By John Dickson


    I am my mother’s son. She’s a thief. My four sisters, Chrissie, Rob, Myra and Lindy-Lou, are thieves. What hope did I have? When we last met, mum had taken up with local bikie supremo, Nitro O’Nitro, whom she insisted we address as ‘Mr O’Nitro’. Their relationship had quickly developed from one of dark commerce to that of a more ‘biblical’ nature.

    About the same time, mum started receiving mysterious telephone calls from someone who clearly knew of her success as an industrial-strength larcenist. Her anonymous caller had her rattled with his blunt claims to her soiled income. Worse was his ability to continue to contact her despite her adding to the pile of new phones she would crush beneath her heel each time he did so.

    She took no comfort from Mr O’Nitro’s assurances that he would deal with this problem.

    For my part, an attempt to enlist Mr O’Nitro as a role model fell on barren ground when I, naively, copied one of his jailhouse tattoos onto my hand. He edited it into a reminder that I would be well-served to follow a path other than his. He was testing me.


    I have a knack for numbers. Certainty, reliability, immutability. A shrink might say that was predictable, given my family circumstances. Whatever. Mum spotted it early and enlisted my predilections to shore up her stock control, tighten income/expenditure ratios and interpret any complex Government insubordination around administrative responsibilities and tax obligations. To me it was sport. I set up a web of offshore accounts and financial instruments that ignited a fiscal roundabout that kept the family fed, watered, housed and secure. It also allowed generous monthly stipends for all, to ward off any feelings of inadequacy.

    Of course, all this depended on a reliable income from a very precarious business model. This had been concentrating mum’s mind in recent times as she acknowledged the ‘pressure points’ I identified that might erode confidence in our peculiar niche business. They were becoming many and various: constantly updating and staying ahead of store/warehouse/factory security innovations; the limits of relying on a tiny trustworthy workforce; the dangers of enthusiasm exhaustion [both Rob and Myra had been increasingly insubordinate in recent times] and, of course, always vigilant should the long arm of the law reach far enough.

    Having Mr O’Nitro and his merry band of thuggidge lean in was a serendipitous moment mum quickly recognised and welcomed.

    Nitro O’Nitro ran a diversified business. This indicated to mum a native intelligence that understood core pursuits [drugs, standover, ‘security’] might not always supply a reliable income. To this end, Mr O’Nitro had invested in property, transport and, oddly, education. While these fundamentals were sound, mum could see that his corporate landscape was equivalent to a bad day on the Somme. It was strewn with holes, mud sinks and unexploded ordnance.


    Meanwhile, mum’s phone[s] continued to jangle her nerves. Normally, nothing much rattled her, but by the eleventh blunt force contact, she was starting to become unhinged. Phones other than hers going off were enough to excite her hooded-eyed search for instigators, for her usually measured tongue to vituperate innocent bystanders.

    ‘I am not a greedy man,’ droned the most recent, ‘I will take half.’ Click.

    ‘You said,’ she said, jabbing Mr O’Nitro’s considerable chest with the gutted remains of her latest iPhone 11 Pro [265GB, $1997.00, for those fool enough to pay], ‘that you had this!’

    Nitro O’Nitro had amply demonstrated his forbearance for this kind of impudence, but even his restraint had a use-by date. I feared the worst as I watched his eyes narrow and his
    fist bunch.

    Then, his phone rang.

    Shoulder to shoulder, Mr O’Nitro was an impressive beast as he turned his back on the furious woman climbing into his face. His fist unfurled to accommodate the seemingly tiny phone. He grunted into it. He grunted again. He waited, then gave a final grunt. He returned the phone to a holster on his studded chainmail belt. His countenance had reset to benign.

    Meanwhile, mum’s fury had escalated to a notch below apoplectic. Teeth gnashed in a blood-filled face moistened by sweat beads littering her forehead. Shoulders rose to meet ears. Leaning forward, her arms were tense sticks casting about for the weapon that was not there.

    ‘We have him,’ he told mum.

    Mum emptied. The fight fell out of her.

    A tremulous voice asked, ‘you have him?’

    ‘We have him,’ he repeated.


    ‘Darling’, she had said to me, ‘Mr O’Nitro might need a hand with his sums.’

    She only ever called me ‘darling’ on those rare occasions when she needed something she couldn’t supply herself. Which was practically never.

    ‘And you are so good at sums,’ she’d beamed, adding perhaps one more smear of icing to the ego cake than was absolutely necessary.

    That is how I found myself sitting on a rickety kitchen chair in a bare room, at the rear of a deserted factory, around an empty table with Mr O’Nitro and his ‘financial adviser’, Sligo de Putin.

    Mr de Putin was a Russian emigré. He had narrowly escaped his namesake’s purges of the oligarchs who had pounced on the loosening of that country’s economy when the USSR had finally splintered into its component parts. Fortunes were made and pockets of influence had erupted like so many boils on the Russian visage. These boils had to be lanced by the Premier who hated the idea of any power bases heaving up without his say so, or at least until he had corralled them within his own regime
    and control.

    Mr de Putin was a bottom feeder who gathered the krill that the whales left behind as they cut a swathe through the ‘privatisation’ of Russia’s economy. This ‘krill’ included failing small family-business chains, strategically-aligned but moribund factories and poorly-run farms in useful locations. These he asset-stripped and sold off with all the flair of grifting real estate agent. He made
    a motser.

    Mr de Putin had the wit to notice that his various scams might fall foul of the other Putin’s purge. So he contrived to ‘export’ his wealth to an amoral Swiss bank before the breath of a retributive government warmed his neck. He was also the beneficiary of a confluence of kismet: Russian emigration authorities were reluctant to inhibit the movement of anyone with a name such as his; Australian immigration authorities willingly accepted any migrant that could demonstrate access to considerable personal wealth.


    Nitro O’Nitro first noticed Sligo de Putin leaning over the green baize of the blackjack table at the Lucky Gold Casino. He was hard to miss. He wore a lavender double-breasted suit boasting purple velvet lapels and flared trousers. His shoes were patent leather loafers that revealed white socks. He appeared to be very drunk, but that had clearly not inhibited his success. A mountain of chips sat in front of him.

    As head of casino security, Nitro O’Nitro recognised that this picture was all wrong. He watched Mr de Putin play a few hands. He didn’t always win, but mostly, he did. Abruptly, Mr de Putin stood, scooped the chip mountain into a mesh bag he had unfolded from a jacket pocket and headed for the cashier. Nitro O’Nitro followed him.

    Before he reached his destination, Nitro O’Nitro persuaded Mr de Putin to enter a small room next to the cashier’s desk.

    ‘Take a seat,’ he said waving at the padded chairs surrounding a small table.

    ‘Can I get you something? A jail sentence perhaps? Or maybe a solid beating would suffice.’

    ‘Ah,’ said a beaming and surprisingly sober Sligo de Putin, ‘you noticed.’

    ‘I’ve seen many card counters, Mr de Putin,’ said Nitro O’Nitro examining the proffered business card, ‘but you are probably the best.’

    The two spent the best part of four hours together in that room, leaving with the dawn, half the proceeds of Mr de Putin’s antics each and the bones of some mutually beneficial business arrangements.

    As Nitro O’Nitro quickly deduced, Sligo de Putin was a clever ’big picture’ man. However, he was yet to reveal his blindness to potentially disastrous detail. That came later and was the reason I was invited to pass a cost/benefit analysis over Mr O’Nitro’s and Mr de Putin’s enterprises.

    I had just turned 16 years old.


    The bare room, at the rear of a deserted factory that had been the setting for my introduction to Sligo de Putin, also served as a lockup for the phantom phone caller. Two of Mr O’Nitro’s tattooed and malodorous henchmen guarded the door where one would have more than sufficed. While extremely tall, the prisoner was slightly built, giving the impression of a standard-sized man having taken part in a dark lab stretching experiment. Tied to a creaking dining chair, his knees butted his chin. He appeared rather like a trussed up grasshopper with his green mechanic’s overalls and bug-eyed stare. He did not seem to be perturbed by his predicament.

    ‘Oh, Maurie,’ said mum, ‘I had rather hoped you were dead.’

    The man in the chair was my father. 

    To be continued…

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