“It doesn’t matter. We have to go home now, right now,” said my wife.
This all happened about four months ago, and it would be just another story except that it happened a few more times and with increased frequency.
I just read that back, and it sounds confusing — let me clarify.
The first time was with my wife; all the other times were random people — I just witnessed it.
All of the occurrences had the same things in common, a whisper followed by a sudden burst of action — often including a reversal of direction.
I just read that back, and it seems less confusing, but still a bit messy.
I’ll try again.
When I asked my wife, on the way home, what the tall semi-handsome man had whispered in her ear, she said that it was not so much what he said, but how he said it — the timbre of his voice.
“I know it sounds crazy, but a whole lot of my life flashed in front of my eyes, and I realised I was headed for,” she hesitated before saying, “ruin.”
“What sort of ruin,” I said, “the regular kind or a more interesting, exotic version.”
“I’m not kidding, Steven. I’m serious. Remember when Johnno gave me that tablet at that party (Helen was never big on details — it has always been my job to keep up)?”
“Yeah, I remember. You were out of it for days. You wanted me to scrape the bugs off the wallpaper and make a paste. We didn’t have wallpaper, and there weren’t any bugs.”
“Exactly. The whole thing was terrifying.”
“It didn’t stop you from taking anything Johnno put in front of you.”
“This did,” she said and slumped back in her seat as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
For the record, I’d been hanging around because I had a feeling that if I cut and ran, she would self destruct in a matter of weeks. I didn’t have a plan.
I long ago worked out that women and cats will do what they please, and men and dogs need to get used to the idea.
Johnno was and still is a good bloke, but he has a self-destructive streak you could land a plane on. So far, he has avoided death and destruction, but I have no idea why.
Let me take that back — I’m beginning to work it out.
The big bloke who whispered, ever so delicately, into my wife’s ear was wearing a long black coat, probably wool: large brass buttons, double-breasted, wide lapels.
I really wanted that coat.
The only concession to the heat inside the dance club was that he had the coat unbuttoned.
As I intimated earlier, I’ve seen him a few times since that night. Each time, he danced up to a female and whispered in her ear.
From that moment on, they were a changed person, and now I come to think about it, they were all customers of Johnno’s.
So that’s what it’s about.
“Do you realise that someone is stealing your customers? No, I don’t mean ‘stealing’, it’s more that this someone is turning your customers off your particular brand of wears.”
“I knew something was up. My customer base has halved in recent time. I figured that someone was undercutting me — it happens.”
Johnno was easily the most chilled out dealer I’d come across.
“How come you never buy from me?”
“I don’t buy from anyone. It’s against my religion to put anything in me that I don’t understand.”
“No. I’ve just ‘been there’, and it doesn’t interest me anymore. I get high watching my Helen live her life. She’s all I need.”
“Did you talk her out of buying from me,” said John. He wasn’t angry, just curious.
“No. It was this big bloke in a wool coat.”
“I’m serious. He’s been picking off your customers, one by one.”
“Holy shit. I know that bloke. He tried to talk me out of dealing a while back. Said I was wasting my life. I told him I was fine as I was — not lookin’ for a change. He leaned in and whispered in my ear. I wasn’t sure if he was going to have a go or kiss me. I’m not sure I could have taken him in a fight — big bloke.”
“What did he say when he whispered in your ear.”
“That’s the weird thing. It didn’t make any sense. It sounded like Latin or Aramaic or something.”
“You studied Aramaic?”
“Yeah and a bunch of other languages. I’ve got a bunch of degrees.”
“I remember, and you got them all while being completely off your face. While I, on the other hand, struggled through.”
“You did okay.”
“I guess I did, but I always envied your ability to easily remember stuff,” I said.
“I remember something else.”
“You remember everything Johnno.”
“The bloke in the coat looked confused after his ‘lean in’. I asked him if he was okay, and he asked me if I felt different. I told him I didn’t, and I’m pretty sure he swore in Aramaic, which was cool. The first thing you do when you learn a new language is to learn all the swear words. Icelandic swear words are the best, It sounds like you are coughing up a baby seal.”
“Johnno, this bloke is trying to put you out of business.”
Johnno thought about it, scratched his head and sat down.
“I’ve got a bit put away …”
“And a dozen degrees.”
“Yeah, that two. I could find something else to do, don’t you think?”
“Definitely,” I said, and I smiled the kind of smile you employ when you watch a video of a dog rescue — you can get back to your life knowing that the world is right again — at least for the time being.
“The bloke in the wool coat will be happy,” I said.
“I guess so.”
Johnno’s remaining customers were a bit pissed off, but he stuck to his guns. Drug addicts can always find another source — fickle bunch on the whole.
Helen’s decided to start an alternative school with all the money she isn’t spending on illegal substances, which is good. Who wouldn’t want and ex-addict as a school principal?
Last I heard, Johnno was working for the United Nations translating stuff so that annoyed diplomats could understand each other.
They gave him a car and everything.
I asked him how often he has to translate into Aramaic and he said there wasn’t a lot of call for it.
Good bloke Johnno, but not much of a sense of humour.