It was one of those times when I wish there was still an afternoon edition of the newspaper, because a story like that was all over the evening TV news, which is where most people consumed it. As a result, my write-up in the paper edition the next morning was fish-and-chip wrapping very quickly. Still, it wasn’t about me, was it? It wasn’t about me claiming the back slaps and kudos for breaking the story. It was about Punter and, more importantly, Driver. And I never would’ve got the back slaps anyway because of how muted and unforensic the writing was. Mind you, I did enjoy the coppers adding affray to the assault charge, which is technically impossible since it requires two fighters to be charged, as well as their actions to have caused terror to the general citizenry. Funny.
There were two reasons I took on the story. First, Driver rang me straight afterwards while he was still standing on Collins Street, to tell me what had happened. So I got the chance to get the story out first, on the newspaper’s website, literally before Postman had arrived at the police watch house. And it was that much shorter, punchier online release that started the news media juggernaut delivering its saturation coverage by the evening.
Seeing that story go live with my name in the byline gave me a rush I hadn’t felt in years and I’ve got Driver to thank for that. It was news, real news, rather than the coagulated mess of opinion that normally runs under my name.
He made me promise, before he told me what had happened, that I wouldn’t hand it off to one of my ‘straight journalist colleagues’.
‘Are you calling me crooked?’ I asked him.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Just jaded. And goading. And it’s time you got over both.’
But Driver admitted that he wasn’t thinking solely of some form of career resurrection opportunity for me when he called me to take the story. He called me because he didn’t want another journalist to take it and then apply the level of journalistic inquisitiveness that would expose all the messy details that lay not too far beneath.
And that was the second reason I took the story. I wanted to do what I could to attempt to keep the back story from coming to light. If it was at all possible, Driver didn’t want people asking how Postman knew him, why Postman – or his wife – booked him specifically, and why he felt the need to assault Driver and prang his taxi. Because sooner or later the trail would have led to Punter. From there, apart from the possible political fall-out, Postman’s affair with Stephanie and the whole unsavoury business would have been the next step. It wasn’t like an investigation would need to delve too far since all the key players had been together at the races just two days earlier. They’d all been in the same dining room. And the joy-sucking cab driver, for example, plus numerous others could verify it and might quite easily have been vindictive enough to come forward.
Amongst those others was the No-Good Boyfriend. If Driver was going to go back to law he didn’t want his own name on the front page of the papers for more than a day, if that. He wanted to stay a bit-player, unconnected from the greater disarray.
Since Driver didn’t know the full details about the forces that had been prepared to rally against him those six years before and since the No-Good Boyfriend was tied by blood-lines to those forces, I knew even better than Driver did about the importance of him staying a bit-player.
Successfully keeping all that quiet was a long shot. It required a very delicate piece of writing. I had to expose enough of the facts to satisfy my editor that he’d made the right call in letting me run with the story, rather than give him new reason to tell me how shit I was for missing the bigger picture. But I also wanted to keep at bay any deeper investigation of the reasons for Postman’s attack on Driver. I thought I had next to no chance. I thought it was almost certain someone from another news outlet would dig it up, if not another journo from my own stable. But luck was with us and it did stay quiet. I can only conclude that the remarkable level of entertainment Postman had provided all by himself was what kept everyone busy with other lines of investigation for the remaining week of pre-election period. I did some more work on the genesis of the homosexuals versus smokers angle and that seemed to provide enough smoke – pun intended – to throw people off the scent. And after the election, in which Postman’s former party hadn’t lost so much as they’d been humiliated, humbled and ultimately eviscerated, Postman’s shenanigans were only one of a great many sideshows featuring a much larger cast of political actors and clowns, the collective effect of which was to produce one of the most disastrous election outcomes in decades. In picking over the carcass, the analysts had such a ripe and mouldering body of ineptitude and misadventure to autopsy, the genesis of Postman’s tom-foolery with Driver wasn’t even considered as a main cause of the party’s death.
After he phoned me with the story, Driver had planned to call Minnie and to Punter. The police had already questioned him, corroborated his version of events with the Westin staffer’s as well as with what they’d heard from their own officers, so they left him in peace. While he was at the police station he’d arranged for his taxi to be picked up later in the day after the police had finished with it. He’d also called into the depot to report the accident, after which he walked down to Degraves Street for a coffee. One of his favourites, The Cup of Truth, opened at 7am but was down in the subways that led from the platforms of Flinders Street railway station out into the city’s streets and laneways. His taste buds wanted him to descend the stairs from Degraves Street into those subways and experience a truthful double espresso, but there was nowhere to sit. And he wanted to sit. So he made do with a lesser epicurean reward to satisfy a more general emotional need, taking a table on the bluestone cobbles outside the best of the above-ground compromise options.
In the ten minutes after they opened and before Driver was satisfied that their espresso machine had properly warmed up, he phoned Minnie. ‘I’ve had another crash,’ was how he’d initially planned to start the conversation, but while he waited for her to pick up he settled on a more considerate opening.
‘Hello?’ Minnie’s greeting was full of sleepiness, making the word sound like it was tucked in under the doona with her. But despite the sleepiness, in that single word Driver interpreted several things he was sure were running through Minnie’s head. This is almost certainly Driver calling – Who else would call at this time of morning? – Why would he be calling at this time of morning? – It better be good – Oh God, I hope nothing’s happened! – What if it’s not Driver? – What if it’s someone else?
‘Hey baby, how you feeling?’ Driver greeted her.
‘I was asleep.’
‘Yes, I thought you might be. I even hoped you were, but something happened that I need to tell you about so I had no choice but to risk interrupting you. Sorry.‘
Driver could hear the bed sheets rustling and imagined Minnie drowsily pushing herself up into a seated position to better hear his words. He could see her sitting there, a great, knotted mess of hair falling about her face, with a couple of tighter, lustrous ringlets hanging down by her temples where at some point in the night she’d hooked in a finger in her sleep and twirled it around and around those fortunate strands, then released it and repeated the twirling. Then released and repeated, released and repeated.
‘What?’ she asked, sounding concerned rather than suspicious or frustrated. Driver would not have blamed her for the either of the latter emotions after the week they’d just endured.
‘Are you okay?’ she added.
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘Really, I’m fine,’ he repeated, before proceeding to give her a summary of events.
‘Was he on something, do you think?’ Minnie asked about Frank Postman. ‘Was he drunk?’
‘He might’ve been. He smelt like he was a diabetic. You know, like old men smell when they have diabetes and they’ve been drinking? That sharp, sweet smell.’
‘I know this is a terrible comparison, but your dad sometimes smelt like that.’
‘Hmmm … this bloke is so obnoxious I didn’t even think of my dad.’
‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have said.’ Minnie let out a deep sigh. ‘But I do wish you’d stopped driving on Cup day like you said you would.’
‘Well, the car’s a bit bent so I’m definitely done now,’ Driver replied. ‘I don’t even want to take a ride in another one to get myself home. And I’m down in Degraves Street so I’ll catch the train home, I think.’
‘Good,’ Minnie said. ‘Come home soon, baby.’
‘I will,’ Driver said. ‘I will. I’ll be home within an hour. I want to have a coffee and ring Punter, and then I’ll come home.’ There was a silence between them during which Driver thought about telling Minnie he loved her. ‘I still love you,’ he heard himself saying, but he stumbled over the ‘still’ that had crept spitefully into the sentence. What right did he really have to use it? And it was certainly neither the right time nor the right manner to let Minnie know that he’d seen her being publicly intimate with another man. He was pondering more appropriate phrasing when Minnie interrupted his thoughts.
‘I think the baby’s going to come.’
‘What,’ Driver asked. ‘When, now?’
‘Not now, no, but soon. Maybe today. Maybe later today.’
‘Are you sure about that? How do you know?’
‘I don’t know. I just feel … ready. Or, it’s not me. It’s the baby. The baby feels ready.’
‘I’ll come home now, then,’ Driver replied. ‘I’ll come home straight away.’
‘No, no,’ Minnie said. ‘An hour’s fine. Call Punter and have your coffee. I can hear an espresso machine in the background.’
‘Have you called the hospital?’ Driver asked. ‘There’s a taxi rank outside Flinders Street station. I can be on my way in two minutes and home in fifteen.’
‘No,’ Minnie repeated. ‘I haven’t called the hospital and I didn’t mean it like that. When I said I think the baby’s coming it’s just a sense.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I’m sure. Braxton Hicks, false labour, that’s all. I shouldn’t have said that either.’
‘Yes you should and I’m glad you did, but …’
‘Driver, please don’t worry. It was another way of telling you that I love you. Without actually saying the words.’
Driver drew in a sharp little breath, as if someone had crept up behind him and unexpectedly tapped him on the shoulder. As if Minnie’s words had been a modest slap on his cheek. Without actually saying the words. He was sure Minnie must have heard his startle, but she said nothing.
‘Why couldn’t you just say it to me, then?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Minnie replied. ‘I could have. I love you.’
‘I like the sound of that,’ Driver replied. ‘Tell me as often as you like.’
They fell silent a while, confident they were listening to each other smile. Sharing an emotion – a positive emotion kept exclusively between the two of them – was a welcome change.
‘Well,’ Driver said, ‘I better go and call Punter. And then I’ll be home. I’ll catch a taxi.’
‘You’ll be quicker on the train at peak hour. Why don’t you catch the train so you can get used to it for when you go back to work?’
‘Okay, I’ll do that,’ Driver conceded, knowing that behind Minnie’s suggestion was an assumption that in the wake of his break from taxi driving he’d go back to law. But he didn’t want to fight that battle just yet. ‘I’ll be home within the hour.’
‘Okay, I’ll have a shower and wake up properly.’
‘I love you, too,’ Driver said.
‘I like the sound of that,’ Minnie replied, mimicking Driver. ‘Tell me as often as you like.’
They shared another silent smile.
After they’d said their goodbyes and hung up, Driver ordered his coffee and dialled Punter’s number.
This is episode 27 of Fare Game. Earlier posts can be found by clicking on the Archives or Categories links to the right of the page.
© Mick McCoy, 2013