Joseph Moncure March’s The Set-Up and The Wild Party, both from 1928, which were jointly republished in 1968 in a revised form that removed “ethnic references” thought to give possible offence to a 1960s reader. Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel rendering of The Wild Party (1994) restored those excised textual elements.

We had long admired Nicholas Christopher’s poetry. Two of his early poems, ‘Film Noir’ and ‘John Garfield’, appear herein with his kind permission. Noir has long been an animating influence on Christopher’s work. His verse novella, Desperate Characters (1989) was nicely blurbed as “The Lady from Shanghai as rewritten by Proust,” and his novel Veronica (1996) is in many ways neo-noir. Christopher’s Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City (1997) is his account of noir and the fascination it holds for him, from the initial moment of encountering the great Out of the Past (1947) in a small Parisian cinema off the Rue de Rennes after he had taken some opium, through to his long New York years which saw him diligently work through all 317 films listed in the Film Noir Encyclopedia (1988). In fact, he added extra titles, based on his own viewing, which he felt deserved inclusion.

We had hoped to set alongside Christopher’s ‘Film Noir’ another poem of that title found in Lourd Ernest H. De Veyra’s collection, Insectissimo! (2011) but couldn’t run him to ground in time for this issue to obtain reprint rights (i.e., your editors failed as gumshoes). We also liked Michael Atkinson’s lovely poem about John Garfield in his collection One Hundred Children Waiting For A Train (2002) and enjoyed Kevin Young’s long poem Black Maria (2005). Young’s noir poem series tells us it is “produced and directed” by him and it contains all the right noir props—ashtrays, gunsels, femme fatale, the set-up, the sucker, the speak-easy, the grift, the frame, the dive, the payback, and so on.

LA-based Suzanne Lummis has been running a noir poetry workshop for years; we are delighted to reprint two of her noir-themed poems in Contrappasso.

In short, we have to agree with James Naremore when he says that we now inhabit a “noir mediascape” (he borrows the term ‘mediascape’ from Arjun Appadurai). This is apparent from a casual encounter with the world of book publicity. Recent crime writing is referred to variously as “casino noir” (James Swain’s series of books beginning with Grift Sense) or “surf noir” (Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source and later books). When he was reviewing a Joe Lansdale book, the great Daniel Woodrell described it as “backwoods noir”; both that descriptor and Woodrell’s self-applied “country noir” fit his own work (Tomato Red, Give us a Kiss, the excellent Winter’s Bone). We have feminist writers describing their works as “tart noir” and lesbian writers self-describing as “dyke noir.” And while we were completing this issue Jim Kitses urged us to read James Salter’s 1956 Korean War novel The Hunters as an instance of “military noir” (he urged us to read it in any case).

So settled is the term in publicity usage that we have noir by national location—”tartan noir” to describe some Scottish crime fiction, even “Australian noir” (see the essays in this issue by Andrew Nette and Mick Counihan). There is noir by US state, as in “Florida noir.” The vibrant series of city-focused noir anthologies from Akashic Books, an independent Brooklyn-based press founded by musician Johnny Temple, has now expanded beyond the US to focus on cities from New Delhi to Havana (Los Angeles Noir and Manila Noir are reviewed in this issue). In each anthology, noir stories and sometimes bits of graphic novels emerge from specific neighbourhoods. The noir sensibility is truly international.

As we finish up this introduction, news comes that Lou Reed has died. The venue seems appropriate for us to remember him for one of his many great songs, ‘Femme Fatale’.

We hope readers of this special issue of Contrappasso enjoy our explorations of noir in its many guises.

mitch

Advertisements

Sydney Book launch: Peter Doyle’s ‘The Big Whatever’

image001

Contrappasso contributor Peter Doyle is launching his new crime novel The Big Whatever in Sydney on Sunday, September 13. Get along and grab a copy. Honours will be performed by special guest, artist-novelist Fiona McGregor, ceremonies will be mastered by the legendary outlaw James Scanlon, and the house will be rocked by hillbilly hardliners, Satellite V.

The Big Whatever, which contains an introduction by Luc Sante, is published by Dark Passage Books, an imprint of Verse Chorus Press. An earlier Billy Glasheen adventure, ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’, appeared in Contrappasso issue #1.

If you can’t make the launch to buy a copy of the new novel, it’s now available as a Kindle ebook at Amazon.com or in epub format at Booktopia. For the paperback, try Gleebooks or Booktopia, or else Amazon.com.

from issue #1: ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’ by Peter Doyle

Peter Doyle‘s long-awaited Billy Glasheen crime novel The Big Whatever has just been published by Dark Passage Books.

Billy’s last appearance was in the story ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’, which Contrappasso published in our first issue in 2012. Here it is again.

COLD WAR, HOT DOGS by PETER DOYLE

By Billy Glasheen, esq.

It’s September 1956, I’m killing time at the Sydney Motor Club. On stage three big-breasted hula girls are doing a Hawaiian-flavoured bump and grind, backed by a guitar, piano and drum combo. The combo happens to be led by my old pal, Max. The music is a mix of Latin, Hawaiian and show tunes. Not much jazz and no rock’n’roll. They play four sets a night, but no one pays any attention until the final set, when the hoochie coochie girls come on.

But the real business at the Motor Club is the bank of brand new, shiny one-armed bandits. Poker machines. They became legal just one month ago, and the hardheads who run the club are pinning big hopes on them.

Me, I’m just hanging around, hypnotised by the racket of two bobs cascading in and out of the new machines. The Indian hemp cigarette I smoked a while ago isn’t hurting, nor are the scotches and pep pills. And Perkal’s Latin mambo voodoo hoochie-coochie bebop doesn’t sound too bad right now. The dancing girls are doing a piece called ‘the fire dance of the Islands’ which gives the leader of the troupe a chance to show herself off, and that doesn’t hurt either.

She’s a Greek lass from Sydenham, named Helen, but known theatrically as Sweet Leilani, the Polynesian Princess. The truth is, I’m a bit sweet on her, but so far I’m getting nowhere.

Meanwhile I’m earning my keep providing services to the punting fraternity, and occasionally handling goods of doubtful origin. I also supply smoking substances to those who might care for same. Fact: the city’s entire market for Indian hemp is pretty well right here at the Motor Club, in the form of the hoochie coochie girls, the musical trio and my own good self.

The worst fiend of them all is the drummer Lachie Jamieson, a kiwi ex-servicemen who played with blues bands on Chicago’s South Side after the war then washed up in Sydney with a taste for bebop and hard drugs. He buys smoking gear from me on the murray, and now he’s into me for nearly fifty quid, and I’m shitty about it, but the code says you give the benefit of the doubt. I’m hoping to collect a part payment tonight.

Lachie’s got a gang of milk bar cowboys who he’s trained to do chemist busts. There’s a blond psychopath known as Skylight Reggie, and his none-too-bright offsider, the Spruso Kid. Lachie’s taught them how to hop through a chemist’s back window, find the drugs cabinet. He lets them have the pep pills and what have you, and keeps the narcotics for himself. Years later Lachie will claim to have introduced the chemist bust to Australia. Others will disagree. That’s one for the scholars to argue about, I suppose.

10 o’clock and all is mellow. Then the secretary manager tells the band to play a Pride of Erin. They ignore him. He insists. Perkal complies but then plays “Heartbreak Hotel”. This inflames the milk bar cowboys, especially Skylight, who decides now is a good to start throwing punches. Afterwards Perkal and the manager have a screaming row. Perkal storms out, never to return. (They find a continental piano accordionist to replace him the very next night). Lachie loads his drums, disappears without settling up.

But the night isn’t a complete loss. The Polynesian Princess and I have a few drinks after the show, and later she comes home to my flat. She’s a real goer, no risk, and the night is memorable, though not without incident. Helen’s not entirely right upstairs. For one thing, she’s got Elvis on the brain. Elvis this, Elvis fucking that. Even at the height of passion, she’s calling out to Elvis. She can call out to the Patriarch of Antioch for all I care, because like I say, I’m half smitten with her. She tells me later not to get too carried away, because she’s carrying a torch for someone in the old country, but an ancient blood feud keeps them apart. Or whatever.

*

A WEEK LATER I get a telegram. It reads:

IN MELBOURNE STOP OLYMPIC POSSIBILITIES VERY PROMISING STOP BRING MOTOR CAR DANCING GIRLS AND HUNDRED WEIGHT SAVELOYS PRONTO STOP HELEN HAS SAVS YOU FIND CAR
Signed: PERKAL

The opening of the 16th Olympiad is two days away. Australia’s gone Olympic mad. Perkal is carrying out a long held ambition: to sell hot dogs by day and stage a hoochie coochie boogie woogie jazz show by night. He expects that I’ll put my own pressing business matters aside and hie off to Melbourne. But I choose not to take offence at his presumption, because as it happens a trip south with the fair Helen by my side, and a possible earn to boot is just what the doctor ordered.

I ring Helen—she’s spoken to Perkal already and is keen to hit the road. Maureen and Cathy, the other two hula girls, share a flat up the Cross. I drop by, put the plan to them. They look at each other, and smile. “Well, yeah, maybe,” says Maureen. “It’s funny, but we were sort of thinking of something like that anyway.” She looks at Cathy and Cathy nods.

Things move fast. That night I borrow Lachie’s Customline, which really belongs to Skylight Reggie. In order to avoid unpleasantness I spirit the car away from outside the Motor Club. The boot turns out to be crammed with chemist shop gear, mostly pep pills, and this isn’t too bad a turn either. I fuel up at Barrack Motors, sample a couple of pills then collect Helen and the girls.

We have to stop off at Helen’s family’s house in Sydenham. The old man runs a chew and spew in Enmore and Perkal has clinched a good price on some slightly past their prime but arguably edible saveloys. We’re met by a couple of surly brothers, a mumbling black widow, and Helen’s leering old grandad.

Helen goes inside to pack her things. The grandad shows me out to the shed, where the savs are stored in a freezer. A greenhouse takes up the entire backyard. Tomatoes, okra, leafy stuff. Something else there too. I stop and stare. A big, sticky, smelly Indian hemp plant. Grandad looks at me slyly. “In October?” I say.

“You like this one?”

I nod non-committally.

“Special for you boss. I give big bag. All fleoss. Ten quid.”

Five minutes later the frozen savs are in the boot, and there’s a paper bag full of hemp on my lap, a lit reefer in my paw. Maureen, Cathy and I pass it around while Helen’s still inside screaming at her family. Then she storms out, plonks herself next to me in the front seat. “One day,” she says, “Elvis is going to come and sort those fucking pricks right out.”

But no one answers her. We’re too fucking stoned.

We hit the Hume Highway at one in the morning, and brother we’re flying.

*

AN HOUR LATER zigzagging up the Razorback. The road is empty except for the occasional Bedford truck lumbering toward Sydney, and the Customline is humming along sweetly. Helen’s twiddling the dial on the radio, and she can’t leave it alone. Bits of hillbilly music are coming to us from Central Queensland, the BBC news from Malaya, someone going 90 to the dozen in Chinese. Arch McKirdy beams in from Christ knows where, followed by some hot gospel raver, then bingo, solid sending rhythm and blues. We smoke another reefer. It’s a warm night. Mayflies and moths are hatching. The stars are out. All is mellow, all is bright.

Electric guitars and drums and jungle moaning. Kind of electric droning. Dig the droning. Going down the other side of Razorback now. The droning gets louder. The singers are really wailing. Dig the crazy beat. The droning is LOUD. It drowns out the radio. “Stop the car!” Did I say that? Was it in my head?

Saxes honk. Lights flash. Someone hits me on the back of my head. “Jesus, Billy! Stop the fucking car!” The girls are screaming. I pull on to the gravel and we fishtail for two hundred yards, then come to a sideways stop. The cop pulls up in front of us.

“What the fuck’s a motorbike cop doing out here at this hour?”

He’s walking back towards us. Big bloke, about my age, mid-twenties. His teeth are grinding. His eyes are wide. He’s revved up on yippee beans. Same as us.

I sit pat trying to think of what to say, but Helen bounds out of the car. So too Cathy and Maureen. They’re smiling. They sidle up either side of the cop. They turn it on. Two minutes later we’re on the road again, with a warning. Total cost a few kind words from the girls and couple of bottles of pills. He’ll be on nightwatch for at least a month.

*

WE BLOW A RADIATOR hose at dawn. On the road to Gundagai. Five miles, six miles, I don’t know. It’s OK. Still a day up our sleeve. We hitch into town, and book into the TV Motel. Tres moderne, with all mod cons except TV. The girls take a separate room each. I take another. A mechanic goes out to get the car. I’m at the local at 10 am opening time. The girls slip into the ladies’ lounge. They cause quite a stir, in their capri pants and mohair sweaters. A barman fronts them and they go into a pow-wow.

Back at the motel at three in the afternoon. Message from the garage: the hose section has to be to be sent up from Albury. We’re here for the night.

At six I go out at to find a feed. Three or four blokes are milling around the motel courtyard. I find an all right steak sandwich at the Niagara Cafe. Back at the motel there’s a different couple of blokes hanging around. When I come back from the pub at 10 there are 7 or 8 different blokes again. I’m about to tap on Helen’s door, when I hear a man laughing inside.

The car’s ready in the morning. Nothing is said about the nocturnal commerce. The savs have been sitting in the boot for over 24 hours now.

*

MELBOURNE is all a twitter, like Moomba, the grand final, Christmas and New Years Eve all at once. Which means it’s about as busy as Gundagai was the day before. But there are foreigners and journalists from arsehole to breakfast. And a shifty-eyed breed I know only too well: pickpockets, urgers, spielers. Scoundrels. And an even more shadowy bunch too: anonymous looking nobodies, faces you’d clock and forget in a second flat. But watch them out of the corner of your eye, and you’ll see that they’re watching everything, all the time.

I drop the girls at our digs—a couple of broken down caravans marooned along with a fairy floss stand in a paddock behind a fibro house in Heidelberg. I go back into the city on my own, hit a few pubs. They’ve still got six o’clock pub closing, so I’m forced into the slightly more salubrious sort of nightery: the Savoy Plaza, the Menzies, the Rainbow Room, Scotts Hotel. But they’re not my speed.

Late that night I meet up with Perkal.

“This is Squaresville,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “You’ve got to know where to look,” he says. “You bring the savs?”

“They’ve been out of the freezer for two days now.”

“They’ll be all right. Nice Customline, by the way. Got any pot?”

*

NEXT DAY we prop Perkal’s hot dog stand—an ancient affair which hitches up to the Customline—outside the gates of the MCG. We get moved on in 10 minutes. We set up outside the Olympic velodrome, same result. Likewise Spencer Street Station. Permits required. Perkal manages to fob off the jobsworth at the basketball court by flashing his musos’ union membership. But a rival hot dog bloke calls a higher-up official, and we’re sent packing again. By the end of the day we’ve sold less than 50 doggies, at a bob each. On the brighter side, the savs themselves seem to be holding up remarkably well.

We’re munching pep pills the whole while, and having a jolly old time of it, despite our indifferent commercial performance. Perkal is spruiking in foreign accents, generally acting the goat. We’ve long since eaten all the little yellow pills, now we’re into these big ugly things, which Perkal tells me are known in the transport industry as “Queensland black bombers”. I’m trying to think when I last had a full night’s sleep.

We finally set up the stand outside the athletes’ village in West Heidelberg, a godforsaken bog of a place. But no one moves us on, and the athletes aren’t too bad a bunch. We get talking to a Hungarian cyclist. He’s eyeing me pretty closely, and I’m about to ask him if what his fucking problem is, when he blurts out, “Please. Can I have the giddy ups, please.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about pal.”

“The pills.”

“They’re vitamins, friend.”

“You help me, I beat bloody Russian sonofabitches.”

So I sling him a few pills, and magnanimously refuse payment. I mean, it’s 1956 and the poor old Hungarians and world affairs and whatnot. But Perkal is unimpressed, says they’re a bunch counterrevolutionary arseholes.

He gets a chance to square up a while later when a couple of Russkis sidle up to us. Big blokes, with buzz cuts. They’re no athletes, that’s for sure. They indicate by means of a none too elaborate charade that they too wish to get hold of some vitamin pills, and they’re willing to press the point. We oblige. Still later a trio of Americans hit us. They have little idea of the local currency and by close of business I’ve managed to trouser a nice wad of pound notes.

Perkal does the rounds of the nightclubs, trying to drum up bookings, but strikes out. That sort of thing might be all well and good in Sydney, they tell him, but down here, boyo, a certain level of taste and decorum is expected and blah fucking blah.

I hit the nightly parties in the athletes’ village, which are pretty well the only action anywhere in Melbourne, as far as I can see. But they’re OK, and the vitamin pills are a great favourite. The Aussie athletes, some of them, are pretty good sports: Dawn Fraser is a brick, of course.

After three nights on the tear I go back to our base in Heidelberg. Another couple of caravans, newer in style, have appeared. The girls have a van each now, spread out around the paddock. There are comings and goings all night long.

After midnight and the Polynesian Princess is sitting outside her van, smoking a cigarette. She calls out to me, would I like to come over for a drink. But, really, by this time, as far as she’s concerned, I’m no longer inclined.

I smoke a reefer on a my own and head off for a stroll.

Frosty grass crackles under my feet. The sky is clear. The stars are bright. Telegraph wires are humming. A dog barks in the distance, and way further off a truck revs low. I see a shooting star. There’s a flickering red glow to the north. I keep walking. Mice scurry in the vacant lots. My steps echo like there are caves deep underfoot. I hear people snoring in their beds. I pass a gasometer and can hear the gas swirling around inside. I see another shooting star, and imagine I can hear it screaming to earth. I head down empty streets, across paddocks, behind the back of factories and wrecking yards, towards the red glow. I don’t see a single person the whole time.

I come to a Golden Fleece service station, on a highway. There’s a café next to it. A couple of trucks and a taxi are parked outside. I go in. Bleary eyed truckies give me an indifferent glance. A juke box in the corner is playing Dean Martin, “Memories Are Made Of This”.

I prop at the counter. A waitress comes out. She has light brown hair, small, even features. It’s whatever hour it is, but she looks like she just stepped out of the sea. She smiles—business like, but friendly. What would you like?

A cup of tea. She brings me a pot, and a slice of toast. I drink the tea, leave the toast. She stays there.

“I like this song,” she says.

“How do they get you to work the late shift?”

“I don’t mind it,” she says.

“You must see some types,” I say.

She shrugs, and pulls out a cigarette.

I offer her a light. She draws on the cig then puts it down, turns sideways and fiddles with an earring. Her eyes are lowered. Her profile is perfect. She turns back, picks up the cig and smiles, like she knows what I’m thinking. In a nice way.

“No car?” she says.

“Just out for a walk. But I have a Customline. Well. Sort of.”

“Does it have a radio?”

I nod.

“Well, if you bring it over,” she says, “I might let you take me for a ride.”

“Maybe I will. My name’s Bill Glasheen.”

“Linda.” She offers her small hand, smiling, and we shake.

I take a cab back to Heidelberg, and it’s a long way. Next morning I step out into blazing daylight, not sure if last night even happened. Helen sees me and turns away, and that suits me just fine.

*

THE WEEK plays out. We never crack more than a few quid a day from the hot dogs, but I’m doing a good trade in vitamin pills and the odd reefer. Olympic records are being broken left right and centre. Then Perkal gets a surprise booking for the Saturday night dance at Heidelberg Town Hall. He assembles a four piece combo.

I see the Polynesian Princess outside her caravan that morning. Her eyes are staring wide, her pupils like pennies. Her hair is streaming out wildly. She looks at me, points accusingly: “Elvis is coming!” she says.

Heidelberg Town Hall at 7.30. There’s already a big crowd inside. Mums, dads, oldies, littlies, and a big mob of louts and loutettes. There are sporting folk too, and hangers on. Secret police. Thugs. Christ knows who else. And they’re still coming.

We set up the hot dog stand outside the front door. “Jesus,” I say to Perkal, “there must be a thousand people in there?”

“Last week they had 2000 here. 3000 people at Moonee Ponds Town Hall.”

“So how come you got the job?”

He looks away. “I was wondering that myself.”

An hour later the mob inside is getting rowdy, which I can hear from outside where I’m flat out selling hotdogs. The band is plugging away playing a 50-50 mix old time and new vogue, which pleases no one much. There’s booing from the bodgies, and angry shouts at the bodgies from everybody else.

A green Holden with NSW plates pulls up a little way down the street. Skylight Reggie is at the wheel and The Spruso Kid next to him. They get out of the car. Reggie walks up slowly, stops at his Customline parked right outside the hall.

I abandon the hot dogs and nip around the back, but they see me and follow. I slip inside the hall. It’s packed. The PA system isn’t really carrying, and people have stopped dancing. The hoochie coochie girls are performing the Fire Dance of the Islands, which Blind Freddy can see is far too blue, or not blue enough for this crowd. Things are sliding out of control and no one in authority seems to give a fat rat’s arse. I understand now how come they gave Perkal the job: they wanted to get the numbers down.

The bodgies and widgies are down the front chanting “Take it off! Take it off!” and Cathy and Maureen are on the verge of doing just that, and a huge mitt crushes my upper arm, and a Russki gorilla is staring at me saying, “GIVE ME WITAMINS”, so I clock him in the face as hard as I can with my free arm, and he reels back into Skylight and Spruso, who are right there. I’m away, leaving the bunch of them in a tussle, but another couple of Ivans are on my hammer. The yanks are not far off, but there’s no hope that they’ll step in and save me from the commos, notwithstanding the arrangements our respective countries are supposed to have made. The Russki thugs are either side of me but then the crowd magically parts, and through the path appears a bloke I swear is seven foot tall, with a greasy black pompadour, wearing a yellow satin jacket with fancy embroidery on it. He’s knocking over men, women and children like they were nine pins. He picks up a fat Russki and holds him in the air above his head. The band stops playing, the girls stop stripping. The louts stop louting. The giant slowly rotates, still holding the Russian like he was a dumbbell. He turns 180. Embroidered in fancy lettering on the back is “Micky Mavros—the Greek Elvis”.

He hurls the Russian into the crowd, marches onto the stage. He and Helen embrace. They kiss. They exit, arm in arm. The louts cheer.

*

I’M ALREADY out of there. I sprint to the Customline. It smells of putrefying saveloys. I keep going, further down the street to the green Holden. Ignition wires are hanging loose under the dash, next to the Air Chief radio. I get in, make contact and then I’m off. I hit Sydney Road, get to the outskirts of Melbourne, drop a u-ey, backtrack until I see the Golden Fleece sign.

Linda is behind the counter.

“I thought you said a Customline,” she says.

I shrug. “It’s got a radio. Feel like coming for that drive now?” I say.

“Where to?”

“Sydney. Further maybe.”

She looks left and right. “I can’t just walk out…” She drops her cigs and lighter in a bag, “I mean, it’ll take me at least two minutes to finish up here.” She takes a wad of notes from the till. She smiles at me. “My holiday pay,” she says.

We drive all night, don’t stop except for petrol. We talk for a while, then go quiet, then talk again. Either way it feels easy. At five in the morning on the crest of the Razorback mountain the motorcycle cop pulls us up. I sling him the last of the black bombers. He glances at the wires twisted together under the dash, then gives me a look. “Wasn’t me,” I say. “I’m taking it back to where it came from.” He shakes his head, then rides off.

Linda and I stay. We smoke in silence, leaning up against the Holden, our sides touching lightly. In the distance the sky behind Sydney is turning red.

I can see Linda’s looking at me. I turn to her.

“Is this going to turn out badly?” she says.

© Peter Doyle

from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012
An earlier version of ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’ was broadcast on
The Night Air, ABC Radio National, in 2006.

And see Rhett Brewer’s 2011 painting series The Golden Age, inspired by this story.

* * * * *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PETER DOYLE lectures in Media Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is the author of City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948 (2006, with Caleb Williams) and Crooks Like Us (2009), two books which draw on the forensic photography archives at the Justice and Police Museum, Sydney. He is also the author of four crime novels featuring lurk mechant Billy Glasheen: Get Rich Quick (1996), Amaze Your Friends (1998), The Devil’s Jump (2001), and The Big Whatever (2015).

‘The Big Whatever’ by Peter Doyle

image001Take our advice and grab a copy of The Big Whatever, the long-awaited new crime novel by our contributor Peter Doyle.

Here’s the synopsis:

When it comes to sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, Billy Glasheen’s always been in the vanguard, but as the swinging 60s turn into the 70s, he’s living a quiet life. He has kids now, and he’s in debt to the mob, so he’s keeping his head down, driving a cab, running some low-level rackets. He may as well have gone straight, it’s so boring. Then one day everything changes.

Billy picks up a trashy paperback he finds in his cab, and its plot seems weirdly familiar. One of the main characters is based on him . . . Only one person knows enough about his past to have written it—Max, his double-crossing ex-partner in crime. But Max is dead. He famously went up in flames, along with a fortune in cash, after a bank heist. If Max is somehow still alive, Billy has a score to settle. And if he didn’t get fried to a crisp, maybe the money didn’t either. To find out, Billy has to follow the clues in the strange little book—and rapidly discovers he’s not the only one on Max’s trail.

The Big Whatever is the fourth book in Peter Doyle’s acclaimed series, which has grown into an epic underground history of postwar Australia, where crooks, entertainers, scammers, corrupt cops and politicians all rub shoulders, chasing their big paydays. With its ingenious novel-within-a-novel structure, it’s both a grab-you-by-the throat crime story and a shrewd reflection on the early 70s, a defining period in modern Australian life. And in the modern tradition of crime storytelling that encompasses Elmore Leonard’s and Charles Willeford’s novels, Quentin Tarantino’s movies, and TV series like Breaking Bad, The Big Whatever is at once darkly funny and deadly serious.

The Big Whatever, which contains an introduction by Luc Sante, is published by Dark Passage Books, an imprint of Verse Chorus Press. It’s now available as a Kindle ebook at Amazon.com or in epub format at Booktopia. The paperback is already available in Australia (try Gleebooks or Booktopia). US paperback is due for publication on August 25.

The Sydney Scene: The School Bus Gang

Sydney Schoolbus Crew

Who says there are no literary schools in Australia?

Here’s a close-knit group of Sydney writers, many past or future Contrappasso contributors, a cross-generational literary school known around town as the School Bus Gang.

Left to right: Clinton Walker, Vanessa Berry, Peter Doyle, Matthew Asprey, and Raymond Devitt.

Photo credit: Simon Yates.

from issue #1: ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’ by Peter Doyle

COLD WAR, HOT DOGS by PETER DOYLE

By Billy Glasheen, esq.

It’s September 1956, I’m killing time at the Sydney Motor Club. On stage three big-breasted hula girls are doing a Hawaiian-flavoured bump and grind, backed by a guitar, piano and drum combo. The combo happens to be led by my old pal, Max. The music is a mix of Latin, Hawaiian and show tunes. Not much jazz and no rock’n’roll. They play four sets a night, but no one pays any attention until the final set, when the hoochie coochie girls come on.

But the real business at the Motor Club is the bank of brand new, shiny one-armed bandits. Poker machines. They became legal just one month ago, and the hardheads who run the club are pinning big hopes on them.

Me, I’m just hanging around, hypnotised by the racket of two bobs cascading in and out of the new machines. The Indian hemp cigarette I smoked a while ago isn’t hurting, nor are the scotches and pep pills. And Perkal’s Latin mambo voodoo hoochie-coochie bebop doesn’t sound too bad right now. The dancing girls are doing a piece called ‘the fire dance of the Islands’ which gives the leader of the troupe a chance to show herself off, and that doesn’t hurt either.

She’s a Greek lass from Sydenham, named Helen, but known theatrically as Sweet Leilani, the Polynesian Princess. The truth is, I’m a bit sweet on her, but so far I’m getting nowhere.

Meanwhile I’m earning my keep providing services to the punting fraternity, and occasionally handling goods of doubtful origin. I also supply smoking substances to those who might care for same. Fact: the city’s entire market for Indian hemp is pretty well right here at the Motor Club, in the form of the hoochie coochie girls, the musical trio and my own good self.

The worst fiend of them all is the drummer Lachie Jamieson, a kiwi ex-servicemen who played with blues bands on Chicago’s South Side after the war then washed up in Sydney with a taste for bebop and hard drugs. He buys smoking gear from me on the murray, and now he’s into me for nearly fifty quid, and I’m shitty about it, but the code says you give the benefit of the doubt. I’m hoping to collect a part payment tonight.

Lachie’s got a gang of milk bar cowboys who he’s trained to do chemist busts. There’s a blond psychopath known as Skylight Reggie, and his none-too-bright offsider, the Spruso Kid. Lachie’s taught them how to hop through a chemist’s back window, find the drugs cabinet. He lets them have the pep pills and what have you, and keeps the narcotics for himself. Years later Lachie will claim to have introduced the chemist bust to Australia. Others will disagree. That’s one for the scholars to argue about, I suppose.

10 o’clock and all is mellow. Then the secretary manager tells the band to play a Pride of Erin. They ignore him. He insists. Perkal complies but then plays “Heartbreak Hotel”. This inflames the milk bar cowboys, especially Skylight, who decides now is a good to start throwing punches. Afterwards Perkal and the manager have a screaming row. Perkal storms out, never to return. (They find a continental piano accordionist to replace him the very next night). Lachie loads his drums, disappears without settling up.

But the night isn’t a complete loss. The Polynesian Princess and I have a few drinks after the show, and later she comes home to my flat. She’s a real goer, no risk, and the night is memorable, though not without incident. Helen’s not entirely right upstairs. For one thing, she’s got Elvis on the brain. Elvis this, Elvis fucking that. Even at the height of passion, she’s calling out to Elvis. She can call out to the Patriarch of Antioch for all I care, because like I say, I’m half smitten with her. She tells me later not to get too carried away, because she’s carrying a torch for someone in the old country, but an ancient blood feud keeps them apart. Or whatever.

*

A WEEK LATER I get a telegram. It reads:

IN MELBOURNE STOP OLYMPIC POSSIBILITIES VERY PROMISING STOP BRING MOTOR CAR DANCING GIRLS AND HUNDRED WEIGHT SAVELOYS PRONTO STOP HELEN HAS SAVS YOU FIND CAR
Signed: PERKAL

The opening of the 16th Olympiad is two days away. Australia’s gone Olympic mad. Perkal is carrying out a long held ambition: to sell hot dogs by day and stage a hoochie coochie boogie woogie jazz show by night. He expects that I’ll put my own pressing business matters aside and hie off to Melbourne. But I choose not to take offence at his presumption, because as it happens a trip south with the fair Helen by my side, and a possible earn to boot is just what the doctor ordered.

I ring Helen—she’s spoken to Perkal already and is keen to hit the road. Maureen and Cathy, the other two hula girls, share a flat up the Cross. I drop by, put the plan to them. They look at each other, and smile. “Well, yeah, maybe,” says Maureen. “It’s funny, but we were sort of thinking of something like that anyway.”  She looks at Cathy and Cathy nods.

Things move fast. That night I borrow Lachie’s Customline, which really belongs to Skylight Reggie. In order to avoid unpleasantness I spirit the car away from outside the Motor Club. The boot turns out to be crammed with chemist shop gear, mostly pep pills, and this isn’t too bad a turn either. I fuel up at Barrack Motors, sample a couple of pills then collect Helen and the girls.

We have to stop off at Helen’s family’s house in Sydenham. The old man runs a chew and spew in Enmore and Perkal has clinched a good price on some slightly past their prime but arguably edible saveloys. We’re met by a couple of surly brothers, a mumbling black widow, and Helen’s leering old grandad.

Helen goes inside to pack her things. The grandad shows me out to the shed, where the savs are stored in a freezer.  A greenhouse takes up the entire backyard. Tomatoes, okra, leafy stuff. Something else there too. I stop and stare. A big, sticky, smelly Indian hemp plant. Grandad looks at me slyly. “In October?” I say.

“You like this one?”

I nod non-committally.

“Special for you boss. I give big bag. All fleoss. Ten quid.”

Five minutes later the frozen savs are in the boot, and there’s a paper bag full of hemp on my lap, a lit reefer in my paw. Maureen, Cathy and I pass it around while Helen’s still inside screaming at her family. Then she storms out, plonks herself next to me in the front seat. “One day,” she says, “Elvis is going to come and sort those fucking pricks right out.”

But no one answers her. We’re too fucking stoned.

We hit the Hume Highway at one in the morning, and brother we’re flying.

*

AN HOUR LATER zigzagging up the Razorback. The road is empty except for the occasional Bedford truck lumbering toward Sydney, and the Customline is humming along sweetly. Helen’s twiddling the dial on the radio, and she can’t leave it alone. Bits of hillbilly music are coming to us from Central Queensland, the BBC news from Malaya, someone going 90 to the dozen in Chinese. Arch McKirdy beams in from Christ knows where, followed by some hot gospel raver, then bingo, solid sending rhythm and blues. We smoke another reefer. It’s a warm night. Mayflies and moths are hatching. The stars are out. All is mellow, all is bright.

Electric guitars and drums and jungle moaning. Kind of electric droning. Dig the droning. Going down the other side of Razorback now. The droning gets louder. The singers are really wailing. Dig the crazy beat. The droning is LOUD. It drowns out the radio.  “Stop the car!” Did I say that? Was it in my head?

Saxes honk. Lights flash. Someone hits me on the back of my head. “Jesus, Billy! Stop the fucking car!” The girls are screaming. I pull on to the gravel and we fishtail for two hundred yards, then come to a sideways stop. The cop pulls up in front of us.

“What the fuck’s a motorbike cop doing out here at this hour?”

He’s walking back towards us. Big bloke, about my age, mid-twenties. His teeth are grinding. His eyes are wide. He’s revved up on yippee beans. Same as us.

I sit pat trying to think of what to say, but Helen bounds out of the car. So too Cathy and Maureen. They’re smiling. They sidle up either side of the cop. They turn it on. Two minutes later we’re on the road again, with a warning. Total cost a few kind words from the girls and couple of bottles of pills. He’ll be on nightwatch for at least a month.

*

WE BLOW A RADIATOR hose at dawn. On the road to Gundagai. Five miles, six miles, I don’t know. It’s OK. Still a day up our sleeve. We hitch into town, and book into the TV Motel. Tres moderne, with all mod cons except TV. The girls take a separate room each. I take another. A mechanic goes out to get the car. I’m at the local at 10 am opening time. The girls slip into the ladies’ lounge. They cause quite a stir, in their capri pants and mohair sweaters. A barman fronts them and they go into a pow-wow.

Back at the motel at three in the afternoon. Message from the garage: the hose section has to be to be sent up from Albury. We’re here for the night.

At six I go out at to find a feed. Three or four blokes are milling around the motel courtyard. I find an all right steak sandwich at the Niagara Cafe. Back at the motel there’s a different couple of blokes hanging around. When I come back from the pub at 10 there are 7 or 8 different blokes again. I’m about to tap on Helen’s door, when I hear a man laughing  inside.

The car’s ready in the morning. Nothing is said about the nocturnal commerce. The savs have been sitting in the boot for over 24 hours now.

*

MELBOURNE is all a twitter, like Moomba, the grand final, Christmas and New Years Eve all at once. Which means it’s about as busy as Gundagai was the day before. But there are foreigners and journalists from arsehole to breakfast. And a shifty-eyed breed I know only too well: pickpockets, urgers, spielers. Scoundrels. And an even more shadowy bunch too: anonymous looking nobodies, faces you’d clock and forget in a second flat. But watch them out of the corner of your eye, and you’ll see that they’re watching everything, all the time.

I drop the girls at our digs—a couple of broken down caravans marooned along with a fairy floss stand in a paddock behind a fibro house in Heidelberg. I go back into the city on my own, hit a few pubs. They’ve still got six o’clock pub closing, so I’m forced into the slightly more salubrious sort of nightery: the Savoy Plaza, the Menzies, the Rainbow Room, Scotts Hotel. But they’re not my speed.

Late that night I meet up with Perkal.

“This is Squaresville,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “You’ve got to know where to look,” he says. “You bring the savs?”

“They’ve been out of the freezer for two days now.”

“They’ll be all right. Nice Customline, by the way. Got any pot?”

*

NEXT DAY we prop Perkal’s hot dog stand—an ancient affair which hitches up to the Customline—outside the gates of the MCG. We get moved on in 10 minutes. We set up outside the Olympic velodrome, same result. Likewise Spencer Street Station. Permits required. Perkal manages to fob off the jobsworth at the basketball court by flashing his musos’ union membership. But a rival hot dog bloke calls a higher-up official, and we’re sent packing again. By the end of the day we’ve sold less than 50 doggies, at a bob each. On the brighter side, the savs themselves seem to be holding up remarkably well.

We’re munching pep pills the whole while, and having a jolly old time of it, despite our indifferent commercial performance. Perkal is spruiking in foreign accents, generally acting the goat. We’ve long since eaten all the little yellow pills, now we’re into these big ugly things, which Perkal tells me are known in the transport industry as “Queensland black bombers”. I’m trying to think when I last had a full night’s sleep.

We finally set up the stand outside the athletes’ village in West Heidelberg, a godforsaken bog of a place. But no one moves us on, and the athletes aren’t too bad a bunch. We get talking to a Hungarian cyclist. He’s eyeing me pretty closely, and I’m about to ask him if what his fucking problem is, when he blurts out, “Please. Can I have the giddy ups, please.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about pal.”

“The pills.”

“They’re vitamins, friend.”

“You help me, I beat bloody Russian sonofabitches.”

So I sling him a few pills, and magnanimously refuse payment. I mean, it’s 1956 and the poor old Hungarians and world affairs and whatnot. But Perkal is unimpressed, says they’re a bunch counterrevolutionary arseholes.

He gets a chance to square up a while later when a couple of Russkis sidle up to us. Big blokes, with buzz cuts. They’re no athletes, that’s for sure. They indicate by means of a none too elaborate charade that they too wish to get hold of some vitamin pills, and they’re willing to press the point. We oblige. Still later a trio of Americans hit us. They have little idea of the local currency and by close of business I’ve managed to trouser a nice wad of pound notes.

Perkal does the rounds of the nightclubs, trying to drum up bookings, but strikes out. That sort of thing might be all well and good in Sydney, they tell him, but down here, boyo, a certain level of taste and decorum is expected and blah fucking blah.

I hit the nightly parties in the athletes’ village, which are pretty well the only action anywhere in Melbourne, as far as I can see. But they’re OK, and the vitamin pills are a great favourite. The Aussie athletes, some of them, are pretty good sports: Dawn Fraser is a brick, of course.

After three nights on the tear I go back to our base in Heidelberg. Another couple of caravans, newer in style, have appeared. The girls have a van each now, spread out around the paddock. There are comings and goings all night long.

After midnight and the Polynesian Princess is sitting outside her van, smoking a cigarette. She calls out to me, would I like to come over for a drink. But, really, by this time, as far as she’s concerned, I’m no longer inclined.

I smoke a reefer on a my own and head off for a stroll.

Frosty grass crackles under my feet. The sky is clear. The stars are bright. Telegraph wires are humming. A dog barks in the distance, and way further off a truck revs low. I see a shooting star. There’s a flickering red glow to the north. I keep walking. Mice scurry in the vacant lots. My steps echo like there are caves deep underfoot. I hear people snoring in their beds. I pass a gasometer and can hear the gas swirling around inside. I see another shooting star, and imagine I can hear it screaming to earth. I head down empty streets, across paddocks, behind the back of factories and wrecking yards, towards the red glow. I don’t see a single person the whole time.

I come to a Golden Fleece service station, on a highway. There’s a café next to it. A couple of trucks and a taxi are parked outside. I go in. Bleary eyed truckies give me an indifferent glance. A juke box in the corner is playing Dean Martin, “Memories Are Made Of This”.

I prop at the counter. A waitress comes out. She has light brown hair, small, even features. It’s whatever hour it is, but she looks like she just stepped out of the sea. She smiles—business like, but friendly. What would you like?

A cup of tea. She brings me a pot, and a slice of toast. I drink the tea, leave the toast. She stays there.

“I like this song,” she says.

“How do they get you to work the late shift?”

“I don’t mind it,” she says.

“You must see some types,” I say.

She shrugs, and pulls out a cigarette.

I offer her a light. She draws on the cig then puts it down, turns sideways and fiddles with an earring. Her eyes are lowered. Her profile is perfect. She turns back, picks up the cig and smiles, like she knows what I’m thinking. In a nice way.

“No car?” she says.

“Just out for a walk. But I have a Customline. Well. Sort of.”

“Does it have a radio?”

I nod.

“Well, if you bring it over,” she says, “I might let you take me for a ride.”

“Maybe I will. My name’s Bill Glasheen.”

“Linda.” She offers her small hand, smiling, and we shake.

I take a cab back to Heidelberg, and it’s a long way. Next morning I step out into blazing daylight, not sure if last night even happened. Helen sees me and turns away, and that suits me just fine.

*

THE WEEK plays out. We never crack more than a few quid a day from the hot dogs, but I’m doing a good trade in vitamin pills and the odd reefer. Olympic records are being broken left right and centre. Then Perkal gets a surprise booking for the Saturday night dance at Heidelberg Town Hall. He assembles a four piece combo.

I see the Polynesian Princess outside her caravan that morning. Her eyes are staring wide, her pupils like pennies. Her hair is streaming out wildly. She looks at me, points accusingly: “Elvis is coming!” she says.

Heidelberg Town Hall at 7.30. There’s already a big crowd inside. Mums, dads, oldies, littlies, and a big mob of louts and loutettes. There are sporting folk too, and hangers on. Secret police. Thugs. Christ knows who else. And they’re still coming.

We set up the hot dog stand outside the front door. “Jesus,” I say to Perkal, “there must be a thousand people in there?”

“Last week they had 2000 here. 3000 people at Moonee Ponds Town Hall.”

“So how come you got the job?”

He looks away. “I was wondering that myself.”

An hour later the mob inside is getting rowdy, which I can hear from outside where I’m flat out selling hotdogs.  The band is plugging away playing a 50-50 mix old time and new vogue, which pleases no one much. There’s booing from the bodgies, and angry shouts at the bodgies from everybody else.

A green Holden with NSW plates pulls up a little way down the street. Skylight Reggie is at the wheel and The Spruso Kid next to him. They get out of the car. Reggie walks up slowly, stops at his Customline parked right outside the hall.

I abandon the hot dogs and nip around the back, but they see me and follow. I slip inside the hall. It’s packed. The PA system isn’t really carrying, and people have stopped dancing. The hoochie coochie girls are performing the Fire Dance of the Islands, which Blind Freddy can see is far too blue, or not blue enough for this crowd. Things are sliding out of control and no one in authority seems to give a fat rat’s arse. I understand now how come they gave Perkal the job: they wanted to get the numbers down.

The bodgies and widgies are down the front chanting “Take it off! Take it off!” and Cathy and Maureen are on the verge of doing just that, and a huge mitt crushes my upper arm, and a Russki gorilla is staring at me saying, “GIVE ME WITAMINS”, so I clock him in the face as hard as I can with my free arm, and he reels back into Skylight and Spruso, who are right there. I’m away, leaving the bunch of them in a tussle, but another couple of Ivans are on my hammer. The yanks are not far off, but there’s no hope that they’ll step in and save me from the commos, notwithstanding the arrangements our respective countries are supposed to have made. The Russki thugs are either side of me but then the crowd magically parts, and through the path appears a bloke I swear is seven foot tall, with a greasy black pompadour, wearing a yellow satin jacket with fancy embroidery on it. He’s knocking over men, women and children like they were nine pins. He picks up a fat Russki and holds him in the air above his head. The band stops playing, the girls stop stripping. The louts stop louting. The giant slowly rotates, still holding the Russian like he was a dumbbell. He turns 180. Embroidered in fancy lettering on the back is “Micky Mavros—the Greek Elvis”.

He hurls the Russian into the crowd, marches onto the stage. He and Helen embrace. They kiss. They exit, arm in arm. The louts cheer.

*

I’M ALREADY out of there. I sprint to the Customline. It smells of putrefying saveloys. I keep going, further down the street to the green Holden. Ignition wires are hanging loose under the dash, next to the Air Chief radio. I get in, make contact and then I’m off. I hit Sydney Road, get to the outskirts of Melbourne, drop a u-ey, backtrack until I see the Golden Fleece sign.

Linda is behind the counter.

“I thought you said a Customline,” she says.

I shrug. “It’s got a radio. Feel like coming for that drive now?” I say.

“Where to?”

“Sydney. Further maybe.”

She looks left and right. “I can’t just walk out…” She drops her cigs and lighter in a bag, “I mean, it’ll take me at least two minutes to finish up here.” She takes a wad of notes from the till. She smiles at me. “My holiday pay,” she says.

We drive all night, don’t stop except for petrol. We talk for a while, then go quiet, then talk again. Either way it feels easy. At five in the morning on the crest of the Razorback mountain the motorcycle cop pulls us up. I sling him the last of the black bombers. He glances at the wires twisted together under the dash, then gives me a look. “Wasn’t me,” I say. “I’m taking it back to where it came from.” He shakes his head, then rides off.

Linda and I stay. We smoke in silence, leaning up against the Holden, our sides touching lightly. In the distance the sky behind Sydney is turning red.

I can see Linda’s looking at me. I turn to her.

“Is this going to turn out badly?” she says.

© Peter Doyle

from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012
An earlier version of ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’ was broadcast on
The Night Air, ABC Radio National, in 2006.

And see Rhett Brewer’s 2011 painting series The Golden Age, inspired by this story.

* * * * *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PETER DOYLE lectures in Media Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is the author of City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948 (2006, with Caleb Williams) and Crooks Like Us (2009), two books which draw on the forensic photography archives at the Justice and Police Museum, Sydney. He is also the author of three crime novels featuring lurk mechant Billy Glasheen: Get Rich Quick (1996), Amaze Your Friends (1998), and The Devil’s Jump (2001).

Contrappasso contributors: Peter Doyle

No, that’s not a mugshot of Australian writer Peter Doyle – they haven’t caught him yet. It’s a still from his most recent book of historic Sydney police photographs, Crooks Like Us (Historic Houses Trust, 2009).

Man of a thousand talents, Peter Doyle is also a crime novelist. His three Billy Glasheen novels – Get Rich Quick (1996), Amaze Your Friends (1998), and The Devil’s Jump (2001) – scope out Sydney’s postwar underworld with dead-accurate period lingo and mean street attitude. It’s the straight dope on the Menzies era brought to life through the shenanigans of hopped-up rock n’ rollers, wild bodgies, pill-popping con artists, and sintime beatniks. The Glasheen trilogy is some of the best Australian historical fiction on the shelves.

Contrappasso is thrilled to present another installment of the Glasheen saga, ‘Cold War, Hot Dogs’, in issue #1. The story will appear here at the website tomorrow.

But first, check out writer Fiona McGregor’s recent career appraisal of Doyle, Peter Doyle’s Sydney: Crooks Like Us.

And this video:

Contrappasso Issue 1: Paperback and Ebook formats available

The premiere issue of Contrappasso Magazine is now available for purchase as a PAPERBACK at Amazon.com for US$10, a KINDLE ebook for $US5, or in other ebook formats at Smashwords.com for $US5.

Contents

Introduction: Instead of a Manifesto

MEMOIR
Darkness Come Down / Floyd Salas
Band T-Shirt / Vanessa Berry

FICTION
The Smockey Bar / Mimi Lipson
Don’t I Know You? / Lester Goran
Hot Dogs, Cold War / Peter Doyle

INTERVIEWS
Lester Goran by Matthew Asprey
James Scott Linville by Matthew Asprey
James Crumley by Noel King

POETRY
Elias Greig, Pip Muratore, Lindsay Tuggle, Tessa Lunney, Chris Oakey, Fiona Yardley, and Paolo Totaro

Stay tuned to this blog for excerpts and multimedia material.