There was nothing else for it but to pick up the phone on Sunday night and call Winston.

He'd respect that. It was a simple and direct act. No waiting around for him to call, no my-people will talk to your-people. Just dial the number and get things sorted to form a coalition government.

It rang, and went to his recorded message.


I turned to the team, and said, "What should I do? Leave a message? Or hang up, and send a text?"

Gerry Brownlee said, "Text. No one leaves a message these days."

Steven Joyce said, "But Winston's, what, 77 or something? He'll see that you've called, and he won't understand if you don't leave a message."

Todd McClay said, "My father Jim always taught me to leave a message, and Winston had the greatest respect for dad."

Chief of staff Wayne Eagleson said, "I think we should focus group on this one and see what the electorate thinks."

Key adviser Cameron Burrows opened his mouth to speak but Gerry said, "Who are you, anyway? I've never heard of you."

"Same," said Steven.

"Oh my God," I said.


The team looked at me. I held out my phone, and pointed at the caller ID.

I said, "James Shaw is calling me! If I pick up, does that cancel my call to Winston?"

Todd said, "What sort of phone do you have?"

Steven said, "It doesn't matter if it's Samsung or Apple or whatever. They all perform the same function."

"Shhh," I said. "I'm about to leave a message. 'Hi, James, it's Bill English here. Call me back. I'd be keen to seal a teal deal, and cut bloody old Peters out.'"

Adviser Cameron Burrows said, "I'm not sure that was wise."


Gerry said, "Who asked you?"

Wayne said, "Cameron, I don't think you understand how MMP works."

Cameron faced me, and said, "You do realise, Prime Minister, that the message you left for Mr Shaw was actually on Mr Peters's phone?"


As we prepared to meet New Zealand First for coalition talks on Thursday, I got the team to stand together in a straight line.

"Are you ready?", I asked Kelvin Davis.


"Ready," he said.

"Are you ready?", I asked Sir Michael Cullen.

"Yes," he said.

"Are you ready?", I asked Grant Robertson.

"You know it, boss," he said.

"Are you ready?", I asked chief of staff Neale Jones.


He nodded.

"And you," I asked Mike Munro, "who are you?"

"I'm your key adviser," he said, "and I'm ready."

"Good," I said. "Gentlemen, let me be perfectly clear. The stakes are high. We have a chance to be in government for the first time in a generation. It all comes down to this. We're about to walk into that room, and look Winston in the eye. It could get tense. It's going to require nerves of steel. Above all, it's going to require patience. This could stretch late into the evening. If you haven't been to the bathroom, I advise you go now."

They stared straight ahead with their arms at their side.

"Okay," I said. "Let's do this."


Twenty-five minutes later Winston waved us goodbye at the door, and said, "Let's do this again sometime."