Published on February 26th, 2015 | by Boris
A deal made between men is a deal.
If hands are gripped after an agreement is made, then in my world, that agreement may as well be carved into my chest. I will keep my end of the covenant come what may.
I am not alone in this.
There are other such men.
My brother Whitey was just such a man, as was his cousin, Grizzly.
Many years ago, they made a deal. A pact.
It went like this:
When one of them died, the survivor would, on the stroke of midnight, on Friday the 13th, at the crossroads where the Collie Hotel sits on the road between Warren and Gilgandra, have the ashes of the deceased cousin scattered by a naked girl off the back of a motorcycle.
They shook hands on it. And that was that.
No-one, least of all Grizzly, who is a sprightly 73 as of this writing, expected Whitey to go first. But bastard cancer is bastard cancer. It came for Whitey last year, and while he fought as hard as a man of his integrity could fight, cancer would not be beaten this time. He passed, and the world lost one of the great and good blokes.
Many of Whitey’s friends and family were aware of the pact he’d made with his cousin, Grizzly. I certainly was. I rode with Whitey back when he was a member of the club I was in, had spent many deliriously joyous days and nights with him at the Collie Hotel, which is where he told me of his arrangement with his cousin.
“See that crossroads?” he said to me one afternoon as we sat out front of the pub, basking in one of those amazing velvet-gold afternoons the Australian bush throws up all the time.
“I do see that crossroads,” I replied.
And then he told me what his plan was.
I nodded, amused. Death was a long way away from us when I was 25 and Whitey was 32. It was something we laughed at. And taunted. And promptly disregarded even when we brushed up against it. It was not coming for us. Not at that age. We were certainly not immortal – we knew that. But we were as near to immortality as men could get.
Life contrived to send Whitey and I down divergent paths and we lost touch with each other for many years. When we re-connected last year, it was a great thing. I wrote about it here.
Whitey’s battle with the Big C was intensifying and he went through a pretty rough trot. He emerged from the fog for a while and we all had a great time at his 60th birthday.
A few short months after that, his son Johnny called me.
It was the phone call I never wanted to get, and I know that Johnny never wanted to make it. But he did. His voice was calm, his tone measured. There was not a quaver in it. He is his father’s son, after all. And Whitey sure didn’t raise no bitch.
He told me it was coming to an end.
Sometimes you get a little notice when Death comes for you.
He called me again when it was over.
The big fella was farewelled in a most fitting way. His son Johnny rode his father’s restored WLA at the head of the procession of bikes, and beers were tipped in Whitey’s memory and tears were shed by some of the hardest men I have ever met.
Johnny and I stayed in touch via Facebook, and I take a great delight in seeing him create his own family and his own stories – fuck knows he would have heard more than enough of our stories from his father over the years.
I saw him build his house on what was the dusty riverfront block where he hosted his dad’s 60th. I’ve seen him go pig-hunting, dirt-biking, and travelling to remote regions of the Northern Territory with his mates. I’ve shared bits of his family holidays with him. It’s kinda weird the way this Facebook thing makes bizarre voyeurs of its users. But it’s the way it is today. O tempore, o mores, huh?
Then one day Johnny invited me to a gathering at the Collie Hotel. It was to be the fulfillment of the pact Whitey and Grizzly had made. Friday the 13th, midnight, ashes off the back of a bike – the job lot.
“You got a naked girl?” I asked.
“I’m working on it,” Johnny said.
I thought about the girls I knew who might be corralled into this gig. I doubted most of them could find Collie without a leash, and I had visions of weeping, hysterical strippers driving their little hatchbacks through the outback of NSW (or WA for that matter), lost beyond all redemption until the jackals came for them in the night.
Johnny was on his own with the naked girl thing.
But I knew where Collie was. So on Friday, the 13th of February 2015, I sat down on a thundering Victory Magnum with less than 100kms on its clock, put the rising sun at my back and set off.
The Magnum was very much the right choice for this ride. Hard luggage, great suspension, an exhaust system that boomed, a stereo that scared people, and a sexual candy-red metalflake paintjob that screamed “Giz sluts!” – it was perfect. It did honour to the memory of my brother.
Whitey’s funeral had been the time for tears. The scattering of his ashes would be another vibe altogether.
The ride to Mudgee is pretty, but a man on a whore-red thundercloud has to concern himself with the whereabouts of the Highway Patrol and keep it to a sensible 120 or thereabouts. Which is why I know what the scenery looks like around there.
Once past Mudgee, that same man could dial shit up a notch or three. The run through bastard Dunedoo to Mendooran, Gilgandra and finally Collie, can be done with verve. As much of it as you like. I saw three cars and a truck once I left Dunedoo. But only briefly. The Magnum quite likes to whizz along at 150-and-a-bit. The suspension is fine and that 21-inch wheel is very good dealing with big sweepers and a sometimes aging road surface. For the most part, the road is wonderful. The scenery? Well, I’ll look at that some other time. It’s not like it’s going anywhere.
I made a quick stop at Collie pub and then made for Warren. The plan was for a small bunch of us to meet up at Whitey’s house, then escort his ashes, which had been boxed and tucked into the saddlebags of his old Evo, which would be ridden by Johnny to Warren.
It’s about 50kms from Warren to Collie. It can be done in 20 minutes if you try. And 15 if you try harder. This time it would take half-an-hour.
Seven of us escorted the ashes from his house to the pub he enjoyed so much. We rode in close formation led by Johnny and Red Mick from the Comanchero MC. His cousin Grizzly, who wears the colours of the Veterans MC, rode Tail-End Charlie.
Which was probably smart. He would have eaten the least amount of bastard grasshoppers that peppered those of us at the front like goo-filled Rice Bubbles. The came up off the road in waves of ouch. I thought at first they might have been harmless chaff. But the sting of their impact changed my mind. I ducked my head behind the Victory’s massive red fairing and spared a thought for Red Mick who was just in front of me and (like me) was wearing an open-face; he had no fairing to cringe behind. Johnny had a full-face on so he was fine. On my own, I would have dialled the speedo up another fifty or so kays and shortened the exposure to the locust plague. Sure, they sting more when they hit you at 150 than they do at 100, but you’re being hit for a shorter time. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
I was very pleased to see Collie appear on our left. To locals who are familiar with the country out there, I’m sure there are landmarks that tell them how far they are from something else. I’m a city boy. For me it’s Warren, grasshopper-infested emptiness, Collie. One second it’s not there, and then it is.
And the beer is cold.
The publican used to be Big Mick Long when I was a semi-regular. I had not seen Big Mick in more than 20 years. He left Collie to run other pubs and I had no idea what happened to him. Big Mick used to let me and the blokes sleep in his pub. Not in any of the rooms or anything. There weren’t any rooms. There was just a pub. And he would let us sleep on the floor. In return, we would promise not to drink from his unattended bar or loot his fridge. We kept our promise and Big Mick let us sleep on the floor every time. But he was full of mischief for a gigantic man. In the wee hours before dawn, as we lay unconscious and reeking of sin and alcohol on the floor of his pub, he would sometimes sneak out of his house, take a bottle of OP rum and a shot glass from the shelf and visit us quietly and individually as we lay ruined in our fartsacks.
As you blinked your gummy eyes open, the cunt would throw a shot of OP rum down your throat. Then he’d giggle and move to the next person. I loved him for this brand of evil and swore I would knife him in the face the next time he did it. I never did. He always caught me off guard. By the time I got my knife out he was muttering “Snappy one!” to the bloke under the pool table and the rum I had just swallowed was rendering me insensate again.
The publican is now James. A cheerily efficient young bloke with a massive tolerance for the drunken vagaries of his clientele.
He has also furnished the pub (Big Mick made do with plastic furniture you could smash over people’s heads) and built some stunning units out the back. They’re as good as any motel I’ve been in. They don’t look like much from the outside and I was expecting a shearer’s room, with a shitty bed and a naked lightbulb. I got air-conditioning, a flat screen TV, a spotless hot shower, a comfortable bed and soft toilet paper.
I dumped my stuff onto the bed, and emerged to a stunning summer afternoon and a pub with about 80 people in it. An elegant sufficiency for the occasion, I felt.
The next few hours were a blur of beer, backslapping, laughter, memories and music.
The music was all Eka ‘Cootey’ Coote – a man truly blessed with a talent for singing and playing the guitar. Cootey banged out everything from Johnny Cash to a version of Buffet’s Margaritaville that had me bellowing along at the top of my lungs. We all thanked the Road Gods that his amplifier was louder. But he was good. Seriously good. Find him on Facebook and hire him. You will not be disappointed.
Then there was the impromptu wet T-shirt contest, which I was called upon to host. Presumably because I’m from the city and this is what we do in cities.
I last hosted such a contest at Collie Pub in 1990, when we were doing a bike show there, which was much to Whitey’s delight. Whitey loved titties – especially big bouncy ones. So he would have loved the three pairs that got up to try and win the $270 prize. They were all big and bouncy and under 25. The prize money arrived in a hat. Gary’s hat, actually. Gary is Johnny’s father-in-law – a laconic, genial, softly-spoken and hard-as-nails bushie that owns and manages something like fourteen billion square miles of land somewhere out of Warren.
Gary’s hat is an Aussie masterpiece. Not only was it passed around and filled with money for the wet T-shirt comp, but it was also passed around and filled with other money to pay for Cootey’s music, and still other money to pay for the lamb we all ate later that night. It then ended up back on Gary’s head, looking magnificent.
As the evening wended irrevocably towards midnight and the execution of the deal Whitey had made with his cousin Grizzly, I did the following things:
I drank Bacardi rum with Wayne. Wayne is one of the greatest roo-shooters in the history of the world. He doesn’t drink Bacardi and neither do I. We drank it that night because Whitey used to drink it and Wayne and Whitey were close. Wayne promised to take me shooting and not put one into me if I did as I was told. I explained to him that I do exactly as the man with the gun says, until that man hasn’t got a gun anymore.
I caught up with Big Mick Long, who now lives in Gilgandra and drives around the state with a handgun on his hip hoping someone will try and rob him. He brought along a bunch of photos from the bike show we did at Collie in 1990. I got all misty-eyed looking at them, which was probably due to the rum.
I played pool and actually won. I beat Wayne, who had talked himself up as the world’s greatest pool player, but that had to have been the rum, too. Sadly, I lost the next game to some skinny bloke because Cootey was playing Johnny Cash and I had to dance. I cannot dance and play pool at the same time, so there had to be sacrifices made.
At ten minutes to midnight, a herd of merry drunks wandered out onto the crossroads with their drinks, to witness the fulfilment of the pact.
But for this to work, logistics had to be involved.
And they went like this:
Whitey’s ashes were to be decanted into a metre-long PVC pipe and capped with a stubby holder. The pipe would be angled downwards and cable-tied to the side of his old bike and to the mannequin (Johnny could not find a live naked woman) that was cable-tied to the pillion pad. Grizzly would then ride the bike 500 metres up the road, turn around, and on the stroke of midnight come roaring through the crossroads, pull the stubby holder off the PVC pipe and Whitey’s ashes would be suitably scattered.
So as ol’ Grizz rode off up the road, the mood was expectant and respectful. We watched as his tail-light and headlight moved away through the night and then we saw him stop.
I looked at my watch. It was midnight. It was time.
Then the headlight went out.
Then it came on again. Then it went out. And it stayed out.
Five minutes went by. Then 10.
Johnny and I looked at each other and at the time.
“Does he have a watch?” I asked.
“Has the bike shat itself?” Wayne asked.
No-one knew that, either. It was certainly a possibility.
The drunks on the crossroads were growing restless. One of them took off his pants – all of them – and ran around a bit. Some of the drunks hooted and yelled. Some thought it might be good to beat the pants-free drunk’s brains out. Some went back inside the pub to get more beer.
Another five minutes went by.
“Reckon I should go up there?” Johnny asked, as if I was in any state of mind to offer good advice.
“I think you should. Something is not right.”
Johnny promptly found someone more sober than him and a car went roaring off to where we last saw Grizzly’s headlight.
It stopped where Grizz was, and a few minutes later a bike headlight came on and the car came roaring back. Grizz was in the passenger seat.
I didn’t have much time to digest this, because Whitey’s bike was thundering down the road towards the crossroads, its headlight flashing on and off intermittently. And roaring is perhaps not the right word. Whitey’s Harley had always made a most unique sound. It never sounded like any other Harley. It was loud, but it was a sharper, more staccato loud. More smaller-calibre machine gun than booming thunder.
In seconds, Whitey’s Harley with Johnny in the saddle came banging through the intersection and we all cheered and raised our glasses. But there seemed to be no ashes. The bike stopped about two hundred metres away, turned around and came flying back, then halted about 50metres out, with Johnny revving the engine. Clearly the bike was not well. The headlight was still going on and off and it was struggling to idle. Johnny worked that out very quickly, pinned it to the stop and came charging through the intersection again – and this time a great plume of ash was sprayed in his wake.
We all cheered like madmen.
It was done.
The promise had been kept.
Of course, it had not gone to plan, and we all blamed it on Whitey’s ghost as we trooped back to the pub.
Whitey, like lots of bike riders, was superstitious sorta kinda but not really, but yeah. He used to blame the shit that happened to his bike (and sometimes to him) on the “ghost” in his shed. The ghost would steal tools, empty batteries, lose bolts, strip nuts and perpetrate various small acts of bastardry on Whitey.
This evening’s shit-fight was clearly its doing.
Grizz had ridden up the road as planned. But when he went to do a U-turn and come back, the bike stalled mid-turn. Simultaneously, one of the cable-ties holding the mannequin to the pillion seat broke and it began to slide off. Grizz tried to catch the dummy with one hand just as the bike cut out, and he ended up dropping the entire circus onto the road. He picked it up, but the bike refused to start. He kept trying, it kept refusing and eventually Johnny showed up in the car and somehow, it fired up and away it all went.
But Johnny rode the bike.
The deal may not have gone down exactly as it had been planned, but then life doesn’t ever go to plan either. Ever. That’s not how life works.
But it went down – and in a way that was probably more appropriate, entirely proper and perfectly fitting.
Whitey would have loved it and laughed his head off at how it went.
Rest in peace, brother.
It was a privilege and an honour to know you.