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Emma, in oversized jeans that fitted like a tarpaulin and a baggy purple jumper, sat hunched over a very large brandy, enveloping it in an all-devouring look of adoration that told it that it was the most important thing in the world, at least until it was finished and a refill was needed. There were black rings right round her eyes. Sue, elegant in a fawn suit and a white silk blouse, nursed a tall glass with sugar on the rim. Kathyís floral overalls looked garish beside her blue-tinged mineral water. In the backgound was the choonk, thunk, rattle, rattle, rattle of the poker machines and the endless one, two, one, two of a band setting up.
"Do you really have to go back to work?" Kathy asked Emma.
Emma nodded. "Silly buggers are still crossing iís and dotting tís."
Sue raised an interrogative eyebrow.
Emma wasnít looking. The hidden lights in the brandy held her in thrall.
"Itís some sort of report," Kathy explained for her. "Itís supposed to be ready by tomorrow."
"By the second coming, more likely," Emma said, "the rate theyíre going."
"Whatís the problem?" Sue didnít really care, but she was obviously supposed to ask.
"Thereís a committee," Emma said, as if that explained it all.
There was a long silence, counted down by One, Two ...
Kathy tried again. "How did the court case go," she asked Sue.
"Okay," Sue said, without much enthusiasm.
"I thought you were bringing Des back with you," Kathy said.
"He couldnít come," Sue said. "Heís in gaol."
Emma looked up, interested at last. "This was the assault case? When Des rolled up at the dole office in his executive suit, and got relieved of it?"
"What did he do? Abuse the judge?"
Sue shook her head. "Just forgot to put his mind in gear. Heís still pretending to his wife that heís got a job, so when they asked his occupation, guess what he said."
"Used-car salesman," Emma and Kathy said in chorus.
"Add to that, the kid who rolled him turned up hair combed, wearing Desís suit, and apologised sweetly for wearing exhibit A because he hadnít anything else suitable."
"He couldnít have looked worse than Des in it," Emma said.
"It was three sizes too big, but the houndstooth pattern complemented the acne beautifully. And did the defence lawyer pour it on." Sue dropped her voice an octave:
"Your honour, picture the scene of this unfortunate incident. An expanse more bleak than an airline terminal filled with destitute, starving humanity. Vomit yellow carpet. Bare notice boards whose sole offerings are for Uzbekh to Swahili interpreters. A mud green maginot line garrisoned by sadists whose sport is to pour contempt and derision upon the cream of Australiaís youth for the crime of not obtaining the jobs that their elders have failed to provide.
"Your honour, my client was desperate. Cut off the dole by a chinless micro-Hitler for being improperly dressed. His only clothes those in which he stood.
"Into this Dickensian nightmare walks the alleged victim, in a brand-new suit, handkerchief in his top pocket, smelling of aftershave, elbowing aside the proletariat like some member of the Senior Executive Service.
"Is it any wonder that my client, faced with such provocation, perceived instantly an admittedly misguided solution to his alleged sartorial deficiencies.
"The magistrate didnít buy it, surely?" Emma asked.
"Of course he did. Mitigating circumstances. And it seems that, considering Desís occupation, being ripped off is unlikely to cause him the sort of psychological damage that it would for an honest man. So he gave the kid a bond."
"So thatís when Des attacked the magistrate?" Kathy asked.
Sue shook her head. "Iíve never seen Des speechless before. He was so busy trying to think of a scathing remark that he missed his chance."
"Then whyís he in gaol?" Emma said.
"The moment the verdict was handed down, the cops shunted Des out, charged him with indecent exposure, and shunted him back in again."
Emma shook her head in confusion.
"Once the kidíd got the suit off," Sue said, "his mates got in on the act. Shirt, monogrammed silk underwear, the lot."
Kathy said "Ugh!"
"Thatís what one of the dole office staff said." Sue put on a twittery high voice this time.
"It gives me nightmares, your honour, just to think about it. The hair. I never saw so much since I got trapped in the gorilla cage at the zoo."
Sue put on a smug look. "He is pretty hairy," she said.
"So what did Des get?" Kathy asked.
"Remanded in custody for psychiatric examination," Sue said.
"I can see the headlines in the Telegraph-Mirror," Emma said:
"I never could get Des to dress properly," Sue said. "I think itís his wifeís influence."
A bouncer, all muscles and beer-stained T-shirt, loomed over the table. He leaned towards Sue.
"Excuse me madam, I must ask you to leave."
Sue looked at him, rigid with anger.
The bouncer pointed to a sign.
After 7 p.m.
"Itís ten past seven," he said.
Sue looked down at her suit, then at Emmaís jeans and Kathyís overalls.
"Your friends can stay," the bouncer said, as Emma finished her brandy and stood up.
Emma smiled a false smile at the bouncer. "Iíve got to get back to work," she said.
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1992
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