I got a message from Minh about 10pm, said did I want to come over for a drink and I waited before replying okay. I hadn’t spoken to him since the night I fled his flat.
Minh’s place in Braybrook was sparsely furnished, a collection of hard-rubbish furniture. It was a hot night. An old evaporative cooler rattled in the corner of the living room. A picture of him with his ex, Tiff, was next to the telly. I recognised it as the one I took the night I ran out. It was from earlier on, taken on my phone outside the Crown casino entrance.
He was sweaty, rushing around, trying on different shirts, moving between a wardrobe and a mirror propped against the wall.
“You going out?”
“Yeah, yeah. Crown.”
I paused. “I thought you wanted a drink.”
“I do, mate. Make us one.”
I went to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of tumblers from the cupboard, my hands shaking so much I almost dropped the scotch I poured into them. That night, after he’d lost $10,000, me and Tiff dragged him back to his flat, where he unravelled and accused us of taking his money.
He sat beside me on the couch. I held out my glass and we clinked and drank. He grimaced.
“Should get some cognac, you know, the good stuff,” he said.
“You can get shit cognac.”
“You speak to Tiff?”
Actually, I’d spoken to Tiff yesterday.
“She wants me to stop calling her.” He’d been calling and texting her 30 times a day. “I’m going to make some money. I’ll drive to her house in a new fuckin’ BMW.”
He hadn’t changed.
“So you coming out?”
“I got 15 grand in cash.”
The pleasure smeared all over him, like the start of countless other nights we’d spent together, only this time he hung it out for me to say what he wanted to hear.
“When do you want to go?” I said.
Minh went to the cage and dropped 15K on the counter. He gave me $200 of chips and made a beeline for a blackjack table and I let him go it alone. I stood with a small crowd and watched a Filipino guy play a couple of hands he’d split. One hand he had a picture card and a 10 and the other he had an ace and a three. He hit on the three, the dealer said “21” and his mates slapped him on the back, making a racket with the crowd around them. I glanced across the room and saw Minh at a table with two other players. He looked happy too, but he still had all of his chips in front of him then.
I parked on Russell Street and told Minh to wait in the car. The street was hot with pedestrian traffic. I crossed Bourke Street towards Chinatown for the Exford Hotel and its late-night bottle shop and asked for their dearest bottle of cognac.
The first thing Minh did when we got back was turn on the air cooler. It was an old one that you topped up with a little jug. He knelt in front of it so the air blew onto his face. I wondered where his thoughts were heading. That night he’d started off calmly like this. I stood, my hands pressed nervously against the wall behind me, watching him. I wished Tiff were here and thought about messaging her, but it would probably make things worse.
The bottle of Scotch was still on the table. I poured a couple of drinks.
“Minh, ngồi xuống,” I said, telling him to sit down.
“You think I’m a dumb cunt, Cuong?” he said softly, standing up to face me.
He approached the table slowly and picked up his glass, looking at it. Then he threw it and it exploded against something behind me.
“You want to fuck her.” His face crazed. “Say it. You want to fuck her.”
“I don’t!” I cried, putting my hands up.
“Don’t lie to me.”
I remembered the cognac was still in the car. “I’ve got a present for you.”
“A present?” He looked stunned.
“I’ll go get it.”
I ran out before he could say anything else.
The car park was lit by a single bulb in a cage fixed to the back of the flats, swarming with bugs. I sat in his car with my hands on the steering wheel.
Tiff and I had met up after the last time at Crown. We had nobody else to talk to about Minh. That’s how it happened between us. I’d said I didn’t know how to handle him anymore and she’d said I had to remember that he could have been any one of us.
I reached behind the passenger seat and felt around for the paper bag.
His bedroom door was closed when I returned. I rapped on it.
“Minh, come out and have a drink. I got the good stuff.”
The door burst open and he pushed past me so I fell and caught the corner of the coffee table with the side of my back. I thrashed around on the carpet, my teeth clenched against the pain. Minh was in the kitchen, scrambling through the drawers, whimpering. I pushed myself up and went to him. He brandished a meat cleaver in my face and I stepped backwards.
He put his free hand on the counter. “You did this,” he said, and brought the cleaver down. His mouth fell open, blood streamed down his arm from where the middle and index fingers used to be. I looked down at the counter. They confused me, his fingers, sitting there by themselves.
I said, “Fuck, Minh! Don’t do that!”
He sat against the oven, his eyes glazed over. I filled a takeaway container with ice and dropped his fingers into it.
The whole way to the hospital he was upset about not getting the BMW for Tiff. He made me promise not to tell her about it.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 20, 2022 as "The good stuff".
This month marks 10 years since the first edition of The Saturday Paper. The paper is as audacious now as it was then: a rejection of conventional wisdom about what makes the news and who will read it.
To celebrate those 10 years - and the issue-defining journalism produced in them - we are offering all new subscribers a two-year digital subscription for the price of one. That's $298 worth of journalism for $109.
Get more of the best journalism in the country - and celebrate the success of a newspaper built on optimism.
Select your digital subscription