Anyone for calamari?
Harry McGrath sipped his flat white in Rydges Hotel’s Sphere restaurant. Eleven-twenty, post breakfast too early for lunch. The airy sunlit space empty except for Harry and the serving staff busy with preparations for the mid-day rush.
It’d been a pleasant stay. Last night’s Sydney Rock oysters and Moreton Bay Bugs — flown in fresh from Queensland — washed down with a Coolangatta Semillon swept away the dust of Lightening Ridge. Memories of gut-churning flights in the shitty tin-can shuttling back and forth to Sydney now ancient history. Besides what he brought back made it worth it.
Smiling he ruminated on his plans for the day. A run up to Doyles for lunch, probably Calamari Romano followed by Barramundi. Back to the hotel to pick up his stuff. On to the domestic airport to catch the 16.50 to Perth. By tomorrow night he’d be stepping off a Cathay 747 in Hong Kong ready to meet the Chinese buyers. After that Seoul. Ozz could kiss his arse.
A shadow darkened the table and black faux-leather chairs opposite.
‘Good morning, Mr McGrath I have your limousine waiting outside.’
‘You’re a bit early, Mate. I ordered the cab for half-past.’
‘Traffic was light sir.’
‘Can yer wait in the car while I finish me coffee?’
‘Yes sir, but it might be wise to leave soon. Traffic heading toward Bondi’s building up. I’ll just collect your luggage and put it the car.’
‘No need to do that, Mate, I’m coming back here after we been to Doyles.’
‘It’ll probably be safer with me rather than in the reception locker. I’ll be waiting in the car while you dine. Suitcases get mixed up here sometimes.’
‘Alright, I’ll come with yer.’ Harry slugged down his coffee.
Harry followed the driver to a silver-grey Holden Caprice with black privacy windows parked under the portico. The driver popped the trunk with his remote and opened the rear door. Harry backed into the dark space almost blinded by the change from bright sun to deep shade. The instant the door closed he heard the faint clunk of the lock. He realised he wasn’t alone.
‘G’day Harry. Didn’t think you’d get away from your old mate Bruce, did ya?’
Harry’s head jerked round to the front seat. Bruce Levy was smiling at him. Harry shuddered at the sight of his grin twisted by the wide scar curving from the corner of his mouth to behind his left eye.
‘We’re gonna have some lunch together.’
Harry felt the cool steel of the handcuffs closing around his wrists. He looked round and found a gorilla holding the barrel of a very big automatic about ten-centimetres from his nose.
‘Sorry, Mate I already got a reservation at Doyles. Ain’t got much time to talk. Got a plane to catch.’
‘Well, Harry you’ll have to disappoint them. Lunch is on me today. We can talk at the same time. Tell me what I want to know and you’ll be in time for your flight to Perth.’
Tony winked, just to let Harry know his plans were no secret.
‘We got nothing to talk about.’
Harry heard the driver stowing the suitcase and the trunk slam shut. The front right door opened. The driver got in and started the big V8. Harry leaned back as the car moved off. Nothing he could do for now.
It wasn’t a long drive. A hop over the Harbour Bridge onto the Pacific highway and on to Pennant Hills. Soon they were easing into the drive of an upmarket villa hidden from street view by lush shrubbery and gum trees. The car coasted through the open doors of the triple garage which closed as soon as the car halted.
Harry allowed himself to be led out the garage and down stairs to a lower level lounge looking out onto a fenced swimming pool surrounded by dense bush. The gorilla manoeuvred him onto a heavy wooden Chinese style arm chair. The driver followed, carrying the luggage. Setting it down he helped the gorilla to shackle Harry’s wrists and ankles to the chair’s arms and legs. After frisking him they started to force open Harry’s suitcase.
‘Take it easy, Mate. That’s a Samsonite. Bloody thing cost me two-hundred bucks. Code’s 911 if yer wanna get in.’
The gorilla stared at Harry while he grasped one corner with both hands and wrenched the lid away from the base. Bits of the lock flew out and scattered across the floor. He looked at the twisted lid and then at Harry.
‘You were robbed, Mate.’
He pulled the contents out of the case and searched the inside panels while the driver inspected every item that came out. Tony Bruce strolled into the lounge and stood over the men. They replied to his enquiring look with a shake of their heads.
Tony sat down on an easy chair next to a large aquarium. It was home to a lot of rocks spaced between brightly coloured weed and waving sea-anemones, but not much else. Tony pointed a thumb at the tank.
‘You like my toy, Harry? Always liked exploring rock pools when I was a kid. Never know what you’ll find. Everything in this is from around here. My own little bit of Pacific coast.’
‘Yeah, very nice. Sorry I can’t appreciate it. I’m feeling a bit ordinary at the moment.’
‘No worries, just tell me where they are and you’ll soon be right.’
‘Where what are, Mate?’
‘Harry. Harry, don’t be a dill. I know you went to Lightning Ridge. We been trying to track down that old miner for months. I got someone at the ‘drome. When you stepped off that old crate you led us straight to him. You’ve got that nice old bloke’s throat cut before he even spent cent of his pension.’
Tony held up the sports bag he’d carried into the lounge. He zipped it open and tipped out twenty-five bricks of plastic 100 dollar notes.
‘That’s very mean, Harry. A quarter of a million for over 3000 carats of raw black opals?’
‘I dunno what your talkin’ about.’
‘Okay, Harry. Have it your way. Lets have some lunch. You like seafood don’t you? What’s your favourite? Don’t tell me, let me think . . . ah yeah. I remember. Pan fried baby octopus served with a Caesar side. Right?’
‘Yeah, specially when you’re paying for ‘em.’
‘Little bird told me you’re heading for Seoul. They eat a lot of octopus in Korea. Thing is, over there they like to eat them alive. Might be a good idea to get some practise in, Mate.’
He turned to the driver. ‘Get him a small one, Fletch.’
The driver picked up a small net lying next to the aquarium and dipped it into the water. After a little juggling he removed the net with a squirming cephalopod inside.
The gorilla grabbed Harry’s hair and forced his head back. With his other hand he stuck three fat fingers inside Harry’s mouth and wrenched it open. The driver held octopus by its bulb in his right hand and stretched the tentacles to their full six inch length with is left.
Harry tried to pull free shaking his head from side-to-side.
‘NNAAGH – NNAAGH – NNAAGH.’
Harry stopped shouting when Fletch pushed the terrified animal into his mouth. Tentacles first. Harry tried to spit the thing out. He felt the tentacles thrashing around gripping whatever they found. They were everywhere. Two shot out between his lips and went inside his nostrils. He felt the suckers pulling on his uvula and tentacles slipped down his epiglottis as the creature desperately tried to escape.
Harry shook his head and shoulders. Sweating heavily his eyes bulged his and face turned purple. He sensed the bulb slide between his teeth. Somehow he managed to bite down hard. The strong taste of the ink flooded his mouth as the head split. For a second it stopped moving. Chewing violently he reduced the main body to shreds and spat out the pieces. Chunks of disconnected tentacles squirmed in his mouth. He gagged for several minutes until he either swallowed or spat out the remaining bits.
Harry’s throat felt like it was on fire, but he managed to gather his wits. Looking down he saw his shirt was splattered with ink and wriggling pieces. He turned his water filled eyes to Tony and formed a smile on his black-stained lips
Anger flashed across Tony’s face before morphing into a grin.
‘Glad to be of service, Mate. Since you enjoyed that so much. Fletch, get a big one for my friend.’
There was no finesse. Fletch stuck his arm in the tank, yanked on a rock and pulled out a larger specimen. The gorilla pounced on Harry. Fletch balled the octopus in his hand and carried it across the room, tentacles squirming out between his fingers, and thrust the thing into Harry’s gaping mouth.
Within seconds Harry knew there was no going back. Eight powerful arms filled his mouth with a writhing maelstrom of stinging suckers pulling at his teeth and tongue. They slid up through the back of his throat and into his nose and out through his nostrils. He felt them sliding into his windpipe. He was going to die.
Jumping up and down, shaking the chair violently till it nearly tipped on its side, he screamed.
‘ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT GET IT OUT. GET THE FUCKING THING OUT. I’LL GIVE YOU THE OPALS.’
It didn’t come out like that, but Tony Bruce knew what it meant.
‘Get it out, Fletch.’
Harry lost consciousness. It took over three minutes to extract the wriggling mollusc and another ten for Harry to recover enough to speak. Meanwhile, Tony went to the kitchen and got three tinnies of Carlton VB out the fridge. He gave one each to the boys and sat patiently sipping on his while Harry revived.
There was no more fight left.
‘They’re in a locker at Sydney domestic. In a small bag.’
Harry took a deep breath.
‘Inside there’s kind of corset. Goes round me gut. They’re sewn into it. The collection ticket’s in the back of me wallet.’
‘That’s a very sensible decision, Mate’
Tony slugged down the rest of his beer.
‘You could’ve saved yourself lot of trouble, but I don’t blame yer. Three million is worth fighting for I guess. Fletch’ll take me to the airport. If they’re there, you can go when I get back. I’m a fair bloke. I’ll even return your stake. If I was you I’d take that trip to Seoul. And fucking stay there. It wouldn’t be a good idea to come back to Ozz all the while I’m breathing. Right?’
After two hours to make the eighty kilometres return trip to the airport Tony walked into the lounge with a triumphant expression. He held up the bag of gems for Harry to see.
‘So I can go now, eh?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, you can go alright. Tell you what though, Mate. Since you enjoyed that baby octopus so much why not have another one to for the road. A little gift from me to show how much I appreciate your co-operation. Fletch, get Harry another octopus. Give him that pretty little bugger. The one with those nice blue rings.’