by DAVID WHISH-WILSON
A father is God to his son.
My father said that before I killed him, but he wasn’t talking about us.
His own father. His father’s father. His father’s father’s father, perhaps.
Said it before I pulled the trigger on his .303.
Today I leave Casuarina Prison after five years — no step-down into minimum.
But not because of what I’ve done — what I know. My history as a speed cook, forced to stay in the SHU, with the psychos, peds and catamites, to keep me away from my suitors. There are five bikie mobs in Perth and they all want to own me, despite my history with the needle. I’ve avoided them because that part of my life, it’s over. They aren’t the kind to take no for an answer, but I’m not complaining. I haven’t done the time hard, not like my earlier stretches. Not when even the screws have watched all four seasons of Breaking Bad — the same screws who call me Heisenberg with a mocking respect, although I was always more Jesse Pinkman than Walter White.
Their respect isn’t for me, the waster, but for the science of the thing. The working with explosive materials in confined spaces. The alchemy, what I see as chemistry, following a recipe. The mystical transubstantiation of base materials into the manna of heaven, as another old crim described it.
I make no such claims myself. Starting with sulphate back in the eighties; bog-standard crank, learnt from a smuggled copy of Uncle Fester’s Cookbook, whose recipes I have adapted, improved over the years, the ice I made was sought after by the criminal and social elite who could afford it.
I didn’t come cheap, but that is simply the price of blood. I hear stories now and then. Like a gun manufacturer will hear stories. Like the brother of a cell-mate of mine who after a three-day binge injected his cock and lost both legs to gangrene. Stories of psychosis and ruin. Violence and poverty visited upon innocents. You get the picture, and why I’ve had enough.
The only man I confided my decision to is the prison psych. Nothing to do with going straight, or walking the line. I told him that the very worst things I have done were done with the best of intentions.
Isn’t that punishment enough?
My second son, Danny. The only person in the world I want to see. Waiting for me outside the prison gates, sun shearing off the bonnet of his Valiant Charger.
This is a good sign. On the prison wireless I’ve heard Danny’s running wild, working as a deckie for Gary Warner, although everyone knows what that means. Warner is the only non-bikie crim who, because of his Calabrian connections, gets to make speed and ice and ecstasy, distributed through the insulated Italian smack networks.
Warner is the same bloke who most pundits think offed my first son, Kevin, those five years back, after he ripped him off for a kilo of pure.
That Danny still has the Valiant means something. It was my gift, once he got his licence, to celebrate his coming out of foster care, and it means that he hasn’t gone too far off the rails.
Danny was thirteen the last time I went inside. Keep your friends close, and enemies closer. The kind of Machiavellian dictum that a thirteen year old needs to understand. Last thing I said to him. Danny never visited me in jail because I wouldn’t allow it.
If he had, I wouldn’t have told him any different. Play it smart, but don’t let them stand over you. Once you’re down, life will keep kicking.
Danny doesn’t get out of the car. He’s seen detective inspector Brett Ogilvie, smoking a rollie beside his fleet vehicle Falcon, perk of his shift to Federal Police. He’s parked, deliberately, behind a black TRG mini-tank, stationed there in case of a riot. Like the US President’s wartime speeches, back-dropped by rows and rows of jug-jawed soldiers, a wallpaper of quiet menace.
This whole prison release thing is a movie cliché, but there you have it. The hard-looking kid in a muscle-car, the concerned cop, the sunlight on my pale skin, my squinting eyes.
Danny passes me some Oakley sunglasses, and the world goes feather-soft. Both of us ignore Ogilvie as we cruise down to the main road, but as we turn left towards Fremantle a black Hummer limo enters from the right. I keep my head down but can’t avoid Mastic’s mutt face framed by panels of tinted glass, in the rear. He simply points at me, as the sergeant-at-arms of The Nongs is given to do, master to his minions. Mastic will have chilled beer in there, the kind that tastes like chemical soup, and some hard-faced prossies with plastic tits.
‘Should we go back?’ Danny asks. ‘I been hearin …’
‘That he’s been protecting me. I know. It’s bullshit.’
‘I forgot to ask. You want to drive?’
‘No. You drive.’
I saw it in Danny the moment he picked me up, but I hoped I was wrong. Two minutes inside his flat proved me right. Fit-pack on the coffee table, base of an upturned Coke can for a spoon. He worked the powder into the water and drew up a shot, passed it to me. I shook my head, looked at him coldly. Baby blue eyes and ice-cream skin, hair like finely blown toffee. Like his mother.
He looks hurt. All his childish needing to please, there on the surface. Softness, vulnerability, and it catches in my gut.
Because where I’ve come from, the first instinct is to squash it, in yourself and others. What the psychs call learned behaviour.
And then it comes through, the deeper and stronger, longest held.
The moment of his birth.
My quiet, tender child.
My second son.
Working the fit into the serpentine vein on the back of his hand, the puff of blood in the glass, driven home.
He smiles and caps the fit, lights a Styvie, slumps in his chair.
I can’t take my eyes off him. My youngest boy, grown into a man. I barely notice what my hands are doing, although he watches closely. He is both in the first flush, but long gone, and yet there is time to catch him. After all these years, it’s not far to go. To follow my child. That he not be alone. Wherever he assumes he’s going.
Thinking that he knows where I’ve been.
It’s only when his friends arrive that the trouble starts. Two rat-faced morons that are clearly his best mates, kids Kevin’s age, early twenties. Juvie boys, the kind that Warner attracts. Strangely androgynous and PVC white, all the usual tatts and prominent labels. Dickhead hiphop on the iPod dock. Porn on the laptop. Ice in the pipe. Laughter with a dull edge of malice. Eyes vague and fierce. They repulse me, disappoint me, but not only because I fear their unpredictability. The kind I’ve been among these past five years. The kind as likely to stick a pencil in a sleeping man’s ear, heel of the hand forcing it home, as to suck him off for a cigarette.
They can see what Danny is.
Not like Kevin.
‘Danny, you ready?’
Danny takes the pipe and sucks it down. The smack was strong, and not because I’m green again. I can hardly lift my head. Danny is just as greedy on the pipe as they are, something I wouldn’t have expected.
‘Ready for what?’
‘Never mind, old man. Stay here an’ nod off.’
Danny can’t meet my eyes. Starts gathering his shit: ciggies, wallet, knife. The other one is back from the bedroom, lugging a green sports bag heavy with iron.
I shake my head, start to rouse myself.
I have left Danny with his brother’s world, a world that Kevin belonged to, mine before him. I feel like stabbing my fit into the kid’s eyes. He can sense it, too, and laughs.
‘Yo, Danny, your dad is fierce.’
Where I want to go. The only place I’ve been where my radar doesn’t ping, once, twice every minute. Where I can sleep easy. The place where my father lies unburied, at the bottom of a mineshaft. Not a place I ever expected to yearn for.
But there is peace there.