Johnny Rowbotham - Thursday, 1 September 2016

Since they got rid of smokes in prison, life behind bars hadn't been the same for Johnny Rowbotham.

Being able to roll a fag and hang with the other men in the yard helped pass the days and also kept the inmates calm.

Three meals a day, a bed and pillow, time outside and an afternoon to evening smoke while watching the Nine News, wrestling and some reality TV show during night-lockdown made prison a good place for Johnny. Much better than the outside. 

The last time out, he was sleeping in a cheap beach-tent at Belmore Park, right next to Central Station in the centre of Sydney. It would be cold there, sometimes the ground was wet, and the days went by in a haze of begging for money, chasing gear and catching trains to far off suburbs to score. 

He'd often spend the time during peak-hour sitting on the tiled floor of the underground pedestrian tunnel that lay beneath the large Central train terminal, which allowed commuters and university students to move from one side of the city to the other.

He had a sign fashioned from a discarded fruit box, written on in black texta: "Homeless and cold. Tryna keep warm. Outta work. Need money for food." 

That need for food always worked a treat with the well-dressed office-goers and the do-gooder uni students.

What they didn't know, and what Johnny knew, was that he'd never held down a job and there was plenty of food available for free in Sydney. 

There was so many churches competing for halos and godliness that at all times of the day, food vans would appear in the park, offering hot meal and forgiveness. Some even came from way out west, travelling two hours from Lithgow. There might be homeless people in Lithgow wanting for food, but there was more chance of the pastor gaining a greater number of homeless followers in the city.

Johnny was always willing to pray and give thanks to the dear lord if it meant a plastic container filled with warm rice and a meaty casserole. 

The church squads loved it. Felt like they were giving back. But all it really meant was that Johnny didn't have to waste his $500 fortnightly dole cheque on food and could instead spend it on cigarettes, alcohol and any illicit substances he could get his hands on.

Johnny got busted one day while smoking ice and fondling a 14-year-old in his tent at Belmore Park. Now he was back behind bars and he didn't mind it so much, except that smokes had now been banned.

New inmates would be given 'nicotine replacement therapy', which meant they were issued with a supply of stick-on patches for two months to allow them to adapt to the new smoke-free rules.

Despite his prison experience, Johnny was stood over on his first day and told to hand over his patches.

The more experienced, long-term inmates would then place the patches in boiling water with a teabag. The teabag would apparently absorb the valuable nicotine, be opened up, dried out and the nicotine-infused tea became 'teabaccy', which was then rolled in paper to make quasi-cigarettes.

Once Johnny became aware of this recipe, he refused to give up his patches the next time, was stabbed near the eye with a biro and taken to the prison clinic. He refused to tell the officers why he had an injury and was discharged within an hour, the pen removed.

So yeah, prison wasn't so great anymore. 

Johnny decided to remain quiet and well-behaved, get out of there as soon as possible and smoke when he pleased. He signed up for the programs that would give him parole early. Even the sex offenders course. 

The girl might have been 14, but she sure didn't look it. Johnny was no sex offender, he assured himself, but he was happy to do the six-week rehab program if it meant getting out of there sooner and regaining his freedom back at Belmore Park.

Hildred Moore - Friday 2 September 2016

Dear Diary,

I am soooo happy today. Spring is finally here after three months of wearing black and Facebook-stalking my ex-boyfriend, Byron.

He is such a narcissist. And his Facebook posts are so dull and self-absorbed they make me sigh with relief and laugh and thank the moon goddess, Ishtar, I'm no longer with him.

So now I've shed the black - and the god-awful denim jeans he wanted me to wear because it was rock 'n' roll - and I'm back to wearing pale pink princess tops and big skirts with high heels (but ones I can dance, skip and run in) and I'm enjoying this new freedom.

When I woke this morning, the sun was streaming in through my kitchen window and onto my pillow in my snug bed in my gorgeous high-ceiling 1930s apartment. Right here in the heart of Darlinghurst. My beautiful darling, Darlinghurst.

The hum of traffic, tooting of horns and roaring of buses was already singing beneath my window, as I stretched out under the white sheets and screamed, 'Yes! Thank you Mother Earth' because I was just so fucking happy.

I lay in bed for a bit, just thinking about shit, and what I might wear and how I might do my hair. Then I slowly reached down to the shiny floorboards and rolled out from my crisp white sheets onto the floor. I lay on my back in my black silk slip wriggling around like I was dancing. It was so funny and stupid. Thank Christ I live alone.

I started my new job on Monday, in the dying days of winter. And I really like the new office and the people I work with. It seems crazy that I'm being paid to have so much fun working for a council. It's the biggest one in Sydney, the City of Sydney, and it means I'm able to indulge a passion for my hometown.

I'm already writing about public art, planning laws, new infrastructure, community centres and all kinds of stuff that keeps Sydney going. A new theatre for Darlinghurst! The restoration of Kings Cross' El Alamein Fountain! Rain gardens for the inner east! 

Those rain gardens are really one of my favourite topics. I became obsessed with them long ago and would photograph them on my night rambles. They are basically street drains, landscaped with rocks and plants, designed to capture rubbish before it ends up in the stormwater drain going out to sea. 

I don't really know why they fascinate me so much. Maybe it's because they look like fairy gardens with their polished stones. There's a fantastic one right on the corner of Burton and Palmer streets that is probably the best example of the species.

I also have a Tinder date tomorrow night, which I'm terribly looking forward to. It means I can dress up and go on a date. I haven't been on a date in so long.

I become so happy about my life and then I start thinking on a downward spiral, like how I haven't done my tax return in 10 years, how I'm paying a shit load of rent to live in one room and how I have no savings, even at the age of 35. Nothing.

And then there's those memories of childhood and a man whose face I can only see in fuzzy. Not pixelated, just foggy. Like someone smoothed Vaseline over the lens. I know he did bad things, but I can't remember what. All I know is when his face returns in my mind I feel this pain in my stomach. Sometimes I can't even breathe.

But I try not to think of that, push him back into some dark corner of my brain, smell those beautiful fucking freesias in the expensive crystal vase on my table and look at the fancy, designer heels lined up like lollies in my wardrobe.

I must shower and get out into the day's adventures. Spring! Pinch and a punch and all that.

Marcus Wood - Saturday 3 September 2016

Urgh. Marcus just wanted to stay in bed, but he knew he had to get up. There was a warm woman beside him and he had a terrible red wine headache. They'd been drinking the night before, she'd listened to him playing a few songs on his guitar and when they couldn't speak anymore, they'd tumbled into bed. 

He'd been seeing Sarah for about three months. The same thing happened every time they met. He didn't want to commit to a relationship with her because there was something not quite right about her face. He couldn't place it. She had great full breasts and liked wearing lingerie, but her face had a weird hardened look about it.

He only wanted to be with someone who was perfect looking, someone to match his own good looks. He spent a lot of time on his appearance, and so should women. Sarah, while quite attractive, just didn't meet his expectations.

It was good to have her around though, at least until he found someone better looking. She was smart, quite sophisticated and had a good job. The job thing annoyed him slightly though, because she made more money than him and he was a bloody general manager. She was just some fucking art curator. How does that happen? 

He lay silently, waiting for her to touch him, to make some move of desire, but she just lay there snoring loudly, black hair stuck to her face. He was kinda revolted.

At least he had this date tonight. The girl he'd met on Tinder was pretty fucking hot - at least in the three photographs she'd shared on the phone app. 

Still, she also sounded a bit off with the pixies, flighty-like and seemingly obsessed with the moon. They had chatted quite a bit and although she sounded slightly wacky, at least she looked good.

He got out of bed and went straight to the bathroom, looked at himself in the mirror and splashed cold water on his face.

He had a good house in Surry Hills and was proud of it. He didn't own it. Just paid $750 week in rent to live there. It made him feel proud. There was no way he was going to live in some small apartment. This terrace house was on the corner of Bourke Street - one of the best streets in the hood - and had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an outdoor courtyard, gas cooking and a large sun room that was his music studio.

In the studio, he had his expensive guitars displayed prominently on a rack and a large music editing suite on a work table. He was rockin' this life and liked to show it off.

This was despite the fact he was almost $40,000 in debt due to his very impressive wedding five years ago. He'd been with Jan for about six years and when all their friends were getting married, he didn't want to be left behind. He'd proposed, she said yes, and they had a big fly-in wedding on an island off the coast of Queensland. He'd worn white trousers and a white shirt, and they all got so drunk he didn't even consummate the marriage on the first night.

The marriage lasted three years and two months, and he was still paying it off on a line of credit, with interest rates of about $1,000 a month.

Still, they remained friends, and he told his ex-wife about his adventures in love. Jan still had their two cats and he visited all of them as much as he could. 

Marcus wanted to get rid of Sarah in his bed because he had things to do. He needed to get his eyelashes dyed black (they were terribly albino), wanted a manicure, pedicure and a good barber shave.

He had to make a good first impression with this chick, Hildred. What a weird name, he thought. Sounds likes a broom stick.

He went downstairs to the kitchen, made toast with Vegemite, two cups of coffee from his brand new espresso machine and took them upstairs. He nudged Sarah on her side and when she kept snoring and didn't wake, he pushed his fingers into her cheek and loudly said, "morning!".

Sarah woke, drank the coffee in big noisy gulps and ate the toast like some snorting piglet. He told her had to go to the office, he was the general manager after all, to sort out some work issue.

Once she was gone, he went into the downstairs bathroom, sat on the toilet with his pants down, turned on his smartphone and googled 'porn hub blow job'.

The next three minutes went by quickly and then he showered, washed his hair, blow-dryed it, put three different styling products in, crafted it in to place and then hair-sprayed it set.

He was ready for the day.

Hildred Moore - Sunday 4 September 2016

Dear Diary,

He is just so beautiful. The most amazing man I've ever met. What should I call him? Marcus or just Marc? I think I like Marcus. 

He is dazzling and has the darkest eyelashes I've ever seen on a man.

As I walked home from his house in Surry Hills sometime after ten in the morning, I could not take the smile off my face. This is known to my friends as the 'walk of shame' but I was not ashamed at all. I stopped and talked to a cat sitting on a garbage bin lid on Bourke Street and told the tabby in a sing-song voice, 'I think I'm in love, pussy-cat'.

The night before was almost like a dream. I'd put on a new black dress and pointy black heels embroidered with deep-red flowers, tied my hair up in a chic chignon, with waves of hair falling from it. They had been very carefully placed, those strands, but I wanted it to look slightly messy, like I really didn't go to too much trouble and looked like this all the time.

I'd been sitting at the wooden horse-shoe bar of an old Surry Hills pub, the KB Hotel on Foveaux Street, waiting for him, feeling nervous, my palms sweaty. I know that's a cliche, but they really were sweaty. I had to grab napkins to blot off the damp. It was quite revolting.

I imagine the pub is not the type of place most Tinder women would go on a first date. This one was 1920s with lots of dark, wood furnishings and dark coloured carpet that was probably the same carpet from the old days when you could smoke in pubs. You could almost smell the cigarettes embedded in the wool pile and in the sticky wooden surface of the bar. 

I suppose I am not so fussy. Perhaps I should have asked to meet somewhere classier. Had I set the bar low for myself already? Oh, boo. 

This pub was full of young and old drunk men, who probably lived upstairs. There was a smell of lamb chops coming from the kitchen. I started feeling a bit woozy.

Every time the heavy wood and glass door pub opened, I felt a rush of anxiety to my stomach. What if I forgot what he looked like. Or worse - what if he forgot what I looked like and just walked straight by me.

Then the door opened again and he sidled up to me and blew a kiss into my ear. I was smitten. He looked just like his Tinder photograph, but his voice was not what I expected. Based on his photos, I thought it would be deep and gruff and manly. But it was kinda squeaky like, which makes him less intimidating, I think, for he is surely the most handsome man I've ever met.

We drank about three bottles of wine in the back bar of the pub, staring into each other's eyes the whole time. I don't really remember much about what was said, but I do remember him telling me all about his life, which I can't really remember either. I don't think I said much, just smiled and nodded at the right times and laughed at his jokes and admired those dark lashes.

When I joined Tinder a month ago, I made a promise to myself not go home with a man - or at least have sex with him - for at least six weeks. It was time to stop giving myself away so easily.

So, probably against my sober judgment (not always better) I went home with him and stayed the night. The sex wasn't actually that great, but I'm sure it will get better over time.

The next morning, as I pulled on my crumpled dress and heels, I made him promise to call me. And he said he would. He called out for me in his dreams, he said. Ahhhh. He was so nice, even bringing me coffee and Vegemite toast in bed. What a romantic.

I almost skipped down Bourke Street, passed that piss-weak fountain at Taylor Square. The one that cost about $100,000 and seems to only shoot a series of uninspired bursts of water in a half arc to the other side of the footpath. 

This morning though, I loved it, I understood it. It was like an introverted fountain, just pushing out water in a rainbow and then disappearing in to itself. I am the fountain, I thought, laughing to myself at this stupidity.

I was looking forward to getting home to my safe little apartment and spending some time with the runes. Perhaps they would tell me what would happen next.

I walked down Burton Street, along the tall sandstone walls of the old Darlinghurst prison. It was Sunday morning, the ground was wet from morning rain and there was not many people around.

As I turned the corner onto Forbes Street, near the old Darlo Laundromat, I saw a group of three iced-vo-vos - or junkies - walking towards me. 

The woman was wearing jeans and a bra and pulling her shirt above her head. There was also a scruffy-looking grey-haired man, covered in tattoos, from what looked like his neck to his wrists. The other man with short brown hair looked kinda familiar, and was dressed in a bottle-green t-shirt and black Adidas track pants with white stripes down the sides. 

Junkies always looked familiar around Darlo. I have probably seen them all, after living here for 10 years. Some are polite and only ever ask for a cigarette lighter. The worst ones are those who scratch at their skin, full of red sores, and talk to themselves.

I crossed to the other side of the road to avoid any confrontation and walked by Blossom's Garden Nursery, not yet open, the window full of beautiful phalaenopsis orchids. I must buy one of those on pay day.

I walked past the tall, brick Ballina flats and as I often do, looked up and across at its dozens of apartment windows. It was probably a high-rise back in its original time. One day I would like to live in this deco building. It always seems to have so many apartments available, but one of my friends told me they are really small. It's one of the few, large Darlo apartment blocks that I've never been in.

By this time, I was still feeling drunk from the night before and didn't want to let it go. What I would do was get some wine, some food and bunker down in my apartment for the day, listening to music, drinking, eating and doing the runes. Those little Pagan rocks were my rock. I just put my hand in the bag, thought hard on a question, pulled out a shiny stone with a symbol carved on its front and it would tell me where I was at in life. I wanted it to tell me that Marcus and I would be together forever.

The Darlo Bar wasn't yet open, but when I looked through the bottle shop doors I could see that curly-brown haired young chap, who was always very pleasant to me.

I gave him the universal hand-sign of a beggar and he smiled and motioned with his own hands that he would come around.

Ten minutes later I was back in my apartment with a bottle of Vodka and food (the Coles under the Coca-Cola neon in Kings Cross is always open).

I'd recently been having intense and colourful dreams. The kind that leave an imprint. Dreams of five moons and balloons. Of birthday cakes, railway stations and drug use. Sometimes they made me feel afraid, but I never knew why. Today was a good time to delve into their meaning. Evoke the spirits and drink the spirits.

I had a hot shower, washed my hair and put on a loose-fitting dress and knee-high socks. I was completely comfortable.

The dream dictionary told me that if a young woman has fear in a dream state it portends 'disappointment and unfortunate love'.

I huffed, put my hand in the bag of runes and pulled out the stone of 'constraint'.

Fuck that, I'm not listening to this shit. I flung the rune and dictionary across the room, smiled, gulped down some Vodka and thought dreamily of the night before.

Johnny Rowbotham - Monday 5 September 2016

Johnny had been on his best behaviour. He'd manipulated one of the screws and been nominated a sweeper. This meant he was in charge of the 80-cell pod and that gave him special privileges. 

When the other inmates were out in the yard, doing their pacing in the sun or whatever, Johnny was allowed inside the cell block to help clean up after breakfast and prepare for lunch. He had responsibility and he liked it.

He also had a chance to snoop through the other inmates' belongings, just so long he wasn't caught. There was the usual stuff: shoes neatly arranged near the doorway, food parcels piled up at the end of the bunk, a desk neatly arranged with books, deodorant and shampoo. Sometimes there were pictures stuck to the wall, mostly torn from magazines or newspapers of women in swimsuits.

Some inmates would also carefully draw pictures of outlaw motorcycle gang's insignia and tape it to the wall proudly. It mighta made them feel part of a crew, but it was also stupid, because it just gave intel to the screws on who belonged to whatever gang.

Then, always, hanging across the shower, in holes cut in the shower curtain, were their wet undies drying as well as they could. All prison greens, sheets and towels were able to be washed by the inmates that worked in the laundry. But you had to wash your own undies. Not sure why. Probably for hygiene reasons.

So every cell, no matter how neat and tidy, was always decorated with a bunting of undies.

Johnny had also started seeing the prison psychologist to discuss his sexual urges. It was strange talking to the female psychologist about sex. He would have a session with her, memorise her face and body as well as he could, and then go back to his cell and have a wank.

Still, the woman managed to extract lots of stories from him. Like the time when he was 10 and he was watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with his mother while laying on his parents' bed. His mother was quite fat, all the kids at school used to laugh about it, but he was close to his parents, they really loved him.

Johnny was an only child and they always took him away on school holidays to different camps along the coastline. They never had to wear clothes at these camps, no one did. Johnny thought it was great. He liked not having to get dressed in the morning.

So he was laying there with his mum and it was that scene in the movie where the car flies for the first time and his dad walked into the room with a video camera filming and said, "Martha, show them how we play as a family."

Martha was his mother's name, and she leaned over, pulled his undies off and started touching him on his dick.

It didn't feel that bad, but he felt a bit sick and didn't know why.

Later, when the movie was over, he went out to the lounge where his Dad was on the computer uploading the video of him and his mother to some website. Johnny didn't say anything. Just watched.

His dad put an arm around him and said, "Johnny, do you want to see some other happy families?"

Johnny nodded yes and then his dad showed him lots of videos of girls and boys, some younger than him, all naked with adults. In some of the videos, the children didn't look happy and Johnny felt sick again. He didn't know why. But those children didn't seem to be happy at all. He didn't say anything and went to bed, holding onto his stomach, feeling like he was going to throw-up.

He returned to school on Monday and started asking other students if they were in a happy family. He asked some other children, while they were down the back of the schoolyard, far out of the teachers' sights, if they wanted to become part of his happy family.

One boy nodded yes, so Johnny told him to take his undies off, which he did, and Johnny tried to touch his penis like his mum had. The boy screamed and ran off to the teachers.

Johnny knew he was in big trouble. He hid behind a tree, hoping no one could see him, but the teachers found him and took him to the principal's office. Johnny had never been to the principal's office.

There was a massive desk and the principal sat on the other side and started asking Johnny so many questions that he burst into tears and crawled into the corner, refusing to talk.

He hid there behind his hands for so long until he felt a person rubbing his shoulder and saying "It's OK, Johnny, we're here to help."

He opened his eyes and there were five adults in the room, two in police uniform, and they asked Johnny to tell them about his happy family. They said everything would be OK if he told them about his happy family.

One of the police officers offered him a McDonalds Happy Meal inside a colourful box with a handle. Johnny took the box, ate the burger and fries and started telling all the adults about his happy family. They asked all kinds of questions and Johnny tried to be as honest as possible. Some details he couldn't remember but he did his best.

They said he'd be able to go home after he had told them everything. But four hours later he was still sitting on the floor in the Principal's office.

Normally he'd be home now watching TV shows like Skippy and Wombat or Simon Townsend's Wonderworld, while his mum cooked dinner. He wondered where his mum and dad were.

Much later, another woman walked into the room and said she was going to take him somewhere to sleep. They went into a car and drove for hours. 

Hildred Moore - Tuesday 6 September 2016

Dear Diary, 

I spent most of the day at work chatting on Facebook messenger with Marcus. He says he can't wait to see me again. We don't know when that will happen though as we are both so busy. And I have this new job where I have to be quite committed. 

I had three stories on my job list today. One was about a community centre program. Another was about RUOK? Day. And the other one was about a new library fit-out. All about 450 words each. 

Most people would probably spend the whole day writing them, but after being a business reporter for a major regional newspaper, doing investigations and complex financial reports, this was like making popcorn.

I smashed the three stories out in under 90 minutes. But I sat on them for the rest of the day, pretending it was taking me that long to write them. That way I could have sneaky chats with Marcus. 

Marcus: If I was with you now, I know what I'd be doing with you.
Me: Doing with me? What do you mean?
Marcus: I'd be doing all kinds of things to you.
Me: To me? Like what?
Marcus: I've been thinking a lot about customs.
Me: Huh?
Marcus: Damn auto-correct. Condoms!
Me: Oh, condoms? What about condoms?
Marcus: Just that we might need to use them.
Me: Oh, OK.

It went on like that for most of the day. He wasn't very good at expressing himself. Or answering questions. He must be shy.

We arranged to meet that evening. He said he had to see me. I smiled. It made me giddy. I think he really liked me. Could Marcus be the new love of my life?

After printing out the three stories about 4.55pm, and putting them in my manager's in-tray, I went back to my desk, fiddled around on my emails for a bit and at 5.05pm caught the train back to Kings Cross. The public service wasn't so bad.

I grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine from the boozer under the Crest Hotel and trotted home, up the Royston Street hill and into my apartment as fast as I could.

I pulled off my shoes, jumped under the shower and bathed, making sure not to get my hair or make-up wet. I couldn't be bothered doing them again. I put on a clean frock - a nice red cotton one with spaghetti straps, a tight bodice and a knee-length pleated skirt. He was coming around to my place, and this is surely what I would mooch about the house in.

I tidied my lipstick, poured a glass of champagne and lit a cigarette for my nerves, anxiously sipping and puffing, while blowing the smoke out my kitchen window.

I checked my smartphone and pulled up Facebook messenger.

Me: Can't wait to see your beautiful face. X

A 10-minute wait.

Marcus: Me too. Be there soon. What should I bring?
Me: Just bring your self. I have sparkles! Apartment eight. X
Marcus: :)

I paced anxiously. The mood lighting was all in order. Shit, music! I put Arcade Fire on the stereo, not too loud, and started pacing the room. 

By now I'd drunk about half the bottle. Bugger! Fortunately there was some more in the fridge. I was always prepared like this. Well, not really, I was quite pleased by the find, to be honest. Anyway, if we ran out, the nearest bottle shop was only a block and a half away.

The door-buzzer rang. Ooh, butterflies. I was too nervous to say anything, just buzzed him in. There was a knock at the door, I opened it, said "Hi, Marcus, how are you?" 

Like we hadn't been chatting all day and I didn't already know. Dumb.

He stepped inside, closed the door, grabbed me by the waist, pulled me towards him and kissed me hard on the lips. Woo, my knees almost gave in, my stomach was all light, and I pulled away, breathing heavily and led him into the kitchen.

"Fancy a drink?"
"Yes, please, I should have brought something."
"No, really, it's fine, I have plenty," I lied, thinking we'd definitely need to go to the bottle shop later.

His eyelashes didn't look so dark anymore, but his hair was perfectly coiffed and neater than mine.

I kinda felt like sitting down with him at my table in the sunroom and chatting all through the night, but he just skolled his Champagne, put his glass down and took me to my bed.

As we embraced, I put my hands up to his neck, wanting to stroke my fingers through his hair, but he pushed my hands away and said, "not my hair" and pulled my hands down towards his pants.

Marcus Wood - Wednesday 7 September 2016

Marcus was annoyed. He'd stayed the night at that girl Hildred's house and on the walk back to Surry Hills he checked his bank balance on his phone and saw that he had only $202 left in his account. And the next pay day was a week away.

It so angered Marcus that despite being a general manager, he was always broke. He thought about what he could sell, then texted his friend Mike at the record shop to see if he wanted to buy a milk crate of second-hand CDs.

Mike replied yes, and said he could come by on Saturday. Would $200 last him until then? Marcus thought about what he had planned for the week. 

He wouldn't mind seeing that Hildred again, she was a funny thing, quite odd, but she seemed to worship him and he liked that. I wonder if she earns more than me, he thought. He would have to ask her the next time he saw her. 

He'd also have to let Sarah go. He had no time for two women in his life. One was bad enough. But he did enjoy having a pretty woman on his arm when he went to gigs and stuff. He loathed the idea of being that single guy who can never score a date and always turns up at parties alone.

Then he thought, maybe he should bide his time with Sarah, just in case this Hildred really was cuckoo. He'd already had one experience with a girlfriend going nuts, so was quite wary about getting involved with someone who might have mental health problems. He just really didn't have time for that shit.

Back at his house in Surry Hills, Marcus went through the big cupboard under the stairs looking for stuff to sell on eBay. He gathered an old tennis racket, a family-sized tent (used once) and two pairs of old Adidas trainers, and took them out to his courtyard to photograph in the morning sun.

He was about 60 minutes late for work, but when he arrived no one said anything because he was the general manager. One of his five staff members, Jenny, was looking pretty shabby. She had no make-up on and was wearing an ugly green dress that was way too small for her. She shouldn't come into the office looking like that. He'd have a chat with her about it later.

He went into his office, logged onto the computer and went straight to the eBay website where he posted the tent, racket and shoes for auction. He made it a 24-hour auction as he needed some money fast. 

If the items didn't sell, he had a plan b: borrow $500 from the office kitty. He'd done that a few times before and no one ever found out. Besides, if they did, he was the general manager. And they didn't pay him enough anyway.

He logged onto Facebook and drafted a message to Hildred: "Thinking of you and can't wait to see you again." 

He hit send and then copied the text and pasted it into a message to Sarah: "Thinking of you and can't wait to see you again."  

Hit send.
Whoever replied first could come to his house on Saturday night to be with him.

Johnny Rowbotham - Thursday 8 September 2016

Johnny had a new celly. A skinny, bent-over Anglo man with thin, stringy grey hair and a greying goaty. Ronnie had cancer and mumbled in his sleep.

Johnny had been in dozens of foster homes over the years so he was used to sharing a room and the strange noises that might emit from a sleeping person. Other innies might kick the bugger in his side for making such a racket.

And Ronnie was often kicked in the side, smacked in the head and punched in the gut. No one likes a kiddy-fucker in prison. Ronnie was one of the most notorious. He was attacked so often, he had to be under special placement where he could be safe. In the past year, he told Johnny, he'd been moved around to Goulburn, Silverwater, Parklea and Batthurst. Now he was here at Long Bay in the special placement pod.

Ronnie was a sexual deviant who once made headlines as 'The Night Stalker'. He would stalk children who lived on his street in Marrickville, follow them home and watch them all night through their bedroom window while he stood in the dark smoking cigarettes. When he couldn't resist his urges no longer, he'd climb in through their window, a stocking over his head, a kitchen knife in his hand, rope in his coat pocket and perversion on his mind.

He'd been in and out of jail since the 1960s. They'd let him out and he'd just go back to his old tricks. This time Ronnie wasn't getting out. He'd die inside. He was a 'lifer' with a tattoo of a dice and cards on his forearm, a swallow on his shoulder and the faint reminder of one he'd had removed from his knuckles, reading across eight fingers - CUNT FUCK. No one, but the screws and the other innies would see his face or tattoos ever again.

Johnny didn't know how he felt about having to share a cell with such a disturbed mind. And why was Johnny being placed in the same cell? He wasn't no rock spider. That 14-year-old girl was the only time, and he was pretty sure it was consensual.

They were in lockdown for the night, and Johnny had his TV all lined up for the afternoon and evening's entertainment. It was a run of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Who's the Boss? and Different Strokes. They were all shows he'd watched as a kid.

Even as a child at the age of nine, he really loved being inside that jeannie-genie's pink bottle. He liked her silky pink pants and bra-top. Used to lay in bed under his doona, touching his dick, running the 'doo-doot' theme-song though his head and thinking about her sexy little jiggle, pony-tail swinging. He still did now. How did that bloody astronaut Tony Nelson get himself the little blonde temptress? He'd wondered as a child and still wondered now.

Johnny always watched the Nine News to see if he was onnit. And he liked that tank Simon Bouda crime reporter. He'd been on the news forever. He once even came into Longy and Johnny said hello to him. Bouda - good fellow that Bouda - said hello back.

Then he liked The Bachelor, because the chicks were shit-hot. How could there be so many of these classy women in Sydney wanting to get boned? And what was he doing wasting his time inside? He needed to get back in the game.

He'd watch sports for the rest of the night, before turning the TV off with his toe and falling into an unsettled sleep.

He didn't normally wake to Ronnie's mumbling, but this evening he did, because in the silent dead of night, his celly was not sleep-talking, but yelling out and tossing in his bed.

"Hill of dread," he yelled.
"Hill of dread, I am so sorry.
"Hill of dread, I didn't mean to do it.
"Please forgive me, hill of dread."

Johnny wondered where on earth the hill of dread was, plugged some tissues in his ears and went back to sleep.

Hildred Moore - Friday 9 September 2016

Dear Diary,

I'm a little bit disappointed. I was hoping to meet Marcus again this weekend, but he said he was busy with work stuff and probably couldn't see me until Sunday. He seems to be quite dedicated to his job, but I guess that's the reason why he's the general manager. It's quite an impressive title. And I bet he makes a motza.

So now I have tonight and the weekend spread out before me with nothing to do. I already turned down drinks offers for tonight and tomorrow, stupidly keeping myself free for Marcus. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

I texted my friend Violet.

Me: Hey Vile one, are you still up for drinks tonight? I'm now freeeeeeee XXX
Violet: Yes! Come! We're going to the KX Hotel and then, who knows???
Me: Excellent, what time are you getting there? Post workies?
Violet: Yes, I'll be there by six. First floor verandah. Love you! xxx

Cool, I really needed a drink after this first week at the new job. I loved my colleagues, but my boss was a little bit odd. She made strange comments about other staff members, derogatory comments. She seemed to hate everyone and made the office feel like it was us against the world. 

She also came to my desk yesterday and asked me to come into the meeting room with her for a chat about how things were going. 

When we sat down, she said, "Hildred, you're doing a really good job. Those three stories you wrote this week were excellent, you've got the right tone.

"I just wanted to let you know that there has been some murmurings from other staff, not really complaints, it's just been raised with me that you sing at your desk, and it's quite distracting for the other staff."

I flushed bright red and broke into a sweat. 

"Oh, really, my singing? I'm so sorry, I didn't realise that I was so loud," I said.
"And sometimes I don't even realise I'm doing it. I'll be more careful in future. I'm so sorry."

"Good," she said.
"I just wanted to make sure you knew that it was having an impact on others."

I walked out of the meeting room feeling a bit sick in the stomach. I knew that I hummed sometimes, but that was just because I was busy and in writing mode. I would shut the hell up from now on. I wonder who it was that complained? I was still in the six-month probation period and didn't need any enemies.

So, yeah, I was really looking forward to a Friday night drink. Especially with Violet. She always listened and made me feel better.

My boss left early at 4.30pm. Just zipped up her handbag and walked out the door without saying goodbye to anyone. I sent a few emails and thought 'fuckit, I'm outta here". I left about 4.50pm, caught the train from Town Hall to Kings Cross and when I arrived out on the strip of Darlinghurst Road on this warm Spring night I felt suddenly free again and elated. I loved my hometown.

There was a busker right outside the train station exit on the footpath playing an old French circus tune on his piano accordion. I'd seen him so many times before. I would have given him money, but I really wished he would pick up his act. He was playing a beautiful accordion, while dressed in an old T-shirt and track pants, baseball cap on his head. 

He really needed to lift his marketing game. Buy an old $2 collared shirt from an op-shop, some $5 trousers and put a bit whimsy into his look. Something more befitting his music. I always thought that when I saw him, and maybe one day I would grab him by the hand and take him to the nearest op-shop and dress him more appropriately.

He would make a lot more busking, if he had the look down pat. Sad but true.

It was still only 5.20pm so I went to the ATM, took out $100 and went to the tobacconist and bought a $30 pouch of tobacco, some slim filters and a Tally-Ho. I think I needed to get seedy drunk tonight.

I walked into the KX Hotel, past the ground floor 'sports bar' and straight up the stairs at the back to level one. The music grew louder as I reached the first floor landing. I went to the bar, bought a bottle of Left Bank Sauvignon Blanc with two glasses and went to find Violet.

She was out on the balcony smoking area talking to some skinny, old man with stringy, shoulder-length, dark-brown hair. She leapt out of her seat when she saw me and we cuddled as if we hadn't seen each other just a week ago.

"Hey Hildred! So good to see you," she said.
"This is James Watson. Violet - James. James - Violet. You guys are so going to get along. Violet, James used to make all the video clips for Duran Duran back in the day. And now here he is, living in the Cross."

I shook James' hand hello, said I was happy to meet him and then collapsed onto a bar stool and sighed, poured a glass of wine and said "Cheers, lovelies, it's Friday night!"

We all tapped glasses and started chatting about the new Coca-Cola sign. The Coca-Cola sign was a large neon billboard as big as a house and had been a landmark in KX since the 1970s. You could see it from all the way down the other end of William Street, beckoning you to the Cross. I didn't care that it was advertising a soft drink, I just loved its neon glow, which was a constant night time presence in the precinct.

The sign had been switched off for the past few months, as they pulled down the old 70s letters and installed new energy-saving neons. It was due to be switched back on, with much fanfare, next Thursday night. The KX Hotel was even having a special Thursday night drinking and viewing session. It was kinda exciting.

"I wonder what it's going to look like when it's switched on," Violet said.
"Will it have lost that old vintage neon feel, or will it look kinda the same and we'll all just get used to it. I understand they need to make it more enviro-friendly, all businesses have that responsibility these days, but I just love the presence of those old actual physical letters, their history, their presence through all that time.

"I suppose Coke's marketing team was clever to host an auction of the old neon letters, and then give the proceeds to the Wayside Chapel. No one's ever going to criticise the Wayside being donated money. So, after it all, that's a nice touch."

I kept drinking as the conversation turned from Coca-Cola to cocaine and Cross characters. I drank so much, chain-smoked and when some backpackers from Chile arrived we invited them to our table and they told us all about their adventures in Oz. They had been to more places than we had: the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and Uluru and all these places I'd dreamed of.

There was one Chilean man, he was dark-haired, skinny, maybe about 25 and we kept on looking at each other. We soon pashed and I don't remember the rest.

Johnny Rowbotham - Saturday 10 September 2016

The hill of dread had stuck in Johnny's mind. Even though he had a visit today from his step-brother, Malcolm, all Johnny could think about was that 'Hill of Dread'.

It was a Saturday, visits day and Johnny never had any visitors and he hadn't spoken to Malcolm in about five years, yet here he was, all the way out in Lithgow, west of the mountains, to see Johnny.

Johnny was naturally suspicious. Malcolm said he was there because Martha was dying. Malcolm wasn't his real brother and never got to come on those clothes-free holidays along the coastline. He was Martha's older son, but he'd been raised by his own Dad because Martha had some medical problems. When Martha got with Johnny's dad, they had Johnny and he was raised alone.

So Martha was dying. Johnny didn't really care so much. His mother was kinda a distant memory, just Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and naked in a bed. When he was taken away, to live his teenage years in foster homes, Martha was behind bars and banned from seeing him until he was 18. But by that time, Johnny was in juvey and later adult prison, and he'd barely spent six months outside before going back in again.

So he didn't really feel any attachment to Martha. And he couldn't figure out why Malcolm would even care. He asked Malcolm if he'd bring him some tobacco next time, and maybe one of those tiny mobile phones that was disguised to look like a car security key. You could buy them online from the UK and all Malcolm had to do was hide it in a balloon up his bum and bring it in. 

Malcolm didn't seem too keen. Johnny became a bit pissed off, ended the visit and went back to his cell, annoyed that no one cared. It didn't matter, he'd be outta here soon enough and he wasn't coming back.

Back in D block, cell 24, Johnny lay back on his bunk, pulled a blanket over his pants. The old fella was asleep and snoring loudly on the bunk above him. Johnny licked the palm of his hand, put it down inside his green track-pants and thought about that prison psychologist and the big, red-wooden beaded-necklace hanging across her chest. He pumped hard, sighed with pleasure and fell asleep.

Two hours later he woke up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. The old man, Ronnie, was also awake.

Johnny asked: "Where the hell is the Hill of Dread?'

"Waddaya asking me that for? No fucking idea what ya talking about, ya crazy cunt," Ronnie said.

"You're the fuckin' mad dog," Johnny said.
"The other night, you were talkin' shit in your sleep and goin' on about the Hill of Dread. It's your story, cunt, so where the hell is it? I been around, never heard of that place before."

Ronnie almost squirmed in his bed, so Johnny knew he was onto a good thing: "Where the fuck is it?"

Ronnie said somewhat quietly: "I don't know where the Hildred is. I wish I did, but she's not some fuckin' place, Hildred is a little girl I once knew. She was special, and I hurt her. Badly, I think. But I loved her, too. Some of the other girls, they asked for it, but little Hildred, she was just in the wrong place, wrong time, with a mother who was a bitch."

Johnny wasn't used to cellys talkin' about their crimes. No one ever asked and no one ever told, so it was kinda strange that Ronnie was opening up like this. It had obviously not just been in his dreams, but on his mind. Johnny was pissed.

"Ya fuckin' dirty rock spider, don't tell me about your disgusting shit. I'm not one of you," Johnny said.
"And if you fuckin' talk about this again, I'm gonna sort you out."

Ronnie rolled over in his bunk and faced the wall: "You idiot, i'm gonna be dead soon anyway, I will die in here. Do you think I care about your lazy threats."
"You're just a stupid junkie, who wants to get out so you can shoot up again.

"Hildred was a beautiful thing, a shining light in my life, and all I did was let her down, maybe ruin her, because I couldn't help myself.

"If you do one thing when you get out, find my Hildred and tell her I'm sorry. I'm not gonna shut up, I will promise you this. You can have my earnings, my savings. Just find Hildred for me and tell her I'm sorry.

"Tell her I loved her. And tell her, her mother was a fuckin' cunt."

Johnny shut up. Thought about that money.
"How much cash are we talkin' for this little Hildred bitch?" he asked.

"There's about $30,000. My superannuation and savings," Ronnie said.
"Just find her for me you bastard. She lived in Surry Hills last time I saw her."

"And how are you going to promise it to me?" Johnny asked.

Ronnie tore off a square of old newspaper, grabbed a pencil and wrote down: "I, Ronald Ernest White, leave my entire life saving and superannuation to my celly . . .".
"What's your second name?" Ronnie asked.

"Rowbotham, Johnny Rowbotham."

Johnny spelt it out as Ronnie wrote it down carefully, letter for letter, before rolling the paper in a ball and throwing it down into Johnny's bunk.

"There you go," Ronnie said.
"Now just promise me, you'll find my Hildred Moore."

Marcus Wood - Sunday 11 September 2016

Marcus had stayed up until about 5am, drinking wine, vaping pot and doing lines of charlie with Sarah.  She'd been the first to respond to his text message, which meant he committed Saturday night to her. He wasn't sure about that roll of the dice. He thought he would have preferred to be with Hildred.

Still, it wasn't such a bad night. Marcus had managed to sell a crate of CDs for $150 and he used the money, as well as $500 from the work kitty, to buy some coke and dope from his neighbour. 

He and Sarah had sat on the ground, keeping warm by the fireplace, listening to records and doing drugs. Inner-city terrace houses were always cold and dark, even in the middle of summer. 

He vaguely remembered Sarah doing some kind of burlesque-style striptease to a Portishead song. She ended up sitting on top of him but they didn't have sex because the drugs had taken hold and his penis was limp. Besides, he couldn't be bothered, he felt too stoned to make much of an effort. 

He woke about 11am, laying on his black shag-pile rug, still dressed. Sarah was passed out on the couch, snoring, wearing only her knickers. Her boobs were falling at weird angles and her stomach hung out above her black-lace pants.

There were cigarette butts and empty wine bottles all over the floor, ash, plastic baggies, half-empty wine glasses and a rolled up $5 note strewn across the coffee table. The fireplace was still on and the room was warm and stuffy and stank of cigarette smoke. Vinyl records, out of their sleeves, lay abandoned around the record player.

Marcus' back ached and his mouth was as dry as sandpaper. He tried to sit up. Quickly lay back down. Urgh. He felt terrible. He lay on his back, closed his eyes and started thinking about money. Mostly how he had none of it. It was fucked. His neighbour had made about $700 from him last night, simply from walking to Marcus' house and handing over some small plastic bags with drugs. Maybe Marcus was in the wrong biz. 

He was now annoyed by Sarah laying there snoring. She hadn't offered any money for the drugs and had only brought around one bottle of wine. And she made more money than him. Bitch. 

Marcus had less than $100 to last him until payday. The stuff on eBay had sold, but the money hadn't landed in his account yet, and it was only about $120. The old Adidas trainers didn't go for much and the tennis racquet only sold for $10. The tent for $50. He really needed a new way to earn. At least he didn't have to pay for postage - just send it out from work.

He thought about his inheritance. He was an only child and his mother was elderly, so when she died, he'd receive everything. She'd already told him that. She owned a small weatherboard house in Queanbeyan, where she and her father had raised him. It was probably worth about $450K, enough for a deposit on a flat in Sydney, or a house in the Blue Mountains. One day. Hopefully soon.

Marcus reached up and grabbed his phone from the coffee table, wiped the screen clean on his pants and checked his notifications. He had a few Facebook likes. Must have posted something last night. He couldn't remember. He pulled up the app and saw that he'd put up a video of the fire burning. Portishead could be heard in the background. Thank Christ he hadn't posted a pic of Sarah. What if Hildred had seen it? It was kinda good having two women on the go.

Marcus dragged himself up again. It was now midday. He went to the kitchen sink and filled a stolen schooner-glass with water and skolled it down, before making his way to the bathroom. He pissed long and loud, and sighed. How to get rid of Sarah?

He returned to the kitchen, switched on the espresso machine and listened to it rumbling. Made two cups of black coffee - there was no milk - and returned to the lounge room. He held the coffee cup under Sarah's nose, but she didn't react, just continued snoring. He poked her in the face and squeezed her arm, but she only woke when he pulled her hair and held the cup towards her mouth. "Coffee, darling," he said.

Sarah smiled and reached out to stroke his face. He grabbed her hand and put the cup in it. "I need to go into the office today, I have some work to do," he said.
"Do you need to have a shower, or are you fine?'

Sarah mumbled that she was OK, sat up, sipped on the hot coffee and reached out to grab her dress. She slurped the coffee down in big gulps, put the cup down on the table and pulled her dress over her head.

"I'm ready!" she said.
"That was so much fun last night.
"When will I see you next?"

Marcus felt kinda sorry for her and thinking that she would forget, gazed into her eyes and replied: "Every day for the rest of my life."

Sarah beamed and sighed with happiness. Poor love.

Marcus showed her to the front door and as they stood on the front step kissing and hugging each other goodbye, he noticed Hildred about six houses away, wearing a long black dress and walking up the footpath towards them. He froze and thought, 'shit'. 

Hildred had definitely seen them. She paused on the footpath, holding something in her hands, dropped it on the ground, turned in the other direction and trotted off. 

"Oh, shit," he thought. "Oh, shit, shit, shit."

Hildred Moore - Monday 12 September 2016

Oh, Dear Diary,

I'm so, so, so, embarrassed. I spent Sunday morning at Ruby's baby's birthday party and as I was leaving she insisted I take a cupcake with pink icing and a red heart on top.

"Give it to your new man," she laughed.
"Just drive to his house, surprise him with a pink cupcake! 
"He'll looooove it. I'm sure he's been thinking of you all week, Hilly."

"What, really, no, nooooo," I cringed.
"I dunno, it just seems a bit fucking stupidly weird. And a bit desperate. Not my style."

"Nooooo," Ruby said.
"Just be the romantic that you are. It is a little bid kooky, but obviously you don't really give a shiz about being known as kooky."

"Hmmmmm, I guess not," I admitted.
"It just seems a little too keen. We haven't really even seen each other that often or for that long."

Ruby laughed, "Yeah, but look at you, you are sooooo in love, Hilly."

I thought about it.
"So, if Marcus left a cupcake on my door right now, well . . .  actually . . .  yeah, maybe, I think I would probably like it. It would mean he'd been thinking about me. 
"Alllllright . . . . . I'll take the fucking cupcake."

Ruby clapped her hands and screamed, "I knew it!".

I don't know why she was so excited. My girlfriends just really love a good story. 

I nestled the cupcake in my expensive handbag in a bed and cage of paper napkins. I gave my kisses to Ruby and her doll, then made a quick exit out the front door (everyone was in the backyard) so I didn't have to do the full farewell.

I was driving from Stanmore to Darlinghurst, but made a little detour to Bourke Street, Surry Hills.
I reverse-parked the car into a tiny spot near the aquarium shop, slammed the door and then strided up Bourke Street with the big pink cupcake in my hand.

My plan was to leave the cupcake on top of his metal mailbox, drive off and text him: "Check your mailbox, X."

I'd be home by the time he discovered it. That was about as cute as it was gonna get. 
I used to be recklessly optimistic, but now after six months of therapy, I was always cautiously, warily optimistic.

I was arriving closer down the rich and smooth Bourke Street footpath, when up ahead I could see two figures standing outside Marcus' house. As I was trying to focus with my dodgy sun-warped eyes, I became closer and suddenly realised it was Marcus that was the male figure. The female figure, snuggling close to him, with her hands on his body and her tongue in his mouth, was slim and sexy with long black hair.

I didn't quite catch her face before I took a deep breath, slowly turned around, cupcake fell from my hand, and I walked back invisibly to my car. I sat in and shut the door. Took a few deep breaths.

"Oh, my, God, that was sooooo embarrassing," I said aloud.
"Ah, shit, I dropped the cupcake."

I turned the key, released the brake and sped the hell out of there.

It was such a relief to be back in Darlo, back in my apartment, back with all my safe and familiar things. The tall bookcase crammed with titles, the white cane chair stuffed with colourful cushions, my clean queen-bed all dressed in crispy, white cotton bedding.

That moment at Marcus' was so awkward and wrong. What a relief to be home.

I went into the kitchen, cracked a new bottle of Champagne, poured a glass and then had a cigarette while leaning out the window. It was dreamy and delicious.

The window looked out to the large modern-looking apartment block that ran between Craigend Street and Kings Cross Road, and then further right, down to Rushcutters Bay Park, its trees brightened  by spotlights, and up across to Darling Point with the castle-like towers of the mansion, Swifts, lit up by the setting western sun.

My Facebook Messenger buzzed. It was a message from Marcus Wood. Looked like a long missive. What the hell was it all about. The cupcake incident wasn't that unusual, surely. And, yeah, he was pashing a woman on his doorstep. Obviously a good-bye from the night before.

But I didn't really seem to care. I kinda thought that if he cheated on me, or just did something with another woman that I didn't like, than I would just accept that it wasn't meant to be. I really wasn't that attached to him, despite the fun times we were having.

I switched on my iPhone.
Marcus Wood: "I've been struggling to think what I can say to you and I know the answer is I shouldn't say anything and just leave you be, but what we had was incredibly special."

Crikey, I thought he was going to say he spied me creeping around his house with a fuckin' cupcake.
But no, this weirdness. He obviously saw me when he was kissing that girl, and now knows that I know and is trying to do some kind of pre-emptive love strike.

Marcus went on: "To lose it over a stupid thoughtless drunken indiscretion is too much of a shame for me to not at least try. 

"Clearly, what I've done has damaged any trust there was but I don't believe it to be beyond repair. I think what we have is worth trying for. 

"I think that's all I should say at this point apart from, I love you and I'm sorry."

I nearly spat the Champagne from my mouth. Jesus! That Marcus is a bit bloody full-on. I didn't realise the idea of 'us' was that big a deal. He was a bit intense, clearly. But I wasn't even really sure about Marcus anyway. 

He had this annoying hair-do thing going on that was part of his look, which meant I was never allowed to touch his hair. It's kinda weird not being able to touch your lover's hair.

He had other peculiarities: Refused to brush his teeth before bed as he hated the residual taste of toothpaste; discovered he dyed his eyelashes (I once noticed they were blue-black); and he always seemed to have no money available - couldn't find his wallet, 'I've got no-cash, only-cards'. 
Even though every suburban market stall has bank-card tapping-money machines.

So yeah, it was pretty fucking hilarious that he sent that message. What the hell was it about? What did it mean? Did I even give two shits? 

Johnny Rowbotham - Tuesday 13 September 2016

John Andrew Rowbotham, 33, was released from Lithgow Correctional Centre at 3.50pm on Tuesday 13 September 2016.

He had served just 18 months inside for two counts of sexual assault, two counts of intercourse with person under 16, one count of obtain for advantage, use carriage service to threaten, robbery armed with an offensive weapon, assault with attempt to rob, and finally, break, enter and steal and commit serious indictable offence. 

Rowbotham was released on court bail, meaning he was not on parole and had no more time to serve. Johnny was pretty fuckin' ecstatic about this turn of events, which were spun by a story about an old mad dog cunt who might'a been touchin' 12-year-old girls in the Riverina during the 1980s to mid-90s.

The cops loved it, solved a bunch of crimes, the Magistrate thanked Johnny's good conscience and the Parole Authority granted him release within seven days.

The first song that came to Johnny's mind when he strode outta Lithgow and onto the prison bus in the burning western-sun afternoon was Beck's Loser.

It had been really big on the airwaves during Johnny's last, longest stint outta the clink, and he always felt that it sang to him. 

Johnny felt like a loser, and here was this dude, Beck, singing about being a loser and making it sound like the idea of being a loser wouldn't be such a bad thing. A loser was probably the worst kinda romantic.

And Johnny sure liked the idea of getting romantic tonight. 

He boarded the 5.33pm train out of The Go, a town buried in the entrance to the Central West region, destined to be at Central Train Terminal, an impressive sandstone in the heart of Sydney by 8.30pm.

Johnny stepped down from the train at Central onto the platform and took a deep breath and smelt it all in. There was the immediate scent of saltwater Sydney, mixed with a bouquet of city traffic, a warm and comforting smell that used to give Johnny the tingles when he was young. 

Johnny smiled to himself as he sipped his first beer of freedom while sitting on a metal bar stool at Bar Broadway. It was Tuesday 10pm. The lights of the city were turned on with the bulbs of hundreds, thousands of apartment dwelllers, all at home fixing their familiies' dinners.

Johnny had no desire for food. He wanted to get ripped, find some mates and sleep under the stars in Belmore Park. He had $280 dole money in his pocket, $4 less the beer. 

There was a girl on the next table, drinking alone, looking like a teenage runaway.

Johnny sidled up to her table. "You're beautiful," he said.
"Can I buy you, and your pretty face, a drink?"

Johnny laid it on thick. Went to the bar, bought her two glasses of the house white, and a VB for himself.

She looked pleased when he put the two glasses down on the table.
"I don't want you to want for anything, princess," he said.
"I'll look after you tonight, you gorgeous thing."

The girl was mad about him, was kissing and biting his lips.
He just kept on telling her how sexy she was until she was drunk and had reached the point of no return.

"Do you wanna come stare at the stars, lovely thing?" he asked.

They went along Broadway, through Central Station to Belmore Park, where the moon could be clearly seen, a crescent hanging low in the sky, with the brightest star like a beauty mark against the dark sky.

Johhny had to hold the girl up from her arms, her top pulling up against her flat belly, her feet in 10cm heels wobbling along the footpath. She couldn't really walk. Luckily they didn't have to go too far.

Belmore Park was located between Central Station and Haymarket, with a path running down the centre connecting the two. It was mainly a thoroughfare for nine-to-fivers, a place to have a quiet smoke, or a camping ground.

A few homeless people had set up tents in Belmore Park about 18 months ago after they were evicted from a reserve in a neighbouring council area. Fortunately, the Sydney City Council was more welcoming and in the year and a half since, there were now around 80 people living in tents in the park.

Charity food trucks and welfare services were able to drive straight into the park to assist the homeless, and the council even hired security guards to patrol the area 24/7, which kept the office-working  commuters happy.

About half the people living in tents on the eastern slope, along the wire fence that separated the park from the trainline, were former inmates. There was also about 20 defence force veterans, suffering from PTSD, and the rest were just straight-up mentally ill.

There were three tents, however, that were occupied by one of the local drug king-pins. He'd directed his dealers to run their shop out of a tent and they made a killing. They had a steady clientele of former inmates and passing trade from some of the braver office-workers, teens from the suburbs and anyone looking to score.

It was pretty clever, really. The Surry Hills coppers didn't really want to spend their days searching homeless people's tents at Belmore Park, and any clients could be passed off as some charity do-gooders, working hard to house and educate the homeless.

Johnny was pretty sure he knew what those three tents were. They looked just the same as everybody's else's little two-person tents, except the trio all had a candle burning in the right back-corner.

He had about $250 in his pocket, but he needed to get this girl some uppers, some dexies or some speed, otherwise he wasn't gonna get a root.

He led the girl to a clearing between two tents with large fig-tree roots bulging out of the ground and lay her on the ground. He stood up, pulled $150 in notes from his pocket and went to the nearest tent with a candle burning in its right back-corner.

The girl was barely awake when he returned, but she looked at him and smiled as he pressed a small tablet into her mouth and said, "Here, swallow."

Then he leaned in close to her ear and said, "I don't ever want to wake up again.
"I don't ever want to wake up again, it's true.
"Because I don't ever wanna wake up again, without you."

The girl sighed and pulled down her underpants.
Johnny thought he really had the gift of the gab. He must have got it from his Dad. His Dad was the one, after all, who managed to sweet talk his mother into doing all those things to him.

Johnny wedged his cock between the girl's legs, grunted with pleasure and thought, "Tomorrow, I'll find Hildred Moore."