Bad Debts

Lire ebook Bad Debts
Auteur: Peter Temple

Bad Debts
I felt like switching off. The only question left was: By how much? By 114 to 78 was the answer.
    I turned off at Royal Park and drove around the university and through Carlton to the Prince of Prussia. It was one of the few pubs left in Fitzroy that still made a living out of selling beer. Most of the proud names had been turned into Thai–Italian bistros with art prints in their lavatories.
    I parked a block away, two wheels on the kerb in a one-way street, and made a run for the Prince. I could have found it by smell: a hundred-odd years of spilt beer. My grandfather used to drink there. So did my father. His dark, intense face is in the faded photographs of the Fitzroy Football Club sides of the late 1940s on the wall near the door marked GENTS.
    There are only a few dozen Fitzroy supporters left who remember my father; to them I represent a genetic melt-down. Three of these veterans were sitting at the bar nursing glasses of beer and old grievances. As I stood brushing rain off my sleeves, they looked at me as if I were personally responsible for Fitzroy’s 36-point loss to despised Carlton on Saturday.
    ‘Three in a row, Jack,’ said Eric Tanner, the one nearest the door. ‘Played like girls. Where the hell were you?’
    ‘Sorry, men,’ I said. ‘Business.’
    Three sets of eyes with a combined age of around 220 examined me. They all held the same look. It was the one the boy in the gang gets when he is the first to put talking to a girl ahead of kicking the football in the street.
    ‘I had to go to Sydney,’ I said. ‘Work.’ I might as well have said I had to go to Perigord for truffles for all the exculpatory power this statement carried.
    ‘Should’ve taken the team with you,’ said Wilbur Ong.
    ‘What kind of work does a man have in Sydney on Satdee arvo?’ said Norm O’Neill in a tone of amazement. These men would no more consider being away from Melbourne on a Saturday in the football season than they would consider enrolling in personal development courses.
    I caught the eye of Stan the publican. He was talking in undertones to his wife, Liz, at the serving hatch to the kitchen. Only half of her face was visible, her mouth a perfect Ctesiphon curve of disgust. Stan said a last word and floated over, a big man, thinning head of pubic hair, small nose like an afterthought pinched out by the divine sculptor. His eighty-six-year-old father, Morris, owned the pub and wouldn’t sell it. To Liz’s disgust, he also wouldn’t die.
    ‘The boys missed you today,’ he said.
    ‘They told me how much,’ I said. ‘Cleaned these pipes yet?’ The beer had been tasting funny for weeks.
    Stan looked at me pityingly. ‘Jack, you could give a baby milk through these pipes. I had the bloke in. Nothing come out ’cept clean steam. Clean steam in, clean steam out. Chucking my dough away, he reckons.’
    He put the first full glass on the counter. ‘Your Mr Pommy Wootton’s been ringing. The old bat said to give him a tinkle

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