The King of Clubs
2nd Oct 2020
How did I amuse myself during COVID lockdown and self-isolation…?
Welcome to the prologue and first chapter of my first novel. It’s a road trip for Gary Franklin, a busted-arse comedian and the eighteen-year-old daughter he has just met for the first time. A near-death experience for Gary results in a new life direction for both of them…
The King of Clubs
January, 1965. Cronulla.
The Wanda Beach murders happened on January 11. Fifteen-year-old best friends, Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock, were found partially buried with their throats slashed. Two weeks later, in the same sand dunes, the wind had swept away the blood and the memory and Gary Franklin was making love to a young woman by the name of Jodie.
He didn’t know her last name.
Gary was an entertainer. A successful one. An all-rounder. He could sing, dance and tell jokes. Cabaret, comedy and cover songs. He was highly paid. Drove a red Ford Mustang convertible. Attracted lots of groupies. Like Jodie.
But Jodie was more than a one-night stand, she was more a one-week stand. The sex was good, but they found they had chemistry. Chemistry that came with unforced conversation, laughter and genuine companionship. And, of course, the sex was good. It was good in the sand dunes, in the surf, in the King-sized bed in the posh suite at the Hotel Cecil and even in a rest-room cubicle at the Ballroom Café.
The Ballroom was only a ‘café’ by name. It was an upmarket restaurant. It had oysters on the menu. And other entrees like prawn cocktail and crème of asparagus soup. For main course, carpetbag steak, veal cordon bleu or chicken kiev. A step up the culinary rung from wienerschnitzel or a Sunday roast.
A surreptitious bang in the bathroom added excitement to the dinner.
From the moment their eyes met when Jodie went backstage after the final performance for an autograph, tumbling away into the night together seemed the most natural thing in the world.
It was fun. It was naughty. It was spontaneous.
Neither had any reason to rush away so Gary extended his stay at the Cecil. Jodie had come up from down the coast to see the show at the Sutherland Civic Centre. She was a big fan of Gary Franklin. She’d seen him perform comedy on The Mavis Bramston Show and In Melbourne Tonight with Graham Kennedy. She’d seen him belt out current covers on Sing Sing Sing and Bandstand. Songs like Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying, Unchained Melody and Oh, Pretty Woman…
Pretty woman, stop awhile, no one could look as good as you… Come with me baby, be mine tonight…
He had a good voice, good comedy timing and a good body. He was in his prime and in his element.
Jodie had honestly gone back stage with the intention to get an autograph, not pull a shag. But it was natural and she didn’t regret a moment.
Of course, unplanned cohabitation happens without packing for the occasion. But shopping was part of the fun. Summer frocks for fun. And a sexy bikini. Every hot-blooded Aussie girl wanted to be Annette Funicello to their own Frankie Avalon, just like in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini… and of course, there was that hit song from Brian Hyland…
It was an itsy bitzy teeny weeny yellow polka-dot bikini…
By day they mucked about like carefree kids. Swim at the beach… frolic in the dunes… ride the ferry to Bundeena… skim stones in the shallows… a push on the swings… fish and chips in the park… hand-in-hand walking along The Esplanade… take in a movie and popcorn at the Cronulla Odeon.
The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night…
How did you find America? Turned left at Greenland…
Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek…
Every man has his folly but the greatest folly of all… is not to have one.
And, at night, they acted out their own little James Bond scenes. They’d begin in the wood-panelled bar for a pre-dinner drink. Gary’s 007 would a martini, shaken not stirred, and Jodie’s Pussy Galore would tuck into a Bellini. Okay, in Harry’s Bar in Venice it would have a prosecco base, but peach nectar over Porphyry Pearl could kickstart a colourful exotic cocktail.
And this James Bond and his girl got to enjoy clandestine coitus in the cublicle post aperitif. Shaken and stirred. With laughter.
There were no arguments. There were no plans. They both knew it was for a good time, not a long time.
They parted ways with a kiss, a smile and happy memories.
Neither knowing, at that time, that Jodie was pregnant.
November, 1983. Toowoomba.
Gary pulled the album from its plastic sleeve and put it on the turntable.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by The Eurythmics.
Even if he couldn’t afford contemporary fashion anymore, he liked to be current with popular music. Made him feel young. Made him feel less alone. Made the neighbours think he was cool. He’d discovered a new wave duo from England, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.
He had an extensive record collection. The hobby began when he was playing covers in the Sixties. Hobbies can become careers. Beats working…
Sweet dreams are made of this, everybody’s looking for something…
Gary was packing for the trip. Two weeks away. That came with a packing plan. One week of jocks, socks, shorts and tops. One big wash on the way. Or a couple of small ones. One change of boat shoes. Blue and brown. Every other day launder one of the two performance white shirts and dry-clean the suit. One pair of evening shoes. Brush and polish. Fabulon. Toiletries. Toothbrush. Toothpaste. New disposable razors. New deodorant.
Hold your head up, Keep your head up, movin’ on
The other plan was even simpler. Finish packing. Pick her up. Come back to let her see the place. Hit the road with her.
‘Her’. She’s got a name, Gary! ‘Prue’. Prue Walker.
It had flashed through his mind that if, back in the day, he was told he had a daughter and he had hung about, she could have been ‘Prue Franklin’. Except she wouldn’t have been. ‘Prue Franklin’ doesn’t roll off the tongue like ‘Prue Walker’. Sounds like ‘Proof Rankling’ which could be putting photos in some sort of order.
Soft surnames need a first name that signs off.
Alice Franklin works.
And what was Prue short for? Prudence? Probably Prudence. No, definitely Prudence. Not Prunella. No. Prunella is a type of plum. And fancy that. Prunella Scales from Fawlty Towers could have been named after a plum. And, why not indeed, Basil was named after a herb…
Some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you…
Prue Walker had boarded the Greyhound bus at Brisbane’s Roma Street Station after taking the train from her Mum’s home on the Gold Coast.
She’d ignored the pervy eyes of the driver as she threw her rucksack in the overhead rack and took a window seat three rows back.
She was used to pervy eyes. She looked good. She knew she looked good.
And if you look good, flaunt it.
She wasn’t tall but was in proportion. A pocket rocket if you like. Good legs. Tight arse. Nice breasts. Not huge, not small. Firm. Black stockings. Designer tear across the thigh. Black shorts. Tight. Black knee-high boots with buckles. Black singlet. Tight. Black jacket. Loose. Black hair. Long. Shiny. Lovely. Black fingernails. Black lips.
Not a hint of sun.
She was a goth girl.
Morticia Addams with a glare of ice and a loaded middle finger. Gomez need not apply.
She had packed light. Two additional, identical singlets, knickers and stockings, pyjamas, toothbrush and paste, Walkman.
Prue was used to pervy eyes and she was used to the ‘check out the freak’ eyes. Didn’t matter. She looked good. She looked threatening. Didn’t matter a dwit. Unless the bus was absolutely chokka she knew she would have both seats to herself. Unlike on planes, buses allow commuters to be choosers.
And if you look scary, flaunt it.
The bus was hurtling up the Warrego Highway, passing Gatton towards Toowoomba. Rough hand-painted upper-case signage heralded the approaching turn-off to The Big Orange, which sounds like a tourist attraction but is actually just a barn full of well-priced produce…
‘FRESHEST SEAFOOD IN QUEENSLAND’
What? 100km from the coast?! Puh-lease! And what the fuck is scallop meat? How can seafood be meat?
And what corporate community cringe or inferiority complex caused towns across Australia to have the need and desire to create BIG things? Big Orange. Big Banana. Big Prawn. Big Merino. Big Pineapple. Big Cow. Big Guitar. Big Koala. Big Rocking Horse. Big Deal.
It had been over an hour of boring scenery passing. Prue decided to spend some time inside her head. She put in the Walkman earphones, leant against the window and closed her eyes.
Fat Man by Southern Death Cult.
The fatman takes away what isn’t his, He weakens you and me…
Sweet dreams are made of this, everybody’s looking for something…
With bag zipped and his plastic-bagged-dry-cleaned suit draped across it, there was nothing for time to do now but pass. Give it about half an hour, he reckoned.
Gary picked up the album cover.
‘Walker’ didn’t ring a bell as Prue’s mother’s surname. Maybe she’d married. Jodie was the mother’s name. That he remembered.
Jodie didn’t look like Annie Lennox. Annie Lennox looked a bit androgenous. Jodie was more cut from the jib of Sharon O’Neill. Without the Kiwi accent.
She was hot. Back in the day.
There was nothing more for Gary to do at home. He had tidied. Even dusted. And made the bed in the spare bedroom in case Prue decided to stay a while after the road trip.
He decided to head to the bus station and wait there. Might as well have a passing parade and some third party action than the same old walls looking down at him. He picked up his keys and the case that was home to his Pentax SLR camera.
Photography was pretty much his only hobby these days. He had grown to like photography and photography grew to like him. He was quite good now. The craft had become an art and making memories was now more like a mission.
Initially it was an excuse to be out and about alone without appearing lonely. It gave him a purpose.
He figured that snapping the sites and sights made him look both interested and interesting. And a nice camera on the table in a café or restaurant made it look like he was taking a break, rather than dining alone. And before he knew it he had taken out prizes at the Toowoomba Show in the categories of Landscape, Black & White and Lifestyle photography.
He’d tossed up buying Prue a welcome gift, but what sort of gift? He didn’t know her interests. Same as she didn’t know his. So he decided to give her the gift of his interest. He planned to shoot their fortnight away and present her with a photographic essay of their time together.
Memento. Memories. Mission.
He parked his trusty Kingswood in the car park bay at the rear of the terminal and headed inside. The only time he was embarrassed about the car was when he had a new passenger.
He felt he needed to apologise.
Not so much because there was a TV comedy called Kingswood Country that made fun of a bigot who drove a Kingswood, but more that it was a lumbering beast that had seen better days and, what was once a trendy colour called ‘mustard’, was now what you would call ‘baby-shit-brown’.
Anyway, nothing is worse than the first time you see something. He had given it a good wash and vacuum and it, too, was ready to hit the road in the best possible shape and style. The bags and camera case would find a home on the back seat, with his suit hanging beside them, because the boot was pretty much full with boxes. Optimistic merchandise. Books and cassettes. With a bit of luck, he could see another four grand going straight through to the keeper.
Prue had her rucksack on the seat next to her, ready to alight, and was a little nervous with anticipation. That in itself was strange. Nervousness was not one of her ‘things’. She spotted the middle-aged man in shorts, boat shoes and polo shirt with a camera around his neck and guessed it was Gary.
Her biological father.
Who’d have guessed?
He looked older than she had expected, which was also weird because she hadn’t expected anything at all. Maybe it was the generational fashion. The shirt would have looked far, far better out, rather than tucked away behind an ill-matching belt.
The bus pulled up. The doors hissed open. Gary was poised, the lens pointed at the bus steps. He hoped he would recognise her. Well, recognise who she should be. A blonde Sharon O’Neill look-alike perhaps.
As she stepped down from the bus Prue could feel pervy eyes behind and ‘check out the freak’ eyes in front, greeting her from behind the shutter.
Gary put the camera to rest on his chest.
“Um, is that you, Prue…?” he asked, searching for a welcoming smile.
“Yep. Absolutely. And pray tell, what do I call you? Mr Franklin? Gary? King?”
“The car’s through here.” He reached for her rucksack. “Let me, um, take that…”
“I got it.”
On the way to his flat Gary did a lot of the talking. Well, most of the talking really. About how he liked the town after taking a few years to adjust to not having the bustle of a big city. It was a good base. And affordable. Easy to access most of Queensland and New South Wales by road and only two hours to Brisbane airport for other interstate travel.
He did a lap of the Picnic Point lookout at the top of the Range with its sweeping views across the Lockyer Valley. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and pointed to a statue of a wee terrier wearing a tartan rug that was on Prue’s side of the car.
Nothing wrong with a bit of sightseeing.
“That’s ‘Puppy’. Imaginative name. Puppy was the mascot of the Toowoomba Thistle Pipe Band from 1948 to 1958. Toowoomba is known as the Garden City and every year it hosts a festival called The Carnival of Flowers. Puppy used to lead the pipe band in the street procession every year but in 1958 he got hit by a car and killed. Ex puppy. Flat puppy.”
He waited for a reaction.
There wasn’t one.
“He’s only just been rivetted back onto his plinth. Some mongrels dognapped him and they found him tossed in the arse-end of a Coolangatta car park.”
Gary leaned across to the back seat and retrieved his camera from its case.
“Lean back, just a tad…”
“So I can get a photo of Puppy in the background and you in the foreground…”
“Bear with me. I have my reasons.”
He took the photo, put the camera back on the rear seat and pulled back onto the road.
“Now you might have wondered how Toowoomba got its name…”
“No, not really…”
Persevere, Gary, persevere.
“Some say it is from a local Aboriginal word for ‘swamp’, which is ‘t-wampa’. And that reminds me of the two men on a train arguing over whether the word should be pronounced ‘toowoooooooomba’ or ‘toowumba’ and a priest sitting nearby decided to enter the discussion. The priest agreed with the first pronunciation, ‘toowoooooooomba’ to which one of the men replied, ‘I’m sorry Father, but have you actually ever heard a hippopotamus break wind under water’.”
“Just testing the water for a sense of humour. Could be more than a hippo hiding down there. Still, plenty of time for that.”
Oh. Hang it. Throw in another one…
“And I read the other day that lions can have sex up to 15 times a day. Just my luck, I joined Rotary.”
“You see, most towns have a Lions Club and a Rotary Club and… oh, never mind. I’ve got a feeling you might be a hard room.”
On entering his flat, Gary gave a quick guided tour.
“It’s not huge, but it’s home. And there’s not a lot of me. Balcony overlooks the CBD and there’s a guest bedroom for you if you ever want to stay.”
If Gary had been sensible, he could have been comfortably retired. But the house on Sydney’s leafy north shore and the savings went years ago. As he laughed it off many times, ‘I blew most of it on booze, women and racehorses. The rest I just pissed up the wall on things that didn’t matter’.
“Do you want to use the bathroom?”
“No, I’m good.”
“I can offer you a glass of water. I cleaned out the fridge. Figured we could grab a bite for lunch from the diner at the servo. I need to get petrol. Would you like a water?”
“No, I’m good.”
He walked to a cabinet on one side of the living room.
“I’ve picked up a few gongs along the way. Four Mo Awards for best comedy performer, Silver Logie… that was a while ago… and this is the Rogue’s Gallery.”
He humbly but proudly pointed to a number of framed photos of celebrities.
“Sometimes I asked for autographs rather than gave them. These are just some of the people I worked with over the years. Graham Kennedy, Australia’s King of Comedy… and I supported a bunch of overseas acts when they toured. That’s Sammy Davis Jr… Shirley Bassey… Judy Garland on the disastrous 1964 tour… Louis Armstron…”
“Never heard of them.”
“Okay. Humour me then. Stand in front of them while I get a photo.”
“Because I want a photographic essay of our time together. I reckon you might just thank me for it.”
“I doubt it.”
She looked at the framed cover of TV week that promoted The Gary Franklin Show.
“Did you have your own TV show?”
“Yes. Yes, I did. It was a tonight show. Like The Don Lane Show but on a different channel. Out of Brisbane.”
At least there was something that might have impressed her.
“You were a lot younger then. And Don Lane is still on TV.”
“Yes. Yes, I was. And he is. Yes.”
He picked up his bag and suit.
“Right. Let’s hit the road then shall we,” he said, opening the door. “And I’m sure you’ve got the odd question to throw my way.”
“Well, don’t be shy. Fire away.”
“Okay. What the fuck is scallop meat?”
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