The Grand Journey
I was 18 when I bought a classic 1970 Triumph Bonneville 650 motorcycle. She was in shocking condition and every cent I earned from a variety of part-time jobs went towards restoring the old girl back to her former glory. After two years of hard work, I was able to toast her resurrection with a bottle of champagne. She was a beautiful ride.
I started my first full-time job at Mustang Wealth Management after completing my accountancy degree. The company was owned by Jason Kennedy who was one very strange individual. He had inherited Mustang Wealth Management from his father when the company was such a behemoth, it was virtually impossible for it to fail. Mustang employed over 200 staff to provide financial advice, investment schemes, tax minimisation strategies, accounting services and estate planning for rock stars, television personalities, shock jocks and politicians. There was even an ex-PM or two on its books.
Even though the company was a shining success story of the Australian economy, it had often been reported that Jason Kennedy had no formal qualifications. Up until his father’s death, he described himself as a ‘socialite’. When the old man keeled over, Jason was immediately parachuted into the CEO position and kept the business running by surrounding himself with superbly qualified people. Jason was rich beyond the dreams of most people.
The Australian Taxation Office had been targeting Mustang for years but Jason’s army of lawyers and accountants had successfully held them at bay. During my first year in the office, I’d been quietly and carefully conducting my own investigation. If Mustang was going to burn, I had no intention of being consumed by the flames but from what I could tell, everything was above board.
I first talked to Jason on the day of my job interview. An old tutor had given me a heads-up that Mustang was looking to employ a graduate accountant. I immediately filled out the extensive online application form, attached a copy of my brand new accountancy and computer science degrees and emailed it to Mustang. One of the quirks of the company was that Jason interviewed every job applicant for every position.
Two days later I received a phone call. “Leo Dane? Jason Kennedy here.”
“Hello,” I replied. “How are you?”
“How am I? How am I? I just made love to a lingerie model on my boat in the middle of Sydney Harbour! I’m bloody terrific!”
“Ah, good,” I said.
“Look, I’ll get right to the point. We received hundreds of applications for the position but yours stood out for one reason. Your name. Leo Dane. It’s got… what’s the word… gravy, gravity…
“Gravitas,” I suggested.
“Gravitas!” he agreed. “Are you the son of Frederick Dane?”
“Boo-yah! A giant of the accounting world! Can you be here in half an hour for an interview?”
“No problem,” I said.
Two minutes to put on my suit. Twenty seconds to knot my tie. Ten seconds to throw my briefcase in my backpack. I jumped on my Triumph and roared through the city streets to Mustang’s head offices on Macquarie Street in Sydney’s CBD. I lived in the nearby suburb of Newtown but it was still going to be a close call.
I put the fear of god into dozens of pedestrians during my mad motorbike dash but made it with two minutes to spare. I spent 60 seconds breathing evenly to still my bursting heart and presented myself at the front desk.
“Leo Dane for Jason Kennedy.”
The twentysomething receptionist looked me up and down and checked her computer screen. Her eyes widened fractionally when she found my name on a list.
“Go through, Mr Dane. Jason’s office is straight ahead.”
The open-plan office was full of people talking on phones, operating computers and rushing to and fro. There was a real buzz to the room and I felt like I was watching a mad ballet without music. Around the edges of the large room were dozens of individual offices with closable doors and venetian blinds to block the view of the great unwashed. The few that had their blinds open contained men sitting at desks concentrating fiercely on their computers.
I knocked on the door with the “Jason Kennedy” nameplate and a voice inside boomed “Come in”.
“Leo!” he continued. “Right on time. Have a seat.”
Jason was in his late thirties, sported a Trumpesque fake tan, blinding white teeth, an expensive suit and obviously styled hair designed to look messy. His office was immense with a desk the size of a tennis court. On the desk was nothing but a laptop and a phone. In the opposite corner was a plush sofa, a low-lying coffee table and two modernist artworks hung on the wall. A professional expresso machine and a well-stocked bar fridge was built into the credenza. Through a slightly open door I could see his private bathroom.
As I sat on the leather office chair, Jason unashamedly grabbed the crotch of his suit and adjusted his testicles.
“Leo, as I’m sure you know, Mustang is one of the most successful wealth management companies in Australia. We achieve our goals by remembering one simple thing – everything we do must work towards turning a profit. If I was to employ you, can you remember that one simple rule?”
“I can,” I said.
“Boo-yah! Your father, Frederick, is a titan of the business world. Did he encourage you to go into accountancy?”
“He did. He was also my mentor. He often said that accountancy is a noble profession. I have to agree.”
“Our accountancy department is extremely busy all the time. We have many, many projects on the go. Can you achieve results on time?”
Jason looked me up and down, then smiled. “Boo-yah! You’ve got the job.”
“Thank you, Mr Kennedy,” I said. It was the weirdest job interview I had ever attended but so what? I had the job!
“Call me Jason. Everyone does. You know, it’s nice to have a new graduate on staff. It gives me a chance to help shape your career. It would be worth your while to look upon me as your role model. Let me start by asking you a question. Leo, what is money to you?”
“Security,” I answered.
“Bzzzt! Wrong!” Jason beamed. “Money is liberation. I’m just an average guy but I can have anything I want. Women, travel, houses, boats – it’s all mine for the taking. My passions never need be denied. Thanks to money, I am probably the most liberated man on the planet. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I wonder if you do,” Jason continued. “In my experience accountants are an unimaginative bunch. You’re all so conservative that you’re genetically averse to taking a risk. I think accountancy as a profession appeals to a certain sort of timid man.”
“You may be right.”
“Oh, I know I am,” Jason said with a smirk. “Hey Leo, did you know that an accountant is someone who wanted to be an actuary, but didn’t have the personality for it?”
Oh good, accountant jokes. I gritted my teeth. “Ha, very good.”
“Hey Leo, what do accountants use as contraceptives? Their personality!”
“Leo, listen to this. You know how accountants are obsessed with numbers? Well, they know 200 different sex positions but they don’t know anyone who wants to have sex with them!”
“I’m just pulling your leg,” Jason said, grinning inanely. “We’re done. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. Welcome aboard. Boo-yah!”
When I arrived back at my apartment, I shared a celebratory beer with my flatmate, Pagan. We had only been flat sharing for a couple of months but I though she was, quite simply, the most wonderful woman I had ever known. She was smart, witty, reserved and had a fantastic laugh. Unfortunately she also had a boyfriend called Kevin. They had been together since they were teens but it was obvious the relationship was almost at an end. Kevin was always antsy, often didn’t contact her for entire weekends and never returned her texts. Poor Pagan seemed oblivious to the situation but I would be there for her when it all exploded. Until then, I refused to make any kind of move. I am a man of honour.
Pagan worked as a tattoo artist. Her arms were an explosion of colours, figures and script. From her shoulders to her wrists, there was not a square centimetre of unadorned skin. Sleevework, they call it. Although I was a cleanskin, I thought she looked stunning. And very, very sexy.
I was also starting to put together a plan for a momentous journey in a year or so – Sydney to London by motorcycle. While still early in the planning stage, I had begun decking out the Triumph with panniers and racks. The first leg would take me from Sydney to Darwin where I would organise passage on a container ship to Singapore. From there I could travel overland all the way.
My greatest wish was to have Pagan join me. The thought of her arms wrapped around my waist as she sat behind me on the Triumph was almost too much to bear. In my imagination, I saw us swimming in rivers, drinking foreign beers, crossing mighty grasslands and making love on a variety of beaches. If Kevin would simply man-up and end the relationship, I thought I may even have a shot.
One Friday night, Mustang held an office party to celebrate a new four-million dollar account. I invited Pagan along as my date; just as friends. The party had been in full swing for about an hour when she entered the room. She was wearing a ’70s- style halter-neck dress of emerald green and looked like a goddess. Her tattooed arms were iridescent against the shimmering rayon. Everyone noticed her arrival.
Pagan worked her way through the crowd to reach me. When she gave me a kiss on the cheek, I felt myself climb a few rungs on the pecking order of the accountancy department.
“Thanks for coming. You look fantastic,” I whispered.
“You haven’t introduced me to your girlfriend,” Jason said, suddenly appearing at my elbow.
“Oh, I’m not his girlfriend,” Pagan said. “I’m not anyone’s girlfriend.”
“What’s happened?” I asked.
Pagan’s face was etched with misery. “Kevin dumped me.”
“Oh, too bad,” Jason said, moving closer to her and pushing me out the way.
Within a few minutes, that fake-tanned SOB had targeted my dream girl and she seemed to be enjoying the attention. By 10 o’clock, I found myself sitting alone at the bar after they left together.
The following morning at home, Pagan was eating muesli at the breakfast table. At least Jason had not spent the night – thank God and all his saints! We spent the day on domestic issues – cleaning, vacuuming, laundry – and I carefully avoided any discussion of Kevin or Jason.
Late that afternoon, I made us both a coffee and we sat in our tiny courtyard. There was hardly room for both of us and the Triumph.
“So, are you doing anything tonight?” I asked lightly.
“Jason and I are going out for dinner. Nothing special.”
“Then why can’t you stop smiling?”
“I’m not smiling,” she said, blushing.
“Oh, my aching nether regions! Do you like him?”
“He’s okay. Very different from Kevin.”
“Please, Pagan, he’s a huge knob!”
“Oh, stop it. Jason may be a bit of a blowhard but I think his heart is in the right place. And it’s nice to be wined and dined in a manner to which I am completely unaccustomed. He really knows how to spoil a woman. Compared to Kevin, he’s a prince.”
After she headed off for her date, I sat desolate on the couch and cursed the fates. How could this have happened to me? How had bloody Jason stolen my opportunity with Pagan? I reached for a bottle of Scotch.
The next morning I stumbled into the kitchen to find Pagan making tea. My throat was as parched as a desert from way too much Johnny Walker the previous night.
“Tea,” I pleaded. “How did you go last night?”
“Good. How was your night?”
And that was when I saw it.
“Two cups of tea!” I croaked. My finger shook as I pointed at the evidence. Jason must be in her bed right now.
Pagan laughed and smiled and blushed some more. My heart flip-flopped in my chest like a dying fish. She picked up both cups and headed back to her bedroom.
“Damn it,” I hissed.
Pagan and I didn’t cross paths for a week. She spent all her spare time with Jason, sleeping over at his house nearly every night. I hated him like a disease. When I tried to ponder a future without Pagan, it was impossible. Life stretched out before me like an endurance race to the grave.
Then one night I was laying in bed, reading The Lonely Planet Guide to Mongolia, when the front door opened. A minute later I heard the unmistakable sound of Pagan crying.
“You okay, P?” I asked as I wandered into the living room. “No, I’m not okay,” answered Pagan.
I sat beside her. “What happened?”
“Jason is a monster. He’s completely inhuman.”
“What did he do?”
“He was having a shower while I was making a cup of tea and I noticed he had left his laptop running. I hadn’t been home for a few days so I decided to check my emails. That’s when I discovered…” Pagan was having trouble speaking.
“Slowly,” I whispered.
“He had posted a video of us having sex on a website he maintains.”
“What?” I asked, incredulously.
“He must have hidden cameras in his bedroom. His face was pixellated but you could see me perfectly clearly.”
“What did you do?”
“I got out of there as fast as I could. I was so angry, I grabbed his laptop and took it with me.” As Pagan pointed to an expensive PC sitting on the table, her mobile began to vibrate. She dropped it on the table.
“I’m not answering it.”
“Then I will,” I said, grabbing her phone.
As expected, Jason was looking for Pagan and his laptop. I played dumb. Sorry, Jase, Pagan isn’t home but there’s a laptop right here on the table. Why don’t you come around and pick it up?
Pagan was staring at me when I hung up the phone.
“What are you doing? I don’t want to see that pig,” she said.
“You don’t have to. I have a plan.”
When Jason arrived, his expensive clothes made him look like he was ready for a board meeting. A Rolex glinted on his wrist. His shoes were shined. I would have liked to gut him like a fish.
“What’s going on, Leo?” he asked. “Is Pagan here?”
“No, I don’t know where she is.”
“Do you know why she took my laptop?” he asked suspiciously.
“Mate, she’s a woman – who knows why they do anything. It’s sitting on our kitchen table. Come on in and you can grab it.”
I walked down the hallway and, after a moment’s hesitation, Jason followed.
The laptop was sitting on the table next to a bottle of Scotch and two glasses, one already half full.
“There you go,” I said, handing him the laptop. “Drink?”
Without waiting for a response, I filled the empty glass and passed it to him. “Err, thanks,” Jason said.
I downed my Scotch in one and Jason followed. Ten minutes later, he was nearly catatonic. Pagan tentatively entered the room.
“How much Xanax did you put in his drink?” she asked.
“Just enough to knock him off kilter,” I said. “Okay, let’s get to work.”
I fired up Jason’s laptop and guessed his password on the third go – ‘Boo-yah123.’
Pagan was right when she described Jason as a monster. He was anonymously running a website that catalogued all the women who had ever had the misfortune to sleep with him. He used hidden cameras to record these women from multiple angles. 17,000 sad little men paid 20 bucks a month to subscribe.
I burrowed into Jason’s hard drive and found all his passwords hidden in a document titled – naturally – “Passwords”. It was a piece of cake after that. I deleted everything on the porn website and left a redirect command. Anyone attempting to sign in would be sent to the Abnormal Sexual Psychology Wikipedia entry. The subscribers would donate 20 bucks a month to a number of women’s refuges until they cancelled their subscriptions.
I found all Jason’s personal banking and business accounts. While his company was as clean as a whistle, Jason obviously didn’t like paying tax. He had been involved in a number of different – and highly illegal – tax minimisation schemes for years. I estimated he owed the ATO in the region of 13 million dollars. I forwarded all the incriminating financial records to the Fraud and Tax Evasion Department of the ATO. I felt no remorse. My father was right – accountancy is a noble profession and this scumbag needed to be taken down.
Pagan, meanwhile, was caressing a tattoo gun she kept at home. I saw her make a decision and unbutton Jason’s shirt. Ten minutes later he had the words Sexual Predator tattooed neatly right above his heart.
“What happens now?” Pagan asked. “Are we going to be in trouble?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Though Jason is going to have his hands very full in the upcoming months. He simply won’t have time to seek revenge. I’m pretty sure he’s going to end up in jail.”
“I don’t even want to be in the same city as him,” Pagan said.
“Then why don’t you come with me?” I asked with my heart in my mouth.
“Darwin. Then Singapore. And then all the way to London.”
“Your Grand Journey? When would we leave?”
“What about all our stuff?”
“None of it’s worth anything. Let’s just leave it all behind.”
“I don’t have much money,” Pagan said.
“That’s okay,” I said, grinning. “I have some. And I’m an accountant. I can work anywhere.”
Pagan suddenly smiled and it was like watching a glorious sunrise. “Okay,” she said.
I sat on the Triumph and kick-started the old girl. Pagan slid in behind me and her arms snaked around my waist, squeezing tight. A kiss as soft as a butterfly landed on my neck. I engaged first gear and we started moving forward.
“Farewell, Sydney!” Pagan yelled.
I opened the throttle and the bike surged northwards, eager for the journey. Pagan laughed and whooped and I went faster still. And the road, the beautiful endless road, embraced us, blessed us and sent us on our way.
By Frank Leggett from Australia