Fire all of your guns, fly off into space

by Steve Danby

This year’s festival theme was Legacy; the stories submitted for the contest had to include the phrase “once upon a time”. Judges were Carole Beu, owner of The Women’s Bookshop, and writer David Herkt. Danby won $1000. The winner of the under 25 section was Phoebe Wilton-Stuart, for her story ‘Trinkets’. Phoebe won $500. 

The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang are all dead now.

And if you know where that line comes from, you probably should be too! Spoiler alert: it’s from a dumb old movie called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And in the usual convoluted way of things, the Wellington Hole-in-the-Wall Gang came about because of a bloke called Cassidy. Cassidy wasn’t even his real name; they called him that because he was a hairy old hippie and obsessed with the Beat poets. In 85 or 86, Cassidy traded in his Yamaha bike for a Harley, and Mal at the Bamboo Bar re-christened him “Butch”. Then, when Butch’s offsider got himself a big Ducati, he became the Somedunce Kid, and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang was born. 

Shades of Groucho Marx: the gang wasn’t really a gang, and I wasn’t really a member. They all hung out at the Wakefield sauna; they were war-babies and boomers, while I was Gen X and a fairly geeky computer operator with grey shoes, to boot. They called me “Whipper”, short for “whippersnapper”.

I’d been on the scene for a few years, but I’d never run across blokes like the Hole-in-the-Wall gang. It was like they hadn’t read the instruction manual. They weren’t obsessed with shopping or gyms or Kylie or “feshun”; they were into bourbon and speed and hard rock and some fairly extreme sexual activities. They even had – horrors – body hair. (Of course, the macho shit was as much as a pose as the Boy George stuff, and they knew it: if you did something dumb, someone would lisp “you go, girl”.) 

Really, we had sod-all in common. But I owned the world’s slowest Indian Scout, and every few months I’d join them for a blatt up the coast or over to Lake Ferry. 

And what I want to know is: how the hell did I end up with all their leather jackets? About 20 of them, if you please, and – get this – they’re in the closet in the back bedroom. Maybe six months ago, I was clearing out Ringo’s place after his funeral, and I found all these bloody jackets in the garage. Each one in an elegant Kirkcaldies box, wrapped in non-reactive tissue like museum exhibits. It was a bit of a mystery, really. This sorta fussy curatorial shit was not Ringo’s style at all; his place was a total rat-hole, and his own jacket was hanging on a meathook behind a door. He must have inherited the rest from someone else. 

Well I couldn’t just chuck them in the skip, so I took them home. Eventually, I figured that it must have been Humphries who boxed them up. Humphries worked at Kirkcaldies in the haberdashery. And I remember vaguely when we were cleaning out Moffie’s flat, seeing Humphries in tears, carrying out armfuls of jackets. There were only the three of us left by then: him and Ringo and me, and we’d just decided that we weren’t gonna ride in a cortege next time because there just weren’t enough of us left. And we knew there’d be a next time, and soon: Humphries pretty much had the mark of Cain on him. 

Of course, Humphries himself was a total poof, and his leathers always looked like he’d ironed them. But in his own way, Humphries was hard as Sonny Bill Williams; his strategy in life was to hide in plain sight, and he was so totally out there that he barely ever got queerbashed. 

Barely ever. There was that time the cops worked him up at Paekak. If the cops picked up the gang leaving Wellie, they’d radio on to their mates, so that fresh cars could tailgate us all the way up country. Eventually they’d pull us over to inspect our bikes for WOF violations. Vain hope, sunshine: we were mostly white and middle-class and about the only thing wrong with our bikes was that they were too clean. So the Dees would invariably invoke the Misuse of Drugs Act, and strip-search one or two of us by the road; they usually got in a few punches as well. Humphries would just yell “more, you big stud, more”. At Woodville, Moffie got this great 8ml film of Humphries getting baton-whipped. We sent it to the police complaints people, and apparently they played it for the girls during their Christmas party out at the Horokiwi brothel. The good old days. You can have ‘em.

I’d had all the jackets for a few months before I had the balls to pull them out and have a real look. I recognised some of them straight away. The black one with the safety pins, that was Ringo. Ringo had so much ornamental ironwork on his bod that he practically clanked when he walked. It was Ringo who always organised our mystery jaunts. We’d meet up in Oriental Bay outside the Vic Club, and he’d announce “Vinegar Hill” or “The Richard J. Seddon Memorial Restrooms in Mangaweka” or “Mt. Bruce” (“Mount whoever you want, Ringo.”) Ringo had a big BMW and always wanted us to go to Castlepoint, but we never actually got there.

It took me a while, but eventually I figured out who owned most of the jackets. Mainwaring who was a chalkie at the stock exchange and rode a Jawa. Bellend who managed the Midcity cinema. Moffie, Pinetree, Bilko, and Weasel. Cassidy and the Somedunce Kid. 

Somedunce came to a really bad end. He was in the army and the lads must have found out about him, because he accidentally fell out of a Huey at 4000 ft. Cassidy only found out when Somedunce’s mum sent the bailiffs to throw him out of the house. Pretty much turned his face to the wall after that, did Cassidy. 

Now the brown jacket, that was Pinetree and it shouldn’t be here at all. Pinetree was an old bruin, remembered the real old days; his first date had been with a Marine back in the war when he was still a schoolie. He and Cassidy would bang on about Easter weekends in the 70s, when they’d anchor the Rangatira in Wellington harbour and the cooks and stewards would have all the drag queens out for a three-day party. It all seemed like ancient history, I wish I’d paid better attention. When Pinetree got diagnosed, he headed for the Foxton Straight, opened his Vincent Black Shadow right up, and drove directly under the wheels of a Salvation Army truck. A Vincent Black Shadow. I hope you’re thinking “what a total pointless WASTE” here.

Eventually I realised that the jackets aren’t a complete set. 

Saveloy’s red jacket, that’s missing. Sav was always a low-key guy, but the virus messed with his head; he had an absolute meltdown at Drummerboy’s memorial. 

Poor old Drummerboy was an actor. Couldn’t get a bloody audition when he was alive, but after he died he got the full star treatment. A massive showbiz funeral at Old Saint Paul’s and a huge memorial concert at the St James to raise money for charity. Paul Holmes and Eve van Grafhorst, Fran Wilde, the cast of Shorty Street, the Topp twins. All the stars were supposed to arrive in vintage cars, with the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang riding in front. But when the television people took over the event, they only wanted the marching boys from Alfies’ nightclub in their cute little shorts. Some hardfaced fish from Auckland was in charge, and she wasn’t impressed. “You blokes, you don’t look gay at all, do you? Can we give you some feather boas, maybe? Zhuzh you up a bit?” 

Saveloy ripped the clipboard from her hands and tore the papers on it to shreds, and then he got this totally wicked look in his eye, and just gobbed square in the bitch’s face. She ran off screaming for a doctor, for disinfectant, for a full blood transfusion. Saveloy, meantime, leapt onto his bike, rode off, and – we simply never saw him again. Someone said he owned an old road services bus: he loaded all his stuff inside it, set it on fire, and drove it off a cliff. Down in a blaze of glory! I certainly don’t have his jacket. There’s just one spare in the set that I don’t recognise; but it’s tiny, and it’s definitely not fire-engine red. 

It got to bugging me, that spare jacket. I couldn’t for the life of me remember who wore it. 

The jackets are a bloody nuisance, actually. It’s not like me and Sanjay have a lot of space, and he thinks it’s a bit creepy having them in the house. And they stink. But I can’t just take them to the tip, can I. Once upon a time, there was a shop that sold second-hand leathers in Cuba Street, but it’s gone now, there’s a sushi bar in the place. I tried putting a couple of them up on TradeMe and got nary a nibble. 

With Sanjay now seriously riding my arse, I accidentally-on-purpose left one of the jackets in a café, in hope that someone would nick it. Nice try. A few weeks later, the lad behind the counter said “Oi, grampa, you left your jacket behind; try it on for me, yeah?” It was Moffie’s jacket and there was room for three of me. Café boy shook his head. “Stick with the beige slacks, man, keep your dignity.” And just for a sec, he reminded me of little Allistair: and at last I knew who the mysterious jacket belonged to. 

Lil’ Alli. The dorky little wingnut with the gutless Kawasaki. I only ever really met him a couple of times; he was the very first one to go into intensive care. As time went by, we all sorta learned how the story would go: the weight loss, the drug cocktails, the cancer lesions, the pneumonia 

… But Lil’ Alli didn’t have a clue what was coming next; his endocrine system packed up and it all got a bit gruesome, but his usual response, bless him, was “what doesn’t kill me, hurts like a malefactor”. In hindsight, he taught us how to die, which is no mean thing: but I wish I’d learned it from John Banks or Israel Folau.

I remember that Lil’ Alli worked as a barman at a posh restaurant in the old RSA on Ghuznee Street. All gone now, of course. “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old … ” Well Lil’ Alli didn’t grow old; none of them did. All they were, all they did, all they suffered, is lost to memory, like tears in the rain. 

I finally came up with a plan. At Halloween, I’m gonna load all the jackets in a van, and take them up to Castlepoint. Pile the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang up on the gravel, douse them in benzene, blaze them up, and run away like a naughty schoolboy. 

I can practically see Cassidy shaking his head, and laughing at me.

“Born to be wild, Whipper. Born to be wild.”