About four on a Monday afternoon, outside the ornate folly of the gothic / deco British Medical Association Building in Macquarie Street, I pick up a cheerful grape grower from Griffith and take him to the airport. He sells all his grapes to Yellowtail and that has made him rich and happy. Also curious : so I tell him a few details about how publishing works and he describes to me the way the Chinese are reverse engineering expensive Australian wines. We do not discuss the ‘Ndrangheta . . . I’m driving away from the airport east along Gardeners Road when, outside the Lakes Hotel, a skinny fellow in a leather jacket hails me from the other side of the road. I pull over and wait as he and his two companions, a skinny woman about his own age (late 30s?) and a bulky older fellow in a grey jacket pick their way through the traffic stopped at the lights and climb in the cab. Smelling of booze and cigarettes. The skinny couple in the back are, I realise, junkies : they have that insinuating junkie whine in their voices, that parched skin, sores on their faces; but he in the front is something else again. Pinkish and sandy, balding, probably about sixty with a cratered face and a voice such as I have never heard before and hope never to again. It emerges from the bubbling tar pit of his lungs with a gravelly insouciance that isn’t ever far from genuine threat; a drawl like an old queen commanding the infinite labyrinth of her corrupt shenanigans. Gravel, bubble, drawl, threat . . . he is having a good-natured argument with she in the back about a hotel he says they stayed in together ten years ago. In Elizabeth Street near the Railway Station, so far as I can tell : neither of them can remember its name. Once they have settled the fact that they are talking about the same place, and she denies ever having been there with him, he embarks on a detailed resume of its decor, lay-out, habitues, character, pleasures, dangers, all in that sinister drawl of his, making it sound like a stage set from the 1940s. The Big Sleep perhaps. Mitchum not Bogart. In the face of this degree of spooky recall, she in the back, unconvinced, allows that yes they might have shared a room there once; then falls to canoodling with her beau. Robert, for that is his name, remarks derisively that they are having a good day then says he wants to stop at an ATM. That’s what I used to call the crims in the jail in Queensland he says to no-one in particular as I pull up at a convenience store in Bourke Street, Waterloo, that has a Suncorp sign outside. ATMs . . . He comes back with a wad of fifty dollar notes and the talk turns to the scam they are engaged in. They’re going to rendezvous with a man called Huckleton in Darlington near Sydney Uni. O god I hope Huckleton isn’t going to be difficult, he says. You know how he gets . . . He undertakes to pay their junk bills for the next few days (an amount is mentioned) and also promises her a large cash reward if things work out. Set you up for years, darlin’ he says in a voice that drips, or rather bubbles, irony. Along McEvoy Street the beau in the back begins to rehearse the particulars of a brutal rape and murder that occurred in a building we are passing by but the others don’t want to know about ice-related crimes against Hong Kong Chinese. We are coming up through Erskineville when Robert says, speculatively, as if to himself: I think I might hire an actor. Yes, I think I will . . . I know just the right boy. A name is mentioned and the two in the back join a discussion of the ins and outs of what that might entail – the booking of a hotel room for instance – but I must have looked too interested because suddenly he, Robert, says: Let’s talk about this later . . . and they move on to other things. The hilarity Virgin health care cards for instance. Robert’s old wife’s old place in Erko. That tone of intimate threat is how he talks to me too and I feel quite safe so long as I don’t make any kind of mistake whatsoever, not even the whisper, or whisker, of a mistake; because then things might get very bad indeed very quickly. He is satirizing the junkie’s inability to come to any kind of decision as I crawl up from Abercrombie Street towards City Road and finally come to a stop just opposite the corner of Maze Crescent and Butlin Street in Golden Grove. Young Asian students in their neat clothes crowd the pavement; a mum with a kid in a stroller crosses in front of us; Robert takes a twenty dollar note from his wad, balances upon it three two dollar coins and hands it to me the way someone might hand you a plate with a sandwich on it. Naturally the coins fall and roll away under the seat. He bubbles that creepy laugh again. O, look what I’ve done, I’m just sooooo clumsy . . . is that alright, drive? My heart is beating quite fast now, I am beginning to sweat. Yes, I say, fine . . . I don’t try to retrieve the coins, I just watch the three of them stumble in drunken colloquy up towards City Road and, when the lights change, drive away down the hill towards Broadway and the city. Later I find two of them; the third turns out not to be a coin at all but a silver piece with a heart-shaped hole in the middle. Kiss token is written on one side; and on the other : Good for one kiss. I think I’ll redeem it, if at all, elsewhere and some other time.