The following is the 2nd chapter of the first novel I wrote entitled Fools’ Gumboot and later, No Job Too Strange. I began writing it at the age of 21 when living in Calder Rd Darlington. The first draft took me from 1994 to 1996 and came out at a total of 260,000 words. It was monstrously incompetent and came to constitute a perfect lesson in exactly how not to write a novel. “Is he really on as much dope as you say he’s on?” Well, yes I was. The original premise in part rested on the, er, inspired idea of a “drug lord” as a sort of superhero in another plane of existence, where, powered by their respective substances, like elemental forces, they did their deeds for good or evil. It soon morphed into a story about a private detective called Roland Columbus who found a means by which to travel to an alternative universe where the characters who populated our literature were made whole in one gigantic, ungodly mess. This other plane of existence lay across an expanse called “The Blue”, which was, of course, the very same “blue” that things come out of – unexpectedly. At its conception, the novel was titled Fools’ Gumboot. I shan’t elaborate.
The story was hopelessly bloated, badly written and hugely self-indulgent. So tangentially wayward was the plot that even I had trouble following it at times. Still, in its ultimately clumsy way, it held to an internal logic and made some degree of sense. The second half was far superior to the first, because it was written in a more consistent flurry of writing which took place between December 1995 and August 1996. I had quit smoking cones and was living in a sunlit, one-room flat, high up above Bronte beach with an incredible view of the coast from my balcony. Swimming every day in summer and, motivated by working seven days a week to save money for an overseas trip to make the most of my spare time, for the first time in my life I began to write in a determined and organised manner.
I finished the draft just before I left for Europe on August 19, 1996, and left it until I returned. It was thus in 1998 and 1999 that the second draft was completed, whilst I was living in a one-bedroom flat in Glebe and back at university doing honours in Australian Literature and Medieval History. The second draft was practically a second novel – I dismissed the bulk of the first draft and kept only selected elements as a story within another story. This reorganisation relocated the story to a fictional town in Queensland called Clayton, where the author of Fools’ Gumboot, Dirk, is taking a holiday and has his manuscript stolen. In his subsequent encounter with the police, and via the medium of the stoner thieves who end up reading his manuscript, the more promising and coherent elements of Fools’ Gumboot were revealed. The goings on in the town of Clayton became, in fact, the true narrative framework for the story. The novel also received a new title: No Job too Strange, and it was at this stage of the process, in 1998, that the below chapter was written. It’s not exactly all that great, especially in its rather tired colloquialisms, so I present it here more in the spirit of putting it on the record.
The Too-hard Basket
“Jeez it’s hot today, Trev,” said Bill.
“Sure is,” said Trev.
And it really was hot that Tuesday. Now, at midday, the sun reached its cruel zenith. Bill adjusted his corpulent body in the sagging brown swivel chair. His red face glistened with perspiration, gathered in the gullies of his exhausted frowns. It ran down his temples and dripped from his nose and brows; dropping away into hot space.
“Sure is, Bill,” said Trev. “It’s a real hot day. Lucky we haven’t gotta go out, ‘cos I don’t know if I’d be up to even walkin’ down to the corner.”
Trev plucked up the courage to reach for a cigarette. His arm hung across the air and flopped onto the fake-wood veneer desk where it inched towards the smokes. He took one out and lit it with genuine effort from a disposable lighter. He sank back into his reclining brown leather chair. The smoke curled off into the unpleasant air, writhing in the agony of the heat.
“I’m bushed already mate, I’m really bushed.” The deep whine of his voice trailed off. He grunted, clearing his throat. “But we got a job to do Bill, we’ve got this case to think about.”
Bill shrugged with sincerity. “Sure do mate. I’ve bin thinkin’ about it all morning and I haven’t got anywhere. Let’s go over the facts again.”
They both paused a while. They were not men accustomed to pouncing.
“Now, let’s see,” said Bill. “It happened in Doug’s cafe, two days ago. A guy walks in who Doug claims was a short, swarthy lookin’ bloke, with dark hair. He could see a bit poppin’ out the bottom of his balawhatsicallit. This swarthy bloke was wearing a blue denim jacket and black jeans, and he had a ring on his right hand with Adolph Hitler on it and the bloke had somethin’ tattooed on his knuckles. There were some letters, though he didn’t see what they were.”
“Not the epistles to the apostles I don’t reckon,” threw in Trev.
“Aye? What’s that, Trev?”
“Nothin’, mate,” said Trev.
“I’ll take ya word for it. Anyhow, this bloke pulls out a gun and says, ‘look ‘ere pal, turn it over, the loot I mean,’ and a’ course Doug’s no slouch when anybody orders anything. You know how quick he can whip up a mixed grill. I mean, sure, this time he doesn’t exactly want to pull out all stops, but he gets on with the show and the guy chucks him like an airport bag.”
“Did Doug see the airline or anything like that?”
“Nah.” Bill paused to catch his breath and his eyes widened in obese appreciation. “But that’s real thinkin’ that is, see if he’s like a registered jetsetter. He only said it was ‘like’ an airport bag, so’s it might a’ been something else altogether, only like an airport bag.”
“Yeah, we mighta been onto somethin’ with real evidence like that.” Bill reached down and undid one of the buttons on his dark brown shirt. The moist hairs on his chest popped out in a grizzled plume. Trev sucked back on his dismal, hot cigarette.
“Anyway, mate. Two’s a crowd, the bloke says, and next thing you know e’s off with the lot, and poor old Doug’s wondering what’s ‘appened to his morning’s takings.”
“Far out, Brussel sprout.”
Trev shifted his bulk and ran his spare hand through his tropical hair.
“So what can we do with that?” he asked.
Bill stared long and hard at the ceiling. The orange and yellow lampshade dangled flypaper over his head. A large blowfly that had become attached seemed to give up the fight and stare back down at Bill. The brilliant green of the eyes held the lure of sighing bottles, of longaway refreshment, hunted into misery by the savage, unforgiving heat. Trev’s gaze wandered into the axis of his companion’s hypnosis.
Bill soon broke the spell.
“It’s a tough one Trev, a real tough one.”
“Phew, you can say that again. Where on earth do you start with a thing like this?”
“You write it all down mate, you write it all down. Then you sit and think about it, and you talk to people.”
“Well, yeah, that’s what a case is all about. But this time around. I mean, this case, Bill. What can we do?”
“Let’s think. We spoke to Doug, right. Hang on.”
He reached forward with immense effort. His body heaved and droplets plunged from his fringe. On top of the desk was a two-tiered wire tray, an in-tray and, well, another one altogether. Reaching into the top tray, he levered his fingers under the single manila folder that lay there, removing it to his lap with a deep exhalation.
“Here we are.” He opened it up and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Here’s what Doug said. Blah, blah, blah, bloke comes into the shop. Yep, blah blah, give us ya money, yep, and then he goes on, two’s a crowd, and whooshka ‘e was off.”
“What else we got in there, Bill?”
“Well, that’s all we got, mate. Shivers, I been thinkin’ about it for days, but I just don’t see how we can get the bloke. E’s probably left town by now, for sure. Gone up the coast, you know.”
“Yeah, I reckon you’re right. If I remember rightly, Doug said he asked a few people, but nobody saw anyone with a balaclavala or Mr Hitler, or any black jeans or anything. It was lunch time and there was just nothin’ happening. If he’d walked in and there was plenty of people we might have had something to go on, but what can we do?”
Bill took a deep, serious breath. He raised an eyebrow in resignation and puffed his cheeks like a bullfrog. His brow knitted and his eyes roved from his right hand to his left. He looked closely at Trev, sunk deep in the hot trance of his chair.
“I guess this one’s for the too hard basket, mate,” Bill said, and plopped the file into the full tray beneath the in-tray, on the top of the brown desk.