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Dashing

Part II of Down Under Week here at FFO...

I think it was another Aussie, Paul Kelly, who sang, "From little things big things grow." Then again he also sang, "Before the old man died." Jacqui Horwood proves sometimes those two are the same damn thing.

Dashing by Jacqui Horwood


Dashing.

That’s how Mum describes Dad when she tells us about how they met. He wasn’t so dashing the night she told him she was pregnant with me. The only “dashing” he did was out the door never to be seen again.

After Dad came a long line of drunks, druggies, cheats, slobs and dickheads. The only one worth mentioning is the one who stole Mum’s car and left her pregnant with my brother, Mickey.

Mickey is three years younger than me. We’re a team.

Mum’s latest discovery is Murray, fresh from Sydney with his bad suits, dyed black hair and money clips full of cash. When Mum saw him and his shiny Holden Calais, her eyes had kerchinged. She flashed a smile and her knickers, and he’d acted like he couldn’t believe his luck.

“He’s going to take us places,” whispered Mum in my ear.

Yeah, Mum, he’s taken us places all right. So far he’s taken us from one dingy roadside motel to the next in his stupid car that he won’t let us eat or drink in. Mum calls him her prince and acts like we’re on holiday. The way Murray talks big but looks over his shoulder makes me feel like we’re hiding out.

The latest pit stop is Geelong. Mickey and I get back to the motel room after a swim in the pool. Murray and Mum are drunk, naked and asleep in the double bed.

Mercifully Murray is lying on his stomach. Not so Mum. Murray’s snores rumble like a truck roaring through town. The place stinks of rum and sex. 

Mickey says, “I hate this. Let’s get out of here.”

It’s late and there are places to check out, corners to hang at.

“We got any money left?” I ask. Murray regularly slings us a pineapple to keep out of his way. We spend half and save half.

“Nuh,” says Mickey. “We’re all out.”

He gives me one of his cheeky smiles. Mickey’s got a mop of black hair and dark, ringed eyes. When he gets an idea, he looks like a little demon.

“Murray’s got a stack of money. Let’s rip him off and go.”

“What? Just leave the two of them?”

He nods.

I think, yeah, we could buy train tickets back to Melbourne. “Let’s do it.”

We fling clothes into backpacks and grab as much chocolate and booze out of the fridge as we can carry. Murray farts and rolls over. Mickey creeps to the pair of pants slung over a chair. He slides out Murray’s wallet and waves it at me. I’m too nervous to stay in the room any longer.

“Let’s go,” I whisper and we quietly slip out.

Mickey and I run out into the main street. Mickey rifles through the wallet and pulls out the money. He puts it in his backpack. Time to count it later. Mickey’s slim fingers poke into all the pockets of the wallet. He finds Murray’s driver’s license.

“Fat bastard,” he says, flinging the card into a nearby bush. He pulls out receipts and business cards and leaves a trail of paper behind us. Mickey grunts and yanks at a card stuck in one of the corners. Finally it comes out. It looks like another driver’s license.

“Boring,” says Mickey. He passes the card over. The picture on the license is definitely Murray. I read the name on the card and my heart stops.

Murray Calhoun.

Jesus.

“Look at the name,” I tell Mickey. Mickey reads it and frowns and then he realizes what I’m talking about.

That Murray Calhoun? The one in all the papers?”

Yes, that one. The mob accountant who ripped off his clients and disappeared. Currently wanted by NSW’s finest and the underworld’s worst.

“Shit,” I say. I look back at the motel. “We can’t leave her there.”

“Can’t we?” asks Mickey with a sigh.

“No, Mick, we can’t.”

Back at the motel room, Mickey waits at the door while I tiptoe to Mum’s side of the bed. A long line of dribble has oozed down her cheek.

“Mum,” I hiss in her ear. “Wake up.” She moans and flaps me away. I shake her till her teeth rattle. Her eyes flick open and she stares at me confused. “What the fuck?”

Her breath smells like the s-bend of a toilet. I shush her before she can open her mouth again and hand over the driver’s license. She reads it and then looks at the hairy mound beside her.

“You’re shitting me,” she says. “Him?”

“Yep, him.”

“Well, that’s that then.” She stands on shaky legs and rummages around for her clothes. She flings everything she can find into her handbag. We help pack her suitcase. Mum gives Murray one more look and pouts. “Let’s get going.”

Her suitcase clatters on the concrete path past all the other motel rooms. Up ahead are two men in dark suits. I hear one say to the other, “He’s around here somewhere.” The men step under one of the few outdoor lights that are working. Their faces are worn and hard. They’re scary and they’re here for business. Mickey and I put our heads down.

“You looking for that Murray guy?” says Mum. The men stop and turn their beady eyes to her. Mickey almost chokes and sidesteps out of view and behind Mum. Where he bumps into me.

“We might be,” says one of the men.

“He’s in Room 21. I could hear him snoring.”

One of the men nods his thanks while the other keeps eyeballing Mum, who straightens her back and eyeballs him back. He grunts, and they walk away.

“Bloody hell,” Mickey squeaks. Fear has raised his voice an octave.

Mum pulls something out of her handbag and dangles it from her fingers. The keys to Murray’s precious car. Mickey and I stifle nervous giggles. Mum slides us a sly smile. “Not like he’ll be needing it anytime soon.”


Jacqui Horwood is an Australian writer and a National co-convenor of Sisters in Crime Australia. She loves her crime fiction hardboiled and her poached eggs sunnyside up.