Worse than the fate of NSW Labor on Saturday has been the spate of Raymond Chandler parodising, most of which has been more of a travesty than the past 16 years of NSW Labor. So here in the interests of sanity is the last word on the long goodbye:

Pastiche Is My Business | by Corris Maloney

I was wearing a crumpled powder-blue Target suit, a lemon-yellow short-sleeve button-down shirt and tan slacks with a fine spray of shake-out stains. I looked like 46 dollars in change. I was calling on 33 per cent, two-party preferred. Three hours earlier I’d walked in on my boss, with a blonde, and he’d given me an assignment to get rid of me.

“Hey Goulash! Happyslappy!”

“That’s Saluzhinsky.”

“Whatever — multiculturalism has failed, starting with your name. Got a job. It’s a dame.”

“It’s always a dame. What’s her angle?”

“Thinks she’s premier.”

“why?”

“Apparently it was her turn. Says she was set up. Go and check it out.”

Took a while but I found her in Ryde. Four guys had piled her into a car and left her there. Some routine they called campaigning. Great town, Sydney. She didn’t want to press charges.

She was a blonde, a blonde who could make Bronwyn Bishop kick a hole in the glass ceiling. Strong men saw her and thought of Essential polling. Weak men thought of their prostate and then something else.

“You’re Halleberry?”

“Saluzinsky Ryde.”

“Christ. Bradman died for nothing. OK Goulash here’s the deal. Someone’s set me up. They’re killing me from the inside. Ya gotta help me.”

“Listen, I’m a dick — ”

“I know, I’ve read your opinion pieces.”

“No I mean a gumshoe. You want a verdict on NSW Labor, call a coroner. Or a medium.”

“Oh Goulash,” she grabbed me by my pocket protector and leaned in close. Her eyes were wider than her 2PP margin. Her black lashes batted so furiously they could have played for anyone but Australia. It was a face that could drive men to crazy things, like preselection.

“If I don’t get 14 per cent by Saturday I’m deader than Australian cinema. You’re the only one that can save me, you average size balding slice of highly seasoned meat. Ya gotta help me!”

***

That was two days ago. Since then she’d vanished without trace. She was either sleeping with the Bondi bugs or presenting the news on ABC2. I was going to do whatever it takes to find out, short of for watching the news on ABC2.

I went to Sussex Street. Someone had to. It was like a morgue where the corpses hadn’t been told the bad news. It was to organ donation what free range was to eggs. It was a room where almost anything could happen except something that works. People kept going out for a Chinese, and ending up in the front window of Barbecue King, with a hook through their foot. And so on. There was a kid I knew, 400 pounds, comb over, herpes sore with its own electorate. I called him over by his party nickname.

“Hey pretty boy.”

He tried to get away, but he was all flop-sweat and Resch’s. I introduced him to the hard right a few times, and he cried like an Australian Democrat.

“Where is she, whitebait? Where’s the dame?”

“She iced herself, Goulash. Here’s the suicide note.”

“This is the NSW Labor 2011 campaign launch press release.”

“Potato potatoh.”

I played with his boundaries a little.

“I’m a Labor strategist. I don’t know nuthin’.”

“Quit the tautology, counter-lunch, and tell me what I need to know.”

“OK OK! Try Rees.”

“Who?”

“Nathan Rees … N-A-T-H-A-N Rees. Premier of NSW.”

“Never heard of him.”

***

I visited the all in the next few days. Bob “the Professor” Carr, Morrie “the Vowel” Iemma, Tripod Joe, Candyman Orkopolis. Scared little men, feeling their necks and waiting for the moment when they’d either be iced, or asked to head an inquiry into how the ALP could be be made more responsive to its members. Nathan “the Phantom” Rees broke as soon as I found him. He was a strange little guy with a face like an identikit version of itself.

“Got an alibi, Phantom?”

“I was premier of the state.”

“We asked six million witnesses, none of them had ever heard of you. I’m getting to the bottom of this. Talk!”

He gave me a strange look.

“Need a doctor?” I said.

“This is me laughing.”

“Jesus.”

“I know. Listen, Goulash, you couldn’t get to the bottom of a glass of Fernet Branca. You think you’re on the trail, you’re lost worse than Bobby Carr on a nature jamboree with Gore Vidal.”

“What do you mean, Rees? Communicate!”

“Why start now?”

He was still laughing or dying, it was hard to tell. I followed all leads. The right blamed the left, the left blamed the right and they all pointed the finger at the single largest faction, that of convicted s-x offenders. Then a guy came through the door with a gun and socked me one, and the electoral blackout came early.

***

When I came to, the election was over. So was Labor. I stayed on the case.

It took a while but I found her. She was changing for the next show in a back room with a broken lightbulb and an old Japanese fan, a — oh look, ever seen an Edward Hopper postcard? Like that.

“So this is the Centre For Independent Studies …”

“Goulash! I didn’t want you to see me like this …”

She was getting ready for the afternoon show, a symposium on public services with Michael Costa. Like Tijuana, without standards.

The air reeked of lubricant and classical liberalism. Her costume lay over the chair.

“Flimsies, Stepford?”

“We called ’em policies, but whatever. Three shows a day. The CIS, the IPA, Unions NSW, and a column in the Tele.”

“The Tele — you were the blonde in the office! The two plot lines tie together!”

“Yeah that’s pretty much how Chandler works.”

“You played me like a nine-dollar zither, Stepford. I thought you’d faked your death. You actually faked your life.”

“Hey, Goulash, I was a NSW premier. That’s a false dichotomy. Look, they were setting me up for it, they wanted me to try and win it. Right from the start I wasn’t taking any chances. Another three years. Not this. I torpedoed any chance of victory from the start and got you to make me look interesting. Now I’m on the rubber chicken circuit.”

“I thought you were appearing with Michael Costa.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Didn’t you think I’d work it out in the end?”

“Hey, Paprika, no offence but you’re the only NSW roundsman in history to get the date of the election wrong. Let’s face it, if I wanted I could’ve sold you holiday flats off the plan.”

“I can’t let you get away with it, Stepford, I got a job to do.”

“Weren’t you a cultural studies academic?”

“Yeah but now I got a job to do. I’m taking you in. You’re going to the big house.”

“You mean …”

“Yep, Leader of the Opposition…”

She got my gat from me quicker than I could stop her. She was gone in a second. I couldn’t blame her. I woulda hauled her back for another three years with me writing pieces on her. She took the clean way out. Me? Well, down these lean conceits a man must go, who is not himself lean. Pastiche is my business. Beats cultural studies.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off