Extract from Book #4
<Scene: Jeff visits his estranged father in prison, seeking answers to his questions.>
Hearing footsteps in the corridor, Jeff braced his torso against the back of the chair. Sure enough, without a warning knock, the door opened inwards. All the air rushed out of his lungs, and he found himself temporarily winded with the shock. He stood up as he watched an older version of himself walk into the room behind a uniformed guard.
For a split-second, ten years fell away, and the superstar found himself staring into eyes he despised. His first instinct was to turn and leave. This man wasn’t worth his time.
Adrenalin surged through the angry young renegade who sprang to life inside the mature world-changer, bursting with arrogant, reproachful bitterness, and he felt the blood boiling in his veins as the two sides of his character merged together. Fighting to stay in the present, he extended his right hand towards his father, confident that this was the better statement to make.
The older man gripped his son’s hand out of habit but then shook it half-heartedly, his face devoid of emotion. It was an automatic reaction by a man also in deep shock.
Jeff exhaled, the initial exchange finally uttered. Jesus Christ! This was uncomfortable. He subdued his wild thoughts by convincing himself that the man across the table was by far the more nervous. Diamond Senior was not accustomed to performing in front of thousands of people or conducting conflict resolution talks between foreign government representatives and militant activists.
“G’day, son” might have been nice, the visitor cursed internally. Even “G’day, Jeff” would have done.
Forcing the slightest of smiles, the celebrity offered his father a cigarette, which was accepted with a curt word of thanks but no change of expression. The son flicked the lid on his chrome lighter, leaned across the table and lit one after the other. Sinking down into his seat, he took a long drag on his, blowing the smoke upwards, more to release some tension from his neck than to avoid blowing smoke into the other man’s face.
‘Thanks for agreeing to see me,’ the celebrity started, watching the older man slump into his chair like a petulant teenager. ‘This is fucking weird, isn’t it?’
Paul nodded, scanning his son up and down. Jeff was wearing the leather jacket Lynn had given him for his twentieth birthday, with smartly cut black trousers and a dark grey shirt with the faintest of crimson stripes.
‘Yeah, it is. You look good,’ his father responded in a brusque voice.
The younger man laughed somewhat bitterly. ‘I look like you! So how are you?’
‘Yeah. Fine, thanks,’ the star answered, maintaining a barely tolerable level of undeserved respect; just enough to retain the moral high ground…
‘How’s your sister?’ the older man asked, with the first flicker of interest in his eyes.
The twenty-four-year-old immediately saw red. That’d be right! Don’t show him you’re pissed off, he told himself. Let it go. Reluctantly, he gave his dad the benefit of the doubt. He might have cared more if they knew each other better.
‘Lena’s fine too. She lives in Fairfield. Shares a flat with another girl.’
Jeff reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out the photographs he had brought with him, hearing the guard shuffling his feet behind him. His rampant imagination figured the silent, hard-nosed man in his blue uniform must have thought he was about to shoot the wizen, old bastard. What a splendid idea!
‘I’ve got some pictures.’
Sorting through the half-dozen happy snaps, the celebrity picked out two and laid them on the table in front of the prisoner. Staring intently into his face, he heard the older man inhale sharply as recognition triggered a rare show of emotion. The boy he used to be felt the knife in his chest turn a little further, but the man he had become refused to react. In fact, much to his annoyance, Jeff even felt a little sympathy for the tall, thin waster across the table from him, with deep furrows in his brow and bony, tobacco-stained fingers.
‘That’s her all dolled up at our wedding,’ he told the estranged father, remembering again how beautiful his sister had looked that day. ‘Remind you of someone?’
Paul turned his eyes away from his son’s determined gaze, stubbing out his cigarette. Then, looking back to the photographs, his voice cracked a little.
A revelation struck Jeff like a lightning bolt. Why on Earth had this not occurred to him before? Did the inmate even know the circumstances of his wife’s death? He probably wouldn’t know that his teenaged son had found her, covered in blood and vomit, a needle sticking out of her ankle and already deceased.
‘Do you even know what happened to Mamá?’
He needed his father to understand why he was here. Picturing his beautiful best friend spurring him on, his nerves steadied a little.
‘She was a wretched, alcoholic drug addict, and your daughter’s a whore,’ he blurted out, his heart in his mouth. ‘Yeah. That woman in the picture… She gets fucked by six different men every day. That’s all she ever learned how to do. D’you know what you did to us, Dad?’
Meeting this hateful man eyeball to eyeball with the cold, hard truth was a risky tactic, Jeff understood, but he had to cut to the chase. He stole a glance at the guard, who remained motionless. He probably spent many such hours in this room, listening to equally distasteful conversations. Might he have volunteered for this showdown, given the characters involved?
Dismissing the presumptuous notion, the musician halted his mind’s evasive meandering. Yes, it was nice to swap photographs and speak pleasantly about family resemblance, but he had committed to return to Melbourne with unspoken opinions surfaced and residual issues on their way to being resolved.
Paul said nothing. Both men’s body language was reserved but tense, and the prison officer surveyed the scene in silence, waiting apprehensively for their next move. It crossed the intellectual’s mind that his father must have been addressed with disdain countless times over the last ten years. He was probably anaesthetised against raised voices and derogatory insinuations.
‘Look, Dad… I need to get a few things off my chest and I want you to do the same. Can I go first?’ the rock star brokered.
His father shrugged. ‘OK. Fire away.’
‘Cheers. Did you know all along what those bastards were doing to Mamá and Lena? What the hell did you do to them that made them come into our home to fuck our women? And with Lena so young? Jesus, they hurt them so badly. Did you know any of that?’
His blunt questions elicited no reaction whatsoever. Jeff had no doubt he was being understood, furious not to receive anything back. Reining in his emotions once more, he raised his hands in front of his chest to suggest he would back off.
‘No,’ he reconsidered, gathering the photographs together and turning them over like playing cards at the end of a hand of poker.
Party over, old man.
‘Why should I let you off the hook? You really fucked me up too, you know,’ the young man let the sentences roll of his tongue, having dreamed of this moment for so long. ‘You knew bloody well what they were doing, didn’t you? Those arseholes in our flat, doing that disgusting stuff to Mamá and Lena, and I couldn’t do anything to stop them. And then you’d come home and fuck me over into the bargain, because I didn’t stop it happening. The effects of all that shit were still living in me for years. Every fucking day.’
The prisoner dealt his son a blank look, which the angry man wasn’t sure if he should interpret as ignorance, disdain or simply a complete lack of connection. Watching him shift in his chair, Jeff sensed the older man gathering his thoughts. The visitor leaned back, almost goading his father to go in hard.
‘Chico, you never followed me,’ Paul recounted, with a sneer on his wrinkled face. ‘I was on me own against them fuckers. There was only one o’ me. You could-a stopped all that shit happening to the girls by helping me out.’
The scowling man pointed a finger towards his son, who immediately thumped the table with enough force to shake it. Sneaking a quick look at the bored prison guard, the rock star sprang out of his chair.
‘That’s what I wanted to hear!’ he shouted, without disengaging from the older man’s indifferent gaze. ‘You still think that way after all this time! That’s fucking bullshit, Dad!’
Again his father scarcely moved, keeping a wary eye on the songwriter as he paced around the room, doing his best to keep calm. Why did the man across the table still find it impossible to address him by name? A somewhat familial “chico” was a decent compromise under the circumstances, although it sounded more demeaning coming from him than from the others. Despite the derisory glare which had accompanied it, this was a small step forward at least, he reluctantly admitted.
‘Could we have some coffee, please?’ the sophisticated celebrity asked the prison officer, who obediently pressed the intercom button in the room and passed on the request.
Jeff sat down again. ‘Let me get this straight,’ he continued. ‘You blame me for not wanting to be involved with your dodgy deals because it meant you couldn’t compete against the others. Is that what drove you to do what you did to those blokes too? I didn’t do what you wanted, so you took it out on everyone else?’
The young man knew better than to articulate the circumstances of his father’s crime in front of Parklea staff. Another blank stare met his exacting gazeno doubt perfected after years of passive defiance.
‘That’s fucked, Dad. Alberto’s sons weren’t in on it, and no-one raped Eva. Those guys even came to my wedding. For Christ’s sake!’
His father’s eyebrows twitched involuntarily, hearing his son pronounce names from their past. ‘Bloody Alby Santos,’ he hissed. ‘I always wondered what happened to that fucking grass.’
The charitable musician chose to ignore this latest snide remark. ‘Come on,’ he prompted. ‘Don’t dodge the question. Why did you do it? Why was it so important that I join you? Weren’t you man enough to lead your own fucking life of crime?’
Paul let out a throaty smoker’s cough, slotting an index finger inside his shirt collar and running it round his neck as if he was feeling the heat. Angrily, and probably for the first time in a while, he filled his lungs with a deep breath and straightened up, giving himself back the true size and stature which formerly sent shivers down the teenager’s spine.
‘I was man enough alright,’ he sneered. ‘You could never be. You were all bloody useless to me. I was trying to build a fucking business, and all you did was read books and play that bloody guitar.’
‘Right,’ his son nodded, balanced on the very fine ledge between latitude and contempt.
‘All that talk about school and university,’ his father continued. ‘No son o’ mine was going to no poncy university. You let me down, eh?’
‘I let you down? So why didn’t you cut me loose?’ the younger man questioned, bile rising in his stomach at the same underlying paternal rejection being verbalised for the first time. ‘Why didn’t you guys just give me away? Give us all away? Fuck off out of our lives altogether? Instead of taking your disappointment at my failure out on all of us? Eh?’
The prisoner scoffed, apparently amused at the malicious impersonation with which his son had signed off his series of questions. He looked up at the guard over his right shoulder, as if he were about to demand removal from the room. The uniformed officer continued to stare straight ahead, to Jeff’s relief. The songwriter wondered how many of these spiteful confrontations these blokes had to endure. They were bound to take their toll after a while, he guessed, deciding to ease up on both men.
‘My mates used to ask me if you were queer in the head or something,’ Paul suddenly took up the conversation, his mocking tone increasing in volume. ‘Music and books and all that. You weren’t like any other kids. Fucking cricket and rugby and tennis. Sucking up to people. It was fuckin’ embarrassin’.’
Jeff shook his head, rapidly losing patience. ‘So no-one in here likes cricket or rugby?’ he chided, catching the guard’s eye. ‘Nothing much else to talk about, I would’ve thought. Or are you all split down ethnic lines in here too? It’s OK now to talk about music, obviously though. “Ride All Night” go down well in here? Or “Donna Jade”? I should do a gig in here one day. Would your mates like that?’
The guard stifled a smile, the star noticed. The prisoner didn’t think to look over his shoulder anyway, allowing the man to relax for a few seconds. His eyes made contact with the impressive musician’s, who was still waiting for a response to his vitriolic humour.
‘Fuck you,’ Diamond Senior hissed.
‘Just because someone likes what you don’t like doesn’t make them queer, Dad,’ the young superstar insisted. ‘Look at my life. I bet your mates’d trade places with me any day. Look at my bloody car…’
Jeff leafed through the small selection of photographs again and dealt one of him sitting in the driving seat of his sleek, black Aston Martin, with its personalised licence plate beneath the front grille. He could sense his father was impressed, and that was good enough for him. He was willing to bet that if he left this picture with his father today, it would soon find its way around the other inmates, regardless of the lack of kudos it might receive in his presence.
‘What I like…’ he continued, taking the photograph back. ‘That poncy, queer stuff, as you call it, has brought me more success than you’d ever have. Think about it, man. Why the hell wouldn’t I have wanted out of that life? What was there for someone like me to gain? None of those gangs had it easy, did they?’
His father sniffed. Jeff could tell the old man’s patience was running thin too, but he had waited many years to talk to him like this.
‘Sure they had money, flash cars and the rest… But those blokes had to watch their backs wherever they went, just like you.’
And just like me, come to think of it, Jeff conceded, though only to his own conscience. Hopefully his dad didn’t possess the intelligence to see through the gaping hole in this particular argument. A huge pang of longing broke free of his heart during this small epiphany, leaving him short of breath. The smartest arse-end of a pantomime horse in history, patiently waiting in their favourite Sydney hotel, would have pounced on such a careless flaw in an instant.
The superstar carried on, determined to make his point. ‘No wonder you don’t care about being in here,’ he shrugged. ‘Much safer than being on the Stones, isn’t it? Much less to worry about; watching your back the whole time… What was it about that so-called life you wanted so badly?’
Paul Diamond raised his right hand to his forehead, moving his finger around in a circle and mimicking the deranged grin of a madman. ‘You’re crazy, mate,’ he jeered. ‘What the fuck are you talking about? You always were so fucking weird. Wanting to know everything and coming on all high and mighty, like you knew better than the rest of us.’
‘Yeah. Maybe I am crazy,’ his son nodded, refusing to be riled into raising his voice again. ‘You made me this way. If not from birth, then certainly from the day you ended up in here.’
‘No, Dad,’ the young man sighed, wondering how much longer he ought to prolong this discussion in order to complete the acquittal either to himself or to his gorgeous lover. ‘Fuck you. What made you think I’d be into the gangland way of life? Your own dad wasn’t.’
‘Me own dad?’ the prisoner echoed. ‘What a useless piece of shit he was. No spine, no guts. At least I stood up to the bastards… How the ‘ell would you know anyway? You were just a kid.’
‘Yes, I was just a kid. And so was Lena. Exactly my point, but whatever… Your father didn’t want you doing all that shit, but he left you alone, didn’t he? All I wanted was for you to leave us alone too. I didn’t care what you did with your life. Just don’t drag innocent kids into that messed-up, sick world of yours. It wasn’t fair, Dad. Look what it did to Mamá…’
Jeff waited for the faintest sign that his mother’s life and death held some significance for the man on the other side of the table. He thought he saw a faint flicker of disturbance flash across the deeply-lined forehead. Did those sunken eyes blink infinitesimally more slowly for a few seconds?
Maybe not. It had been a very long time since this deadbeat had been required to feel anything, the philosopher supposed. Indeed, if their roles were reversed and he himself were faced with spending the rest of his life in prison, there was little doubt he would be hard pressed to want to feel anything either.
‘D’you know who paid for Bubshka’s funeral, Dad?’ the twenty-four-year-old asked, leaning forward again and laying his hands flat on the formica surface between them. ‘And for Mamá’s, for that matter?’
‘Fairies at the bottom of the garden?’ the old man snapped back, clearly very proud of himself for thinking of something so facetious to say to his jumped up, university-educated wuss of a son.
Jeff gritted his teeth, ready to lash out. Instead, he pointed an angry index finger back at his own chest.
‘Me,’ he spat. ‘I paid for them. A teenaged kid, working in the butchers’, hacking up dead animals into snags and chasing round after idiots who couldn’t run their own lives.’
His father faltered, suddenly whithering into his seat. ‘Then I guess I should say thanks.’
The musician drew breath, momentarily floored by this unexpected expression of gratitude. His natural reaction was to disbelieve the prisoner’s sincerity, yet his well-trained, conciliatory side opted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Jeff Diamond could be very persuasive. People often told him so. It seemed that his persistence had paid off. Perhaps the pitiful sentimentality in his words had penetrated the old man’s thick skull after all.
‘Listen, Dad,’ he continued, doing his best to smile. ‘When your mum died, I was sixteen and I didn’t even feel sad. I was totally fucked in the head. To me, hers was just another unhappy soul released from that shithole of a life while I was still stuck there trying to make sense of it all. You know, I dragged Lena along to the funeral, and she cried! She hadn’t seen Bubshka in two years and she still cried. Me, I just sat there and thought about girls.’
Jeff’s father sat forward, the previous malice gone from his eyes. ‘Listen, you Countdown clown, I didn’t even get to go to my mum’s funeral,’ he mocked. ‘I’m the one banged up, eh? I didn’t get to go to me wife’s funeral neither. No-one told me ‘til after it was over.’
It was strangely heartening to hear the old man fight back, even though there was no real venom in his tone this time. The musician reached his left hand across the table and squeezed his father’s wrist, chuckling at the hurtful jibe.
‘I know. I’m sorry about that too. Would you have wanted to go?’
If he were honest, Jeff highly doubted the hardened criminal would have attended his wife’s funeral, had he been free to make the choice at the time, minus the facility of reflection during his many years of incarceration.
Paul flicked his arm upwards, instantly belittling his son’s gesture of reconciliation. No longer disturbed by the rejection however, the celebrity slowly withdrew his hand and placed it on his thigh under the table. He recognised himself in his father’s behaviour, or rather his former self, pre-Lynn; the self who would go to any lengths not to reveal his true feelings. This path to reconciliation was destined to be a slow process. Thinking he should draw the meeting to a close, his blood chilled with fear at having to go through this several times.
What was it that they had started today? And where might it end?
The millionnaire sighed and cursed his naïve expectations. It was unlike Lynn not to have warned him of the need to take things slowly and that it would take time to break through. But no, Jeff smiled. The more likely scenario was that she had deliberately left him to come to this conclusion on his own, so as not to discourage him at the outset.
Christ Almighty! This woman was so absolutely perfect for him. There was no clear end in sight, nor even a real understanding as to the end he sought, yet the new husband had to own up to a definite catharsis taking place deep inside.