I pushed past my front door and sensed that all was not good and well within casa de Xendos. Two unfamiliar vehicles parked in my driveway were the first clue. The fact that the door was swinging ajar also figured into this equation.
I walked slowly down the long corridor and I mused on the fact that my security system had not alerted me. I almost expected the scene playing out behind The Door That Must Never Be Opened.
It was not shut tight.
The noises that emanated from there were not the kind of noises one would expect to hear in the middle of the day while the master and sole occupant of the home was not present.
I recognised my new darling Christine's voice in the throng of heaving, grunting and howling, but I couldn't recognise the male noises. Plural.
I made out at least two different voices, possibly three not including my girlfriend's squeals of delight. This could potentially be upsetting to the average Joe, but I sensed that given what I've been through in the last few years, I would take this in my stride.
About eighteen years into my relationship with my wife, cancer claimed her. The fight was short though incredibly vicious. It only lasted four months. As a matter of fact she died while in my arms, on the bed that lies beyond The Door That Must Never Be Opened. The army of specialists that examined and tested her decided that little could be done to save her. She wanted to go in an environment of her choosing. She chose home.
Helen was the centre of my world, my best friend, and most loyal ally. Our time together was precious. We argued fiercely but we understood that if we were to be together, we needed to be a team in everything we did. Once we resolved our disagreements, they never needed to be revisited. If I bent over for her, she made damn sure that nothing got poked up my ass. We had each other's back.
Her demise left me broken.
The darkness surrounded me like a warm cloak and remained my stifling companion for a long while. There was a serrated edge to the way I dealt with people. I was cold to anyone who cared to approach me. Often, particularly with those I loved, I would simply get up and quietly move away. Violence brewed just under the surface of my skin. I could feel it crawl around in there like an infestation, searching for a route to expose itself.
It was my friend Peter and his wife Vanessa who helped me start to emerge from my long cold winter. Peter put in many hours - occasionally he would talk, but mostly he surrounded me with ease, in companionable quiet. For this alone I could never repay him.
We've known each other most of our lives, our friendship born out of our common dislike of a Primary School teacher we shared when we were pre-teens. She had a particular interest in me as she was a close friend of my mothers. This close scrutiny always put a real crimp on my wanting to play ball with the other kids during lessons. No truancy for me.
This teacher had an even greater interest in Peter as she took him home with her every night, along with her daughter, Peter's older sister. Mums can be very embarrassing at that age.
It was during these formative years that she introduced us both to the sifu across the road from our school that ran classes teaching various styles of kung-fu. The passion Pete and I developed for this sport remained with us for the rest of our lives. I think Pete's mum just needed to know where we were while she was grading papers after school.
When Vanessa would turn up she would frown at my pathetic domestic attempts, and often take over many of the duties my wife used to perform. She cleaned my house, she made me food and she stayed with me while I ate and talked about nothing. I think back on these times when I need to remember the selflessness and good things some humans are capable off.
A year into my mourning, on a clear and crisp Autumn Tuesday morning a speeding WRX Impreza struck Pete from behind. They took him to Canterbury Hospital, a few kilometres down the road. I got the call from Vanessa, her tone frantic and dispersed with sudden loud silences where she was attempting to hold it together between sobs.
As I drove, I felt a familiar cold emptiness progressively consume me; Vanessa did advise me to be prepared for the worst. I'm not aware of the expression on my face, but I knew that people were giving me a very wide berth all the way to his ward. Friends and family who gathered outside the room fell silent when they noticed my approach.
I stood at the entry, but I remained still for a moment. My head a mess, I knew I needed to pull myself together. This time, I had to be the strong one for someone else. This time someone other than me was going to hurt, and this person is going to need me more than I needed myself.
I steeled myself for the final approach and it was not good.
Peter was a mess, barely cognisant and obviously a goner. Suspicious looking devices were making those ominous sounds familiar to me through watching hospital scenes at the movies. So many machines, cables and tubes. Vanessa stood by his side, and their teenage son Steph sat nearby with his head down. He looked up at me and gave me a weak smile, which quickly faded when he followed my gaze toward his father.
Vanessa was calm now, but with one look into her eyes I could see her screaming inside. She came to me where I stood and for the first time I can remember since learning of my Helen's illness, I felt an absolute terror for someone else. She clung to me, as if my strength could somehow help Peter.
Peter made a gurgling kind of noise, which brought us out of our shared misery and I could see him looking into my eyes. He cleared his throat then, and spoke softly.
"Couldn't wait till I'm gone before you tried to seduce my wife, eh?"
I responded the only way I knew how.
"Well I felt it was high time she finally got to feel what it's like to be with a real man."
"Oh. So what's she doing with you?"
"Enjoying the ultimate experience man."
"Huh! Fuck off, Gaylord."
I paused here, we were both smiling. The silence deepened.
"Why did you go and get yourself all broken up for man?" I asked, the humour dwindling away, and a terrible sense of finality settling into the exchange.
"Someone had to slow that little shithead down," he replied, no longer expecting a laugh from anyone. He looked at his wife, smiled and nodded to her. She moved to take her son's hand and lead him out of the private room. When the door closed, he began.
"I don't have a lot of time Tony, so I've got to ask you to do me a huge favour."
"Do I even need to respond?"
"No, I know you'll do it. Just like I know you'll occasionally drop in on my family and make sure they're doing okay. You know how they feel about you, make yourself at home, and just be ... yourself."
"Pete, I'm a little pissed that you think you even have to ask me this..."
"Whoa boy, slow down, I haven't gotten to the favour yet." His eyes glinted mischievously. "What I'd like from you, is that you just start living again man. It's really important to me."
At this I broke down. I couldn't hold it back any more. I stood at the edge of the bed, and lost it.
"Come on Tony, there's no time for all this, come here, give me a hug and go call my wife. I think it's time..."
It shattered me to lose another person so dear to me. I was surprised to find I had the capacity to grieve all over again. But I took Peters words to heart, and practically moved into Vanessa's home. I stayed there whenever I had nothing planned, and even broke arrangements with people, sometimes even family, if I felt that either she or her son required support during a low ebb for them. I understood the grieving process and knew that there would be good days and then there would be bad days.
This is just how it was.
In a way Vanessa had a tool that helped her immensely I believe, in her son. Steph was a great kid hurtling towards adulthood, but with a strength rarely encountered in teenagers. His father taught him well. I sat with them many nights watching TV, playing ball with Steph or just chatting with Vanessa. I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time and effort in making her laugh. It became the highlight of my day to see her soft gentle smile. I knew that the wolves would be out soon, not too many men could resist the face of an angel.
After five minutes in her company, it was impossible not to be enchanted. She exuded a sense of confidence and style that appeared unconscious yet natural.
She was the original 'yummy mummy' and had the kind of beauty that took my breath away. Medium height, dirty blond hair and green eyes. Curves that even after twenty years and a teenage son, still sent any male nearby on a head spin. The woman was sheer poetry.
But Vanessa was a smart girl who could look after herself. She didn't need me to protect her but she knew that if she needed anything she could count on my support.
I tried hard to fulfil my promise to Peter. I started going out, clubbing and immersing myself in booze and women, although these days it took me a bit longer to recover, at least I was doing what everyone was telling me I should be doing. Getting out there and living again.
Funnily enough the only people that never offered an opinion on me behaving like a stupid teenager were mine and Peter's family. My own brothers were beginning to call me an alcoholic and in a way I felt my behaviour was taking me further away from Helen and Peter instead of bringing me closer to them. I needed to expand on my hobbies.
So I allowed myself to rediscover a diversion Peter and I had shared many years ago; building and racing muscle cars.
I had purchased a six speed Gen III 5.7 Litre Commodore SS and wanted to do a little work on it. This is where it started again for me. In the old days, we spent a disgraceful amount of money on all our favourite Fords and Holdens, and we were heavily into the street race scene before there was anywhere the average rev-head could go and legally race.
I especially had a passion for the old Ford XD and XE ESP, and absolutely loved the 5.8 litre Cleveland block. It was so easy to work on and pulled excellent times down the standing quarter. A 671 blower just added to the allure and mystique. It also guaranteed to take at least a second or two off my times. I'm not willing to go into the details of the damage those things did to my bottom ends, suffice as to say, I disintegrated several motors...
I didn't discriminate between FMX (or C4) or Top Loader gear boxes, each had their application. I loved them both. In fact Peter and I once owned a couple of identical sky blue XD ESP's, where I was running a tricked up FMX with a stage six shift kit through it, and Peter was running with a top loader. The motors and the rest of the running gear were exactly the same, as we were buying all the parts two at a time to try and save a few bucks. The only differences were always the ratio's we were running, experimenting with highway gears or street 'n' strip. We had the best of both worlds.
I remember after getting my baby on the road when Pete thought he'd be a hero, and took it for a rap. He pumped up the stall and let rip out of the driveway. He later told me the monster was revving to eight grand and getting there so quick, he barely had time to correct the car before needing to shift into second and then third. It was like the car was on ice all the way down the road. He came back white faced, and loving the combination of FMX shift with 3/5 ratios in the arse end. That was a Kodak moment, and there I was without a camera.
If we needed to get a little serious, we'd swap those ratios for 4/11 and watch the front end launch off the ground. Like I said, lots of fun. A ridiculous waste of money, with never a hope of recouping it, but we were young and stupid, and lived for the day.
This time round though, I had the money to burn, with no debts to speak of. The boys in the workshop talked me into getting one of their young blokes to work on my motor, who was it seemed, a bit of a genius with the Gen III motors. Jerry assured me that with a bit of his love on the camshaft, some extensive exhaust work, and a serious chat with the computer, he could get my toy to run 10s at the Creak. Without the bottle.
With the laughing gas, I could apparently shave off another second or two. I was dubious off course, but he assured me that the Yanks got it pretty right with the Gen III and that it was a tough little motor that could take a fair amount of punishment. He did state though that a lot of his previous efforts revolved around getting the cam right. I was intrigued enough to agree to part with several gorillas that were sitting around in my bank account doing nothing, and told him to go for his life.
His response to me was a lopsided grin, and he threw his keys at me telling me to take his Monaro for a rap.
"I'm building your motor the same as mine. Have a feel of what you'll be driving in a couple of days. Remember though, you break it, you own it."
The Monaro drove like a dream. It was a slightly different configuration to mine in that it was a two door coupe. But after just a moment behind the wheel, I felt like I was home. Familiar, but new.
There is something quite exhilarating about driving a monster on the road that has the potential to lose traction in every gear. People could hear me coming and would I always look for their reaction. I quickly fell back into this routine.
Some people would look, and think that I'm just another hoon, driving something that shouldn't be on the streets. Others would think I'm a show off, just out trying to impress. I've even seen people react with resentment towards a driver of such a car. Results of a bad experience I suppose. But there is a group of people that will instantly recognise the kind of beast under my control. This is the group I always look for. And if they happen to be in their own toys at the same time ... well, you know.
I returned to the workshop and told Jerry I was impressed and that I was looking forward to getting mine back finished. He gave me his trademark smirk and a nod.
A few months down the track found me with a brand new girlfriend, someone who I decided I would slow down a little with. She was wild, spectacularly gorgeous, fun loving and was hated by everyone in my family who met her.
If my people were unhappy with her, Vanessa and Steph were unreservedly hostile. I couldn't see why since I'm pretty sure it was clear to those that knew me that I wouldn't get too serious with her. Suddenly I had words thrown around me that sounded like "slut", "gold-digger", "poutana" and "whore". I never said anything about it because I guess I kind of agreed with them.
I was just trying to get familiar enough with someone to be able to spend a whole night together and not wake up pre-dawn screaming my wife's name.
Why Christine latched onto me was another one of life's curious anomalies. I simply don't know. I'm fairly wealthy in my own right, but I take care not to advertise. I don't really throw money around unless it's on the SS, and even that is never on display unless I'm with the boys. With them, my ride is just another muscle car. My house is rather modest, a normal suburban home. I don't wear jewellery. I'm certainly no Adonis, but I guess I must hold my own.
It must have been my sterling personality so often displayed. That was a joke. I still had problems opening up to people. I could see how some people would take my reserved nature and mistaken it for shyness. This would only change if I was really, really drunk. I was always a happy drunk, so maybe she thought I would be that funny when I was sober over the long run.
So my life now had some sort of order to it, with minimal chaos thrown in to keep things interesting. Vanessa slowly seemed to be emerging from her depression little by little, but then again she always was very good at bottling her emotions. I was still going there a few times a week, and I could always get Steph to fill me in on what was going on if she was not in too talkative a mood.
I would even take him on a cruise occasionally, and the rest of the guys took to him like a little brother. Naturally Vanessa frowned deeply at this, and always made me promise her I wouldn't do anything stupid in the car while he was with me. --Then she'd try to get me to promise the same thing if I was alone. Hehe, she never got that one.
The problem with ALL of this though, was that I still knew on a profound level, my mind was still on a kind of cruise-control. I wasn't fully in charge of myself like I had been before Helen went away. It was almost as though I was passing through a thick fog, and nothing really penetrated. This vaguely concerned me. It was funny that I could sense this and be aware all the time, but not have the power to do anything about it. Sort of like astral travel. I think that of all the people around me, only Vanessa could see this, and she tried so hard to encourage me back in to control.
My wife had an amazing talent. In those early days, I was always on a roller coaster of emotions that permeated every aspect of my life. From business, to family, to friends. No matter what the surroundings, I was always very happy, very sad, very angry, or very melancholy. No matter what, the word 'very' had to precede my every mood and emotion. My wife's special talent lay in being able to surround me with peace, no matter the mood. I never was able to find another person who had such a total mastery of my senses.
She made me happy.
Every Wednesday was race day at Eastern Creek. This particular Wednesday was no different. I did feet that something was a little off. Nothing I could put a finger to, but the feeling hung around like a bad smell. Work was normal, and I left early as became my habit on Wednesdays, to put on the slicks, get the beast on the trailer, meet up with the boys, and tow it to the Creek.
Behind the wheel waiting at the tree, the signal was given to warm up the tyres. I decided on a little show, and laid a figure eight today. Lotsa fun. Anyway, I lined her up and waited for the Christmas tree to do its thing. She got bent out of shape off the line, but by the time I clicked second, she was firmly under hand.
The sudden jar to the left could only be caused by the feel of it by a blown tyre. Front tyre. Shit.
I was probably doing about 200 clicks at the time, but due to the angle I hit the middle wall, I was lucky enough to get away with a mildly sprained ankle. My baby though was not so lucky. 100k plus, down the drain ... insurance was not going to cover this.
Oh well, too bad, so sad.
The following Saturday was my brother Tom's birthday party, to be held at my parents' place, so that there would be heaps of room for all the kids to run rampant together on neutral territory.
I prudently decided not to bring Christine, and so I turned alone up with a slight limp and lots of sweets for the kids. I was greeted by my two beautiful nieces, aged five and three. They claimed ownership of me, jumped on me, and tore at me in their playful way, and it was with their delightful cackling ringing in my ears that I picked myself off the floor, and headed towards the house proper. I was only a couple of feet from the door when Vanessa came storming out and faced me with her green eyes flashing, lips pursed tightly and teeth grinding. Her jaw was set and she was displaying a kind of fury I had never seen on her before. She slapped me, hard. Then she did it again.
I knew better than to flinch, and I could see that this was no jest. She was seriously pissed. I could see my whole family in the background just watching, obviously not willing to interfere.
I could sense that I was in big trouble, but I was not entirely sure what it was that I'd done. She stood looking at me for another moment in silence before she began.
"You bastard." She hissed, "you promised me that it was safe. You promised you arsehole."
I had a feeling this might be about the crash on Wednesday, but as a male, I'm not always too good with clues.
"How dare you do this to me?" She began sobbing now. "You said it was safe, and I believed you, so where is your fucking car? Don't bother explaining, I just saw the video!" She was crying now in earnest.
"Ness, it's not as bad as it looked."
"I don't fucking care," she screamed. "You know how I lost Peter..."
She punched my shoulder hard and seemed unable to stop hitting me. I caught her in a bear hug, and held her tight, as she continued for a moment to struggle before she collapsed into me.
In a haze I looked up and saw my father watching me with a frown, I knew he thought she was right.
By the time the children came out of their shock at seeing Aunt Vanessa berate their uncle Tony, she seemed to have recovered from her fit of pique and we all collapsed together onto the concrete floor, giggling and tickling the little ones and each other.
The look my mother gave me as she made it her business to walk past right then, made it really obvious that if Vanessa was not there today to put me in my place, she would have gone to town on me.
Have you ever seen a furious Greek mother letting go with both barrels at her firstborn son when he's done something to seriously displease her? Let me inform those that have never witnessed such a spectacle. It hurts. A lot. Both physically, and psychologically.
Now to find the prick that took the video and hid the fact from me. Then, bought said video here to share with everyone except me. I needed to string the fucker up by the balls, and use him as a punching bag.
Of course, no one would own up to it. Some of my long time mates, a few of which were at the Creek on Wednesday were at the barbeque, but they all swore they knew nothing of the video. I might have believed them if they weren't all grinning like idiots.
Tough love? I don't know. I guess I couldn't really blame them as I did take the sport up with the determination and passion of a new initiate. You know full bore till something gives. Well it gave, and I received so I guess my racing days are now behind me.
Not that I was that good at it. It was just something that helped me to feel something. I found I liked feeling stuff, even if it was fear; it helped me understand that I was still alive. I would have to look for a new hobby now.
The gang staging this intervention, while unnecessary, were just demonstrating their way of making a point. Racing was nice, but they wanted me to know that I didn't have to always push everything to breaking point. Clearly they thought I was beginning to take the kind of risks that could not be justified so they did what they thought was right. And that was to show Vanessa the video.
They could have just talked to me.
So there I was walking down the hallway of my supposedly empty house a few days later, to the sound of my old bed head banging against the wall.
How many times would Helen and I have made that exact same racket while in the heat of the moment? In a disconnected section of my mind, it occurred to me that the joists and the bearers may need packing again. The squeaks from the floorboards really sounded annoying.
I pushed the door open and took a peek. Four of them going at it like a scene from a poorly directed porno movie, on Helens side of the bed.
The fluid grace you would find in a scene on one of the better quality porno movies was lacking here. They all just seemed like base animals, quickly humping, slaves to their individual satisfaction.
Christine was the first to notice me, and her eyes went wide. She seemed to struggle with removing the cock that was lodged deeply down her throat. The owner of the cock didn't seem pleased at her efforts to eject him, so he grabbed her head harder and shoved himself deeper. The guys in her pussy and in her arse remained oblivious until I made the gratuitous "toot toot" sound from my vantage point in the doorway.
All motion ceased.
"Get out." I said quietly.
"Baby, it's not what it looks like," She really did put the effort in to sound sincere I thought. Impressive, but this was definitely one of those situations where it was pretty much what it looked like.
"I don't care sweetie," I replied.
This only confused her, as if she didn't usually get an indifferent response to this kind of behaviour. Obviously, she's been here before.
"Why don't you just wait your fucking turn, wimp?" Ahh, the alpha male. Big, bald, heavily tattooed, Italian looking.
I didn't respond verbally, just hunched my shoulders, eyes cast down before slowly approaching him in the most unthreatening manner I could. If all went to plan his guard would not go up, and my 'sorry I walked in on you sir' routine would belay any action until I was close enough. It seemed to have worked, as he actually started humping into Christine again.
The others took this as a sign that he was firmly in control, and made a start towards resuming. Christine threw me a look of contempt.
They should have been preparing to fight.
Oh well. As far as I was concerned they were all idiots. Did they suppose that I was going to play fair? In my own house? With people I didn't invite? Fucking on a bed I made explicitly clear no-one was to go near? The guys may not have known, but Christine certainly did.
Alpha Boy may have felt the first blow to his head, but I doubt he felt the kick to his ribs that knocked him out.
Being the one deeply embedded in Christine's arse, doggy style he was the easiest to get to.
The gorilla whose tool her mouth enveloped was clearly the next choice, as he thought he could be free of her in time to assume a guarded stance. It didn't make a difference. Thirty years of hard personal training, and two to three thousand odd years of technique development in China ensured that the speedy snap kick to his left knee, followed by a hard overhead right to his temple, would render him useless.
Lover boy underneath Christine was by now free, but he seemed keen to avoid violence of any kind and just started apologising. He was a lover not a fighter ... it was pathetic, so I held up my hand in the universal sign indicating stop.
Christine was starting to look a tiny bit horrified.
"I don't want to hear it fuckwit." I said. "What I want, is for all of you -this nice young lady included, to be out of my house in twenty minutes. I will have returned by then, and I won't be alone."
I reached down to each of the pants I found scattered around the bedroom and removed the driver's licence belonging to all of them. I threw the wallets to the floor, and made a show of holding up each piece of plastic.
"I know who you are now. Don't make me come looking for you," I turned to leave, then paused at the doorway. "This is your only warning."
I drove to my brother Con's house and sat with his family and played with his daughters for a while. I didn't mention anything to him, as he tended to be quite hot headed, so this was just a normal visit. I couldn't allow myself the time to think of the devastation I could feel coming. Losing Christine was not going to be the end of my universe. I was much more worried about what was going to happen in light of opening of the Door That Must Never Be Opened.
A little while later I borrowed my brother, not bothering to offer any explanation and made my way home. The dumb bitch was still there. Alone. I had realised as I played with Con's kids earlier that I did recognise the gangsters Christine had invited over. Their underboss was a very close friend of mine and Peter's. I might just mention it to him in passing the next time I see him in a few days. I told Con that everything seemed in order after doing a quick inspection of the house, and sent him home.
I decided to go easy on her, as she really didn't matter anymore. I didn't want to flog a dead horse so to speak. She mistook my silence for regret maybe, and decided to go into damage control mode.
"Baby, that meant nothing to me. I was just letting off some steam you know? And I thought it would be a bit of harmless fun. I didn't mean to hurt you. I realise now, that I really do love you, and I'm prepared to stop doing this, if you want us to get serious, and maybe take our relationship to the next level."
"Okay." I replied. "But what made you think it was alright to use that room, and that bed?" I wanted to understand her mindset, what possible reason —excuse anyway, she had to justify her actions.
"Well," she still hadn't realized that whatever she said then would be irrelevant. She would soon though. "I didn't think you were using it, and I didn't want to use the bed you and I use. I know you never wanted anyone to go in there, but I did want us to be reasonably comfortable this afternoon without disturbing the rest of the house. Frankly, I couldn't see the big deal. We didn't break anything ... did I do bad?"
I could see that she was getting cute now, her defiance, which I used to think of as endearing, was beginning to grate on my nerves. This girl —woman, thought so little of anyone else, that she felt totally justified in doing what she was doing 'as long as no one got hurt.'
I sighed deeply, and calmly allowed my gaze to settle on her. She didn't like what she saw in my eyes.
She started to get a clearer picture now of what I really thought of her, I could see her hands start to fidget. She experienced difficulty in meeting my stare. Her own eyes became glassy.
I had what I wanted from her then, but I remained silent a little longer, waiting for the twitch that indicated she was about to lose it before I continued quietly.
"You do realize that you've killed them don't you?" I don't think she was capable of any response at this stage, she was just trying to take this all in.
"Probably tomorrow or the next day, Joey, the guy your friends work for, will want to deal with those fuckwits personally. I always liked Joey, because he insisted on remaining a 'hands-on' kind of guy, even as he was moving up in the ranks."
Leaning back into my couch I Looked up at the ceiling. I was reminiscing, and no longer cared if Christine stayed or left. Cried or laughed. Lived or died. Did I give her a glimpse of what her future had in store for her? It was all the same to me. "We grew up as kids living next door to one another. He loved my wife dearly, and told me repeatedly that she was the best thing that ever happened to me.
"We used to sit in his mum's kitchen for hours at a time talking about different kinds of food, me being Greek, my wife being French and Joey Italian. Fuck, when we all got together, the food that came out of that kitchen became legendary in the neighbourhood. Great times."
I sat up a bit and coldly looked her square in the eyes. "Now, how do you think he's going to respond when I tell him that a couple of his uninvited goons were rutting my alleged girlfriend on my departed wife's side of the bed?"
I disinterestedly watched as she got up fast, with an alarmed look on her face and bolted to the bathroom. I heard her being sick in there, but by then I really couldn't give a fuck.