Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lenny's Lawyer

Looks like this will be the last post here for a while - I'm taking a month off driving to finish a writing project. But before I go ... it was interesting watching Bob change the broken wing mirror yesterday afternoon. There were about a dozen facets to the break and together they looked like one of those expanding/contracting aperture mechanisms you find in older style cameras. Each shard crescent-shaped as it fell onto the roadway and was left there to be crunching by passing traffic. I wasn't driving that car last night, and the one I was driving didn't arrive until well after the nominated three o'clock start, so I didn't get on the road until about quarter to four. A late start usually means a slow night but in fact it went like a rocket. I felt oddly nostalgic, it was like being transported back into earlier times when Sydney was a freer, more relaxed and certainly more louche city than it is now. Part of this feeling came from a fare I picked up near Circular Quay around eight o'clock. I was ducking down Albert Street towards the Quay to avoid a traffic jam in Macquarie Street when I saw a couple trying to hail the cab ahead of me. The driver was oblivious, so I sounded my horn and got the fare. A man of about seventy in a suit got in the front, a young black woman in the back. She was laughing at my stratagem, he was fairly well shickered but almost frighteningly coherent. I drove round to the bus station at the Quay, about a hundred metres, and her with the big mouth, as he described her, hopped out. We continued on towards Mosman. He said he'd had a helluva day and I replied that I hoped it was a good one. I'm being blackmailed, he said. These arseholes don't think I know, but I do. Have you ever seen a movie called The Godfather? Well, I'm the guy in the Godfather. He didn't say which guy but later did an excellent imitation of Brando's Don Corleone. It was the speech to the undertaker whose daughter's been raped. You haven't found a horse's head in your bed, have you? I asked but he didn't think that was funny. You probably don't know who Lenny McPherson was, he went on, but I acted for him for thirty years. I learned a lot off Lenny. He said to me once: If I was going to have you killed, I wouldn't tell you. Christ, I thought, I've got Lenny McPherson's lawyer in the cab. Lenny was Sydney's Mr. Big for those thirty years. An old style crim, a hard man, legendary, fearsome and, paradoxically, loved by as many as went in fear of him. According to this guy, he got his start in the illegal casinos that flourished in Surry Hills way back when. Lenny would just walk in and take the money. A guy by the name of Taylor - I missed the first name - decided that, instead of having Lenny on, he would make him part of the organisation. And so it went. There were more stories, which I won't go into here. They were delivered with a precision of speech that had only minimal difficulty overcoming his considerable intoxication. The thing about this guy was that he came from a different world and knew it. Hence his melancholy. Whatever he was being blackmailed about he didn't say, only that he was going to defeat, humiliate and destroy his enemies; but even this rhetoric, delivered with many obscenities, had a kind of weary resignation to it, as if he were making moves that he had long since lost the logic or the passion of. At one moment during the ride, he made a point of looking right at me so that I could see who he was. He had a long hooked nose like the beak of predatory bird and bright dark eyes, also bird-like, set close together, intelligent, bleak, utterly without illusion. They were eyes, I thought, perhaps melodramatically, that were looking death in the face. He was going for dinner with a woman near Spit Junction. When we stopped outside the building, he pulled from his pocket a battered wallet full of nameless bits of paper and many large banknotes. Separated out a twenty then showered a whole lot of shrapnel into my hand. Forget everything I've told you, he said. I'm just an old man reminiscing. And walked off towards the fluorescent lit, blond brick units with his suit jacket hanging down off his thin stooped shoulders the way my father's jackets always fell when he was old.