The Town Hall was really jumping for the weekly Friday night dance. A new band from Macquarie Harbour was playing, calling themselves The Meteorites, and they were doing a pretty fair job, thought Joey Dunn. They were playing the latest hits from the radio, mixed in with a few Christmas classics, seeing as that was the season and the big day was now just a week away.
It was nineteen sixty-five, and Joey was one of the local rebels. Eighteen years old and from the wrong side of the tracks, or so they said, which he always thought was kind of funny considering that Thompsonville didn’t actually have any tracks.
He could almost always be found wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, the short sleeves rolled all the way up, and sometimes a leather jacket . . . at least when it wasn’t too hot, of course . . . and tonight was no different, despite the special occasion. He would often be seen with a cigarette hanging from his lips, and he liked Brylcream, slicking his black hair back and keeping it in place. Yeah, he was the king of cool in Thompsonville, or at least he thought he was; a real James Dean lookalike. Loved by the girls . . . looked up to by most of the other guys in town around his age . . . and looked down upon by the older generation.
He didn’t care about any of that though. All he cared about was looking cool.
‘Live fast, die young, and make a good lookin’ corpse,’ he had heard some movie star say once – it may have even been James Dean, he wasn’t sure – but he kind of liked that idea. Okay. Except maybe for that bit about dying . . . he might have been a tough guy, but he wasn’t a stupid tough guy. No sir, he didn’t like that idea of dying very much. But the rest of it, about living fast and lookin’ good, now that bit he liked the sound of.
For this special dance the Town Hall had been decorated with tinsel and stars, along with a massive pine tree that had been set in one corner and decorated to within an inch of there being no tree showing at all. It all looked quite good, and the night was going swell, but by ten-thirty Joey had danced with all the pretty girls, and a few of the not so pretty ones, and it was time for another drink.
A song had just finished, but the dance still seemed to be going strong, so he knew he’d be able to kick on for a while yet, just as soon as he managed to wet his whistle.
‘Thank you Joey, that was a lot of fun,’ said Enid Walker as he escorted her from the dance floor and back to her friends.
‘You’re welcome, Enid. I had a lot of fun too. You dance real good. Perhaps we can do it again later, but right now I think I need a cigarette and a drink.’
After leaving her with her friends he made a bee-line for the refreshment stand, where he tried to buy himself a beer, but the guy on the counter, one of those Thompson blokes (who wasn’t much older than Joey was anyhow), wouldn’t let him, as he wasn’t yet twenty-one. He settled on a bottle of Coca Cola instead (which was all that the under-aged kids were allowed to buy), then headed for the door and some fresh air, receiving a few pats on the back from some of the guys, and a few starry-eyed stares from some of the girls, as he went.
Yeah, he had them all just where he wanted them, he figured, and just as soon as he caught his breath he’d come back for some more.
As he stepped out into the cool night air, stopping on the landing at the top of the steps while he retrieved his cigarette packet from inside the sleeve of his t-shirt, the band started up again. It was another Christmas carol, so it looked like he chose the right time to step outside.
Looking around he could see a few people milling around at the front of the hall, chatting, or puffing away on cigarettes while holding drinks in one hand. Over the road, near the car park, a couple were standing beneath a tree and making out, no doubt thinking that they were safe beneath the dark shadows being cast by the tree, but not realising that the street lights in the car park behind them left them silhouetted against an illuminated backdrop.
He smiled to himself when he recognized who they were; his buddy Steve, and Nancy Watford, who was supposed to be the latest girl of one of their other friends, Robbie Miller.
‘Oh, man. It’s impossible to keep up with these kids today,’ he quietly chuckled to himself as he made his way down the steps and onto the street.
‘Hey, Joey!’ someone off to his right called out, as he stopped and looked about him, before lighting his cigarette. ‘Couldn’t you find a girl for the night?’
‘Yeah, Tommy. I brought your sister, but she’s already passed out backstage. Couldn’t handle the pace!’
‘Yeah, right! As if my sister would go out with the likes of you! I’ve already warned her to stay clear your sort!’ Tommy laughed.
‘You better believe it, pal. She said she’s already had the rest, now she wanted to try the best!’
When he hit the street he turned toward the lake, thinking that a stroll down toward the water might clear his throbbing head.
Someone called out and said, ‘Hey, Joey. Swell dance!’
‘Yeah, Pete. It is. Merry Christmas,’ he replied, before continuing on his way.
As he passed a few others out doing the same he was greeted in the way he had become accustomed in recent years, now that he was getting into his late teens and had started to gain something of a reputation. The guys would either greet him like a long lost friend, trying to make sure that they kept on his good side, or they would step carefully around him, eyeing him warily. He liked the fun and games that his reputation seemed to cause, and while he wasn’t a person who went out of his way to find trouble, his reputation for being trouble, whether warranted or not, ensured that everyone knew who he was; and that he wasn’t a guy to be trifled with.
That having been said, however, he still liked spending some time alone, where he could just sit and think about things, without anyone having any expectations of him. They were his favourite times, and right now, as he headed for the lake, that was all he really wanted to do.
* * *
In the nineteen sixties Thompsonville was still a small country town of less than two thousand people. At times over the years it had been larger, of course, with timber and fishing and livestock all being industries that had thrived, supporting the town and the businesses that had grown up around it. In recent years, however, things seemed to have slowed down, with large numbers of locals moving into the more prominent regional centre of Macquarie Harbour, or even further afield to the capital cities.
As for the town’s social life, the Friday night dances were about the only real sign of social activity in the town, although the picture theatre, the local diner and the milk bar all seemed to do a reasonable trade. It wasn’t difficult to understand, therefore, that if there was ever going to be trouble, Friday nights would be when it would be most likely to happen.
On this summer Friday night it was cool, with just the hint of a breeze coming in from the ocean. Joey was enjoying just sitting there by the lake, with his cigarette and Coca Cola, while continuing to listen to the music coming from the town hall and watching the lights from the buildings on the far side of the lake being reflected in the calm waters. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, however, he was beginning to feel restless. He knew that he could have gone back inside and sought out Enid Walker once more, in the hope that he might get lucky and get a kiss and a cuddle, or even a feel of her tits if things went really well, but for some reason that prospect just didn’t excite him right at this moment. He wanted to do something else, but for the life of him he just couldn’t quite put a finger on what that was.
Eventually he got up from his seat and started to dawdle back toward the hall. It was now after eleven, but still the band played on. Silent Night it was now, but he was starting to grow tired of the sound of them, so he decided not to head back inside, instead shaking his head at the change in mood that had come over him and then crossing the road, deciding to head across the car park and go for home.
As he dodged between cars his eyes settled on a brand new Ford XP sedan and he slowed down, trying to take a closer look, but without looking too suspicious, he hoped.
He had seen it around town recently, with its powder blue paint job, chrome trim and white-wall tyres. It was a real dandy’s car and belonged to another of those Thompson guys who lived in town. God, there were so many of them around here! And they were almost all the same, as if they had been cast from the same mold . . . good looking, but conceited, and arrogant, just like that prick inside who wouldn’t give him a beer earlier. And man, they were all so damn rich . . . or at least they acted as if they were.
Joey stopped and for the first time he really looked at the car, but with jealousy and rage starting to build inside him. Part of him wanted to pick up a brick or a rock or something and smash the window, or maybe key that pretty paintwork, but the more he looked at it the more he knew he couldn’t do that. The car was beautiful, and no matter what he might think of the owner, there was no way he could do that to something he thought so highly of.
Edging closer to the vehicle he ventured a look inside. The blue and red leather upholstery didn’t have a mark on it, and from the drivers’ window being open just a crack his nostrils even picked up that distinctive new car smell, but that wasn’t what surprised him the most. Instead, it was the fact that he could see the car keys sitting in the ignition, almost inviting someone like him to jump in and take it for a spin.
‘What a dumb fuck!’ Joey chuckled, knowing that this was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Furtively he looked around to try and see if anyone had noticed him and then, once satisfied he couldn’t see anyone else close-by, he reached for the door handle and opened the door, before quickly sliding in behind the wheel and carefully closing the door after him.
‘Well, so far so good,’ he said to himself as he let his fingers wrap around the steering wheel for the first time. It was then that he looked around inside the car to see what might be lying around and he noticed the two bottles of booze sitting on the floor on the passenger side. Suddenly, he thought, this night seemed to be on the improve once more.
Quickly he reached for the key and turned it, only to find that nothing happened. The motor didn’t fire. There wasn’t even a clicking sound, like you would expect, but he soon realised what the problem was . . . the car was a bloody automatic and it needed to be in ‘P’ before it would start.
‘God! Only a pussy would buy an auto!’ he quietly cursed, then changed the shift into ‘P’ and tried the key once more. This time the engine fired. He slipped it into gear and put his foot on the pedal, gently at first as he eased out of the parking space, before then flooring it and peeling out of the car park like he had the hounds of hell on his tail.
He knew that there would have to be someone who had heard him, or seen him, or at least seen the car leave, but he just hoped that they didn’t know who was driving. Anyhow, it was too late to worry about that now. He was heading through the middle of a town that was all decked out for the Christmas season, with the main street festooned with coloured lights and the illuminated shapes of stars and Christmas trees, in a . . . a . . . a borrowed car.
As he crossed the weir at the southern end of the lake he knew he had crossed a line that he didn’t ever think he would, even if everyone else in town was sure that he would do it sooner or later, or already thought he had done so. So if that was the case, he figured, what difference did it make? He was already guilty in the eyes of most, so all he was doing was living up to their already low expectations of him.
And if that’s what they thought of him, then he might as well make the most of it and have a little fun!
As he started to speed around the edge of the harbor Joey nervously looked in the rear view mirror, half expecting the flashing lights of the local policeman to be chasing him, but when they didn’t appear he was able to relax a little.
Looking up ahead of him he noticed two people walking along the edge of the road and just as he was about to speed past them he recognised one of them as Simon White, one of his school friends, who Joey had seen earlier at the dance.
Slamming the brakes on, he screeched to a stop just ahead of them, sending dirt and gravel along the side of the road flying, and the pedestrians jumping sideways as well, before Joey reached across and opened the door.
‘Hey, Simon! Do you and your friend feel like going for a joyride and partying on? I’ve got some booze!’
‘Where are we going?’ asked Simon.
‘Anywhere we can’t be found,’ answered Joey with a laugh.
* * *
There was a spot out on the southern side of town where the young folks often liked to go for a bit of fun. It was a grassy point which looked out over the ocean and this was where they would park off with their girls, or sneak away to partake in the consumption of some illicit grog, or go to smoke a little of that stuff the authorities seemed to frown upon but couldn’t really control the use of.
This was where Joey and Simon, and Simon’s cousin, Robbie – who was visiting from the city – all ended up that night, sitting on the hood, or lying back on it, and watching a full moon rise out over the dark ocean, all the while passing between them the two bottles of what had proved to be beer.
The car doors were open and the radio was on, with a late night rock and roll show playing. And even they were playing Christmas carols.
‘Man, I can’t believe that you boosted Todd Thompson’s car!’ Simon said as he took the bottle Joey was passing to him. ‘I bet he’ll have your balls if he finds out it was you . . . probably hang ‘em from the mirror!’
‘I only borrowed it,’ Joey replied. ‘I mean, the keys were in it and everything, so he must have been wanting someone to take it for a spin . . .’
‘Yeah, you just keep on believing that!’ Simon answered with a laugh, before taking a mouthful from the bottle and then passing it to his cousin.
For the next hour or so they continued to pass the bottles between them as they clowned around and told jokes, reliving their younger teenage years, while also boasting of their conquests.
‘Hey, I saw you dancing with Enid Walker earlier tonight,’ Simon said. ‘Did you get very far with her?’
‘Nah, not that one. She’s a nice girl, but she’s too . . . what’s the word . . . errr . . . Catholic,’ Joey answered, which caused the others to laugh. ‘Don’t think anyone will ever get very far with her until the night they get married . . . and that sure as hell won’t be me!’
‘I’m with you on that one,’ Robbie agreed. ‘I’m stayin’ footloose and fancy free, that’s my plan.’
‘Yeah, and I bet you’ll just keep getting’ your dick sucked by that queer who lives next door to you,’ Simon teased his cousin, while bumping shoulders with him as he did so.
‘You . . . you wh-what?’ squeaked Joey.
‘Yeah, young Robbie here got his dick sucked once . . .’
‘Yeah, it was ONCE!’ Robbie protested. ‘And we were only fourteen . . .’
‘Holy shit! I ain’t never known anyone who was a homo,’ Joey gasped.
‘And you still don’t!’ Robbie cursed. ‘I sure as hell ain’t no homo, so don’t go getting’ no ideas! All right!’
‘Oh, no. Not me,’ Joey replied, before grabbing the offered bottle from Robbie and taking a long drink, then falling quiet. As he sat there and listened to the two cousins continue to bicker and tease one another he tried going over in his mind what had just been shared.
He knew that there were guys out there who did that sort of thing, but like he said to the others, he certainly didn’t know anyone like that, or at least not that he knew of. But still there was something about that thought which seemed to stick in his mind. This was something about sex that was unknown to him, that was taboo, forbidden, yet which seemed to stir strange feelings deep within him, even if he wasn’t quite able to pin down exactly what that meant.
As Robbie passed the bottle back to him again, which by now was almost empty, he tried pushing those thoughts aside. He took a mouthful and then passed the bottle to Simon once more.
‘I wonder what it’s like?’ he thought to himself, as he watched Simon swallow the last of the beer, and then throw the bottle as far away from them as he could, sending it toward the place where the point started falling away to the sea. Any sound the bottle may have made as it smashed against the rocky cliffs was quickly swallowed by the wind and the sound of the waves, but Joey wasn’t paying much attention to that. His mind was still elsewhere.
‘Hey, do you think he’s got any more booze inside?’ Robbie asked.
‘Don’t know. I’ll take a look,’ Joey answered, before sliding down the hood and letting his feet hit the ground.
Going to the passenger side door, which was standing open, he slid in onto the cool leather seat and started looking around. There was nothing else of interest that he could see, but then his eyes settled on the glove compartment, so he reached forward and opened it.
Inside he found a plain white envelope, which felt as if it was filled with cards or photographs or something like that, then beneath that there was a small bottle of baby oil. Curious as to what else he might find he took that out and then found a box of condoms, a packet of tissues and a cylindrical rubber object, the identity of which he wasn’t quite sure about at first, but as he took it out it finally dawned on him as to what it reminded him of and then just what it was he was actually holding.
Quickly he dropped the dildo back into the compartment, along with the other items, all except for the envelope, which he noticed wasn’t sealed.
His throat was suddenly parched and his heart was pounding, while his mind was already racing at the thought of what his discoveries meant.
Nervously he flipped open the envelope and reached inside, pulling out what looked to be a bundle of photographs. The interior light of the car wasn’t very bright, but as he flicked through the first few it wasn’t difficult to see what the photographs were of. They were of young men, all around Joey’s age or older, and mostly all naked. Some looked like they were laughing, or playing games, or wrestling, while some looked to be involved in activities with others that would get them thrown in jail in a flash if they had been caught.
Joey’s hands were shaking as he thrust the photos back into the envelope and then shoved it back into the glove compartment, before slamming it shut.
‘Hey, Joey. You find anything else in there for us?’ he heard Simon ask.
When he looked up he could see Simon looking through the windscreen at him, his eyebrows raised.
‘N-nah,’ Joey answered as he climbed back out into the night and stood up. ‘Nothing else here for us. Reckon we may as well call it a night.’
* * *
Joey dropped the other two not far from where he had picked them up, waving them goodbye and watching as they disappeared into the night.
They had chatted constantly on the way back into town, but Joey found it difficult to join in. His thoughts were on the items which were riding in the glove compartment, which he felt sure that only he and Todd Thompson knew about . . . or at least that was what he liked to think.
Deciding not to risk taking the car back anywhere near the centre of town, even allowing for the late hour, Joey decided to take the long way round and follow the western edge of the lake instead, which he knew would bring him out on the northern side of town, near Beachside Lane. He would dump the car there someplace, which he hoped might throw anyone off his scent, and from there it wasn’t too far to his home.
Thankfully he didn’t see any other traffic on the road as he turned onto the road which followed the lake, at least not until he hit the bridge over the river at the other end, but when he passed one car, which stopped and began turning around he knew he might be in trouble.
Putting his foot to the floor he burned rubber as he hit the edge of town, then veered into the first side street he came to, before taking another few turns, then heading into a narrow shaded laneway between two houses. When he had last looked at the lights of the car he had passed they had been following him, and quickly gaining on him, but once he was in town he had easily been able to evade them.
‘Fuck. I’ve got to get away from this thing,’ he quietly cursed, so he turned off the ignition and the lights, then jumped out of the car. A dog started barking in a yard quite close to where he now stood, sucking in air as his head and heart seemed to be working overtime. He wanted to run. He knew he had to run, but there was something else he needed first, so he dived back into the car and grabbed the envelope from the glove compartment, then ran off down the laneway and back out onto one of the streets, trying his best to keep to the shadows, ducking for cover when he saw or heard a car close by, before then venturing back out once the coast was clear.
Twice he saw lights come on in houses when his presence seemed to disturb a dog, but eventually he made it home, scurrying in through his bedroom window a little after two o’clock in the morning, before finally collapsing on his bed.
It had been an eventful night, but a fun one as well. He still wasn’t sure exactly why he had decided to take the photographs, apart from the fact that he was intrigued by them, but as he pulled the envelope from his hip pocket and shoved it under his mattress, he knew that there must have been a reason for his doing so, even if he didn’t quite know what that was as yet.
Maybe tomorrow would give him an answer to that question, he thought, as he lay back and closed his eyes.
* * *
In the days that followed, the story of Todd Thompson’s car being taken for a joyride swept right through the small town. Everyone had an idea about who the culprit might be, but from what Joey had heard so far nobody seemed to be even close to guessing correctly, much to his relief.
He was also relieved that nothing had been said about anything being missing from the car.
What wasn’t a relief to him, however, was the growing, gnawing feeling in his gut, about what he had found in the car. The bundle of photographs was still under his bed and as the days went by he found himself spending hours poring over them, day and night, drawn to the images which seemed to be speaking to him, exciting him, and ultimately satisfying him, as he let the thoughts and urges with which his mind was now filled take over.
He had no idea what was happening to him, but he knew that something within him had changed. When he walked up the street he realised that he was looking at people differently these days. When he went to the beach even the sight of a guy in swimming trunks seemed to get his imagination going, while the sight of a girl in her swimming costume barely seemed to raise any sort of reaction at all.
He was confused, and he didn’t like these new feelings, but he was finding it impossible to ignore them. And he was also finding himself powerless to stop them. Only when he retreated to his bedroom and he took out the photos and took care of business did he receive any relief at all, but then, in the aftermath, as he would lie there dreaming, he would start thinking again about those guys in the photos . . . the ones who were engaged in sex acts . . . and start wondering all over again.
‘What is it like?’ he would think. ‘What does it feel like to do that? Or to have someone do that to you?’
He needed to know. And the more he thought about it the more certain he became that there was only one person he knew who would be able to answer those questions for him.
His next question was, ‘How the fuck do I find that out from him?’
After one particularly frustrating afternoon he eventually decided that enough was enough, and so, after shoving the photos back into the envelope and then returning them to the hiding place beneath his mattress, Joey set off for town.
It was simple plan. He would just follow Todd Thompson around, from a distance of course, and see what he got up to, and who he met up with. Maybe there were others in town just like Todd? Maybe he should just confront Todd and straight out ask him?
No, he couldn’t do that . . . the guy might go all ape-shit on him . . . or it might just scare him off altogether.
No, he would just have to be careful and see what he could find out first, then take it from there.
All he had to do now was decide where and how he would start?
He knew that some of the Thompsons lived on the northern edge of the lake, not far from where he himself lived, but whether or not Todd lived amongst those he had no idea. He needed to find that out.
He also knew that Todd was downtown just about every day, so it shouldn’t be too hard to spot him around the shops. Maybe he could just try and follow him from there. After all, how hard could that be?
Setting off for town he found his mood beginning to lift. The thought of following Todd, or of possibly seeing him meet with someone else from town, had him curious and even – dare he think it – a little excited.
He still found it quite unnerving that he was having these feelings about other guys at all, but at the same time, and being helpless to resist them, he knew that in the past few days something had been awoken within him which he was unable to ignore. Something that needed to be explored . . . or something like a beast that needed to be fed . . . and as odd as that sounded when he thought it, that was just what it felt like to him.
When he left the house where he lived with his father – his mother having given up on the two of them long ago and cleared out – he headed downtown, hoping to find his quarry hanging around near the shops or the beach.
It was while he walked up and down the streets, dodging Christmas shoppers, looking for either the blue Ford or its owner, he ran into his accomplices from the night of the dance, Simon and Robbie.
‘Hey, Joey! Boosted any cars lately?’ Simon enquired with a laugh, and all just a little too loudly for Joey’s liking.
‘Shut up, you idiot!’ Joey hissed in response, while nervously looking around to see if anyone on the street may have heard.
‘Oh, just relax, dude! No one cares.’
‘Only because they don’t know!’ Joey hissed, as Christmas shoppers pushed past them, casting looks of disapproval in their direction. ‘Maybe you should just say it a bit louder and let everyone know! I’m sure someone will care then!’
‘Jesus! We thought you’d be cool with everyone knowing? Something to brag about, you know! What’s wrong . . . you all of a sudden turned into a pussy or something?’
‘I . . . I just don’t want anyone coming and looking for me, that’s all. And especially not Todd Thompson! They tell me he can be a real prick about his things getting trashed.’
‘But it wasn’t trashed, was it? All we did was take a drive and drink his beer . . . unless of course you trashed it when you dropped it off in town?’
‘What? Oh no. There wasn’t a mark on it, I swear.’
‘So, what’s your problem then?’
‘Like I said, I just don’t want him, or anyone else for that matter, coming after my ass for stealing from him.’
‘Stealing what?’ Robbie asked.
‘The car. His beer. His . . .’
‘Yeah?’ Simon asked. ‘What else was in the car?’
‘N-nothing. There was nothing else . . .’ Joey quickly said, but he knew that he didn’t sound all that convincing and could already feel his face heating up in a blush. He just hoped that they wouldn’t press him on the issue.
Thankfully they didn’t get the opportunity to say anything further about that, as Simon looked over Joey’s shoulder and let out a low whistle. ‘Well, speak of the devil,’ he said.
Joey turned to look in the direction in which Simon was staring, only to find the devil himself walking their way, and looking directly at the three boys. Joey noted that he was wearing a tight pair of blue jeans, and an even tighter black t-shirt, and was looking particularly hot, he thought.
Fuck! Since when did I start thinking a guy could look hot, he wondered.
As Todd approached them, he held Joey’s gaze, before then looking him up and down. Joey couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw the corners of Todd’s mouth turn up just for a moment, before finally Todd winked at him.
The heat in Joey’s face seemed to have just been turned up a notch.
It was the first time he had really seen the guy up close, and Joey wasn’t disappointed. He was your average Aussie guy . . . with a tanned complexion, brown curly hair that he wore a little too long and with green eyes. Beneath the tight clothes was a firm body, which Joey was longing to take a good look at, and he walked with an air of confidence about him that Joey easily recognized . . . it was the same confidence that Joey had always exuded; that of a self-assured guy who was comfortable in his surroundings and in control of his own destiny.
Without saying a word Thompson passed them and kept walking. It was only when he reached the end of the block, about another twenty yards along the street, that he glanced back in the direction of the threesome, before eventually disappearing around the corner.
‘Was that him? The guy who owned the car?’ Robbie asked, once Todd had disappeared and it was safe to do so.
‘Yup. That was him,’ Simon replied.
‘Geez, he looks like he’s a bit of a wanker.’
‘Nearly all those Thompson guys are,’ said Simon. ‘Hang around here long enough and you’ll learn all about them, trust me.’
Joey didn’t say anything. He was too busy thinking about that tight black t-shirt that Todd was wearing, and wondering how he could see him without it.
* * *
Thoughts of Todd Thompson seemed to fill Joey’s mind constantly as time marched on.
Alone in bed at night it was Todd’s face that seemed to drive him onwards as he gave in to the feelings that seemed to fill his every waking hour. The photographs were still getting a work-out, as he thumbed through them at night, while throughout the day he was now carrying them with him as he prowled the streets looking for the man who had become his . . . his what, he wondered? His obsession? Was that it?
Fuck! This is getting crazy. In the space of a week he had gone from dancing with Enid Walker at the Christmas dance and wondering if he’d get a feel of her tits, to now imagining what it might be like to see Todd Thompson naked and have him run his hands over his body.
No, it wasn’t crazy . . . it was fucking insane! But there was nothing he could do to fight these feelings that were constantly filling his head. He needed to know more about Thompson. He needed to get closer. He needed to do something more.
He needed to talk to the guy, he finally decided.
And he needed to do it now.
It was now a few days after the three of them had bumped into Todd down town. And it was Christmas eve.
Joey had seen Todd a couple of times since that last face to face meeting, not that he had ventured too close, or spoken to him. He was certain that Todd had seen him though, even if he hadn’t acknowledged Joey’s presence.
As he walked along the main street today, however, with a mission on his mind, while trying his best to dodge shoppers and not appear to be too rude to the many people who offered him Christmas greetings, Joey was hoping that they would once again cross paths.
His plan was a simple one. He would show Todd the envelope of photographs that was currently being carried in his hip pocket, and he would say they needed to talk.
He had no idea how Todd might react, but at least by confronting him out in public like this, with the street being at its busiest time of year, there was less chance of creating a scene; or at least that was what he hoped.
Joey knew that Todd was downtown, as he had seen his car in the car park as he had cut through it while heading for the shops, but so far, after walking almost the full length of the shopping centre, there had been no sign of him. He wasn’t going to give up though. He would go and wait by the guy’s car if he had to.
After reaching the last shops in the street and still coming up empty handed, Joey turned and started back in the opposite direction. It wasn’t until he reached the next block, however, that he struck paydirt, with Todd Thompson coming out of the milk bar carrying a bag in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other, and almost colliding with him.
‘Hey there, kid. I seem to be seeing a lot of you these days,’ Todd casually said to him. ‘You ain’t following me are you?’
‘W-what? W-why would I be doing that?’ Joey answered, immediately losing any semblance of the cool dude that he usually portrayed.
‘I don’t know. You tell me,’ Todd replied, before taking a lick of the ice cream that he held in his hand, while holding Joey steadily in his gaze.
Todd could see that the kid was getting flustered, and he already had his suspicions as to why that might be – after all he knew that what he thought of as being “his secret” really wasn’t that big a secret around town anymore, and he had seen enough kids just like this one over the past couple of years to know what they were thinking – even if he still had no intention of officially letting the cat out of the bag; or at least not yet.
No, he would wait for the kid to make the first move, just like they nearly always did. He had learned long ago that it was the only way to find out the pretenders from the contenders, by letting them do the work.
For a few moments they stood there staring at each other. Todd took another lick from his ice cream, wondering just when – or if – the kid was going to make his move. Eventually, however, his patience grew thin.
‘So, is there something you wanted?’ Todd casually asked.
‘I . . . I think I have something that belongs to you,’ Joey nervously replied.
‘And what could that possibly be?’ Todd replied, instantly curious. What he wasn’t prepared for though, was for Joey to produce a familiar envelope from his back pocket and hold it in front of him.
For a few moments nothing was said, as each weighed up the other.
‘This is yours, isn’t it?’ Joey asked.
‘Where did you get that?’ Todd hissed. ‘Was it you who took my car for a joyride that night? I should just fucking well beat the shit out of you!’
‘You don’t want to do that,’ Joey replied. ‘I wasn’t alone that night. If something like that happened the others would know who did it . . . if you know what I mean.’
‘So, what exactly do you want?’ Todd demanded, keeping his voice low, so as not to attract any attention. ‘Do you want money? Is that it?’
‘What? No, I don’t want money. And you can relax, I ain’t going to rat on you, or anything like that, if that’s what you’re worried about. All I want is to . . .’
‘You want to what?’
‘I just want to talk to you. That’s all. I swear.’
‘About what’s in here,’ Joey answered, while holding the envelope up in front of Todd.
‘I don’t get it,’ Todd remarked, while eyeing Joey suspiciously. He knew exactly what Joey was getting at, but he wanted the kid to spell it out.
‘Let’s just say I’m . . . I’m curious,’ Joey eventually said, after what proved to be a lengthy pause. ‘Now do you get it?’
‘Yeah, Joey. I think I do,’ Todd answered.
‘I saw your car in the car park. At least the keys weren’t in it this time.’
‘No, I think I learnt my lesson about doing that.’
‘So, do you think we could go for a bit of a joy ride?’ Joey asked, with a grin.
‘Where did you have in mind?’ Todd replied.
‘Oh, I dunno. How about some place where we can’t be found for a while?’ answered Joey.
‘And after that?’ Todd asked.
‘It’s Christmas . . . so just as long as we don’t end up at Midnight Mass I’m open to suggestions.’
‘Yeah, I have this feeling you will be,’ Todd answered.