The Singing Defective: Chopper 7
NORTHERN IRELAND, 1925. Five Irish patriots and gunmen stood by the River Quoile in County Down. “So it’s come, we are to say goodbye,” said Eamon De Valera sadly. “Kalan to America, Regan to Australia. And what of you, Eoin? Is it a Yankee or an Aussie you’ll be?”
Eoin Featherstone smiled. “I’m thinking it’s Australia, Eamon,” and he gave Regan a hearty pat on the shoulder.
“And what of you, Padraic?” said De Valera.
O’Shaughnessy spoke. “Well, Eamon. I’m like the others. I’ve relations in Australia as well as America, but I’ve first cousins in Melbourne and only second and third cousins in New York, so I reckon Aussie it will be.”
De Valera’s eyes were suspiciously moist as he took each man’s hand to shake it. “I’ll never have closer comrades than the men I’m standing with right now, here today, and that’s the God’s honest truth. But it’s sure you’ll have to leave, the black and tans are smashing the heads of Irish babies against walls over that traitor O’Higgins. You’ll have to go, lads, there is nothing else for it, because the provisionals want you dead. I can’t protect you without betraying my own role in the whole affair but vanish and I’ll smooth it all inside a year. We can either blame the loyalists or the Jesuits,” he said with a laugh.
“All this fuss over a traitor,” said Regan Reeves. “I don’t understand it.”
De Valera shook his head. “Yes, it’s my fault. We should have killed him in 1922, but we left it all a bit too late. We let him get too damn powerful. I blame myself.”
He paused, then said softly, “Well me darlins, it’s time to go.”
De Valera embraced each man, but when he came to Regan Reeves he had tears rolling down his cheeks. “As me old Spanish father used to say,” said De Valera to Reeves, “Adios Amigo, Adios Amigo.” And with that the four men walked away, leaving De Valera standing by the riverside.
“Adios Amigo,” whispered Regan Reeves under his breath, turning for one last wave goodbye. As Reeves walked away he wondered what fate would finally befall the magician of Irish blood and politics, Eamon De Valera. Then he wondered what the future would bring, half a world away.
THE longest journey starts with the shortest step. The four gunmen whose use-by date had come made their way first to Belfast. From there they took a boat to Plymouth, then went their separate ways.
Kalan Reeves took a ship to San Francisco. Regan Reeves, Eoin Featherstone and Padraic O’Shaughnessy took one to Sydney, then a train to Melbourne. They were met at Spencer Street railway station by Regan’s first cousin, Johnny Reeves, in his 1923 Renault Coupe De Ville.
Lucky for all concerned, Reeves had brought with him Grady Phillips, his personal right hand man and bodyguard. It was also lucky that Grady drove a 1924 Buick, so while Regan Reeves rode with Johnny in the Renault Coupe, Featherstone and O’Shaughnessy rode with Phillips in the Buick. It didn’t take the two-car convoy long to get to Collingwood, then to Gold Street and the Leinster Arms Hotel.
The five men got out and walked into the main bar and, you don’t have to be told, ordered a drink. Five pots of Carlton Draught Beer and five double Irish whiskeys, to be precise. It was something of an occasion, and they weren’t going to let it pass unmarked without a little drink.
“A toast,” said Regan Reeves, “to Ireland and the greatest Irishman alive, Eamon De Valera.” Everyone drank up and Johnny Reeves ordered a second round of drinks.
Squizzy Taylor had just been shot dead by Snowy Cutmore. Cutmore died on the spot. Taylor made it to hospital and died there, but he still had a few admirers among the hard men of Collingwood and nearby parts.
“A toast,” said Johnny Reeves, “to Collingwood and the second greatest Irishman who ever lived in this country. The first being Ned Kelly. I’m talking about Joseph Leslie Taylor. God rest ya soul, Squizzy.”
To Regan, Eoin and Padraic’s surprise every man in the bar raised their glass in salute and said “Hear, hear Squizzy Taylor” and everyone drank up.
After Johnny ordered yet another round of beer and Irish whiskey he settled down to talk to the first cousin he’d never seen before and his two Irish mates.
“Well boys, it’s simple,” he said. “I run Collingwood. The sly grog shops, the two-up schools, the SP bookies and the brothels. I’ll give each man a handgun and two boxes of shells. I’ve got an empty two bedroom house in Forrest Street that Eoin and Padraic can live in. It’s fully furnished of course, and there’s a 1922 Oldsmobile Roadster they can use. Regan, you can stay with me at my place in Easey Street. Every man gets a pound a day in wages. Seven quid a week. All ya got to do is back me up and pull the trigger when ya told to.”
The three Irishmen nearly fell over. A house, a car, a gun each and the stupendous payment of a pound a day. After years of poverty and danger they could hardly believe their luck. You could feed a family of 12 in Ireland on a pound a month, if you were lucky enough to get a pound a month, and here they were on that much a DAY. This Johnny Reeves must indeed be a top man in his field.
IN 1933 a three-year-old named Hall Mark won the Melbourne Cup. It paid four to one and Johnny Reeves had a thousand pounds on it. So, while the rest of the nation starved, Johnny Reeves and his crew got richer.
Johnny had made his first fortune in 1919. He had returned from the first world war broken and shattered, but was recruited by Squizzy Taylor. In six months Reeves was as right as rain. It was Taylor who paid for Johnny’s trip to America and on the 4th of July, 1919, in Toledo, Ohio, Johnny Reeves sat ringside and watched the great Jack Dempsey knock the Giant Cowboy Jess Willard down seven times in the first round and then knock him out in the third. A $US2000 bet on Dempsey at 10–1, as Willard was favourite to win, returned a tidy $20,000.
Squizzy Taylor was involved in shipping Scotch whisky, or at least something very like it, from Melbourne to New York, where the New York Irish gangs were fighting a bloody whisky war with the dagos. New York’s lower east side Irish could nearly all name a first, second or third cousin in Australia. The great famine of Ireland had torn the Irish population apart and scattered the survivors all over the world.
Johnny Reeves was escorted to the fight by Gun Boat MacGreevy and his gang, a drunken, gun-toting collection of Featherstones, O’Shaughnessys, Dohertys, O’Donnells and Donovans. Needless to say, Squizzy Taylor was delighted at the Dempsey victory, having cleaned up with Melbourne bookmakers, who’d all been predicting a Willard victory.
A year later Taylor won a 20,000 pound bet on a horse named Poitrel, a 6-year-old that paid 8-1 in the Melbourne Cup. Squizzy was lashed on the bet and it was then that Johnny Reeves had to earn his keep. He cut the SP bookie into 30 bits with a meat axe and fed him to pigs on a small farm in Epping, a chore that repaid Squizzy for the trip to America. They had gamey bacon for a month.
Of course, by 1933, as Johnny Reeves and his gang stood in the bar of the Leinster Arms Hotel in Gold Street, Collingwood, all that was history. There were, by this time, more pressing matters to attend to. “Them turds from Harper Street reckon they can snub their nose at ya, Johnny,” growled Busy O’Brien. “Their molls don’t pay no rent, there’s no sling our way. They started a two-up game in Langridge street and they got an SP bookie running in the Terminus in Victoria Street. The whole Abbotsford crew gotta be pulled up or Collingwood will split up. It sets a bad example Johnny. I’m tellin’ ya mate, we gotta jump on ’em. Bloody hell.”
Busy O’Brien was Johnny Reeves’s tactical adviser, so to speak. Busy was a short, thickset little man with a bald head and a broken nose and cauliflower ears from his time as the lightweight boxing champion of Victoria. He carried an ugly scar on the left side of his face, the reminder of a German bayonet on the western front. He had come back from France having been gassed seven times and shot once through the chest, with nothing but his Military Medal in his pocket and a few other assorted medals, including a couple from the French. He kept the Military Medal and sold the rest for ten bob the lot. He drank the whole ten bob in two days. So much for the “war to end all wars” that the politicians talked about.
Johnny Reeves had picked his old mate up out of the gutter and Busy O’Brien repaid Johnny with total and devoted loyalty. They called him Busy because he talked a lot and rushed to and fro, always in a hurry, always with a hundred things to do and not enough time to do ’em in. His regular reply to any greeting was, “Not now, I’m busy. Piss off, I’m busy.” Hence the nickname. “Piss Off O’Brien” just didn’t sound right.
Johnny stood in silence. Regan Reeves broke in. “Busy’s right, Roy.” Regan had taken to calling Johnny Roy the Boy much to Johnny’s comic relief. “He’s bloody well right. Let Eoin, Padraic and me look after this bit of business for ya, please, Roy. It would be an honour.”
The three runaway Irishmen were now earning three quid a day each. Twenty one pound a week was a fortune. Each man was sending thirty pound a month back to his family in North Dublin city. The Reeves, Featherstone and O’Shaughnessy clans back in Dublin had all been saved from poverty by the Collingwood money sent home, and it was all thanks to Johnny “Roy the Boy” Reeves. It was no great surprise that Regan wanted to kill anyone who dared to take the food from Johnny’s table because Regan was eating from the same table. Johnny nodded. “Yeah, all right Reig. You take care of Abbotsford for me.”
Regan Reeves smiled. He knew what Johnny meant.
OWEN Lewis and his two halfwit brothers Evan and Billy lived in a small three-bedroom bluestone cottage in Harper Street, Abbotsford. The Lewis brothers were the sons of a Welsh coalminer who had arrived in Australia in 1908, the same year Jack Johnson fought Tommy Burns and took the world heavyweight title from him at Rushcutters Bay in Sydney.
The Lewis family lived in Balmain until 1920, then moved to Victoria and bought the little house in Harper Street. Squizzy Taylor had once invited the Lewis boys to join the Collingwood push. The Lewis boys were all big, thickset, hard, fighting thugs of men. Not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they got the job done. Having grown up in Sydney they came to Melbourne with a real nose-in-the-air, smartarse attitude. And, being Welsh, it so happened they were Protestants. Reason enough, thought Regan, to kill ’em all. Ha ha.
But the Lewis boys weren’t exactly the nervous type. In fact, they showed a most disrespectful attitude. “Piss on Johnny Reeves,” Owen Lewis was heard to say. And his two semiretarded brothers would giggle as if it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. It was before television.
Owen was sitting in a big over-stuffed lounge chair. Evan and Billy sat on the couch. Fran Kinsella danced in the middle of the lounge room floor to the music of Jelly Roll Morton on the gramophone in the corner of the room. Fran loved jazz. In fact, if the truth were known, she loved dancing at the Peppermint lounge in Smith Street, but Johnny Reeves and his crew drank there and that meant the joint was out of bounds for Fran. She liked Johnny, but her boyfriend Owen Lewis was a violent, drunken thug and she had received too many beatings to publicly disobey him.
Fran was thin, small and sexy. She had been a prostitute, but being Owen Lewis’s girlfriend paid better.
“I reckon Johnny Reeves will shit himself,” grunted Billy Lewis.
“We own Abbotsford. If he comes over this side of Hoddle Street, he’ll get himself killed.”
“Fran, don’t dance like that in front of the boys,” Owen said sulkily. “You’re a little teaser.”
Fran stopped and took the record off and said, “Johnny Reeves is Collingwood and Abbotsford is part of Collingwood. Have you considered all this properly, Owen?”
He stood up and hit her. She hit the floor. With a smashed nose and a split top lip and three of her front teeth down her neck. She struggled and shook, choking on her own blood.
Owen screamed, “Don’t question me, moll! Ya smartarse mick whore.” He kicked her in the ribs and the fallen woman vomited, then passed out.
“Low smartarse tart,” said Evan. “Ya should never have taken her on in the first place.”
“Yeah,” said Billy. “She belongs in a whore house.”
Owen glared down at Fran and snarled, “Yeah, well, she’s going back where I got her from. The bloody street. Toss the slut out the front door.”
BUSY O’Brien woke up with a start and looked at his big old alarm clock ticking beside his bed.
“Holy hell,” he muttered. He couldn’t see a thing. He fumbled for a match and lit the candle. He didn’t have electric light. After doing it hard in the trenches, Busy didn’t mind little inconveniences like that. But he didn’t like being woken up in the middle of the night.
It was 4.30 am. The banging on his front door came again. Busy grabbed his .38 revolver and put on his slippers and dressing gown. He didn’t feel dressed without them. Candle in one hand and gun in the other, he went down the dark hallway.
“Who is it?” he called out. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Busy. Les Pepper. Open up.”
“Shit,” said Busy as he tried to open the door, juggling the candle and the .38 as he turned the handle.
When he managed to open the door he held the candle out in front of him. In the flickering yellow light he could see Les Pepper wasn’t alone. He was holding a battered and bleeding woman. She was barely conscious.
“What the hell is this nonsense, Les?” Busy asked. His time in the trenches had made him pretty hard to shock in the blood and guts business, but he was a bit vexed about being woken up.
Pepper walked into the hallway and dragged the half-dead woman with him. Busy closed the door and said, “Into the parlour. The fire’s down but I’ll get it up again.” He held the candle up high to give Les and the woman some light.
It was Fran Kinsella. Les laid her out on the couch and put a cushion under her head. Busy lit several more candles and put more wood on the embers of the fire, then took out a half full bottle of rum from the sideboard and handed it to Les.
“This might help,” he said.
“Thanks” said Pepper – and promptly drank the half bottle.
“Not for you, ya thick pig. For the lady.”
Busy reached into the sideboard again and took out a full bottle of scotch whisky and a glass and poured out a generous dose, then held Fran’s head up and put the glass to her smashed mouth.
She drank a gulp and coughed and spluttered.
“What animal did this?” asked Busy O’Brien, looking like thunder. “To belt a woman like this, it’s unforgivable.”
“I found her lying in Victoria Street in Abbotsford. Ya know who she is?” said Les Pepper.
Busy shook his head.
“That’s Fran Kinsella, Owen Lewis’s moll.”
“Well, well, well, well,” said Busy with a grin. “My darlin’ girl, I am glad to meet you.”
Busy turned to Les Pepper. “Go and fetch Doc Whitaker.”
Pepper protested. “At 4.30 in the morning, Busy, ya gotta be joking.”
Busy turned and snapped a right hand backward across Pepper’s face. “I said Get Doc Whitaker. Now go.”
Pepper turned and hurried down the hall and out the door.
ALL in all, 1933 wasn’t much of a year. The Depression still had a grip, and half the world had been starving since the Wall Street crash in 1929. Some nobody called Adolf Hitler had taken over as Chancellor of Germany, a fact that seemed to concern and fascinate politicians and newspaper men but bored everybody else.
Criminal activity that didn’t centre around Collingwood wasn’t worth a second mention and Taffy Westlock, head of Russell Street’s famed and feared Consorting Squad, was due to retire. He was 59, but still a physical giant, looking more like a young and healthy 45-year-old. He’d been a copper since the age of 22 and was a legend.
Taffy was slightly mad and insisted on riding a police issue pushbike everywhere he went. When the Consorting Squad, a 12-man crew, went on a raid they would pile into three police cars, then travel to the raid in convoy at 15 to 20 miles an hour with Det. Chief Inspector Westlock leading the charge on his bike. It was a sensational sight.
When in disgrace for breaking a gangster’s neck in a fist fight at Young and Jackson’s Hotel in 1920 he was transferred to Collingwood CIB. There he arrested Squizzy Taylor, Henry Stokes and Johnny Reeves for organising a two-up game and for urinating in a public place. After punching Reeves and Stokes to the footpath and footing Taylor up the pants he made the three men run in front of his push bike as he rode back to the Collingwood Police Station singing “I’m an Old Cowboy” at the top of his lungs.
Taylor, Reeves and Stokes were fined 10 bob each and Westlock was mysteriously transferred back to Russell Street. His three sons were all policemen, along with his four nephews. In fact, the Westlock and Kelly families had populated Russell Street to such an extent that lunch time in the Russell Street canteen looked like a family reunion.
The Westlocks were a big family. And Busy O’Brien happened to remember that one of the Westlock lads had married a Collingwood girl named Ruby Kinsella, an elder sister of Fran Kinsella. The brain of Johnny Reeves’ tactical adviser was ticking over.
EVAN and Billy Lewis were making their way out of the Grand Picture Theatre with two sisters from Collingwood, Tracey and Rhonda O’Connell. They had just been to see the movie Public Enemy, starring Jimmy Cagney.
“I loved the way Cagney pushed that grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face,” said Billy with a laugh.
“I didn’t,” said Tracey.
“Ahh, what would you know,” said Evan. “I love the way they dump Cagney’s body on his mother’s doorstep.”
Billy smiled “Yeah, good trick for Johnny Reeves, hey Evan? Dump the rat on his old mother’s doorstep.”
“I think that’s shocking,” said Rhonda O’Connell.
Crime had been good to the Lewis boys. While the rest of the country went without, the only people who made money were politicians, criminals, publicans and bookmakers. And the odd policeman who knew a few of the former.
Evan opened the driver’s side door of his 1928 Hispano Suiza car and the two brothers and the two sisters get in.
“Let’s head for the Terminus Hotel,” said Billy.
“Good idea,” said Evan.
“It’s 9.30,” said Tracey. “The pubs are all shut.”
“Ha ha,” laughed Billy with a wink. “Not for the Lewis brothers, they’re not.”
Evan drove with Tracey at his side, running her right hand up and down his inner thigh and undoing his fly buttons with her left hand. She looked over into the back seat to see that her little sister Rhonda had a good head start with Billy Lewis.
The O’Connell sisters worked in a brothel in Russell Street and had become famous locally for their oral expertise. Nine out of ten girls in Melbourne, including prostitutes, would run a mile screaming or report you to the police as a pervert for even suggesting such an outrageous act. There were brothels in Collingwood, Richmond and Fitzroy with girls willing to perform the unspeakable act but the Bennett, Phillips and O’Shaughnessy girls all worked for the Reeves crew and were off limits to the Lewis boys. The ill-will between the Reeves and Lewis camps was making the small Melbourne criminal world an even smaller place for the Lewis brothers.
“I hope Owen knows what he’s doing,” thought Evan as he drove along the empty street. He had to concentrate on driving as Tracey was sending him quietly insane. He could hear his brother in the back seat moaning like a wounded animal as Rhonda went to work on him. Evan felt a twinge of jealousy.
A 1931 Duesenberg convertible pulled out and drove up alongside. He didn’t notice it, but Tracey stopped what she was doing and crawled down low on the floor of the car. Evan heard Billy yell “What’s going on?” and he turned to see Rhonda hiding low on the floor of the car.
A horrible suspicion hit him just before the bullet did. He had time to look at two men in the convertible on his right for a split second, saw the muzzle flash, then his whole world went black, as they say in the pulps. A second shot rang out and there was a blizzard of broken glass and skin, teeth, blood and brain inside the car. Rhonda O’Connell took cover and screamed as Billy Lewis sprayed his mortal human remains all over her.
Tracey was also screaming, as Evan’s head had turned into human watermelon and was all over the place. The big car slowed and rolled along, a dead man at the wheel.
Tracey got back into the seat and steered the car to the edge of the road and put her foot on the pedals in a mad effort to stop the car, but to no avail. All this while she was trying to push Evan’s faceless dead body out of the way. It was little Rhonda who saved the day by yelling, “Handbrake, handbrake.” They saved the car and themselves, but nothing was going to save the Lewis brothers.
JOHNNY Reeves stood in the bar of the Leinster Arms. He was talking to Busy O’Brien and “Hacker Hill”, boss of the Lennox Street gang over in Richmond. The wars between Richmond and Collingwood had ended when Squizzy Taylor died, and apart from a few two-bob shootings and a couple of friendly bashings and gentle kickings, things were all very peaceful between the two crews.
“We can’t help bad luck, Hacker,” said Johnny. “I don’t care if he was your cousin, he lashed on a 50 quid debt and he got punished.”
“Yeah,” said Hacker Hill, “but to drag and dump a man for a fifty pound debt seems a bit much.”
“This is a bad time to owe 50 quid,” said Johnny. “Look, I’m sorry we killed ya cousin. I tell ya what, I’ll give you 25 quid, half of what ya cousin owed, as a fair compensation for his death,” he offered.
Hacker Hill looked at the 25 quid. The Lennox Street crew were streetfighters and gun-toting drunks and the whole lot of ’em would be lucky to see 10 bob a week if they all pooled their money. The 25 quid was a fortune.
“Ah well,” said Hacker Hill, as he dived on the money. “He wasn’t my favourite cousin, anyway.”
Regan Reeves, Padraic O’Shaughnessy and Eoin Featherstone, along with Butcher Maloney and Tommy Brown walked into the pub.
“Two down, one to go Johnny,” said Regan. “But I don’t think the O’Connell sisters will ever be the same again. Ha ha.”
“They were told to keep their heads down,” said Busy.
“Yes,” said Padraic, “but neither of them can drive a motor car. They nearly killed themselves trying to stop it.”
OWEN Lewis and his father had packed their bags and booked a train back to NSW. They were standing on the platform at Spencer Street railway station waiting for the Sydney train to leave at 9.30 am.
The short-lived Abbotsford uprising had fallen in a heap and old Pop Lewis didn’t want to lose his oldest son Owen in a mindless war with madmen over whore houses and two-up schools, regardless of money.
The two men were waiting for Fran Kinsella. Fran and Owen had patched things up, much to Owen’s surprise, and she had agreed to flee with him to Sydney. As he stood on the platform he thought of Fran. He knew he didn’t deserve such a loyal and loving girl. He also knew he had 3000 pounds in cash on him, and he resolved that the first thing he would do in Sydney would be to get poor Fran’s smashed teeth fixed. Poor girl, she was so good to him. Why did he have to hit her all the time. He felt deep shame at his past actions.
“Here she comes,” said Pop Lewis, and Owen turned to see the lovely Fran clip clipping her way down the platform in her high heels. She had a Hollywood show girl movie star look and walk. What had he ever done to deserve such a beautiful woman? He promised himself that he would never hit her again. As she got closer she reached into her brown leather handbag. She was wearing white cotton gloves and a brown and white suit with white high heels and matching hat.
Owen smiled. She’d forgotten her ticket. She looked so cute as she rummaged in her handbag with a slightly puzzled look on her cute face. Her busted nose and blackened eyes under her dark glasses and her swollen top lip didn’t hide her natural beauty. I’m sorry, baby, thought Owen. I won’t ever hit you again. As she got about six feet away Fran found what she was looking for.
It was a dainty silver-coloured Colt .32 calibre single action revolver. She aimed it at Owen’s chest. Owen was shocked, but managed to laugh. “What’s this darlin’, a joke?” he croaked.
Fran didn’t answer. She pulled the hammer back and pulled the trigger. She did this three times, sending three dum dum slugs into his chest. Owen held his heart and stumbled to his knees.
“Why Fran, why?”
Then she turned the gun on Pop Lewis and said “Sorry Pop” and put the remaining two shots from the five-shot revolver into his chest and neck. She then turned and walked away. As she got about 50 feet from the fallen men Busy O’Brien hurriedly joined her and threw a lady’s overcoat around her shoulders and took the gun from her, like the gent he was.
People milling about on the platform gathered about the two fallen men while Busy O’Brien and Fran Kinsella quietly left the station.
IT was 1936. Three years had passed since the trouble with the Lewis brothers, and the Collingwood crew had grown in size and power. McCall controlled all of Abbotsford, Albert Phillips took charge of Victoria Park and Clifton Hill was shared by the Peppers and the Bennetts, all under the watchful eye of Johnny Reeves.
There was only one small section of Collingwood the Reeves Gang stayed out of. That was the darkest part of the horrific Collingwood slums, from Collingwood Lane to Blood Street. The Van Gogh Brothers had that and who else would want it? Shilling a time whores and killers who would cut your head off to pinch your boots. Apart from those who were born and bred in this part of town no-one, not even the police, dared enter it.
Tough men had vanished in this part of Collingwood and were never seen or heard of ever again. Rumours of dead men being cut up, cooked and eaten by starving families were not totally dismissed as the squalor and filth and human degradation had to be seen to be believed. The slums of Richmond and Fitzroy weren’t flash by most standards, but compared with Collingwood the poor of Richmond and Fitzroy were considered well-off posh bastards.
Horror stories of the brothers with the strange Dutch name of the famous painter were also legend. They were rarely, if ever, seen outside their own one quarter square mile of Collingwood territory, so when Johnny Reeves was at last introduced to Milton Van Gogh by Macka McCall, Johnny was extra polite.
Milton Van Gogh was a man of average height and as skinny as a rake, with a wild insane pair of eyes. It was clear at first sight that Van Gogh was as mad as a cut snake. He was filthy dirty, wearing clothes that should have been burnt, bar a pair of brand spanking new boots. Reeves looked at the old clothes and new boots and wondered who Van Gogh had killed to get them. But he didn’t ask. It wasn’t manners.
“How ya goin?” Johnny said as he held out his hand. That was manners.
Milton Van Gogh took the hand and Johnny Reeves felt a power and strength in the handshake that betrayed a hidden force that the skinny man didn’t show on the outside.
“I’ve heard ya name but never met ya,” said Johnny pleasantly.
“Likewise,” said Milton. He seemed to be a man of few words.
“What can I do for ya?” asked Johnny.
Milton Van Gogh looked shyly down and shuffled his new boots.
“My brothers have done something silly,” he muttered. “I think we might need a bit of help.”
“Oh,” said Johnny. “And what have they been up to?”
Van Gogh looked at him and said, “You’d best come and see for y’self.”
Reeves shuddered. It was 7.30 at night and from what Van Gogh had just said it sounded like a trip to the black section of Collingwood. At night it was pitch black. There were no street lights. Some of the slum houses had the electricity connected, but no-one paid the electric bill so no-one had any lights other than candles.
A man could lie dead in the streets for a week and all they would do in that part of town would be to take the boots and clothes of the body and leave the remains for the cats and stray dogs to eat.
“It’s a bit late at night for a visit,” said Johnny half-heartedly. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Van Gogh shot him a look that told Reeves tomorrow would be far too late. So, trusting in fate, Johnny Reeves, Macka McCall and Milton Van Gogh began walking toward Collingwood’s oldest and darkest part. The trip meant passing by Busy O’Brien’s place in Hoddle Street.
“Do ya mind if I just pop in to see me mate?” said Johnny.
Milton Van Gogh shrugged his shoulders. Johnny darted up the front path, the whole ten feet to O’Brien’s front door. Busy had had the electricity put on since Fran Kinsella had agreed to move in with him and the porch light came on. Busy opened the front door in his slippers and trousers.
He was bare-chested under his red velvet dressing gown. The smell of good rich Irish stew wafted up the hallway and out the front door.
“Hello Busy, we are taking a little stroll over to Calcutta,” said Reeves, using the nickname for that part of Collingwood never entered by normal men.
“Calcutta,” said Busy, surprised. “What on earth for?”
Then Milton Van Gogh stepped into the light from the porch and Busy O’Brien recognised him at once.
“Oh yes, well,” said Busy. “I’m about to have me tea. Come in all of ya. Have tea with me and I’ll get changed and join ya.”
Milton Van Gogh didn’t need a second invitation. He hadn’t eaten since the day before. When Fran saw the three men enter the lounge room she greeted Johnny Reeves and Macka McCall with a big smile and a friendly hello then froze at the sight of Milton Van Gogh.
“Holy mother of God” she exclaimed.
“It’s all right, my darling,” said Busy. “Three more for dinner, no problem at all, hey pet? Plenty for everyone.” Fran nodded in agreement. But she was still in a state of fascination, as if a rat had crawled up out of the drain and come inside to say hello and have tea.
“Well,” she said desperately, trying to sound at ease, “would you boys like to wash up before we eat?”
Johnny Reeves and Macka McCall were spotlessly clean, but Milton Van Gogh’s hands were as black as a mother-in-law’s heart. Fran took them to the laundry, ran cold water into a pan and handed them a block of soap and a clean white towel. Johnny and Macka gave their mitts a lick and a promise, but it was all a novelty to Milton. His lot didn’t get much chance of a tub where he came from, so he set to and washed his face and neck as well as his hands. By the time he had dried himself the white towel looked like a garage grease rag, but Milton looked fresher and cleaner. When he got back to the lounge he saw that the kitchen table had been moved there and five places set on a clean white table cloth with big white china plates full of rich hot Irish stew and two china plates in the centre of the table loaded high with slices of white bread and butter.
Milton couldn’t recall in his whole life seeing such lavish fare. There were five seven-ounce glasses, one in front of each setting, and Fran pulled four bottles of Abbots Lager out of the ice chest and put them at the end of the table. The fire was going and the electric radio was playing quietly in the background. Fran invited everyone to sit. Then Busy asked Johnny to say Grace.
Milton Van Gogh was in a state of shock at such culture and civilisation. “Grace, indeed,” he thought, while Johnny proceeded with head bowed and eyes closed.
“Dear Lord, for what we are about to receive may we be truly thankful. Bless this food and the hands that prepared it, in Thy name. Amen.”
“Amen,” mumbled Milton Van Gogh with the others. He was a quick learner. And with that the meal began. Irish Stew, bread and butter and a cold beer to wash it down. Busy O’Brien had relaxed and was enjoying the role of mine host, inviting Milton to second helpings of stew and more beer which the hungry Van Gogh readily accepted.
Fran heard a tune on the radio and turned it up, telling one and all it was Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.
“Do you like music, Milton?” she asked.
Milton Van Gogh was tongue-tied in the presence of such a cultured and wonderful lady and flushed crimson with embarrassment unable to reply.
“I like Bing Crosby,” said Macka McCall.
Fran Kinsella ignored McCall and aimed her eyes and conversation at Milton Van Gogh again.
“Have you ever heard the Harry James Band, Milton? Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t mind me calling you Milton, do you Mr Van Gogh?”
Milton stammered then said “No, no, not at all,” trying to put on his best speaking voice. “Milton’s fine, and no I’ve never heard of Harry Jones.”
“James,” said Fran gently, with a smile.
“Harry James. Oh well, no, I’ve never heard of him neither,” said Milton.
The others at the table smiled at Fran’s conversation with the legendary Collingwood monster from the black hole of Calcutta. It reminded Busy of the story of the frog and the princess. Van Gogh was transforming into a civilised human being before their very eyes all because someone he thought was a beautiful princess had bothered to talk to him. Yes, indeed. Busy was glad they had all dropped in for tea. This was worth its weight in gold.
“Well,” said Fran, when the meal was nearly over. “Plum Duff for seconds. Who’s for pudding and cream?” Milton Van Gogh couldn’t answer. He simply held up his hand like a schoolboy.
Fran got up and went into the kitchen, and a little while later was back with bowls of hot plum pudding covered in cream and icing sugar.
“God,” thought Milton. “No wonder they called Johnny Reeves the King of Collingwood. His gang live like kings.” It was luxury beyond Van Gogh’s wildest imagination. Totally unbelievable. And what of this princess of a lady serving this magnificent meal. What an angel. Milton Van Gogh was indeed seeing how the other half of Collingwood lived. That it was even flasher just across the Yarra was a concept he didn’t really understand. There was no television in those days, and people only knew what they saw with their own eyes.
Conversation over plum pudding turned to politics. Joe Lyons was still Prime Minister at the time. There was talk that either Earl Page or Bob Menzies would win in 1939 because that’s when the next election was due. Van Gogh had heard of none of these blokes but felt he should contribute to the conversation.
“What happened to Billy Hughes?” said Milton.
“He got turfed out in 1923,” said Macka McCall. “Labour lost and Stanley Bruce and the Nationalist Party took over till 1929, then Scullin and Labour again till 1932. Now we have Lyons and the United Party.”
Milton didn’t need a history lesson. He shot McCall a savage look.
“Are you trying to take the piss?” he said.
“No, of course Macka wasn’t doing that, Milton,” said Fran with a heart-warming smile and with that Van Gogh’s mood mellowed at once.
“Sorry, McCall,” said Milton. “I misunderstood.”
“That’s fine,” said Macka, greatly relieved that Fran had smoothed that little lot over. After tea the things were cleared away and the table put back into the kitchen. Fran turned the radio up because the news was coming on. Busy broke out Scotch whisky and glasses and Milton was sat down in a soft leather chair with a glass of Scotch and offered an after dinner cigar. He would have thought he was in the Melbourne Club, if he’d known what the Melbourne Club was.
The news came on. Joe Lyons was telling the nation that Adolf Hitler was no problem whatsoever. It was all a storm in a tea cup and the British Government and the German Government were more allies than enemies. Not a problem in the world. Rumours of war with England and Germany were total nonsense.
“I told ya so,” said Busy to Johnny.
“Who’s Hitler?” said Milton.
It was quite obvious by now that Milton neither owned a radio nor read newspapers.
“He’s the Chancellor of Germany,” said Fran.
“Oh,” said Milton. “What happened to Kaiser Bill?”
The conversation was now taking a ridiculous turn. Johnny broke in, trying to play the diplomat.
“Well, it’s getting late,” he said. “We best be off. Fran, can we borrow Busy for a while?”
“Certainly” said Fran. “Bernard, you had best wear your top coat.”
All the men looked at Busy without actually laughing out loud, but you could see what they were thinking. “Bernard” said Johnny slowly, almost smiling. “Bernard, indeed.”
Busy blushed red and Fran added to the flame of embarrassment by kissing him on the cheek and brushing his overcoat down with her hand as if he was a little boy. Fran was in fact some inches taller than the little thickset man. The whole sight was quite comic.
The four men set off across Hoddle Street waving Fran goodbye as she stood under the porch light, then they turned down Collingwood Lane and on into the blackness and filth of Milton Van Gogh’s home turf.
“By the way,” said Busy to Johnny. “What’s this all about?”
Johnny patted Busy on the shoulder as they walked through the unlit street. It was as dark as the inside of a cow, but smelt worse. “I have absolutely no bloody idea,” he said as they turned a corner. They passed a narrow house with a dim light coming from a window and the sound of a woman crying. The street was about ten to twelve feet wide and cobblestoned and her crying, although soft, was clear.
“Smell that,” said Busy in a whisper.
Johnny knew what the smell was, as did Busy. The 1914–18 war taught them plenty about the smell of death.
“Someone’s dead in that house,” whispered Busy.
“Keep walking,” said Johnny.
Both men were clutching the revolvers in their coat pockets. At the end of the street was a house with a porch light on. Jangly piano music was leaking out from somewhere behind the front door. Three men stood in front of the house – big, mean, savage looking brutes. As Johnny, Macka and Busy got closer the three bruisers looked as if they were about to attack. That’s until they spotted Milton Van Gogh in the group. Then the three thugs smiled.
“How’s it going, Milt?” said the bigger of the three men.
The front door opened and a girl, no more than 14 or 15 years old, stood in the open door way totally naked with her hands combing her hair. She had hair the colour of golden honey and the body of a well-developed woman, but her face betrayed her years. She had the face of a child. A tough, corrupted child with sad eyes that were soon going to be bad or mad eyes.
“Ya wanna have a go, boys?” she called, and rubbed her fingers between her legs suggestively “Come on fellas, wanna go, two bob a time?”
Johnny and his crew kept walking, but one of the three thugs called out. “She’ll do it for a shilling.” Johnny Reeves stopped and said “hang on”.
Then he walked back and spoke to the three evil bastards.
“My name is Johnny Reeves, heard of me?”
“Yeah,” said the biggest of the three men. Johnny pulled out a pound note. “Here ya go, buy that poor cow something to eat and give her the night off.”
Johnny turned to the young girl. “What’s your name kid?”
The girl quickly grabbed a dressing gown and covered herself. Poor people’s old fashioned respect for “a gentleman” was ingrained and the teenage whore knew at once Johnny Reeves was someone of some importance.
“Brown,” she said. “Betty Brown.”
“Ya know the Kitten Club in Cromwell Street?” said Johnny.
“Nah,” said the girl. “Heard of it but I’ve never seen it.”
“It’s open from 6 o’clock at night till 2 or 3 in the morning Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. A good girl can pull ten bob a night in tips. The boss lady is a lady called Shirley Phillips. Tell her Johnny Reeves sent ya.”
As he spoke he rolled and wrapped a ten bob note around a two bob coin then tossed it at the young girl. She caught the money and Johnny turned to the three men.
“Is that all right with you chaps?”
“No problem,” said one of the men. “Thanks Mr Reeves.”
Johnny, Macka, Busy and Milton walked on.
“Who are those blokes?” asked Johnny.
Milton kept walking. “One’s her brother. The other two are cousins,” he said. “Her dad hung himself three years ago. Her mum stuck her head in the gas oven a month ago.”
“Jesus Christ,” said Johnny. “Yeah, well,” said Milton “it’s hard times all round, Mister Reeves.”
Johnny was a bit taken back at Van Gogh’s use of the words Mister Reeves.
The group turned into a street even narrower and darker than the one they’d left. There was some light coming from a few houses and the sounds of Bing Crosby coming out of another. Another group of rough-looking men stood in front of another house smoking cigarettes.
“How’s it going, Milt?” said one man.
Van Gogh’s only reply was a grunt and Johnny and his group walked on past.
“Who are they?” asked Busy.
Van Gogh grunted again. “Teagarden and his crew”.
“Oh,” said Macka McCall, “I’m related to the Teagardens.”
“Yeah, well maybe we can stop in for tea on the way back,” Van Gogh sneered.
“I don’t think we’ll bother,” said McCall.
The group of men they had just passed made the other crew look like pansies. Bloody hell, thought Johnny, without Milton as a guide a bloke could get his throat cut and vanish forever in this part of town after dark.
They turned into yet another narrow street and then reached a small house which, to everyone’s amazement and relief, had an electric porch light on.
“Ahh, home at last,” said Van Gogh. “Good old Blood Street”.
The whole street smelt like an open toilet to the visitors, but it was home to Milton Van Gogh, and they weren’t going to say anything out of order.
Milton pulled out a big key and opened the front door and everyone walked in. The whole house was lit with electric light, much to Johnny’s surprise, but apart from that the squalor and poverty was clear to see. In the lounge room, sitting around an open fireplace, sat three other younger Van Gogh brothers. It looked like the mentally insane gathering for a chat. In one chair sat a quite obviously dead policeman in full uniform minus his boots. Johnny shot a sneaky glance at the new boots Milton was wearing, and didn’t need to ask any silly questions re footwear.
“These are me brothers Harold, Herbert and Hector,” said Milton. “Olly and Fletcher are in Pentridge and we lost Rolly and Nifty in the war. Dad’s in Mont Park. We won’t see him no more. Mum necked herself in 1926, so this is it. Oh, except for the kids. There is twelve of them, but they all live with their mothers, not with us.”
Johnny hadn’t come for the Van Gogh family history. He was looking at the dead copper in silent amazement.
“By the marks on his neck,” said Busy, taking a professional interest, “I’d say this bloke’s been strangled.”
Hector beamed up a big smile. “I did it,” he volunteered proudly.
“Ya see, Mister Reeves, the boys had ventured out to Smith Street and this copper had a go at ’em so Heck here snapped his neck. The lads didn’t know what to do with the body so they carried him home,” explained Milton.
“When did this happen?” asked Macka McCall.
“Oh,” said Milton “about three o’clock this arvo.”
“Hang on,” said Johnny “you three carried a dead copper back here from Smith Street in the middle of the afternoon.”
“Macka, you gotta gun?”
“Yeah,” said McCall.
“Then get out of here fast. Get over to Regan’s place and get back here with his car”.
“What?” said Busy.
“Yes,” said Johnny. “Regan’s Buick.”
“Well, boys,” said Johnny, as Macka hurried out the door. “We’ve got the car. You got the shovel?”
“Ha, ha. Yeah, Mister Reeves,” said Milton Van Gogh. “We got the shovel, all right.” He was laughing, but there wasn’t much humour in it.
COLLINGWOOD, 1996. The sound of someone singing floated out of the windows of the unmarked Commodore.
Beautiful Dreamer wake unto me, starlight and dew drops are waiting for thee. Sounds of the rude world heard in the day, lulled by the moonlight have all passed away.
Beautiful dreamer, Queen of my song, list while I woo thee with soft melody. Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng.
Beautiful Dreamer awake unto me. Beautiful Dreamer awake unto me, Beautiful Dreamer out on the sea. Mermaids are chanting the wild loralee, over the streamlet vapors are borne, waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful Dreamer, beam of my heart, E’en as the moon on the streamlet and sea then will all clouds of sorrow depart. Beautiful Dreamer awake unto me, Beautiful Dreamer awake unto me.
“Ahh,” sighed Detective Chief Superintendent Graeme Westlock, “that is a beautiful old song, Doc. Who taught you to sing that?”
Detective Sergeant John “Doc” Holliday looked far away. He was feeling sentimental. “My old Auntie Betty,” he answered. “She was an old Collingwood girl.”
“Yeah, Betty Brown,” said Westlock. “I recall my old man making mention of her. Tough as old boots, he reckoned. She ran the Kitten Club in Cromwell Street till 1960. That was a famous old haunt. Or infamous, anyway. Squizzy Taylor started it up back about 1920, didn’t he?”
Doc Holliday nodded. “And she was your auntie, Doc?” asked Westlock, looking surprised.
“Mother’s cousin, really,” said Doc. “But she was always good to me when Mum died.”
Westlock began to get into a bit sentimental, too. “My old grand dad used to sing a song,” he confided. “I was only a little kid when he did. He was in his 90s when he finally dropped, old Taffy Westlock.
“Shit,” said Doc Holliday. “Taffy Westlock was a freaking legend.”
“Yeah, well, like I said,” Westlock mused, “Grand dad used to sing cowboy songs. One old one went something like this:
Step aside you ornery tenderfeet, let a big bad buckeroo pass,
I’m the toughest hombre you’ll ever meet though I may be the last. Yes
sir ree we’re a vanishing race, no sir ree, can’t last long.
Step aside you ornery tenderfeet while I sing my song.
I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande.
“Hang on,” said Doc. “Shush, here they come.”
Two men began moving out of the Federal Credit Union on Smith Street. There was no trouble picking them from shoppers. They were armed and fully masked.
“Now, now, now!” yelled Westlock into his walkie talkie. “Move it, move it”.
As he spoke, a dozen men wearing navy blue overalls and face masks and carrying pump actions and other heavy duty firepower appeared from the back of two parked vans and from behind fences and brick walls. There were yells and screams and all hell broke loose. One of the masked men coming out of the credit union raised his gun. Westlock yelled “Hit him, hit him!” and not one of his men failed to oblige. It was like a bloody firing squad without the blindfold and the last cigarette. Then the second gun man made a tactical error by sticking his hand into his carry bag. Westlock screamed “hit him” and a dozen more shots rang out. He would have been better advised to have thrown himself on the ground and played dead, but as it turned out he didn’t have to do any acting.
When the gunsmoke settled both would-be armed bandits lay dead with 17 bullet and shotgun wounds between them. They had a very severe case of lead poisoning.
“God bless the special operations group,” said Doc Holliday. “Saves the rest of us having to kill the buggers.”
“Hey Stan,” Westlock joked and ruffled his friend’s hair in the old Laurel and Hardy routine. “It certainly does, Olly. Ha ha, it certainly does.”
The pair had remained seated in the car through the whole thing. Detective Chief Inspector Clay Allison ran up to Westlock’s car.
“All correct, sir. Suspects secure, crime scene secure, ambulance on its way, homicide notified, coroner notified, Assistant Commissioner informed.”
Westlock nodded and ripped the top off a cold can of beer.
“You can have this one, Clay. Keep my name out of it. I’ve got enough on me bloody plate.”
Clay Allison smiled. A tactical arrest of this size and drama would either get him promoted or jailed, and he was willing to take the punt.
“Oh, oh,” said Holliday. “Let’s go. TV crews.”
“Shit,” said Westlock.
“Okay, Doc. Step on it. We’re outta here. She’s all yours, Clay.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll take care of it.”
By the time Allison saluted Doc Holliday had the wheels spinning.
“Ha ha,” laughed Doc. “Allison’s got a bit to learn. Ha ha.”
“Ah, well,” said Westlock. “What do ya expect? He’s spent the last 10 years in admin, and before that he was Bendigo CIB. Cattle duffers and sheep thieves.”
Westlock studied the two BCI files in his hands. They told him everything the law had compiled on the dearly departed Bruno Picasso and Jason Kinsella.
“Picasso, that’s Bonventre’s brother-in-law, isn’t he?”
Holliday nodded “Yeah, they are all in the same family.”
Westlock didn’t need to ask about the young Kinsella kid. The Kinsellas, O’Briens, O’Connells, O’Gradys, Griffins, Browns, Phillips, Reeves, Peppers, Maloneys, Featherstones, Taylors, Malloys, Carrolls, Toys, O’Shaughnessys, Van Goghs, Burns, Carmichaels . . . the list of relatives went on, from street to street. Kinsella was pure Collingwood. What Westlock did not share with his old friend Doc Holliday as they drove along was that one of his own aunties was a Kinsella. Small bloody world, thought Westlock. That kid Kinsella was some sort of prick relative, albeit through marriage.
Ah well, we all have our little secrets, thought Westlock. Doc wouldn’t care anyway. Shit, his Auntie Betty has given birth to more bastard kids, and all fathered by crims, than any whore in Melbourne. She was a legend.
Westlock gave his old mate a sideways glance. If Doc hadn’t joined the force he would have become a criminal. Gunman for sure. Lovable bloody mental case, he sniggered to himself. He began to sing his Grandad’s old song as they drove along.
I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande, but my legs ain’t bowed and my cheeks ain’t tanned.
I’m an old cowboy who never saw a cow, never roped a steer, cause I don’t know how and I sure ain’t fixin to start now.
Yippy I oh, I’m an old cowboy . . .
REGGIE “Rat” Kinsella walked out of the milk bar across the road from the Leinster Arms Hotel. Archie Reeves and Neville and Normie Reeves were waiting for him. Reggie unwrapped a new pack of smokes and pulled one out. A heated movie debate was showing no signs of running out of steam. “Quentin Tarantino makes the best movies. True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs” said Archie Reeves.
“Bullshit,” said Normie. “Reservoir Dogs was crap. Big deal, some nitwit got his ear cut off and it’s meant to be shock horror. Shit, ears have been coming off in Melbourne since the 1970s. It got to be a bit of a fashion for a while. All the best lookin’ blokes in Pentridge were doin’ it.”
Neville broke in. “Remember when John Travolta shot that coon’s head off in the back of the car in Pulp Fiction? He used an H and K 9 mil. automatic and he didn’t break the rear window. The slug didn’t pass through the head. That’s shit. An H and K 9 mil. auto would pass through a dozen heads.
“Also,” said Normie, eager to add to his brother’s argument. “There is no great splatter of blood from a bullet hole in the face, not even from a point blank shot gun blast. A bullet implodes. It don’t explode. The damage is all inwards, not outwards.”
They all agreed on this. They could hardly read and write between them, but they seemed to know a shitload about ballistics and film making. Some things you don’t learn in primary school.
“You can stand point blank in front of anyone and let them have it in the nose, mouth, eye, balls, with anything you like and you won’t get so much as a microscopic spot of blood on ya cos it all goes inward, not outward.”
They all agreed again, but Archie Reeves couldn’t let it rest. He was like a dog with a bone, the way gangsters are about gangster films. “Yeah. Tarantino might be a good movie maker but it’s easy to see he ain’t never shot no-one. Shootin’ people is clean. The slug or shot enters the body faster than the speed of sound and everything in its way blows with it, not against it.” Reggie the Rat nodded.
“Now, if you was standing on the other side of the body – yeah well, that’s a different story.”
They all nodded solemnly.
“I reckon Samuel L. Jackson and his Ezekiel 25.17 stuff was sensational,” said Neville.
“Nah, I liked Mister Wolf, Harvey Keitel,” said Normie.
Archie broke in. “Harvey Keitel is in a movie called Bad Lieutenant, have you blokes seen it?”
Reggie Rat, Neville and Normie all shook their heads.
As all this flapdoodle was going on Anne Griffin came out of the pub and walked across the road.
“Hey fellas, the jacks just got Bruno Picasso and Jason Kinsella,” she said.
Archie Reeves yelled out, “It would be that maggot Westlock again.”
“Nah,” said Annie. “It was the SOG and some nuff nuff named Clay Allison, a Detective Chief Inspector.”
After the news sank in Reggie the Rat spluttered, “These turds are getting a bit out of hand. Jason was just a harmless junkie. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Why shoot him?”
His eyes filled with tears. “I had better head home, Mum and Auntie Jan will be freaking out,” he said.
With that Reggie the Rat headed off down Gold Street.
“Do ya reckon he will back up?” said Anne indicating toward Reggie Rat.
“Nah,” said Archie, “the Kinsellas are all good roots but they ain’t good robbers.”
“Reggie and his crew will talk tough and cry a lot then expect us to back up for ’em”.
“Yeah well,” said Normie. “Let’s all go round and comfort Tessa. Ha ha ha.”
With that Normie and Archie Reeves all headed off for the brothel in Cromwell Street, Collingwood.
Tessa Kinsella was the junkie wife of young Jason Kinsella. She had a three gram a day heroin habit and the looks that could feed it, while they lasted. She was a long-legged, big-eyed, flat chested thing with a set of lips on her that would put Mick Jaggar to shame. She had long jet-black hair and vivid blue eyes. She stood an easy six feet tall in her high heels and was super model thin.
I guess one could say she was outrageously glamorous in a gutter slut sort of way. She had been married to Jason since she was 18, and had been married about 18 months, so that made her close to 20 years old.
By the time the boys got to the Cromwell Street brothel Tessa was in tears and hanging out and flew into Archie Reeves’s arms when the three young men walked in the door.
“Ahh Archie, they shot Jason,” she sobbed.
It was a tragic scene with Tessa in her silk dressing gown and stiletto high heels. Archie was the very picture of the comforting friend and he wrapped his arms around the heartbroken girl.
“She’s sweet, Tessa,” said Archie.
Tessa just sobbed. Normie winked at Neville and Neville pulled out a plastic bag containing two full ounces of near pure heroin.
“Got a spoon?” Neville asked and a big bleached blonde named Sandie hurried off and returned with a spoon, several new fits and a cup of water. Two other girls appeared like magic. One was a strung-out whore who looked like a skun rabbit and the other was a dead set proper schoolgirl in full college uniform. She was a vision in navy blue tunic, white shirt, blue tie, white socks, black shoes, navy blue blazer and a blue and white hat.
“What’s your name, kid?” said Normie.
“Amy Jo,” said the girl, fluttering her eye lashes over her big brown eyes. Her brown hair was in tightly tied pigtails. She looked as neat and clean as a new pin.
Neville pointed to the bag of heroin on the coffee table and said “Ya want some?”
Amy Jo wet her lips with her tongue and nodded eagerly.
Neville started to mix up a full gram of near pure, enough for three or four good hits. Then he loaded up four fits and said “go for it”.
Sandie picked up a fit and tapped it then stuck it in her arm and got the vein first time. Archie was giving Tessa a hand with hers and the nameless strung-out whore had hers.
Neville held the last loaded fit up and handed it to Amy Jo. The school girl took off her blazer and rolled her white shirt sleeve up and said “Give us a hand will ya.” Neville injected her. The school girl closed her eyes then moaned “ohh yeah” and began scratching her arse with one hand and her nose with the other. “Ohh yeah, that’s fantastic,” said Amy Jo.
Neville was not one to let a chance go by and he led the school girl quietly away, down the hall.
“I don’t work here” said Amy Jo, “I’m waiting for my mum”.
“Oh yeah,” said Neville, “and who’s ya mum?”
“Stella Phillips,” said Amy Jo.
Neville stopped and looked at Normie who was by this time standing there with his pants down around his knees and in the process of offering Sandie something to chew on.
Normie looked at Neville. “Ahh, bugger it, Neville,” he said. “What Stella don’t know won’t hurt her.”
Meanwhile Archie was ushering Tessa quietly down the hallway and into a private room. Tessa had stopped her tears and was acting most unlike the grieving widow. Heroin, Normie thought to himself as Sandie swallowed the sword, as long as ya didn’t use it, ya totally owned and controlled the human filth who did. Normie didn’t use, neither did Neville. Archie was a weekender. Normie patted Sandie’s head. “Good girl, baby. That’s right, keep going.”
Normie despised junkies. They were there to use and to be tossed away like human condoms. Blow in ’em and flush ’em. Jason Kinsella’s grieving widow was screaming like a wild pig from the room down the hall as Archie let her have it. Her husband’s body was still warm and a quarter gram blast up the arm made everything better. Low life dog moll, thought Normie.
SATURDAY night, 2 March, 1996. Graeme Westlock sat in his office in the St Kilda Road Police Complex looking at a wall full of photos. Archie Reeves, Neville and Normie Reeves, Earl Teagarden, Chang Heywood, Kristy Toy, Anne Griffin, Johnny Pepper, Sonny Carroll, Sean Maloney, Pat O’Shaughnessy, Preston Phillips, Billy Burns, Bunny Maloy, Ferdie Taylor, Greg Featherstone.
Next to them were the dagos. N’Dranghita, L’Onorata Societa, Bonventre, Castronovo, Salvatore, Greco, Mazzara, Mazzurco, Rocca Corsettie, Carrasella, Della Torre.
There was another section with O’Neil, McKeon, Kennedy, Scanlan, Fitzpatrick, McIntyre, Lonigan, Shee, McDougall, McCormack, O’Day, Duffy, O’Grady, Brady, Finnagan, Flannagan, Callaghan, Donovan, MacCreevy.
“What’s all this, Graeme?” asked Doc Holliday.
Westlock sighed. “The Aussies and the wogs.”
There was one Asian in the top right hand side.
“Tuyen Tran Truong,” said Westlock. “New boss of the White Rat.”
“Where’s all the Albanians?” asked Doc.
“Next room,” said Westlock. “Four walls full of ’em.”
Holliday opened the bar fridge and pulled out two cans and handed one to Westlock.
“Who do ya reckon will take over Collingwood, Phillips or the Reeves?”
That reminded Westlock of something. “Where the hell is young Ronnie Reeves and what happened to that big black chick we had our eye on?” he asked.
Doc Holliday turned the TV on. He wanted to see the outcome of the federal election.
“Montego Bay, Jamaica,” said Doc. “That’s what Ray Kelly reckons.”
“What?” asked Westlock incredulously.
“Ronnie Reeves and Coco Joeliene,” said Doc patiently. “Kelly reckons they are in the West Indies.”
“Fair dinkum,” said Westlock. “Well, half their luck.”
John Howard was giving his victory speech on TV. Westlock got to his feet.
“Well, Doc, it looks like it’s goodbye to the third best Irishman in Australian history, next to Ned Kelly and Squizzy Taylor.”
“Who’s that?” said Doc, and Westlock pointed to the TV.
“Paul bloody Keating, Doc. And he did it all without a stocking mask or a shotgun.”
Doc Holliday raised his beer can. “Hear, Hear, Graeme. To Paul Keating. Adios amigo.”
Graeme Westlock raised his beer can too. “Adios amigo.”
PRESTON Phillips sat in the bar of the Carringbush Hotel in Langridge Street, Abbotsford. He was sipping his beer and talking quietly with Billy Burns, Bunny Malloy and Johnny Pepper.
“There’s a dog in the camp, I’m sure of it,” said Phillips.
His drinking companions all nodded in agreement.
“This shit with young Jason Kinsella, that’s just one of many, I’m tellin ya. We got a talker in the tent.”
Burns spoke up, “What about the young blokes?”
“Who?” said Phillips.
Billy felt embarrassed even to suggest it but went on.
“Archie, Nev and Norm”.
“Nah,” said Bunny Malloy. “The Reeves are as solid as rocks.”
“What about the girls?” said Johnny Pepper.
“Anne, Kristy and that crew.”
Billy Burns disagreed with that.
“No,” said Preston. “Let’s not jump at shadows. Let’s just be aware of it and watch and wait. It’s someone on the inside yet far enough out of things not to be noticed.”
“How do ya mean?” said Johnny Pepper.
“Everyone has someone who isn’t in the crew who they trust.”
“That don’t make sense,” said Bunny Malloy.
“Yeah, well,” continued Preston Phillips, “every one of us has a mother or a sister or an auntie or a granny or an uncle or a brother, someone close who isn’t really in the inner clique yet totally trusted. So watch what ya say to anyone not on the inside. If they don’t need to know, tell ’em nothing, okay.”
They all nodded in agreement, but left the pub amazed and shocked. Preston had in his own roundabout way told them that someone had a mother, sister, auntie, granny, uncle or brother who was a dog and that meant that someone on the inside was about to lose a family member. Preston Phillips got into his car and drove over to his sister-in-law’s place in Wellington Street, Collingwood.
Stella Phillips used to be Stella Bennett until she married Leo Phillips, then Leo went missing during the Rabbit Kisser war and Stella got left with young Amy Jo. Poor Stella, she was 36 years old and totally paranoid about growing old. She’d had a face lift, bottom lift, tummy tuck. She’d had her eyes done and her lips blown up as well as a silicone boob job and her hair was peroxide platinum blonde. She looked like a sex offender’s wet dream, a blown-up Barbie doll from head to toe. Add a morphine addiction to all of the above and that was Stella. Preston had a boot full of hot leather gear he was taking to Stella’s place. Leather jackets, leather mini skirts, leather pants. The latest in ladies sexy leather. About 12 cows gave their lives to rap this one up in animal skin. Stella loved all that fashion bullshit.
Preston pulled up and got out of his car, pulled two large bags full of gear out of the boot, then went in to Stella’s place and rang the bell. After about forty seconds young Amy Jo answered the door in full school uniform. Preston thought to himself, little Amy lives in that bloody uniform from the time she gets up till bed time. God, thought Preston, she’s smacked off her face again. Amy Jo’s eyes were pinned and she was rubbing her nose.
“Oh, hi ya, Uncle Pres,” said Amy Jo and gave him a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Preston wondered if Amy Jo’s morphine-addict mother knew that her teenage daughter was a heroin junkie.
“Mum’s in the bath,” said Amy Jo. “Sit down.”
Preston sat on the couch and Amy Jo sat on the floor in front of the telly.
“Uncle Pres,” said Amy Jo.
“Yeah,” said Preston.
“Do you know Neville and Normie Reeves and Archie Reeves?”
Preston Phillips looked at his niece in a serious manner.
“Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Amy Jo. “I met them the other day.”
“Where?” said Preston
“At the pinball place in Smith Street.”
“Oh,” said Preston, looking a bit doubtful and wondering what the hell three of Collingwood’s most insane low lives were doing in a bloody pinball parlour.
“Ya know, Amy,” said Preston. “I’ve known those three young blokes all their lives and they would kill their own mothers for sixpence. Don’t get me wrong, they are top blokes and bloody great to have on side. Blood relatives of Ripper Roy himself, God rest his soul, but they would rape a dog on a chain and kill each other if the price was right. Please, Amy, don’t you start knocking around with the Reeves boys.”
“Oh, no. Uncle Preston,” said Amy Jo, as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. “I just met them and they were very, very polite.”
“They didn’t give you drugs did they?” asked Preston suspiciously.
“Oh no,” said Amy Jo.
Preston thought to himself as his niece sat on the floor cross legged with her dress up around her thighs, smacked off her tits, that someone was giving the lying little cow drugs. Preston didn’t believe the goody goody two shoes act for a moment. But what could he do?
His brain snapped back into life when Stella wafted into the room. The smell of her perfume would have hit the nose of anyone within a 20 yard radius. Stella was pink from her hot bath and wrapped in a satin dressing gown, a shiny black affair, and wearing black high heeled slippers. She was towelling the long mop of wet platinum blonde hair.
“Oh hi, Pres,” said Stella. “Oh, is that the leather gear? Oh great.”
Amy Jo turned to watch TV and Stella bent and whispered in Preston’s ear.
“Have you got it?” and with that Preston pulled out a packet of 100 morphine tablets. Stella took them and popped the parcel into her dressing gown pocket then turned and walked into the kitchen. At the same time Amy Jo turned and gave her Uncle Preston a knowing wink. God, thought Preston, here I am asking Amy Jo about drugs and she knows I’m supplying her mother with morphine.
As Amy Jo lay on her tummy on the floor she was lifting her feet up in the air. One foot at a time. Somehow her school tunic had ridden up and a fair portion of her bare bottom was exposed. To Preston’s shock his niece was quite plainly wearing a black thong high-cut gee string sort of affair. Shit, thought Preston, strippers wear that sort of gear, not school girls.
Stella came back into the lounge and noticed Preston looking at her daughter’s bottom.
“Pull ya skirt down, Amy. Ya wanna give Uncle Pres a heart attack.”
Amy Jo obeyed her mother then turned and gave her Uncle Preston a cheeky grin. Stella sat down on the couch next to Preston.
“I’m a bit worried about young Amy,” she said.
Yeah, thought Preston, I would be too.
COLLINGWOOD, 1975. Ripper Roy Reeves sat at a table in the Caballero Night Club in Smith Street. Also at the table was his old Uncle Regan Reeves and his other uncles, as he called them, Eoin Featherstone and Padraic O’Shaughnessy. Old Regan was in tears.
Terry Maloney brought over a tray with glasses and a large bottle of Irish whiskey. Arthur Featherstone tended the bar, the club was otherwise closed. It was a sad day. The former Prime Minister and President of the Irish Free State, the great Eamon de Valera, was dead. “1882 to 1975,” said Roy. “He had a good innings. I’ll fly ya all over to the funeral if ya like, Uncle Regan.”
“No, boy,” said Padraic, looking at Regan. “His heart won’t take a plane ride. It would kill him.”
The three old IRA men sat in silence and tears, drinking their whiskey.
“He was the greatest Irishman alive,” said Regan.
Roy broke in, “next to Squizzy Taylor and Ned Kelly. Ha ha ha.”
Regan laughed too. “That’s what Johnny said or something like that when we first met him back in ’27. We toasted de Valera and he toasted Squizzy Taylor. Ya know ya dad was the man who tried to shoot Phar Lap?”
Roy sighed. “Yeah, I’ve heard that old wives’ tale a thousand times but it’s never been proved to me. I don’t really like being reminded that my old man tried to shoot Phar Lap.”
“Famous story,” said Regan.
“Famous bit of flapdoodle if you ask me,” said Roy.
“Don’t talk about ya dad like that,” said Regan. “Johnny was a grand man. He died a war hero, ya know.”
“Really,” said Roy. “I heard he broke his neck trying to jump off a tram in Swanston Street blind drunk.”
“Lies,” said Eoin. “Filthy bloody lies. He died a war hero.”
Roy had heard various yarns about his mysterious old father but he had never really questioned his dad’s oldest living friends on the matter.
Even his Auntie Brigid and Auntie Colleen and Roy’s own mother didn’t want to talk about it much. Died in the war. Died in America. Died in Ireland. What did it matter now, anyway? But he couldn’t help asking.
“Well, come on Uncle Regan, what the hell did happen?”
Regan polished off his third glass of whiskey and poured another.
“Well, young Roy, in June, 1942, MacArthur ordered 1000 militia men, the 39th Battalion or Maroubra Force to hold Kokoda and its airfield. The Japs took Kokoda on the 29th of July and forced back the Aussies. In August the first battalion of the 7th Division of the AIF was sent in to reinforce the 39th, and as the Japs advanced they met the Aussies face on and it was a blood bath.
“The Aussies retreated, but held the Japs up. And in retreat the Aussies won an important battle at Milne Bay on the 31st August. Kokoda was important because it had an airfield, and it was the only land route through the Owen Stanley Ranges to Port Moresby. Kokoda could only be reached by a winding trail over the Owen Stanley Ranges.”
“Hang on,” said Roy. “Where does my dad come into this?”
“Well,” said Regan, “Johnny died a hero during the battle of the Owen Stanley Ranges.”
Roy looked puzzled. “I got told by an old digger when I was a kid, in 1957 or ’58, that they put old Johnny in front of a firing squad after he shot his commanding officer in the back of the head.”
“No, no, no,” said Regan. “They were going to shoot him for that but before they could he died a hero in combat so he beat the army on a technicality.”
Roy smiled. “So you admit the old bastard did shoot his commanding officer?”
Regan looked a bit shy and smiled. “Well, yes, but he ran away right into the line of Jap fire and took seven Japs with him before he fell, and had he not killed his commanding officer I’m sure, my boy, that they would have given old Johnny the Victoria Bloody Cross.”
Roy smiled again. At last he heard a yarn he could half believe.
“Anyway,” said Regan, “we aren’t here for that. We are here to drink a last goodbye to the greatest Irish patriot who ever lived. Eamon De Valera.”
All the men stood and raised their glasses.
“To Eamon De Valera,” said Regan Reeves.
“Hear, hear,” said the gathering.
“Eamon De Valera. Adios amigo.”
‘This book is a work of literary fiction – all persons believing to recognize themselves are advised to seek professional guidance.’
Underworld executioner Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read became a bestselling author following the release of his autobiography Chopper: From the Inside. Drug dealers, pimps, thieves and armed robbers all lived in fear of the standover man, now Australia’s most notorious celebrity.
Chopper’s memoirs, written behind bars, chart his rise to infamy on the streets and in jail. Bleak, brutal and laced with dark humour, Chopper’s story gives the Australian public a truthful look at some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.
Featuring examples of Chopper’s poetry and fiction, The Singing Defective is a prime example of why Chopper enjoys such success in Australia’s literary scene.
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Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read
Mark Brandon Read remains one of Australia’s most controversial public figures. An ex-convict, author and celebrity, he was also a recording and performance artist. He died after a long battle with liver cancer in 2013.