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Thirteenth Instalment of the "Herald's" Second Prize Novel    

YOU CAN'T SE E 

ROUND CORNERS

By JON CLEARY

FRANKIE McCOY deserts from the army to come back to his

living as a starting-price bookmaker at Flanagan's hotel in Paddington. His girl, Margie Harris, breaks wilh him when she

learns of his desertion and refuses to hear from him until he

returns to the army. On the first day of his resumption of busi- ness he loses more money than he has when the favourites come home. He meets two other girls: Myra, whom he picks up in a dance hall and to whom he introduces himself as Frankie Brown,   and Meg, a niece of Flanagan's wife. While preparing for his second Saturday's betting he is confronted by one of his creditors.

ROBINSON'S voice rose as he heard McCoy's admis- sion: "D'you mean you can't pay me?" There

was tear behind its truculence: he was scared of himself, of what he might commit himself to with this assertion of his rights.

"I didn't say that."  

"Well, what did you say?

"I said I can't give it to you to- day. I'll give it to you. Just give

me time."  

"You had a week. You never took that long to pay me before."

"You got it right there. I never took that long to pay you before." McCoy took his finger away from the teat of the balloon. "And the first time I ask for a coupla days you want to put the screws in."

The air went out of Robinson; he shrank back into himself, becoming negative again. "Well, all right. I just needed it, that's all."

"I know, Phil. I know how it is." He had appeased the creditor, had pained a respite; now he felt mag- nanimous, capable of distributing favours. "Look, were you going to have a bet to-day?"

"Yeah, I was going to fling a few bob." He used the reckless phrase self-consciously.

"Well, name it and I'll take the money out of what I owe you."

"Righto. That'll do me. Make it ten bob each way Colonus. That leaves me about two quid, don't it?"

"I think so. Wait a minute. Yeah, two quid. All set?"

"Yeah. Well, I'll see you Monday,

eh?"

"Okay, Monday. See you in the bar about a quarter to six."

Robinson went out of the room, not making an exit, just disappearing without fuss, evaporating and leaving no trace of his personality behind, his only claim to recognition in McCoy's mind the fact that he was a creditor.

McCoy got up and went into the kitchen and sat down for lunch. Flanagan, who ate his lunch late, was in the bar and his wife was upstairs, titivating herself for her appearance behind the cash register this after- noon, "dressing the battleship" as Meg

called it.

Meg put a plate of salad in front of him and as she sat down at the other end of the table Hardman, the butcher, a bald-headed, pink-and- white faced man who looked as if  

he should be hanging on a hook in his own shop, walked in, and put a Gladstone bag on a chair. He stood beside the chair with his hand still on the bag.

"Where's Syd?" he said. His voice was like his face, soft and smooth and pink, not masculine.

"In the bar," Meg said. "Want

me to call him?"

"Yeah, you'd better. I got the change here. I don't want to cart it

into the bar with me."

Meg went out of the room and Hardman sat down, holding the bag in his lap now.

"How's tricks, Frankie?"

"So-so. They didn't run the right way for me last week, but I'm hoping they'll do better this afternoon."

"How'd you find the army?"

"Much the same as it found me. Hard to get on with."

"You on leave?" "Yeah."

Meg and Flanagan came through from the bar, Flanagan with rolls of notes in each hand. This was a regu-

lar transaction each Saturday, Hard- man would bring all the silver and copper from his morning's takings   down to the hotel and there he would take notes from Flanagan in exchange. He would then take the notes back to his shop and lock the money in a small safe at the back of the shop. The early closing of the bank pre-

vented him from depositing the money on Saturday and so it remained in the safe till Monday morning. The practice had been going on for years and McCoy because of his business at the hotel and his attendance there each Saturday, had been absorbed into confidence.

"Hullo, Fred" Flanagan said. "Syd." Hardman said.

They began to exchange the money and McCoy picked up his paper, looking it it but not seeing it, listen-

ing to the crackle of the notes and the music of the silver. He could do with a handful of that money, two handfuls; he had no ideas of stealing it, but if they dropped some of it and did not notice he wouldn't   put them wise. They finished count- ing, the transaction completed. Hard- man snapped shut his bag said good- bye and went out and Flanagan went back in to the bar. Headlines gal-

loped across the page before McCoy's eyes, but they were a meaningless

blur.

"What's the matter?" Meg said, round a mouthful of food.

"Eh?" He folded the paper, and

dropped it beside him. "Oh, noth- ing. Why?"

"You look as if someone's pre-   sented you with a baby you ain't sure  

you own."

"Maybe I have been. Has it got anything to do with you?''

She deliberately put down her fork and knife and her hands clenched the table edge, her knuckles showing white but her voice was still calm and controlled. "Don't talk to me  

like that, or I'll bust you with a plate!"

The words had escaped him, libe-

rated by his worry. "I'm sorry,

Meg." He picked up his fork and knife and began to cut his food sli- cing savagely with his knife. "I'm worried. I lost a wad last week and

they're starting to ask for it. I had  

three or four more of them on my neck this morning."

"Haven't you got it?"    

"No. I'm about twenty quid short.

If they don't come home right this afternoon I'll be in the soup."  

"Whyn't you ask Uncle for a

loan?"

He could laugh, but the laugh was dry. "Your uncle wouldn't lend me tramfare into town. He's as tight as —well, he's tight."

"Well, if you ain't got it, you'd   belter stop worrying. Start hoping that you win this afternoon."

Hoping did him no good. The horses were still conspiring against   him: when the prices were announced at the end of the afternoon's racing he had lost another hundred and ten pounds. He knew that some bettors put more than that on one horse and by their standards the money wasn't much, but to him now the sum was mythical and somehow filled

with dread.

"How'd you do?" Meg asked him. "Up the pole. I lost another hun-

dred to-day."  

She whistled. "Jeez, are you in

a bad way! What're you going to  

do?"

"What d'you think I can do. Sing

on street-corners?''

"You might go to work instead of hanging round here all the week."

"Yeah, that'd solve everything. Know any jobs where they pay a hundred quid a week? The name's McCoy, not Mark Foy."  

She shrugged her shoulders and turned away from him to the sink, splashing plates in the water. "All right, work it out for yourself. I was only trying to help."  

He went out of the kitchen and she heard him climbing the stairs, slowly and without spring in his step.

"Margie, he could do with you   right now," she said, and dropped another plate into the water.

HE was still depressed when he

walked into the Trocadero, and the brassy music was an irritant, loud gaiety rubbing against his misery. He looked over the room, his eyes dazzled by the shifting pattern of colour, every face anonymous, then he saw Myra, dancing with an Ameri- can She went past in the crowd, saw him, and waved. The American   turned his head to look at him, then   said something to Myra. McCoy saw her smile, then the music had stopped, she had left the American, and was pushing through the crowd toward

him.

"Hullo. Frankie. You're late. What kept you?" She stood beside him, her hand resting on his arm, and

in his mood he felt a comfort in her

grip.

"My missus and nine kids. They wanted money to go to the pictures."  

Flippancy was the answer to his mood; the light words, tossed like a juggler's clubs, would distract him.

"You must've been working over- time to have nine kids." She smiled   again, and for the first time, because he was not blinded by sex, not think- ing of it, he saw the sudden loveli- ness that came when she smiled.

"Who was the Yank?"

"Just a boy. I dunno He asked me to dance."  

"What'd he say about me? I noticed him nattering to you."  

"He just asked were you my boy- friend." The touch of her hand on   his arm tightened almost impercept- ibly. "Want to dance?"

"I'm not eager. It's too crowded. What d'you say we go somewhere

else?"

"Where?"

"Oh, I dunno. A tram-ride or some- thing I feel like some fresh air."  

"All right. Meet you outside in a   coupla minutes."  

She came down the steps, her hips swaying rhythmically, her body as alive as the music now faint within the hall, took his arm, and they crossed George Street and walked up

Bathurst.

"Where d'you want to go?" She hung on his arm, looking up al him walking close against him, absorbing him, making him part of her.

"I dunno. What d'you say we go down to the Gardens?"

"All right. Lets walk." She wanted him to herself, to the intimacy of the quiet streets.

"I'm easy."  

They turned left along Elizabeth Street. Over on the right the dark mass of trees in Hyde Park fell in slow silhouettes away from beneath the rising moon, and the Memorial was a delicate, faintly luminous tracery rising above the lights along the paths. Above them, the T and G Building climbed with lighted steps into the night, its tower stab-

bing a finger of commerce at the sky.  

"I wouldn't mind having a flat in there." She was looking up past him her face turned up to her dreams seeing beyond the lighted windows to the comfort and luxury of a well- appointed apartment.

Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS

She was walking arm-in-arm with   poverty, but she did not know it. You'd better win the Lottery first before you get them ideas."

"Sometimes I lie in bed at night and think of the silliest things. Wish- ing I had a lot of money or that I was a famous actress or else my hus- band was some big business man."  

His own dreams had gone with his childhood; you could not reach back through disillusionment for your hopes and wishes. "Is that all? Wouldn't you like to be a duchess   or something?"

"Oh, you're laughing at me." She   had walked out of herself, out of the present, back through the years to the time of dreaming and belief in those dreams. He saw the young look in her face and he pressed her hand.

"No, I'm not laughing at you."   Should he laugh at the hopes of others? Maybe misfortune had singled out only him. "I used to dream like   that once. But it don't get you any- where—leastways, not me. You go on     dreaming and then one day you wake   up and it's time to die."  

She stepped back into the present, the child and the dreams retreating his disillusionment. "Yeah, I suppose   you're right. But gee sometimes I  

get sorry for myself. I wish I had the money to buy all the frocks I want to buy, like some girls have, and have a home, and—oh, I dunno. It ain't much use, is it? I suppose I'll probably marry some feller on the basic wage and we'll have to spend all our lives being careful because we can't afford too many kids."

"That's the way it is with most people like us. No money, no kids. And they complain about the birth-

rate."

"Have you ever thought about get- ting married?" She laughed, and she wondered if the laugh was nervous and revealing. "I'm not proposing to you. I'm just curious."

"I did once."

"What happened?"

Could he never escape Margie? Would even the other women in his life be forever mentioning her? "Let's forget it."

She walked on in silence. He was not going to admit her to his past; there could only be the present for them. And the future, she hoped.

They swung round the bend of Hyde Park, crossed the Squire, and walked down Macquarie Street, past the Hospital and Parliament House.

"How'd you like to be a poli-   tician?"

"Nothing doing. Too many people   on your back. Go into Parliament and you got all the spongers in the world on your tail. Do this for me, mister—I voted for you. Do that for me, mister—I worked for you at the last election."

"You got everything worked out. haven't you, Frankie?" There was no scorn in her voice; rather, there was admiration. To her, life and the world were still a muddle: there would always be fear and puzzlement and only her courage would prevent her complete defeat.

You got everything worked out. The words mocked him and he smiled wryly. There was the small matter of nearly a hundred and fifty quid that had to be worked out. Maybe he could do with a win in the Lottery

himself.

They had turned round the Mitchell Library into the Domain and now they were walking across the grass toward the Art Gallery. The build- ing loomed like a giant mausoleum be- fore them, and, as they passed beneath the statues that fronted the building the stone horses reared against the moon, dark and forbidding. Then they were under the trees behind the Gallery, walking without sound in the

grass.

"Gee, it's dark." The quietness made her whisper.

"You didn't want the place floodlit, did you?"

She squeezed his arm. "No. But I'm scared of the dark."

He spread out his coat and they sat down. "Even with me?"

There was darkness round them and he could not see the expression in her eyes; she could venture her con- fession. "I don't think I'd be scared of anything with you, Frankie."

He lay quietly beside her; words were not to be trusted; they might commit him and he was not yet ready for decision. His hand moved slowly over her, then he leaned over and kissed her, and as he drew her to him her voice broke in a whisper. Oh Frankie! and he knew without doubt that she loved him.

He dropped back, but his arms held her, and she lay with her face buried beneath his chin.

Then her arms tightened round his neck, and she turned to him, her mouth pressing against his, and he knew now what her answer had been

to the American's question to-night. Mavbe iitwasn't such a bad idea, after   all.

SMOKE and talk and the smell of

beer hung thick in the air; the bar

had absorbed its proper atmosphere.

To-day was the first day of the beer quota for the month and the place was crowded. Might was right and men jostled one another as they struggled to the bar; the Australian's fighting spirit, his tenacity of pur- pose, was shown in the battle of the bar. Early closing hours and beer rationing had bred a dogged race of

drinkers.

"Hullo. Frankie. Got my money?" Robinson pushed through the crowd and stood beside McCoy.

"Oh, hullo Phil. Let's go into the back room. It's too noisy here."

"Righto. Wait'll I get a beer. Want

one?"

No, thanks. I'm accepting nothing from you, you b——d. It's enough having to crawl to you.

In a few minutes Robinson followed him in to the back room, a glass of beer in one hand and sponging his trousers with a handkerchief with the other.

"Like a b——bargain sale. I was lucky I didn't lose the lot."

"Not with your luck. You never

lose."

The yellow teeth showed between   the lips and the sharp thin nose came down to meet them as he grinned. "No, I don't, do I? They been run- ning the right way, lately. You could've bowled me over. When Col- onus paid five to one."

I should have, thought McCoy. Bowled, you right over. Then I wouldn't have to pay you.

"Me, too. Well, I owe you five quid, that right?"  

"Yeah, that's it." Robinson was nervous, anticipating the feel of the money, his mind somersaulting with the opportunities of spending i. - He took, a drink, gulping the beer as if

it were a nerve tonic.

McCoy sat on the edge of the table, his hands in his pockets, looking down at his swinging foot. He hated Rob- inson; this man, small and pinched and negative, elevated by good for- tune to the position of creditor, was the final insult to his degradation. He had reached the lowest. level; gone back to crawling to this tuppenny b——d, this mug from the bottom of the heap.

"Well, look, Phil. I'll be straight with you. I'm pretty short. You boys've taken it off me in large lumps these last two Saturdays."

Robinson look another drink,

emptying the glass. The beer filled him, he took on stature; malt and hops were courage lying in his belly, and this man before him owed him money, money that was rightfully his, The lips twisted and the yellow teeth were almost bared in a snarl.

"Look, McCoy, are you going to pay me my money or not? Just come out with it and I'll know what to do." He had no idea what he would do; the beer loosened his tongue, gave

him words.

McCoy stood up suddenly, and the shock of his feet hitting the floor was the physical impact of anger. "By God, I'll—" Then he relaxed. What was the use? Who was he to lose his temper? Robinson had him under his thumb and he could poke that thumb in his eye any time he wished. "Okay, Phil, forget it. I'll pay you."

He took out his wallet and counted out the five pounds. He looked at the three pounds that remained, then quickly snapped the wallet shut and returned it to his pocket. That was all that stood between him and the past, the years he thought he had left

behind forever.

Robinson took the money, his hand a claw reaching for them, and now his truculence had gone; his constant fear of reprisal had made him friendly again.

"Thanks, Frankie. I knew I didn't

have to worry about you. You always paid up on the day."

"Yeah. You didn't have to worry." Why should he? He wasn't in debt for over a hundred quid.

Robinson was the first of the call- ing creditors, and the only ones to be paid. By Thursday, some of them were beginning to show, their annoy- ance at his tardiness in paying the

bets.

It was only four o'clock, and Flanagan had just opened the bar. McCoy stood against the bar, reading the early edition of the evening paper. Glasses clinked as Flanagan got them down from the shelves, ready for the evening rush. The door opened and the three men came in. One went down round the corner of the bar and the other two came and stood beside McCoy, one on each side of him. He looked up.

"G'day, Frankie:"

"Oh, hullo, Ern, Barney. What'll you have?"    

Barney Lowe was a short thickset youngster with a flat broad face and hair that grew well down on his forehead. "The eighteen quid you owe us." he said. "Remember it?"

"Three beers, Syd." McCoy said. Remember their eighteen quid? Jeez, didn't they know he'd dreamed about it for the last week?

"Sure I remember it. Barney. You'll get it."

"When? We want it while we're still young enough to spend it."  

The man on the other side of McCoy drummed his fingers on the bar, a slow steady sound that was almost ominous. Ern McCauliffe was slim and sharp and cruel as a knife; there was no feeling in the thin, hard face, and his eyes had the flat, dull look of cheap marbles. McCoy had once seen him use a broken bottle with terrible effect in a street brawl.

"We want our money, McCoy." His voice was thin and flat too, squeezed from the hard, unfeeling tube of his body. "We don't like welshers. We want it—or else."

The words were ridiculous and McCoy laughed, but nervously. "Are you playing gangsters?"

"Whatever we are, we ain't playing. We given you two weeks now and we ain't even smelt the money. You're starting to smell now. We want eighteen quid and we want it now."

(Continued on Monday)

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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