I’ve been beaten up on my doorstep before. It’s an occasional hazard, when you’re in a tough business and people know where to find you. Business associates, disgruntled clients, local law enforcement – and the odd outraged husband. They’ve all had a shot, with varying degrees of success.
Mostly they were big guys, with broken noses. It takes a certain sort of vicious confidence to swing on a man at his own house, particularly when you don’t know who else might be there. In my experience, that kind of confidence mostly comes with size. The broken noses are probably just an odd coincidence.
These two were different. They were both short – real short, around five foot - and they could have been brothers, with curly blonde hair, rosy cheeks, black suits and a bunch of puppy fat around their chins. They looked kind of cute, if you were that way inclined.
There was nothing cute about the squirrel grip that the first one applied to my nether regions the moment opened the door.
“Are you Tony Vidmar?” he asked, planting his other hand on my chest and shoving me back through the door and up against the wall.
“No,” I squeaked, as my eyes began to water.
“Are you sure?”
He had a grip like a fireman, and he didn’t even flinch when I got a hand up and slugged him on the jaw, so I gave up punching and decided to concentrate on trying to pry his fingers apart.
“So you are Tony Vidmar?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
His friend strolled into my entrance hall stood in front of me. He hooked a finger underneath my chin, and leaned in to my ear. He spoke slowly and softly, like he had all the time in the world.
“We’d like to talk to Fred Hollis and we can’t seem to find him. We understand you’re acting as his agent. Is that true?” he asked.
“Then you can take a message. Tell him that we know what he’s doing and We… Don’t… Like… It… At… All.”
The one who had the squirrel grip applied emphasised each word with a squeeze of his hand. After a last clench of his fist, he let go and stepped back to straighten his jacket. I collapsed onto my side and curled up, wheezing.
“Can I say who called?” I asked, hoarsely.
The one who’d been mauling me smiled down, straightening his tie.
“You can tell him it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said.
“The real ones,” added his friend, dropping a business card onto my chest.
* * *
A café on stilts sits on the hillside overlooking our construction site. It’s run by a greying Scottish couple and it would have had lovely views before we came along and filled the valley with cranes and trucks and scaffolding. Now it overlooks a kud pit. Their clientele has changed as well – they used to serve omelettes and eggs florentine to courting couples. Now it’s strictly steak and eggs, and their daughter doesn’t waitress any more.
I don’t think they’re unhappy, though. I pick up the tab for breakfast every week with my sub-contractors, and it makes me wince. Scottish jokes aside, I think by the end of the job they’ll have made enough money from us to pay off the mortgage on this place and buy another café in a place that still has some picturesque left.
They have a great view of the site. At ground level, pretty much everything has been covered in a thin sheen of red mud, making it difficult to tell who’s put what where, and what’s actually going on. It’s all slipping and sliding and swearing, and everything is happening in a crazed panic. From above it looks like a bustling and efficient construction site, and we can kid ourselves that we aren’t a month behind schedule.
The McCluskers have given me a permanent table on the veranda, with an ashtray and a non-stop supply of espresso. I sit there for a couple of hours most days, and ring through stupid questions to Luc and Dave, my site managers. Questions like: ‘Why are the guys on the gate letting someone steal that truck with 5 tons of cement on it?’ and ‘Who set fire to the canteen?’
It’s been a job with a lot of bad luck, a lot of outside interference, a lot of local trouble and the kinds of delays that the owners really can’t afford. That’s why they hired us.
I’m at my table when they arrive, flipping the newly acquired business card around my knuckles.
Those three stars are where I want to slap you silly.
And I'm not even a Jehovah's Witness.
You go from familiar but still wonderful mayhem...to steak and eggs? Cafe society? Family owned hash house??
William Howard Taft on a raft that transition was a crash and burn. Prune. Prune ruthlessly-like everything in red.
I love this kind of wild ass energy stuff but it's got to be as lean as an elite marathon runner. No Clydesdale category paragraphs allowed.