Someone’ll Save Yer

The only Asian hobo in Vicetown sits cross-legged on the street corner with a Jesus figurine for company. Emblem of patience, thin hair telling you the direction of the wind, bare feet black as soot. Nothing underneath his unbuttoned linen shirt, back rounded like a curled-up centipede. A red rubber band collects his beard like a bouquet of flowers.

He’s on the corner of Good Feels Avenue and Good Times Street, the epicenter of Vicetown. How he managed to claim this very spot for himself for the past six months is anybody’s guess, but here, bet on his brawn rather than brain.

This corner is his base of operations, his bank, his store. He advertises it with a piece of perforated cardboard with ‘GOD SAVES’ scribbled on it. Underneath that soothing quote is Chinese chicken scratch, way more than two words so you can guess it’s not exactly a translation. What he does is sit here cross-legged, one palm extended and cupped, the other massaging his jaw, back of the neck, or stroking his ashy beard. A man of few words in two languages, he’s known in these parts as Old Mute.

Ambling down Good Feels Ave. is Franky Togaldo. You get the impression gravity overtime on him. A feet dragger, shoulder slumper, anterior pelvic tilt sufferer. He takes a particular interest in the islands of liver spots and flaky skin on Old Mute’s head and makes a show of running his hand through his own head of thick genetic lottery hair.

Old Mute, trained for years in sensing condescension, thrusts his chin upwards at Franky, universal gesture for what the fuck are you looking at. Franky is unnerved. He redirects his gaze to Jesus, arms spread open. Not in a, come hither all ye lost sheep way, but a hey what’s up fam, long time no see, the sausages are grilling fine kind of way. The clay artist must’ve been having a laugh. Jesus stands guard on a stack of bills, surrounded by an irregular splash of dimes and nickels.

Franky has long stuffed empathy up Sister Sympathy’s ass. As far as Franky’s concerned, he’s on the same financial ground as Old Mute and he’s got an appointment with a state of mind at Kaboodlez. His last cigarette is flicked onto oncoming cars on the Ave., later to be trampled on by hundreds of vomit- and alcopop-soiled soles before being sucked up in a twister of cigarette butts, crumpled burger wrappers, and divorced Vicetown Daily pages by a Madvac at four in the morning.

The green man comes to life with a sputtering click. A couple of Werewolf Bikies rev their bikes at the head of their lanes, watching crossing pedestrians behind dark goggles. Every bump, raised shoulder, and side look is a prologue to a brawl. After sunset, past certain BAC levels, theories of crowd dynamics are replaced by the second law of thermodynamics, entropy shooting through the roofs.

Franky jukes and zigzags his way across the avenue like a retired running back, straight in through the doors of Kaboodlez. The pub’s been on the tan quadrant of the busiest four-way intersection in Vicetown since the 1970s. The early 80s businessmen who used to drop significant amounts of their income here are still alive, their crucifix pendants burrowed in their chest hair, stomachs popping buttons, gut microbiome starving for more yeast. Kaboodlez used to be a motel. In fact, Blonde John, owner and manager, will tell you the rooms upstairs are still for rent, though nobody’s done so ever since Sleep Easy’s opened up right above Easy’s on the northside of Good Feels Ave. Self-promoted as a boutique hotel—rustic furnishings, bowtied bellboys, Instagrammable succulents in every room—the flashier block still succumbs to the no-strings-whatsoever clientele of Vicetown. That is to say, the only tourists sleeping in Sleep Easy’s aren’t armed with passports or luggage.

Outside Kaboodlez, a chalkboard stand advertises pints for three dollars, and Ricky Rick’s Slick Licks playing at nine (or if the tip jar tips over!). All along the walls are squad photos of the local Vicetown Messiahs in black and white. Half the squad have their heads wrapped up, not a single full row of teeth. Blonde John likes to make shit up about how this is the pre-game photo. Dreamcatchers sway above the pool tables. A broken down pinball machine occupies space like a paralyzed war vet in a nursing home. There are lounge chairs that were made for the slouching your doctor warned you against. The barmaid, Rosetta, has been working here so long it’s on her birth certificate, she’s seen all and still comes back every shift. The type of woman who extinguishes her cigarettes on her apron.

Kaboodlez was demoted to a Last Drinks kind of place in the late 00s by Easy’s. If Guinness World Records dared come through town, they’d grant a certificate for the longest queue ever formed—in space and time. Multiple-themed rooms, the chance to spot underworld up-and-comers, a Messiah or two, and a painless retreat upstairs to a room in Sleep Easy’s if ever you’re so lucky. Those in line might as well be the grandkids of Kaboodlez’ crowd, made up and dressed up, confident of procuring triple-A hangovers they can blog about the next day. They’re already doing the semi-squat move to the waves of bass that seep out through the cracks whenever the bouncer grants entry to ladies shoving their IDs back in their bras, men whoop-whooping and chyeah-chyeahing, forming gang signs with their fingers to imagined cameras.

The doors close behind them and they join the throng of similarly-aged women with shirts tied around their waists, their hands in the air, crossed at the wrists, their hips loosened by moksha in the mornings. Never too far away from any girl are guys bobbing their heads, like pigeons around a crumb of bread. On the dancefloor perimeter, edgy and shy onlookers—too drunk to dance, or not enough—sip on tropical cocktails: lemons, origami umbrellas on toothpicks, some green thing that once belonged to a plant, liquid that’s the colour of a diluted rainbow. Pofile updates, filter applications, swapped numbers; pockets of light searching the dance floor like a deep-sea submarine nearing the ocean floor; dancers shouting into each other’s ears, nodding at propositions, laughs you can’t actually hear, bodies bouncing off bodies like dodgems.

This is the crowd that the king of Vicetown takes $10 from at the entrance. The Bunny Man has the reputation that all men with illegal empires have, a way of nodding without any actual head movement, a face people have been trying to cave in for more than your mortgage. Whenever photographed he’s got long jet black hair parted down the middle, a tailored sports jacket, a GQ smile. A face as spotless as his criminal record, but you know something’s artificial.



Men with arms around the shoulders of ethnic-looking mamas, white creamy pearls around their neck, blouses patterned like shopping bags, hearing but never listening; couple of blokes racking the pool table without a rack; indistinct men with irrelevant problems. Conversations are automatically muted here though not necessarily so you can hear the football commentary—it’s just a hush hush kind of place. Putting most of his upper body weight on the counter, Franky is a chameleon amongst the Kaboodlez faithful. Little pebbles of ice float on a shallow bed of copper-coloured water in his glass. There’s only one other man sitting at the counter, alternating between a swig of beer and nibbling on a toothpick, his eyes on a television screen, willing his team to an improbable comeback. Vicetown Messiahs 12. Underground Warlocks 40.

To the annoyance of Rosetta, Franky’s coaster is torn to shreds, sitting in a pile shaped like the bottom of an hourglass. He chose a seat with a clear view of the door. Franky reckons the Samoan bouncer by the door could choke a crocodile with those arms, facial expression like he’s deciphering a cyrillic legal document in his head. Crescendo from the television prompts the bicep freakshow and Franky to check the score. Messiahs just copped another one. Jaysus, mouths the Samoan.

Spiro Santones has been on the lookout for Franky, sending kids with rat tails to peer into his usual watering holes, rattle on doors, telling neighbours his second cousin needs help, if you know what they mean.

Looking at the Samoan, Franky’s mind turns on the paranoia tap, wondering if Spiro has connections all the way up here. Jaws of the baddest loan shark in Dead Man’s Swamp starting to encroach on Vicetown territory? Spiro taking on the Bunny Man?

“Hey bruv. You a fan of the fucken’ Warlocks?”

When the Samoan speaks, it rechills Franky’s glass. After his heart starts beating again, Franky says he’s Messiahs through and through, buddy. A half-truth. Franky grew up in Vicetown but you could measure his fandom with a burette. Still, there are less people you want to talk football with than Samoans with Australian accents in Vicetown so Franky also taps his left pec, as though the Messiahs lived in his heart. It appears to reassure the Samoan who returns a smile only Islanders can pull off, chews on his imaginary gum.

A thump gives Franky another heart attack. Frank swivels to see that Rosetta has slammed a lump of something down in front of the toothpick man with a honey-and-cigarette-tinged, ‘here you are doll.’ The gravy looks darker than newly laid asphalt, the meat thinner than a crepe. The single boiled broccoli leaf laughs at your blood tests. Even the wisp of steam reaching for the cracked ceiling looks like a skinny Laughing Buddha if you squint real’ hard. His appetite doesn’t budge—Franky grew up poor, on a steady diet of silence alternating with shouting around the dinner table.

“Chyeah, my childhood club and shit, ya know?”, the bouncer winks at Franky before someone grabs his attention on his earpiece.



When there are too many people not paying attention to his existence, Old Mute’s forced to shut up shop for the night. A wave of pain erupts in his knees as he pushes himself off the ground, and it crashes down in pins and needles down his shins, the heat flowing down like a meteor shower. He decides to go west on Good Feels Ave., no particular destination in mind.

In a convenience store, Old Mute waits for his turn behind a tipsy girl in mini-shorts harassing the cashier for a photo because his bindi is cute. While he’s fending off the soul-sucking flash, her boyfriend shoves candy bars into the pockets of his jeans. When it comes time to hand over two bills for his muffin, Old Mute doesn’t snitch.

Limbless men selling plastic flowers, teenagers in hoodies loving the evening air on their skin, taggers spraying over day-old artifacts. On the corner of Good Feels Ave. and Knuckle St., Old Mute comes across Dealin’ Dan, chewing on a popsicle stick, sideways cap, waving balled-up hands in the pockets of his jacket. Military surplus duffel bag pulling one shoulder down, motherfucker has scoliosis so bad it might spread. Probably already has.

No smiles, no what’s ups, just straight into Word Of The Street with Dealin’ Dan, “hey my Asian brother, found some grade-A stuff about three blocks back, had to fight Slimy Jimmy for it but I made sure I got there first.” At this Dan’s sucks in his gut, flexes muscles he doesn’t have, mimes a Thai boxer with his knee in his air. Old Mute imagines low kicking the standing leg and the sound Dealin’ Dan’s hips would make as it hits the pavement.

Some deity takes the impulse away. Dealin’ Dan wears toe-holed boots, boot that have walked all over construction sites, rain-soaked fields, and Chihuahua shit. The only ass Dealin’ Dan can kick is a dead one in a barn. Still, Jesus tucked under his arm, Old Mute offers two sarcastic hand claps.



Matteus “Mack” Togaldo had been sitting at the head of the table as usual. Franky’s mom out there somewhere failing drug tests and negotiating with pawners. His uncle’s shoes rested on the scarred piece of furniture, a foot on each side of an ashtray that he steadily filled every morning. Franky’s legs were yet to touch the ground. He could only make out the top of his uncle’s head jutting out above a newspaper.

Mack had a way of reading the paper that annoyed people around him. A mumble-read, punctuated by clearing his throat for no apparent reason at all. At breakfast, Franky would sit on his nine and not eat whatever was on his plate, poking and prodding at baked beans and undercooked eggs.

On the first day that Franky ever made money without the help of the tooth fairy, he had a case of the sniffles. Fly screens defended the window from the rain. Trees kowtowed to the wind. Despite two oversized sweaters, goosebumps formed on Franky’s skin.

Annoyed that his sister left Mack to entertain the little kid as well as having to put up with Franky’s mucus ruckus, Mack sent the kid on an errand. He put ten dollars in Franky’s hands, told him to run up to Three Jacks Square to pass on a message to a friend of his.

“Listen carefully Franky, or you’re gunna have to pay me back. It’s: Ten for the Preachers. Repeat after me.”

He found the place easily enough. He cycled past the Vicetown casuals and their regular establishments. Franky had been a backseat passenger in Mack’s car on visits to this double-storey townhouse many times before. Mack would tell him to glue his butt to the leather, kick the door open, ring a doorbell that would drive two Rottweilers berzerk in the front yard. Most times, his uncle gave the man he called his friend money, passing an envelope through the gate rails. Other times, the bread went the other way.

His dollar store poncho’s hoodie amplified the sound of raindrops as he introduced himself as Mack’s nephew. When Mack’s friend confirmed (Ten on Reapers did you say son?) the message over the loud rain, angry dogs, and stuffed ears, Franky just nodded and handed the money off, noting that his hand fit through the rails much easier than Mack’s did. Perhaps it was this very thing that got it all started. The ease of it.

A couple of days later he was back out on his own accord, walking in the winter sunshine, going through his mental wishlist. What he wanted was a couple of toy capsules, a comic book, and some sour belts. He had a fat wad of cash burning a hole in his pocket and every schoolboy knew Good Feels Ave. was where most people in Vicetown went to put out the flames. Something for every age. Arcade stations, intriguing pool halls, mysterious dark booths in the back of even darker cinemas.

School kids from all surrounding districts ruled the avenue for a few hours every weekday. Around six, anyone who wasn’t not looking to catch a glimpse of something he couldn’t unsee was back home, under the covers. At this age, Young Franky was a head shorter than sharp-haired thugs from Dead Man’s Swamp, fat men in unzippable leather jackets whistling outside their pawn shops, high school girls with skirts climbing dangerous slopes.

The story was as such, he would later tell La Tigresa. Hell’s Landing’s Reapers were practically cremated underdogs against the Preachers of Dead Man’s Swamp. Preachers were at home, their star striker on a five-game double score run. Steve Kelulai, streakiest forward ever since the takeover of the team by up-and-coming grey-zone real estate dealer cum black-market opioid dealer, Spiro Santones. Known to go months without a goal, guaranteed double goals for the next few. Nobody could explain it, nobody cared.

A whopping +850 on the MoneyLine. Reapers were coming off a demolishing the week before by South Side’s Cabrones. A drubbing so bad one of the players actually got a torn testicle. Second such injury of the season. But hey, Mack’d been applying his Degree in Sports Statistics and his “friend” had been taking affordable bets on a commission percentage and the tenner looked to be as sure as a Werewolf Bikie’s honour. Plus, consider it well spent, the kid off for a couple of hours, time to jack off in his sister’s bed. Had even give him an extra dollar when he got back, shoes like buckets of water, as if the kid had taken a dip in Dead Man’s River.

So it was to Franky’s great surprise when pedaling home from school one day, Mack’s friend whistled for his attention somewhere near Betty’s Jugs (Milkshakes and More!) and stuffed an unimaginable amount of money destined for the older Togaldo in Franky’s school bag. Checking his shoulders, Mack’s friend put a finger perpendicular to his lips so of course Franky never told anyone about anything, not even Mack. Mack never found out and never needed to entertain Franky again. The boy had new hobbies now and it involved Reapers, Preachers, Cabrones, Messiahs, and all sorts of other things that sometimes don’t really exist.



In present-day Kaboodlez, a man in a red plaid shirt dances to the music in his head, beer glasses land with dull thuds on Joker’s Alley IPA coasters, and people who might be a Slick Lick or Ricky Rick himself are setting themselves up in a clearing made by chairs and tables pushed against the walls.

The Messiahs’ biggest fan calculates the possibility of trouble from the few people coming in for a drink. Sammy’s been here eight months, give or take a few weeks. Most nights, the old fucks are out by ten, back to their suburban homes and their sexless lives. A lull follows until drunk punks wearing ball-squeezing maroon jeans try to grab one last one in here after having been kicked out by Iareto at Easy’s. Waking up a customer in the middle of a conversation with their dead granduncle is the most exciting part of the week. Nothing like semi-legal physical force, the client’s saliva stretching from gaping mouth to the mahogany bar.

Iareto often buzzes Sammy on the radio to check up on scores. Sammy holds up no one while he scans the bottom ticker on the television. Across the street, the jittery clientele of Easy’s don’t say anything to Iareto about being forced to wait while the scores are getting updated for fear of getting sent back down the line. Every time Sammy reports back, regardless of whether anything’s changed in the last two minutes or the fact that Iareto doesn’t even know the lineups, he’ll make a comment about how his favourite player is fucken’ tearing it up, son.

Franky takes a look at his wrist, forgetting that he doesn’t have a watch anymore. Blonde John asks if Franky’s empty glass needs replacing but given his even emptier wallet, says he’s just about to go. Before leaving, Franky notices that the man next to him is writing in a stenographer’s pad. He’s left the broccoli flower alone to sulk on the plate.

Hm. Multi-coloured pen, making strokes rather than words. Eyes moving to-and-fro the sports but unflinching when possession switches between Messiahs and Warlocks.

No one’s that neutral.

A Pavlovian reaction: Franky’s fingers start to twitch and his brain starts making a budget from his future fortune. Could be a Vicetown bookie, in which case let’s start scheming. Could be one from Dead Man’s Swamp, rogue or on holiday, so hit the road. Or, best case scenario, an independent: no allegiances either way, just a guy out to make a quick buck off other guys looking to do the same.

A cheer from the television. The commentators call time. Messiahs 12. Warlocks 60.

The broccoli man’s grin has Franky take a chance.



Outside Reel Vicetown Flicks, Old Mute’s eyes dart across the block letters and showtimes while Dealin’ Dan jabbers away, “Check this out bud, Benson in Baaaaaad Benson. Look at the way his guitar shayines. You play the guitar? My favourite instrument. Cleanest piece of vinyl I’ve ever fucking seen, I could kiss it to bed.”

Anyone that passes by, Dan tries to cajole them into listening to his sales pitch, pulling out more and more treasure from his suburban excavation. Teddy bear with a red ribbon around its neck, a pair of Mighty Mouse size six shoes, books with birthday messages inscribed inside the jacket covers. Dan’s always collecting things to read, community centre pamphlets, phone books, filled-in coloring books.

“I know a few people, yeah a few. Get a juicy kebab. You can be my dining partner if you help me shift all this stuff,” offers Dealin’ Dan. “Or if you trade me that Jesus thing you got there.”

Old Mute is holding his figurine like a mic. The history of its ownership starts with a ceramic and craft center of some sort that was going under. Old Mute passed by a clearance sale quieter than a hobo’s funeral. Garden gnomes puffing on pipes, unfinished flower pots, donkeys for your Nativity scene, red-cheeked Santa Clauses and his reindeer. By the end of the Saturday they hadn’t got rid of half the stuff and the owners were taking them around the back to be destroyed. The woman handed the Jesus figurine to him, two-handed, like Sepp Blatter presenting you the World Cup. This was not long after his exile from Yellowman’s Cove and Old Mute saw this bequeathment as some sort of conversion.

“How much you pay for it? I’ll double it. I gotta check if it’s made in China though. Ha.”

A few dings and scratches, but arms full attached, ready to receive and accept. All he knows is it gets him attention, especially when Easter and Christmas come around. Not a nun in town would pretend to be blind. Coins are dropped like Vietnam air supplies when people accidentally kick it over. You can ignore a white, possibly Christian, hobo but a Chinese Christian hobo, outside of Yellowman’s Cove? God damn, this guy’s in some deep shit.

“C’mon man. I’ll help you out, swear on my mother. God’ll look out for you anyway right? Like your sign says. Does it have Chinese on that too? What’re you, some sort of Mao Zedong spy? I can buy the sign too.”


Jesus’ll save you, alright. A joke for the white folk. If you played around with the tones a bit it meant Jesus’ll beat you the fuck up. Old Mute continues shaking his head at Dealin’ Dan’.



Franky’s outside Cindy’s Sins, waiting for a certain Gisella to close up shop. Gisella La Tigresa. Five feet nine without her stilettos. Never seen her in anything that would cover her knees. Running up her thigh is a tattoo of a tiger mauling a—well, the prey hides on the inside of her thigh. He’s been trying to ID the animal for three months through good deeds such as surprise milkshakes from Betty’s and family heirlooms. La Tigresa stands her ground. No dough, no dice, so much for being nice.

Meanwhile, he watches three teenagers in baseball caps chucking M&Ms into the air, their mouths at the end of the nuts’ parabolas. Sitting on a bench, they’re ignoring a fat, more-or-less toothless man trying to sell things from his duffel bag, a non sequitur after the other. Clothes hangers, a nail clipper, vinyl records, what is that, a fucking bookend? This man is a walking thrift store. A couple feet away from the impromptu street fair, Franky recognises the Chinese hobo, the Jesus figurine in one hand, cardboard in another, expression either bored to death or nothing can bore him anymore.

Two of La Tigresa’s colleagues walk out the shop. They’ve seen Franky around before so they do a little wave and Franky just nods back. They draw stares from the kids who’re cackling in voices that are breaking. A punk coming down the other way wolf whistles at the ladies but they might as well be trying to fish for shark with their own bloodied hands. All of Cindy’s Sins personnel have black belts in pepper spraying.

The bookie back at Kaboodlez was an independent indeed. Franky tried leaving his pre-touchscreen phone as collateral but the indie was having none of it, come back when you have something made in the 21st century.

Pissed Franky off, of course. Young Vicetown whippersnapper, no respect for the profession. Back then, credit lines were exactly how you built up a bookie profile, a bookie’s legitimacy. Almost like how you did an internship return for the experience. This fresh-faced dipshit brandied about his Vicetown upbringing as though being tough came with the address. Plus, the bookie wasn’t going to take customs. He consulted his pad, read Franky the availables, showed less flexibility in shifting lines than a zumba class for seniors.

Fucking hipster bookies. What is this world coming to.

Because, if you ask Franky, it wasn’t just about the money. It was the creativity. Old schoolers like Mack predicted scores. Franky cared about how scores would come about, who would score first and second, who would provide the assists, whether or not they came via fouls, what part of the human body’s anatomy was used. One could reverse engineer any score into touches, minutes, passes, time spent in opposition’s half, winner of inner game brawls. On a metalevel you could watch the game purely so you could get an over-under on how many times a commentator would use the words ‘specimen,’ whether The Preachers would field more black players than whites ones, which coach would be first to get the sack.

This way, you could always find a way to win.

So here Franky is, waiting for La Tigresa so he can borrow the watch he gave her four months ago as a gift. He doesn’t know how yet, but he wants to ruin that indie bookie’s life. Send him all the way back to selling portable phone chargers outside Easy’s to desperate blondes.



Sitting on the stoop of a closed convenience store, Dealin’ Dan and Old Mute are chowing down opposite Steaks & Sticks, the only place on Good Feels Ave. where the glass walls aren’t tinted. Their knees are nearly touching but in between them is a potluck of carrots with extra limbs, half a kebab, some soda from Fizzy’s.

Dealin’ Dan hasn’t shut up since he learned how to say mama. Old Mute pays more attention to the action he can make out through Steaks & Sticks’ glass walls. He has a nation of 50” flat screen TVs to choose from, none of them showing the same event. Cyclists huffing their way up a mountain; Norwegians in pyjamas sliding rocks down an iced lane; a Brazilian roundhouse kicking someone in the face.

‘—to wrestle or to play football? Cause both of ’em have uniforms that make your balls itch, I’ll tell you that much—’

Old Mute is thinking about leaving Vicetown. He’s been hanging around for a bit too long and he’s starting to get recognised and, worse, recognise other people.

‘—actually has cheerleaders so of course I’ll play football, even if it’s warming the bench for Roderick Cuntuski or whatever his name was, though I did—’

Maybe it’s the air, or the soundbites of commentary coming out from Steaks & Sticks, or the first time he’s had meat in months. He’s transported to a balmy night, summer of a number ending in nine, sweating in the back of the cardboard warehouse. Big Loaf, Chocolate Abs, Sister Fists shuffling tiles on felt. Under the watchful eye of General Guan Yu on his altar, incense mixed with cigar smoke. Standing around them were lackeys from all four clans, ready to refill brandy glasses or bring more barbecued pork. White people play golf to break the ice, Italians do business over gout-inducing seafood, the Greeks settle it in strip clubs. For some reason, Chinese motherfuckers got to preface shootouts with Big Two, baccarat, or mahjong, and pretend to be best friends while they were at it. The lackeys watched their clan leaders blindly molest tiles before slamming them over with an expletive usually involving somebody’s mother, good tile or bad tile.

One wall-mounted television with a fuzzy view of the front and back entrances; the other television, on this day showcasing a live World Cup matchup between the South Korea Warriors against Portugal Navigators. Old Mute’s attention was divided then as it is now.

‘—two minute mark, Cuntkowski’s got a three-pound bag of ice around his knee, coach has no choice but—’

Godamn, this faichai can really talk. Anyway, where was he? Ah yes. They’d gone for seven, eight, nine rounds. They only talked business whenever someone was close to winning the game. This was him. Bearing down on 1000 points, six tiles melded, obviously going for an easy deoideoiwu hand. Normally not enough to tip him over the game line but Big Loaf has noticed that none of the wind tiles are exposed on the table, so he’s correctly guessed that Young Mute is holding them hostage for bonus points.

On his turn, Big Loaf leaned, cracked his knuckles, raised his hands in surrender.

He says, “Looks like Young Mute’s going to take home he bag! Cock’s getting big there!”

Silence from the rest. Sister Fists, so called because she settled every score with her fists back in the day, that night nursing a wisdom tooth socket if you can believe it. Chocolate Abs had technically been out of this game and the game for a while. Wife carrying a second baby, his territory shrinking like a snail under salt. Only reason he was there was cause he had a stake on The Divine Lotus, wedding hall par excellence for any self-respecting Chinese family wedding, and thus the best laundering venue in all of Yellowman’s Cove.

“Big enough to call your girl, get her to wear something nice, go home. Fuck. Leave. Beers with the boys. That the story for tonight Young Mute?”

Big Loaf liked to use losing as a bargaining chip. As if it were written somewhere in the code that the winner of the game had to graciously cede in other negotiations.

Fuck that guy. Young Mute wanted to take the mahjong money and keep everything in a two-mile radius from his warehouse. As per his street name, he said nothing. Looked right between Big Loaf’s eyes, urged him to draw a tile by extending a hand.



A funny couple they make, La Tigresa walking as though every sidewalk was flanked by paparazzi. Her tight skirt concealing her tiger tattoo, a denim jacket around a sheer undershirt, a longer stride despite the taller footwear. Franky slouching in oversized pants and corduroy suit with missing buttons having to occasionally skip just to be on the same pace as his partner.

Franky’s explaining things that La Tigresa doesn’t really give a shit about. Something about tabs with three different bookies from three different parts of town. Each a different ethnicity. When they finally get him, it’ll be like the United Nations.

Last one was a clean grand on the Bloodhounds, Franky had insider tip that something was in the water at the Dead Man’s Swamp Preachers’ training ground, players were puking their guts out. Top scorer McManaman’s insides as dry as the Atacama desert. Some bookie in Dead Man’s Swamp took the bet on good faith. Except, McManaman turns out gung-ho enough to guzzle down five litres of Gatorade and a concoction of Plasma-Lyte and Normosol-R two minutes before kick-off, scores a hat-trick. Problem is, Franky had put down a phantom bet, he never had the goods to begin with. To compound matters, the bookie was a Spiro lackey and Spiro takes it personal when people bet against his Preachers.

La Tigresa’s a big believer in the karmic cycle. Truth be told, she’s been trying to get Franky off her tail and out her life. Franky was running from one district to the next, no contactable phone, the smell of never-washed sheets in his hair. Still, he helped her out once when a friend and her had been duped into making this ultra-niche fetish video involving a lot of rotten fruit and studded dildos. Franky bought them out of the contract in cash. La Tigresa kissed him thanks on the cheek. And now she’s somehow wearing one of his dead grandparent’s watch.

To shake him off, La Tigresa says she wants to go dancing because Franky never dances. Franky would say he’s already eternally dancing with the devil. To her surprise, Franky says he’s game as long as La Tigresa pays the cover. No good reason to refuse to pay the $10 at Easy’s so La Tigresa plans to lose him in the crowd, look for a guy with less alcohol in his breath. The two of them are waved in by Iareto, a discount of the queue time cause Cindy’s girls get priority. Dubstep immediately engulfs the Latin-infused music coming out of Kaboodlez, courtesy of Ricky Rick’s Slick Licks. As the door closes behind him, Franky glances at Sammy who’s bopping his head and drumming on his laps.



Big Loaf out of his chair, circling the table, waving his hands in the air, pointing fingers, talking about respect and boundaries and equality and heritage and honour and how Old Mute’s father doesn’t own the streets.

These Cantonese bastards all have their wires short-circuited. Rebel over everything. Ruffle a feather and have a wing of your own ripped out. An eye for ten. No volume control.

“Empires expand but Yellowman’s Cove doesn’t. What do you expect Young Mute to do? You think Young Mute doesn’t know how to read? You think Young Mute doesn’t have ears? Chocolate Abs has the gambling dens, Sister Fists’ got the restaurants, you’ve got the brothels. Young Mute just wants the sports. More people with disposable income”—Old Mute even uses the English word—“means more bookies. Bookies are mobile, Big Loaf. I don’t control where my bookies go.”

Big Loaf knew that that Young Mute was not that full of himself, it’s just the way the language works. He didn’t have an agenda against Hakka folk, just their methods.

“So it gives them permission to step their shit-caked shoes onto my grass?”

“Big Loaf. You’re only angry because the bookies are taking money from cards. Young Mute doesn’t see Chocolate Abs and Sister Fists making a fuss.”

The support Old Mute looks for doesn’t come. All he sees are lowered heads and clenched fists. It’s also in this silence he realises he has tinnitus.



La Tigresa forced Franky to take a pill. Told him it would relax him. Franky argued that if he needed a Thai massage he would’ve got one for free in Yellowman’s. What he needs is his grandma’s watch back, just for a couple of days, c’mon, please.

Everything’s a deal in Vicetown these days. This one was take the pill, I’ll hand you the watch. La Tigresa laughed at her own little pun.

A pill as round as the moon on days where Vicetown’s Werewolf Bikies go nuts. Light blue, the colour of your young girl’s nursery. La Tigresa’s not just trouble on two legs with a pretty face. Sex store assistant manager by day, escort by night, every other waking minute a pharmacology student at some online campus. The drugs she procured aren’t kosher, but the knowledge is.

Now as Franky siddles up to one of the thousand bars in Easy’s, still watchless, looking for nothing but directions to the toilet, he’s flying kites with blind beavers, as they say in Vicetown.

He had shouted, asking for the identity of these things. He can still see the way La Tigresa’s lips rounded when she mouthed ‘Carbidopa-levodopa motherfo-ka!’

Dopamine overflooding his brain like he’s on a masturbathon after Lent. Not only is he relaxed, but his shoes have become rabbits, hugging his aching arches. He can single out the synth line on whatever this track the DJ is preaching with. He can reach right into this toilet bowl and scoop a handful out and it’ll taste like the Virgin Mary’s tears. Not even the sight of Spiro on an elevated landing in Easy’s, clinking champagne glasses with a couple of his associates, can bring him down.



The Bunny Man had noticed the conversation sag in the middle of their celebratory drinks. Across him, Spiro had gone all quiet, staring down from their VIP balcony at a scene like a hawk zeroing in on a scurrying rodent from his mountain perch. A long-legged lady waving a little plastic pouch in front of a man wearing a suit you can only rent with a time-machine. Looked like they were arguing, the man holding on to her wrist, waving it like a disabled cheerleader.

Looking at La Tigresa, in true Bunny Man fashion, something tingled simultaneously up here and down there. La Tigresa’s tanned skin glowed in spots as the strobe ball circled up high, hair straight out from a commercial. She’s the type of woman you feel like you know from somewhere but only because she’s the type of woman you’ve always wanted to sleep with.

The two dons had shaken hands and called each other brother. The Bunny Man allowing and taking a cut out of Spiro’s bookie operation in Vicetown, the Bunny Man opening up a couple of clubs and erecting a hotel in Dead Man’s Swamp. If things worked out well, why not round up the Werewolves and rumble into Yellowman’s Cove?

They’re two or three bottles in, deep den stuff, so now the Bunny Man figures he can put the cherry on the cake in the spirit of fraternity. He sent one of his bodyguards down who parted the dancers like a prophet, dividing the worthy from the not, walking up to La Tigresa. A hand on a shoulder, a word in her ear, a hand pointing back up here where the Bunny Man raises a glass to say salud. The man that looked like an Egyptian omen wanted to follow but a hand in the face halted that particular dream.

Five minutes later, La Tigresa’s back is against the penthouse door of Sleep Easy’s. Spiro said something about a little bit of business he had to handle so fair enough. Now she and the Bunny Man are sharing something that’s, frankly, nobody’s business. A janitor pushes his creaky cart past them, whistling a tune to an advert he’s seen a million times for Dead Serious Cologne for Dead Serious Men from, man, you know where by now.

The Bunny Man knifes the key card slot, searching for a click, but missing every time. La Tigresa doesn’t find the same amount of trouble with his belt. Janitor waiting for the ding of the lift. Oh what the janitor would do if he was married, if he wasn’t on the wrong side of sixty five, if he wasn’t Phillipino, if he wasn’t gay.



Big Loaf was quicker to the trigger. Rage barometer filled, he flipped the table up and over with a roar. Classic Cantonese move. A hailstorm of mahjong tiles slammed on Young Mute’s head. This was the cue for the three loaded vans outside the warehouse to empty out, ten to a vehicle. No guns, this was not how Yellowman’s Cove worked. Baseball bats, brass knuckes, even a machete or two.

An hour or two before the whole shebang, Big Loaf, Chocolate Abs, and Sister Fists had held incense sticks in their hands and bowed their heads before Guan Yu. Sister Fists had even burned off a paper limousine and mansion. It’s always the same thing: what you ask for is protection, what you want is prosperity for your greedy soul. Funny that Young Mute had also offered Rolex watches, abalone, and bottles of cognac to his ancestors. Custom-made joss paper, stuffed into pagodas. Guess his ancestors were getting beat up in hell too.

Chocolate Abs and Sister Fists letting loose on Young Mute in the eye of the storm. Around it, Young Mute’s understaffed lackeys getting jumped on helplessly, outnumbered, outsmarted. Legs are getting broken, fingers getting chopped, vocal cords tearing themselves up. All the while John Motson narrating the passes between the Koreans using words like ‘on the attack,’ ‘siege,’ and ‘foul play.’ Motherfucker, this is foul play, thinks Young Mute. This is war. Abs has got a fistful of Old Mute’s hair, pulling so hard on the roots that the follicles are damaged beyond repair. Some no name punk is kicking Old Mute’s teeth in. All this time Old Mute has not let go of his chokehold on Big Loaf who he’s got under him, cutting off his airflow, trying to rip off his Adam’s Apple. Rather successfully.

This is how the game is played. Whenever outnumbered, you pick out the leader and you never let go.

Chaos that lasted no more than four minutes. He wasn’t thinking of the consequences. In hindsight, Young Mute should’ve gone for Big Loaf’s nose or even fingers. You can live without a nose or a hand. All he had left to show for his efforts were a burned down cardboard warehouse, a piece of his tongue sizzling somewhere in there. Now his street name was meant to be literal.

Oh, and Taegeuk Warriors 1. The Portuguese Navigators 0.

He would’ve shut down the operation with that money, let out the watchdogs, retire on a boat.



Blonde John takes three cigarette breaks an hour. On this particular one, the spectacle he gets to watch in the alley behind Kaboodlez consists of Spiro’s men pinning Franky to the ground by a dumpster, their boots squashing his hands into the filth-strewn pavements as though extinguishing a joint. Franky’s a supine Jesus Christ, whose name is exactly the one being yelled, along with give me just a bit more time man, something about his grandmother and a watch. One of his teeth’s nowhere near the vicinity of his oral cavity. Rather, the latter is flooded with red blood cells. Not bad, for Vicetown. Blonde John rates it a 7/10, liking the way Spiro’s men timed their punches with the bass drum of Ricky Rick’s Slick Licks Afrojazz or whatever it is they’re calling music.

The band spits out an avalanche of quavers and the notes exit Kaboodlez along with the patrons that can’t take another demonstration of avant-garde funk or another drink. The drunks spill out onto Good Times Feels Ave. where street vendors are hoarse, selling energy drinks (—let’s go, let’s go, Vicetown don’t stop!), greasy carbohydrates (—come getchour Vicetown Hot Dogs, aiiiiirbody, Vice! Town! Hot! Dogs!), and Messiahs tickets for the upcoming game. Underage girls call upon their glutes and core in their pumps. Overage girls film selfies, screaming into the blinding light of their phones. Young men piss side by side in solidarity in alleyways. Iareto and Sammy are laughing with each other on the radio, the subject of their mockery an inebriated redhead trying to count bricks on a wall. The avenue’s policemen for the night are sitting comfortable on the Bunny Man’s donation, inside their cars watching sitcom bloopers on YouTube.

High up above Vicetown, the Bunny Man considers his history. The name comes from his carrying around a little toy rabbit attached to a keychain given to him by his then five-year-old daughter, now too many birthdays missed to calculate an age. Many a time he’s had someone down on their knees—in the position he’s assuming now in front of La Tigresa—their pleads muffled by a checkered red and white handkerchief (another of the Bunny Man’s touches), sweat and tears running down the tortured captive’s cheeks, pupils expanding as if on ketamine. The Bunny Man would then dangle the two-inch leporidae in the air in front of the captive’s face, asking if the captive could fucking see the bunny, screaming that he’s got a family, that his daughter’s starving back home because he has to pay a plumber because the captive took a shit in one of his hotel room’s sink. His captive would nod away, marking comprehension, with eyes and attention fully on the bunny, truthfully about as cute as an amputated leg, furless, one plastic eye not actually in place. The Bunny Man would then sigh and cover the bunny in his fist, which was the signal for a lackey to knock the captive out with a baseball bat.

The Bunny Man thinks of all this now as he’s begging through his gag for Le Belle to release his zipper and give his dick some fucking space. This is fun but maybe not as much as La Tigresa’s having. She’s got a belt around his neck, pulling it like a leash.

Slowly, like one would peel off a bandage, La Tigresa hitches her skirt up, spreads her legs and reveals just what the tattooed tiger is mauling.



Big Loaf is taking his teenage kid out for an internship practicum, about to rain down bullets (times change in Yellowman’s Cove) on one of Little Chocolate Abs gambling den. Sister Fists is practising her te tats, under the watchful eye of her Thai trainer, using the ribs of an unlucky Big Loaf lackey for shields. Listening to 60s ballads to soothe his nerves, Big Chocolate Abs is on his way to Vicetown, at a rendez-vous selected by a Werewolf Bikie.

Spiro is in a limousine back to Dead Man’s Swamp, not thinking about Franky at all. Instead, he’s scheming, counting down the days before he can play five finger fillet blindfolded with a hammer on the Bunny Man. We’ll see who has the nerve to bestow “permission.”

Back in Vicetown, Dealin’ Dan’s right foot is curled around a fire escape railing. His calf muscle is burning. Directly twenty feet under him, Bad Benson has been arranged like a bridge over a hardcover encyclopedia and a toy truck, such that whenever Dealin’ Dan can hold on no longer he’ll fall onto his record, smashing his record to pieces, vinyl shards creating islands in his piss and puke. That’s no big deal. In all hours of the day, whether sun down or sun up, you can bet someone someplace is dangling by the fraying threads of his life, praying for salvation or for a quick end or both.

Ricky Rick is trying to get in the pants of his bassist, though she’s drinking him under the table at Kaboodlez. The third member of the band’s love triangle is pretending to watch the Arachnids massacre the Preachers. Behind the counter, Blonde John’s counting cash, saving nothing for taxes, sending Rosetta home with an ashtray of tips. Sammy and Iareto are walking home, pretend-tackling each other, bonhomie all around.

And so on, and so forth. We could stop here, but nothing ever does.

Not too far away, inside Mama Wash 24/7, Franky is naked above the waist, dry blood decorating his lips, elbows on his knees and a bruised hand nursing his ribs. Buttons clanging against rotating metal. The thick smell of powdered detergent in the air. A muted television with captions for the deaf broadcasts the one a.m. sports update, delivered by someone who had a makeup artist. Down a mobile phone, he’s now been given another week to cough up collateral and or cash and so when the Chinese hobo comes in with his Jesus figurine under his armpits, Franky’s eyes, still burning after his psychotic episode, go straight to the cold, ceramic welcome of Jesus’ open arms, his robe burgundy and gold.



Joel Mak is a writer and teacher from Australia. Some of his essays and stories have been published in Tongues, Cuttings, carte blanche, and Writer’s Edit.