PARRAMATTA ROAD: MAGIC MILE OF MOTORS
“What am I bid on this bewdy?”
Amplified over the noisy crowd, the auctioneer’s deep baritone reverberated about the walls of the showroom. Amidst hooting and howls, a yellow Ford pick-up with a suspect engine and a decided sag about the axles rolled into the spotlight. Some of the hundreds of sweaty wholesalers in this fiercely male bastion took notice, but most ignored it.
Jim Graden, the auctioneer, took homage. From his lofty perch, he snarled contempt at the sea of beer bellies, sun-leathered faces, and broken noses.
“You blokes are just shittin’ me to tears. What a pack of bloody tire kickers. C’mon, ya cheap bunch’a mongrels. Ava go!”
He shook his head, frustrated that the third vehicle in as many minutes chanced to pass without an opening bid.
“Hey! Ten grand’s the reserve here, fellas. I gotta make that at least, or I’m goin’ ta the next one. Check out the bloody mags. Real chrome they are. Only hauled sheep on Sundays, I swear! Owned by an ol’ farmer mate o’ mine up at Ulladulla, God rest his soul. So, who’s gonna step up on this ute then, aye?”
Graden was a tall and rugged man, with neatly cropped blond hair and a distinctive mole on his cheek. He lived life to the fullest. Some called him “Fatty.” His nickname earned not for his build but his fat cat ways, he customarily spent exorbitant amounts on the finer things. More than just some ‘weekend millionaire,’ no one ever accused him of being cheap.
His father had signed over a failing auction business on his deathbed. As a young man, Fatty became a natural at the game, mastering the fast-paced lingo, a foreign language to the uninitiated. The auction thrived under his leadership. He expanded his enterprise, forcing the owner of a crappy Holden dealership to sell it to him practically at gunpoint. A year later, he cut a shady deal for a parcel of land next door. He built that into an award winning Mercedes store. Today, the 50-something hustler was worth millions.. on paper.
Time was wasting. Fatty teased and cajoled the crowd with a nod here, a flick of the wrist there. He needed to generate interest in the yellow Ulladulla Sheep Express idling below him. In reply, the room just stood about and fanned their faces with crumpled programs to move air through a haze of exhaust fumes.
“Are you all daft?” Fatty cried. “That ute down there’s worth twice that much!” He looked to one of his spotters. “Bugger yis, then! Piss the bastard off, Allan,” he demanded, and waved the pickup away.
Three purple taxicabs, fairly new, their stickers removed, took center stage. The noise became roisterous as voices tried to shout bids out over the other one. Fatty smirked. The tension of joy to the winner and depression to the losers came swiftly, as Fatty slammed down the gavel. Next, a fire red Mustang classic idled up. Fatty called for opening bids. There wasn’t any interest. He was livid.
“Right, youse blokes! I’m pullin’ it. Hell, I’d rather give it to some leper down at the shelter than sell it to you lot.”
The Mustang rolled around the corner.
Fatty ushered the next car up, a 1960 Thunderbird coupe, baby blue in color. It stalled as it approached the stage. Behind it, two long, bedraggled lines of cars stretched under roller doors and out to the back parking lot. Faced with yet another delay, Fatty let out a groan. Blood vessels at his temple pulsed, and his face grew beet red.
“C’mon, Tavish! You’re slowin’ me down, mate. Bring that bloody yank tank up here.”
“Dinnae gie yer knickers in a knot, yoong Sairrr Roderick,” the old yardman muttered in a strong Gaelic accent. In the refuge of the T-Bird’s cab, the wily Scot could afford to be a little impudent, as he played with the bum starter.
Finally, the T-Bird turned over. Tavish revved the engine. A smile broke over his profoundly wrinkled face.
“Aye, Robert tha Bruce cooldnae huv dain be-eter.”
Sooty smoke billowed from the classic’s exhaust pipe. The Scotsman, poor with the clutch, kangarooed the car into the spotlight. Brakes ground to a halt below the podium, and Fatty resumed his chant. The noise of the crowd grew louder. A handful of wholesalers gathered about. The competition was on, and bids mounted rapidly.
Nearby, Gunna Kilbright, a portly man in a blue suit, engorged himself on an oversized hotdog as though it was his last meal. It wasn’t the best tasting dog he’d ever had. Lumps of pig fat gristle lodged in his teeth. But it was, at least, a stomach-filler. Anything really to kill the nicotine taste in his saliva. An old-timer in the business, he had seen plenty of days like this, full of crazies stupidly pushing prices up. The commotion around the classic coupe paled in comparison to the attention his eyes gave a woman beside him.
Marilynn Mayberry was the only female in attendance. Long brown hair fell attractively around her pretty face. Her wide-set green eyes were captivating, her full, sensual lips prettily lipsticked. Her figure maintained sleek proportions from her college days as a state champion sprinter almost two decades earlier. The top demurely vee’d down between full, round breasts. A fuchsia Versace short-skirted couture skirt hugged her trim, athletic body. Her inviting cleavage trapped Gunna’s gaze.
“So cutie, wha’cha doin’ here?”
Gunna’s loutish smile revealed teeth caked with chewed food. A yellowish-green goo covered his face and pudgy fingers.
Marilynn gave no more heed to a person she considered a glutinous pig than what the walls around her displayed, “Dealers Only. No Public Allowed. That means Women!”
Her eyes remained fixed on Fatty, ignoring the occasional wolf whistle from some leach behind her.
“I am here to redeem him.”
Gunna’s mouth fell open. “Who? Graden? You’re kiddin’ me, right?”
Marilynn gave him a stone-faced stare. “No, not at all,” she said in an intriguing, private school manner. She detected a smell of body odor mixed with tobacco. It sickened her. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”
She resumed her gaze on Fatty, watching him rattle off bids on the T-Bird. To her, he exuded a most magnetic air of confidence and authority. She considered him, in his trademark black Brioni double-breast, to be of her class. An attractive equal. That suit alone would have cost most men in the room two month’s earnings. He was a man, she knew, any woman wanted, even without the money.
With a gruff chortle, Gunna took a final bite of his hotdog and sucked his fingers clean. He turned his head away and shot of sliver of snot from a nostril. It splashed by the shoe of another wholesaler.
“Hey,” the older narler barked. “Steady on, ya filthy bastard!”
Gunna snorted deeply, coughed, wiped his nose, and ignored him.
“Listen hon, Graden’s no pushover. And he wouldn’t take too lightly to yer comments. So, I’d keep ‘em to yerself ‘round here.”
Marilynn ignored his stare. She tapped her manicured nails on the silk sleeve of her suit. With resilience, she replied evenly, “We shall see. We shall see.”
A call for last bids blared over the speakers.
“Damn it!” cried Gunna. “Better put a bid on that yank tank.”
“Going twice,” Fatty yelled into his mike.
“Forty-five even, Jimbo,” shouted Gunna, his placard held high.
Fatty spotted the tubby man. “Thanks, Gunna. Anyone got balls fer fifty?”
The room went quiet.
“Last call. Once... Twice...” He slammed down the gavel.
“Sold! Lot 430 goes to bidder number 43. Goodonya, Gunna.”
In back of the room, a stubbly-faced geezer tended to a hotdog stand. Shoulders stooped, cheeks cratered around missing teeth, a half-spent cigarette dangled from his sun-cracked lips. Watching the dogs boil, occasionally he stirred them, mindless that ash dropped into the bubbling water. With a jittery clang, he returned the lid to the pot. No one on the showroom floor noticed, noisy and crowded as it was. Bored to death, he leaned his skeletal frame against the wall. He wore the cap of the Scottish Fusiliers, old man Graden’s unit. A collection of dingy war medals dangled from a moth-eaten cardigan. Like Tavish, he, too, was indebted to Fatty. For, without the Graden family goodness, he would be living under a bridge somewhere fighting rats for bunk space.
From the street, a squeal of brakes demanded his attention. He poked his head through the door, just as a squad of uniformed officers swept past. They bowled him over in their haste. He picked himself up off the floor and curtly guffawed at the sight of two officers dressed like spacemen in bomb-blast suits.
A senior constable, tall and commanding, led the charge through the crowd. A no-nonsense type, he forced his way past Gunna.
“Hey, ya poofta! Watch it, or I’ll have yer badge,” yelled Gunna, his beer spilled to the floor.
The constable stopped and sneered dangerously at him. His manner as short as the clipped gray hair under his shiny cap, he fondled his holstered weapon. For a moment, he surmised Gunna would make good target practice. He had more pressing matters to attend to, and slithered off between cars. With a long stride, he leapt up on the podium and took charge.
“Mr. Graden, I got knowledge there’s a bomb here. The tip is that it’s been placed in an old yank tank. Where’s that car?”
Fatty stared in disbelief. “Yeah, I just sold a T-Bird. My bloke just drove it around back.”
The cop looked at his watch. “Report says its timer’s set to explode in…er, well, I guess a few minutes ago.” He reached for the mike. “I need this. Sorry, son.”
Fatty blocked the copper’s hand. “Listen, mate, I’m not your son, and you’re sure as shit not my father. So, go screw yerself ten ways to Sunday and back! Now get on with it Harry, or get outta my place and outta my face.”
There was heavy silence.
Until a few years ago, Harry Edwards had maintained a high profile as a big wig in the consorting squad. When a case against Fatty turned sour, a man he hoped to put away, Edwards was busted down to a uniform. Fatty knew the cop, a pure crazy, still carried a grudge sufficient to warrant reprisal.
“We’ve had the evil on you for a while, Graden. You’re one of the people we watch. Carefully.” He paused and challenged Fatty with his eyes. “Now, let me do my bloody job, mate!”
Suddenly, from outside, there was a hellacious explosion. A shockwave broke windows and rocked the building.
Fatty’s eyes bulged. “What the HELL was that?”
A cloud of smoke drifted in through the open roller doors. Fatty’s drivers jumped from the vehicles waiting in the lineup and scattered. It was a footrace to the exits.
Fatty’s jaw dropped.
“Strewth! Ol’ Tavish was drivin’ it.”
Before he could close his mouth, Tavish raced past. Under his kilt, his bony old legs carried him to safety as fast as they could quiver.
“Sairrr Roderick, aam afraid ‘at motur back thaur is stuffed!”
“No shit,” Fatty replied, relieved. “And quit callin’ me Roderick. You know I hate that name.”
Fatty marched outside with Edwards in tow. The T-Bird, parked against the wall, was a burned out hulk. His men finished up with the extinguishers just as the fire engines arrived. Fatty ambled over and ignored the heat coming from the roadster. He had taken it on consignment for a mate. He could care less about its lineage. Or, the long voyage it had taken from America. Even its value, for that matter. He just wanted to make a buck off another damned car! He pulled out a knife and wedged the blade behind the prized Phoenix emblem. Prying it from the hood, he slipped it into his pocket and mentally counted his adversaries.
“Who hates me the most?”
He pondered a cohort of foes who wanted him gone. Looking up at overcast skies, he shifted his gaze to Edwards. The cop leaned against the building, stroking his holstered weapon, assessing the situation from a safe vantage.
“What an egotistic, self-important prick,” Fatty muttered, and rightly so.
For years, the police had tried to finger him on a slew of capers. Everything from murder and robbery, to racehorse doping and running prostitution rings. All without success, thanks to his capable legal staff. Fatty had no time for the bastards. He had to work out who was gunning for him. The cops weren’t going to help. Hell no! They were out to get him. They considered him a Person-of-Interest, a cheap thug, and an underworld figure without any measure of scruple. But, to most Australians, he was seen as an incredibly likeable and charming underdog. To them, the blue collar worker, he was the last of a great breed, the little Aussie battler.
Fatty strode back inside.
“Harry, let’s get on with this bloody auction. I got a business to run here.”
There was money to be made, and he wanted much more than his share.