He’d just got back with fresh supplies when the conductor turned up.
Game over, I thought, but far from it.
‘Have a beer.’ Jack opened one, still nice and cold from the dining car fridge, and offered it to him. On a hot January night it was irresistible. He looked up and down the corridor and it was all quiet, and accepted with alacrity. He would have been up for a game as well, but he couldn’t afford to go that far, especially with a full train to keep an eye on. He had a friendly yarn and then disappeared, saying, ‘Keep the noise down and close the corridor blind, that’s all. There are full compartments on both sides of you.’
We could both tell now by Jack’s body language when he had strong cards and when he was bluffing, especially now he was getting drunker, and then Peter came up with the hand he needed against what Jack thought was a winner. The bidding on the hand went on till both were totally committed, and Jack called Peter to show his cards, fairly confident that he was trying to bluff his way through yet again. Fatal error that time.
‘You made a racket after winning that last hand,’ I said.
He was drunk with success and Fourex, and became expansive.
'It couldn’t have worked better than this time. It's always best on your own turf. In your own compartment. And it didn't hurt to have you here for backup. I saw you fight Tommy Little when you were in Sub-Senior the last year I was at Gladstone High. Remember?’
Did I remember? How could I ever forget that Matter of Honour? My one and only fight at High School against a school bully who would have done Ripping Yarns proud.... We each got four cuts for that, Tommy Little and I; the penalty for fighting at school. It would have been six except I had broken his arm in the fight, and the Principal thought that four cuts with the cane on his good hand was enough before he was sent off to the hospital to get the other arm set in plaster. But that's another story.... and the last thing I wanted or expected to be on that night was Peter Moloney's backup in a gambling brawl.
'So what happened last year?'
I could have been placed on the next train home, destined to milk cows for the rest of my life….
FOOTNOTE: Sadly, I had to change the name of my Nudgee pal to protect the guilty, which is a huge pity, because he shares his real surname with one of the most notorious crim families in modern Australian history.
I can tell you for a fact that there is no family relationship between the two. Calliope people of my vintage will know why I changed it to 'Moloney', and have a bit of a chuckle.
'Peter' was simply acting in the compartment in exactly the same way as he would in a Nudgee College dormitory. A private school education does that for you. That's why so many of them are either spectacularly successful lawyers and politicians, or such glorious failures. Either way, the Old Boy network will never fail them.