‘WELL that’s wunnnderful!

The four of you are here to
pitch a butterfly documentary.’ When Lady Moira found Steve Gasparini he was sitting alone, folded into a giant leather armchair in a room that Haynes’ personal secretary had called ‘the ante room’. Next door in the billiard room, Sir Barry had reconvened proceedings. He wanted to speak to each of them in turn, alone. Steve wasn’t sure why he’d started blabbing his dreams to a sixty-year-old socialite in a silk dressing gown (it was the same as Sir Barry’s only pink, and with Lady M instead of Sir B on the lapel). Maybe it was the friendliness of their last meeting at the party. But she’d been drunk then; she might not even remember the interview in the butterfly house. ‘It’s just a wuuuunderful idea. You know Sir Barry and I have a butterfly house right here on the property.’ That settled that issue. ‘Yes … no … I mean yes I’ve seen the butterfly house … and no, the others aren’t here to pitch a butterfly documentary.’ Steve was floundering under the granite smile Lady Moira was beaming in his direction. ‘It’s just me who’s interested in the militant wing of the Xerces Initiative. The others are here on … different matters.’

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‘Well give me the pitch,’ Lady Moira said, batting doe eyes from beneath eyebrows whittled to a pencil line by a lifetime of hard tweezing. ‘I’ve been around television a while.’ Steve shrugged. There was no harm practising. This woman was, after all, an insect enthusiast of sorts who shared a bed with a man who didn’t just green-light television shows, but entire stations if he felt like it. At least he assumed they shared a bed. All he could say for certain was that they owned his ’n’ hers themed night attire. ‘Well it goes like this,’ Steve began. ‘The Xerces Initiative is a radical group of lepidopterists who are fighting to save the habitat of rare and threatened butterflies. The Xerces Blue itself, from which the group takes its name, became extinct in 1942.’ ‘Did the Xerces fight in the war?’ Lady Moira asked. ‘I only ask because Barry does like war films. Platoon is one of his all-time favourites.’ ‘N-n-no.’ Steve grabbed for his narrative thread like a drowning man. ‘They just took their name from the Xerces Blue butterfly which became extinct during the war.’ ‘Because of Hitler,’ Lady Moira nodded knowingly. ‘Well, n-n-no. They lived in California actually. They died out because Americans destroyed their habitat.’ ‘But the Americans only cut down the trees to fuel the war effort. So that was because of Hitler.’ ‘Um, maybe. I guess. Maybe.’ Steve conceded. ‘Anyway … nowadays Xerces militants travel to all corners of the world to sabotage the operations of companies that continue to destroy butterfly habitats. My film will follow one platoon on an upcoming operation in Belize.’ ‘Brrrrr-illiant!’ Lady Moira shrieked. ‘What are you going to call it? You simply must call it Platoon. You’ve no idea how that will tickle Barry.’ ‘The working title is Xerces Blue Blues,’ Steve said, suddenly
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worried that his title was a bit of a downer. ‘“Blues” as in depression, “blues” as in fights.’ ‘Brrrrr-illiant!’ Lady Moira trilled again. ‘Better than my title. But you know what, darling? When you’re in there with Barry, take it from me, for the real pitch? Call it Platoon.’ Steve nodded his appreciation. ‘He just loves that film. Loves the soundtrack too.’ On the other side of an exquisitely carved oak door, another pitch was going on. ‘I’m not sure if you’ve heard my tape, Sir Barry—but I think I do a reasonable Indian.’ Sir Barry clinked up scotch number five. ‘Right. Go on.’ Dante swallowed hard. He placed his hands in the prayer position. ‘I very much appre-ci-ate the opp-or-tun-it-y, sir. It brings a great big honour to my fum-il-y,’ he grinned in a subcontinental sing-song, head wobbling from side to side. He paused to gauge Sir Barry’s reaction. ‘Yeah, so you’re sort of Mahatma Gloves about a decade or so after Mahatma Gloves?’ Sir Barry growled. ‘Actually Stan mentioned the other day that my Indian was better than Mahatma Gloves,’ Dante ventured nervously. ‘Or at least the equal. He might have said at least the equal of Mahatma Gloves.’ ‘So what do you want? You want to play the comedy part of an Indian on “Leather and Lace”?’ ‘Well … I was hoping, you know, since I helped out with the headbutt incident and all …’ Sir Barry buzzed the intercom. ‘Yeomans. Get in here.’ Almost immediately, the heavy door swung open. Stan reappeared. ‘Stan. Dante here was just doing his Indian accent for me …’ Dante touched the tips of his fingers to his nose and lapsed
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into the impression again. ‘It was my velly great priv-il-ege, sir …’ ‘… and I want you to find a role for an Indian or a Paki on “Leather and Lace”.’ Stan glanced from Dante to Sir Barry and then back to Dante. He was still in the prayer position. ‘Um, well it is an Australian rules footy show, Sir Barry. We’re not exactly crying out for comedy Indian or Pakistani characters. You’ll remember Mahatma Gloves had his … ah, moderate success as a cricket personality.’ ‘What about the soap opera bit—Donnybrook, My Home or whatever the fuck you call it.’ ‘Well I guess there’s some latitude there. Although one of the things about Donnybrook is that the actors are all footballers or ex-footballers …’ ‘Well give this bloke a small part as an Indian taxi driver, or a butler, or a businessman … Basically, I don’t give a shit what his role is, but fix him up with somethin.’ ‘He’ll still do sound recording?’ Stan asked. ‘He’s a sound recordist. Of course he’ll do sound recording. Won’t you?’ Dante nodded his agreement. Stan looked unsure. ‘Does he have to do an Indian?’ ‘It’s just that I reckon I do a reas-on-able In-di-an accent,’ Dante said enthusiastically. ‘You two work it out. What I’m saying is find him a fucken show. He gets to be a TV star. Of sorts.’ ‘No worries, Sir Barry.’ ‘And he gets twenty grand. Don’t make the accounting obvious. Record it as a salary bonus for the on-air role.’ ‘Yes, Sir Barry.’ Haynes walked over to a billiard table that dominated the centre of the oak-panelled room and flung the white cue ball against a cushion. A brilliant overhead light reflected in the hyper-green of the cloth, making his wide pale face eerily verdant.
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‘You know the situation Yoey. Sir Barry Haynes looks after those who look after him.’ He’s talking in the third person, Stan thought. This was non-negotiable. ‘Oh tank you sir,’ Dante chirped, an Indian once more. Haynes retrieved the white ball and flung it back down the table. ‘OK. That’s sorted. Send the camera guy in.’ Steve was outside the door of the billiard room hyperventilating. Actually, he was just breathing heavily, allowing the cheeks that stretched tightly across his narrow jawline to blow out with each nervous exhale. For five long years he’d filmed footballers in the rooms before big games—sucking in the big ones, dancing on the spot. Now he was here doing exactly the same thing. This was his Grand Final, his the siren’s gone and we’re five points down and the young kid has it tucked up on the boundary line scenario. And the very fact that this football metaphor played in his mind as he sweated there, this tired old cliché from a game that he hated, was confirmation of all that was wrong in his life. It was why he just had to seize this opportunity; why for a few important minutes, he had to make butterflies the most important thing in Haynes’ life too. He knew how he was going to open. ‘Sir Barry, it’s not just a story about butterflies, it’s also a story of love and determination, a story of violence and a war being waged against our natural world.’ He’d then quickly explain the Xerces Initiative, focusing on Russell and Val, two young members of the militant wing of the Capricorn unit—no, the Capricorn platoon—who fell in love on a stakeout in Indonesia. In Belize, their love would be tested; by the humidity and lack of comforts, by the hostility of the Belize government, by the shades of difference in each one’s militancy, and by the fact that Val was sleeping with Yoonis and Russell didn’t know
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it yet. And Yoonis and Val and Russell were going to be in the platoon setting out for Belize. And the shit was going to hit the fan. ‘Picture this,’ he’d say to Sir Barry. ‘We open on the wing of the Xerces Blue itself—high in the rainforest—and follow it on a joyous shot of a minute or more as it flutters through the most wondrous scenery imaginable. The music is transcendent, Mozart perhaps, the colours saturated and rich. And then the deep, concerned voiceover begins: ‘In 1942, the last Xerces Blue butterfly died in the dwindling hardwood forests of northern California … ‘WHAM! ‘The colour drains from the forest, the music clashes to a discordant halt, and suddenly we see the evidence of logging. And the butterfly is gone. Dematerialised. You see it’s been a digital image all along. Like the feather in that opening scene of Forrest Gump …’ He wasn’t sure about the feather bit. Would a fan of Platoon have enjoyed the folksy charm of Gump? Steve rolled his shoulders and continued his breathing. Don’t speak too fast, he murmured to himself. Jacket back on. His forehead was shining and the sweat stains under the arms of his pale blue shirt were creeping ever-southward. Too hot. Stop jogging for a moment. Stop breathing. No, start breathing again. ‘Steve.’ The billiard room door opened. It was Stan. ‘Sir Barry will have a chat with you now.’ Steve Gasparini stepped in as Dante stepped out. On the way past, Dante gave Steve the thumbs up. ‘Love and determination,’ Steve was murmuring to himself. ‘Love, determination and violence … Capricorn platoon.’ Like the good Catholic he’d once been, he crossed himself at the threshold and strode in to meet destiny. Sir Barry was standing awkwardly over the pool table, gut resting on the hardwood trim, rolling pool balls carefully out
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of the palm of his hand. It was a game he sometimes played on his solo drinking binges. The idea was to get the roll just perfect, so that the white ‘smalls’ or ‘bigs’ didn’t scramble in their passage down the table. Instead, they’d sit as if idling on each wing of the ball—the plane of delivery being in exact harmony with the plane of the table. ‘Sir Barry,’ Steve said as he arrived at the table. ‘Um, I was only too happy to help out yesterday … um …’ ‘Shit. Did you see that?’ Sir Barry had coaxed the twelveball into a perfect roll. ‘Here. Have a go. You have to deliver the ball so the bands of white stay completely straight.’ Sir Barry released another pool ball with the deliberation of a lawn bowler. ‘Um … I guess I did want to ask you something, Sir Barry … y-y-you see I actually quite dislike football …’ ‘Same here,’ Haynes said brusquely. ‘And I have this idea, w-w-well it’s more a proposal I guess, well I suppose in some ways a proposal is an idea … but …’ Steve swallowed. Sir Barry intervened. ‘Moira just buzzed me on the intercom. You want to shoot a documentary in Belize. About butterfly activists.’ He rolled another pool ball down the table. ‘Honestly, have a go. The feeling is fucken Zen when you get the roll perfect.’ Steve hunched himself and propelled the black eight-ball down the table. It scrambled badly. ‘Ugly,’ Sir Barry said. ‘No form.’ Steve stared forlornly at Sir Barry. How did his pitch start, again? He had to mention the war. Moira had made that much clear. And did ‘determination’ come before ‘love’, or was it the other way round? Stan was laughing into his hand at the bar. Clearly, Steve didn’t look at all comfortable playing the zen pool-ball game. ‘In becoming a multi-billionaire I learnt a lot of things, and none of them were about fucken Belize,’ Sir Barry said as he
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lined up his next roll. Steve stared at him expectantly. ‘So the answer is yes. Write up a proposal. Get a producer. Bring the budget in for less than a mill and what you have, butterfly boy, is a green light.’ Sir Barry wasn’t even looking at him. The purple twelve was traversing another majestic trajectory slowly across the felt, the white circles on a perfect plane. An illusion of stillness. ‘Fuck me. That is beautiful.’ ‘I-I don’t know what to say,’ Steve stammered. ‘That’s so great.’ ‘Fucken oath it’s great. They don’t come out of the hand like that every day.’ Stan Yeomans was eventually invited down to the stables to see Raffles. The others were too, but not having an attachment to Raffles and not being in the fox-shredding clique, Dante, Steve and Tickets all politely declined. ‘We might just go and wait in the helicopter,’ Tickets said at the top of the hill. ‘OK, Thompson, but before you go, can I do this one last thing?’ Sir Barry had a riding crop in his left hand, and as he stepped towards Tickets, he tucked it into the back of the blue tracksuit pants he’d slipped on for the trip to the stables. He was still wearing his orange dressing gown—exercising the prerogative of the truly powerful to either shun or re-shape fashion conventions—and so the riding crop disappeared up under the silk. ‘Of course, Sir Barry.’ Tickets was in no doubt at all that Haynes could and would do exactly as he liked. Sir Barry stepped forward and gave Tickets an open handed slap across his right cheek. ‘That’s for making all this trouble, shithead. For not remembering that we decide when you get to offend.’
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