Sunday, April 13, 2008
Outside the Nelson Hotel in Bondi Junction, as I'm dropping off, two fellows wave from the other side of Oxford Street, where the bus depot is. Tall, maybe 40s, wearing jackets without ties. They're agitated, or perhaps I should say excited. One in the front, one in the back. Ebley Street. A short trip. They immediately start discussing the fare with each other, as if it is a matter of great moment, but I already know it's only about five bucks so I don't pay that much attention. Don't even really look at them. At one point the bloke in the front takes a five dollar note from his pocket and hands it to the bloke in the back. I know the way but Front Street Guy insists on directing me, wrongly, and we end up at a left turn only a couple of blocks from where they're going. They're tetchy as they get out, but do me, or her, the kindness of drawing to my attention a young woman waiting on the other side of the road. They go, she gets in, we drive down to Elizabeth Bay. It's dusk. She's in the back. I pull up in Ithaca Road, opposite an apartment block I once lived in, turn on the interior light. As we're doing the exchange I see, improbably, that there's a wad of banknotes on the front seat. Fifties. I know at once that it's a least a grand. You'd think maybe I'd be happy but in fact what happens is my heart sinks. Oh no ... I drive down to the end of the street, where they've blocked off access to the sea for some urban renewal, turn around, park, and under the curious eyes of a woman waiting on a neglected corner (already I'm paranoid), count it up. Twenty fifties held together by a single rubber band. Funny how the loot shrinks once you've reckoned its finite dimension. Has to be a drug deal or similar. Who were they? Amateurs, I think, not serious players. They were so dumb about the ride. He must have spilled the wad when he took the five from his jacket pocket. Anyway. How would I ever trace them? How would they ever trace me? No way they would have noted the taxi number, they were too distracted. So. Put the money in my wallet then change my mind and slip it in the small bag I use for car keys, food, authority card, cigarettes. The zip is broken. I'm driving through the back of the Cross, trying to fix it, with the wad between my thigh and the seat. Confused. Why does money bring with it guilt? By this time I'm outside St. Vincents and I still haven't sorted myself out. At the lights on Oxford Street, a pretty young Asian girl climbs in the front seat and wants to go to Redfern. How's your night? she asks and, I can't help it, I tell her the whole strange tale. She's very sweet, perhaps she's a Buddhist, anyway, alive to the karmic implications that bother me too. She's a waitress in a cafe, has just worked seven day's straight, this is her day off, she spent it window shopping and having coffee with a friend. Tried on a $600.00 dress and made believe she owned it for the several minutes she wore it. She sympathises with me! Sydney is such a curious and beautifully serendipitous town sometimes. After that I try out the dilemma on several other fares. An Irishwoman, moving house, with lots of bags, wonders if I might give it to the police. Nah, this is NSW, they'd probably just keep it for themselves. A cute young thing from Perth suggests I give it to her. A drunken lawyer, also Irish, commends me for having saved any number of innocent babbies from corruption by drugs. She gives me her card and invites me in for a drink. This is in North Bondi. I feel weird every time I go near the area where I picked up and dropped off the guys whose money it was - what if I see them again? It can happen. After a while I realise it was probably The Cock and Bull they were going to; plenty of deals go down there. They must be spitting. After that the whole night becomes provisional and peculiar, I don't know why I'm doing this, or what I'm doing ... alternative scenarios run me ragged. I go home early. Count the money again. Hide it. Next day, I change its hiding place. Ring a couple of cabbie friends. One says: Half your luck, mate! Spend it on on your kids. The other advises against giving it to the Taxi Company (it never occurred to me to do that) but recommends the police option. Apparently after three months, if no-one claims it, they give it back to the finder. Yeah, right. When I start driving again, about two o'clock, I resume my straw poll. A student, a young woman, says I should open an ING account and give the interest to the homeless, while keeping the capital for emergencies. She likes this idea more than I do. Later on, in George Street, I pick up a dishevelled Persian man who is a talker. He's a dental technician, he's made plates for Rene Rivkin, whom he liked a lot. They killed him, he says. The media, everyone, they killed him. He tells me the fate of Walter Franklin, dental technician extraordinaire. It's quite a story. He's a Nietschian and a Zoroastrian. A vehement man. He expounds The Holy Yes and The Holy No. Kafka chose The Holy No, he says mysteriously. I like this guy, so I try out my dilemma on him. He says it's too little money for a gun so, yes, probably it was for drugs. What you must do, he goes on, is hide it away somewhere, just keep it, until the next time you see them. Then you will say, I have your money. Just before he gets out, he adds: There is no peace in this world, it is all struggle. Whether you decide yes or whether you decide no, it is struggle either way. There is no peace. I don't ask any more passengers after this, I let him have the last word. The night is even scrappier than the one before, I don't make any real money, and go home early again. My local bottle shop is still open so I drop in to buy some wine. There's one on special, I've tried it before, from the Margaret River, it's not bad, so that's what I get. It isn't until I arrive home and take it out of its paper bag that I look at the label and see what I've bought. It's called: Catching Thieves.