Hearing footsteps in the corridor, Jeff braced his spine against the back of the chair. Sure enough, without a warning knock, the door opened inwards. All the air rushed out of his lungs, and the shock temporarily winded him. He stood up as he watched an older version of himself walk into the room behind a uniformed guard.
Ten years fell away in a split-second, and the superstar found himself staring into eyes he despised. His first instinct was to turn and leave. This man wasn’t worth his time.
Adrenalin surged through the angry young renegade who sprang to life inside the mature world-changer, bursting with arrogant, reproachful bitterness. He felt the blood boiling in his veins as the two sides of his character merged together. Fighting to stay in the present, he extended his right hand towards his father, confident this was the better statement to make.
The older man gripped his son’s hand out of habit but then shook it half-heartedly, his face devoid of emotion. It was an automatic reaction by a man also in deep shock.
Jeff exhaled, the initial exchange uttered at last. Jesus Christ! This was uncomfortable. He subdued his wild thoughts by convincing himself that the man across the table was by far the more nervous. Diamond Senior was not accustomed to performing in front of thousands of people or conducting conflict resolution talks between foreign government representatives and militant activists.
“G’day, son” might have been nice, the visitor cursed internally. Even “G’day, Jeff” would have done...
Forcing the slightest of smiles, the celebrity offered his father a cigarette, which was accepted with a curt word of thanks but no change of expression. The son flicked the lid on his chrome lighter, leaned forwards and lit one after the other. Sinking down into his seat, he took a long drag, exhaling towards the ceiling, more to release some of the tension in his neck than to avoid blowing smoke into the other man’s face.
‘Thanks for agreeing to see me,’ the musician started, watching the older man slump into his chair like a disaffected teenager. ‘This is fucking weird, isn’t it?’
Paul nodded, scanning his son up and down. Jeff was wearing the leather jacket Lynn had given him for his twentieth birthday, with smartly-cut black trousers and a dark grey shirt with the faintest of crimson stripes.
‘Yeah. Sure is. You look good,’ his father responded in a brusque voice.
The younger man laughed somewhat bitterly. ‘I look like you! So how’re you going?’
‘Yeah. Fine, thanks,’ the star answered, maintaining a barely tolerable level of undeserved respect; just enough to retain the moral high ground.
‘How’s your sister?’ the older man asked, with the first flicker of interest in his eyes.
The twenty-four-year-old saw red. That’d be right! Don’t show him you’re pissed off, he told himself. Let it go. Reluctantly, he gave his dad the benefit of the doubt. He might have cared more if they knew each other better.
‘Lena’s fine too. She lives in Fairfield. Shares a flat with another girl.’
Jeff reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out the photographs he had brought with him, hearing the guard shuffling his feet behind him. His rampant imagination wondered if the silent, hard-nosed man in the blue uniform was thinking he was about to shoot the wizen, old bastard. What a splendid idea!
‘I’ve got some pictures.’
Sorting through the half-dozen happy snaps, the celebrity picked out two and laid them on the smooth surface in front of the prisoner. Staring intently into his face, he heard the older man inhale sharply as recognition triggered a rare show of emotion. The boy he used to be felt the knife in his chest turn a little further, but the man he had become refused to react. In fact, much to his annoyance, Jeff even felt a little sympathy for the tall, thin waster across the table from him, with deep furrows in his brow and bony, tobacco-stained fingers.
‘That’s Lena all dolled up at our wedding,’ he said, remembering how beautiful his sister had looked that day. ‘Remind you of someone?’
Paul turned his eyes away from his son’s determined gaze, stubbing out his cigarette. Then, looking back to the photographs, his voice cracked a little.
A revelation struck Jeff like a lightning bolt. Why on Earth had this not occurred to him before? Did the inmate even know the circumstances of his wife’s death? He wouldn’t know his teenaged son had found her, covered in blood and vomit, a needle sticking out of her ankle and already deceased.
‘D’you even know what happened to Mamá?’
The young man needed his father to understand why he was here. Picturing his beautiful best friend spurring him on, his nerves steadied a little.
‘She was a wretched, alcoholic drug addict, and your daughter’s a whore,’ he blurted out, his heart in his mouth. ‘Yeah. That woman in the picture… She gets fucked by six different men every day. That’s all she ever learned how to do. D’you know what you did to us, Dad?’
Meeting this hateful man eyeball-to-eyeball with the cold, hard truth was a risky tactic, Jeff understood, but he had to cut to the chase. He stole a glance at the guard, who remained motionless. He probably spent many such hours in this room, listening to equally distasteful conversations. Might he even have volunteered for this showdown, given the characters involved?
Dismissing the presumptuous notion, the musician halted his mind’s evasive meandering. Yes, it was nice to swap photographs and speak pleasantly about family resemblance, but he had committed to return to Melbourne with unspoken opinions surfaced and residual issues on their way to being resolved.
Paul said nothing. Both men’s body language was reserved but tense, and the prison officer surveyed the scene in silence, waiting apprehensively for their next move. It also crossed the intellectual’s mind that his father must have been addressed with disdain countless times over the last ten years. He was most likely anaesthetised against raised voices and derogatory insinuations.
‘Look, Dad… I need to get a few things off my chest and I want you to do the same. Can I go first?’ the rock star brokered.
His father shrugged. ‘OK. Fire away.’
‘Cheers. Did you know all along what those bastards were doing to Mamá and Lena?’
The prisoner shrugged again, a blank expression settling on his face as if he had heard it all before.
‘What the hell did you do to them that made them come into our home to fuck our women? And with Lena so young? Jesus! They hurt them so badly. Did you know any of that?’
The series of blunt questions elicited no reaction whatsoever. Jeff had no doubt he was being understood, furious not to receive anything back. Reining in his emotions once more, he raised his hands in front of his chest to suggest he would back off.
‘No,’ he reconsidered, gathering the photographs together and turning them over like playing cards at the end of a hand of poker.
Party over, old man.
‘Why should I let you off the hook? You really fucked me up too, you know,’ the young man let the sentences roll off his tongue, having dreamed of this moment for so long. ‘You knew bloody well what they were doing, didn’t you? Those arseholes in our flat, doing that disgusting stuff to Mamá and Lena, and I couldn’t do anything to stop ‘em. And then you’d come home and fuck me over into the bargain because I didn’t stop it happening. The effects of all that shit were still living in me for years. Every fucking day.’
The prisoner dealt his son another blank stare, which the angry man wasn’t sure if he should interpret as ignorance, disdain or simply a complete lack of connection. Watching him shuffle in his chair, Jeff sensed his dad gathering his thoughts. The visitor leaned back, almost goading him to go in hard.
‘Chico, you never follered me,’ Paul recounted, now with a sneer on his wrinkled face. ‘I was on me own against them fuckers. There was only one o’ me. You could o’ stopped all that shit happenin’ to the girls by helpin’ me out.’
The scowling inmate pointed a finger towards his son, who thumped the table with enough force to shake it. Sneaking a quick look at the prison guard, the rock star sprang out of his chair.
‘That’s what I wanted to hear!’ he shouted, without disengaging from the older man’s indifferent gaze. ‘You still think that way after all this time? That’s fucking bullshit, Dad!’
Again his father scarcely moved, keeping a wary eye on the songwriter as he paced around the room. Why did this man from whom he was descended find it impossible to address him by name? A somewhat familial “chico” was a decent compromise under the circumstances, although it sounded more demeaning coming from him than from others. Despite the derisory glare which had accompanied it, this was a small step forward at least, he reluctantly admitted.
‘Could we have some coffee, please?’ the sophisticated celebrity asked the officer, who obediently pressed the intercom’ button in the room and passed on the request.
Jeff sat down again. ‘Let me get this straight,’ he continued. ‘You blame me for not wanting to be involved in your dodgy deals because it meant you couldn’t compete against the others. Is that what drove you to do what you did to those blokes too? I didn’t do what you wanted, so you took it out on everyone else?’
The young man knew better than to articulate the circumstances of this man’s crime in front of Parklea staff. Another exasperating vacuous stare met his gaze, no doubt perfected after years of passive defiance.
‘That’s fucked, Dad. Alberto’s sons weren’t in on it, and no-one raped Eva. Those guys even came to my wedding. For Christ’s sake!’
His father’s eyebrows twitched involuntarily, hearing his son pronounce names from their past. ‘Bloody Alby Santos,’ he hissed. ‘I always wondered what ‘appened to that fuckin’ grass.’
The charitable musician chose to ignore this latest snide remark. ‘Come on,’ he prompted. ‘Don’t dodge the question. Why did you do it? Why was it so important that I join you? Weren’t you man enough to lead your own bloody life of crime?’
Paul let out a throaty smoker’s cough, slotting an index finger inside his shirt collar and running it round his neck as if he were feeling the heat. Angrily, and probably for the first time in a while, he filled his lungs with a deep breath and straightened up, giving himself back the true height and stature which used to send shivers down the teenager’s spine.
‘I was man enough alright,’ he sneered. ‘You could never be. You were all bloody useless to me. I was trying to build a fuckin’ business, and all you did was read books and play that bloody guitar.’
‘Right,’ the star nodded, balanced on the very fine ledge between latitude and contempt.
‘All that talk about school and university,’ his father continued. ‘No son o’ mine was goin’ to no poncy university. You let me down, eh?’
‘I let you down? So why didn’t you cut me loose?’ the younger man questioned, bile rising in his stomach at the underlying paternal rejection being verbalised for the first time. ‘Why didn’t you guys just give me away? Give us all away? Fuck off out of our lives altogether? Instead of taking your disappointment at my failure out on all of us? Yeah?’
The prisoner scoffed, apparently amused by the malicious impersonation with which his son had signed off his series of questions. He looked up at the guard over his right shoulder, as if he were about to demand removal from the room. The uniformed officer continued to stare straight ahead, to Jeff’s relief. The songwriter wondered how many of these spiteful confrontations these blokes had to endure. They were bound to take their toll after a while, he guessed, deciding to ease up on both men.
‘Me mates used to ask me if you were queer in the ‘ead or somethin’,’ Paul took up the conversation, his mocking tone increasing in volume. ‘Music and books and all that. You weren’t like the other kids. Fucking cricket and rugby and tennis. Sucking up to people. It was fuckin’ embarrassin’.’
Jeff shook his head, rapidly losing patience. ‘So no-one in here likes cricket or rugby?’ he chided, catching the guard’s eye. ‘Nothing much else to talk about, I would’ve thought. Or are you split down ethnic lines in here too? It’s OK now to talk about music, obviously though. “Ride All Night” go down well in here? Or “Donna Jade”? I should do a gig in here one day. Would your mates like that?’
The star noticed their sentry stifle a smile. The prisoner didn’t think to look over his shoulder anyway, allowing the man to relax for a few seconds. His eyes made contact with the impressive musician’s, both still waiting for a response to his vitriolic humour.
‘Fuck you,’ Diamond Senior hissed.
‘Just because someone likes what you don’t like doesn’t make them queer, Dad,’ the young superstar insisted. ‘Look at my life. I bet your mates’d trade places with me any day. Look at my bloody car…’
Jeff leafed through the small selection of photographs again and dealt one of him sitting in the driving seat of his sleek, black Aston Martin, with its personalised licence plate beneath the front grille. He could sense his father was impressed, and that was good enough for him. He was willing to bet that if he left this picture with his father today, it would soon find its way around the other inmates, regardless of the lack of kudos it might receive in his presence.
‘What I like…’ he continued, taking the photograph back. ‘That poncy, queer stuff, as you call it, has brought me more success than you’d ever have. Think about it, man. Why the hell wouldn’t I have wanted out of that life? What was there for someone like me to gain? None of those gangs had it easy, did they?’
His father sniffed. Jeff could tell the old man’s patience was running thin too, but he had waited many years to talk to him like this.
‘Sure they had money, flash cars and the rest… But those blokes had to watch their backs wherever they went, just like you.’
And just like me, come to think of it, Jeff conceded, though only to his own conscience. Hopefully, his dad didn’t possess the intelligence to see through the gaping hole in this particular argument. A huge pang of longing broke free of his heart during this small epiphany, leaving him short of breath. The smartest arse-end of a pantomime horse in history, patiently waiting in their favourite Sydney hotel, would have pounced on such a careless flaw in an instant.
The superstar carried on, determined to make his point. ‘No wonder you don’t care about being in here,’ he shrugged. ‘Much safer than being on the Stones, isn’t it? Much less to worry about; fighting for the next deal the whole time... What was it about that so-called life you wanted so badly?’
Paul Diamond raised his right hand to his forehead, spinning his finger around in a circle and mimicking the deranged grin of a madman. ‘You’re crazy, mate,’ he jeered. ‘What the fuck are you talkin’ about? You always were so fucking weird. Wanting to know ev’rythin’ and comin’ on all ‘igh and mighty, like you knew better than the rest of us.’
‘Yeah. Maybe I am crazy,’ his son nodded, refusing to be riled into raising his voice again. ‘You made me this way. If not from birth, then certainly from the day you ended up in here.’
‘No, Dad,’ the young man sighed, wondering how much longer he ought to prolong this discussion in order to complete the acquittal either to himself or to his gorgeous lover. ‘Fuck you. What made you think I’d be into the gangland way of life? Your own dad wasn’t.’
‘Me own dad?’ the prisoner echoed. ‘What a useless piece of shit he was. No spine, no guts. At least I stood up to the bastards... How the ‘ell would you know anyways? You were just a kid.’
‘Yep. I was just a kid. And so was Lena. Exactly my point, but whatever… Your father didn’t want you doing all that shit, but he left you alone, didn’t he? All I wanted was for you to leave us alone too. I didn’t care what you did with your life. Just don’t drag innocent kids into that messed-up, sick world of yours. It wasn’t fair, Dad. Look what it did to Mamá…’
Jeff waited for the faintest sign that his mother’s life and death held some significance for the man on the other side of the table. He thought he saw a faint flicker of disturbance flash across the deeply-lined forehead. Did those sunken eyes blink infinitesimally more slowly for a few seconds?
Maybe not. It had been a very long time since this deadbeat had been required to feel anything, the philosopher supposed. Indeed, if their roles were reversed, and he himself were faced with spending the rest of his life in prison, he would be hard pressed to want to feel anything either.
‘D’you know who paid for Bubshka’s funeral, Dad?’ the twenty-four-year-old asked, leaning forward again and laying his hands flat on the Formica surface between them. ‘And for Mamá’s, for that matter?’
‘Fairies at the bottom of the garden?’ the old man snapped back, clearly very proud of himself for thinking of something so drôle to say to his jumped up, university-educated wuss of a son.
Jeff gritted his teeth, ready to lash out. Instead, he pointed an angry index finger back at his own chest.
‘Me,’ he spat. ‘I paid for them. A teenaged kid, working in the butchers’, hacking up dead animals into snags and chasing round after idiots who couldn’t run their own lives.’
His father faltered, withering into his seat. ‘Then I guess I should say thanks.’
The musician drew breath, momentarily floored by this unexpected expression of gratitude. His natural reaction was to disbelieve the prisoner’s sincerity, yet his well-trained, conciliatory side opted to give him the benefit of the doubt again. Jeff Diamond could be very persuasive. People often told him so. It seemed that his persistence had paid off. Perhaps the pitiful sentimentality in his words had penetrated the old man’s thick skull after all.
‘Listen, Dad,’ he continued, doing his best to smile. ‘When your mum died, I was sixteen and I didn’t even feel sad. I was totally fucked in the head. To me, hers was just another unhappy soul released from that shit-hole of a life while I was stuck there trying to make sense of it all. You know, I dragged Lena along to the funeral, and she cried! She hadn’t seen Bubshka in two years and she still cried. Me, I just sat there and thought about girls.’
Jeff’s father leaned forward, the previous malice gone from his eyes. ‘Listen, you Countdown clown, I didn’t even get to go to me mum’s funeral,’ he mocked. ‘I’m the one banged up, eh? I didn’t get to go to me wife’s funeral neither. No-one told me ‘til after it was over.’
It was strangely heartening to hear the old man fight back, even though there was no real venom in his tone this time. The musician reached his left hand across the table and squeezed his father’s wrist, chuckling at the hurtful jibe.
‘I know. I’m sorry about that too. Would you’ve wanted to go?’
If he were honest, Jeff doubted the hardened criminal would have attended his wife’s funeral, had he been free to make the choice at the time, minus the facility of reflection during his years of incarceration.
Paul flicked his arm upwards, instantly belittling his son’s peaceable gesture. No longer disturbed by the rejection however, the celebrity withdrew his hand and placed it on his thigh under the table. He recognised himself in his father’s behaviour, or rather his former self, pre-Lynn; the self who would go to any lengths not to reveal his true feelings. This path to reconciliation was destined to be a slow process. Thinking he should draw the meeting to a close, his blood chilled with fear at having to go through this fiasco again.
What was it that they had started today? And where might it end?
The superstar sighed and cursed his naïve expectations. It was unlike Lynn not to have warned him of the need to take things slowly and that it would take time to break through. But no, Jeff smiled. The more likely scenario was that she had deliberately left him to come to this conclusion on his own, so as not to discourage him at the outset.
Christ Almighty! This woman was so absolutely perfect for him. There was no clear end in sight, nor even a real understanding as to the end he sought, yet the new husband had to own up to a definite catharsis taking place deep inside.
With a creak of its hinges, the door opened, and another guard delivered a tray with two cups of coffee and a plate of biscuits. Still lightheaded, Jeff eagerly helped himself to two biscuits and crunched them straight down, then scooping three spoonfuls of sugar into his drink.
‘Those are good!’ he laughed, gazing up at the officer and then at his dad. ‘I haven’t had a Monte Carlo in years.’
The older man lifted a chocolate-coated biscuit to his mouth too, revealing several missing teeth. ‘You been livin’ the ‘igh life,’ he smiled, slurping his coffee while chewing. ‘This is all we get in ‘ere.’
The young celebrity shrugged. ‘Fair enough. Look, Dad… I know you don’t give a shit about me and my life, and I can live with that. You blame me for not helping grow your pathetic criminal empire, and I blame you for all the nightmares and the fact I only got a handful of hours’ sleep in eight years. But mostly, I blame you for wrecking the lives of two perfectly decent women.’
‘What the fuck are you talkin’ about?’ his father sneered again. ‘I did what I ‘ad to do to survive. We all did.’
‘Not from where I’m coming from,’ the patient negotiator shook his head. ‘But that’s all gone now, and I can move on. I just want to hear what you’ve got to say and perhaps clear the air between us. And I want to hear what you’ve been through in here since I last saw you.’
The prisoner’s expression softened a little, secretly impressed with his adult son. ‘Oh, it’s a fuckin’ party in ‘ere, mate,’ he said, his tone friendlier. ‘Dunno what you’re after. They got me workin’ in the sheds, mendin’ furniture an’ that. Piss-easy work; same every day. No surprises and nothin’ to worry about. What else d’ya wanna know?’
‘Ah, I don’t know. Anything. That’s all good for a start. How you feel after all this time, I guess. If you’ve got any regrets?’
Diamond Senior lifted his hands up to shoulder level and coughed in amusement, scanning his eyes round their salubrious surroundings. The sadistic streak the son remembered from his childhood was still intact, regardless of whether it was a macho act or if the attitude came naturally.
‘Na! That’s it, mate. There’s nothin’ else to tell. Every day’s the bloody same, but I don’t give a shit about that either. You said it, you rich, know-it-all bastard.’
Frustrated, Jeff sat taller in his chair and renewed his assault. He deserved more than indifference from the man who had brought him into this world and then left him to survive on his own.
‘Alright, fair enough. So sitting here now then, who’s the loser? You or me?’ the rocker taunted. ‘After this, I’m going back to a top-notch hotel to make love with a stunning, passionate woman who adores me. Then next week, I’m going to LA to make a movie. And where are you going, Dad? You’re going back through that door.’
The twenty-four-year-old pointed with a strong left hand over his father’s head. Again the guard stirred, expecting an equally angry retort from the double murderer, whose jawline hardened while his Adam’s apple twitched imperceptibly.
‘You didn’t think of that back then, did you?’ Jeff continued, the antipathy in his voice increasing as his blood reached boiling point. ‘When you were lining your pockets with a measly few hundred bucks at a time at the expense of your family’s safety and sanity. Was it worth it, Dad?’
‘Fuck you, boy.’
His father was hurting at last. The empathetic man could see it in his narrowing eyes, which darted from the table to the ceiling and back again. He continued, more conciliatory this time.
‘I knew it wouldn’t be worth it, y’see, Dad. Even back then. That’s why I refused to get involved. I didn’t want that sort of life.’
‘So you ended up marrying Lynn Dyson,’ Paul assumed control of the conversation with a bitter laugh, quickly putting his roused emotions back to sleep and changing the subject. ‘How the fuck did that ‘appen?’
‘I did,’ his son chuckled. ‘Damned if I know how it happened! I’m glad it did though.’
‘You always said you would. What does she want with someone like you, but? You must’ve told her some good lies. The blokes in ‘ere take the piss out of me all day long. They call me “Aussie Elvis” and sing your songs at me in the shower, all queer-like. I’m fuckin’ famous in ‘ere ‘cause you’re famous out there. Holy crap!’
Jeff smiled. ‘Sorry about that. I wondered how much news you got in here.’
‘Ah, I don’t care,’ his father quipped. ‘It’s cool, tell ya the truth. You turned out good. No thanks to me, but. I should o’ never ‘ad kids.’
‘Yeah. You’re right about that.’
Not even half joking, the younger man remarked to himself that he no longer smarted at the idea of never having existed. The thought pleased him. Another gold star his beautiful best friend could claim…
‘A few years ago, I would’ve agreed with you, but now I’m glad I’m alive. In fact…’ the accomplished communicator paused, making sure he had his adversary’s full attention. ‘In fact, thanks, Dad, for unwittingly giving me life. I want to be able to tell my kids who you are and what you mean to me. Not just based on the past. I want what I tell them to be based on now. Shit, Dad! Their other grandfather’ll be Bart Dyson. You know how ironic that is, don’t you? Does the term “chalk and cheese” come to mind?’
Paul pouted, completely missing his son’s stinging observation. ‘Quite a pedigree your kid’ll have, mate. So is she pregnant then? Is she a good fuck, Lynn Dyson?’
Jeff shook his head, refusing to rise to the criminal’s cruel jibes again after all these years. ‘Cut that out, mate,’ he snapped back. ‘Show some respect. That’s your daughter-in-law you’re insulting. Didn’t you ever look at what was on my walls?’
‘No. Well, yeah. Maybe.’
‘Christ, Dad!’ the young man was fast losing patience. ‘You had no fucking idea who I was back then. I’m amazed you even knew you had a son. Whatever… And didn’t you just accuse me of being queer? Make up your fucking mind. No. Lynn’s not pregnant yet. Later in the year, we hope. After the Olympic Games in Canada. Some people plan these things, you’ll be surprised to learn.’
The final sentence in this latest tirade was uncalled for, admittedly, but the successful philanthropist enjoyed delivering such a sanctimonious message all the more for it. He had been waiting a very long time to speak these words to his father.
‘You can thank your mum for that,’ the older man replied, again utterly unmoved.
Jeff didn’t bother to hide any of his disgust this time. It angered him to hear his father lay the blame solely at his mother’s feet, but there was no point in moralising about this man’s careless disregard for contraception at this late juncture. He could hardly make the same mistake in his current situation...
Instead, the mature, worldly and forward-thinking intellectual carried on articulating the purpose of his visit, and why his gorgeous soul-mate had pushed him into doing so. ‘Dad, I have a responsibility to my future kids, to my wife and to myself to keep us safe and to tell them exactly how it is. You never took responsibility for anything, but I’m not going to be that kind of father because I know how bad it feels to be that kind of kid. Tell me what’s going to happen to us, Dad, please. Do you talk to people out there, or in here? What do you know that I need to know?’
The older man shrugged. ‘What are you talkin’ about? You always did talk a load of crap. Why all the questions? Ya reckon anyone cares about comin’ after you? You’re off limits, mate. Imagine the noise that’d make in the ‘papers?’
‘Sure there’d be noise, but I don’t believe you,’ the streetwise young man countered. ‘Do you honestly think people give a shit about the side-effects when they’re planning a hit? You didn’t.’
Paul Diamond let out a throaty laugh. ‘I was stupid, chico,’ came an admission his son never expected to hear. ‘I got too cocky, didn’t I? High on LSD and too fuckin’ angry.’
‘Christ!’ Jeff leaned forwards, his chest tight with a sudden rush of mixed emotions. ‘That I understand.’
Disregarding his son’s compassionate comment, the prisoner’s gaze alighted on the gold and black signet ring with its two diamonds, one a little brighter than the other. ‘That’s a cool ring. Your jacket an’ all. You got a heap o’ money now, eh?’
‘Yep,’ the star answered without any hint of swagger. ‘And thanks. I’ve got way more than enough money. I give a lot of it away. We don’t need much, Lynn and I.’
Ostentation wouldn’t wash with the murderer, no matter how dearly the lost boy wished to prove himself. His head clearing after having spoken his mind, he took a moment to scrutinise this man whom he scarcely remembered. More distant childhood recollections were jogged by the faded, green-grey tattoos showing under the cuffs of his prison-issue shirt. Father and son had turned into strikingly similar adults. Different worlds called for different forms of adornment, that was all.
His dad would be younger than Gerald Blake and much the same age as Bart Dyson, the thoughtful songwriter estimated. He seemed much older than both of these men however; weaker, greyer and with definite curvature of the spine most likely accelerated by the rasping cough that followed almost every sentence uttered.
Perhaps faces aged prematurely when they only knew how to be mean, Jeff speculated. Lynn often told him he looked younger when he smiled. This bloke ought to give it a try once in a while…
‘Do you need anything?’ he found himself asking.
‘That jacket,’ his father snapped back in an instant.
‘What? No way!’ the star retorted, amazed at the man’s gall. ‘This was a birthday present from Lynn. You’re not getting it. I meant smokes or magazines or whatever. Jesus Christ!’
The older man laughed out loud for the first time, the expression on his face almost friendly. His son still didn’t like him though. Not one bit, and of that he was glad. From his side of the table, he slid over a car magazine which he had bought to read on the flight up from Tullamarine.
‘Take this anyway. I’ve finished with it.’
Jeff had tucked a few photographs between the pages, unbeknown to his father; one of him leaning against his black sports car, and a couple of his sister during her trip to Melbourne. It didn’t matter if the magazine were to be thrown away without the pictures being exposed to the stark lighting of a prison cell. The peacemaker had done enough for the time being.
Like an animal making a grab for an unexpected morsel of food, the inmate slid the glossy publication towards him without a word of thanks. By the shrewd sideways glance that was shot towards the burly guard, the celebrity wondered how long it would take before the gift was traded. And for which commodity would it be bartered in this god-forsaken place?
‘You’re welcome,’ his son chuckled, heaving himself to a standing position. ‘I’m going to call it quits, unless there’s anything else you want to talk about.’
Paul Diamond rose to his feet also, and the two men eyed each other off at their full height for the first and probably only time. In the eleven years since the pair had last met, his adult son had outgrown him by ten centimetres and was decidedly broader and stronger.
Moving round to the other side of the table, the visitor placed his left hand on the lifer’s shoulder and held his right out for a farewell handshake. To his surprise, he noticed tears in the old man’s eyes.
Don’t do this to me, Jeff said to himself, gritting his teeth. Managing to restrain any outward show of emotion in return, he refused to break eye contact. Two can play at that game, he thought.
‘We’re pretty alike,’ the handsome celebrity conceded, ‘aren’t we? For better or worse.’
‘Yep. Reckon so.’
Their short-lived reactions soon suppressed, Jeff shook his father’s hand, and the courtesy was this time returned, full-blooded.
‘Thanks, Dad. Stay safe.’
‘You too, mate.’
The uniformed officer reached for the door handle, peering through the window before twisting it. Diamond the prisoner turned on his heels and vacated the room without hesitation. Diamond the free man stood watching the figure of his fallen nemesis disappear, suddenly thrown back to the desolate scene when Lynn had left his Richmond flat in the dead of night before their two-year separation.
Damn! He did feel something after all.
The expensive wristwatch the young man had received for his recent birthday informed him that the meeting had lasted just over an hour. What had he learned from it? Not too much. He had found out that the word “son” was too hard for his father to say. Or perhaps being reminded of his children meant little to him. Yet what had prompted those last-minute tears? The old man probably wouldn’t give him another thought, and therefore neither was likely ever to understand.
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