Read the first chapter of Iain Ryan’s new regional noir novel The Student

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re going to know if you’re going to like a novel just from looking at the cover and the synopsis. Sometimes it’s handy to read a little bit of the novel, get a feel for it… realise you love it, want to read more, and go out and by it. So in the interest of convenience we at the AU Review are supplying you with an exclusive extract of Iain Ryan’s latest regional noir The Student for your reading pleasure – the first chapter.

Gatton, Queensland. 1994. Nate is a student, dealing weed on the side. A girl called Maya Kibby is dead. No one knows who killed her. Nate needs to refresh his supply, but Jesse, his friend and dealer, is missing. Nate is high. He is alone. Being hunted for the suitcase he’s found and haunted by its contents. And as things turn from bad to worse, Nate uncovers far more than he bargained for.

If you do enjoy what you read, and want to find out what happens to Nate (we think you probably will), make sure you get out to your local bookstore and pick up a copy. Plus stay tuned as we’ll have a copy of the book to giveaway in the near future too.

WEDNESDAY

The white sun in my eyes. A road train sprays gravel at the phone booth like a bomb blast. It’s September and September is the month my supply goes bad. An early end to winter. A giant mess.

I shout into the phone:
‘– All I have is grief. There hasn’t been bud in a fortnight.’
‘– I don’t do that. Jesse looks after it.’
‘– No one’s seen him.’
My beeper goes off. A landline. I know the number. Iris.
‘– I don’t give a fuck.’
‘– Okay, well, take your chances with them, then.’

I slam the phone back into the cradle and put my head against the glass. Another truck, another blast. The booth rumbles and fills with dust. A white piece of paper flaps at my feet, caught under the door. I reach down and pick it up.

Missing: Maya Kibby
There’s the photo from her student card. This flyer is a month old. She’s no longer missing. They found her body out in the scrub a week ago. Maya was the first person I knew who was murdered.
Gatton, 1994.

***

Iris answers the phone like she hasn’t paged me:
‘Oh right. Is Jesse at yours?’ she says.
‘No.’
No one has seen Jesse.
She sighs. Jesse and Iris broke up a few weeks back. I introduced them. Jesse, my supplier, my friend. Jesse, Iris’s ex-boyfriend. This is student life in Gatton. ‘Heard he was heading out of town,’ she says. ‘But I just wanted to make sure he isn’t with you.’

Jesse’s like this. He disappears. But he never stays at my place. No one ever stays at my place.

I scratch at my scalp and say, ‘What’s up with you?’ ‘What do you mean?’
I stare out at the road. Things are weird between us at the moment. ‘I don’t know,’ I say, a lie. ‘Are you holding? I’m totally, totally out.’
‘Just my own stash.’
‘Fuck. Fuck.’
‘You need money, Nate?’
‘No. I need my supply, then I need money. Oh, man.
This better not be like last time.’

‘You need to get yourself loose of him,’ Iris says. She’s
in her kitchen, I can tell. She’s moving something metallic around in the sink.
‘I can’t. I don’t have enough.’
‘How much is enough, then?’
The line goes dead.

I have piles of money out. A valley of hundreds, a hill of blue tens, a summit of fives. Plastic money, half of it greasy with who-knows-what. There’s a shopping bag of pot leaf beside me on the bench seat, down by my thigh. I’m too scared to have it up on the kitchenette table. Even shit weed is scarce at the moment.

I’m light.
I’m fucked.
So many layers of fucked. So many layers.
Graham – who owns my caravan and manages the park – he has me here because he needs a weed connection. He doesn’t need another tenant. He tells me that the park is a nightmare because of the tenants. He gave me a fortnight to cough up his dope. Weed or leave. That was a week ago.

Graham’s not alone in his ire. All my customers are bugging out. They’re all getting the first inkling of a weed drought and they’re all hitting my beeper, as if calling me twice a day is going to change something.

And then there’s my family. My mother lost her mind a couple of years ago and now my dad is unemployed. He got fired from his gig as a school groundskeeper because he kept taking carer’s leave. Some days, Mum is so bad he can’t leave her alone in a room. And the weird thing about Dad is that he can’t accept that this thing with her is costing money. They’re months over on the mortgage. The second mortgage. So we need to magically produce thirty-six thousand by the end of the year – on top of the current repayments – just to keep the house I grew up in.

I send them money. Dad says the same thing every time: Thank god for McDonald’s, and Son, we’ll pay you back one day, and I thank god too, every time. I thank god that Dad never studied business because then he’d know that a line cook at the Gatton McDonald’s could never – not in a million years – make the cash I’m sending home.

Except, this week, I’m not sending anything. That plan is disappearing before my eyes.
Because I’m light.
Getting lighter.
Shedding customers.

Eviction pending.
Plans going down the toilet.
Because of Jesse.
I figure I’m a week away from real trouble.

***

Dark out through the windows:
‘– Nah, it’s round the other side. Jesus.’
‘All them other vans face that way, I just reckoned. . .’
‘What? Goddamnit, keep your voice down.’
They sound big. One of them finds the door to my caravan.
It’s locked but the whole thing is so old and rusted that the lock doesn’t mean much.
I sit up and grab the hammer I keep by the bed.
There’s a sound: a key sliding in.
I watch in horror as the door swings open.
The whole caravan creaks and shifts when the first one steps up. In the dark, he looks like a bear wearing a human head. A long black beard, dark vest, hair trailing over his shoulders.

The other one follows. He’s smaller. Shorter hair. Same beard. Same vest.
Bikies.
‘Hello?’ says one of them.
The lights come on.
My eyes burn. I focus and find them both standing
there smiling at me.
‘This is a new one,’ says the bear. ‘Sleeps with a hammer.’ I can see now that the smaller one’s holding a rifle. It’s not aimed at me. He’s just holding it.

‘Don’t fucking hit me with that thing,’ says the bear. He comes and sits on the edge of the bed. The bed almost collapses under the weight of him. ‘Got anything to drink, kid? I know you’re out of weed because we just bought a key to your place with a fifty bag.’
He dangles the key from his hand.
Fucking Graham.
I throw the hammer on the floor.

Their names are Dennis and Hatch and my caravan looks crowded with them in it. Dennis is the bear. Hatch is the one with the rifle. He stands it against the kitchen counter as I check the van’s little fridge. I have three bottles of a neighbour’s home brew and a half-empty goon bag of red wine. Dennis peers in over my shoulder. He grunts when I pull out the beer. The two of them push themselves into the van’s breakfast nook.

‘Sit down, kid.’
I stay by the fridge.
Dennis says, ‘You seen Jesse?’
‘No.’
‘You know where Jesse is?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘That’s a pity.’
I wait. They look at each other, take a mouthful of beer each.
‘I just sell for him,’ I say.
‘We know who you are,’ says Hatch.
‘You’re Jesse’s partner. One of ’em anyhow,’ adds Dennis. ‘That’s not… There’s no… We’re not partners. He’s more like a supplier.’
‘Well, then I guess that makes you my bitch then, because I’m Jesse’s supplier,’ says Dennis. He waves his hand. ‘I said come ’ere. Sit.’

I do it, squeezing into the tiny breakfast nook beside Dennis. As soon as I’m settled, Dennis grabs me by the back of the scalp and slams my head down into the Formica table. The pain is instant yet somehow his grip on my hair is worse, the skin on my face pinched back. He grinds my head down into the tabletop.

Hatch leans over to my ear and whispers, ‘The way we see it. You go and find Jesse or you cover his debts.’ Hatch slaps the table by my face. ‘That was a question, arsehole.’
Dennis lets me up. ‘You got forty-five grand? You got that on you?’
‘No. I’m waiting on –’
Dennis shoves me out onto the van floor. I slide across the lino until my head connects with the wood panel of the cupboard under the sink.

For a sickly moment, everything stops:
The rifle.
It’s right there.
We all stare at it.
Dennis sighs.
Hatch says, ‘Well, you’re the idiot that threw him that way.’
‘I’m not going to touch that,’ I say. I don’t know what’s happening.
Dennis sighs again, louder. ‘Fuck.’
They drag themselves out of the booth and stand over
me. Hatch grabs the gun. He points the barrel at my head, hand on the trigger.
Snap
My arms jolt.
‘It ain’t even loaded,’ he says. ‘Just couldn’t leave it out there on the bike.’ Dennis squats down, looking me in the eye. He says, ‘Kid, we know who you all are. You’re Nate. And Jesse’s girlfriend is… that slut with the name like someone’s grandma, she’s. . .’ and he clicks his fingers.
‘Iris,’ says Hatch.
‘That’s right. Iris,’ repeats Dennis. ‘We know about Iris. We can keep her out of it… if we play our cards right. We don’t need to visit her. She’s a friend of yours, right?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good. Then there’s the other guy isn’t there? Foot? Shoe?’
‘Sock,’ I say.
‘That’s right, that’s right,’ says Dennis quietly. ‘We been asking around. All the wind’s blowing the same way. Everybody says you know Jesse better than anyone. So now you’ve got a couple of days to dig him up.’
‘Or get our money,’ says Hatch. ‘Forty-five grand.’
‘I don’t even know what this is about.’
‘Then you better find Jesse and ask him,’ says Dennis. He stands up and kicks me in the side, hard.
By the time I’m done wiping my eyes, they’re gone.
Then there’s just the boom of two motorbikes in the distance.

After a time, I check my watch. 9:42 p.m.
Still early. I get my things and walk up to the shower block because I have no idea what to do next. The hot water pelts down on me. An old man sings ‘Sweet Caroline’ to himself, two cubicles over and it creeps me out. He keeps circling back to the opening verse, never getting to the chorus, never finishing up. I think about jerking off but have to nix it. I can’t concentrate through the singing.
I head back to the van.
I check my beeper. A dozen flashing messages.
10:11 p.m.
It’s a Wednesday night in Gatton.
The dance is on tonight.

The Student by Iain Ryan is available now through Echo Publishing – a division of Bonnier Publishing Australia. For more information and to order the book direct from the publisher visit HERE.