Last night I asked Kerry what happened to the Ford two-door after we split company in Vancouver.
A steepish road, at night, a car heading downhill, not fast, rounding a corner and seeing the road end just twenty feet away. Beyond that, air.
A washout, seventy feet deep.
‘I jammed on the brakes but the wheels locked and the car slid, one front wheel eased over the edge, the right one, then the other. The car followed suit, hit the dirt and flipped. Slid all the way to the bottom on its roof. Fucken tools and shit everywhere.’
We were watching TV, talking in the breaks.
Kerry laughed. Infectious is that laugh of his.
‘But I found a telephone not far down the road after I climbed back up. Got the car winched onto a truck and a lift into town. They showed me to a bloke who offered seventy bucks for the wreck which was enough for a bus ride back to Vancouver and a couple of nights in a hotel.’
He went home to Freemantle and married Dale. I was back in Gibraltar where we first met. Both of us agreeing then to see what America was about.
Gibraltar. The Polvorin.
Kerry in the corner of the bar with Ian, a shady Pom, one nameless Australian on the loose and another Australian named Roger just arrived in Gib by sea in a boat that really began to sound interesting the longer the night went on.
Next morning we climbed onboard Roger’s Fairmile D motor torpedo boat with 4 × Packard 4M 2500 gleaming petrol engines sitting inside a stripped out interior.
Roger reckoned it would take him two days to fill it with duty free smokes and one day to slip it over to Italy.
Kerry and I travelled together.
I asked him. ‘Do you remember that restaurant in Phoenix we ate one night, the one with pictures of the Luftwaffe on the walls? The Messerschmitts?’
‘And all those yanks drinking steins?’
Kerry and I walked into Hobie Alter’s Dana Point shop after three months on the road from New Jersey, needing boards. He bought one shaped by I dunno and I scored a Corky Carrol Special from the nugget himself. Where do we go? We asked him on the way out.
Mexico he said, so we did.
There’s two ways to get into Birdsville; south from Alice Springs or the other way – east, north then west from Innamincka. The loop. Two days at 20 kph, nothing over 2nd gear. Deserts, gibber plains and dunes. Eleven hundred dunes that need upping and over, somebody counted them. Some years there’s more.
Three weeks ago, when Kerry reached the end of the loop and the last creek crossing leading to Birdsville he found it as wide and as deep as a river. Impassable. So he looped back. Twenty-two hundred dunes now.
He lost the top half of his right thumb a while ago, sliced it clean off when a hatch cover came down on it. Kerry has spent half of his life wrestling boat engines. The thumb is essential. Was.
Kerry says this about his left hand. The one that hasn’t been the same since he had a stroke sailing back from the Abrolhos Islands and falling asleep with his head cranked so far over bunk-edge the blood flow to that side of his head failed.
Right now he’s holding a cold Carlton Dry in it. Another one.
‘The bloody thing will only do something if I’m watching it, ‘he says, ‘it won’t just slip over and pick up a glass on peripheral vision, I’ve got to look at it to make sure.’
‘You know those little two-dollar slots on the laundromat machines? Sliding coins into those bastards with no thumb on one hand and no feeling in the other. That’s where the mental telepathy gets a workout.’
He’s on the way home now after four nights in the spare room and I rang him at five, as arranged. He’d taken the Jackadgery turnoff out of Grafton instead of the one going to Coutts Crossing, this is going to Armidale where I hope he’s got a motel room. Cold over there tonight and no-one to make him a cup of tea in the morning.
Kerry is seventy eight in July, he likes meat pies, honey chicken and cabernet sauvignon, and he’s found a doctor in Perth who does prosthetic thumbs.
Man, this is topical, I have been defending Tim Winton on the Guardian! I feel like the dude with the machine gun, I am a good shot, mostly, I think, maybe.