John G comes back into the cafe. He adjusts his pants, pulling the waistband up over his under-gut, wipes his palms on his thighs, leans over the counter and picks up his short black.
Mark sits at the rear of the cafe, combing his greasy ducktail back into a shape it never really lost in the first place. He taps his fingernails on his Cooper’s stubbie, drawing John’s attention. John waddles over and sits down.
“What’s up, mate?”
“Someone here to see you. Says he knows you. Says he wants a job.”
John sighs, his coffee-breath clouding Mark’s personal space.
“Where is he?”
Mark smiles and points to a table at a front corner of the cafe.
John, eyesight fading with age, squints at the shape hunched over his table, then fumbles for the glasses in his pocket. They are crazy thick black-rimmed spectacles, the kind hipsters wear for irony’s sake but John wears out of cheapness. John says,
“Yeah, thought you’d say that.”
The shape in the corner stares out at Lygon Street. John turns back to Mark.
“This guy’s going to scare off all the pretty girls.”
“Take a look around, boss. You ever see any pretty girls in here?”
“Smartarse. Who is this freak?”
“Says he’s Robbie V. I was gunna just toss him, but he swears he did some work for you a few years back.”
“That guy’s Robbie V?”
“So he says.”
“No way he’s Robbie V.”
“Well, that’s what he says.”
“That guy...he’s...all cut up.”
“I believe he’s what’s known as a modern primitive.”
“A modern primitive. They’re into weird body modification and post-humanism and...”
Mark smiles into his latte cup.
John makes a face like someone cupped a fart in their fist and released it under his nose.
“Had a quick chat. Seems like a nice guy.”
“How do you know all this stuff?”
“This modern...whatever stuff.”
“I read, John.”
“You and your perverted books.”
“I once went out with a chick who had a piercing through her thing. What was her name?”
“Through her what?”
“Her thing. Christ, John, don’t make me draw a picture.”
“You’re wrong. There’s something very, very wrong with you.”
“She had to take it out. It made her cum all the time, like just walking around and stuff, off she’d go.”
John shakes his head, says,
“What is happening to this world?”
“Nancy! That was it, her name was Nancy. Shit, I should check in with her.”
“You need to find a nice girl.”
“Are you going to give him a job?”
“Doing what? Scaring little children?”
Mark laughs, says,
“Keep it down, boss. He can probably hear you.”
“I don’t give a shit. What happened to him? Such a handsome boy. Look at all those scars...”
“I don’t mind the scars, look how they swirl, such intricate patterns. It’s the earrings I find a bit off.”
John takes another look. Huge, heavy, metal hoops are inserted into Robbie V’s lobes, stretching them out so far you could put a midget’s fist through them. Mark says,
“Pretty gross, eh?”
“I can’t talk to him.”
“Do you really know him?”
John whips off his glasses, leans in close.
“I do. He used to do what you do.”
“He then got some weird girlfriend...went all...weird.”
“He up and left. Last I heard he was in Nimbin or something.”
“Well, he’s back now. Maybe she dumped him, the weird girlfriend.”
“Good riddance. I can’t talk to him.”
“I can’t. You do it. You tell him I have no work for him. My heart has broken. Such a handsome boy.”
“John, surely we can use him for something.”
John stands, shakes his head, shuffles off to the kitchen, says,
“What is he thinking, coming back to me looking like that?”
Mark drains the last of his beer. Rubs his eyes. He hates disappointing people and this dude’s potentially a bit of a wild card and wild cards he hates disappointing the most. He walks behind the counter and grabs two more beers. Robbie V hears Mark approach, he looks up and smiles.
Fuck me, his teeth are filed.
Mark pops the top off a beer and passes it to Robbie. He does the same with his and takes a seat.
“Listen, mate –”
“He didn’t go for it. I heard. It’s okay. I just thought that maybe he could use someone with a look, you know.”
“Yeah. Well, I think that it’s just that you’re a little...distinctive, mate. I mean, you stand out like a sore dick. I mean, you look like Killer Croc.”
“Croc. From Batman. Look, never mind about all that, okay? I’m pretty sure someone somewhere can use a man of your distinctive talents. Whatever, uh, they may be.”
Robbie V leans across the table. He’s quite the side of beef. The table gives out what may be a final death rattle. Mark makes a mental note to start reinforcing these cheap pieces of shit before there’s an accident. Robbie V bares his fangs and says,
“I am a man with a broken heart who has lost all faith in everything except the modification of the flesh. I have transformed myself into something post-human. I have gone through rites of passage you cannot even comprehend. I know how to burn symbols into skin, how to suspend a body from hooks through the flesh and how to take a man through a journey of such pain that it will leave him either transcendent or dead. I have no interest now in anything except pain and its power and what it can do.”
The guys sit there, eyeballing each other. Finally, Mark says,
“So. You have any pictures of yourself, like, hanging from meat hooks or whatever?”
“Not on me, no.”
“Right. Well, tell you what, I like you, mate. I’ll put in a good word for you and, even though we try not to torture-slash-maim too much these days, you never can tell when such a situation may arise. Leave me your number. We’ll be in touch.”
Robbie V nods, reaches for his wallet. Mark waves it off.
“Beer’s on me mate.”
They shake. Robbie stands, smiles at Mark with those shark teeth.
Mark nods, holds his breath till Robbie V is surely well on his way back to Freaksville. Mark sits and drinks his beer and thinks about piercings for a bit. He pulls out his phone, scrolls through some numbers and dials.
“Nancy? Hey, it’s Mark. How ya been?”