This is the third instalment of Fare Game, the purpose of this blog. If you haven’t already, please
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Earlier instalments are available by clicking links in the Archives or Categories boxes to the right of the page. Here’s a synopsis of what happened last time:
Yep, that’s Stephanie alright – off to ride Punter’s political adversary – Driver pulls up short to prevent carnage – lifelessness outside the cemetery – the cost of Driver’s advice – a plan of revenge is hatched
And so to Fare Game, the third instalment …
Until that instant Driver had no idea what he was going to say. But he couldn’t bare the sight of Punter so full of self-pity.
‘Well you’re acting like you might as well be dead, so why don’t you just jump the fence?’ Driver said. ‘Why don’t you just jump the fence now and get it over with? Pick a stone, lift the lid and cosy up to some corpse or other.’
Punter looked at him, slack-faced. ‘You say it makes you feel sick. Big fucken deal. Go take an Aspirin, or something.’
‘I know it’s not about me, you idiot.’ Driver said. ‘Look, I’ll make it nice and simple for you. Nice and clear. You remember The Postman Always Rings Twice?’ he asked. ‘The ’82 version with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. You remember that?’
Driver knew he was drawing an exceedingly long bow. He knew the analogy would leave them both no better than stumbling towards some kind of clarity. But it was the only thing he could think of. It was the only way he could see forward. And it was forward. At least, it seemed that way to Driver.
‘Oh, no. You’ve got to be kidding me!’ Punter replied. ‘Please Driver, please, this is serious. Most of the time I can forgive your film-driven pop psychology. Even accept it at some level. But not now. Please.’
It was a weakness, Driver had to admit. His whole life-imitating-films outlook was something he knew others found challenging at times. But Punter was different. Punter was his film-going buddy anyway, so he should understand.
But Punter didn’t understand. His head and shoulders shook in frustration as he waved his hand and pointed down the street towards his house . ‘My wife is …’
‘Well okay,’ Driver interrupted. ‘But there’s not much you can do about that at the moment, is there? It’s no good you sitting against the cemetery wall feeling about as hollowed out as the people in there.’
Punter stared at his friend. A part of him was surprised that he was being given advice at all in the circumstances, even considering how well they knew each other. Perhaps because of how well they knew each other. He was surprised that Driver was using his beloved movies – yet again – to explain life. To make sense of life. Other people’s lives. His life, this time. His life. And then another part of him was surprised that he was surprised, because Driver was always offering him advice without being asked to give it. Advice that was, more often than not he had to admit, somewhere about right, whether or not he used Hollywood fairy tales as a vehicle for shedding light on life’s grimy realities. He reminded himself that Driver had to be one of the most overqualified cabbies in all of Melbourne. All of Australia, more than likely. So perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised at all. But simple and clear? Trivialising the whole sordid and deeply personal event with a tenuous link to some old movie was supposed to make it simple and clear? Please.
‘You’re letting yourself get too close to this,’ Driver continued. ‘Why did you want to come and get front rows seats to what’s happening down the street? That’s a perfect way to maximize your own grief. It’s unnecessary and it’s self-inflicted. You’re way too close to it. You’ve got to depersonalise it.’
‘How could I not get close to this Driver? Could you explain that to me? And how do you propose I depersonalise it?’ Punter could not hide his exasperation. ‘You’re fucken nuts Driver. Seriously.’
‘Bear with me, will you Punter? Just bear with me.’ Driver took his friend’s silence as license to continue. ‘Your political friend in there, let’s call him Frank, for argument’s sake. After Frank Chambers. Jack Nicholson’s character in Postman.’
Punter was gazing at his shoes, or the ground between them. ‘Have you seen the film?’ Driver asked him.
‘So … what … my wife is the Jessica Lange character?’ Punter asked, his head still hung low. ‘What’s her name?’
‘Cora. Cora Papadakis,’ Driver replied. ‘Have you seen the film Punter?’
‘Yeah, I’ve seen the film. Twenty, twenty-five, years ago,’ he snapped back. ‘With you, no doubt.’
Punter’s wife was fucking another man. Letting another man fuck her. Right then and just down the road, while his best friend was doing a hash job of illuminating it all, attempting to resolve it by recounting the events of a barely remembered movie. His head spun. His head tumbled and flip-flopped and did somersaults. He listened to the cars hiss past along Lygon street, to the zephyrs of stale city wind whip dried leaves and empty cigarette packs along the footpath, to his oldest friend doing his best to console him, and to his own heart slowly, uncertainly easing back from its agitated and fitful thumping to an easier tempo.
He listened to a quiet regret begin to gather itself inside him.
Punter lifted his head. ‘Driver, you’re not normal,’ he said with a deep sigh. ‘Not even close. But I love you and I know you mean well, so go on.’ He opened his arms wide to the possibility of relief. ‘Go on, if you’re going. I will give you the Postman connection for a minute more.’ He held up his index finger. ‘But only a minute.’
‘Good, Punter. Good. That’s all I need,’ Driver said, returning his consoling hand to Punter’s shoulder. ‘It’ll all be simple and clear,’ he promised, smiling.
‘Yeah, yeah. Get on with it.’
‘So you’re Nick,’ Driver resumed. ‘Cora’s husband Nick.’
Punter began to shake his head again at the absurdity of it. ‘Are you sure this is going to help, Driver? When I think about that film, all I can remember is a scene where … it must be Cora and Jack, I mean Frank … Cora and Frank are getting pretty enthusiastic on the kitchen table.’
Driver was unperturbed. ‘Do you love her still, your Cora?’
‘My wife, you mean? My Steph? Of course I do, you know that. I love her still. Maybe even more than I love you,’ Punter grinned. ‘Maybe too much.’
‘Okay, well you gotta have a way back. Nick was too passive. Don’t be like Nick.’ Driver rose to his feet, full of animation and passion, and stood in front of Punter. ‘And I can’t believe that bloke in there with your wife is anything much like Frank, like Jack Nicholson. Or, more to the point, anything much like you. I can’t believe you’re not a very much better man than him.’
Punter craned his neck to look up at Driver and saw a genuine hopefulness and faith in his face. ‘You’re the one drawing the picture, Driver. Not me.’ He shielded his face against the sun that peeped out from behind the clouds and shone weakly into his eyes from over Driver’s shoulder. ‘Can you sit down again, please?’
Driver sat, a little deflated but still persistent. ‘This shouldn’t be happening to you because that man,’ Driver waved his pointed finger in the direction of Shakespeare Street, ‘that man is not as good as you. Fixing it, resolving it, is something you can do. Something entirely within your control.’ He leant in towards his friend with his elbows on his knees. ‘So you’ve got to do two things, Punter. Two things. Are you listening to me?’
Punter didn’t reply. He knew he didn’t need to.
‘First,’ Driver said, ‘you’ve got to make your wife see – make your Cora see – that this Frank is not what he seems to be. Not who he seems to be. That this Frank is less than you. Much less.’
Punter sat and listened, slowly and absent-mindedly twirling his watch band around his wrist. But it was enough. Driver could see he was taking it in. He could see Punter wanted to be helped.
‘The way you do that? You’ve got to shame this guy. Or, at least, you’ve got to see that he is shamed. And Stephanie has to witness his shame,’ Driver continued. ‘Not in a personal sense ‘cos you’d just end up looking like the spurned, jealous husband, which would make it too easy for you to come out of it worse off. It’s gotta be shame in a professional sense. He has to be led to an act that will bring him deep, professional shame.’
Such was the gravity of Punter’s situation they had both long since cast aside, trampled on and kicked around Driver’s rules on the etiquette of man-on-man delivery of emotional content and so Driver had no hesitation in leaning in even closer and fixing Punter with his eyes. Snaring him so tightly in his gaze that Punter had no choice but to look back.
‘Driver,’ Punter asked, curious rather than suspicious, ‘where does all this come from? How do you conjure all this?’
‘Let’s just work on the plan, alright?’ Driver replied, soliciting nothing more than a shrug of his friend’s shoulders. ‘You’ve got to help Frank stumble into a situation where he publicly humiliates himself. One of your ministerial mates needs to engineer a situation where he is brought down a peg-or-two. Several pegs. And do it in a way that the media reports it and Cora can’t help but hear all about it.’
Driver saw a glimmer of life returning to Punter’s face. ‘And it’s gotta be done in a way that can’t be traced back to you. You’re squeaky clean through all of this, alright? You’ve gotta look pristine.’
Punter could no longer hold onto the intensity of Driver’s stare. ‘You’re scaring me a little bit, Driver,’ he said. ‘It should be you in politics and me driving taxis.’ Punter smiled ruefully as he rubbed his sweaty palms across his suited thighs. ‘What’s the other part of the plan?’
‘The other part’s easy. You and Cora need to get the spark back in your life,’ Driver resumed, not missing a beat. ‘Take her away for weekends. Spend time with her some place where she can’t spend time with this other prick, or anyone else. Some place where your phone doesn’t work.’
Driver thought Punter might resist the week-ends away idea, but he meekly nodded in acceptance. ‘Call her Steph, please.’
‘Okay, sorry. Steph. Does she know? Does Steph know you know?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Punter replied. ‘Funny, before we sat down here I’d worried myself into thinking that you’d know somehow. That you and Christ knows who else would know. Probably everybody.’ He smiled weakly. ‘But now that you ask me, I don’t think she knows I know. And maybe other people don’t know either. Yet.’
‘Good,’ Driver said, all business-like. ‘Let’s hope it stays that way.’
‘But I can’t take her away this weekend. We’re coming to your place for dinner. Not to mention the fact that there’s an election on in a few weeks.’
‘Skip my birthday. We can do my birthday another time. Take that one night to do something for just the two of you.’
Punter shook his head. ‘Can’t do that. Steph would get suspicious. She’d be thinking, what would be so important that I would suddenly decide not to come to your birthday dinner?’
‘Fair point. I am a very good bloke, after all,’ Driver replied, deadpan. ‘Well, you gotta find some other way – some very, very good way – to remind her why she married you.’
The two men sat in silence, Driver looking attentively at his friend whose eyes were fixed on the distant point across Lygon Street and down Shakespeare to where his wife was committing adultery with his enemy in the upstairs bedroom of his house.
‘What are you thinking?’ Driver asked.
‘What happens to Nick?’ Punter asked. ‘Cora’s actual husband. I can’t remember what happens to Nick.’
‘They bury him,’ Driver replied, bringing a grimace to Punter’s face. ‘Cora and Frank set up his death and they bury him.’ Driver resisted the temptation to elaborate about Cora having no love or respect for her husband and about how the sex with her lover was way better, way more passionate, than anything she shared with Nick. Best left unsaid, he figured.
‘But that’s my point,’ Driver continued. ‘I only mention Postman to illustrate what not to do. To show how different you are from poor old Nick Papadakis. It’s a cautionary tale, Punter.’
Punter had stopped listening after learning Nick got buried. ‘What’s the title mean?’ he asked. ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice? Is Frank the postman?’
‘No, he’s not the postman. And to be honest, Punter, I have no idea what the title means.’
‘Hmmm,’ Punter said. He sat bolt upright. ‘We should be getting back to Spring Street.’
‘C’mon,’ Driver replied. ‘Get in the cab and I’ll have you back by two. You won’t have missed a moment.’
Both men stood. ‘One thing Driver,’ Punter said. ‘If this turns sour and I end up exposed for setting up the slimy prick, I want you as my lawyer.’
Driver stopped at his car door. ‘No you don’t,’ he said, matter-of-factly.
‘Yes Driver, I do. Why wouldn’t I?’
‘Because I have spent the last six years driving this car, Punter. I haven’t practiced in so long I’d be useless.’
They climbed into the car and Driver started the engine. ‘And it’s not exactly my kind of law, is it? It’s hardly an industrial dispute.’
‘You know,’ Punter said, ‘maybe you’re wrong. Maybe that’s exactly how the prick sees it. Within the industry of politics, he sees screwing my wife as an act of industrial militancy.’
Driver checked his mirrors for traffic and swung the taxi through a wide U-turn, traversing the very same tram lines his tyres had rumbled across an hour earlier. ‘Besides,’ he added, ignoring Punter’s ramblings, ‘there’s the problem of conflict of interest. I’m as likely as you to be in trouble if it all goes south.’
They headed back towards the centre of town, both silently occupied with their own thoughts.
‘Driver, you love me too, right?’
Driver creased his brow as he traded sideways glances with his friend. ‘Why do you ask that, all of a sudden?’
‘Because I said it to you earlier.’
Driver was ashamed he needed to be reminded of what Punter had said. ‘Of course I do,’ he said. ‘Like a brother.’
‘Say it then,’ Punter said.
Driver snorted. ‘I love you, Punter.’ He drove the car straight down Lygon Street, across Elgin and into the café district. ‘Like a brother.’
© Mick McCoy, 2013