Saturday, September 27, 2008

A HELL OF A DAME (Short Story)

Everyone else in her life called her Marie, but to me she will always be known as Fifi.

Why am I telling you about her? Doesn't everybody have the urge to confess at some point, to revisit those seminal stops on your life's map before they become diluted and distorted by age and cynical romanticism? What the hell, you can just put this down to a pure emotional catharsis.

The rain hammered down its staccato beat on the roof and the haunting strains of the Ink Spots' Whispering Grass filled the smoky air when she first walked into the small, dimly lit bar with the tacky bamboo decor. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, I thought exactly the same thing – "Of all the gin joints in all the world…".

She pulled up a barstool and sat herself down not more than five feet from me, crossing her lithe, black stockinged legs as she signalled for the bartender to bring her a sweet white wine – Bordeaux I believe, from the banks of the Garonne River. A classy drop for a fine lady.

I watched her as she lit up a cigarette, just like I had seen her do countless times during her shift breaks at work, pressing the filter between her seductive lips and squinting her eyes slightly as she exhaled the first plume of smoke through her perfectly rounded nostrils.

Those eyes. Little pools of cobalt that you just wanted to dive into and get lost within. You looked at them and you got damn jealous of the lucky son of a bitch who got to gaze into those eyes when they were inflamed with passion.

I love ya Fifi.

Yeah, I knew her alright. Sitting there at the bar, she had no recognition of me save for the short polite smile that you usually shoot a stranger when they are drinking next to you. If she knew who I was, she didn't bother letting on.

It was a relief to this fool's heart. I felt stupid but I wanted to tell her….I wanted to tell her how every day for the past twelve months I had watched her from behind my desk at the office block we shared, wallowing in her serpentine grace as she busied herself about the floor, a corporate vixen who probably had little to no idea of the kind of lust she was stirring up in sad little men like me. I called her Fifi in the fertile playground of my mind because her mannerisms reminded me of that cute little feline sexbomb that was always getting pawed at and accosted by the randy skunk in those Warner Brothers cartoon shorts. In my dreams, I was going skunk on her every night.

She was pushing forty but sure knew how to keep it together well. That European complexion worked wonders for her it seemed, she had the kind of olive skin that radiated heat at twenty paces, and a man could whip himself into a frenzy at the mere thought of his body melting into hers. Her mouth looked like it could eat you alive and have a helluva good time doing it, and her deep chestnut hair always shimmered and looked so damned perfect. Her body curved in all the right places and at all the right angles. She was the kind of dangerously gorgeous dame that even the most rational man would gladly flush his life down the toilet for if it meant spending just a single night in a cheap roadside motel alone with her. If she didn't have a man and three kids waiting for her at home, I would have taken her to Vegas in a second. Hell, I'd have taken her anyway…..

What she was doing in this part of town and at this time of night was a curious question that I didn't try to ask. The string of pearls that hung around her supple neck and the quality of the rocks that adorned the rings on her slender fingers spoke volumes. No way a woman on her salary – or her old man's - would be buying gems like that the good old fashioned legal way. The rash of cat burglaries that had plagued the neighbourhood in recent times, and the outline of the .45 automatic pistol that I spied when she opened her leather bag to pay for her drink, told me I may have just solved a riddle that had had the cops scratching their impotent heads for months. I wasn't gonna be making their jobs any easier by ratting her out. I just wanted her even more now.

Closing time came. She stubbed out her last cigarette and we made for the exit. I heard the barman locking the door behind us. She gave me a quick smile that set fire to my heart then turned and left. I took a last look at her exquisite caboose as it shimmied its way down the wet street, and I nodded to myself in admiration before my eyes began hunting for a taxi-cab to take me screaming away in the opposite direction.

I love ya Fifi….Forever and Never.

Copyright John Harrison 2008

(Note: the above story was originally published in issue 2 of the US magazine Bachelor Pad. Visit them via their website at

Friday, September 26, 2008


As if being violently murdered wasn’t bad enough, the girl’s death seemedall the more indignant when you consider that her last meal consisted of adouble cheeseburger and large fries, washed down with one of thosedisgusting cups of Coke that were more water and ice than cola.

I wasn’t anybody special, just a two-bit reporter from a local suburban ragthat had grown up with aspirations of being a bodacious fucking crimewriter, but had gotten sidetracked and bogged down with cutsie-pie storiesabout child beauty queens and heroic dogs who woke up their owner while the house burned down around them. I tried to rationalise it by telling myselfthat at least I was paying the bills with words, but deep down I knew I had sold out.

The scene inside unit nine at the Esquire Motel was a grisly mess. Not thatthe place was a stranger to violence. Since the early 1970s it had been ahaven for junkies, hookers, pushers, pimps and crims on the run, allsearching for a cheap room to either hide in or operate out of, and being amere stone’s throw from the sleazy neon of Fitzroy Street made the Esquirethe perfect refuge of choice.

But it’s doubtful the maid had ever thought she’d open a room to be met bythe degree of carnage which assaulted her eyes when she entered to change the sheets on this particular morning. The body was lying face down on the floor near the foot of the bed, and it obviously wasn’t a natural orvery peaceful death. Whatever this girl had done, she didn’t deserve toexit her miserable existence like this. Hell, maybe she didn’t do anythingat all – some people find a whole world of hurt coming down on them justfor being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My lungs ached for the sting and taste of a cigarette, anything to take away the dizzying nausea that overcame me as I looked at the gaudy shower of crimson that lined the bedroom wall. Cast-off splatter, the forensic boys and girls called it….when a blunt weapon, often a simple lead pipe or baseball bat, is brought down repeatedly onto someone’s head, the blood flying off the implement and hitting the wall with each successive swing.

“Jesus, what a scene”, the homicide detective muttered under his breath as he brushed passed me, surreptitiously helping himself to the fifty dollar note I had waiting under my yellow legal pad and palming it into the pocket of his charcoal coat jacket. I’d first met him nearly a decade ago, when he was fresh-faced and new to force and would frequent the small video store at the tail end of Acland Street which I worked at part-time. He’d do what he could to track down the customers who had run off with the new releases and in return for the favour I’d slip him a couple of hardcore xxx tapes from under the counter, something for him and his partners in crime-busting to help while away the down time at the local cop shop. Since those days, the grungy video store lost its business to the big chains and mutated into a trendy coffee shop and the detective had worked himself up into a prime position in the homicide department, with the ulcer and hardening of his facial features to go along with the eighteen hour days and inflated pay packet.

Why the guy kept in touch with me I was never really sure. Maybe he took pity on me. He knew what my dreams were – I’d bored him with them over countless shop counter conversations – and he no doubt knew that I’d failed to make good on them. Then again, maybe he just had fond memories of jacking off to all those videos I’d handed over to him all those years ago, and was just trying to pay me back for the pleasure. Truth is, he was probably just another cop on the take who knew I was good for a quick fifty whenever a crime came to light that might pique my morbid writer’s curiosity. Whatever the reason was, he never stopped long enough for me to ask. It was always just a quick phone call telling me what had gone down and where to be at what time, have the fifty ready and keep his name out of the papers.

Not that the paper I was working for would even consider publishing a story about something so morbid and real as a young woman getting her brains spilled out onto a motel’s ugly grey carpeted floor, which made the motive for my being there even more questionable and dubious.

I didn’t try to fool myself, I knew exactly why I was there – I was drawn to violent crime and corruption and the underbelly of society the same way a moth is driven to a flame. When it took place in the backyard of the suburb I spent my younger days growing up in, the attraction was as intoxicating as a junkie feeling that early morning rush of heroin as it coursed and surged through his veins and transported his brain and synapses into a temporary state of blissful nirvana.

The detective knelt down as the forensic investigator, finished with examining the body and taking a seemingly endless succession of photographs of the victim as she was discovered, rolled the girl onto her back to examine her from the other side. There was a silent gasp that emitted from everyone in the room, so strong it seemed to suck the air out of your lungs for the briefest of moments.

Her bangs of shoulder length blonde hair were tainted red, and stuck to her face like bad wallpaper. Her eyes, which in life would have radiated with a deep crystal blue, stared wide open in death, their dilated pupils carrying an unmistakable emotional imprint of the horror they were witness to in their last moments, before their lights were extinguished forever…..before some sociopath unleashed all of his hatred and fury on the girl’s head.

She must have been very beautiful, once.

No one in the room had any idea who the girl might have been. No tattoos, nothing in her ratty leopard skin shoulder bag save for a long expired tram ticket and the usual flotsam and jetsam that one would expect to find in the possession of a girl this age. A few measly bucks sat on the top of the old dressing table, which probably helped rule out robbery as a factor. The lack of any ID hinted that the killer didn’t want the girl being identified in any hurry. It would be up to fingerprints and dental records to try a figure out who the girl was, assuming they could put all of her teeth back together. I wondered if the whole thing was likely to wind up in yet another white cardboard box marked ‘Cold Case’.

The mainstream press had gotten wind of the incident and began to make themselves heard at the apartment door. I’d gotten everything I needed so I decided to head down to the hotel lobby and back out into the reassuring, less-real world. The fresh air hit me like a good swift kick to the guts. I staggered across to the footpath and hunched myself over, releasing everything I had seen in that stifling room into the gutter.

I straightened myself up and lit a cigarette to try and get rid of the lingering taste and smell of vomit. I started staggering back to my car. I hated myself because I couldn’t wait to get home and start typing it all up.

Copyright John Harrison 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008



Had the chance to check out this new documentary by Melbourne filmmaker Mark Hartley during the week. It's an informative, entertaining, and above all celebatory, look back at Australian exploitation films of the 1970s and early-80s, when local films like Alvin Purple, The Man from Hong Kong, Patrick, Fantasm, Mad Max and Turkey Shoot were packing the drive-ins.

Featuring interviews with many of the performers and filmmakers involved (who recount some great anecdotes about the often renegade production methods utilised in these films), as well as high profile fan Quentin Tarantino (whose interest helped get the film financed), Not Quite Hollywood is a great document of it subject.

While it's made primarly for DVD, it is still worth trying to catch it on its limited current cinema run if you can, just so you can enjoy seeing the great clips and remembering just how cool a lot of these movies actually looked on the big screen.

KINGS CROSS - 1970/71

As a kid I was always intrigued by stories of Kings Cross and what an unsavoury place it was - the hub of Sydney's drug and prostitution rackets, with grimy neon streets filled with strip clubs, seedy bars and illegal gambling dens.

Needless to say the place is no longer what it used to be (much like Melbourne's Fitzroy Street), but these photos, taken by Rennie Ellis in 1970 and 1971, capture the Cross and it's characters at its best.