Hemi didn’t end up at the freezing works. The father of one of his teammates in the 1st XV worked for the local council’s roading division, they were always after labourers. Hemi and his teammate ended up on the shovels, doing road works for the council in Palmy. He went to live in the caravan in the ‘garden’ of his uncle’s place at the shit end of town, Highbury. It was more of a wilderness than a garden, overgrown, full of spare bits of everything lying around and a few broken cars thrown in for good measure. It was good having his own place, though, even if it was only his uncle’s caravan in a crappy yard.
Leaving home was no big deal, he was pleased to go, his mum and dad didn’t make any sort of fuss. His dad woke him up to say goodbye, shook his hand and said he was lucky to get a job and a place, to be starting out on his journey in the world. His mum drove with him to her brother’s caravan, she helped him get some basic supplies, they bought second-handstuff from the op shop. There were heaps of op shops, people offloading their surplus junk for poor people, students or the thrifty. Blankets, cooking gear, cookery, cutlery, glasses. There was a bit of gear already in the caravan, but it was in a shit state. It’s amazing how much stuff you need to stock up even a small caravan.
A week before he left home, he gave his family one of his tekoteko from the workshop. He gave each of them a hongi, which was the first time they’d done that. Then with both hands, he presented his father with his tekoteko, his taonga. His father accepted it as the prized possession it was, it was a little formal ceremony in the sitting room. His father nodded his thanks, and took a deep breath, to hold back the tears. That Tekoteko never left its pride of place on the mantelpiece as the guardian of the whanau for the rest of their lives.
Hemi was 19 now, making decent money, working hard. He’d been working for most of the year after school. It was getting on towards the end of the year. Summer was coming. He’d developed a taste for crate piss and he’d even taken up the smokes even though he’d spent his childhood hating the stink of them, he’d always hated the smokes. They always stunk up everything, they looked cold and dead, stubbed out in the paua shells his parents used for ashtrays. They were redolent of angry things. There was nothing good about the smokes when he was a kid. But when he was hanging out with the gang Bro’s, they all had smokes as well as dope. The smokes somehow seemed friendlier. The smell of them was associated with laughs and acting the goat. He had a puff on one of Toots’ Marlboro’s, once he got past the bad taste, he enjoyed the sensation, the buzz he got off it. It felt a bit rebellious, something his parents wouldn’t approve of. He’d also noticed that when you smoke, you don’t notice the stink anymore. Everyone at work smoked. All the blokes on the works team smoked. Smoko was aptly named. It was good to sit around at smoko time, have a rest and talk some shit with the fulla’s. Hemi liked this life. He didn’t talk about his former gang connections with the fulla’s from work. They didn’t look like the sort of fullas who’d be into that side of his life.
The Bros came over and hung out with the city chapter sometimes. He’d bumped into them in town one day.
’Fuck bro! Where’d you get to ay? Haven’t seen you for a while. What the fuck you doing here?’
‘Just cruising, doing shit, you know?’
Hemi didn’t want to see them. His father punching him in the face had given him the message, deep down he knew nothing good would come from continuing to hang out with these fulla’s.
‘Choice, bro. You should come and hang out with us down at the headquarters on Vogel Street, come and meet some other bros. Got some piss, got some tunes, got some choice gear, even got some chicks, bro! You might get a root!’ Giggles throughout the car.
‘Aw yeah, that’d be choice, ay?’
‘Fucken A bro. Better fucken turn up, ay’.
Hemi gave a gang salute as they rumbled off. Hemi didn’t really want to go. He was a bit conflicted. He liked the idea of maybe getting a root though. Hemi didn’t really know how to talk to chicks yet; he was pretty shy, not much of a charmer either, at least he didn’t think so. So, he hadn’t had a root yet.
Hemi hadn’t thought much about Nicky lately. He’d not seen her again since that day in Dannevirke when he got in a fight after Stuart Gardner pulled her hair. Nicky suddenly popped up in his mind though, he wondered what her life was like now. He also realised, despite always having a crush on her, he couldn’t imagine giving her a root. He was horrified that the thought entered his head now. He wrinkled his nose in disgust and got all embarrassed to himself for even thinking about it. He didn’t think of her like that, it suddenly occurred to him. He was soft on her alright, but the idea of somehow having a ‘lie down’ with her, yeah nah, that would be weird as. Nicky wasn’t like that to him. Hemi was having this complex examination of his feelings by himself on the footpath on a suburban street in the middle of Palmy. He stood there frowning to himself, he decided he wanted to catch up with her again some time. He’d get the chance much sooner than he expected.
Nicky got that scholarship to a good school, Nga Tawa. She had excelled at everything, sport, academics. Nicky made a load of friends for life, all of them from smarter homes than hers though. Nicky didn’t ever feel like she fitted in with the posh girls from the rich families with the big farms and homes. They could afford to go skiing, go on holiday overseas. Their families had nice cars and new things. Nicky had none of those, but she wasn’t bitter, Nicky was simply trying to do well, to break out and make a success of herself. To be the first one in her family to go to university.
Nicky was finishing her last year at school now. She’d smashed UE, got a bursary to help pay for her university costs. She’d already booked a place in one of the halls for next year. Nicky had kept in touch with some of the girls from her primary school who’d gone to Dannevirke High, same as Guy and Hemi. They wrote letters in those days; girls were better at writing letters than boys. Nicky liked getting the letters from home while she was away at school. It kept her up to speed with what was going on back in her hometown.
Guy was in the army, at Linton Camp near Palmy. Hemi didn’t know that because they hadn’t kept in touch. Guy lived in barracks in the camp, which was on the outskirts of the city.
Nicky was in the Palmy that day, she had come to check out a few things to do with going to uni at Massey next year. Nicky knew her way round; she’d been here plenty of times over the years.
Some things you just can’t get in a small rural town. Nicky was thinking it was funny that being in the central city is still known as downtown, even if town is a city. One of those little quirks of language nobody spends too much time thinking about. Nicky liked to think about stuff like that, though. She was having a great day by herself, getting the stuff together she’d need for next year. Nicky’s mum had booked a motel to stay over for the night, her mum, Ally, was visiting friends for lunch while Nicky got on with her jobs. They were going to catch up with Guy for tea in town, staying overnight in the city and going out for tea was a very rare event in this family.
It was also a subtle nod to the humble roots of Guy’s family that they referred to the evening meal as tea. The girls at Nicky’s school all called tea dinner, or supper, never tea. Only common people called it tea, they’d tell her. Nicky never told them it was called tea in her home. What was also funny was that Guy and Nicky’s mum, while referring to dinner as tea, actually thought she was a bit upmarket, a bit better than the other women in the district. She looked down her nose at a lot of people for no good reason at all. Her father was a farmer, but he’d also been an All Black, back in the 1920’s, her mother was a housewife, but Ally had some idea that somehow, she came from a better family than most, which, in her mind made her a bit of a ‘cut above’. It was a ridiculous idea for her to hold on to but hold on to it she did.
The shops were closing soon. Nicky had agreed to make her own way back to the motel, as her mum didn’t know how long she’d be at the lunch.
Hemi used to like hanging out with the Bros when he was at school, but the shock of his dad smacking him in the face had put him off a bit. Surely a few beers with the chance of a root wouldn’t hurt though, now he’d left home. His dad wouldn’t find out. Hemi decided to set off for a night on the piss with the Bros, he was nervous as fuck actually. He hadn’t met the city chapter before, and he knew gang chicks could be pretty rough. He didn’t know how realistic his maybe getting a root was, but he’d have to see how the night panned out. Hemi was only a gang associate, so he was nobody.
Anyway, it was mid-afternoon, the piss up would start about five p.m. The Bros would be on the piss all afternoon of course, but the associates and chicks would turn up around the usual getting-on-the-piss time, which coincided neatly with knock off time.
Nicky was making her way down the long stretch of motels on Fitzherbert Avenue to their one, booked too far from town. People who were staying in Palmy, booked the ones nearest downtown first. The city had a lot of motels, mostly along Fitzherbert Ave. Nicky spotted four girls walking towards her, dressed to the nines in a style of dress her mum would call slutty, like ‘street walkers’. High heels, tight spandex leggings or fishnet stockings and mini-skirts, vest tops exposing their bras, too much makeup. Nicky was wearing a sun frock and plimsolls, and had her bits and pieces, small purchases, in a shoulder bag. Nicky recognised two of the ‘slutty girls’. They were from her primary school years ago. They came to school on the other bus. They were two years ahead of her, so she’d never really spoken much to them, but now here they all were, in the same street. Nicky was nothing if not very friendly and polite. She was also very curious about where these four girls, dressed for late at night, were going in the mid-afternoon.
‘Oh wow! Nicky isn’t it? I remember you from school’.
The girls were having an awkward conversation when a few things unfolded quite quickly. Hemi happened to be driving down the same street heading towards town. A set of lights ahead of him was clearly a gang car, low slung V8, rumbling. It had been driving too slowly, only two Bros in the front seat, arms out each window. They were in no hurry. The Bros ahead of Hemi spotted the four ‘slutty girls’ on the wide footpath, talking to some cute Pakeha chick.
‘Hold up! Fresh meat, bro. Fucken A’.
The car swung off the main drag, up alongside the girls on the footpath.
‘What’s up, bitches?’
One of the slutty girls feigned offence, lent in towards the car and said, ‘Who you calling fucken bitches? We’re not your fucken bitches, yet, arseholes,’ as she grinned at him, the Bros giggled like little kids. Everyone was in a good mood, looking forward to a good session on the piss. Nicky wasn’t in a good mood, though. She was very nervous and now wanted to leave, she was far too close to gang members for her liking.
‘Get in the car, bitches, we’ll give you a ride’. More giggles from the two Bros.
‘Fuck off, ride in that piece of shit?’ The girl smiled.
‘You got a better offer? Get in the fucken car’, the nearest Bro said with a big, satisfied smile on his face. He was as good as on a promise now in his mind, he reckoned this chick was giving him the come on, big time. The girls started piling in the back seat, giggling.
‘okay, good to see you, catch you some time’, Nicky turned quickly to walk off.
‘Where the fuck do you think you’re going?’
Nicky stood ashen faced.
‘I’m just off now’.
‘Like fuck you are, you can come too, come and hang out with us; we’ll show you a good time, ay? Don’t be shy’, he threatened, he wasn’t laughing or smiling now.
He got out of the car, Nicky turned to run, but he shot an arm out, deceptively fast for a big fulla. Nicky screamed.
Hemi had been watching this unfold from not far down the road. He’d recognised Nicky, he wondered why she was there, talking to those slags. He knew those girls too; he wouldn’t be giving one of them a root, that’s for sure; they were fucken bikes, you could catch something off them. His chest was pounding, but he’d hoped they’d let Nicky go on her way, then that prick grabbed her. The scream was like being stabbed in the heart. He knew what was going to happen—they’d take her back and put her on the block. ‘FUCK!’
Hemi had a moment to act. He had one option—he wasn’t going to let that happen to Nicky. The prick had his back to Hemi. Hemi left the engine running, took two bottles of his crate piss out of the boot. He was working fast.
The big fulla was still playing with Nicky, like a cat with a mouse, holding her arm, a mixture of coercion and encouragement; he knew he had plenty of time. Nicky had screamed again, but there weren’t any other people around.
‘Leave me alone, let me GO!’
Hemi ran the short distance down the street, up to the driver’s door and smashed the first bottle into the head of the driver, he slumped at the wheel, the girls in the car screamed. Hemi rolled across the bonnet like fucken Starsky and Hutch, luckily landing on his feet, rather than falling on his arse, and smashed the other bottle into the face of the big fulla who’d let go of Nicky and turned to see what was going on. He went down hard, blinded by broken glass and crate piss.
‘Hemi!’ Nicky screamed.
‘Come on, come with me, now, fast, we’ve got to go!’ Hemi grabbed Nicky by the arm and was about to start running.
One of the girls in the car shouted, ‘What the fuck?’
She pushed the door open, Hemi kicked it shut,
‘FUCKEN STAY THERE!’
He threw Nicky in the passenger seat of his car, ran around and got behind the wheel, burned out a U-turn and gunned the car away in the opposite direction, looking in the rear-view mirror. The back doors of the Bros’ car were open, the girls out, but Hemi didn’t know what state the two Bros were in. He did know he was fucked, though, he’d just smacked out two of them and stolen their bonus fun for the night. He would be dead meat now, they had to get away. Where to though? He was trying to think fast, fucken gangs have contacts everywhere. ‘FUCK!’
Nicky was in shock.
‘Nicky, Nicky! You okay?’
‘Yes, yes, oh my god, Hemi! They were going to take me. Thank God you were there. Bloody hell!’
Even thoroughly traumatised, Nicky wasn’t much of a swearer, ‘what are you doing here?’ Nicky asked.
‘I live here, I was just driving past. That was lucky, ay?’ Hemi didn’t mention he was heading for the gang headquarters where Nicky would have been taken.
‘More than lucky! They were going to take me away! To god knows where, for god knows what! I’ve heard about what they do to girls they take off the street. You saved my life Hemi!’
Hemi blushed, ‘Aw, I dunno, just lucky I was there, ay? You’re okay now, though. What are you doing here in town?’
‘Mum and I are here, staying in a motel. Mum’s with friends and I was getting some stuff for next year. I’m going to uni here next year’.
‘Yeah? That’s choice, which motel? Where’s your mum now?’ Hemi was trying to calm the situation even though his mind was swimming.
Nicky told him, the motel was far enough away for it not to be a problem with the bro’s car outside, but they had to get this car off the road, out of sight. The Bros would be looking for Hemi soon enough, once word got back to the headquarters about what he’d done, they had to think fast.Hemi told Nicky half the story, that he knew some of the people those fulla’s mixed with, how they’d know his car. Word would get out and he’d be marked, they weren’t going to let him get away with what he’d done. Nicky started to cry. She wasn’t good with big stuff like this. ‘Guy! She suddenly blurted out. Guy will know what to do.’
‘Where’s Guy?’ Hemi asked, holding Nicky’s shoulder. ‘What’s he up to? How can he help?’
‘He’s in the army, here at Linton. Let’s go there, we can get hold of mum later’.
Hemi and Nicky drove up to the camp picquet, the soldier guarding the gate, and told them who they were here to see. Guy came and met them outside the barracks, in the car park. Hemi and Guy greeted each other warmly. Guy saw the state Nicky was in and was immediately on the defensive. ‘What’s going on, Hemi?’
Hemi told him. He didn’t need to tell him the whole story; Hemi didn’t want Guy to think badly of him for hanging out with gangs, so he skirted round the subject, he knew them, and they knew him. Either way, Hemi was fucked and Guy agreed. They needed a plan, luckily, Guy quickly came up with the start of one. Despite being an unlikely soldier, Guy had always been quick witted. He could pluck a plan out of fresh air pretty quickly. It had often saved him having to do any actual work. It’s why his life wouldn’t be a total failure, despite his failed education, because he could think quickly, on his feet, and he was creative. Guy could always fix situations that had gone bad. He was a very good problem solver, although he’d never had or could have imagined he’d have a problem like this to solve.