Words and music © John Dickson 2020
I offer myself as an innocent. I am caught in the web of deception and law-breaking instigated by my mother and carried out with aplomb by her, my four sisters, Chrissie, Rob, Myra and Lindy-Lou, and my artless self. My mother had ‘taken up’ with the kommandant of the local biker gang, Nitro O’Nitro, in an effort to shore up her own business [and, by default, his]. Apparently there were side benefits in this relationship that were outside a 16-year-old’s purview.
An initial wrinkle in this early coupling had to be ironed out. My mother was being phone-stalked by a man with creepy claims on her endeavours. That man was my father who had been on the lam since escaping a low-security prison some 13 years previously and vanishing into thin air. The last time I saw him I was three years old. He was now cable-tied to a chair in a room at the rear of the premises Mr O’Nitro and my mother shared for their various business practices. He may as well have been the man from the moon for all I knew of him.
Meanwhile, I was exercising my innate instincts for the beauty of numbers by reviewing the curiously rickety structure of the ventures of emigré, Sligo de Putin – a recent and welcome co-conspirator of Mr O’Nitro and my mother. ‘Random’ was the best description I could muster as I wrestled with his laissez-faire relationship with laws and regulations various as I shoe-horned them into highly camouflaged financial deception instruments. I was having a ball.
Some say that daughters have special relationships with male parents. ‘They’ also say that fathers are subject to the special dispensation of girl children when they fail in the eyes of the law, of society, of their community, even of their own family. My sisters put the lie to this generalised homey twiddle-twaddle.
I was a mere stripling of three summers when pater did a runner. His existence was just rumour to me. My sisters, all older, had a range of relationships with our father. Lindy-Lou, now 18 years old and the closest in age to me, had vague recollections of a shadowy figure maintaining a cool distance somewhere in the weeds of family life, but had no ongoing interest in his identity. Myra [19, then 6 years old] was clear in her disdain of this ‘sodden biscuit of a man’. Twenty-two-year-old Rob [Roberta, then 9] had watched balefully while daddy attempted some clumsy parental affection that was then quickly abandoned in the face of his abject failure. She thought him a ‘tool’. Chrissie, now 24 years old, was eleven when she alone observed Maurie prepare his escape from the family. In an arms-folded-head-tilted kind of way she was astonished at the incompetence of this human who had shared some gametes with our mother in order to allow our existence. How could this failure of a homo sapien have enough biological heft to call into existence offspring that were the complete antithesis to his lifelong bumblings? Her respect for nature’s adaptive trickery grew exponentially.
But he must have had something. Otherwise, our mother, a woman of considerable competencies, would never have had a bar of him. He did. He had a kind of louche charm that, for a time, papered over any dints, any potholes, any smudges, with a compelling smear of sugared ooze. He was the complete grifter. A film-flam man of the first water. Longevity, however, was against him. Time spent with Maurie slowly revealed the cracks in his wafery front and when they, inevitably, transitioned into fissures, Maurie was gone.
Somehow, Maurie had caught wind of mum’s success and so abandoned whatever mud puddle he had been rolling in to see if some of that prosperity could stick to his own fingers. Unfortunately, this particular caravan [like so many others he had followed] had moved on and his clumsy blackmail attempts were about to spectacularly backfire.
Sligo de Putin had a taste for the fine-grained opportunity. Rather than the big score, Sligo kept a weather eye out for smaller potentials, but plenty of them. While working as a payroll officer for the Bolsheviktha Tractor Plant of Ulyanovsk, he had noticed that salaries were measured out to the last kopek [100 kopeks to the ruble]. So he added another worker to the payroll – Vladimir ‘Ed’ Nitup – and proceeded to round down these fiddly kopeks hanging off everyone’s salary and transfer the difference to Comrade Nitup’s account. Over time, a workforce of 23,186 generated a substantial bounty of slovenly kopeks allowing Comrade Nitup quite the accumulation of investment capital.
Typical of de Putin’s tin-arsery, just as some stern-looking KGB operatives began an audit of the Payroll Department of the Bolsheviktha Tractor Plant of Ulyanovsk, the Soviet Union collapsed, allowing Sligo to move on to the corporate raider phase of his low-level/high-return business career. It was Comrade ‘Ed’ Nitup’s handy capital clump that funded this pivot.
Sligo just stood in the shadows as the behemoth oligarchs hoovered up Russia’s assets, newly released to the ‘market’, and watched as they hosed the profits into offshore accounts. His little broom just swept up the leavings – the broken small town industries, the abandoned farms, the family-owned modest stores – asset stripped them and periodically delivered his harvest to a numbered Swiss bank account.
His best earner was a string of funeral parlours. Under the Bolsheviks, funerals were a one-size-fits-all proposition, at the same basic rate. Once the shackles came off, Sligo was among a peculiarly thick-skinned cohort of comrades who turned the death industry into a corrupt free-for-all – though hardly free for the mourning families.
A cascading hierarchy of bribes quickly took hold as ambitious funeral directors sought customers for their grisly trade. Offices were set up in or near morgues, hospitals and police stations. Informants were paid for the inside skinny on the whereabouts of a potential customer. Sligo and his ilk would then harangue the families caught in the dizzying spiral of grief and who only wanted the best for their dear departed.
Redolent of our own door-to-door swindlers flogging fantasy roofing, or imaginary driveways, these ghouls would pressure-sell packaged funerals from the box to the hole or the furnace. Of course, immediate cash payments provided the only access to these ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ deals. In slight mitigation of his predatory shenanigans, Sligo was among the few that actually followed through on most of these arrangements.
It was this guaranteed income stream that he was trying to recreate here in Australia. He carefully hired only the most doleful emigrés who could provide the right combination of solicitous sympathy, manifest grief and tactical pressure that would loosen the purse strings of mourners. That they had no idea of their income entitlements was also a benefit to Mr de Putin’s ongoing personal wealth enhancement.
It was at one of these establishments that my errant father would be sequestered while a suitable deterrent for his ill-mannered ways was prosecuted.
I was curious at the apparent indifference my father was displaying. Cable-tied to a chair in the ‘meeting’ room at the rear of the HQ of Mr O’Nitro’s [and now mum’s] enterprises and surrounded by some fearsome representations of local thuggery, I would have expected him to be somewhat energised by his circumstances. After all, he had stalked my mother whilst issuing blackmail threats over her very existence. But no.
‘Hello son,’ said this curious stranger twisting his head in my direction. ‘Had hoped to meet you in better circumstances.’
I had nothing to say. He might as well have been the postman, if I was expecting any sign of familial recognition. Though I did notice that the back of his head was very flat and was grateful that that physical endowment had not been listed in the genetic handover.
It occurred to me that my father, Maurice Shevel, genuinely believed he was still astride a winner. He had the necessary evidence to provide a considerable threat to my mother’s [and now, Mr O’Nitro’s] substantial assets, to say nothing of their freedom. Why wouldn’t he be?
I wondered idly if the flattened head signalled some kind of consequence absence that allowed Maurie some seriously misplaced confidence.
He continued to beam at me as Mr O’Nitro, mum and various team members argued over his fate. Gavrilo ‘The Crowbar’ Nero wanted to just give him a thorough beating and send him on his way. ‘Hot Fat Vat’ McKinnon thought he should sacrifice at least one limb, if not two. In a left field protest, Spoon Brown thought that would just transfer the burden of responsibility for Maurie’s care onto the state and that was hardly fair on those in genuine need, in light of the current government’s ravaging of the disability sector.
The ensuing silence allowed a chastened Spoon to leave the room, head bowed.
Sligo de Putin then upped the ante by suggesting that his funeral parlour services could be made available at a substantially reduced rate.
And still no reaction from ‘dad’.
Mr O’Nitro then signalled to mum, gathered up Sligo and the trio left the room. Maurie’s fate was about to be sealed.
To be continued…