franky’s used cars
The grasshoppers circulating in the dry grasses that threaded through the chain mail fence separating Franky Benin’s used car-yard from the neighboring container depot clicked at each other occasionally through the dead hot air of a Brisbane afternoon.
Across the road from the lot a long blank brick wall hid the ruins of a tanning factory, abandoned now for eleven years, and the weedy and uneven footpath that led to a distant highway was empty.
At times a ragged man or woman would appear and disappear over there in the time it took to look away and then back, as if the dull red bricks had a secret door – They would stand there against that wall looking over at the car yard – like venal supplicants, then vanish.
Franky Benin was in.
He was sat in his office with his homely face to the hot gusts of air being moved around by a fan on his desk and he was listening to the start of Race 5 at Eagle Farm on a small radio. Wireless. The heat in the metal van cracked his lips and parched his tongue and tickles of perspiration wetted him from underarm to his waist.
Franky liked to bet Trifectas. Two to every race.
He shifted himself forward in his seat as the race-caller’s familiar crescendo announced that the horses had left the traps.
FB’s Used Auto Yard held fifteen units ranged in price from three thousand to seven fifty.
The seven fifty was an ’85 Falcon Station Wagon that was rusted filigree thin around the rear window and had a transmission oil leak plugged with chewing gum. The wagon had been in the yard for eleven weeks since he had bought it from a young man with running sores down both his arms and it was slowly being relegated to the back fence.
A housebreaker’s special.
His customers knew where he was, Franky didn’t advertise.
– and he watched disinterestedly as a tawny haired youth drifted through the gate and walked in and amongst the cars.
Race 5 done. One horse up in a long third place.
He sat up to get a better view of the kid wandering around the cars. Saw the thongs jeans and surf T-shirt, saw him looking at the station wagons, his hands in his pockets, hatless.
He’d arrived on foot. Brown arms and feet, bleached hair trailing its coils down the back of his dark neck.
Another bum surfer looking for a rolling home, one of the million losers running away from money owed and kids orphaned.
Franky exhaled a lungful of stale air and slowly eased his bulk out from under the desk and got to his feet, rocking the van on its bricks. He walked over to the door and straightened his tie as the kid reached the ’85 Falcon.
The kid opened the driver’s door and bent himself into the interior. A large rent in the back of his jeans exposed some surprisingly white flesh.
A jolt of pleasure.
‘ G’day. ‘
The kid backed up and turned around, he looked at Franky through slightly reddened eyes.
‘ Howsit goin’ ? ‘ Benin asked, beaming at him. He moved his hands up high and showed him all his rings. So happy to see you.
‘ This little unit goes real good. Great! Only had it a coupla days. Come around and have a look under the bonnet.
The kid stepped back as Franky bent down and found the release catch, they then both walked around to the car’s nose and he lifted the bonnet. The steamed engine glinted cleanly.
‘ Good for long surfaris, ‘ said the dealer, ‘ and plenty of room in the back for sleeping and rooting. ‘
The kid sneered at Franky’s pretensions and hooked out the dipstick. He looked about for a rag.
‘ No need to dip her again, look at that. Clear as toffee. ‘
A clear film of light brown oil was licked over the measure and a couple of fat drops landed on the kid’s bare foot. He replaced the dipstick and rubbed the oil on his foot off onto the backleg of the other.
Franky started his sales wind-up.
‘ Only 150k on the clock, very low miles for an ’85 and it’s got a ten months rego. I was thinkin’ of buying it for me nipper, he’ll be drivin’ next year and this is a good solid unit. Plenty of brakes. ‘
Franky smiled wide and the kid walked around to the rear of the car and looked through the back window. Faint raisings around the mounts betrayed the amount of filler used to hide rust. The kid didn’t notice. Not so smart.
‘ Spare ok? ‘ he asked.
‘ No worries with that, tested it meself first thing it came in, ‘ assured Franky, ‘ good radio and tape deck too. Got an equalizer built in. I reckon it’s been really well looked after, probably some married sheila just doin’ her shopping and takin’ the kids to school. ‘
The kid was on the opposite side of the car looked and he looked at Franky over the car hood. His level gaze masking any interest he may have had in what was being offered.
‘ What do you want for it? ‘ he asked, finally
Franky rubbed his chin with the hand that had the biggest gold ring, he walked around to the windscreen and looked at the Form 4 stuck there and pretended to read it. The kid turned his back and took out his money and Franky watched his reflected image on the neighboring car’s window as he slowly counted out five one hundred-dollar bills and one twenty. Franky always kept the car windows clean, and their mirrors.
‘ Look, I’ll give it to you for six. You probably want to get into it quicksmart and the bloke who wanted it yesterday hasn’t come back with his finance yet. ‘ Franky looked at his watch, expectant, the bloke due back any minute.
‘ I’ve only got four hundred on me, ‘ said the kid listlessly, ready to give up, the money back into his pocket. Playing his own game,
Lying little bastard thought the Franky. I’ll have all your fucken wad in five minutes.
‘ Can’t do that son, ‘ he replied kindly, ‘ the car owes me five-fifty, plus the new rubbers and detail job. I can go to five seventy-five. ‘ He shrugged with disappointment, too bad.
The kid looked down the row of used cars, bored, trip wasted.
‘ What else you got like this? ‘
‘ Nothin’ mate, don’t get many good station wagons coming through at this price these days. ‘
Franky walked around and stood next to the kid. He rested his hand lightly on the bonnet of the ’85, his favourite. Then, as if on a generous impulse he came in again, refreshed.
‘ Tell you what, I’ll go to five-fifty. Fifty off. Then when you get to Surfer’s Paradise you can have a wave for me. ‘ He beamed again at his unresponsive buyer, and he waited. Plenty of bargaining room left for the five hundred plus he wanted. He liked dealing with the smart arses that thought they could cut him down. Even slabs like this guy
The kid took four hundred dollars out of his pocket and fanned it out on the bonnet. The notes ruffled slightly as the hot air moved underneath them. ‘ That’s it. ‘ He said. Then he looked up at Franky sleepily and waited for him to stop smiling.
The dealer turned a pirouette of amazement and then stood with his hands outstretched and his palms upraised.
‘ Four ..? That sort of money will have me out on my arse in days; I got to pay rent here you know. I gotta landlord! I gotta eat! Maybe you should buy a paper and see what this model is getting these days without the clean up and service I give it. Four? No, you’re kidding. ‘
Franky took a long shuddering breath and dared Armageddon to change its day of arrival.
There was no change in the kid’s expression. Dopers! You could never tell what some of them were thinking. For a moment they observed each other in flat-faced silence before Franky remembered that if he closed this up now he could have something on the last three races.
‘ Five hundred and forty. No lower. ‘
At last the kid smiled, a sardonic leer, but he shook his head. No!
You little fucken shit, Franky thought. You low life fucking bum!
‘ Ok, ok. You’re a hard man. My last offer is five twenty and a tank of gas. It’s too hot to argue. That’s about five and a half I’m givin’ you goin’ on the size of the tank in this car for your four hundred and you’ve got a deal. Ok? You got to like that! ‘
The kid slipped the last hundred and twenty out of his jeans and put it on top of the others, still impassive.
They shook hands on it and walked into the office to clear the paperwork. Forty minutes later in Beenleigh as Stephen (Grub) Borden’s new ‘85 Falcon Station Wagon car stalled for the third time, and with both its temperature and oil indicators on warning Franky Benin walked into the air-conditioned Tingalpa RSL club looking for a cold beer, a friendly face, and long odds anywhere in the country.