The package contains the Subbuteo Brazilian World Cup squad. The real Subbuteo, not this cardboard shit you get nowadays. Little plastic men, black, bright yellow shirts, the pale blue shorts, the tiny little flicker of the badge on the jersey. Brilliant. How could you not love Brazil? How could you not want to be Brazil?
It might seem like the kind of thing that would make you cry, if you lived in a daytime TV movie. Scott Breely sending me his treasured Brazil squad. Part of his suicide note, I was told. Deep stuff. Days of innocence. Is that… is that a tear in your eye? Compose yourself, come on.
I looked at the little plastic men, resolute little creatures with their hands at their sides in their plastic holders. One of them had survived serious injury; yellowed glue joining his little shins back together after coming to some grief, not a bad job. But he wouldn’t be featuring in any first eleven of mine, I had to be honest.
No-one knew that these plastic men had a secret. In particular, that the box they came in had a secret compartment.
Scott and I would use our Subbuteo sets to take drugs paraphernalia to each other’s houses. Kids’ stuff. Scott’s World Cup edition – with the floodlights and everything, he even had a fucking stadium with fake fans in it, the spoilt bastard – was used to hold bongs, pipes, a rolling machine, the merchandise itself. There was probably no need for all this secrecy, but you know how it is when you’re a kid, especially if you live in a white bread middle class area; the fear of getting caught, the paranoia. The disgrace. We never were nabbed, of course. The plan was foolproof. Even if our mothers ever spotted the bongs and the rollers, they’d never find the drugs; Brazil held the drugs. The aristocrats of world football were also the viceroys of illicit substances and moonlight transactions in our town. There was a little secret compartment in the bottom of the box, quite carefully constructed by Scotty, I must say; just enough to conceal a little deal of hashish we’d get from the stoner guy who worked at the petrol station off the main road.
One last toke, I thought. He wanted me to have one last toke. I unfolded the box parts – carefully, just the way we used to; that compartment would have to get used again, after all – and there wasn’t a deal there. There was a shiny silver key. And a note.
“No-one but you.” It said. And beneath that: “ROSS STREET. BOX 211.”
Ross Street has a storage depot. The depot is synonymous with the street; if you want to take something to storage, you would say you were taking it to Ross Street. It’s a big old warehouse, once used by a tea merchant back in the day, I think. There had been plans to buy it over and turn it into a concert venue, or a car park. But it turned out there was more money in storage. People have a lot of shit out there they want to store, it turns out.
I take my own car in, ignoring my dad’s pleas to stay for some breakfast. It’s easy to get parked in Ross Street; it’s not the busiest part of the town.
As a relic of the city’s mercantile past it’s not the best one there ever was. It’s in a part of town that gradually became run-down; there’s a lot of boarded up shops there now, To Let signs. The lovely sandstone facades are intact on all of the buildings; some of them have just the facades, and nothing else. The stonework is listed, so it can’t be demolished, but everything behind the front has had the wrecking ball put on it. I think of Buster Keaton, the front of the house falling on him, but he goes through the open window and doesn’t get squashed.
Ross Street depot was a handsome building at some point, I suppose. It looked like it had come through a major air bombardment, but escaped with fleshwounds while the neighbours got pummelled. The sandstone is more black than red, and there are little cracks in the windows here and there. The gargoyles have been scared away. Once inside the front door, I’m taken through to the warehouse area by an old guy with a massive gut and a jangling set of keys on his belt. “Right at the back,” he grunts. “Follow the numbers on the signs.”
I walk past row after row of containment units. You wonder what’s in them. Antiques. Missing masterpieces. Munch’s the Scream, boxed up there, shrieking away in the dark. Dead bodies. Shergar. Some of the containers are monolithic, towering over you. Listening to my echoey footsteps in the gloom, I just know there are rats in here somewhere. There’s something about the smell. It’s Ratropolis in here, I think.
You make jokes sometimes because you’re scared.
When I reach section 211 in a series of wooden racks there’s just a trunk in there. When I say trunk, it’s more like a box file of some kind. It’s new and shiny and it has wheels on it, a long handle. Interesting. So I lug it back down the way I came. There’s a little skittering sound to my left and I look just in time to see a pink tail flicking past one of the containment units. “Fuck me,” I say aloud. “Fuckin’ knew it.” I don’t like rats.
Then there’s the sound of a much larger animal behind that containment unit. The stamp of a foot. The rats sprints back the way it came, crosses my path, and disappears behind some of the other units.
I’m aware of the buzzing of the lights. The blood fizzing in my ears.
“Is there… is there someone there?” Even now, I feel it’s best to be polite.
Silence from behind the container. I’m going to have to walk right past it, lugging the container with me. I heard it alright. There is someone behind that container. I don’t move.
“Hey!” A square of light opens in the distance. I hear a set of keys jangle as the outline of the old doorman appears in the portal. “You need a hand up there or what?”
Heading towards that light, I hurry past the container. There’s nobody there of course.
I’ve traded a cupboard in Melbourne for one in the city. I’m on the top floor of some swish new-build flats and taking that container all the way up the stairs is an effort for a little fella like me. I think of old ladies lugging their trolleys full of messages up old tenement steps. Those bitches could probably turn me over no problem at arm wrestling.
I’m not sure what I expect to fly out at me as I open it up. One of those octopus things in Alien maybe, that suck your face off. A giant Looney Tunes boxing glove, an Acme anvil. The world’s most elaborate parting shot. “That’s for Summer ya bass,” a note taped to the glove might say.
I peer inside.
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…And that’s pretty much all he wrote. There is one other chapter about Jason meeting up with his friend, a lesbian policewoman (“I deserved as much… it’s like every stupid, smutty joke I ever cracked on stage got me in a headlock and snapped on the cuffs, and not in the sexy way, either”). Spot the expository role…
Despite some banter, I haven’t included it here because I wrote it out of sync, and it wouldn’t make much sense.
I have a few of these fragments – I may ping them out here. Next up: terror on the high seas… sorta… in Adrift.