Instalment 42: pages 175 - 178 [Elliot returns home briefly after being roughed up at Unchaperoned, his day fails to improve]
Before they repainted and got some new furniture, perhaps one could have been served at the Phoenix with a bad case of gravel rash and wearing crumpled clothes that smelled slightly of your own sick. But two or three years back it had been spruced up, the stickiest of the seating had been replaced and a good percentage of its charming dinge had gone along with the Guinness tap. It was still a narrow, dim bar for socialist students, public-service regulars and the occasional batch of jamming Irish musicians, but against the backdrop of improved lighting and cleaner walls I was hardly going to pass unnoticed or make much of an impression on Eva’s contact.
I needed a change of clothes, and I had not replaced the gear in my overnight bag since staying at Danielle’s. I parked directly outside the flat, and crossed the nature-strip limping. The stairs to our front door were not something I wanted to think about.
A woman in blue jacket, holding a clipboard was standing bewildered in our courtyard, as Daphne Carmichael had done, at the corner where the map showing the layout of apartment numbers had once been. Coming alongside her I noticed the real-estate agent’s logo adorning the jacket and clipboard.
“What number?” I asked.
She looked at me askance, but seemed to decide that the shambling wreckage in human form before her was probably harmless and a local.
“Twenty-six,” she said.
It was the number of Ken and Barbie’s vacant flat.
“Next door to us,” I muttered. “Come on.”
I winced and grimaced my way up the steep steps, the estate agent close behind. I gestured at the door on the other side of the landing while I fumbled for my keys. I dropped them and began the painful process of bending down.
After a moment’s hesitation, the woman bobbed, bird-like, swept the jangling ring from the doormat and dropped it in my outstretched, grateful palm from a height that precluded accidental skin contact.
“Thanks,” I managed. “When do we get our new neighbours?”
“I’ve no idea,” she said with a brittle smile.
We entered through separate doors simultaneously. I went straight for the shower, peeling my clothes off in the bathroom and letting them lay where they fell. The steaming water revived me somewhat. I realised I did not have a lot of time to change, and it might take me much longer than usual to get dressed.
I towelled off, scooped up my clothes, and had my next panic attack. I wasn’t just missing the photo of David Carmichael – rifling through all my pockets, I found I was missing my wallet. I did not like to think about the unpleasantness that could easily ensue.
I’d either dropped it at Unchaperoned, or the Slab had collected it from my hip pocket without me noticing. I was beginning to wonder if I’d lost consciousness for a moment or two back there on the gravel. This was seriously not good.
Ryder probably now had security footage of me, the photo of Carmichael and my wallet. He’d know I lied about being Daniel Chough, planning bureaucrat, that I had an interest in David Carmichael and Unchaperoned, and worst of all – from my driver’s license he’d know where I lived. From what I’d seen and personally experienced, his hench-beast was not afraid of slapping people around. I wondered how I was going to tell Eva. “Try not to open the door to any hulking goons working for minor vice lords” was probably not the way to start.
I piled my clothes into the washing machine, then dragged on jeans, t-shirt, jumper and shoes before painfully stooping to the low kitchen cupboard where we kept the tool box. I was thinking of Mark Steven’s little war story about of the other afternoon as I got out the screwdriver.
I should be checking under the seats in the car, I thought as I staggered out onto the landing. I should be cancelling my bank cards. I should be calling Eva. I should not be behaving in this bloody paranoid manner.
However, my life seemed to have parted ways with rationality in the last few days, and I knew with a certainty as real and as pressing as the pain chipping away at my cranial walls that something was about to hit the fan. I was just hoping to avoid the nasty-smelling splatter when it did.
Looking down from our little balcony landing, there was no-one about. I had already gone past five though, people would start getting home soon. If I went through with this, I was going to be quite late getting to the Phoenix. With the Canberra peak half-hour already underway it was not going to be a fast trip. I turned back to look at our front door and Ken and Barbie’s: consecutively numbered, each door bore two solid black plastic digits, each digit held in place with two brass screws a piece. I locked our door and toyed with the screwdriver a moment.
I just hope the paint beneath hasn’t faded, I thought and set about swapping our address with that of an empty apartment. The screws had obviously been put in with a power-drill, it took a lot of levering – and a scalding pain down my left side every time I strained to get the screwdriver turning – to get them to budge. Four screws were eventually persuaded out of their burrows. It was enough, I soon had a five and a six in my hands. I held them over each other: mercifully the holes lined up, I wasn’t going to have to make measurements or new holes in the doors to change them over plausibly.
Ten minutes later, still bearing the screwdriver I limped as quickly as I could towards my car. Dave Pritchard would have started drinking in the Phoenix by now. I planned to join him – provided, of course, that he was buying. The Slab hadn’t even had the manners to toss me back a twenty.