Chris Palazzolo is a novelist, poet, essayist, editor, part time publisher, and occasional community radio broadcaster. Originally from Perth, he currently resides in the East Kimberley.
THE CRY OF THE EAGLE
To the Lord Mayor of our fair city of Perth; The Right Honorable Mr Basil Zempilas; may the greater part of our shared moiety fall to thee; that so unworthy a subject as I may at least be vouchsafed to bask in thy grace by this, my humble song. CP
Like an empyrean
he stadium filled with the roaring of the hosts –
He bombed it long, he bombed it far…
And split the middle posts!
These lines from our glorious national anthem, composed by our very own President Warner, still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; I wouldn’t hesitate to sing this song anywhere. But I’m singing it now because I want to see how prisoner T48G-537 reacts. Sometimes just the response of a prisoner to the anthem is enough to reveal them as a Fremantle traitor, in which case getting a statement from them would be no longer necessary.
And with piercing eye
Beheld the land that vast below him lay,
He made the cry across the sky
‘Westralia seize the day!’
As I finish singing, the prisoner shows no reaction, he just stares at me from his bed. We get a lot of guys like this. In the Department they are known as silver terrorists; middle-aged men corrupted by too much of their lives lived in the decadent old federation. I’m the friendly end of the investigation however, so at this stage I must suspend judgement. If the statement he gives me is not satisfactory the auditors have more direct methods of inducement. Let’s hope, for his sake, he cooperates.
“Well, this is very nice,” I say, indicating the ensuite with toilet and shower, the desk and chair near the door. “You’re very lucky to have a room as nice as this.”
“It’s great,” the prisoner says in a tone flat enough so I don’t detect sarcasm.
“As you can imagine,” I continue, placing a recorder and tablet on the desk. “With so many citizens to process accommodation is a premium. Some prisoners only get a bucket and rag.”
“Am I going to get any clean clothes?” the prisoner says in the same neutral tone. “I’ve been in these since you chucked me in here.”
“In good time.” I enter the prisoner code into the department portal. As his details load I switch on the recorder.
“My name is Ty. I’m from the Department of Reconciliation and I’ll be your case officer during your stay. We’ll start today by getting a statement from you. Do you understand what that means?”
“I think I can guess.”
“You need to answer clearly ok. Now, do you understand? Yes or no?”
“Yes I understand.”
“Cool. You are Brian Sweet, 49 years of age, citizen number BN117-248F?”
“That’s who I am.”
I do a quick retinal scan and it comes up positive. Good; retinal and verbal corroboration mean a cooperative prisoner.
“All good. Ok let’s get on with it shall we?”
“I’m at your service.”
“Good. Right, now, how well do you know Lachie MacDonald?”
The prisoner is clearly startled by the question. His head does a little involuntary jerk and his eyes go wide. But then he quickly composes himself. He gives a knowing titter and rolls his eyes.
“Not very well. Why?”
“So you admit you know him?”
He hesitates before answering.
“I did some work for him, that’s all.”
“But there’s more, isn’t there?”
“I went to uni with him. But I didn’t really know him ok. He was an acquaintance.”
“Apart from that I know him as everyone else knows him; as a public figure, a well-known journalist.”
“Are you aware that Lachie MacDonald was executed yesterday at 4.30pm?”
That gets a more satisfying reaction. The prisoner’s head twitches again and his face goes pale. But then suddenly he laughs.
“The revolution eats its own,” he mutters.
“I’d be very careful what you say Brian. Lachie MacDonald was tried and executed for acts offensive to the moral rectitude of Westralia.”
The prisoner laughs again. “Now that’s poetic!”
His disrespectful attitude is getting on my nerves. It’s clear he knows more than what he’s letting on.
“You do realise this is all being recorded don’t you Brian? You’re attitude during this interview will be taken into account at your trial.”
“Look, this is ridiculous! I don’t know what you want with me. I haven’t seen this guy for two years.”
“We have reliable witness accounts which state that you and he were close associates in the early days of secession. Now I want you to tell me exactly what you know; when you came into contact with him and what was the nature of the work you did together?”
The prisoner flops back on the bed and stares up at the ceiling. He shakes his head, and expels a long sigh.
“We were never close associates. I was never part of his clique. He contacted me. I don’t know why. He made a big deal about us going to uni together, but he was never my friend at uni. I did some work for him. He paid me for it. That was it. I think I only had three meetings with him. But it never happened. You know. It never happened.”
He bounces up on the bed, a movement sharp enough to make my hand move to the alarm-key on my belt; I stop before pressing it.
“Don’t you understand?” the prisoner snarls. “It never happened!”
Suddenly he starts laughing again, a manic laughter, like some madman in an old movie.
“I got so used to the ruse, I even convinced myself it never happened! I really thought when you arrested me it was for blasphemy, or playing a banned song or something like that. I’ve been lying here for weeks wondering if it was the colour of my shirts. Oh my god, oh my god, it’s really happening. This is it; Fame, Fame at last. And Death! Fame and Death come to my door singing my song!”
He whips his gaze back onto me.
“So, you want to know everything about my dealings with Lachie MacDonald?”
“Yes. For your own sake you need to tell me everything you know.”
He chortles at that. “You seem like a patriotic fellow Ty. You might not like what you’re going to hear about your glorious president Warner.”
I suck in my breath at the tone of treasonous sarcasm. The guy is condemning himself before my eyes. For a handful of seconds I am of two minds about how to proceed. I seem to have stumbled on a real hard nut. Should I terminate the interview and refer him to the auditors, or should I continue and thus potentially expose myself to the poisonous lies of a Fremantle traitor? I hope to be an auditor one day; this could get me into trouble. But it could also be a big break for me, the thing that gets me noticed. So I continue.
“Yes,” I say, though my voice comes out as a whisper. I hurrumph my throat clear. “I want to know everything that you know.”
“You know I’m a writer don’t you? You know you can’t trust me? Us creative types, all we do is lie around thinking. We lie around thinking of ways we can mock and bamboozle the good, simple-hearted folk of Westralia. You tell me Ty, how can anything of value come from creatures so unworthy? The nation expects its patriotic poems, its soaring songs, the rousing rhetoric of its rulers. But these things just happen don’t they? They just spontaneously appear in moments of patriotic fervour straight from the pure hearts of our simple hard-working folk; a tender song of spring issued from the yearning bosom of a barefoot Westralian maiden, a joyous bucolic spontaneously formed and uttered by a farmer at harvest time, our glorious anthem, The Cry of the Eagle, penned in a moment of victorious rapture by our nation’s greatest son.”
“What is the point of all this Brian?”
“I’m telling you about my dealings with Lachie MacDonald. If you’ll let me continue you’ll see what the point is. I’m a writer right? Not a very good writer. In fact I’m not much more than a dilettante really. Every so often I’ll sit down to try and write something because I’ve been lying around for too many months playing x-box and wanking to pornhub, but nothing of value ever comes. One morning, about 2 years ago, I’d set myself up in the local library in the hope of concentrating on my writing without the distraction of family and electronic devices.”
“This would be the Kununurra library?”
“Yes. I was in Kununurra because I’d had a job up there. But I’d lost that job like everyone else when the economy crashed after secession. Anyway, being in the library made no difference either. I just stared at the blank page or drifted over to the computers to scroll the papers. After about an hour of this I began to notice an old man outside on the footpath making signals at me. He was a tall, bony Aboriginal man, dressed like a stockman from the old days; trousers and boots, long sleeved shirt, sleeves buttoned at the wrists, and a big wide-brimmed Akubra hat. Of course at first I thought he wasn’t signalling to me at all. In fact I doubted he could even see me; he was outside in the bright Kimberley sunshine, and I was in the soft interior light of the library; he wouldn’t have been able to see anything but indistinguishable shadows through the windows. Nevertheless every time I looked up there he still was, doing the come-hither gesture with his index finger, as if he knew I was looking at him. So I thought, what the hell, might as well go and find out what he wants. I walked out of the library into the broiling mid-morning sunshine and made my way to the footpath at the front. ‘Hello,’ I said to the man as I approached him. ‘Do you want to talk to me?’ I remember the top half of his face shadowed under the brim of the hat, but when I was within a metre of him he lifted up his head and I saw his eyes; they were white with cataracts. He took a couple of steps up to me and with his long knobbly finger gently fingered around the top button of my shirt. “You, gonna be big fella,” he said. Then he tapped his own chest. “Gonna be blackfella, like me; no one can see yer.”
The prisoner pauses and studies me, as if waiting for a response.
“You can ask me,” he says. “Go on; what does this have to do with Lachie? Go on.”
“What does this have to do with Lachie?”
“Ah, good question. What indeed. I don’t know. Well I do actually, but that only became apparent later. But for now what relates to Lachie is that it was that very evening when I got the call from him.”
Things were tough for me and my family at that time – the prisoner continues – as they were for everyone. We had no income. After the Australians pulled the plug on all their services, cleaned out all their offices, there was no welfare, nothing. When the phone rang that evening it was just another unwelcome noise in an already distressed house. I was holding off from turning on the air-conditioners to try and save money, so everything was stifling hot. The two older kids from my first marriage were in their bedroom squabbling over the Playstation, while my young second wife stood over the stove, holding our grizzling child on her hip with one arm and with the other stirring the cabbage soup in a big steaming pot. “Who the fuck is ringing now!” she screeched.
I thought about not answering. I remember thinking it was probably just my mum who was the only person who rang me on the landline. I answered it anyway, probably just to stop the ringing.
“Could I speak to Brian Sweet please?” It was a male voice, Australian, educated, slightly lofty rounded vowels. I was immediately embarrassed at the sound of frazzle around me. I told everyone to be quiet and said “Speaking.”
“I don’t know if you remember me mate; my name is Lachie MacDonald, we went to university together.”
Memory is an amazing thing Ty. I was listening to a voice I hadn’t heard for nearly thirty years. Furthermore, when we had known each other barely five sentences had passed between us. And yet as soon as he said his name I instantly remembered him; his lofty sardonic manner, his blue eyes and sharp straight nose that contrasted oddly with his broad face, the panama hats and bow ties that he wore as a kind mocking contrast to the cool black me and my colleagues used to wear. He’d been in a couple of courses with me, that was it; Modern Literary Theory, and Structure, Thought and Reality I think they were, and he’d hung around a sceptical distance from the scenes I was involved in. In subsequent years I’d been aware, more generally, of his career in the media, and it was because he’d been an acquaintance that I followed the progress of his public life over the decades with half an eye; his beginnings as a muck-raking journalist in a Mandurah paper, his long stint as On the Terrace raconteur in the old West Australian newspaper, and finally, after The West was closed, his appointment as Editor in Chief of The Westralia Cooee. At the time I got the call The Cooee editorial was the number 1 scourge of the Labor government. You’re probably not aware that it was a Labor government that declared Western Australia independent of the Commonwealth of Australia, and pronounced the nation of Westralia. It did this, against all its principles, because it was trying to shore up support from a powerful separatist movement that had continued to grow after the coronavirus lockdowns in the 20s. Plus it was trying to endear itself to The Cooee which was the only paper in the state and was fanatically pro-secession. But it was futile; if anything The Cooee editorials only became more stridently anti-government. At one point the premier took out a restraining order on Lachie when he called on readers to put a bullet in the premier’s head. The government lurched from disaster to disaster. The worst thing it did was allow the Australians to strip all commonwealth offices; computers, furniture, everything, loaded onto trucks and taken away, and the government didn’t lift a finger to stop them. After that the multinationals upped and left. I was in The Kimberley by that stage, away from all the heat in Perth, but we certainly got the wash-up. Anyway, that was the state of play at the time of the call.
So I said “Yes yes, I remember you.” I was rattled by this sudden intrusion of my obscure past into my noisy stifling present. I didn’t know what to say next, so I waited out a strained pause. When he spoke next his serene tone betrayed not a hint of concern at any social discomfort.
“Mate, I was hoping we might catch up in the next couple of days, have a bit of a reminisce about the past. Maybe talk a bit about the present too. And the future.”
“The Weld Club on St Georges Tce.”
“I’m sorry Lachie I can’t, I’m up in The Kimberley.”
“Don’t you worry about that; we’ll fly you down here quick smart.”
“Ok. Look, I’m sorry, but I’m a little short of cash at the moment.”
“Mate, devoid your mind of vexations; everything is taken care of. You just be at the Kununurra airport on Saturday 9am for the Perth flight. We’ll have a driver pick you up at Perth airport at 2pm.”
“Can I ask what this is all about?”
“Some very interesting things are happening at the moment mate, and you may want to be involved. It’s entirely up to you of course. But if you decide to come along you will be handsomely paid. You just make sure you’re on that flight.”
And that was it. That was my first exchange with Lachie MacDonald in thirty years, and it lasted barely thirty seconds.
Ty, you just can’t imagine what effect that exchange had on me. I was a complete nobody right, a nothing, a failed writer and a failed husband and father. I’d even failed as a Repco sales manager. I’m not one to blame others for my failings; I’m fully aware of my penchant for talking myself into failure, which made many of my failings inevitable. But I am a perfect example of my own generation’s set-up for failure. My only big dream in life was to be a writer. When I was young I was full of the big ideas, big ambitions about writing. But no publisher or literary agent would give me a look in because I was young; I was unproven, inexperienced. When I was older however, more experienced and having developed my own hard-won style, I couldn’t get a look in because I was not young. There’d been a generational change in priorities see; publishers and agents now only wanted ‘fresh young voices,’ usually with some kind of ‘marginalised racial or sexual identity.’ Can you see what happened Ty? I’d fallen into a generational crevasse, and by the time I’d moved to The Kimberley I was nothing more than a sad middle-aged wannabe.
So to get this call from someone who seemed to me to be the very picture of success was quite a headrush. Of course a part of me was suspicious about the absurd fortuitousness of this turn of events. I mean what did I really know beyond ‘get on that plane and all your dreams will come true.’ Nothing. How was I to know that it wasn’t some kind of slave scam? There was plenty of that kind of thing going on at the time. That’s all been airbrushed from official histories because a number of prominent persons in our glorious nation profited from it. But that’s a separate story. Unemployed losers like me were easy pickings for these scams: offered a good job and free transit, presented with a bill on arrival which of course they couldn’t pay, so forced to work off their debts on farms or market gardens. That’s how the government kept the shops stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables. How was I to know Lachie wasn’t mixed up in something like that? But here’s the thing; I never really had any doubts. And do you know why? Because all along I remembered the old stockman outside the library. I remembered his eyes, and I remembered what he said to me, that I was going to be big. I conveniently forgot the other part of what he said to me, which turned out to be just as true. Nonetheless I took his words as a sign. That’s why, two days later, I was on that plane.
I arrived in Perth that afternoon and was met by a driver who drove me into the city. It had been a few years since I was last here and things had definitely changed. The first thing I noticed was that there were thousands of cars abandoned on the sides of the freeway. Trucks too, including semi-trailers. When I say abandoned I don’t mean left higgledy piggledy on the middle of the road; they were mostly neatly parked along the stopping lanes. There was something touching about this; the persistence of civic courtesies in the teeth of economic collapse. You could tell the vehicles had been dumped because most were covered with dust and leaves, many had been cannibalised, their bonnets open, wheels removed and things like that, and many had yellow stickers. Some were even bedecked with garlands, crosses, posies and other wreaths of a funerary and valedictory nature; faded plastic petals scattered in piles around flat tyres or bare wheel shafts. The cars that were still on the road were in pretty poor shape with blue smoke blowing out of their exhausts and indicator and brake lights not working. Quite a few had no windscreens; I could see their drivers peering over steering wheels through motorbike goggles. Despite this myriad of traffic breaches I didn’t see a single cop.
When we got into the CBD I found out why; there was a football match on that evening and the streets were packed with thousands of West Coast and Fremantle Dockers supporters making their way up St Georges Terrace towards the Matagarup bridge. I asked the driver how all these people had made it into the CBD and he told me that public transport was free in order to train them in from all over the city. The fixture was the same every week; Fremantle and West Coast Eagles, because of course Australian teams weren’t coming anymore. The whole thing had the look of a well-established ritual. The streets had been blocked to car traffic so that this massive procession could progress unimpeded; on one side of the Terrace West Coast supporters in their blue and yellow woad, scarves and banners, and on the other side Fremantle in purple. It all looked good natured enough; big smiles, cheery air-punches, kids on dads’ shoulders and so forth. But I wondered how many of those people had abandoned their cars on the freeways, wept as they closed the doors for the last time and walked away. Unemployment, poverty may have been the order of the day, but none of them were going to miss their weekly derby.
I also noticed that a lot of them were carrying sticks, or long thin canes which they tapped on the road as they walked or tucked under their armpits like officer’s batons. I wondered what purpose those sticks served, and who allowed them to be distributed. Back in the good old days they were exactly the kinds of things authorities would’ve frowned upon. There were plenty of police lined up along the street, but as none of them seemed to be moving to confiscate the sticks I figured there was nothing to worry about.
When I realised I was being taken straight to the meeting I had a bit of a panic attack. To tell you the truth I don’t know what I expected. I suppose I hoped that I’d get the opportunity to freshen up and have a bite to eat on my own because I was quite hungry after the flight and more than a little disoriented. I was cold too. Kununurra when I’d flown out that morning had been 38 degrees; Perth was 26 when I landed and by the time we parked in the underground car park of The Weld building, the temperature was 22 and dropping rapidly. I was embarrassingly underdressed, and this became very apparent when I was ushered into the plush blue velvet saloon of the club. Most of the members, seated in blue leather upholstered booths and on chesterfields, drinking spirits and talking the talk of the powerful and connected were casually dressed; but the difference between Kununurra casual and Weld Club casual couldn’t have been more stark. I’d been given a smoking jacket from the cloak room but this just made my second hand cargo shorts and $15 pair of croc sandals that much more ridiculous.
It was in this state of considerable discomfort that I arrived in the presence of Lachlan MacDonald. He hauled himself out of his chair with some difficulty and shook my hand vigorously, patting my shoulder like the long lost friend I never was.
“Mate, such a long time. Look at you, you’ve gotten old!”
You know how some people never change Ty? Their appearance, their style, is set in youth and stays the same into old age. Lachie was one of those people; he was exactly the same as I remembered him, only older, jowlier, blotchier. He still wore a panama hat believe it or not, a white jacket with a red carnation tucked into the breast pocket, knee-length shorts and a handsome pair of tan loafers.
“And y-you got old too, as well,” I stammered, discomfited by his chumminess.
He clutched his paunch. “We can send probes to the other end of the galaxy, but we can’t stop the march of time can we.” He indicated his companion on the chesterfield. “This is Darcy, my partner in crime.”
Darcy was a woman of similar age, though much better preserved than either of us, despite carrying quite a bit of weight herself; the skin of her face was fresh, her dark eyes, when not idly studying her mobile phone, restlessly sought out the key points of amusement or advantage in the room and her easy smiling lips had a very kissable upper curve to them. She’d kicked off her shoes and was reclining in a way that showed her lovely bare feet and slim ankles to their fullest advantage, attracting the gaze of whoever was nearby.
“Darcy, this is Brian.”
“Hellooo,” Darcy drawled, running her eyes across me just long enough to confirm I wasn’t someone who could amuse or advance her in any way, before returning to her phone scrolling.
“Brian’s that fellow I was telling you about.”
“Mhm. Which fellow?”
“You know, the one we flew in from Woop Woop. He and I went to uni together.”
“Oh no he’s not one of thooose is he.”
“Nah, of course he isn’t. He’s been living out in the bush, boot scootin’ and roo shootin’ haven’t you Brian. Sit down mate.”
We sat. He ordered me a beer and some olives and bread.
“Yeah, so, uni; what do you remember about uni Brian? Do you think about it much?”
I shrugged and blushed, intuiting that I was expected to not say anything positive about my experiences. “It was a long time ago,” I hedged lamely.
“I remember you; lean and hungry looking devil you were. And your little group, all in black, puffing away on fags, talking about class struggle and false consciousness.”
“Yes, we all took ourselves very seriously.”
“I’ll say you did! Do you remember that shit they made us read in Lit Theory? Structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstruction. Oh my god! I wish I could forget that. The worst was that French Jew; what was his name? Derriere or something like that?”
Lachie laughed. “Derriere,” he continued, putting on a French accent. “Hor hor hor hor, my name is Jacques Derriere; zis is ze latest sing I shit from my derriere! The worst was that paper, Limited Inc I think it was called. Fifty fucking pages of it! What a load of fucking gobbledegook! If there was ever an argument for the gas chamber mate that was it.”
“Lachie!” Darcy hissed. She jabbed him with her elbow and signalled behind. Lachie and I both looked over to see a bald-headed gent seated in an adjacent booth.
“Oops!” Lachie sniggered. “Mr Cohen. Oh well. He couldn’t care less what I say anyway. Perfectly nice fellow by the way. But no feeling for the interests of his people at all. Sell his grandmother for a handful of shekels.”
“You’ll get yourself kicked out.”
“Oh rubbish! Don’t get me wrong Brian, I love Jews. I love Israel, especially the way it keeps on expanding. Did you know Brian that hook noses were once not allowed in these hallowed chambers? Now they let anyone in; kikes, gooks, curry munchers, boongs.”
“Poofters,” Darcy muttered.
“Whores,” Lachie retorted. “They really lowered the tone when they allowed ladies in here though. Mind you, it must be said, if you ever see a lady in here she’s usually a high end escort.”
“I think your friend is waiting for you to get on with it, dickhead.”
“Steady on. He’s waiting on his refreshments aren’t you Brian? Here they are.”
The beer and olives arrived, much to my relief, and after that Lachie started talking turkey.
“Have you ever heard of the William Street Soviet?”
I shook my head.
“The William Street Soviet calls itself the William Street Collective. It’s the latest atrocity by the communist scum whose anal leakages stain our government benches. It is a cabal of former Fremantle councillors, unionists and left-wing agitators who have declared the City of Fremantle an independent republic. Even as we sit here eating these delightful olives their new flag – a rainbow flag! – is fluttering over their town hall. The government has allowed this coup to happen because their idea is that Fremantle will be the crucible of a complete socialist takeover of our nation. Now some of us here, including some very wealthy patrons whom you needn’t know the names of, are keen to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”
I must’ve shown alarm at his ominous tone because he hurriedly clarified, placing his hand on my knee to reassure me.
“What I mean is that the opposition now has the full financial support of the business community and we’re all set up for a proper campaign for next year’s election to boot this disastrous government out. Ok mate? Nothing to worry about. I saw your expression and let me assure you everything is above board and democratic ok? Good. Right. Now, to you; what we got you here for. What I want from you is a poem.”
“That’s it; a poem. Not bloody TS Eliot or anything like that; something popular, something ballady, something Banjo Pattersony, ok? It must rhyme, it must be patriotic, it must be about sport, specifically The West Coast Eagles defeating a Victorian team, ok? And then I want you to tie it in with a whole lot of stirring bullshit about the sunburnt plains of Westralia, ok? You’re the poet, you come up with something. How does that sound?”
“Sure. No problem.” I cleared my throat and blushed; the next question I always found difficult to ask. “And how much will you pay me?”
“Well, if we’re happy with what you give us; $10 000.”
“Happy with that?”
“I-I can’t believe it! $10 000 for a poem! And that’s all?”
“No. Of course not. You agree to waive all copyright. That includes all claims of authorship. You’re a ghost writer, ok?”
My head was still spinning at this incredible offer, so of course I agreed.
“Good. Like I said, our campaign is flush with funds, so we can afford to be generous with our helpers. We have a wonderful new leader who is going to take the fight right up to the government (you’ll get to meet him shortly) and generally the stars are aligned and the wind is in our favour.”
“So this poem is going to be part of the opposition’s campaign to win popular support?”
I was feeling a little giddy and silly, and while I didn’t want to jeopardise my chance of earning this money, I couldn’t help sensing the ridiculousness of it all. “And what about Dockers supporters?” I laughed. “Don’t you have to bring them along too?”
My mirth was not shared. Lachie and Darcy exchanged a quick glance. Darcy tutted and shook her head as if to say ‘told you this guy wouldn’t be reliable.’ Lachie sat back, crossed his arms and fixed a steady gaze on me.
“Don’t you worry about Dockers supporters Brian,” he said quietly. “We’ll deal with them in good time.”
The beaming smile that followed was as disturbing as the cold appraising stare it replaced.
“Ah!” he suddenly exclaimed. “As if on cue; enter our next glorious leader.”
The shadow from some massive object fell across our little party. I flinched fearing the roof was falling in as the powerful smell of locker-room sweat suddenly assailed my nostrils. I looked up to see an enormous West Coast Eagle, covered with blood and dirt, towering over us. He was easily two metres tall with bulging sweat-sheened shoulders and arms, a strangely straight torso, non-tapering waist and thighs, and huge almost obscene tree-trunk legs. This giant body was somehow banded into the tight little pair of blue footy hot-pants and the blue and yellow spandex jersey. The head, as square as a Lego block, was small, small eyes, bright with the mania of victory, and a leering crooked mouth. I didn’t follow football or any sport for that matter so I didn’t know which player this was, but the effect he had on Lachie and Darcy was remarkable. Darcy pulled her feet up onto the chesterfield, reclined like Goya’s La Maja and preened, pouted and eye-fluttered, while Lachie wobbled and babbled like some clown.
“How’s it goin’ yer old poofter!” the Eagle boomed as Lachie lurched from his chair holding his hand out to shake
“How’d the match go?” he said.
“Oh mate, we fucken massacred them eh! Body parts splattered all over the oval! Er no don’t touch me mate, give me fucken AIDS!” He and Lachie chuck-chucked loudly to show it was all in good fun. I glanced around, alarmed at this noisy yobbish behaviour in such an august setting; but no one seemed to be bothered by it.
“How’re you goin’ Darcy?” the Eagle leered, standing over her so that his bulging crotch was close to her face.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she purred.
“Hey, hey,” he said, jabbing his elbow at Lachie. “Who’s this poofter? This your latest bum buddy is it?”
“This is Brian, an old friend of mine from my uni days.”
“Uni! He is a poofter! Ah don’t worry about me mate, I’m just pullin’ your dick!”
The sight of his enormous hand held out for me to shake filled me with terror. I watched my own puny little hand approach his with the sluggish implacability of a nightmare. Feeling the vast mat of cruel muscle close over my hand with a sickening crunch induced an out of body experience. At the same time as my hand was being crushed his other hand pounded so hard on my shoulder I almost cartwheeled over the booth.
“Wayne Warner mate,” he said.
“Wayne Warner!” I exclaim. I can’t help it. “Are you telling me you’ve met our glorious president?”
“Yeah,” the prisoner says, as if it’s no big deal. “You want me to tell you everything don’t you?”
“No one I know has ever gazed upon the face of our president.”
“Well I have,” he chortles. “So now you do know someone. Shall I continue?”
Anyway, we sat down. When Warner’s big body hit the chesterfield my side puffed up so violently I was nearly thrown into the air. He then spread his horrifying legs so wide I was squashed into the armrest.
“I never went to uni,” he said. “Never wanted to. Me dad wanted me to. When I finished at Hobbes College, he said to me, ‘son,’ he said, ‘you’re gonna go to uni.’ I said ‘but I don’t wanna go to uni dad, there’s nothin’ but poofters and commos at uni. I wanna get a real job dad. I wanna get a job on the mines. I wanna come home every night after a hard day’s yakka black as a boong.’ Lucky for me the CEO at […] Iron Group was an old boy from Hobbes so he got me in no worries. Sat on the board for a year before selection for West Coast. And what about you Brian, what do you do for a crust?”
Lachie answered for me. “Brian’s the fellow we’ve flown in to write that poem for you.”
“Eh? What’s that? What fellow?”
“Well, you know, that thing we spoke about; having a poem ghost written for you. You remember don’t you?”
“We spoke about it just the other day; Brian ghost writes a poem and you claim to have written it yourself.”
“Poem? I don’t know about poems mate, poofters write poems.”
“Well, it’ll be a proper poem you know, a rhyming poem, you know, like ‘the cat sat on the mat.’”
“He’s gonna write the cat sat on the mat?”
“No no, that’s just an example. He will write an original poem but it will be like ‘the cat sat on the mat.’ It will be a patriotic poem about our nation. It will be about you kicking a goal on the final siren.”
“Yeah? That sounds alright. Well gentlemen, I’ll leave you to it. Hey Darcy, comin’ to the dunnies?”
“Oh Wayne,” Darcy breathed. “You’re so earthy!”
Placing the tips of her fingers daintily in Warner’s giant hand, Darcy stood, chimed “’Bye!” to Lachie and me, and without putting on her shoes departed with Warner to the Ladies. Lachie must’ve seen me raise my eyebrows and do the pressed lip ‘not-my-place-to-comment’ non-smile, because he said, “It’s not what you think Brian. She’s not my wife.”
“She’s my sister.”
Before we finished for the evening Lachie took me out onto the balcony. The scene I beheld on the street below was one of total bedlam; Fremantle and West Coast supporters in pitched battles all the way up the Terrace. Most electric lights had been cut off so the entire panoply was illuminated by the infernal glow of fires from Molotov cocktails. The sticks I’d seen the supporters carrying earlier were now being used on each other, wild melees of whacking sticks and flailing arms. As I watched, startling little dramas unfolded before my eyes; I saw a young girl Eagle seated on the ground, weeping, cradling the bloodied body of her mortally wounded Fremantle lover just as two female Eagles set upon her, chopping off her hair with scissors; I saw two thuggish Dockers slowly stalking a lame Eagle, dragging their sticks sadistically along the bitumen so that he could hear the rattle of the weapons he was about to be thrashed by; here and there groups of men, women, even some children, gathered together, quickly conferred, and then charged groups of their opponents nearby, hurling themselves into battle with the heedlessness of medieval soldiers. The stage upon which these dramas played was littered with the broken bodies of the injured groaning among rubbish, petrol and shattered glass.
I glanced up at Lachie as he leaned on the balustrade. The unguarded expression of glee on his face, illuminated by the orange flames, was truly chilling. “I love watching bogans beat the shit out of each other,” he said.
I knocked off the poem in my four star hotel room that night. It took me one hour. I called it ‘The Cry of the Eagle.’
“Does that shock you Ty?” the prisoner says.
“Shock me? Why should it shock me?”
“I just said that I am the author of ‘The Cry of the Eagle.’
“I’m not shocked Brian. I just feel sorry for you.”
The prisoner laughs. “Whatever.”
“I know all about traitors like you; you’re deluded, you commit your crimes because you’ve lied to yourself for so long you believe you’re more important than you really are.”
“Sure, totally agree. But I’ll continue now? I’m a condemned man, I know that. This is my last request; that I be allowed to finish my story. ‘The Cry of the Eagle.’ Yes, I wrote it. And yes I am Jesus Christ, and I am Mohammad, and Siddhartha Buddha in a smoking jacket. But let me tell you Ty, ‘The Cry of the Eagle’ flowed out of my pen so easily; a triumphal paean to the captain of the West Coast Eagles, who marks on the 50 metre line right on the last siren of a Grand Final. As the roar of the crowd fills his ears he boots the bomb of the century straight through the middle posts and vanquishes the perfidious Vic. But then an even more extraordinary thing happens. All of a sudden his body is covered in blue and yellow feathers, his arms spread out to enormous lengths, and his face elongates to form a stern looking hooked beak. Flapping his mighty wings the Eagle soars across the vast sunburnt plains of Westralia and with mighty voice squawks “Westralia, seize the day!””
When I sent it off to Lachie I knew it was no longer ‘my poem’ so if it became a hit or something ridiculous like that I could never claim royalties from it. But in my mind the 10 grand more than compensated for something I had no real feeling for.
Lachie was to get back to me in a couple of days to tell me if the poem was suitable. Until then there was nothing for me to do except hang around in my hotel room and watch old movies and shows on tv. The service was an intranet without any news. Furthermore my hotel was in East Perth, my room overlooking a quiet bend of the river so I had no idea what was happening outside. In fact I never left the room the entire 48 hours I was there; my meals were delivered to me (really nice they were too, silver service, bottle of wine and so forth) but even though I was given no explicit instructions I got the very strong feeling I was expected to stay put.
Nonetheless I was aware that things were going on. I heard sporadic gunfire in the night, and I noticed a helicopter making regular flyovers of the river sweeping the banks and foreshore with a powerful searchlight. Probably the most striking thing I recall was a sound I heard outside my room. It sounded like a scuffle at the door of one of the nearby rooms. A pair of footsteps suddenly run past my door, followed by two or three pairs in pursuit; not the kind of disturbance you’d normally hear in a four star hotel at midnight.
I also found out (though how, I couldn’t say) that the government passed the law that banned homosexuality. I think there were two reasons for doing this; one was a vain attempt to regain popular support, and the other was to try and snare the government’s arch enemy, the editor of The Cooee, whose private peccadilloes were widely rumoured, by a tricksy adoption of one of his movement’s policies. Ironic isn’t it? Of the two surviving legacies of that government, secession and the banning of homosexuality; the first one made Lachie, and the second one undid him. A revenge from beyond the grave.
My next meeting with Lachie was to be the last. He was alone this time, sunning himself on a deckchair on The Weld Club balcony. He wore the panama hat, sunglasses and was drinking iced tea. The turkey skin of his throat, beneath the open collar of a lemon coloured polo shirt, was red from the morning sun.
“Loovveed the poem mate!” he drawled when he saw me. “A perfect piece of pap for the plebs. You have quite the knack.”
I laughed with relief; I’d had no idea how my poem was going to be received.
“Check it out mate.” He signalled for me to look over the balustrade. The Terrace had been only partly cleared of wreckage from the weekend’s riots, most of it swept and bulldozed up onto the footpaths. In the middle of the Terrace, on either side of the traffic island, two companies of soldiers marched slowly towards the parliament at the top of the hill. Each company consisted of four columns approximately fifty men in length; a total regiment of 400 men. The sun glinted proudly on their shiny helmets, polished guns and neatly pressed uniforms while the loud stomps of their short-step marching boots echoed emphatically off the facades of the surrounding office blocks. Two small cannons were wheeled along in the immediate rear. Very few civilians were about; the handful I saw weaved and flitted furtively between the piles of rubbish, or huddled in the shadows of the lobbies like frightened cats.
“Sorry mate,” Lachie said. “We couldn’t tell you what our plans were, not until you’d written the poem for us, you might have refused to do it. I mean I don’t think you would’ve, but why take the chance? So, what do you think? That’s the Westralian army. There’s another platoon up at the parliament. We’re sending in the lot because the minister for primary industry and her staff have managed to get their hands on rifles and are sniping from her office.”
As the columns passed, two ancient looking half-tracks, belching black diesel smoke out of their exhausts, rumbled and squeaked along in the rear.
“Yes, that’s right; World War 2 vintage German half-tracks. Nice touch don’t you think. You know where we got them? The museum at the old Pearce Airbase. They still work. That’s German engineering for you!”
He ordered me a drink and we sat down. I signed the waiver and he handed me a bulging yellow envelope.
“Here’s your payment. Make sure you find a good mattress to stuff it in. There won’t be any banking services for the next week or so.”
As I checked the contents of the envelope (two thick wads of Australian $100 notes) Lachie took a call. When he finished he said to me “I’ve got myself a new gig; recruitment for […] Iron Group; iron-ore shares have gone through the roof. My own shares have increased 56 cents just in the last 10 minutes. I’m a rich man Brian. One thing about sharemarkets, they love dictatorships. Cheers.”
And that was it; that was the last I saw or heard from Lachie. After that my contractually obscure life began. I became one of those frightened shadows, dogging for the police and loitering at the TABs, flitting furtively between lobbies and arcades, my collar pulled up and hat pulled down around my ears. The 10 grand didn’t last long; in fact it vanished as quickly as the charm of my second wife’s youth.
The success of ‘The Cry of the Eagle’ was as much of a torture to me as any of the interrogative methods employed by your auditors. It was everywhere, on every website I opened, every tv show I watched, every bus stop I sat in or wall I passed, there were my words. I hate to admit it Ty but the thing that tormented me the most about it was not the way it glorified the tyranny over our lives, but that I wasn’t getting a cent in royalties for its use. I had to perform an act of complete mental dissociation from it just to stay sane.
I don’t know what Lachie did from then on. The Cooee became a mouthpiece of the regime. Its editorials championed every one of Wayne Warner’s whims including the summary execution of the Fremantle Dockers and the razing to a building the city of Fremantle. I found out from some source a year or so later that Warner married Darcy, Lachie’s sister. I would never have guessed this because I never heard her name in public; the First Lady has only ever been referred to as Mrs Wayne Warner. So that’s it. I don’t know what more I can tell you Ty.
CASE OFFICE TY STOKES’ FINAL STATEMENT –
“Brian, Brian, Brian, you are a truly sad man. You believe in nothing and yet you expect me to believe all your lies. But at the same time you seem to believe in everything you have told me, so you do actually believe in something. But what you believe is everything that is the opposite of the truthful and the good. I allowed to you speak for as long you did so there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind the tower of delusion you live in. I don’t know if it was the right thing or not. All I know is that I did it out of a sense of pity for you; for on the strength of this testimony I know that your sufferings will be short. But to live as you do without faith, without respect, without patriotism, must itself be a torment. A creature that lives in such a state must be one in constant yearning of the end. So I can say therefore, quite confidently, that I also did it out of love.
“I should hate you Brian, for the spiteful and treasonous way you have spoken about our supreme leader. But how can I hate a pitiful fool whose mind dwells in permanent darkness? Let me tell you Brian, Wayne Warner is the way and the light. Your portrayal of him as an ignorant yobbo couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only is he the greatest footballer since the beginning of time and the lord and master of all our destinies, but since appointing himself unanimously as Chief Science Officer of Westralia, he has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the human fossil record is directly traceable back to Adam and Eve, that the frequency of electromagnetic radiation through the atmospheric pressure finally demonstrates that the earth is at the centre of the universe, and that the blood of Christian children has certain properties that synthesises with the unique molecular structure of Fremantle supporters’ hair making it clump thus forming dreadlocks. In the face of these mighty contributions to the great store of human knowledge, what pathetic achievements can you claim Brian?
“I shall recommend that you be executed without a trial. It’s for your own good, as much as it is for the health and harmony of the nation. (Stand and salute) Onya Warny.”