Published at Shakespir by Peter Menadue
Copyright 2017 Peter Menadue
Cover illustration: copyright Michael Mucci at michaelmucci.com
OTHER NOVELS BY PETER MENADUE
Not Dead Yet
WRITING AS “MARK DRYDEN”
The voice sounded far away. Tony Tam’s mind floated up towards consciousness and broke the surface. His ribs ached and each gasp produced blood.
What happened to him? He scurried around inside his brain searching for a memory and slammed into a big black wall. He forced his eyes open. Bright light made him squint. A bald-headed brute was leering down at him, waving a pistol. Holy shit. Now he remembered: he came to feed the cat and two guys jumped out of nowhere and demanded to know where Patrick Arnott had gone. He said he didn’t know and they beat the hell out of him.
Baldy said: “Where’s Arnott?”
Tony tried to smile at the pistol, but his face hurt and he coughed up blood. “Dunno, honest. Came to feed the cat. Let me go – please let me go.”
“Then you’re no fuckin’ use to us.”
The second guy, behind Tony, said: “Let’s get rid of him.”
They picked up Tony and carried him across the room. A cool breeze touched his face. Where were they going? He saw the balcony railing. Oh, shit. No, no. Fear shook him to life. He writhed and grabbed at the railing, and missed.
The world tipped upside down and he plunged towards the ground, clawing at the air. His mind went into overdrive. Ten storeys to fall. Only ten. There was a big swimming pool below the balcony. That should save him. But he recently voted with the other residents to have it emptied and cleaned. Oh fuck. He screamed, threw out his arms and landed face-first in the bottom of the pool.
A solicitor called Terry Fraser asked Gary Maddox to serve a Supreme Court bankruptcy petition on a guy called Leo Parker. “I’ve already used a couple of process servers and he’s given them the slip. That’s why I need your help.”
“You mean, you now want the best in the business?”
Terry rolled his eyes. “If you say so.”
“Got an address?”
“Yeah.” Terry recited an address in Ashfield which Gary wrote down.
“What does he look like?”
“Don’t know. The credit card company doesn’t have a photo. But it knows he’s 39.”
Gary drove over to the address in Ashfield and knocked on the front door wearing an “Australia Post” shirt and holding a large brown parcel stuffed with old newspapers.
A tall, chubby guy in his late thirties opened the door and looked suspicious.
Gary smiled. “Hello. I’m from Australia Post. I have a delivery for Mr Leo Parker. Are you him?”
A slight hesitation. “No, definitely not.”
“Really? This is his address.”
“No, he used to live here. He moved out a couple of weeks ago.”
Gary squinted at the man. “Really? Are you sure? I think you’re Leo Parker.”
“No, I’m not.”
Before Gary could stick out his foot, the man jumped back and slammed the door shut.
Damn. Gary felt bloody stupid standing there, holding the parcel. But anger soon pushed that emotion aside.
Gary opened the letter box and found several items of mail addressed to “Leonard Parker”. He tore them open and found a letter from a printing company in Erskineville that confirmed the terms and conditions upon which Parker was now employed as a salesman.
The next evening, Gary sat in his car outside the printing firm and watched everyone leave. Just after six, Parker left with two other men. They strolled around the corner to a small pub called the Lord Nelson. It was an old-style pub that only offered beer on tap, and salted nuts and chips to eat. The beer-stained carpet and dust-laden chandeliers made the gloomy lighting something of a blessing. A line of antique poker machines stood against the wall like aging hookers.
In the main bar, several old guys sat on stools at the counter, hunched over their beers. They had run out of stories to tell and were waiting for the farce to end. A couple of Maoris were playing pool on an undulating and torn baize surface.
Gary slipped into a corner booth and watched Parker and his mates, sitting at a table, drinking hard and talking shit. They meticulously compared the tits of women at work. A secretary called Rosa seemed to have the finest orbs, although their authenticity was in doubt. Parker kept emitting a braying laugh.
After downing three schooners, Parker got to his feet and headed for the lavatory. Gary followed him and found it deserted, except for a closed cubicle door. He considered waiting for Parker to emerge, but why give the bastard another chance to escape? He shoved the door. The lock snapped and it swung open.
Parker sat on the loo, pants around his ankles, wearing the rapt expression of a praying monk. He looked like a deadly snake had just bitten him between the toes.
Gary said: “Sorry to bother you. I’m looking for Leo Parker. Is he in here?”
“Who the fuck’re you? Get out.”
Parker started to rise and Gary shoved him back down.
Gary said: “Don’t bother getting up. Surely, you remember me.”
Recognition slapped Parker across the face. “Umm, ah, no, I’ve never seen you before.”
“Really? I knocked on your front door yesterday. You slammed it in my face.”
Parker scowled like a man trapped in a toilet stall with his pants around his ankles. “Dunno what you’re talking about. Whaddaya want?”
“You know exactly what I want. I want to serve court papers on you.”
“What fuckin’ court papers?”
“A bankruptcy petition; a credit card company wants your shirt.”
“Dunno what you’re talking about. Don’t even own a credit card. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“Bullshit. You’re Leo Parker, right?”
“No, I’m … umm … Dennis Nelson, yes Dennis Nelson.”
Any relation to the pub? Gary sighed. A jacket hung behind the door. He felt inside it and took out a wallet. Ignoring the guy’s protests, he fished out the driver’s licence of “Leonard Bruce Parker”. It had a photo of the man on the loo.
Gary slipped the licence back inside the wallet and returned the wallet to the jacket. “Why does your driver’s licence say you’re Leonard Parker?”
Parker scowled again. “OK, I’m Leo Parker. So fuckin’ what?”
Gary opened his jacket, extracted the petition and held it out. “I now serve you with this petition.”
“I’m not gonna take it,” Parker said and crossed his arms defiantly.
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve just got to put it down in front of you.”
As Gary bent down, Parker grabbed the petition, slipped it between his legs into the toilet bowl and looked triumphant.
Gary wanted to use the toilet seat as a collar. “Listen, shithead – may I call you that? – you’ve been served, so it doesn’t matter what you do with the petition. But, just for your information, I’m going to give you another one. You drop it in the toilet and you’ll follow it, understand? I don’t care what you find down there.”
Gary opened his jacket, took out a copy of the petition and stuffed it into Parker’s shirt pocket. Parker looked sullen, but didn’t touch it.
Gary took out his smartphone and pointed it at Parker.
“What the fuck’re you doing?”
“Smile for the camera.” Gary photographed a glum-looking Parker with the petition in his top pocket. “Good. Carry on with what you were doing, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”
After Gary quit the police force, he established Bloodhound Investigations in a single room above a fish-and-chip shop in Bondi. His long-term goal was to rent a two-room suite and hire a secretary to do all the admin work. Sometimes, he even fantasised about setting up branch offices and staffing them with hand-picked operatives.
Three years later, he was still in the same room, smelling fish-and-chips all day – he could even tell when the frying oil had been changed – and doing the admin work to kid himself he was running a business. He had grown to hate the name of the firm – what was he thinking? – but wouldn’t pay a sign-writer to peel it off the front door and put up a new one. Margins were that thin.
The next morning, in the mailbox at the bottom of the stairs, he found a letter from his accountant. At his desk, he opened it and saw it contained a Tax Assessment for the previous year. He skipped through the mumbo jumbo about him not paying enough provision tax during the year, blah, blah, blah, and saw he had to pay the Tax Office $15,550 within two months. Jesus Christ. He only had about $1,000 in the bank.
His accountant was a small Chinese woman called Samantha Lee who had a hole-in-the-wall office around the corner. He phoned her and asked if she had seen the assessment.
“Yes, they sent me a copy.”
“Is it correct?”
“Of course. I would have told you if it wasn’t. “
“It seems a lot.”
“I claimed all the deductions I could. But you had some income. You owe the tax.”
Gary used Samantha because she seemed quite honest and straightforward, for an accountant. Now he feared she was too honest. Wasn’t she supposed to make his tax liabilities disappear? Maybe he should look around for a dodgier accountant.
He said: “But I’ve spent all the money – or most of it.”
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I live like a pauper. You should see the apartment I rent.”
A harsh giggle. “No thanks. Maybe you can borrow the money?”
“You mean, go into debt to pay another debt.”
“Lots of my clients do.”
“The only people who’d give me a loan charge 20 per cent a month and smash your knee-caps if you don’t repay them. Will the Tax Office take a discount?”
An even harsher giggle. “It doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid.”
“What about a deferral?”
“You’ve got to have a terminal illness or something like that. Do you have one?”
“Not yet. Shit, I can’t pay $15,550 in two months.”
“You must have debtors you can chase. Start hassling people until you’re paid. I hope you’re not too proud to collect debts.”
“Of course not,” he lied.
“But most of my debtors don’t have any money.”
“That’s no way to run a business. I can give you some management advice if you want.”
“How much will that cost?”
“Only a couple of thousand.”
“Only? Jesus. No thanks.”
“Well, if you don’t pay the Tax Office, it will bankrupt you.”
“It can’t do that. I’m going to give it every cent I’ve got.”
“Doesn’t matter; it’s absolutely heartless. But don’t worry, bankruptcy’s not so bad these days: no big stigma and you can keep a big slice of your income. So not much would change.”
The police force usually only cancelled a Private Inquiry License if a private detective was convicted of a mass murder. So, if he went bankrupt, he could keep working. But he held the quaint belief that a man – a real man – paid his debts, even to the Government. “Bankruptcy’s not an option.”
“Really? Then you’d better find the money.”
“I will, even if I’ve got to rob a bank.”
“I didn’t hear that.”
He hung up and spent the next hour morosely typing up letters of demand to outstanding debtors. They owed him about $10,000, but he’d be lucky to recover half that. Good grief. What a way to run a business.
He was desperate to get out of the office. Fortunately, he had arranged to have coffee with Terry Fraser, the solicitor who hired him to serve the bankruptcy petition on Leo Parker. They often met at a local coffee shop called Angelo’s to gossip and moan about their lives.
He left his office and strolled along the pavement towards the coffee shop. A gang of Scandinavian backpackers flip-flopped past him on their way to the beach, where they would baste themselves and imitate roasting turkeys. Bondi was a natural habitat of female fashion models. A couple of insectoid ones strolled past, chins up, counting looks, living in the eternal present.
A Federal election campaign was underway and lots of election posters were affixed to windows and power-poles. The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Angus Trewaley, represented the electorate of La Perouse, which included Bondi. His handsome visage, wearing a game-show smile, stared out of most posters, begging for votes.
Angelo’s was a black-walled café usually packed with patrons from all four corners of the world. When Gary walked in, he saw officeless professionals, jobless professionals, aspiring artists, yummie mummies, well-heeled overseas tourists and scruffy back-packers who hadn’t slept for days.
Terry had commandeered a metal table in the far corner and was jabbering into his mobile phone. Gary first met Terry when Gary worked undercover on the Drug Squad. Back then, Terry was a big swinging dick in the Armed Robbery Squad nicknamed “the Sheriff”. He was famous for standing in the middle of the main street of Parramatta and trading shots with several armed robbers as they left a bank. He emptied a whole clip without hitting any robbers or innocent bystanders. But several pedestrians filmed him with their smartphones, posted the clips on You Tube and turned him into a legend. He was lucky they did. Otherwise, he would have been charged with endangering members of the public and given desk duties in Wilcannia.
Terry loved being a cop. But as he explained to Gary: “I was risking my life for a shitty wage. I had two ex-wives and three kids to support. It was time to grow up. I knew lawyers who could barely read or write who were making a fortune; I wanted my slice of the action.”
He finished an abandoned law degree and put up his shingle in Bondi. Clients flocked to him because they loved his can-do manner, which disguised a shaky grasp of the law. He once told Gary. “I bottle confidence and sell it to my clients. They want to hear that I’ll use the law to beat their enemies to death.”
“What happens when you don’t do that?”
A shrug. “I blame the judge.”
“Does that work?”
A grin. “Like a charm.”
He was so successful that he now employed half a dozen solicitors who worked like galley slaves to make him rich. However, the faster the money came in, the faster it went out. Terry seemed hooked on debt and the stress it brought. He purchased a huge mansion in Vaucluse and a big yacht that he paid a professional skipper to drive around the harbour. His third wife had a horrific shopping addiction she refused to acknowledge. Only an SAS team could take away her credit card. Terry recently confessed to Gary: “When I was a cop, I only worried about getting shot. Now I worry about cash flow all the time. That’s a hell of a lot more stressful.”
Gary sat across from Terry, who kept talking into his mobile phone. Terry was now in his mid-fifties, with silver hair and a sizeable paunch. The caller obviously wanted him to draw up a new Will for her. After two minutes, he hung up and looked at Gary. “Sorry about that. The poor woman’s in a hospital, knocking on Death’s door. She wants to cut her kids out of her Will and give the lot to animal charities.”
“What did the kids do wrong?”
“She overheard them talk about how they’ll spend their inheritances.”
“She shouldn’t have been spying. Can she cut them out of the Will?”
“Of course. But they’ll sue her estate for support.” A big smile. “And guess who’ll act for the estate. Sometimes, we lawyers just can’t lose.”
Terry caught the eye of their usual waiter and held up two fingers to order their usual coffees. He turned back to Gary. “How’d it go with Parker?”
“Mission accomplished. I’ll send you an affidavit of service.”
“Good. Where’d you find him?”
“In a toilet cubicle.”
“How’d you end up there?”
Gary explained how he tried the parcel delivery scam and, when that failed, found out where Parker worked.
“How’d you find out?”
“You don’t want to know.”
A giggle. “I’m sure you’re right. How did your paths cross in the cubicle?”
Gary described how he followed Parker to the pub and showed Terry the photo he took of Parker on the toilet.
The cowboy cop and You Tube legend who still lurked inside Terry was impressed; the lawyer and pillar of the community was horrified. “Jesus, I hope he doesn’t go to the police.”
“There were no witnesses.”
“Good.” The waiter put their coffees in front of them. Terry took a sip. “Anyway, I’ve got more work for you.”
“I’ve got a client called Madeline Arnott. Her husband was a thoracic surgeon at St Vincent’s. When he died last year, I helped her administer his estate. Anyway, she called me about an hour ago. Her son’s missing and she wants someone to find him. I mentioned your name.”
“How old is he?”
“Early thirties. He’s an accountant, I think.”
“Maybe he’s trying to avoid her for some reason.”
“She doesn’t think so. Anyway, she’s a wealthy woman and will pay well. Will you talk to her?”
“Sure. When does she want to meet?”
“I told her to be at my office at three. Can you be there then?”
“Good.” Terry poured two satchels of sugar into his coffee and leaned back. “You’ve heard about the federal election?”
“Of course. I don’t live on Mars.”
“Who’ll you vote for?”
Terry loved politics. Indeed, he was the treasurer of the local branch of the Conservative Party and dealt regularly with Angus Trewaley. He loved boasting about the straight-talking advice he gave the opposition leader. “I tell him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.”
Gary sipped his coffee. “I haven’t decided yet.”
A frown. “You should vote Conservative.”
Gary paid little attention to politics, but saw no reason to back the party of the wealthy and big business. “Why? It’s for rich people. I’ve hardly got a bean to my name.”
“Its policies will help you become rich.”
“You mean, they’ll turn private eyes into millionaires?”
“Not straight away. But they’ll create a strong economy that gives everyone opportunities.”
“Well, for a start, cutting taxes will incentivise wealth creators.”
“Wealth creators? Who are they?”
“People like me.”
God, Terry could spew out crap. He acted like he was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur rather than a ticket-clipping lawyer. “You’re not a wealth creator.”
“Bullshit. I employ 12 people.”
“Yeah, who don’t build or make a damn thing.” He knew he should be nicer to Terry, because the guy was a great mate and his main source of work. But his pride wouldn’t let him.
A deep frown. “Jesus you’re a pain. You mean you won’t vote Conservative?”
“Who will you vote for?”
“I’ve got my eye on the Communist candidate,” he said to annoy Terry and then realised he was half-serious.
A deep frown. “A Communist is standing? I didn’t know that.”
“She doesn’t get much publicity, funnily enough. She handed me a leaflet in a shopping centre, a few days ago. We had a chat. She’s a primary school teacher. About sixty. Very nice. Speaks well. Made a lot of sense.”
Terry looked horrified. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I don’t like either major party.”
A scowl. “Hmmm. It won’t make any difference. This is a blue-ribbon Conservative seat. Angus will romp home. Most people around here would vote for him if he was caught humping a dog.”
“It that likely?”
A scowl. “Hah, hah. No, of course not.” Terry fingered a sugar satchel. “But if you want to hear what he’s got to say, he’s holding a rally at the Paddington Town Hall next Thursday. Come along. I’ll introduce you.”
“If he can’t lose this seat, why’s he campaigning here?”
“Because he’s guaranteed an enthusiastic crowd and that looks good on TV.”
Gary decided he’d annoyed Terry enough. “OK, I’ll think about it.”
“But, out of curiosity, what’s he like up close?”
“Oh, he’s a nice bloke. But, at the end of the day, he’s a politician, always working the room. Unbelievably ambitious. He’d go sky-diving without a parachute if he could be the Prime Minister on the way down. But that’s not a criticism. He’s supposed to be ambitious. No point being a pollie if you’re not.” Terry drained his coffee and jumped to his feet. “Alright, see you at three.”
Fraser & Co occupied a two-storey office suite half-way along a row of shops. On the ground floor were a reception desk and cubicle farm where toiling solicitors sacrificed the best years of their lives to make Terry Fraser rich. Terry’s office was on the first floor, overlooking the street.
Just before three o’clock, Gary strolled past the young receptionist, Bronwyn, who waved, and through the cubicles and up the stairs.
Terry’s secretary, Olga, sat at a desk just outside his office. She was a 50-year-old Ukrainian immigrant with a stocky build, wispy moustache and haphazard English. A few years ago, Terry hired a secretary who was sexy and competent. His wife, who was no fool, forced him to sack her and hire Olga, who looked like she drove a tractor to work.
Terry told Gary he suspected that Olga was planted to spy on him.
Gary said: “You can’t blame Margaret for keeping tabs on you. This is your third marriage.”
“Thanks for your support.”
Gary had given up chatting with Olga because, no matter what they discussed, she always ended up complaining about Russian aggression against her homeland. He had no idea who was right and wrong. “Hello, Olga.”
“Hello, Gaary. Teerry inside with the client. Go in. They waiting.”
Gary stepped through the open doorway and found Terry behind his big desk, facing a bird-like woman in her sixties. She wore a sleeveless blue dress and an expensive pearl necklace over a perma-tan. A small Gucci handbag sat on her lap. The Eastern Suburbs was full of ageing women who’d never had a job and spent their days playing tennis or shopping. She looked like one. Her biggest decision each day was how many cups of coffee to drink.
Terry stood up. “Welcome, Gary. Let me introduce you to Madeline Arnott.”
Gary shook a thin hand. “Hello, I’m Gary Maddox.”
Bits of her face seemed stuck in place. “Pleased to meet you. Terry’s told me about you. He said you were an undercover policeman and you’re the right man to look for my son, Patrick. He said you shake things up and get results.”
Everybody sat down and Gary said: “So, he’s missing?”
“Yes, he disappeared about a week ago. I’m very worried.”
“How did you know he disappeared?”
“He usually phones me every day or two, but hasn’t for a week. I kept phoning him and got no answer. So, a few days ago, I visited his apartment – I’ve got a key – and he wasn’t there. I’ve been back twice and he still wasn’t there.”
“Any sign he’s still sleeping or eating there?”
None. For instance, he usually throws his dirty clothes in a laundry basket. I checked it. No new clothes.”
“Any idea why he disappeared?”
Small nervous eyes. “Nope.”
“Have you checked the major hospitals?”
“Yes, and he’s not in any of them.”
“Have you told the police that he’s missing?”
“Yes. I went to Bondi Junction Police Station and saw a detective called Kelly. He wasn’t interested. He said lots of people go missing and most turn up, blah, blah, blah, and the police only have limited resources.”
If Gary was still a detective, he’d have told her much the same thing, and meant it. “That’s their standard response, I’m afraid.”
“But he said he’d put an alert on the police database and asked for some items with Patrick’s DNA – a toothbrush and a comb – in case they, umm, need them.”
The cops would need the DNA to identify Patrick if he turned up dead. “You’ve done that?”
“Terry mentioned that Patrick is an accountant?”
“Yes, he works in the city for a firm called Merton & Co.”
“Have you spoken to anyone there about him?”
“Yes, the owner, Robert Merton. I phoned him up. He said the last time he saw Patrick was last Friday evening, because Patrick didn’t turn up for work on Monday morning.”
“Did that surprise him?”
“Yes. He tried to phone Patrick and got no answer. Then he gave up. He assumed Patrick was too sick to call and would turn up eventually.”
“Did he try to contact you?”
“No. We’d never met and he didn’t have my number.”
“OK. What sort of work did you son do at the firm?”
“He didn’t like talking about his job. But I got the impression it was fairly menial. He certainly wasn’t a high flier. In fact, I think he felt like a failure.”
She twisted her hands. “Maybe my husband and I were to blame. You see, Patrick was an only child and we pushed him hard to succeed – maybe too hard. So when he wasn’t a big success, he felt like a failure.”
“Maybe he’s angry with you about that, or something else, and is avoiding you.”
“I don’t think so. He’s not that childish.”
Interesting that she didn’t entirely absolve her son of childishness. “OK. Then do you have any idea why he disappeared?”
“None at all, I’m afraid.”
In missing person cases, the joker in the pack was often suicide. Maybe Patrick took a train outside the city, wandered into bushland and topped himself. If so, he would only be found if a bushwalker stumbled upon his rotting corpse. “Is there any chance he might have, umm, harmed himself?”
She looked shocked. “Suicide? No, of course not. Patrick wasn’t – isn’t – like that.”
Mothers almost never accepted their children might self-destruct. “You’re sure?”
Her voice choked. “Yes. But I’m terrified that something bad has happened to him. He’s my only child. I must know where he is.”
Terry expertly pushed a box of tissues across his desk. She tore some out, dabbed her eyes and blew her nose.
Terry said: “Take your time. We know this is difficult.”
A cherry-eyed stare. “I’m sorry. So much has happened during the last year. First, my husband died and now my son has disappeared. When you’re a mother, you know a lot can go wrong, but you don’t expect your son will just vanish. It’s a nightmare.” She straightened up and looked determined. “But let’s keep going.”
Gary said: “OK. Did he gamble? Is there a chance he owes someone money?”
“I don’t think so. He was always very careful with his money.” She threw up her hands. “But it’s only in the last few days that I’ve realised how little I know about his life. I must find him. Will you look for him?”
“What do you charge?”
He was tempted to charge a flat fee of $15,550 and get rid of his tax debt. “I charge $1,000 a day, plus GST and expenses. You’ll get a full breakdown of the expenses with supporting documentation. You also have to pay $3,000 up front. That’s non-refundable. That OK?”
She looked at Terry and raised an eyebrow.
Terry said: “That’s a very good deal. Gary doesn’t charge enough. We’re very different in that regard.”
She looked back at Gary. “Fine, I’ll pay that.”
“Good. Now, I need to know a bit more about your son. Do you have a photo?”
She fished one out of her handbag and handed it over. “Yes, this is him, taken about a year ago.”
Gary studied a short-haired, thin-faced, undangerous-looking man in his early thirties. “Where is his apartment?”
“Does he have a car?”
“No, he catches the bus to work.”
“Does he live with anyone?”
“Just his cat.”
“I don’t think so. He doesn’t tell me much about his private life – thinks I’m too nosey. He’s had girlfriends in the past, but I don’t think there’s anyone special right now. He hasn’t had much luck with women, I’m afraid.”
“Do you know much about his social life?”
“Not much. He’s never been very sociable. But I think he met a lot more people after he joined the church.”
“The Sunrise Mission.”
The Mission was a fast-rising happy-clapper denomination that preached the prosperity bible. It got a lot more publicity than its size warranted. “Do you belong to it?”
She sniffed. “Of course not. I’m an Anglican. So was my husband. In fact, when Patrick was a boy, we took him to the local Anglican church every Sunday. I was quite shocked when he said he’d joined the Sunrise Mission.”
“Did he explain why he joined it?”
A shrug. “He said he liked its message – that’s all. I think he also liked its social atmosphere – the chance to meet lots of other young people.”
“Where did he attend services?”
“Its headquarters in Pyrmont, I think.”
Gary nodded. “OK. I’ll start looking for your son. I’ll have to visit his apartment. Can I have the address and a key?”
She took a piece of paper out of her handbag and handed it over. “I’ve written his address and mobile phone number on that, as well as my mobile number.”
Gary folded the piece of paper and slipped it inside his jacket. “Thanks.”
“And here are his door key and a swipe card to get into the building.” She took those items out of her handbag and handed them over.
He also tucked them inside his jacket. “Thanks. I also want to chat with Robert Merton. Will he speak to me?”
“Umm, I don’t know. I can phone him now and ask. He gave me his direct number.”
“Please do. Tell him I can meet him anytime tomorrow.”
“Alright.” She pulled out her mobile phone and dialled a number. When Merton answered, she explained that she had hired a “private detective” called Gary Maddox to find her son and asked if Merton would speak to him sometime tomorrow. She listened briefly and said: “Thank you”.
She ended the call and looked at Gary. “He said he wants to help and will meet you tomorrow morning at ten.”
She dropped her phone into her bag. “Now, I’ll let you get started. I just pray that Patrick is alright.”
She grabbed some more tissues and sobbed into them while the two men looked uncomfortable. Eventually, she rose and asked for Gary’s bank account details. He wrote them on a piece of paper and handed it over.
She put it in her handbag and put on a pair of huge dark glasses that looked like blast shields to stop reality. “Please keep me informed.”
Terry said: “I’ll show you out.”
After leading her down to the front entrance, Terry returned. “What do you think? Is he still alive?”
“Doubt it. Sounds like he wasn’t happy with his job or love-life, and used religion to prop himself up. When that didn’t work, he went off to a lonely place and topped himself.”
“Maybe – or maybe he’s in trouble and on the run.”
“Trouble? How much trouble can an accountant get into?”
“Lots, believe me. People claim lawyers are dodgy. But we’re little angels compared with accountants. Most are only interested in one thing – money. They love handling it, talking about it and acquiring it. Plenty are just well-dressed gangsters.”
“He’s supposed to be a strong Christian.”
Terry guffawed. “Maybe. But he joined a church that tells everybody that being poor is a sin. I reckon he owes someone money or has taken someone’s money, and that’s why he’s on the run. Anyway, poke around and see what you can find out. Just try to stay out of trouble.”
“I always do.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have much success.”
Gary had a love-hate relationship with Bondi. He adored sitting in its pubs and cafes watching the world bustle past, or strolling down its streets and tasting the sea breeze, or turning a corner and seeing the wave-flecked ocean pulled tight over the curved horizon.
However, the suburb was also full of foreign tourists who were very nice up close – even when asking how to find the beach – but clogged its iconic beach during the day and went on drunken rampages at night. They also helped make the suburb a hideously expensive place to live. Shops charged tourist prices and it cost a fortune to rent an apartment. Gary was reminded of that a year ago when a soulless killer blew up the apartment he was renting and forced him to hunt for new digs. He could only afford to rent a one-bedroom dump on the fifth floor of an ugly red-brick block a kilometre from the beach. The block had no lifts and his apartment had a panoramic view of another red-brick monstrosity. The place was so bad the landlord didn’t demand Gary provide a reference from his previous landlord. That meant Gary didn’t have to forge one. He desperately wanted to stay in Bondi, but feared this apartment his last foothold.
Gary didn’t worry about the shabby décor until he started dating a Homicide detective called Karen Phillips. Then he bought some art-house posters, a few rugged pot-plants, a third-hand leather couch and a vacuum cleaner that roared like a jet engine. He even bought some new dinner plates and insisted on cooking her a meal. Unfortunately, he over-extended himself. She chewed the meal very slowly and said she preferred edible food.
Despite that, after a year, their relationship was still going well. They shared the same bed a couple of nights a week and still laughed at each other’s jokes. In fact, he wanted them to live together permanently. But he hadn’t mentioned that because he feared she’d refuse and he wasn’t making enough money to rent a decent apartment anyway. Gary hated living in a world where everyone was judged by their wealth. But he couldn’t wormhole into another one.
Maybe it was time to get a regular job with a regular pay-cheque. The degree in criminal psychology he obtained at the Police Academy qualified him to work as a prison counsellor. But prison shrinks weren’t paid much and psychopaths behind bars loved studying them to learn “normal” behaviour.
Another option was to get a teaching diploma and teach in a high school. He met lots of messed up people when he was a cop. Maybe he could use that experience to stop schoolkids going off the rails. He’d be a hard-arsed Mr Chips – half friend and half drill instructor – who told them chilling stories to show crime didn’t pay. Sometimes, he even fantasised that Hollywood would make a movie about his inspirational teaching methods. He knew he was being ridiculous, of course. But such thoughts did lighten his mood.
Karen had promised to be at his apartment at 7pm. She was late and he turned on the television to watch the ABC evening news. The lead story was about the federal election campaign. There were no big developments. The Prime Minister, Vincent Barnard, and the Opposition Leader, Angus Trewaley, had both spent the day in Perth cruising through factories and shopping centres, shaking hands, kissing babies and sniping at each other. The Prime Minister caused some controversy when he said he was open to the idea of taxing religious organisations to help reduce the Government’s massive budget deficit; the Opposition Leader said it was an appalling attack on religious freedom. The news item finished and he heard a knock on the door.
He turned off the television and opened it. Karen stood outside, wearing grey slacks and the capacious black jacket that hid her pistol when on duty. It would be in the armoury now. She was solid, without being chunky, and had an open face. He loved her brusque manner and dry humour. She was one of those women who warned you she was tough and pushy, and then proved it. A small bag containing her overnight gear was slung over her shoulder.
The climb had left her slightly flushed. “Hello, baby. That’s quite a climb. I think I passed a mountain goat on the way up. It was having a breather.”
She was joking about being unfit because she went to the gym three times a week and had a brown belt in karate.
After a long kiss, he said: “I must admit, I hardly notice the climb – only seems like a few steps to me.”
A laugh. “Yeah, right. Anyway, I’ve starving. What are we doing for dinner?”
“I heard about a new place – seafood – down at the beach; I booked a table. It’s supposed to be good. We’d better give it a try before it becomes an overpriced tourist dive.”
“You mean, I’ve got to go back down those stairs?”
“Yes, unless you want me to whip up something in the kitchen.”
She looked horrified. “You’re a lousy cook.”
“I cook with lurve.”
“Yeah, and too much salt. Get your jacket. We’re going to the restaurant.”
After he grabbed his jacket, they descended the stairs and strolled down to Campbell Parade that skirted along the beach. Inside the restaurant, a waiter seated them at the front window. Below them, silvery waves darted out of darkness and broke onto ivory-toned sand.
After they’d ordered their meals, he picked up a carafe of water with his right hand and filled her glass. She glanced at his hand, which had no little finger. He felt self-conscious because, soon after he met her, a crooked cop amputated the finger without permission or anaesthetic. In response, Gary killed the cop and lied to Karen that he lost the finger in an accident.
She obviously wasn’t convinced, but let the matter rest. Was that because she didn’t care that he might have killed someone? Or did it still prey on her mind and might come back to haunt their relationship? He couldn’t be sure.
She said: “How was your day?”
“Got a new job: a mother wants me to find her missing son.”
“Good. Is the son anyone interesting?”
“Only to the mother.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s an accountant.”
“Oh, nuff said.”
“Exactly. How was your day?”
A sigh. “We still haven’t caught the knifeman.”
She was the number two in a Homicide team investigating the murder of an old wino stabbed and tossed into a dumpster in Surry Hills a few days ago.
“Nope. Poor old bastard probably didn’t know the murderer and there are few CCTV cameras in the area.” She leaned forward. “But I got some good news today. Inspector Marks has recommended me for promotion.”
“Fantastic. He thinks you’ll get it?”
“He seems confident.”
Gary was both pleased she would get promoted and worried that, if she moved up the ladder, she would want a better companion than a penurious private investigator. He tried to appear more eligible. “Umm, I’ve been thinking about my career – or non-career. Maybe I should go back to uni.”
A lifted eyebrow. “Why?”
“To get a teaching diploma.”
“You want to teach?”
“Yeah, in high school.”
She laughed, hard. “Are you serious?”
He frowned. “Yes. I’d like to help kids go down the right path.”
“You mean you want to give them some tough love?”
Her understanding of him was rather scary. “Well, yes, I guess, when necessary.”
“Jesus, you’ll scare the shit out of the little guys.”
“No, I won’t. I’ll be very nice to them.”
“You’ll try, but you do tend to intimidate people.”
“So I intimidate you?”
She smiled. “Yes, sometimes. Then I remember you’re really a big softy. Anyway, I thought you enjoyed your job.”
“I do. But the money’s lousy and I can’t spend the rest of my life doing workers’ comp surveillance and serving court process.”
He couldn’t say that, if he did, she might decide to trade up. He shrugged. “Got to keep moving forward.”
Her stare illuminated every crevice of his soul. “Well, don’t think you’ve got to change career to please me.”
He stayed composed. “I don’t.”
The food arrived and it was as delicious as he was told. Afterwards, he said he would pay the bill.
She said: “You always pay the bill. It’s my turn.”
“No, it’s not, because I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy.”
“I’ve worked that out.”
He paid and they strolled back up the hill towards his apartment. Half-way there, they ducked into The Jungle Club for a beer. It had blond-wood panelling, flashing lights, a concrete floor and metal furniture. The cleaners probably hosed it out after hours. The pulsing music forced everyone to yell. Gary would be especially annoyed if Coldplay ruined his hearing.
They sat at the long counter and he scanned the crowded room. Most patrons were sunburnt backpackers from all four corners of the world. They were trying to find out how much sex and how little sleep they could get while in Sydney.
She looked at a large group dancing in a corner and yelled. “Do you want to dance?”
He frowned. “I don’t dance.”
“You mean, never?”
She giggled. “Why not? No rhythm? Too uptight?”
He was too big to dance well. “I’m not good at it.”
“I don’t care if you’re no good.”
She grinned. “You mean, if you’re no good at something, you don’t do it?”
“I bet you miss out on a lot.”
He smiled. “Less than you think.”
She laughed. “OK, I won’t force you.”
She bought them both schooners of beer. He sipped his and yelled: “I’m getting too old for places like this.”
She laughed and yelled back: “Me too.”
They lapsed into a companionable silence and listened to a drunken young couple scream at each other. The industrial-strength music made them incoherent.
The woman wore a blue bandage dress and high-heel shoes. She stood and glared at her boyfriend. “Fuck off, you dickhead, I’m leaving.”
He grabbed her wrist. “You’re not going anywhere, you bitch.”
She grimaced. “Let me go, you’re hurting me.”
“Sit down, you cow.”
Gary stood and stared at the guy. “Let her go.”
The guy had a sullen face and booze-glazed eyes. His black T-shirt revealed heavy shoulders and a shitty tattoo-sleeve. “Who the fuck’re you?”
Karen put a hand on Gary’s shoulder. “Let me handle this.”
Gary didn’t want to back off. But it was her job to keep public order, not his, and he had to respect that. He stepped back. “OK.”
Karen stepped forward and yelled. “Leave her alone.”
Words and spittle flew out. “And who the fuck’re you?”
“I’m a police detective. Do what you’re told.”
“Bullshit you’re a cop.”
Karen pulled out a plastic card and shoved it under the guy’s nose. “This is my ID. Satisfied? Now let her go.”
The kid scowled and let go of the woman. “If you weren’t a cop, I’d take you apart.”
“Really?” She handed her ID to Gary. “I’m not a cop now. Come on, take a shot.”
She balanced on her toes, the way the martial arts instructors at the Police Academy taught.
The guy seemed to sober up a little and showed his palms. “You’re a chick.”
“Forget about that.”
The guy nodded towards Gary. “And what’s he gonna do?”
“Nothing. He’s just a spectator.”
The kid looked ready to take up her invitation, then shook his head. “Nah, you’re still a cop. I’d get into deep shit. You cops stick together. I’m outa here.”
He disappeared through a clump of patrons and Karen turned to his girlfriend. “You OK?”
She swayed drunkenly and looked annoyed. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Do you need help? You can get an AVO order against him if you want.”
A frown. “I’ll be fine. You shouldn’t have been so mean to him.”
“I was trying to protect you.”
A false eyelash started to detach. “I don’t need protection. He’s my boyfriend. Now I’ve got to find him. Goodbye.”
The woman tottered off and Karen looked at Gary. “Not much gratitude.”
Gary smiled. “You should know better. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
As they strolled up the hill towards the apartment, holding hands, she said: “Thanks for letting me handle that. I know you were desperate to get involved.”
“You’re the cop, not me.”
“What would you have done if he threw a punch?”
“If he touched a hair on your head, I’d have ripped off his head and drunk beer from his skull.”
She laughed. “Attaboy. I expected that.”
They walked another hundred yards and he said. “If you were alone, would you have challenged him to a fight?”
She giggled. “Of course not. He was twice as strong as me. I’m not that stupid.”
He laughed. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Back in the apartment, they sat on the couch and watched a movie on the television. It was about humans making first contact with aliens. However, when nobody shot at the aliens, Gary got bored. Half-way through, they started fondling each other and soon had their clothes off. The sex lasted for an hour and finished in bed. She really was fit. Afterwards, he stared at the ceiling, exhausted, and wondered if this was the right moment to suggest they start living together. It probably was, but he lost his courage.
The next morning, a Friday, they ate breakfast together in the kitchen. He said: “What are we doing this weekend?”
She sighed. “I’ve got to work both days, I’m afraid. The trail’s getting cold.”
That would give him plenty of time to search for Patrick Arnott. Excellent. “That’s OK, I’ve got work to do.”
She smiled. “Good. I’ll drop over tomorrow night.”
She put her plate in the dishwasher. “Ciao, baby. Be good.”
When she’d gone, he pulled out his phone and accessed his bank account. Someone had, with a few keystrokes, made him $3,000 wealthier. Time to earn that money. He got to his feet and headed for work.
Both of Gary’s two business suits were demode and falling apart. For his meeting with Robert Merton, he chose the one with the most remaining buttons. He also ironed his shirt with an unpractised hand.
He caught a bus to Sydney Town Hall and strolled down sunless canyons, in which the air barely stirred, towards the harbour. Pedestrians scurried in all directions. They included shoppers and corporate clones who’d snuck out of their cubicles for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. Thank God he wasn’t a white-collar slave like them. If that meant being dirt poor, so be it.
The skyscraper which housed Merton & Co was a block back from the harbour. Gary got out of a lift onto the 65th floor, feeling self-conscious about his suit, and introduced himself to a well-toned blonde receptionist. “I’ve got an appointment to see Robert Merton.”
She phoned someone and announced that “Mr Maddox” had arrived. After listening briefly, she hung up and said Merton would be out “as soon as possible”.
The waiting area had several puffy leather couches on a marble chessboard floor. A huge glass wall provided a spectacular view of the Harbour. Merton & Co was not a big firm – it only occupied half the floor – but was obviously doing well.
He sat and watched ferries and cruise liners plough frothy furrows in the water. Behind him, expensive suits with people in them dashed in and out of the lifts. After half an hour, a tall, silver-haired man in his mid-forties, wearing a bespoke Italian suit and glittering cufflinks, emerged from a corridor and headed towards Gary. His self-satisfied expression and jaunty stride said he owned the joint.
Gary realised that instead of wearing a suit – and trying to compete – he should have stayed true to himself and worn a faded sports jacket and jeans. He climbed into the ring with the wrong man.
The guy had still blue eyes. “Mr Maddox?”
“Robert Merton. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
They shook hands and Gary realised he already disliked Merton’s superior attitude and would soon dislike the rest of him.
“Don’t mention it. Thanks for finding the time to see me.”
“No problem. I’m very worried about Patrick. His mother said you’ve been hired to find him. You’re a private investigator, right?”
“Well, I’m anxious to provide whatever help I can. Come into my office.”
He led Gary down a mahogany corridor lined with paintings. Most looked like the artist threw rotten fruit and eggs at the canvas; the last showed a naked woman with a misshapen arse and extra breast.
They stepped into a huge corner office with cherry wood paneling and chrome furniture. The adjustable desk was bare except for a capped fountain pen. No books, folders or computer cluttered its surface. The desk said the occupier of the room was a strategic thinker. Others handled the details.
Near the door, a leather couch and two armchairs surrounded a coffee table.
Merton said: “Please, take a seat.”
Gary dropped into an armchair that sucked him towards the centre of the earth.
Merton unbuttoned his jacket and sat opposite. Over his shoulder, on a shelf, were photos of a woman and two children.
Gary said: “You’ve got a very impressive operation, here.”
“Thank you. This is a boutique accountancy firm. I only employ five accountants and all clients are high-net-worth individuals.”
“That counts me out.”
A thin smile. “Too bad.”
“What sort of work do you do for them?”
“A variety of accountancy work, of course. But the main aim is to structure their financial arrangements to make them more efficient.”
“You mean, to reduce their tax bills?”
A sharp stare. “That’s one – but only one – consequence of doing so. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody wants to pay more tax than necessary. Now, I understand you want to ask some questions about Patrick?”
“Yes. How long has he worked for you?”
“About three years.”
“A good accountant?”
Merton’s eyes wandered. “I have no complaints.”
Gary expected him to praise a staff member who had gone missing. Merton obviously thought little of Arnott’s talents. “When did you last see him?”
“Last Friday, when he left work.”
“Did you notice anything unusual about his behaviour?”
A shrug. “No, I didn’t think anything was wrong until he failed to turn up on Monday morning and didn’t contact me.”
“You were surprised?”
“Of course. If employees can’t make it to work they always call to explain why. After a couple of hours, I got worried and tried to call him on his mobile. No answer. I kept trying for the rest of the day and got no response.”
“Did you make any other inquiries?”
“I asked some of the other staff, of course, if they’d heard from him, but they hadn’t. There was nobody else I could contact: I knew his mother was still alive, but didn’t have her number.” A shrug. “After that, I assumed he was admitted to hospital for some reason and would turn up sooner or later. It may sound harsh, but I was very busy and had lots of other things to worry about.”
“I understand. Now, umm, was he working for any particular clients when he disappeared?”
A steely glare. “That’s confidential information. But I can assure you his disappearance had nothing to do with his job – nothing.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because this is an accountancy firm. People don’t disappear because of their work.”
His vehemence made Gary suspicious. “I understand. But can I, umm, talk to some of his workmates? I won’t ask them about his clients, I promise. I just want to ask about his social life.”
A frown. “No, I don’t want you to do that.”
“They’re all very busy. Your presence would be a big distraction.”
“I won’t take up much of their time.”
A scowl. “No.”
Gary sighed. “That’s up to you, I guess. Can you tell me about his life outside the firm?”
“You mean, his social life?”
“Not really. We didn’t chat much about that. All I know is that he’s single and belongs to the Sunrise Mission.”
“He mentioned the church?”
“Yes. He joined it about a year ago. Got very excited about the whole thing. I think he hoped to convert me.”
“You weren’t interested?”
“Of course not. I’m not religious. I only believe in double-entry book-keeping. Now, tell me: do you have any idea what happened to him?”
“None at all; I’ve just started the hunt.”
“Fair enough.” Merton abruptly rose to his feet. “Well, if I can be of any further assistance, please let me know.”
“I will. I’ll see myself out.”
Gary expected Merton to insist on showing him to the lifts. Merton just nodded. “Fine.”
When searching for a missing person, Gary often used a computer hacker called Vincent Drew to hunt for the digital spores that people left scattered around. On the pavement outside the skyscraper, he phoned Drew. No answer. Damn. Drew was often hard to contact – usually because he was war gaming with internet buddies – so Gary wasn’t surprised. But he realised how much he had come to depend on the guy’s hacking skills to search the cyber-world. He’d try again later.
Gary had a backlog of court documents to serve on four people. He spent the afternoon dashing around the Eastern Suburbs serving them. Fortunately, his targets were all at the addresses he was given and none tried to flee.
That evening, he ate a Thai takeaway dinner in his unit. Then he drove over to the apartment building in Drummoyne where Patrick Arnott lived. It was dark when he arrived, just after 8pm. The 15-storey building seemed to lean over a small glittering cove with sailing boats and motor cruisers swinging at their moorings.
He used the swipe card that Madeline Arnott gave him to enter the building and catch a lift up to the tenth floor, where five front doors lined one side of the hallway. The door of Apartment 103 was in the middle. He gingerly knocked in case Patrick Arnott was now un-missing. No response. But he heard what sounded like a faint scream from somewhere. Did it come from inside the apartment? Was it even a scream? He wasn’t sure.
Slightly puzzled, he unlocked the door, pushed it open and stepped into the apartment. Faint moonlight flowed over a balcony and created just enough lines and shadows to reveal a large living area. A soft breeze indicated the glass doors to the balcony must be open. Maybe Arnott forgot to close it when he left.
He took a couple of steps into the room and the ceiling light snapped on. Shit. His eyes quickly adjusted and he found himself staring at the muzzle of a big pistol a metre away. His nerves sizzled, particularly when he saw the guy holding it was a monstrosity, with massive sloping shoulders and a tiny bald head that looked hail-damaged. He looked like he could bench press a fridge. A permanent sneer was his most pleasant feature. Pulling the trigger, many times, would obviously give him great joy.
The guy stood in the middle of the room. So how did he turn on the light? Oh, shit.
A voice behind Gary said: “Don’t fuckin’ move.”
Gary instinctively spun around and saw another guy with another big pistol. This one was taller and slimmer, with a hatchet face and matching sneer.
“I told you not to move. What’re you doing here?”
Gary had to scrape the words off his tongue. “I-I could ask you the same question.”
A give-me-your-wallet smile. “Yeah, but I’m holding a pistol, right? You’re looking for Arnott, aren’t you?”
Gary played for time while his brain digested current events. “Arnott?”
“Don’t play games – Patrick Arnott, the dude who owns this apartment.”
“Ah, yes, Patrick. Yes, I’m a friend; I just dropped in to see him.”
“Bullshit, you’re looking for him, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m just a friend. I guess he’s not here, so I’d better be going.”
Hatchet-face chuckled. “Not so fast. Tell us who you’re working for.”
“I’m not working for anyone. I’m just a friend.”
The guy raised his pistol and made Gary’s heart race. “Tell me or I’ll drop you now.”
Baldy, behind Gary, sounded agitated. “Tony, we got no time for this. We gotta get out of here. Let me shoot him.”
Gary’s racing heart came to a screeching halt.
Hatchet-face pursed his lips. “No.”
A saturnine smile. “Nah, we’ll leave him here. He can take the rap.”
The rap for what? Gary was tempted to ask but didn’t want to interfere with their plan to let him live.
A giggle behind him. “Yeah, good idea.”
Gary heard a couple of steps and started to turn. His head exploded with pain and the room disappeared.
Gary floated in a dark void. A fuzzy blob hovered outside his brain and there was a wailing sound in the distance. What happened to him? Why was everything dark? Was he dead? Was he blind?
The fuzzy blob started drifting towards his brain and he realised it was pain. It attached itself to the back of his skull and ignited. He writhed in agony. Jesus Christ. But the pain meant he was alive, surely. Something must have knocked him out. But was he blind?
He forced open an eyelid. Light punched him in the eye. His blurry vision slowly sharpened and he saw, a few centimetres away, the zig-zag pattern of a carpet. Must be lying on his stomach. Where? He popped open his other eyelid and waited until his eyes co-ordinated. Then he lifted his rock-like head and saw he was in the living room of an apartment. How did he get here? Memories flooded back. This was Patrick Arnott’s apartment. But, when he entered, a couple of thugs pointed pistols at him and asked a lot of questions. Then they decided to let him “… take the rap” for something and a brute knocked him out.
The wailing noise got louder. Sounded like a siren. Christ, it was one. From an ambulance? Or a police car? The siren accused him of doing something bad. What? He had no idea and no desire to wait around and find out. Despite the pain, he had to move fast. He put his hand on the ridge of a couch and heaved himself to his feet. The top of his spine stabbed the base of his brain. Motes danced in front of his eyes.
He steadied himself and saw blood on the carpet in front of him. His? He wiped the back of his head and studied his palm. No blood. He examined his clothes. Still no blood. Must be someone else’s. Whose?
He felt a cool breeze on his cheek again and saw the balcony doors were open. That was strange. Patrick Arnott wouldn’t have left them open when he left the apartment. So the thugs must have opened them. Why? What were they doing out on the balcony? Maybe, if he went out there, he would learn why the siren was wailing.
Despite desperately wanting to flee, he stumbled across the room and through the doors. A large tabby cat sat nonchalantly on a corner of the balcony railing, staring at him, heedless of the precipice.
He looked over the railing. Between the building and the shoreline was a large floodlit swimming pool empty of water. A couple of people stood beside the pool, looking at a spreadeagled body in the bottom of the deep end. It was impossible to identify the body because, apart from being distant, it was face down. But he sensed, from its shape, that it was male.
Jesus. The guy must have plunged from this balcony. Maybe the thugs threw him off? Yes, that’s what must have happened. That was why the evil bastards were so desperate to escape the apartment and leave him behind.
“He can take the rap.”
Bloody hell. The sound of the siren was deafening. Panic squeezed the pain from his head.
Gary took a few deep breaths and told himself to calm down. Think, think. He could wait for the cops and tell them he was an innocent bystander. They might believe him, but probably not, because cops don’t believe in that concept. The first person to report a body is usually their first suspect. So he had to get out of the apartment fast. As he left the balcony, he noticed the cat was gone. Must have disappeared back inside.
He wanted to remove any fingerprints or DNA he left on the front-door handle. So he strode into the kitchen and found a dirty bench wiper, which he carefully wet under the tap. He used it to wipe the handle. Then he closed the front door behind him and stuffed the wiper into his pocket.
It was bad enough that a CCTV camera in the lobby would have filmed him enter the building. He didn’t want to descend in the lift and get filmed again. Nor did he want to run into any police or ambulance officers entering the building.
Instead, he scuttled into the fire escape and descended twenty flights of stairs, reaching the bottom out of breath and light-headed. He put the wet cloth over the handle of the exit door, pulled the door open and peered out into the grey light. When his eyes had adjusted, he saw a driveway and low fence between him and the next apartment building. The siren had stopped, but there was no sign of a police car or ambulance. He looked around for a CCTV camera and saw none.
He scuttled across the driveway, hurdled the fence and landed in a clump of bushes. After looking around to confirm nobody saw him, he strolled along a path that circled behind the apartment building and went up the other side. When he reached the pavement, he saw two police cars with flashing lights parked about fifty metres away, outside the apartment building he had just fled. Neither vehicle was occupied. The officers must have gone around to the pool to see the body. Half-a-dozen local residents had already gathered on the nature strip to observe the commotion. Fortunately, Gary had parked his car about a hundred metres away in the other direction. He strolled over to it and slowly – ever so slowly – drove off.
As he turned onto Victoria Road and headed towards the city centre, he finally had time to ponder recent events. He was obviously not the only person searching for Arnott. Two thugs were also in pursuit. Did they catch up with Arnott at the apartment and throw him off the balcony? Was his body face-down on the floor of the pool?
No, it wasn’t Arnott, because Hatchet-face said to Gary: “Where is Arnott?” Hatchet-face wouldn’t have asked that if he and his mate threw Arnott off the balcony. They obviously threw someone else off it. Who? Gary had no idea.
Shit. What on earth was going on? He took a simple assignment to find a missing accountant. Now it was spiralling out of control. Questions crowded into his mind. Who were the thugs? Why were they hunting for Arnott? Who did they throw off the balcony? What was that person doing in Arnott’s apartment? Gary didn’t bother searching for answers, because he would just be chasing his own tail.
He didn’t like drinking booze in his apartment. But that night, when he got home, he downed two beers before getting into bed. To his surprise, he soon fell asleep. He dreamed about falling off a building and woke screaming just before he hit the ground.
When Gary woke the next morning, he felt like his brain had been dragged behind a car and then given to a dog to gnaw. But he didn’t seem to have a hangover. Then he remembered getting hit on the head in Patrick Arnott’s apartment and seeing the body in the empty pool. Surely, those events didn’t happen. But his headache confirmed they did.
Should he tell Madeline Arnott that a couple of thugs, who threw someone off a balcony, were chasing after her son? She was, after all, paying him to supply information about the kid and the thugs might shake her down for information about his whereabouts.
However, if he told her what happened, she would freak out and run to the police, which was the last thing he wanted. His only option was to find her son as soon as possible. In the meantime, she, like all living creatures, would have to take her chances.
He slouched into the kitchen, gingerly feeling the swelling on the back of his head, and made a bowl of porridge. While slowly munching, he listened to a news bulletin on ABC radio. No mention of a death in Drummoyne. That didn’t surprise him. The news media had probably assumed the guy in the bottom of the pool was a jumper, so his death wasn’t worth reporting. It would only touch the story if the Homicide Squad announced it had opened a murder investigation and asked the public for help. That wouldn’t happen for several days, if at all.
Unfortunately, if the detectives did suspect murder, there was a good chance they would come knocking on Gary’s door. The CCTV camera in the lobby must have filmed him enter the building. If the detectives watched that film they would surely notice that a big guy with a shock of dark hair entered the building just before the death-plunge. It was also quite possible that one of the detectives would remember Gary from his days as a cop.
The news bulletin finished and a talk-back host interviewed a man planning to walk to the South Pole for charity. Gary had no respect for silly bastards who went looking for trouble. Life was already chock-full of danger, as the last 24 hours had shown. After putting his bowl in the dishwasher, to hide it from high-altitude cockroaches, he showered and dressed.
Soon after Gary became a private investigator, he realised that lots of the information he needed to do his job was locked away in the computer databases of banks, phone companies, government departments and the like. He had to employ someone who could sneak past their defences, ransack their electronic files and escape without detection. Fortunately, another private investigator recommended a computer hacker called Vincent Drew. Gary found Vincent was brilliant at his job and hired him regularly.
Gary had been trying to contact Vincent and enlist his help in the search for Patrick Arnott. He mobile phoned the guy again. Still no answer. Damn. Time to drive over to Vincent’s house and knock on the front door to find out if he was lying low for some reason.
Gary drove over to the run-down terrace in Redfern which Vincent shared with several computers, and knocked on the door. Thankfully, after 30 seconds, it swung open to reveal the hacker.
Vincent had frizzy hair, spotty skin and a face that only displayed stifled emotions. He once answered the front door wearing a Batman costume for reasons he never bothered to disclose. Today, he wore soiled jeans and a grubby white T-shirt with Darth Vader staring out of it. It was easy to believe he was a computer whiz with poor social interface.
When they first met, Vincent claimed he only worked as an “information broker” to support himself while studying for a doctorate in statistics. Gary asked how long he’d been studying. Vincent replied: “Ten years, because my thesis supervisor is an idiot. My ideas will revolutionise the field, but he’s too stupid to see that.”
Three years later, Gary reckoned the thesis supervisor deserved a medal for gallantry, because Vincent was a potent mixture of arrogance and insensitivity who had obviously become an eternal student to escape the demands of normal life.
Vincent’s face twitched. “Gary, whatchya doing here?”
“I’ve been trying to contact you for a couple of days. Where have you been?”
“I’ve been in combat.”
“Yeah, been wargaming for 36 hours. My squad was fighting some Swedish dudes. Bastards ambushed us. But we wiped them out in the end.”
Drew claimed to be the best war-game sniper in Australia, if not the world. Gary had no idea if that was true or not. “So you survived?”
“Of course. But plenty of my team didn’t make it,” he said mournfully.
“I hope you brought all of your dead home.”
“Of course. Nobody was left behind.”
Gary wondered if Vincent was pulling his leg and realised he wasn’t. To Vincent, the cyber world was the real world. Gary found his sincerity oddly affecting. “That’s good.”
“Anyway, come inside.”
Gary followed Vincent into a dusty living room with peeling wallpaper, decaying furniture and an odour of mildew he had to push through. Vincent’s mother owned the place and let her son stay for free. Gary wished he had that deal.
Gary sat on the couch and shifted his buttocks to avoid being impaled.
Drew sat opposite. “How can I help?”
“I’m trying to find a guy called Patrick Arnott – an accountant – who disappeared about a week ago. His mum’s worried about him. I need your help.”
“Is he still alive?”
“OK. Give me all the details you’ve got.”
Gary had written Patrick Arnott’s home and work addresses, and phone number, on a piece of paper, which he handed over. “This should get you started. Make all the usual checks: social media, hospitals, bank accounts, airline passenger lists … but start with his phone records.”
A scowl. “I know my job.”
“I know. I also want you to get into the COPS computer. Can you do that?”
A frown. “I can get into some of it, but not all.”
“They’ve upgraded the security – a lot – and I haven’t had time to crack it. Why do you want to get into COPS?”
“A guy went over a balcony in Drummoyne last night and fell ten storeys. I want to know what the police are doing about it. Who’s handling the investigation? How are they treating the death? Are there any suspects?”
“Why? Was this guy murdered?”
“I think so.”
“Don’t be rude.”
“I wasn’t being rude. I don’t care if you’ve murdered someone. Be kind of cool, actually.”
Just when Vincent started to seem normal he said stuff like that. “Well, I didn’t.”
A shrug. “Too bad. Anyway, I’ll try to get into COPS but, like I said, it’s not easy right now.”
“OK. Can you get into the ambulance database?”
“Sure, that’s easier. What for?”
“To find out whose body was carted away.”
“You don’t know who died?”
“OK. Will do.”
“And don’t leave any trace.”
Drew looked affronted. “I never leave a trace – you know that. I’m like Cary Grant in that old movie, about the cat-burglar …”
“To Catch a Thief?”
“Yeah. I’m an internet cat-burglar.”
Gary wondered why he’d never made the connection before. He once asked Vincent what he thought of Edward Snowden and Vincent said: “The dude’s heart was in the right place, but he was a bungling amateur. Shouldn’t have got caught.”
Gary said: “Alright, call me when you’ve got something.”
“Will do. I’ll action this as soon as possible.”
“Why not now?”
“Can’t. You’re not my only client, you know. I’ve got other clients who want me to do stuff.”
Gary growled. “You mean, more important clients?”
“No, clients who asked me first.”
“You’re only behind with your work because you farted around war gaming with your buddies.”
“I’m entitled to have a life too, you know.”
That was hardly a life. “How long will you take?”
“Give me about 24 hours.”
Gary sighed unhappily. “OK, call when you’ve got something.”
Gary left Vincent Drew’s house with time on his hands. The next morning, he would attend the Sunday church service of the Sunrise Mission, at Pyrmont, in case Patrick Arnott turned up. But until then his hunt for the guy had stalled.
Driving back to Bondi, he thought, for the first time in a long while, about his father, George Maddox, who died three years ago. His father was a semi-legendary cop who Gary hugely admired. So Gary got a big shock when, on his deathbed, his father revealed that he had buried $300,000 in his backyard and wanted Gary to have it. His father didn’t explain how he acquired the money, but must have done something dirty. Gary felt betrayed and didn’t want to stay in the police force and compete with a lie. So, after his father’s funeral, he quit and gave the money to a charity.
His father and mother were buried, side-by-side, in South Head Cemetery. Because he was angry with his father, he hadn’t visited their graves since his father was interred. However, the events in Patrick Arnott’s apartment gave him a big jolt. He kept remembering the pistol pointing at his gut and the spread-eagled body in the bottom of the waterless pool. He wished he could discuss those events with his father, who would have given him good advice and comfort. That realisation dissipated the anger he felt towards his dad. Maybe it was time to visit his parents’ graves.
Instead of parking behind his office, he drove down to the beach esplanade, where he turned left and followed the coast for a couple of kilometres until he reached South Head Cemetery.
He parked in the car park just inside the main gates. From there, the cemetery tipped down to the sea, giving every grave a dress-circle view of the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, the beauty of the scene, which only the living could enjoy, gave death an extra sting.
His parent’s graves were about half-way down the hill. When he reached them he saw, to his surprise, that a bunch of fresh red roses sat on his father’s grave. Who on earth put them there? Gary was an only child and his parents had no close relatives still alive in Sydney. Very strange.
He sat on a nearby tombstone and looked out over the ocean. Cotton-ball clouds speckled the tall blue sky and sent fleet shadows racing across the water. The panoramic view made the follies of mankind – including any his father committed – seem insignificant. Anyway, what right did he have to judge his father without hearing his side of the story? Maybe his father had a good explanation for how he acquired the money. And, if he didn’t, surely a good son would forgive him.
Gary relaxed and bathed in the breeze while letting the sun drag its warm tentacles across his face. He dredged up happy memories of his father and forgot about the money. After twenty minutes, feeling refreshed, he got up and returned to his car, still wondering who left the flowers and feeling guilty he brought none himself. Next time, he would.
That evening, Karen dropped over to his apartment, just before seven o’clock, toting some Vietnamese takeaway. They ate it on the couch while watching a mindless sitcom.
Fortunately, his hair hid the bump on the back of his head and she didn’t probe him about what he’d been doing for the last few days. However, because he’d recently fled a murder scene, afraid of being accused of the crime, he felt rather uncomfortable sitting on a couch with a Homicide detective.
When the sitcom finished, he said casually: “You know, I visited my folks’ graves this afternoon.”
He had previously told her that he was angry with his father for burying tainted money in his backyard.
She looked surprised and smiled. “That’s good – really good. I’m glad you did that.”
“I thought you would be. How’s your investigation of the wino’s death going?”
A sigh. “Nowhere, I’m afraid.”
“If you don’t catch a culprit soon, you’ll have to frame someone.”
A big grin. “Maybe. But I hope that won’t be necessary.”
Gary had an unlicensed pistol hidden in his apartment that he never carried around on jobs. However, a couple of heavily armed thugs were chasing after Patrick Arnott and there was a good chance Gary would encounter them again. So, while eating breakfast the next morning, he wondered whether to start carrying it around.
If the thugs turn up again, it would be nice to have the pistol available for self-defence. But he didn’t want to get involved in a shoot-out and, if caught in possession of an unlicensed weapon, could do serious gaol time.
He eventually decided to leave the pistol where it was. If he saw the thugs again, he would back off fast and certainly wouldn’t try to protect Patrick Arnott. He was a private eye, not a bodyguard, and paid accordingly. If the thugs wanted to shoot Arnott, that was their business.
Just before 9am, he put on his Sunday best – a threadbare sports jacket – and headed for the headquarters of the Sunrise Mission in Pyrmont to attend the Sunday service.
Pyrmont was a small suburb tucked in the lee of the soaring cliffs of the central business district. Fifty years ago, its numerous residential terraces and waterfront warehouses gave it an old-world charm. However, most of those buildings had tasted a wrecking ball and the suburb was now full of glass-box business premises, high-rise apartment buildings and university campuses.
The headquarters of the Sunrise Mission was a huge converted warehouse near the harbour. It had a one-star restaurant, two coffee shops, a gym, a bookshop and a 3000-seat auditorium. A huge banner above the entrance said: “Put sunshine in your life at the Sunrise Mission.”
Just after nine o’clock, Gary joined the throng of hipsters and yuppies pushing through a bank of glass doors into the entrance hall. Few were over thirty. Half were staring at or talking into a smartphone.
The hall had a huge tile mural of Jesus lecturing his disciples. The Son of God had bleached blond hair, a neat beard and flowing robes. His followers looked like hipsters studying Religion 101. Soon they would all head for the communal table at a local café.
Gary was not a god-fearing man. He believed, in the words of Ray Charles, that: “…You only live but once, and when you’re dead you’re done …” However, he accepted that religion provided an antidote to the hell of existence for those who couldn’t cope with booze or drugs.
In any event, he was there to find Patrick Arnott, not God. So he lingered in the entrance hall, keeping an eye out for his quarry.
Dark-suited ushers moved about chivvying attendees into the auditorium. He managed to dodge them for fifteen minutes, until a pint-sized guy with a carrot-top and freckles cornered him, and doused him with goodwill.
“Hey buddy, you’d better go inside. The service is about to start.”
“Thanks. Will do.”
The guy had the over-bright smile of someone who might jump off a building at any time. “God loves you.”
“Umm, yeah, thanks. He’s a good guy.”
He found the auditorium almost full. Catchy pop music was playing and strobe lights flashing. Quite a few worshippers were already on their feet grooving to the beat. The enormous stage had three giant TV screens at the rear and sides. A drum kit and keyboard sat waiting for a band. Several men, dressed in black, were setting up microphones along the front of the stage.
Gary grabbed a seat at the back and looked around for Patrick Arnott. Behind him, a pair of young women whined about the lousy breakfast they just ate, the incompetence of their Pilates instructors and rip-off prices at a clothes shop. That all took about a minute. Then they debated whether one of their boyfriends was gay and whether that mattered. Gary hoped, for his sake, that he was.
After about five minutes, a band of four guys appeared and started belting out a pop tune. Soon, three women and two guys – all looking mildly grungy – pranced up to the microphones and sang about the Holy Ghost. The whole atmosphere got very clubby. Everyone rose and bopped around, waving their arms and pumping their fists. Smiles spread like a chain reaction. Though Gary liked edgier music, he rose and grooved around to keep fit.
The singer in the middle caught his attention. She had a black bob, pixie face, lithe frame, good voice and great moves. Her face looked huge on the TV screens. She looked way too sexy to be performing in a church service. Was it a sin to lust after her? If so, he didn’t care.
After several more songs in which “God”, “love” and “pure hearts” got plenty of mentions, the singers and band disappeared. A thirty-something guy with slicked hair and a goatie beard, wearing a Bluetooth microphone, prowled onto the stage in biker boots. His plain white T-shirt emphasised rock-hard pecs and the classy tattoo sleeve on his right arm. Gary recognised him as Pastor Richard McKenzie, the head of the Sunrise Mission. He had seen him several times on television commenting on social issues or defending his church against claims it was materialistic and manipulative. At one point he told a TV reporter that the goal of his church was “to make God trendy”.
After introducing himself, the Pastor spent twenty minutes stomping around the stage, waving the bible above his head while making his pitch. Gary listened with half an ear while looking around for Patrick Arnott. The Pastor emphasised that everyone should become good buddies with God and Jesus, and chase after success. “You’re often told to be kind to others. But you’ve got to be kind to yourself first. God and Jesus want you to achieve success and become a strong person before you start to help others. Otherwise, your compassion will be wasted …”
When the Pastor finally stalked off, Gary was amazed at how little the sermon shook him up. He didn’t expect God to strike him with a bolt of lightning or pierce his soul, or anything like that. But he was just as cynical about the human race after the sermon as before.
He kept scanning the auditorium, looking for Patrick Arnott, while black-uniformed ushers scurried up and down the aisles with large buckets, collecting donations. The buckets soon bulged with notes.
The ushers bolted with the loot, and the band and singers returned to belt out several more songs. The joint started rocking again and Gary found himself hip-bumping with a spunky woman next to him. He was starting to make eye-contact when the music stopped and, as if to remind everyone this wasn’t a nightclub, the Pastor returned to say a final prayer.
When the Pastor left the stage, the strobe lights stopped flashing and everyone strolled out, including his new dance partner. Damn. He ducked out into the entrance hall and waited around, hoping to see Patrick Arnott leave. However, none of the shiny eyes and applique smiles he saw was fixed to Arnott’s face.
The last worshippers dribbled out and he headed back to his car. In the distance, the morning sun was melting down the city’s skyscrapers. He crossed the mouth of the alley behind the Sunrise Mission building. Half-way along was a small car park with only a big black-windowed SUV limousine in occupation. Pastor McKenzie and the bob-haired singer Gary admired stood beside the vehicle, having an animated conversation. Gary slowed his pace and noticed she was, in fact, angrily waving her finger at him. The Pastor waved his finger back, got behind the wheel of the limousine and drove off. She kicked something on the ground and re-entered the building.
What caused such an unchristian conniption straight after a church service? He had no idea. It wasn’t relevant to the disappearance of Patrick Arnott anyway, so he continued towards his car.
Gary had turned off his phone before the start of the church service. Back in his car, he turned it on and saw that Vincent Drew had called. About time. He phoned Vincent, who answered.
“Axeman? Who’s Axeman?”
“It’s my new tag.”
Gary considered asking why, but couldn’t be bothered. “What do you want?”
“I’ve made some inquiries about the dude you’re chasing.”
“Good. What have you got?”
“I accessed his phone records. Arnott made four calls during the last week.”
“Good. When was the last one?”
That meant that, unless someone else was using Arnott’s phone to make calls, Arnott was still alive. Great. “Who did he call? Start with the first one.”
“OK. A week ago, he called a guy called Anthony Tam. I checked on him. He lived next door to Arnott in Drummoyne. And guess what: he’s the guy who landed in the swimming pool on Friday night.”
“No. I couldn’t access the COPS database – I warned you that’s hard – but I got into the Ambulance Service database. An entry said that, on Friday night, the ambos took Tam to the morgue.”
What was going on? Patrick Arnott phoned his neighbour, Tony Tam a week ago. Then, on Friday night, Tam ventured into Arnott’s apartment and encountered two thugs who threw him off the balcony. What did Arnott call him about? Why did Tam enter the apartment five days later? Why was he thrown off the balcony? Gary had no idea. “That’s interesting. Who else did Arnott call?”
“The other three calls were all to the same guy.”
“A dude called Richard McKenzie. Haven’t checked who he is yet. Want me to do that?”
Well, well, well. Just an hour ago, Gary saw McKenzie prowling around a stage waving a bible above his head and preaching to his flock. Why did Patrick Arnott contact him? “Don’t worry, I know who he is: he’s the head pastor of the Sunrise Mission. In fact, I’ve just been to one of his services.”
“No kidding? You belong to the church?”
“No, Patrick Arnott does. I was hoping he might turn up, but he didn’t.”
“I once went to a service there, with a different pastor, but it wasn’t my scene.”
“Everyone was so fuckin’ sweet. It felt like someone had dropped a niceness bomb. I wanted to get up and scream that life really sucks and they should all stop smiling.”
“Nobody would have listened.”
“That was obvious. Anyway, I don’t believe in God, I believe in the Architect.”
“The Architect? Who the hell’s that?”
“He’s the guy who designed the computer simulation in which we live. Our whole existence is just a program on his hard-drive.”
“Are you kidding?”
Vincent sounded annoyed. “Of course not.”
“Why the hell did he create the program?”
“That’s not clear. My guess he did it for kicks. We’re just entertainment value.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Because sometimes the Architect makes coding errors and I pick them up.”
Gary was actually quite interested in this weirdness, but had other priorities. “That’s all very interesting. But we’ve gone right off track. Tell me, when exactly did Arnott phone McKenzie?”
“Oh, the first time was on Friday afternoon. Then he called him twice yesterday. Let me give you the exact times.”
Vincent recited that information and Gary jotted it down.
“Thanks. Do you have McKenzie’s phone records?”
“Nope, his account’s with a different company. But I can probably get them.”
“Do that. I want to find out what game he’s playing, if any.”
“Thanks, you’re a champ.”
“I’m the best, aren’t I?” Vincent said with sublime self-satisfaction.
“Yes, though you could be more modest.”
“Hah, modesty’s for losers.”
Gary hung up and pondered why Arnott phoned the Pastor three times on Friday and Saturday. He suspected that Arnott, a man on the run, reached out to his spiritual leader for emotional support. In that case, there was a good chance the Pastor knew where Arnott was hiding.
There were two ways Gary could find out if the Pastor had that information and, if he did, extract it. The first was to corner the Pastor somewhere and torture him until he spilled the beans. However, apart from being illegal and gruesome, torture often produced false data. The second, far more subtle approach, was to follow the Pastor around and hope he met up with Arnott. Gary decided to try that option first and, if it failed, reconsider the other one.
He did a lot of surveillance work while a cop and later private investigator. Indeed, watching workers’ compensation claimants was the bread-and-butter business of Bloodhound Investigations. So he knew that, if he tried to follow the Pastor all over the city, alone, there was a good chance he would lose him or be detected. The best way to avoid that happening was to attach a tracking device to the Pastor’s vehicle. Then Gary wouldn’t have to stay in constant visual contact with it. However, he didn’t have a tracking device and knew only one person who did – Ray Boland.
Ray Boland was the greatest surveillance man Gary had ever met. He had outstanding concentration, never got bored or tired, could break into any property and followed targets like a ghost. He spent 15 years on the Police Surveillance Squad before getting sacked for playing golf when he should have been on a stake-out. It was a ridiculous decision, because geniuses should be allowed to make their own rules. However, the force was not good at recognising or handling the super-talented.
Ray now owned a successful business that did counter-surveillance work for big corporations. His clients were always impressed when he found bugs hidden in their boardrooms that he had planted himself.
Ray owned a Federation bungalow in the leafy suburb of Cremorne. Whenever Gary knocked on the front door, he prayed that Ray’s wife, Anne, would not open it. She regarded Gary as a bad influence on her husband and either scowled at him or made snarky comments with a voice like squeaky chalk. Fortunately, she didn’t know that Ray had committed several serious crimes at Gary’s behest. If she did, she would have shot Gary on sight.
Luckily, when Gary knocked on the front door, small feet padded up the hallway. A small boy yelled: “Who’s there?”
“Scott, it’s Gary Maddox. Will you open up?”
The door swung upon to reveal an eight-year-old boy with a buzz-cut and sharply defined features, like his Dad. “Hello, Gary.”
“Hi, Scott. Your Dad home?”
“Yep, he’s in the shed out the back.”
Gary looked nervously over Scott’s head. “And your Mum – she here?”
“She’s gone out.”
“Great. I mean, OK, I’ll go around the side and see your Dad.”
Scott closed the door and Gary strolled down the side lane to the small metal shed at the end of the garden. The shed door was open. Inside, Ray sat on a stool fiddling with a radio scanner, like a kid with a toy. The bench next to him was piled high with electronic surveillance equipment.
“Thank God you’re not playing with yourself.”
Ray turned and exposed his ageing Ken Doll features. “Hah, hah. Wrong day of the week. What’re you doing here?”
“I need help.”
A lift of the eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Yes. I’ve got to follow someone, solo. So I want to borrow one of your toys.”
“You mean, a tracker?”
“Who’re you going to follow?”
“A pastor called Richard McKenzie.”
A rumpled forehead. “Do I know him?”
“He pumps out bullshit at the Sunrise Mission.”
A smile. “Oh, that guy. I’ve seen him on telly a few times, on Sunday mornings. Looks like a bikie; loves waving a bible about. Why do you want to follow him?”
“He’s been in contact with someone I’m trying to find.”
“A guy who’s gone missing – an accountant. His mummy wants him back.”
“Why’s he missing?”
“No idea. I’ll find out when I find him.”
A shrug. “OK, I’ll help. Just don’t tell Anne, OK?”
Gary tried to look innocent. “Is she still paranoid about me?”
“She’s not paranoid – she can read you like a book.”
“What have I done wrong?”
“Are you kidding? Every time I do something for you – even a simple favour – I end up breaking half the laws in this state. I even helped you build a fucking bomb, for God’s sake. If she finds out how much shit I’ve done for you, she’ll strangle both of us.”
Gary wanted to slap him across the face and tell him to behave like a man. However, his friend would probably sob like a girl. “She can strangle you if she wants – you’re her husband. But she’d better leave me alone.”
“Hah. You’d be dead by sundown.”
A shrug. “Well, don’t worry, if you give me a tracker, you won’t get into trouble.”
“I’d better not.”
After a dramatic sigh, Ray’s eyes gleamed. “OK then, I’ve got just what you need: a Crunshultz global positioning tracker. Lots of police forces use them. You attach it to a vehicle and watch where it goes on Google Maps. The signal bounces off a satellite, so it’s got an unlimited range.”
“Great. You’ve got one here?”
Ray took a small box off a shelf and removed the lid. Inside were a puck-sized tracker and a USB flash drive. He took them out, carefully wiped them with a cloth to remove his fingerprints and offered them to Gary on the cloth. He looked like a child with a new toy. “The software on the flash drive has to be loaded onto a computer. It will interact with Google Maps.”
Gary took the tracker. “Will you load it onto my laptop?”
A frown. “Jesus, can’t you do that yourself?”
“Yes, but I’d waste big chunks of my valuable time. You can do it a lot faster.”
“Do you want me to wipe your bum too?”
“Only when I can’t reach around anymore.”
A sigh. “Where’s your laptop?”
“Out in the car. I’ll get it.”
“Alright. You’d better hurry, because Anne will be home soon.”
Gary sprung up. “On my way.”
The next morning, Gary drove back to the headquarters of the Sunrise Mission in Pyrmont and arrived just before eight o’clock. He skirted behind the building and saw all six slots in the car park were empty, including the one with “Pastor McKenzie” stencilled on it.
He parked his car around the corner and stationed himself in a near-deserted coffee shop with a view of the car park, waiting for McKenzie to arrive. Hopefully, the guy worked normal business hours.
He did. Just before nine o’clock, as Gary started his second coffee, a big black SUV drove up and parked on top of the Pastor’s name. The Pastor got out wearing dark glasses and a denim jacket over a black skivvy, looking more like a hitman than a man of the cloth, and ducked into the Mission building. Gary quickly finished his cup of coffee and paid at the counter.
Ray said the magnetic tracker could be attached to any flat metal surface. When Gary asked if it might fall off, Ray said: “Only if someone uses a crowbar”.
As he strolled towards the SUV, he scanned the area for CCTV cameras and saw none. Upon reaching the vehicle, he casually glanced around, saw no-one looking and rolled under the back wheel. He attached the tracker to a metal traverse, got to his feet and strolled off. The whole operation took about ten seconds.
He climbed back into his car and turned on the laptop. As expected, a little red dot appeared on Google Maps. The hunt was on.
Gary had attached the tracker in case the Pastor drove somewhere to meet Patrick Arnott. However, Arnott might visit the Pastor at the headquarters building. That was unlikely, because Arnott seemed to be in hiding. But, in case he did, Gary drove around to the front of the building and parked across the street. Now he could watch both the front entrance and the red dot on his laptop. With only a smattering of people wandering in and out of the building, Arnott should be easy to spot.
Gary also considered breaking into the Pastor’s office and planting a few bugs. Ray Bolton could supply the bugs and might, if Gary was extra-persuasive, help Gary plant them. But breaking into the office would be risky and time-consuming. He’d only do that as a last resort.
Gary expected the Pastor to spend the whole day in the building and was surprised when, after an hour, the red dot on Google Maps blinked and moved. Shit. After confirming which way the Pastor’s SUV was heading, he pulled away from the curb and moved to intercept. He caught up with the SUV on Harris Street, travelling west. The tracker let him hang back, keeping the SUV just in view as it crossed Anzac Bridge and climbed up towards the disused White Bay Power Station. Just before reaching the station, it turned left into the suburb of Rozelle.
Gary had lagged so far behind that a red traffic light halted his pursuit before he reached the left turn. He sat impatiently for a minute, watching the Pastor move away on Google Maps, until the light turned green. He stomped on the accelerator and took the same left turn, keeping an eye on the laptop to see where the Pastor was going.
Rozelle was an inner-city suburb where yuppies recently bought out the last working-class residents and made it fully gentrified. Tiny cottages now cost a couple of million dollars and the poorest residents were the au pairs.
Gary quickly re-establish visual contact with the Pastor’s SUV as it followed the road down into a small hollow. It turned right and travelled along the side of a large open park for 50 metres before stopping under a line of fig-trees.
To avoid detection, Gary ignored the right-hand turn and kept driving for another block before turning right. He drove along the crown of a ridge, between long rows of terraces, for about half a kilometre until he reached a small playground overlooking where the SUV halted. He stopped against the curb and pulled a pair of Zeiss binoculars out of the glove-box. Through them he saw the Pastor now sat on a park bench, under a huge fig tree, obviously waiting for someone. Who? The park itself was almost deserted, except for a man playing fetch with his dog and a couple of kids trying to fly a kite.
After ten minutes, a black BMW followed the same route the SUV took and pulled up next to the SUV. A tall thin man, wearing a pinstripe suit for God’s sake, emerged and strolled across to the Pastor. They shook hands, sat on the bench and talked animatedly for about ten minutes. At first, the Pastor did all the talking. Then the thin guy gobbled up more time. Finally, they stood, shook hands and strolled back to their vehicles.
Gary had a camera with a big telephoto lens on the floor next to him. He heaved it up and took some snaps of the thin guy in the pinstripe suit as he got into the BMW.
It looked like the two men rendezvoused in a secluded park because they had something private to discuss. What? Did they talk about Patrick Arnott? Gary doubted that and was tempted to ignore the thin guy. But he was curious to know who the guy was and why he met with the Pastor in such a clandestine manner. Further, if Gary followed him around, he could still monitor where the Pastor went on Google Maps.
Gary did a three-point turn and zoomed back the way he came. After turning left, he stepped on the gas and peered ahead, desperately hoping to see the BMW. He soon spied it and sighed with relief. A minute later, it reached Victoria Road and stopped at a set of traffic lights. He pulled up behind it and wrote down the number on its Australian Capital Territory licence plate.
When the light went green, the BMW turned right and headed along Victoria Road towards the distant skyscrapers of the CDB. Because there were no traffic lights or turnoffs for some distance, Gary dropped back. He glanced at the laptop and saw the Pastor was a couple of hundred metres behind him, presumably returning to the Sunrise Mission headquarters in Pyrmont.
He ignored the Pastor and focused on the BMW. After crossing Anzac Bridge, it followed the expressway towards the city centre. As it did, Gary glanced at his laptop and saw the Pastor was already back at the headquarters building.
Gary tucked in behind the BMW to make sure he didn’t lose it on the busy streets of the CDB. Near the Town Hall, the BMW turned left and headed towards the harbour. A couple of hundred metres from the water, it turned right into the underground car park of a familiar-looking building. Gary drove past the building and saw “Commonwealth Parliamentary Office Building” stencilled above the entrance. The building had seemed familiar to him because Federal politicians used its offices when they visited Sydney and often gave TV interviews outside it. Gary wondered if the guy in the BMW was a Federal politician. There were plenty he didn’t recognise.
He phoned Vincent Drew. “Amigo, it’s Gary here. Got any more leads on Patrick Arnott’s whereabouts?”
“Nope, but I’m still poking about.”
“Good. I’ve got a Canberra licence plate number; I want to know who owns the vehicle. This is urgent.”
“Sure, spit it out.”
Gary recited the number.
“OK, I won’t take long.”
“Good.” Gary hung up and drove back to the Sunrise Mission headquarters. Once there, he cruised past the rear car park and saw the Pastor’s black SUV was back in its slot. He drove around to the front and again parked across the road from the front entrance. The pedestrian traffic in and out had increased significantly.
After half-an-hour, he got a call from Vincent Drew, sounding a touch excited for once. “Gary, I’ve got the registered owner of the vehicle. You won’t believe it.”
The name rang a faint bell. “Who’s he?”
Vincent sounded a little disappointed. “Don’t you follow politics?”
“Only when I’m filling out a ballot paper with a pencil.”
“Oliver Bristow is … wait for it … the Opposition Leader’s Chief of Staff.”
The Opposition Leader, Angus Trewaley, would have an office in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Office Building. That explained why Bristow drove into its underground car park. “Jesus H. Christ.”
“That was my reaction. He’s a big cheese. I thought you were chasing after a missing accountant. What’s Bristow got to do with him?”
“I don’t know. Probably nothing. It’s just a chance encounter. Thanks for that information.”
Gary sat outside the Sunrise Mission headquarters until five o’clock, when his laptop told him the Pastor’s SUV was moving again. He quickly caught up with the Pastor, who drove through the city centre and then south for 15 kilometres until he reached Sutherland Shire.
‘The Shire’ was a collection of beach suburbs with a large population of white, reactionary, Pentecostal bible-bashers. Sydney was not noted for race riots. But, several years ago, there was a big one at Cronulla Beach when surf-billies from the Shire tried to stop swarthy intruders from the western suburbs using it. The show-down made headlines around the world.
That riot was a distant memory as Gary followed the Pastor along the road behind Cronulla Beach. The only human activity he saw was surfers flitting across waves in the dwindling light. Then the beach disappeared and Gary followed the Pastor through a clump of high-rise apartment blocks into a residential suburb beyond.
The signature abode in the Shire was a mansion home with a dream kitchen, spanking new “antique” furniture, and massive flat-screen TVs and mirrors on the walls. Books and paintings were rarely displayed. Australian flags fluttered on poles in front yards and jet-skis clogged driveways.
After driving past many such homes, the Pastor turned onto the driveway of one and disappeared into its garage. The home was slightly smaller than its neighbours. However, it sat on a headland with breathtaking ocean views. Gary didn’t know if the Pastor was doing good, but the guy was certainly doing well.
There were no vehicles parked on the street. If Gary sat in his Toyota sedan, watching the house, he would soon attract suspicion. To avoid that, he wanted to use the white tradie van he kept for workers’ compensation surveillance. But it was now parked outside his apartment building.
It was getting dark and it looked like the Pastor was home for the night. So Gary decided to return to his apartment, spend the night in bed and drive back in the white van the next morning.
On the way home, he turned on the car radio and listened to a couple of ABC news bulletins. Still no mention of the death in Drummoyne. The cops obviously hadn’t determined it was a murder. Gary wondered if they ever would.
He got back to his apartment just after nine o’clock and hacked the frozen remnant of an Indian takeaway out of the freezer. He ate the microwaved food on the sofa while watching the ABC late news. He hadn’t paid much attention to the federal election campaign so far. All he knew was that, after three years of scandal and economic malaise, the Government was deeply unpopular. Indeed, most political commentators thought Angus Trewaley and his Conservative Party were assured of victory.
However, bumping into Oliver Bristow piqued Gary’s interest in politics and made him pay attention to the election stories on the late news. The first covered the Prime Minister’s visit to a bottle factory in Adelaide, where he wandered around in a hi-viz vest talking to workers, trying to show a common touch with little success. Afterwards, he gave a press conference during which he described his party as the “underdog” in the election and promising the economy would soon “turn the corner”. The next item showed Angus Trewaley addressing a gathering of business leaders in Perth during which he lambasted the Government’s “reckless spending” and promised to “kick-start” the economy with tax cuts. The news announcer said that Trewaley would be interviewed that night on the Late Talk program.
Gary rarely watched Late Talk because its smug host, Paul Dane, usually interviewed even smugger politicians who recited talking points. However, after watching the first half of a rugby league game, he switched over to it. The credits rolled and Paul Dane appeared on the screen, sitting in a big swivel chair, looking particularly self-satisfied. He announced that he would be interviewing Angus Trewaley, in Perth, via a video link. He swivelled around to look at Trewaley on a big screen behind him.
Dane and Trewaley looked like twins with their matching helmets of grey hair, shiny foreheads, glow-in-the-dark teeth and hair-trigger smiles. Dane’s interviewing technique involved methodically reading out a list of questions on his pad without paying much attention to the answers. For about ten minutes, he challenged Trewaley, in a perfunctory way, about his plans to rescue the economy. Trewaley kept insisting that, if the Government cut spending and lowered taxes, that would boost growth and productivity. “I know what I am talking about. I was a highly successful property developer before I entered parliament. I understand how the economy works and how business people think.”
Gary was starting to doze off when Dane asked Trewaley about his religious beliefs. “You often describe yourself as a devout Catholic with conservative social values. Will your religious beliefs influence you if you become Prime Minister?”
“Paul, I have always made clear that I oppose abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. However, I accept that we live in a multi-cultural and relativist society, and won’t try to force my beliefs on other people.”
“However, you have promised that, if elected Prime Minister, you will increase the funding of Christian education in schools.”
“Yes, I will, because I believe that Christian morality is still at the heart of our society.”
“Will you fund education about other religions?”
A wry smile. “First things first. We’ll increase funding for Christian education and then look at other religions.”
“The Prime Minister has said that, because of the budget emergency, it may be time to tax religious organisations. Do you agree with him?”
A frown. “Certainly not. We should be encouraging religious organisations, not burdening them. We need to have more people embrace God, not fewer.”
“Thank you for your time.”
Gary bet Pastor McKenzie was a big fan of Angus Trewaley and his pro-Christian views. But the Pastor had no reason to hide that support. He obviously didn’t meet Trewaley’s Chief of Staff in a secluded park just to keep it hidden. There must be another reason they met in secret, which Gary was convinced he would never find out.
The next morning, after breakfast, Gary went downstairs and climbed into the battered white van he used for surveillance. A sign on the side said: “Tip-Top Electrical Repairs”. He drove south and reached Pastor McKenzie’s home just before seven o’clock. After parking about a hundred metres away, he climbed into the back and sat on a plastic chair, watching the home through the glass rear window. A luffing sea breeze gave the air a salty tang.
At about eight o’clock, the garage door rolled up and a Honda hatchback drove out. The driver was a woman in her mid-thirties with straight blonde hair. A boy aged about ten and a girl a little younger, both in school uniforms, sat in the back.
The car drove past Gary and disappeared. He waited for the Pastor to leave in his SUV. However, to his surprise, about half-an-hour later, a small Lexus drove up the road and turned into the driveway. Gary lifted his binoculars and saw a young woman in her early twenties behind the wheel. Definitely, the bob-haired singer he saw prancing up and down on the stage during the Sunday service. She used a remote control to raise the roller door and drove into the garage. The door closed behind her.
“Well, well, well,” Gary said to himself. Maybe she turned up at the Pastor’s house, soon after his wife left, for voice coaching or spiritual guidance. Or maybe not.
While waiting, Gary turned on the radio and listened to a shock-jock spend half an hour screaming about the decline in civility because someone cut him off in the traffic that morning. He was in such a bad mood that he insulted all his callers, even those who agreed with him.
After an hour, the singer drove out of the garage. As she did, Gary used a camera with a big telephoto lens to photograph her with the house in the background. If necessary, he would use the photos to blackmail the Pastor into revealing where Patrick Arnott was hiding. They would make him sing like a bird.
The singer drove back the way she came. Fifteen minutes later, the Pastor’s SUV emerged from the garage and headed in the same direction. Gary got behind the wheel of his van, turned on the laptop to confirm the tracker was still operating and followed at a discreet distance.
The Pastor drove back towards the city centre. However, to Gary’s surprise, after about ten kilometres, he veered west and entered the suburb of Alexandria, just north of the airport. After turning several times, the Pastor drove into a wide street lined with workman’s cottages and parked about half-way along. He got out, strolled up to the front door of a semi-detached cottage and knocked on the front door. Gary drove past, hoping the occupant would open the door before he was out of eyeshot. No such luck.
He parked about fifty metres down the road and climbed into the back of the van, where he sat on the plastic seat and peered through the rear window with binoculars. The Pastor had disappeared into the house. Who was he visiting? A sick member of his congregation? Another mistress? Patrick Arnott?
Gary doubted it was Arnott. He couldn’t be that lucky. So he got a big surprise when, ten minutes later, the Pastor left the house with a tall guy in a T-shirt and jeans who looked a lot like Patrick Arnott. Holy shit. He was Patrick Arnott. My God.
The Pastor and Arnott strolled down to the front gate and shook hands. After slapping Arnott on the back, the Pastor returned to his SUV and drove off.
Arnott went back inside the cottage and closed the door. Gary got out of his van and approached the dwelling, which had the shabby look of a rental property. The front yard had a small patch of mangy grass and a dark lane ran down the side. He was tempted to slip around the back. Instead, he knocked on the front door and listened closely for any sounds from inside the house. Instead of hearing footsteps move towards the front door, they moved away.
Hell. Gary dashed down the side lane, ploughing through cobwebs and branches, and reached the small backyard just as Arnott sprinted out of the cottage towards an open rear gate. Gary played plenty of rugby league in his younger days and had no trouble tackling a slow-moving and lightly built accountant. He quickly rolled Arnott onto his back, sat on his chest and grabbed his neck.
Instead of resisting, Arnott looked up, terrified. “Don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me.”
The guy was obviously a sheep, not a goat. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.”
“No, I’m not.”
“T-t-then, w-w-what do you want?”
“You mother asked me to find you.”
Arnott’s chest heaved under Gary’s thighs and his Adam’s apple corkscrewed under Gary’s hand. “M-m-my mother?”
“Yes. She’s worried about you.”
“W-w-why’s she worried?”
“Because you quit your job and disappeared into thin air.”
“H-h-ow do I know my mother send you?”
Gary reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the photograph of Patrick Arnott that Madeline Arnott gave him. “Recognise this photo? I got it from your mother.”
Relief flooded across his face. “Yeah, yeah, that’s a photo she took. So you’re not going to hurt me?”
“Definitely not. In fact, I’ll let you go if you promise you won’t run away.”
“I won’t, I promise.”
Gary released his grip and they slowly stood up, dusting themselves off.
“How’d you find me?”
“I’ve been following Pastor McKenzie.”
“You phoned him several times on Friday and Saturday.”
“You mean, you got my phone records?’
“Yep, wasn’t hard.”
“I didn’t think about that.”
Gary sensed there was a lot this guy didn’t think about. That was a scruffy habit when on the run. “Who owns this place?”
“The Mission – the Sunrise Mission. It’s a rental property. The Pastor said I can stay here while we sort everything out.”
“Sort what out?”
“The trouble I’m in.”
“What trouble is that?”
A puzzled expression. “You don’t know?”
“Nope. Your mother has no idea why you disappeared. But I have found out there are some seriously evil dudes chasing after you.”
“How did you find that out?”
Gary shook his head. “First you’ve got to tell me why you’re on the run.”
A shrug. “Alright, alright – let’s go inside.”
Arnott led Gary back inside the cottage, past a small laundry into a dank kitchen with warped cupboards and peeling benches. Beyond the kitchen was a living room. Then a narrow hallway ran along the side of the house, past two bedrooms, to the front door.
They sat at the kitchen table and Gary said: “Now tell me, why are you on the run?”
Arnott had worry lines etched all over his face and heavy bags under his eyes. The life of a fugitive obviously did not agree with him. He put shaking hands on the table. “Because I stole a client file.”
“You mean, from Merton & Co?”
A long pause and a whisper. “Angus Trewaley’s.”
“The Opposition Leader?”
“Shit, you’re kidding?”
Arnott nervously cleared his throat. “No. He’s been a client – a top client – of Merton & Co for about fifteen years.”
“What’s in his file?”
“Dynamite. Enough dirt to destroy his career and any chance of winning the election.”
“Why’s it so bad?”
Arnott hunched his shoulders and crossed his arms. “To begin with, you’ve got to understand that Merton & Co only acts for high net-worth individuals. Unless you’re worth at least $10 million, you won’t get through the door. But, if you do become a client, the firm will structure your financial affairs to shield you from tax. It does that by setting up trusts and corporations in tax havens to hold assets and receive income.”
“That’s what the firm did for Trewaley?”
“Yes. It set up his off-shore structures soon after he became a client.”
“Are those structures illegal?”
“Not by themselves. But Australian residents are supposed to pay tax on all income earned overseas. So, if Trewaley didn’t disclose his overseas assets and income to the Tax Office, he committed a big offence.”
“Did he disclosure them?”
“Of course not. His file shows he’s got millions stashed away overseas that he didn’t declare to the Tax Office or put on the parliamentary register of pecuniary interests. The file also has copies of his last five tax returns. They show that, during those years, his taxable income was always less than $100,000 and he’s never paid more than $20,000 in tax.”
Australian politicians like Trewaley didn’t usually release their tax returns. So Gary had never heard this information before and was profoundly shocked. “You’re joking? He was a big – and I mean, big – property developer before he entered parliament; he owns a mansion in Vaucluse and a huge yacht; the news media keeps saying he’s loaded.”
“He is loaded, and one reason is that he pays almost no tax. So, if that file became public, it would ruin his career and stuff his party’s chances of winning the election.”
“Jesus. Is that why you took the file – to ruin him?”
Arnott had a feverish glint in his eye. “I decided someone has to tell the world he’s a tax cheat. I mean, for most of my career, I’ve helped clients avoid tax. Then, about a year ago, a friend took me to a Sunrise Mission service and I heard Pastor McKenzie preach. He really opened my eyes. I felt as if God was talking, through him, to me. All of a sudden, I wanted to live an honest and righteous life. The Pastor likes to quote Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil.” That’s what I did when I copied the file: I took a stand against the devil.”
Gary stared at Arnott and wondered if he was mad. He had no religious convictions and did not understand why others did. He also wondered if Arnott was telling the whole truth about why he stole the file. Maybe he had selfish motives he had not disclosed to Gary, or maybe even himself. “So you copied Trewaley’s file without permission?”
“Yes. Most of us worked on Trewaley’s account at various times. But Merton was the only person who could access the complete file. He wasn’t very good with computers and often got me to help him. I watched him when he logged in and saw he used a pretty simple password.
“Anyway, I used that password to log in and copy the file onto a flash drive, which I took home with me. I was going to leak the file to the Tax Office and maybe a journalist. But I didn’t get a chance because, a couple of days later, Merton stormed into my office and accused me of copying it. He said the IT guy had proof I did it. I said that was a lie and was going home. When he tried to stop me, I shot down the fire escape.”
“Did you go home?”
“Of course not. I was shit scared. I knew he’d come after me. He’s an evil bastard. I decided to lie low and hope the whole mess would blow over. Stupid, I know, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Did you consider giving the file back?”
“Of course. But Merton would have assumed I kept a copy and got nasty anyway.”
“And you’ve still got the file?”
“But why’s he so desperate to protect Trewaley’s reputation?”
“Because, if Trewaley gets destroyed, he will too.”
“When the Tax Office catches a tax cheat, it always targets the cheat’s accountant and its other clients. The T.O. would soon work out that Merton & Co is basically a criminal enterprise. It specialises in tax evasion, fraud and money-laundering. In fact, I’m pretty sure that several clients are big drug importers. Merton helps them shuffle money around overseas. So, if Trewaley got exposed, Merton and some of his other clients would probably end up in gaol.”
“OK, I understand. So you laid low for a while. Then you went and saw the Pastor?”
“Not immediately. First, I tried to sneak home. But I saw a couple of guys lurking about and ran away again.”
“Did they see you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What did they look like?”
“One was big and bald, and the other kind of thin. They both looked scary.”
Arnott was obviously describing the guys Gary later encountered in Arnott’s apartment.
“Then you went and saw the Pastor?”
“Why didn’t you speak to your mother?”
A grimace. “If I told her how much trouble I was in, she’d have freaked out and blamed me. I couldn’t bear that.”
“She freaked out anyway. Why’d you see the Pastor?”
“I trusted him. We’d spoken about my problems before. In fact, he’d been giving me some life coaching.”
“OK, and how did he react?”
“You know, I was a bit surprised: I thought he would be impressed, but he wasn’t. Said I shouldn’t have stolen someone else’s property. But he said that, if I wanted to make the file public, he would help me.”
Gary bet the Pastor was surprised – indeed, shocked – when one of his flock declared that he paid attention to his moralising and tried to apply it. “Help you, how?”
“He said he knew someone at the Tax Office and could arrange a meeting if I wanted.”
“When was that?”
“A couple of days ago. He said that, in the meantime, I could stay here.”
Gary now understood why the Pastor met with Trewaley’s Chief of Staff, Bristow Oliver, in a park the day before. When Arnott revealed to the Pastor that he had stolen a file that could destroy Trewaley’s career, the Pastor sniffed an opportunity. This was a heaven-sent chance to curry favour with a strong Christian expected to become the next Prime Minister of Australia. So he convinced Arnott to do nothing while he snuck off and warned Bristow that Arnott threatened Trewaley’s career. He also said that, as a favour to Trewaley, he would persuade Arnott to keep quiet.
However, the Pastor was naïve, because the first thing Bristow would have done, after their meeting, was to get someone to follow the Pastor until he met with Arnott. Gary felt a jolt of fear. He didn’t see anyone else follow the Pastor that morning, but wasn’t looking. A big honking alarm went off in his head. His hand itched because it should be holding a pistol and wasn’t.
“Pastor McKenzie met Trewaley’s Chief of Staff yesterday morning and told him you stole a file that could destroy his boss. After that, the Chief of Staff probably had the Pastor followed. So, right now, you – we – are in huge danger.”
A deep scowl. “The Pastor wouldn’t betray me to Trewaley. I know him. He wouldn’t do that.”
“I’m afraid he has, and we’ve got to get out of here, fast.”
Patrick Arnott shook his head. “Don’t push me around. I don’t know you. I need time to think.”
Gary got to his feet. “You don’t have time. Don’t you get it? You’re radioactive. You’re a threat to Trewaley, Merton and Merton’s clients. Lots of very powerful people want you stone-cold dead. Shit, just being near you makes me nervous.” Gary realised he was yelling.
The accountant-on-the-run looked stunned. “It’s that bad?”
“Of course it is. You’re way out of your league. These guys play for keeps. Come with me or you’ll be dead within five minutes.”
Arnott’s face turned to jelly and he lurched to his feet. “OK, but I’ve got to pack my stuff. I haven’t got much.”
“You’ve got one minute, exactly. No more.”
Arnott dashed up the narrow hallway and into the front bedroom.
As Gary followed him, there was a loud knock on the front door. Shit. He froze.
Arnott’s stuck his frightened face out of the bedroom and whispered. “What do we do?”
Gary stepped into the bedroom beside Arnott and peeked between Venetian blinds at the front patio. He half-expected to see the two thugs from the apartment. However, there was a new thug on the scene – a big guy with bristles on his skull and a black jacket that probably hid a pistol. Bloody hell.
Arnott looked at the guy and whispered. “Who’s he?”
“Dunno. He’s not selling insurance.”
“Maybe he’ll go away.”
“No, he knows you’re here. If you don’t open the door, he’ll break it down.”
Arnott’s face quivered. “Let’s go out the back way.”
“Can’t. That’s what he wants you to do. There’ll be someone waiting out there. You’ve got to open the door.”
Huge eyes. “Open it? You’re kidding?”
No, open it and run to the kitchen. I’ll tackle the guy as he goes past.”
“Christ, do you know what you’re doing?”
Another rap on the door and the man outside tried to sound polite. “Anyone home?”
“Don’t worry, I’ve done this before,” Gary lied. “It’s our only chance.”
Arnott shook like a leaf. “OK.”
He stepped out into the hallway and spoke in a reedy tone. “Hang on, I’m coming.”
However, the man outside was tired of waiting and slammed his shoulder against the door, twice. The second time it splintered and swung inwards.
As Arnott turned to run, Gary hid just inside the bedroom.
The burly intruder yelled at Arnott. “Don’t move.”
Fat chance. Arnott screamed and sprinted towards the kitchen.
The intruder raced past Gary holding a pistol. Jesus. Gary took a couple of steps, jumped onto the guy’s back and rode him into the ground. As he did, he used one arm to garrotte the guy and the other to grab the wrist holding the Beretta .32. The guy desperately tried to free the pistol. Dumb move. He should have concentrated on breaking the chokehold, which quickly stole his oxygen and energy. Too late, he let go of the pistol and tried to break the hold. Gary just squeezed harder until the guy went limp. Then he scooped up the pistol and lay on top of the guy for twenty seconds, gasping for breath. He rolled the guy onto his back and examined his swarthy features. They weren’t pretty at the best of times. Now, his eyes were closed and drool slid from his mouth.
Gary heard a loud bang and a tearing noise. Someone was obviously bashing down the back door. Bloody hell.
A man yelled. “Don’t move, you prick.”
Instead of obeying, Patrick Arnott raced into the hallway and hurdled over Gary, heading for the front door.
Gary’s heart-rate climbed again. What the fuck? After checking the safety catch on the pistol was off, he rose onto his knees and prayed the pistol was loaded. Surely, the swarthy guy was smart enough to do that.
A big, ginger-haired man wearing a grey sports jacket came around the corner toting a pistol. He saw Gary and started to raise his weapon.
Gary’s borrowed pistol was loaded alright. It sounded like a cannon in the confined space. The first bullet missed the guy, but the second hit him somewhere. The guy spun around, involuntarily flinging his pistol away, and collapsed to the ground where he lay still.
There was a long silence while Gary and Arnott, ears ringing, digested what had just happened.
Arnott said: “S-s-shit, is he dead?”
Gary rose unsteadily, slipped the pistol behind his belt and went over to the second intruder. The guy lay on his back wearing a shocked expression. The large red wound on his right shoulder explained why he was groaning so loudly. His face looked like someone had patted it down with the back of a shovel. It was poorly designed for begging, but the guy gave it his best shot. “Help me, please, help me.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
The guy went quiet and Arnott said: “W-w-what are we going to do?”
This was no time to panic. Now, more than ever, Gary had to be calm and deliberate. He slowed his breathing and forced himself to consider his options.
He could call the police and explain that he shot the guy in self-defence. But that idea died a quick death. The cops would automatically charge him with attempted murder and make him convince a jury he acted in self-defence. Because he couldn’t afford to hire his own barrister, he would have to accept whichever broken-down hack the Legal Aid Commission supplied. Then 12 people he didn’t know and didn’t trust would decide if he should spend the next 10 years in an iron motel. He lost his reverence for the jury system while a cop. It had not returned.
Fortunately, the two intruders didn’t know his name. So, if he skedaddled now, there was a good chance he would avoid arrest. Yes, that was what he would do.
He turned to Arnott. “Finish packing. Grab your bag and anything that identifies you – fast. You’ve got two minutes. Then we’re out of here.”
Arnott said: “But what about these two guys. You going to call an ambulance?”
“Forget about them. Just do what I say.”
Arnott rushed back into the front bedroom.
Gary looked down at the wounded guy. The shoulder wound looked bad, but not life threatening. He dropped to one knee. “You know, I must be getting old. I tried to put that one between your eyes.”
The guy clutched his shoulder and groaned loudly. “Who the fuck’re you?”
“You don’t need to know. Now, tell me, who sent you?”
“Fuck off. I need an ambulance. Get me a doctor.”
“Angus Trewaley sent you, didn’t he?”
The thug glanced away, eloquently. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. Call an ambulance.”
Where’s your mobile?”
“Inside my jacket.”
The thug winced as Gary reached inside his jacket, pulled out a mobile phone and put it on his chest.
Gary said: “You’ll have to call an ambulance yourself or wait until your mate wakes up and get him to call one. But don’t try until I’m gone.”
The thug tried to look past his feet at his prone pal, but pain overwhelmed him. Eventually, he gasped: “Is Roger alive?”
“Roger’s your pal?”
“Of course. He’s just sleeping.”
“How long’s he gonna be out?”
“Don’t know. I had to choke him. When he wakes up, he might have brain damage. So I guess you’ve got a lot to worry about.”
“Shit. You can’t leave me here.”
“Yes, I can. You came at me waving a pistol, remember? I don’t owe you anything. But, don’t worry, you’ll be fine, eventually.”
The thug shifted slightly and groaned. “You cunt. I’ll get you for this.”
“You can try. But if I see you again, anywhere, I’ll shoot you on sight, understand? And, next time, I’ll shoot a lot straighter.” Gary stood up. “Now, obviously, after you get patched up, the police will ask how you got shot in the shoulder. Tell them nothing and, if you ever find out my name, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, I’ll hunt you down and kill you twice.”
Patrick Arnott emerged from the bedroom wearing a Yankee’s baseball cap. A small duffle bag was slung over his shoulder.
Gary said: “You’ve got all of your stuff?”
Arnott’s eyes shone with fear and excitement. “I didn’t have much to pack. What are you going to do about these guys?”
“We’re going to leave them here.”
“Yes. In fact, the sooner we get out of here, the sooner this guy can call an ambulance. We’ll be doing him a favour.”
The thug looked at Arnott. “Please help me.”
Gary said: “Shut the fuck up.”
Arnott said: “What about the police?”
“If we contact them, you’ll have to explain how you stole documents from Merton & Co. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
“Of course not.”
Gary headed towards the front door. “Good, then let’s get out of here.”
Gary wanted to have a serious chat with Patrick Arnott about recent events and Arnott’s plans for the future. He didn’t want to return to his office in Bondi, in case it was being watched, so he headed towards a favourite coffee shop in Oxford Street, Paddington. On the way, he kept recalling how he shot the ginger-haired guy and shivered. Christ. This was supposed to be a simple missing person assignment for which he would be paid a measly $1000 a day, plus extras. Yet, he almost killed someone he didn’t know. How the hell did that happen?
He considered walking away from the whole sorry mess. However, now he’d met Arnott, he felt obliged to keep him alive and was fascinated by the file Arnott stole from Merton & Co. Powerful people were desperate to recover it. Their henchmen had already killed one guy, Tony Tam, and tried to kill Gary and Arnott. Gary loved sticking his thumb in the eyes of powerful people. Maybe he could get his hands on the file and blow their worlds apart. Excitement made his body tingle.
The coffee shop was in the middle of a long strip of trendy boutiques. Gary parked about a block away and led Arnott along the pavement until they reached it. There were only a few patrons and they snared a table next to the window. Outside, well-heeled shoppers marched back and forward in the dull and law-abiding world Gary had just left. A waiter arrived and he ordered two cups of coffee.
Arnott had been shaking since they left the cottage in Alexandria. He rubbed his temple and looked annoyed. “I can’t believe you shot that guy in the hallway.”
Arnott still hadn’t thanked Gary for saving his hide. Gary was no stickler for good manners, but that seemed bloody rude. “I had no option: it was him or me – and you for that matter. You’re the one they really wanted.”
“W-what were they going to do to me?”
“First, they would have tortured you to find out what you did with the file and how many copies you made …”
“They would have disposed of you.”
“You mean, killed me?”
“Yup. Like I said: the stakes are huge. I hope you now realise how much trouble you’re in. People – very bad people – want you dead.”
Arnott shivered hard. “Christ, I shouldn’t have taken Trewaley’s file. What a fool.”
Finally some clear thinking. “Too late now.”
“You think Trewaley sent those guys?”
“Must have. Your Pastor talked to Trewaley’s Chief of Staff and the Chief of Staff dispatched the goons.”
“You sure the Pastor did that?”
“One hundred percent sure. He obviously wanted to win some brownie points from Trewaley.”
“Because Trewaley’s a god-botherer who will soon be Prime Minister. The Sunrise Mission would love to have him in debt to it.”
A frown. “You know, when I told the Pastor about the file, I thought he’d be more excited – that he’d want me to expose Trewaley. But he went very quiet.”
“I bet he did. He doesn’t want Trewaley exposed; he wants to suck up to him.”
“Shit. But I still can’t believe he sold me out like that: I trusted him – I really did.”
“He didn’t think he was betraying you: he persuaded himself that, when he approached Trewaley, he was doing you a favour.”
“He thought that, if he promised to muzzle you, Trewaley would leave you alone. But he was being naïve. Trewaley was never going to accept his assurances. The stakes were way too high. So Trewaley’s Chief of Staff got those two thugs to follow the Pastor until he led them to you.”
“But I belong to his church; he’s my Pastor, my friend.”
“When you took that file, you stopped having friends.”
Arnott sighed and bit his lip. “I guess so. But, if I’ve got no friends, how can I trust you?”
Gary shrugged. “Your mother paid me to find you. I guess that extends to protecting you. I’ll help you get this sorted out.”
“Yes. I’m in too deep now, anyway; I’ve got no choice.”
“Good. You seem, umm, pretty resourceful.”
“I used to be a cop – an undercover cop. I’ve been in plenty of tight situations.”
A waiter arrived with their coffees and Gary took a sip.
“Then I guess I’ve got to trust you.”
“I’m afraid you do.”
Arnott gulped down some coffee. “So, you reckon the guys who attacked us work for Trewaley?”
“I’m sure they do.”
“But what about the two guys I saw outside my apartment when I tried to sneak back in?”
“They must work for Merton.”
Arnott shivered hard. “Shit. You mean, Trewaley and Merton have both sent thugs after me?”
“Correct. You’re a popular guy.”
“Do you think they’re working together?”
“No idea.” Gary sipped his coffee. “You know, I also ran into Merton’s thugs, a couple of days ago.”
“In your apartment.”
“No.” Gary explained how he used a key that Madeline Arnott gave him to visit the apartment, where he ran into the two brutes under discussion. He described how, after they knocked him out, he woke and saw a body at the bottom of the empty pool.
Arnott looked alarmed. “You think they threw someone off the balcony?”
“I’m sure they did. Then they tried to pin that on me.”
“But there’s been nothing on the news about someone getting thrown off an apartment building in Drummoyne.”
“That’s because the cops don’t know he was murdered. They probably don’t even realise he fell from your apartment.”
Arnott looked worried. “Do you, umm, know his name?”
Gary had been dreading this moment. But someone had to give Arnott the bad news. “Yes, he was Tony Tam, your neighbour.”
Arnott went white as a sheet, grabbed his mouth in case he threw up and dashed into the bathroom. Ten minutes later, he stumbled out, shaking and looking cadaverous. He slumped down, smelling faintly of vomit. “Shit, that’s terrible.”
“I know. You knew him well?”
“Yes. His parents live in Hong Kong. I think they’re very wealthy. They sent him down here to get an MBA. We were good friends. I gave him the key to my apartment. Sometimes, when I was away, he popped in to feed my cat, Oscar. After I ran away, I phoned and asked him to do that. I mean, I didn’t think the guys outside would notice.”
“They obviously did.”
“Christ. And now he’s dead and it’s all my fault.”
Patrick Arnott didn’t throw Tony Tam off the balcony. But he put the poor guy in harm’s way for the sake of a cat. Gary already suspected that Arnott was selfish and naïve. This revelation nailed that down. Still, if he chastised Arnott, the guy would probably fall apart. That was the last thing he needed. “It wasn’t your fault. The thugs threw him off the balcony, not you.”
“I put him in that position.”
How true. “You didn’t understand how vicious they could be.”
A sigh. “I guess so. Still, I feel rotten. And tell me, when you were in the apartment, did you see Oscar?”
Jesus. His best friend was murdered and he worried about his cat. “Yes, umm, I saw a cat, sitting on the balcony railing, I think.”
“How did he look?”
“I don’t know. It was dark. He was just sitting there.”
“I’m very worried about Oscar.”
“He must be starving. Tony probably fed him a few times before he got killed. So Oscar probably hasn’t eaten for days. I’ve got to go back to the apartment and feed him.”
Christ, was this guy for real? Gary’s anger bubbled over. “Are you kidding? You sent Tony Tam to feed the cat and he got murdered, and if you try to feed the cat, you’ll probably get murdered. It’s just a cat. Forget about it – it’s caused enough trouble. It’ll have to take its chances.”
A frown and reluctant shrug. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course, I’m right. Right now, you should focus on getting even with Merton and protecting yourself.”
“Protecting myself? How?”
“The only way to guarantee your safety is to release the file. Once it’s public, the bad guys won’t have a reason to kill you. Indeed, killing you would authenticate the file.”
“But they’ll want revenge.”
“They’ll have too much on their plates to worry about that.”
“OK. You’ll help me release it?”
A suspicious stare. “Why?”
A shrug. “Trewaley and Merton have really pissed me off.”
A tentative smile. “Good. But how do we release it?”
“I’ve got to think about that. Where is it right now?”
Arnott reached into his top pocket and pulled out a yellow USB flash drive. “There’s a copy on here.”
“Is that the only copy?”
“Of course not.”
“Where are the others?”
A suspicious look. “You don’t need to know.”
A shrug. “I guess so. Now, what are we going to do about your mother?
“What do you mean?”
“She’s worried sick about you. I want to tell her that you’re alive and well.”
“If you do, you’ll have to tell her that I got myself into a huge mess. I don’t want that. She already thinks I’m pretty stupid. You’ll just confirm that.”
Gary realised that, if he approached Madeline Arnott, he would have to explain that her son was in mortal peril and she couldn’t see him until the danger passed. She would probably become hysterical and go to the police. He had to avoid that at all costs.
He said: “Alright, let’s wait until after you’ve released the file and the coast is clear. That won’t be long.”
“Now, you’ve got to lay low until we release it. You can stay at my apartment tonight if you want.”
“But, right now, I’ve got a chore to do. Will you be alright on your own for a while? I’ll meet you back here in, say, two hours. Then we’ll go to my apartment.”
“What’s this chore?”
When Gary was a cop, he arrested lots of cretins who were convicted because they didn’t dispose of incriminating evidence. He resolved that, if he ever committed a serious crime, he wouldn’t be so stupid. Well, that moment had arrived. He didn’t think the thug he shot in Alexandria would report him to the police. But, just in case he did, Gary wanted to dispose of the pistol in his possession and wash any gun-shot residue off his skin and clothes.
He didn’t want to leave Patrick Arnott alone, because Arnott seemed rather immature. But he didn’t want the guy tagging along and getting in his way, either. In the end, he decided to leave Arnott on his own. Surely, the guy couldn’t get into much trouble.
Gary said: “You don’t need to know. But don’t worry; I’ll be back here in two hours, OK? Make sure you are too.”
A nod. “I’ll be here.”
“Good. Have a cup of coffee; do some shopping. But don’t contact anyone you know. I’ll see you in two hours.”
Gary left Arnott in the coffee shop and drove over to his apartment. It was highly unlikely the bad guys knew his identity and were staking out the place. But, just in case, he approached his front door with the pistol extended, ready for trouble. He carefully examined the lock. No sign it had been picked or forced. He unlocked the door, pushed it open and entered with the pistol on duty.
It took him five minutes to slide through the apartment, heart thumping, and establish there was no intruder. As his pulse slowed, he grabbed a couple of large plastic bags from the kitchen and some fresh clothes from the bedroom.
In the bathroom, he stripped off his clothes and put them in a plastic bag. Then he scrubbed his body under the shower to remove any trace elements. He dried off and put on the fresh clothes.
After putting the thug’s pistol in the other plastic bag, he went into the bedroom and pulled off a loose skirting board. In the cavity behind it was a small biscuit tin. Inside the tin were an untraceable Smith & Wesson .357 with a spare clip and a shoulder holster. He put on the shoulder holster and tucked the pistol inside it. Then he took a roomy blue linen jacket out of the wardrobe and slipped it on.
He carried the two plastic bags down to his van and drove around until he saw a Salvation Army collection bin. He pushed the plastic bag with his old clothes into the bin, but kept the bag with the hot pistol.
His drove over to the Rose Bay jetty, parked in its small car park and waited for the next ferry to pull up. While waiting, he listened to a news bulletin on ABC radio. No mention of a shooting in Alexandria. That was hardly surprising. The guy he shot was probably still trying to call an ambulance.
After twenty minutes, a ferry from the city centre rounded a headland and chugged towards the jetty. A seaplane took off, banked left and climbed over it.
Gary slipped the plastic bag holding the pistol inside his jacket. Then he joined the half-dozen people waiting to board the ferry.
Patrick Arnott now accepted that stealing Angus Trewaley’s file from Merton & Co was a quantum leap beyond the dumbest thing he’d ever done. That act turned his life into a nightmare during which he kept asking himself one basic question: “Why the fuck did you do it?”
He told Pastor McKenzie and Gary Maddox that he felt he had a Christian duty to expose Trewaley’s tax evasion. But that was a pompous lie intended to make him sound heroic. He didn’t really object to Trewaley cheating on his tax. He’d been an accountant long enough to know that, if a rich person paid a decent amount of tax, the guy was making a big mistake and should sack his accountant. So he didn’t steal the file for a noble motive. The real reason was that nobody took him seriously.
While growing up, he never expected to suffer that indignity. His ambitious parents gave their only child the best education possible and expected him to bathe in success. However, instead of becoming a high-flying professional, like his surgeon father, he became a shit-kicking accountant playing with excel spreadsheets. His parents pretended they didn’t mind. They said they just wanted him to be happy. He knew that was a lie.
When he got a job at Merton & Co, he felt a surge of hope. It was a successful boutique firm doing high-end accountancy work. Maybe his career was finally on the launch pad. However, he soon discovered that Robert Merton was an arsehole who kept belittling his skills and giving him menial jobs. The bullying got so bad that Arnott considered suing Merton, but was too afraid.
His personal life was just as unsuccessful. He was no oil-painting and lacked social confidence. Few women agreed to go out with him once and none returned for seconds. One woman, who refused to go out on a date, accused him of wearing far too much cologne. She obviously didn’t realise how much he sweated.
He thought he’d found the solution to his problems when a friend took him to a Sunday service of the Sunrise Mission. Pastor McKenzie told the congregation that, if they were nice to God and Jesus, the divine duo would make them wealthy and successful. That was just what Arnott wanted to hear. He even paid for Pastor McKenzie to give him some life-coaching. He loved it when the Pastor told him to identify and accept his weaknesses. “Make your glitch your gift,” the Pastor kept saying.
The church was also a great place to meet single women. Indeed, he became besotted with one in particular – the bob-haired singer, Joy Holland – and followed her around without daring to approach her. However, she eventually approached him and called him “a creep”. She even threatened to get an AVO order.
So, after a flicker of hope, his life turned to shit again. But it got even worse when a colleague at work warned that Merton planned to sack him. That revelation hit him like a harpoon. Getting sacked would crush his fragile ego and send his career into a flat-spin. Anger welled up inside him. He was tired of being kicked around. Merton was just the latest scumbag who refused to recognise his talent. But he would pay the price. It was time to strike back. Arnott would steal Angus Trewaley’s file and leak it to the Tax Office and the news media. Then, after Trewaley and Merton were ruined, he would step forward and claim the credit. People would finally take him seriously. He would be feted like Snowden and Assange – well, maybe just Snowden, because Assange wasn’t popular anymore. Even Joy Holland and his stupid mother would be impressed.
However, his masterplan went pear-shaped when Merton found out he had copied the file and confronted him. He had to flee for his life. Then, to make matters worse, Pastor McKenzie betrayed him, his neighbour and best friend, Tony Tam, was thrown off his balcony and a couple of thugs tried to murder him. Indeed, he was only alive because the guy his mother employed, Gary Maddox, turned up and shot one of the brutes. Maddox was a big tough-looking guy who seemed to have his shit together. That, at least, was some consolation. But Arnott desperately wanted his old life back, even if it was shitty and humiliating. Surely, he wasn’t asking too much.
After Maddox left Arnott in the coffee shop, Arnott considered contacting his mother to tell her he was alive and well. She would be worried sick about him and desperate for news. But, if he contacted her, he would have to reveal how stupid he’d been and explain he was still in mortal peril. She would probably tear strips off him. Anyway, she’d caused him a lot of pain during his life. He was entitled to cause her some. He wouldn’t contact her yet.
He was more worried about his beautiful tabby cat, Oscar. For years, the cat sat on his lap while he watched TV and listened to him voice his dreams and fears without censure. He loved the cat more than anything. So he was deeply upset to learn that Oscar must be starving. Tony Tam probably fed the cat once or twice before he was killed. But, even if he did, Oscar wouldn’t have eaten for several days.
He had to rescue the cat before it starved to death. Returning to the apartment would be dangerous, because the thugs might still be around. But he had no choice. Hopefully, the death of Tony Tam scared them away, and he would be very, very careful.
Arnott considered waiting until Maddox returned to the coffee shop and telling him what he proposed to do. However, Maddox would try to stop him. But, if he hurried, he could rescue the cat and be back before Maddox returned. He didn’t have a moment to lose.
After Gary and the others waiting on Rose Bay Jetty had boarded the ferry, it set off for Watsons Bay, an inlet tucked inside the South Head of the harbour. The ferry was full of Chinese tourists photographing each other photographing each other. Occasionally, they glanced at the tightly-packed mansions that lined the shore or the dozens of sailing boats darting around the harbour.
Watsons Bay was once the home of a small fishing village. Now, a modest abode cost more than $10 million, streets were lined with huge garage doors and half the homes were undergoing major renovations. When the ferry docked at its jetty, the tourists stormed off and headed across a neck of land to view the Pacific Ocean.
A phalanx of their compatriots boarded the ferry and it headed back towards Rose Bay. When it was half-way there, ploughing through dark water in the middle of the harbour, Gary strolled over to the side and rested his elbows on the railing. After glancing around to ensure no-one was watching, he slipped his hand inside his jacket, took out the plastic-wrapped pistol and dropped it over the side. Exhibit A slipped through the foam and disappeared. He glanced around again. Still nobody looking. Excellent.
He disembarked with a few other passengers at Rose Bay and the ferry continued towards the city centre. Then he drove his van back to the coffee shop in Paddington, arriving about ten minutes early. Arnott wasn’t there yet. That didn’t faze Gary much. But when their rendezvous time came and went, he got edgy. Fifteen minutes later, he realised that Arnott wasn’t going to turn up and felt a stab of panic. Bloody hell. What game was the idiot playing? Gary pulled out his phone and tried to call Arnott. No answer.
Maybe Arnott went to see his mother. But that was unlikely. Then Gary remembered the tabby cat he saw on the balcony of the Drummoyne apartment. Arnott talked about rescuing the cat from starvation. Gary thought he’d talked him out of that. Obviously not. Shit. The guy had no judgement at all.
Gary had to get over to the apartment as soon as possible, in case the bad guys were still lurking about and Arnott ran into them. He tossed some coins on the table and dashed towards his van.
Half an hour later, Gary stood in the corridor outside of Patrick Arnott’s apartment, pistol drawn, heart thumping. Was Arnott inside? Were Merton’s thugs with him? Only one way to find out.
He used the key that Madeline Arnott gave him to gently unlock the door and nudge it open. He slipped quietly into the apartment, wondering if he was about to die because of a frickin’ cat. His heart thudded as he swept the living room with his pistol. The only living creature was the cat, sitting on the dining table, staring at him, oblivious to how much trouble it had caused. Its bony frame and loose skin indicated it had been on short rations. A weak “meow”.
Maybe Arnott didn’t come here to rescue the cat, but went on some other errand. Then Gary saw an upturned coffee table and a toppled lamp on the floor. A Yankees baseball cap lay beside them. Jesus. The thugs working for Merton obviously cornered Arnott in this apartment and overpowered him. What did they do then? Did they kill him? Maybe they threw him off the balcony, like Tony Tam. Shit.
Gary dashed onto the balcony and peered down. There was still no water in the pool, but no body either. Thank God. That mean the two thugs must have dragged Arnott off somewhere else. Where?
Gary was strongly tempted to leave Arnott to his fate. He’d already saved the idiot once – and had to shoot someone in the process – only for the guy to ignore his advice and try to rescue a cat. The guy didn’t deserve to be saved. The smart move was to go home, lay low and let this whole fiasco drift off into the past.
However, Gary hated giving up and hated losing, particularly to scumbags like Trewaley and Merton who had caused him so much grief. He must have the last laugh.
While pondering where Merton’s thugs took Arnott, he strolled into the kitchen and saw the cat’s food and water bowls were empty. He filled the food bowl with dry cat food from a cupboard and filled the water bowl with tap water. The cat materialised and munched away at the food, sides heaving.
Gary realised that, right now, the thugs must be transporting Arnott to a secluded place for interrogation about the Trewaley file. Merton would want to know how many copies of the file Arnott made and what he did with them. Once Merton had that information, Arnott’s future would go up in smoke.
Merton was probably at his city office when the thugs seized Arnott. They would have contacted him and told him where they were taking Arnott for interrogation. Merton must have then decided to attend the interrogation, to assess whether the information Arnott provided was reliable.
However, a busy man like Merton might not be able to leave work immediately. Indeed, if Gary was quick, he might get to Merton’s office building in time to follow him. There was only a slim chance of that. But that was the only chance he – and Patrick Arnott – had.
He raced downstairs, got into his van and zoomed towards the city centre. Thankfully, the traffic was light and it only took him 15 minutes to reach the office tower that housed Merton & Co. He parked across the road from the underground car park exit. While waiting, he rang up Vincent Drew and asked him to find out what properties Merton owned in the Sydney area.
“Hah, that’ll be easy. Won’t even need to hack into anything. Just got to search the Land Titles Office database. In fact, you can look yourself.”
“I can, but I’m busy trying to save civilization. How long will you take?”
“I’m busy. Maybe an hour.”
“Then you’ve got half an hour. This is urgent. Pretend you’re working for James Bond.”
“That’ll be hard.”
“Just do it.”
Gary waited for another fifteen minutes and had almost given up hope of seeing Merton leave, when a black Toyota LandCruiser popped out of the dark maw of the building and slowly turned onto the street. Merton was behind the wheel.
“Gotcha,” Gary yelled.
He followed the landcruiser through the narrow streets of the city centre, desperately afraid of losing it or being detected. Following the vehicle got a lot easier after it swung up onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge and headed north along the Pacific Highway. There weren’t many traffic lights and there were plenty of other cars Gary could hide behind.
Merton drove for twenty kilometres until he reached the outskirts of the city and shifted onto the six-lane freeway heading towards the Central Coast. After that, it was even easier for Gary to follow him.
Sixty kilometres later, Merton turned off onto Entrance Road and drove through the rundown heart of Gosford City, thirty kilometres from the coast.
Gary’s phone buzzed and he looked at the screen. Vincent Drew. He answered the call. “Yes, mate, what kept you?”
“Other clients, who pay better.”
Smartarse. “Maybe, but they don’t respect you like I do. Anyway, what’s the vibe?”
“Merton owns four properties in New South Wales. Wealthy guy, huh? He owns a mansion in Potts Point, a farm in Kangaroo Valley, a holiday home in Bega and a beach house at Forresters Beach.
If Merton stayed on the present road for another thirty kilometres, he would end up at Forresters Beach. That must be his destination. Gary felt relieved. He couldn’t lose Merton now. “Excellent work. What’s the address at Forresters Beach?”
Vincent read it out and Gary wrote it on a piece of paper balanced on his thigh.
Gary felt unusually generous. “Maybe I should pay you more.”
“We should discuss that.”
Gary sobered up. “When I get a chance.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
Gary stayed about half a kilometre behind Merton, confident that, if he lost the guy, he could head straight for his beach house. Merton reached the coast and drove along it for a couple of kilometres, past million-dollar homes perched on low cliffs overlooking long beaches. Then Merton turned into the driveway of a large timber beach house nestled in bushland. It was the perfect place to interrogate someone before disposing of his body.
Gary drove past and saw the driveway sloped down to a double-door garage tucked under the beach house. Merton had parked his landcruiser outside the garage, next to a Volkswagen Passat, and was now climbing a long flight of wooden stairs to the front door. He paid no attention to Gary’s passing vehicle.
Gary continued for another three hundred metres and parked around a bend. He turned off the engine and heard the cackle and shriek of native birds. The waning sun splashed faint light on the scenery. Through gaps in the bushland, he glimpsed a long, vacant beach dotted with driftwood.
His hands shivered as he checked his pistol to make sure it was loaded, before slipping it back into his shoulder holster. He strolled along the road, past half-a-dozen beach houses, each about fifty metres apart, nestled in bushland and perched on a small cliff overlooking the ocean. Gary bet the cheapest cost several million dollars.
Merton’s beach house had a long window facing the road and a wide verandah wrapped around it. In case someone was at the window, Gary ducked into the thick bushes beside the driveway and worked his way around to the side of the house. There, he found a flight of wooden stairs leading up to the verandah.
Gary slipped up the stairs as if they were covered in rice-paper, and pulled out his pistol. He put his back against a solid timber wall and listened. Someone inside the house was yelling something.
He slid along the timber wall until it met a glass wall with a sliding door, slightly ajar. He peeked into a well-lit living room with white leather furniture and a pine floor. At the far end, another long glass wall overlooked the ocean.
Patrick Arnott sat in an armchair, wearing a black eye and terrified expression, hands gripping the armrests. Merton paced up and down in front of him while his two thuggish helpers – Hatchet-face and Baldy – stood just behind him.
Merton half-yelled: “You’ve caused me so much trouble, you little shit. I had to hire these guys to find you and Trewaley is unbelievably pissed off. His Chief of Staff phoned me a couple of days ago and said some fuckin’ pastor, of all people, tipped him off that you stole Trewaley’s file from my firm. The guy was not happy.”
Merton kept pacing. “But, in a way, this is all my fault: I shouldn’t have hired you in the first place, because you’re a total fuck-up. You always did crap work. I was going to sack you, you know? But you stole the file before I could.”
Arnott took off his fear mask and managed a scowl. “You bullied me all of the time and never gave me a chance to shine.”
“I gave you too many fuckin’ chances. But you’ve always hated me, haven’t you? That’s why you stole the file, isn’t it, to hurt me? Now, tell me: what did you do with it? Did you show it to anyone at the Tax Office or a journalist?”
A pleading look. “I didn’t show it to anyone, I promise. I mean, I mentioned it to the Pastor, that’s all.”
Merton stopped and put his hands on his hips. “Really? Then tell me this: where’s the file right now? Where are you keeping it?”
That question surprised Gary. Several hours ago, in the Paddington cafe, Arnott showed Gary a flash drive which, he said, contained the file. When Merton’s thugs caught Arnott, they must have searched him. Yet they obviously didn’t find the drive. What happened to it? Did Arnott dispose of it somewhere?
Arnott said: “I-I-I don’t have the file anymore.”
“I, umm, lost it.”
Merton leaned forward and spittle-painted Arnott’s face. “Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. Where the fuck is it? And where are the copies you made? Tell me now or these guys will kill you. No, let me correct myself: I will kill you, personally. I will take you outside and throw you off the cliff. It’s fifty metres straight down onto rocks. You’ll go splat.”
Arnott cringed and seemed to shrink. “OK, OK. If I give back the file, you’ll let me go?”
A wolfish smile. “Of course, as long as I get back the file and any copies you made.”
“H-h-how can I trust you?”
A wicked smile. “I’m a businessman, not a killer. You’ve caused me a lot of trouble. But, if I get back my property, I’ll forgive you. Of course, if I don’t, you’re dead meat.”
Gary knew Merton was lying. Nothing Arnott said or did would convince Merton that Arnott had returned all copies of the file he made. For additional insurance and because he was a nasty prick, Merton would kill Arnott.
“OK, OK. I’ll tell you where the file is. I’ve got it on a flash drive. It’s in the kitchen of my apartment, in the, umm, cutlery drawer.”
“How many copies did you make?”
“None, I promise.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not. After I ran away from the office, I was too afraid to go home, so I couldn’t collect the flash drive and make copies.”
Merton stared hard at Arnott and finally stood up straight. “Alright, I’ll get someone to look in the drawer. You’d better not be messing with me.”
Merton turned to Hatchet-face. “Mick, you can still get back into the apartment, right?”
“Of course, Boss.”
“Good. Check the drawer. See if there’s a flash drive.”
Gary gripped his pistol tight and prayed Hatchet-face didn’t try to leave the beach house via the glass sliding door. Thankfully, the thug pulled some keys out of his pocket and exited through a door on the other side of the living room.
When he’d gone, Arnott looked up at Merton and rubbed his nose. “Can I have some water?”
Merton hesitated and looked at the bald brute. “Get him some water.”
Baldy disappeared from the room and came back, thirty seconds later, with a glass of water that he handed to Arnott.
As Arnott gulped the water, spilling some down his shirt, Gary heard a car outside start up and drive off. That was the signal he’d been waiting for.
The glass door was already slightly ajar and it slid open soundlessly. Gary stepped into the living room, pistol extended, body humming with tension. “Don’t move a muscle.”
Merton and his accomplice disobeyed him and spun around. The bald thug moved his hand towards the inside of his jacket.
Gary yelled. “Don’t.”
The thug stopped, eyes gleaming and hand shaking.
Merton’s voice quivered. “Who the hell are you? Oh, you’re Maddox, aren’t you – that private investigator? What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Shut up. I ask the questions because I’ve got the gun. Cause any trouble and I use it, understand?”
Merton stared at the muzzle and shook. “Y-y-yes.”
“Excellent.” Gary looked at Patrick Arnott. “You OK?”
Arnott looked like he’d just been handed his life back, which he had. He put the glass on the floor. “Yeah. Jesus, thank God you’re here. They were gonna kill me.”
“I heard. Now, come over here, but don’t get in my line of fire, OK?”
“Good. Crawl if necessary.”
Arnott got out of his chair and, after crawling in front of Merton, got to his feet and circled around to stand next to Gary, face flushed and panting hard. A smile covered his whole face except the black eye. “Thank you, thank you, very much.”
Gary wanted to call him a total idiot, but that would have to wait. He was confident Merton wasn’t armed – he left the dirty work to his hired help – but Baldy obviously was. He looked at the bald guy. “Remember me? You hit me on the head in the apartment after throwing a guy off the balcony. Take out your pistol, very, very slowly and put it on the floor. Be very, very careful, because I desperately want to shoot you. Just give me a tiny excuse.”
Baldy’s face glowed with fear and anger. “I don’t have a pistol.”
Gary smiled, enjoying the situation. “You mean you were about to scratch yourself? I’ll search your corpse if you want.”
Baldy scowled. “You’re just talking big. You won’t shoot me. You’re just pretending.”
Gary admired his gumption and smiled. “There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? Be a huge laugh if you’re wrong.”
Baldy saw how steadily Gary held the pistol and realised he had made a serious error of judgement. A violent nod. “OK, OK, I’ll take it out.”
“Good. And, like I said, do it very, very slowly. Thumb and forefinger only, understand? I’m very twitchy right now. This is no time to send the wrong signal.”
“OK, OK. Be cool dude, be cool.” The bald thug put a shaking hand inside his jacket and used his thumb and forefinger to extract a Colt .32 pistol that he slowly bent down and laid on the polished floorboards.
“Well done. Now, take five steps back.”
The bald thug slowly retreated, counting each step aloud to avoid confusion. Gary stepped forward, picked up the pistol and tucked it into the small of his back. He returned to stand beside Arnott.
Merton looked at Gary. “Why the hell are you here? What do you want?”
“Like I told you in your office: I was hired to find Patrick, that’s all. Now, we’re going to say goodbye.”
“You can’t leave.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“You know why he’s in trouble?”
“He stole Angus Trewaley’s file from your firm?”
“Yes. And if I don’t get it back, you’re both dead.”
The idiot acted like he was still in his office, pushing around employees. Because he had a lot of money and wore nice suits, he thought he ruled the world. Gary considered shooting both bastards in cold blood. Then he wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life. However, he wasn’t in the right mental zone to do that, yet. He scowled. “You mean, you’re threatening me?”
Merton looked at Gary’s pistol and blanched. “Umm, no, of course not. But surely we can sort this out. I’ve got money – a lot of money – in this house. Do you want it? You and Patrick can share it.”
“How would we earn that money?”
“You two give me back the Trewaley file and every copy. Then we would let bygones be bygones.”
“You mean, you wouldn’t seek revenge? You wouldn’t try to silence Patrick?”
“Definitely not. You’d both be fine, fine.”
Gary grinned. “Unfortunately, I have a problem with your proposal.”
“I can’t trust you: you’re crooked; your firm’s crooked; your clients are crooked; you hired goons who murdered an innocent kid. You heard what happened to Tony Tam?”
“That was, umm, unfortunate.”
“It was murder.”
A deep frown. “I can give you half a million. It’s in the safe. Take it and give me the file, and we’ll be square.”
Gary wasn’t interested in Merton’s offer and preferred to frighten the dodgy bastard. “I do, of course, have another option.”
“I could force you to open the safe, take the money and then shoot you both behind the ear.”
Merton looked a shadow of the smug bastard Gary met several days ago on the 65th floor of an office tower. His lips trembled and he held up his palms, like a traffic cop. “No, no, don’t shoot me, please. Like I said, I’ve got plenty of money here. Take it and let me live. I’ve got a wife; I’ve got kids. You won’t shoot me, right?”
“I still haven’t decided. What would you do in my situation?”
His face liquefied. “I would, umm, hand over the file and take the money.”
Gary urged himself to kill both bastards in cold blood, but couldn’t override his scruples. He didn’t want their blood on his hands. Instead, he’d make sure the Trewaley’s file was made public. Hopefully, after that, Merton would be too busy drowning in shit to exact revenge. “Shut up. We’re about to leave. And just remember this, if I ever see you or your thugs again, it will be the last …”
Gary sensed movement and turned to see Hatchet-face step back through the side-door, ten metres away.
“Sorry, Boss, I forgot …”
Hatchet-face saw Gary and his eyes exploded. With blinding speed, like a Western gunfighter, he grabbed a pistol inside his jacket, whipped it out and fired two shots at Gary. But he was overhasty. The two bullets buzzed past Gary, who raised his pistol and snapped off two shots in reply. The first hit the door frame; the second hit Hatchet-face in the chest and shoved him back against a wall. Eyes bulging and chest heaving, Hatchet-face tried to raise his pistol. Gary pumped another bullet into his chest. Hatchet-face dropped his pistol and slid down the wall.
Gary’s hand shook as he rotated to cover Merton and Baldy, who were both unarmed. Baldy dashed towards the glass side-door and Gary snapped off a shot that made Baldy flinch without slowing him down. The thug zipped through the doorway and disappeared off the verandah. Damn.
Gary turned back and saw Merton pick up the pistol that Hatchet-face dropped and start to raise it. Oh, shit. “Drop it.”
Merton kept raising the pistol and Gary fired twice, hitting Merton in the upper chest and head. The accountant flopped onto his back.
Thick, rich blood surged through Gary’s heart. Every nerve tingled. Cordite tickled his nostrils.
He remembered Patrick Arnott. What happened to him? He swivelled around and didn’t see him. Then he looked down. Arnott lay on his back, with a big bullet wound in his left cheek and blood oozing from the back of his head. Oh, shit. Hatchet-face must have shot him.
Gary bent down and passed a hand over blank eyes. Not even a flicker. Obviously dead. Gary had concluded Patrick was selfish and naïve, but the guy didn’t deserve to die like this. Nobody did. Poor bastard.
Gary strode over to the accountant to check his condition. Merton was even deader than Patrick. He had a big bullet hole in his forehead, about two centimetres above sightless eyes. Bloody hell. Bile flecked Gary’s tongue and his chest went tight. He’d killed before, but not at this range. Christ.
His adrenalin turned sour and his anger grew. He stared down at the corpse and almost kicked it. “You thought everyone was betting their lives except you, didn’t you, you stupid bastard? You sure as hell got that wrong.”
He heard a car outside drive off. Must be Baldy making his escape.
He went over to Hatchet-face, slumped against a wall with a big raw wound in the middle of his chest, eyes closed. Also dead as mutton. Gary shivered. If Hatchet-face had stayed calm when he started shooting, Gary would be dead right now.
He straightened up, took some deep breaths and told himself to keep calm. Now, more than ever, he had to be patient and methodical. Nobody would turn up and disturb him. He had plenty of time. Use it. Make the right decisions.
He considered calling the police and explaining that he shot dead two guys while defending himself and another guy died in the cross-fire. But that idea had a very short shelf-life. The cops would automatically charge him with three murders and invite him to entertain a jury with his defences. No jury was going to decide his fate. Only he would do that.
His time as a cop taught him that fire is the enemy of police investigations. He went into the kitchen and saw the stove had a gas hot-plate. Great. He turned on the gas and snuffed out the flame.
Then he descended some wooden stairs into a huge garage that housed a Honda hatchback and a jet-ski. Two large jerry-cans stood against the far wall. He took off a cap and sniffed. Petrol. Fantastic. He checked the other jerry-can. More petrol.
He lugged the jerry-cans upstairs and poured the contents of one over the three bodies and the living room floor. Then he emptied the second can while retreating towards the sliding door. When he reached it, he stuck the muzzle of his pistol into a puddle of petrol and fired a round. The living room blossomed into a fireball. Heat washed over him and he scrambled back onto the verandah. His face was hot and he felt it for burns. It seemed alright. But he should have been more careful.
When he reached his van, he looked back and saw flames sprouting from under the eaves and folding back onto the roof, before licking the sky. It was an impressive sight.
He drove past the house and continued south. After a couple of kilometres he heard a siren rushing towards him. A minute later, a fire engine zoomed past, the scent of smoke in its nostrils.
Gary drove south with the moon-flecked ocean on his left. He passed million-dollar mansions that stared arrogantly out at the water and slipped through sleepy holiday villages. He kept mentally replaying the shoot-out in the beach house and wondered if he was to blame for Patrick Arnott’s death. Was his rescue attempt a mistake? No, don’t be stupid. If Gary did nothing, Merton would have killed Arnott anyway. He had no choice: he was forced to make the play he did. Then fate dealt Arnott a lousy hand.
After half-an-hour, he reached Terrigal, a trendy beach town that Sydneysiders flooded into on weekends. It looked fairly empty as he drove along the esplanade, past dozens of winking restaurants and cafes.
While recalling the shoot-out, he gripped the steering wheel so hard his hands now ached. He relaxed his grip and his fingers trembled. What was his next move? He must still have gunshot residue and fibres from the beach house on his clothes and skin. Had to remove them.
After parking his van in a car park next to the beach, he climbed into the back and found the spare clothes he sometimes changed into when doing surveillance work. He took off what he was wearing and put on a pair of fresh shorts. Then he dumped his used clothes into a nearby garbage bin and strolled across the near-deserted beach to the water’s edge.
After rubbing his body with wet sand for a while, he waded into inky-dark water laced with strands of foam. He took several quick strides and dove into a chilly wave. He ploughed through the surf for about fifty metres, until he reached calm water beyond and rolled onto his back. As he floated in a dark bubble, the shoot-out receded from his mind and he started to relax. If only he could float out there forever.
After several minutes, he glanced at the beach and saw it was now a thin ribbon of sand bucking on the horizon. Christ. Was he strong enough to swim against the tide and reach it? A dose of fear lit up his system. For ten minutes, he swam towards the beach, trying not to panic and waste energy. He eventually reached the surf and made a few unsuccessful attempts to catch a wave. Finally, arms aching, he caught one that rushed him towards the shore.
His feet touched the bottom and he stumbled towards the beach, utterly spent. He kneeled on the sand and recovered his breath, before slouching back to the van and towelling off. To his surprise, the distraction of almost drowning had left him calm and refreshed. He climbed into the back of the van, put on some of the spare clothes and wondered what to do next.
He had no intention of telling Madeline Arnott about the shoot-out or her son’s death. Indeed, he wouldn’t even mention that he found her son. The Homicide Squad would eventually identify his charred remains and inform her that he was found shot dead in a burnt-out house. She would be distressed, of course. But she would be even more distressed if Gary gave her a first-hand account of how he died. She would probably find some way to blame him for what happened. And, even if she didn’t, she would head straight to the police and repeat what Gary said. Then Gary would find himself upside down in a vat of shit.
He thought about the file on Trewaley that Patrick Arnott stole from Merton & Co. Arnott told Merton that the file was on a flash drive he hid in the cutlery drawer in his apartment. Should Gary check inside the drawer? His rational half told him to forget about the Trewaley file. Why plunge into further danger for no reward? However, several people had died – including Arnott – because of that file. If it disappeared, their deaths would become meaningless. Further, Gary regarded Trewaley as the real cause of the carnage at the beach house. The politician shouldn’t be allowed to escape responsibility for it and wander off into a bright future leading the country. For that reason alone, Gary was anxious to get his hands on the file and use it to destroy the guy.
Gary got behind the wheel of his van and headed for the apartment in Drummoyne. He soon reached a 500-metre-long bridge that spanned the Hawkesbury River. The two pistols in his possession were the last incriminating evidence he had to jettison. There were only a few cars on the bridge when he reached the middle. He slowed and tossed both pistols over the side into the void.
Half-an-hour later, Gary parked outside the apartment block in Drummoyne and looked up at its sparkling apartments. Doubt assailed him. Maybe, instead of searching the cutlery drawer, he should go home. Nope. He’d have too many regrets. Find the file and make Trewaley suffer.
He strolled towards the front entrance wearing a sweatshirt. To defeat the CCTV camera, he put the hood over his head and pulled the string tight until most of his face was covered.
He used the swipe card Madeline Arnott gave him to enter the small lobby and caught a lift up to the tenth floor. Not surprisingly, the front door of apartment number 104 – Tony Tam’s apartment – was crisscrossed with crime scene tape. However, the door of 103 – Patrick Arnott’s apartment – had none.
Gary used the key Madeline gave him to gently open the door and slip inside, wondering if he acted hastily when he threw the pistols off the bridge. Maybe, despite being wounded in the shoot-out, Baldy decided to search the cutlery drawer for the flash drive. If so, the thug might be in the apartment right now.
The apartment was dark and he waited, back against the wall, for several minutes until the living room turned grey, with lots of lines and shadows. To make sure he was alone, he slid through its two bedrooms, bathroom and laundry, and encountered no-one. While heading across the living room towards the kitchen, he passed the coffee table and reading lamp that were upturned when Patrick Arnott struggled with the thugs. Something brushed his leg and he jumped straight up. A dark blob screeched and zipped into a bedroom. Only the cat, thank God.
Heart thumping, he carefully stepped into the kitchen. Nobody there. He relaxed and turned on the light. A pair of rubber kitchen gloves was draped over the sink tap. He put them on and started opening bench drawers until he found the cutlery drawer. He rummaged through it. No flash drive. Shit. He rummaged again. Definitely no flash drive. Crap.
A long window above the sink overlooked a small cove. He scanned the twinkling apartment blocks spread around it and the ghostly yachts bobbing at their moorings, and wondered what to do next. Maybe Baldy beat him to the cutlery drawer and souvenired the flash drive. He seriously doubted that. Baldy was wounded and his employer dead. Why bother? So it looked like Patrick Arnott lied when he told Merton he hid a flash drive holding the Trewaley file in the cutlery drawer. Gary was impressed that, with his life on the line, Arnott lied so smoothly. He didn’t think Arnott had that sort of nerve.
He remembered the yellow flash drive Arnott showed him at the coffee shop in Paddington. What happened to it? Arnott certainly didn’t have it when the thugs took him to the beach house. He must have disposed of it. When? Where? Gary had no idea and sensed his search for the file had reached a dead end. Maybe he should stop looking for it and start the next chapter of his life, if the Homicide Squad let him.
He was about to leave when he heard a loud “meow” and looked down. The skinny tabby cat had slunk into the kitchen and sat on its haunches, staring at him. On a night filled with death, it was nice to see a living creature, particularly one so unconcerned about human affairs. What did Patrick call him? Oscar. “Hello, Oscar.”
The cat just stared.
He checked the food and water bowls he filled up earlier that day. Each half empty. If he left the cat in the apartment and didn’t come back to feed it, it would probably die from thirst or starvation. He didn’t want to come back and didn’t want it to die. The only other alternative was to take it with him. At first, he was reluctant to do so. Then he realised it would be rather nice to share his apartment with a cat. He’d never owned a cat, but had always liked them. Dogs slobbered and barked all the time, and demanded to be taken on walks. Cats had more self-respect and looked after themselves.
There had to be a cat carrier somewhere in the apartment. He searched the bedroom wardrobes until he found one under a pile of books. He took it back to the kitchen and found the cat scoffing away. When the cat paused for breath, he scooped it up and dumped its screeching form into the carrier. “Sorry, Oscar, you’re being kitty-napped.”
He picked up the carrier and headed for the door.
Gary found a convenience store in Bondi that was still open and bought dry cat food, a big bag of kitty litter and a litter tray. He toted those purchases and the cat in its carrier up ten flights of stairs to his apartment.
As soon as he released the cat from captivity, it screeched, savaged his couch with its claws as if it was an ancient enemy and disappeared under the sideboard. He already liked its style. “We’ll get to know each other later, OK?”
After setting up the litter tray in the bathroom, and putting food and water in bowls in the kitchen, he flopped onto his bed and stared at the ceiling, not sure whether to replay the violence in the beach house or force it from his mind.
As it turned out, his mind insisted on replaying the whole fiasco with forensic clarity. He remembered shooting Hatchet-face and Merton, and discovering Patrick Arnott dead on the floor. Could he have avoided that carnage? He didn’t see how. But Madeline Arnott hired him to find her son. Now she had no son and Gary couldn’t even tell her that without exposing himself to a murder charge. That was an appalling outcome. The sooner his memories of the beach house faded the better. But he sensed it would be a long while before they did.
Eventually, his mental cogs stopped spinning and he fell asleep. But sleep was no refuge because he dreamt that he was trapped in a burning house and forced to run around looking for an exit. His clothes caught fire and he woke screaming. It was several hours before he went back to sleep.
Dawn threw a stun grenade through the window. Then it sent a riot squad into the bedroom to beat him around the head with truncheons. Eventually, he stopped trying to sleep and wondered again if he could have avoided the bloodbath in the beach house. His stale brain kept dismissing arguments that exonerated him. The only way to stop burning mental rubber was to get busy. He climbed out of bed and slouched into the living room to find the cat. After scouting around, he dropped to his knees and looked under the sideboard. The cat peered out with frightened eyes. He didn’t blame it. However, in the bathroom, he saw it had done its business in the litter tray and buried it under a large mound. Well done.
After cleaning up the tray, he showered and dressed before turning on the television to discover the mayhem at the beach house was big news. After the opening credits of the Channel Eleven Breakfast News, a bouffant and buck-toothed news announcer appeared and said: “Homicide detectives are investigating the deaths of three people found in a burnt-out beach house at Forresters Beach last night. The Breakfast News chopper has reached the scene and can provide exclusive live footage …”
The program showed an aerial shot of the beach house, now a smoking ruin, and a line of fire trucks parked on the road outside it. Tiny figures in bright fireproof uniforms moved about in front of the building.
The preternaturally chirpy announcer continued in voice-over: “… A police spokesman said this morning that the Fire Brigade was notified about the fire shortly after eight o’clock last night. The first units to arrive found the beach house already well alight. After putting out the blaze, they discovered three badly burnt bodies and called the Homicide Squad.
“The police spokesman said the owner of the property was Mr Robert Merton, an accountant who acts for some of Sydney’s wealthiest people. He said it will take some time to identify the bodies and ascertain the causes of death. However, it is believed that Mr Merton was among the dead and pistols were found near the bodies. Channel Eleven will monitor this story and keep viewers informed about the latest developments.”
Gary turned off the TV and wondered how long it would take for the solicitor, Terry Burke, to find out that Robert Merton – Patrick Arnott’s boss – was dead and phone Gary. It didn’t take long. Gary had just started eating muesli at the kitchen table when his mobile phone made his crotch tingle.
He answered the call. “Hello, Gary here.”
“Gary, it’s Terry. Have you seen the news?”
“About Robert Merton? Yes, just saw it on TV. Seems he died in his beach house with a couple of other people.”
“Yeah, and pistols were found. There was obviously foul play. Then the whole place went up in flames. Someone obviously wanted to destroy the evidence. You got any idea what happened?”
Gary did not intend to tell Terry what transpired at the beach house, or even that Patrick Arnott was dead. While a policeman, Gary learnt the biggest reason why criminals ended up in gaol – after keeping incriminating evidence – was blabbing to friends about their misdeeds. Terry was a good friend and a trustworthy guy. But there was no point testing his loyalty, particularly when the stakes were so high. Anyway, it would be unfair to burden Terry with such dangerous information. Better to give him what politicians called plausibility deniability.
A suspicious tone. “You sure?”
“It’s bloody odd that the employer of the guy you’re trying to find dies in a shoot-out in his beach house.”
“Of course it’s bloody odd. That’s why I’m going to ask the police what happened and whether Patrick Arnott was involved.”
“You mean, you still haven’t found Arnott?”
“Correct. I’ve got nowhere. In fact, I’m close to throwing in the towel.”
“Maybe he died in the beach house.”
“That thought has crossed my mind. But I’ve got no idea. Don’t worry, I’ll ask the police if there’s any link with him.”
“OK.” A long sigh. “Madeline will get hysterical when she hears about this.”
Gary felt guilty about not telling Madeline Arnott that her son died in a shoot-out at the beach house. But, if he did, she would still get hysterical and then report everything he said to the police. His reward for being a gentleman would be to have a Homicide detective – maybe even Karen – knock on his door and arrest him for murder. No point being nice if your reward is 20 years behind bars. No thank you. Indeed, he would dump Madeline Arnott in Terry’s lap.
He said: “I’m sure she will. That’s why I think you should contact her. Tell her I’m checking to see if there is any connection between what happened at the beach house and her son.”
“You don’t want to talk to her?”
“My plate’s full and you know her a lot better than me. You can handle the hysterics.”
A sigh. “OK, I will.”
Gary felt relieved. “Thanks.”
A long pause. “Are you sure you’ve got no idea what happened at the beach house?”
“Why would I know anything?”
“It’s the sort of crazy shit you’d get involved in.”
“Lots of people get involved in crazy shit – don’t point the finger at me.”
Another pause and Terry said, doubtfully: “Sorry.”
Gary hung up and slowly ate his muesli, hoping to hear no more about the beach-house deaths and the Trewaley file. Those hopes were soon dashed.
Gary reached his office soon after nine o’clock and realised that he’d better tell Vincent Drew to turn off his meter. He mobile phoned the hacker. “Vincent, Gary here – stop working on the Arnott matter.”
“OK. You found him?”
“You could say that.”
“He’s had better days.”
“You don’t need to know.”
“Fair enough. But, hey, I saw on TV that the guy you were asking about – Robert Merton – got spit-roasted in his beach house.”
Shit. Gary had forgotten that Vincent was in the loop. He spoke sharply. “Forget about that, OK – forget about it now.”
“OK, OK. None of my business.”
“I’ll send you a bill for about $1,500.”
Gary was tempted to ask for a discount, but Vincent was being very reasonable. “Fine.”
He hung up and wondered what, if anything, to charge Madeline Arnott. He decided to only charge her his out-of-pocket expenses – basically, Vincent’s bill – and refund the rest of the advance she provided. He felt guilty about charging even that much. But, after everything he’d been through, he had no intention of paying Vincent himself. Anyway, if he didn’t charge her something, she’d become suspicious. Perhaps the only thing he’d learnt about business was that nobody appreciates a free service. They just assume it was sub-standard.
So, after all that he had endured, he would be no closer to finding the $15,500 he owed the Tax Office. Bloody hell. There had to be much, much easier ways to make a buck. What a nightmare.
He had some court documents to serve and a workers’ compensation surveillance job to do, but felt too depressed to do either. He desperately wanted to talk to someone about the shoot-out and unburden himself.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t talk to Karen, because she was a cop. If his parents were still alive, he would have talked to them and they would have consoled him. So maybe, if he visited their graves, his mind would ease. Yes, that was what he would do.
The last time he visited their graves, he found fresh flowers on his father’s grave. He had no idea who left them and felt guilty he took none himself. So he bought a bouquet of native flowers at a grocery shop near his office and drove his Toyota sedan up to the cemetery.
He parked in the top car park and carried the flowers down the hill, between elegant tombstones, into a pocket of serenity. The razor-sharp horizon separated the pure-blue sky and dark-blue ocean. A brisk sea breeze ruffled the heavy grass.
He reached his parents’ graves and saw another bouquet of fresh red roses lying on his father’s one. Who the hell kept putting them there? He itched to find out.
He put the bouquet on his mother’s grave and sat on her tombstone. The anger he felt towards his father for having $300,000 buried in his backyard had almost dissolved. His father must have done something bad. But what right did Gary, who had just shot dead two people, have to judge him? For cops, the line between right and wrong could get very hazy. Maybe his father got handed a bunch of bad options.
After a while, he stopped thinking about his parents or the shoot-out and stared at the ocean. For almost an hour, a huge yacht, heeled far over, clawed towards the Heads and finally disappear into the harbour. He got up and strolled back to his car.
Gary returned to his office feeling better about life. That afternoon, he dashed around the Eastern Suburbs and served court papers on three litigants. Fortunately, they were all where he was told they would be and none tried to flee. After that, he went back to his apartment to clean it up before Karen dropped over that evening.
When he stepped through the front door, the cat popped its head out from under the sideboard and stared at him.
The cat slunk up to him, rubbed against his leg and meowed loudly. After he stroked it a couple of times, it launched another vicious and unprovoked assault on the innocent couch, which was obviously not going to make it. He didn’t mind that, but hoped the cat wasn’t crazy. “Calm down or I’ll get a dog.”
He pushed open the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. After dismissively leaving a few more claw marks on the couch, the cat swaggered outside and sat on the concrete railing, gargoyle-like, unfussed about the twenty-metre drop.
Gary spent the next hour dusting, vacuuming and packing stuff away, with little noticeable effect. At six o’clock, he slumped onto the couch and watched Action Nightly News. None of the mayhem he’d been involved in got a mention, which was a good sign.
When the program finished, he went back to cleaning up. Just after seven o’clock, a knock on the door made the cat scampered back under the sideboard. Gary looked through the eye-hole. Karen stood outside, wearing a brown jacket and dark slacks.
He opened the door. “Hello, baby.”
She’d obviously just come from work because, when they kissed, he felt her empty shoulder holster. Erotic? You bet.
She said: “You look sweaty.”
“I’ve been cleaning the apartment.”
She smiled. “For me?”
“I wouldn’t do it for myself.”
“That’s true.” She strolled into the living room and looked around, obviously wondering what had changed.
He said: “I’m giving it a thorough clean, so the gains aren’t immediately obvious.”
She giggled. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“Want a beer?”
He took a couple of bottles from the fridge in the kitchen, returned and passed her one. “You should look under the sideboard.”
She took a sip and raised an eyebrow. “The sideboard – why?”
She crouched and peered under the sideboard. The cat screeched and dashed off into the bedroom.
Karen rocked back and almost spilt some beer. “Wow.”
“Sorry, I didn’t think he’d get that upset.”
She smiled. “No problem. What’s his name?”
“Oscar, though I think I might change it to something a bit tougher.”
A shrug. “I don’t know: Tex or Butch, or maybe Gary. I’ll call him Little Gary.”
“Don’t you dare. Oscar’s fine. Where does he come from?”
“A friend couldn’t look after him, so I stepped in.”
“He looked a bit thin.”
“Like I said, he wasn’t well looked after.”
An appraising look. “I didn’t know you were a cat person.”
“Yeah, I’ve always liked cats. You don’t like them?”
She shrugged. “They’re OK, but I prefer dogs.”
“Cats are better,” Gary said, surprising himself.
“Dogs bark and slobber all the time to show affection. Cats don’t make such a big deal out of it.”
“Maybe that’s because they feel no affection.”
He frowned. “It’s lucky Oscar doesn’t understand what you’re saying. He’d be very upset. I think you’re getting jealous.”
An unladylike snort. “Hardly. Out of curiosity, has your wonder cat been neutered?”
“I haven’t checked. I assume so. Does it matter? He’s not going to meet any chicks.”
“It will calm him down. If you don’t, he’ll probably spend all day pissing in every corner to mark out his space.”
“Oh? Do you know what to look for?”
He was uncomfortable about checking another guy’s nuts, even a cat’s. “Will you, umm, check him?”
“Me? Why don’t you do it?”
He grinned. “I don’t want to look at his balls, if he’s got any. That would be totally disrespectful. I mean, we hardly know each other. He’ll think I’m some sort of weirdo.”
“But it’s OK if I do?”
She laughed and punched him. “You’re being stupid.”
“I know. But you’ll do it?”
She sighed. “Yes, when I get a chance.”
They sat on the couch and she noticed the fresh claw marks. “He obviously likes your couch.”
“He’s making himself at home.”
She took another sip and gave him a look many crooks had seen in an interrogation room. “You’ve been looking very excited recently. Are you doing something dangerous?”
She didn’t rattle him. “No, just a boring surveillance.”
She looked doubtful. “Really?”
A shrug. “Well, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s OK. As long as you’re not having an affair.”
“I wouldn’t dare – you’d shoot me.”
“What about you – what have you been doing?”
“Oh, I’m still investigating the wino stabbing.”
“Nope. Been knocking on doors and watching hours of CCTV footage, and getting nowhere. If we don’t find a suspect soon, we’ll have to frame someone.”
“At least you guys are good at that.”
Gary sipped his beer. “I saw on the news that three people died in a beach house yesterday – seems they were shot dead before the place burnt down.”
“Yep, looks like the shooter, or shooters, whacked them and torched the joint.”
“You’re not investigating that?”
A big frown. “No, goddamn it. I’m stuck with the wino. A couple of detectives were pulled off our team and sent up there, but not me, I’m afraid.”
Gary was intensely relieved she wasn’t investigating the deaths at Forresters Beach, because she was a damn smart cop. But he was still afraid that, if he became a murder suspect and their relationship became known – as it probably would – that would ruin her career. In fact, he was more worried about that than going to prison.
It was unfair to ask her for information about the Homicide investigation into the beach house deaths, but he couldn’t help himself. “Have the Forresters Beach team got any leads?”
“Nope. They haven’t even identified the bodies yet, though they think one’s that accountant, Merton, who owned the place. I bet it was a drug deal that went wrong.”
“They found a lot of money in the safe and shootings like that usually are.” She looked past him and her eyes widened. “My goodness.”
He looked around and saw the cat standing outside the bedroom, staring at them.
She said: “Hello, Oscar.”
Oscar trotted over and rubbed against her leg.
Gary said: “Hey, ease up, buddy – that’s my woman.”
She scooped up the cat and glanced between his legs. “Mmmm.”
“He’s not all that he could be.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
A loud noise woke Gary in the middle of the night. He jumped out of bed in his jocks and looked around the moon-lit bedroom. Karen hadn’t moved and nothing seemed out of place. The sound must have come from somewhere else in the apartment. Maybe a thug working for Trewaley or Merton had broken in.
He decided to retrieve his pistol from its hiding place behind the skirting board and then remember that he dropped it, and another pistol, off a bridge over the Hawkesbury River. Holy shit. If there was an intruder, he’d have to bite the bastard on the leg.
Karen murmured blearily: “What was that sound?”
He tried to sound calm. “Dunno. Probably nothing. I’ll check.”
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter.”
“I’ll check anyway.”
Heart purring, he slipped into the living room, where the light was also grey. No sign of an intruder. Good. He turned on the light. Still nobody. But a lamp had fallen off a side-table. The cat sat next to it, lingering at the scene of the crime, but accepting no blame.
He breathed a sigh of relief, picked up the lamp and put it back on the side-table. “Naughty cat.”
When he got back into bed, Karen mumbled. “What was it?”
“The cat knocked something over.”
“Silly cat. Why’re you so jumpy?”
“I’m not jumpy.”
“Get back to sleep.”
Karen had to leave early the next morning, because the team of detectives investigating the wino murder was going to have a bonding breakfast of the kind that management consultants had recommended. Gary stayed in bed and listened to her move about and talk to the uncomprehending cat, before slamming the front door as she left.
He rose just after eight o’clock, bleary-eyed. His brain felt like it had rested in brine overnight. In the kitchen, the direct sunlight washed over the balcony railing and made him squint. The cat had disappeared somewhere. After replenishing its food and water supplies, he ate a bowl of muesli at the kitchen bench. He’d previously resolved to stop looking for the Trewaley file that Patrick Arnott stole from Merton & Co. However, now, with time to think, his mind darted back to that issue. When he sat with Arnott in the Paddington coffee shop, Arnott held up a yellow flash drive he said contained the file. After that, Arnott gave Gary the slip and went to his apartment to rescue the cat. But Arnott didn’t have the flash drive when the thugs took him to Merton’s beach house. He obviously disposed of it before that. When? Where?
Gary showered and dressed, still pondering those questions. While strolling through the living room towards the front door, he recalled that the cat knocked over a lamp during the night. That reminded him of the coffee table and lamp that were upended in Arnott’s apartment when Merton’s thugs struggled with Arnott.
A thought crawled out of a dark fissure in his brain: maybe Arnott hid the flash drive during that struggle, to avoid it being found in his possession. That was the logical time and place for Arnott to dump it. Gary’s heart rattled and he shredded his vow to forget about the Trewaley file. He would head over to the apartment and search the area around the upturned furniture.
He trotted down ten flights of stairs, got into his Toyota sedan and drove out of the car park. He stopped to turn onto the large road that swept past it and saw a black Ford sedan pull away from the curb. Most people probably wouldn’t have noticed it. However, Gary did a lot of surveillance work and, right now, was wary of being followed.
He turned onto the large road with the Ford following him. After a couple of hundred metres, he stopped at a set of traffic lights and saw the Ford had pulled up a couple of cars behind him. Gary studied it in his rear-vision mirror. The dark windscreen of the Ford made it difficult to see the face of the driver. However, the guy had a conspicuous bald head. Obviously, the thug who worked for Merton and escaped from the beach house. Gary shot and wounded him as he escaped, though obviously not as seriously as he’d hoped. But Merton was dead. So why was Baldy following Gary? Did he hope to recover the Trewaley file and monetise it? Or was he after revenge? Gary bet it was the latter.
Unfortunately, Baldy was probably armed and Gary definitely wasn’t. But, on the plus side, Baldy didn’t know he’d been detected and Gary could choose the venue for their confrontation. Where? The best place was his destination: Patrick Arnott’s apartment.
Gary drove through the cross-city tunnel, popped out in Pyrmont and followed Victoria Road to Drummoyne, while making sure that Baldy didn’t lose him.
When he parked in front of the apartment building, the Ford was a hundred metres behind him. He waited patiently while Baldy drove past and parked about a hundred metres further along. It was like being followed by an elephant. The guy’s incompetence was insulting.
Gary got out of his car and headed towards the lobby. To thwart the CCTV camera, he pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and tightened the string so it covered most of his face. After swiping himself into the lobby, he caught the lift up to the tenth floor and let himself into Arnott’s apartment, now quite familiar to him.
He still wasn’t sure how Baldy and the now-deceased Hatchet-face broke into the apartment the last time. Maybe they came through the basement. However, he bet that, this time, Baldy would only take five to ten minutes to join him.
Gary crossed to the upturned coffee table and lamp, dropped to his knees and peered under the closest couch. Only a small gap. However, he quickly spied a yellow flash drive. Wow. Patrick Arnott must have thrust it there while struggling with the thugs.
When Gary pulled it out, it seemed hot to touch. He was desperate to stick it into a computer and make sure it contained the Trewaley file. However, first he had to deal with Baldy, soon to arrive.
He picked up the lamp, which had a heavy brass base, and took up station beside the front door. Five minutes later, he heard a key go into the lock. The door swung in front of Gary, hiding him.
Footsteps entered the apartment. Gary gently pushed the door back and found himself standing behind Baldy, sweeping the living room with a revolver.
Gary considered hitting the revolver arm with the lamp base. But what if the guy didn’t drop the revolver? Why take any risk? Safer to take a home-run swing at his head.
Gary took a long stride and slugged the guy on his hairless scone with plenty of follow through. A loud crack. Baldy took the shortest route to the floor and landed on his belly. His revolver tumbled across the carpet. He went down so fast that Gary wondered if he’d killed him. Gary picked up the revolver – a Colt Python – and kneeled beside the prostrate form. Blood poured from the back of the head and soaked the carpet. Soft snoring proved the guy was physically, if not mentally, alive.
Gary rolled Baldy onto his back, opened his jacket and searched around for his wallet. There was a bandage around the guy’s left bicep, presumably because Gary shot him there at the beach house. Gary fished out a brown leather wallet. Inside, was the driver’s licence of “Michael Cassidy” with a photo of the man on the floor. The credit cards were issued to the same person. A business card said: “Michael Cassidy – Security Consultant”. The title meant nothing. Cassidy was probably a bodyguard or debt collector.
Gary was tempted to stroll off and leave the guy. However, he had some questions to ask. So he leaned back against the dining table and waited to see if his victim recovered enough to talk.
Gary felt no compassion for a man who tried to murder him and didn’t even do that right. So, every few minutes, he kicked Cassidy in the ribs, hoping for a sign of life. The sixth time, the guy twitched and groaned. Gary kicked him again. The guy rolled into a foetal position and screamed: “F-f-f-eerrrkkk.”
Gary kicked him again. “Wake up.”
Cassidy opened his eyes and stared at Gary, his face coated with pain and fear. He looked like the kind of cretin who emerges from a dark urine-stained alleyway at two o’clock in the morning. “Whatchaya doin’? Waazzz hippening?”
Gary kicked him again. “Wake up.”
After groaning and vomiting onto the carpet, Cassidy tried to touch the back of his head. His hand made contact on the third try. He winced. “Feerrrk.”
Cassidy saw Gary held a Colt Python and reached into his shoulder holster. Empty. “Sheee-it.”
“Yep, I’ve got your revolver. Now get up.”
Cassidy cupped his skull, rolled into a tight ball and whined like a two-stroke engine. “Can’t. Think me head’s broke.”
A grimace. “Like fuckin’ hell, and everything looks all fuzzy.” A deep frown. “You hit me on the head, right?”
“Of course. And I’ll hit you again if you don’t answer my questions.”
“What happened at the beach house? I thought I hit you pretty bad.”
Pain destroyed his smile. “Nah, just a flesh wound. I lost some blood, but I’m OK, so no hard feelings. No need to apologise.”
Gary considered executing him for impudence. “I won’t. Merton employed you and your pal to find Patrick Arnott, didn’t he?”
Cassidy considered lying and saw no point. “Umm, ah, yeah.”
“How did Merton find you?”
Cassidy still looked groggy. “What do you mean?”
“He didn’t advertise in a paper for a couple of goons to search for a guy, did he?”
Cassidy grinned at the revolver in Gary’s hand as if anxious to please it. “Course not. Merton was an accountant, right? He moved a lot of money around overseas for a drug boss called Tex Garcia. I think they were even partners, sometimes. Anyway, me and Barry worked for Tex, delivering stuff and collecting debts. So, when Merton told Tex he needed a couple of guys to find someone, Tex recommended us.”
Gary met lots of low-life thugs like Cassidy when he worked undercover in the drug trade and sensed Cassidy was telling the truth.
Gary said: “Jesus, hiring you two baboons was probably the worst mistake Merton ever made, but I guess he didn’t have a lot of options.”
Cassidy grimaced and rubbed his temples. “Look, I’d like to keep talking, but I’m in total fuckin’ pain, mate. I think you cracked me skull. You’ve gotta get me to a hospital.”
Gary smiled. “Suck it up, Princess. I’ve got more questions.”
Cassidy dialled up his grimace. “I’m begging you.”
“Enjoy the pain – it means you’re alive. But if you keep whining, that will change fast.” Gary raised the revolver. “In fact, I can give you a painkiller right now if you want. Just say the word.”
Cassidy cringed and showed his palms. “No, no, please don’t.”
“OK. But don’t annoy me again. Now tell me: did Merton explain why he wanted to find Arnott?”
“H-h-he said Arnott stole an important electronic file from his firm.”
“Did he say what was in it?”
“Said it had something to do with a politician – a guy called Trewaley – that’s all.”
“You know who Trewaley is?”
“I do now. Opposition leader, right?”
“You’re a genius. So you staked out this apartment in case Arnott came back?”
“And ran into his neighbour instead?”
Cassidy’s head ached too much to construct lies. His eyes glowed as if his brain was overheating. “Yeah, me and Barry set up a motion detector on the door. We got a signal and came up here.”
“But you didn’t find Arnott, did you?”
“Nah, some Asian guy. We asked him where to find Arnott and he kept yabbering about a cat.”
“That’s because he came in to feed the cat.”
A migraine squint. “Yeah, I think he said that.”
“Do you know his name?”
“You mean, you murdered a guy and don’t even know his name? That’s damn cold. For your information, his name was Tony Tam.”
“Oh? We didn’t get much chance to talk.”
“Of course not, because you murdered him.”
“I, umm, didn’t murder him – Barry did.”
“You mean Barry threw him off the balcony?”
“Yes. He got upset when the kid wouldn’t tell us where Arnott was and threw him off. Lots of shrinks said Barry had no impulse control. They was right.”
Gary wanted to shoot the bastard for insulting his intelligence. “Really? And what were you doing when Barry murdered the kid? Cleaning your nails? Watching TV? Ironing your shirts?”
“I, umm, tried to stop him.”
“No, it’s true.”
“But, when I walked in just after Tam died, you’re the one who knocked me out, remember?”
A tentative smile. “Ah, yeah, sorry about that. You kinda stumbled in here at the wrong moment.”
“You mean, just after you murdered someone?”
“Barry murdered him.”
“Oh, sorry, my mistake. Then you knocked me out so I’d take the rap when the cops arrived.”
“Sorry about that, too. But that don’t matter, right, because you got away? That’s the important thing. It’s funny, you know, that the cops haven’t been to this apartment.”
“That’s because they still haven’t worked out that Tony Tam was thrown from here. They obviously think he jumped from his place next door.”
Cassidy’s fawning smile widened. “Oh, I see. That’s kinda funny, isn’t it?”
Gary frowned. “No, it’s not.”
“I guess so. But you didn’t know the guy, right?”
“I didn’t get a chance.”
The smile disappeared and a grimace returned. “Now, will you take me to a hospital?”
Gary was ineffably tired of the guy’s moaning. “I haven’t finished. You finally caught up with Arnott, didn’t you, in this apartment a couple of days ago?”
A shrug. “We got another signal that someone had opened the door. We came up here and found him. Silly bugger was feeding his cat. Put up a big struggle.”
“Then you took him to Merton’s beach house?”
“Yeah. Merton wanted to interrogate him about the file – said that was the best place.”
“But before you left here, you searched him and found nothing?”
Gary chuckled. “That was because, while you were fighting with him, he slipped a flash drive under a couch.”
Cassidy forgot his pain for a nano-second and looked surprised. “Really?”
Gary fished the flash drive out of his pocket and held it up. “Yes, this one. It’s got the Trewaley file on it.”
“Shit, didn’t see him hide that.”
“Because, like I said, you’re a baboon. Now, tell me this: why did you follow me here?”
Fear chased pain off his face. “I didn’t follow you here; I’m not following you. I just came in here to, umm, have a look around.”
“Bullshit. You drive a black Ford sedan. You waited for me to leave my apartment this morning and followed me here. I watched you the whole way.”
Cassidy’s Adams Apple oscillated violently. “Not true, not true.”
Gary sighed and aimed at the goon’s forehead. “Are you calling me a liar?”
“N-n-no, I’m not, I’m not.”
“Good, so you did follow me here?”
“N-n-no, umm, you musta seen someone else.”
Gary squinted down the barrel. “Tell me the truth or I’ll shoot you dead and go have a coffee. I haven’t had a cup this morning. Maybe that’s why I’m so edgy.”
Cassidy bit his lip and looked confused. “OK, OK, yes, I followed you here.”
“I, umm, wanted to have a chat with you.”
“What about? Politics? Sport? Good restaurants?”
“No, the file.”
“Really? Why are you still interested in it? Merton’s dead. It means nothing to you now.”
“I thought it was, maybe, worth some money.”
Gary didn’t believe him. Cassidy was terrified of admitting that he planned to ice Gary. “Bullshit. You followed me to get square, didn’t you? I killed your pal and wounded you, so you wanted to settle up.”
“No, I didn’t.”
Gary was reluctant to kill this creep. He had killed two people recently and didn’t want to kill another. But how could he let the bastard live? The guy was drenched in blood and the last eyewitness to the shoot-out at the beach-house. He also wanted to kill Gary for revenge. Why should Gary spare the bastard and then spend the rest of his life looking over shoulder? Squeamishness was a luxury he could not afford.
If he shot Cassidy, the cops would eventually find his body in this apartment and might trace the killing back to Gary. Much better if Cassidy was found somewhere else, like in the swimming pool below. Indeed, it would be poetic justice if the bastard followed Tony Tam’s final trajectory and shared his fate.
Gary took a deep breath and steeled himself. No pity. None at all. Cassidy would get what he planned to give Gary. “Alright, stand up and turn around.”
An alarmed expression. “Why?”
Gary lied: “I want to search you.”
Cassidy looked like an un-cunning rat. “You’ve already got my gun.”
“I want to make sure you haven’t got another.”
“I don’t, I promise.” Begging eyes. “Please take me to a doctor.”
“I will, after I’ve searched you. Do what I want or I start shooting.”
Cassidy put his healthy left arm on the armrest of the couch and struggled onto unsteady feet, obviously still concussed.
As Cassidy complied, Gary considered knocking him out before heaving his unconscious body off the balcony. But that would require too much effort and he wanted the thug to experience the plunge.
Gary tucked the revolver into the small of his back, stepped up behind Cassidy, grabbed the guy’s belt and frogmarched him towards the balcony.
Cassidy screamed. “What the fuck’re you doing?”
They reached the balcony and Cassidy tried to wriggle free. However, his one good arm couldn’t ward off Gary or stop his forward momentum. Gary lifted him up and tipped him over the balcony so that he followed Tony Tam into the swimming pool below.
It suddenly occurred to Gary that someone might have filled the pool with water in the last few days. He glanced over the balcony railing and saw nobody had.
Gary spent about five minutes using a kitchen rag to wipe everything he touched in the apartment, including the lamp, before leaving the building with his hood up and face obscured. Despite having just thrown a man off a balcony, he felt far less guilty than he expected. Cassidy took his best shot and missed; Gary responded in kind and didn’t. What else should Gary have done? Surely, he wasn’t supposed to let Cassidy keep trying to kill him until he finally succeeded. In a death match, fuck-ups had to have consequences. In any event, he quickly focused on the flash drive in his pocket, desperate to read its contents on his laptop.
He drove along Victoria Road for a couple of minutes until he reached Birkenhead Shopping Centre, perched beside the harbour, and parked in its multi-deck car park. Because the centre was surrounded by affluent neighbourhoods, it didn’t attract the riff-raff who often infested shopping centres during the day. Instead, there were lots of yummie mummies pushing prams and well-heeled retirees.
Gary strolled into a near-deserted cafe with his laptop. After ordering a cup of coffee at the counter, he sat in a corner, booted up his laptop and speared the flash drive into a USB port. The flash drive contained only one file, tagged “Trewaley”. A promising start.
He nervously opened it and saw it contained hundreds of PDFs. Christ. He started flipping through them and saw dozens of letters and emails between Merton and lawyers and accountants in Panama and the Bahamas about setting up trusts, offshore corporations and bank accounts for Trewaley. Other documents showed the trusts and corporations owned real estate in London and New York worth tens of millions of US dollars. Bank statements showed foreign accounts in Trewaley’s name had balances totalling about $30 million and huge sums flowing through them.
Gary accessed the Register of Member’s Interests on the Federal Parliament website. Trewaley had listed none of the financial interests Gary had just read about. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Jesus H. Christ.
The file also contained copies of Trewaley’s signed tax returns for the last five years. They showed he never declared an annual taxable income of more than $100,000 or paid more than $20,000 in tax.
A pre-schooler could see that Trewaley was a shocking tax cheat who lied to Parliament about his financial affairs. If these documents were released, the chances of his party winning the election and him becoming PM would evaporate.
Of course, he could claim they were all forgeries. But that wouldn’t be easy. They were very comprehensive and many facts could be verified, like whether the off-shore trusts and corporations owned the real estate in New York and London. If he yelled “forgery”, he’d also come under immense pressure to release his true tax returns to support his claim. No wonder he and Merton hired thugs to recover these documents. The stakes were astronomically high.
Gary pondered what to do with them. Nobody, including Trewaley, knew he had them. So he could forget about them and get on with his life, if he wanted.
However, he couldn’t do that. People had died – and he had killed people – because of these documents. Their deaths must be given some meaning. And surely Trewaley, who caused all of the recent mayhem and cheated on his tax while Gary struggled to pay his, should not become Prime Minister. Trewaley was a guy for whom too much was obviously not enough. He deserved punishment and Gary was going to dish it out.
Gary sensed the real reason why Patrick Arnott stole the documents was not because he felt a Christian duty to do so, like he claimed. Rather, because the documents conferred immense power. If released, they would rock the political system to its core and decide the election. They converted Arnott from a weak man into a powerful one with his hand on a hidden lever of history. And now Gary held that lever and was anxious to pull it. He would get Vincent Drew to publish the documents on the internet and then watch the fall-out from a safe distance.
Gary wanted to dispose of the clothes he wore when he threw Cassidy off the balcony in case he left fibres in the apartment. After leaving the cafe, he ducked into a men’s clothing shop and bought some cheap jeans and a T-shirt. In the changing room, he swapped into the new clothes and tucked his old ones into a plastic bag. While driving to Vincent Drew’s terrace in Redfern, he stopped and tossed the old clothes into a charity clothing bin.
Gary knocked on Vincent’s front door just after noon. No answer. The guy worked vampirish hours. So maybe he was still asleep. Gary knocked a lot harder and kicked the door a few times. Still no answer. Shit.
He mobile phoned Vincent and was told the number he had called was not answering. Double shit.
What to do now? He could drive back to his office and return later. However, he was desperate to talk to the hacker and decided to hang around.
Across the road, several gloomy Housing Commission towers were clustered around a small park. A daub of sunlight lay on a lonely bench in the middle. He sat on the bench and idly scrolled through news and gossip on his smartphone, while keeping an eye on Vincent’s terrace. A news story said that, according to the latest opinion polls, Angus Trewaley had opened up an election-winning lead. Not for long, hopefully.
Gary realised he knew little about Trewaley’s background and hunted around on his smartphone for articles about him. He discovered that Trewaley was the son of a successful Eastern Suburbs real estate agent who inducted him into his business at an early age. Trewaley used that job as a springboard into property development. By the time he was forty, his company, Trewaley Enterprises, was one of the state’s biggest builders and owners of retirement villages, and he often appeared on television or in newspapers to attack building unions and promote free-market ideas. When the Conservative member for the electorate of La Perouse threw in the towel, Trewaley stood for party pre-selection. After a bruising contest, during which he was accused of vote-rigging, he won the contest. At the next election, he won the seat handsomely and quickly established himself as a rising star in the Conservative Party. Indeed, after only six years in Parliament, he was elected its leader. Now he was closing his avaricious fist around his ultimate goal, the Prime Ministership.
Gary stopped reading on his smartphone, turned his face to the sun and wondered what would happen when Vincent posted Trewaley’s file on the internet. Would it unleash a shit-storm that engulfed Trewaley and his party? Or would it get swallowed up and lost in the immense sea of information on the internet? Maybe it wouldn’t cut through to the public or Trewaley would somehow explain it away.
He sighed. All he could do was post the file on the internet. He couldn’t make people read it or believe it. So no point speculating what would happen. He disengaged his brain and bathed in the sun, while teenage mothers and feral children wandered in and out of the towers.
The sun dropped behind one of the satanic towers and a chill descended on the park. He strolled back to his car, sat behind the wheel and listening to a shock-jock and his callers make the airwaves crackle with anger. But even that couldn’t keep him awake. A lack of sleep and the strain of the last few days caught up with him. While the inane blather flowed through him, his head drooped and he dozed off.
A revving motor engine woke him. He popped open a bleary eye and saw a battered Fiat Bambino trying to park in front of his car. The car wiggled back and forward a few times before stopping. The driver’s door opened and Vincent Drew got out wearing an army jacket and jeans. His pale skin made him look like he was returning to his coffin for his daily nap.
Vincent crossed the road with jangly strides while digging some keys out of a trouser pocket. Gary shook himself awake and climbed out of his vehicle. He caught up with Vincent just before the guy put his key in his front door. “Vincent, Vincent.”
Vincent turned around. “Hello, Gary. Wazzup? You been waiting for me?”
“I’ve been waiting for hours. Where’ve you been?”
A smug expression. “With my chick.”
Of all the revelations that had sideswiped Gary during the last few days, this one stunned him the most. He never imagined Vincent falling in love with anything except his computer.
“You’re in a relationship?”
A shrug. “Almost. We’ve seen each other a few times and we seem to interface. She even loves Manga movies. I think I’m in love.”
For the moment, Gary forgot about the Trewaley file. “Who is she? What does she do?”
“She’s a uni undergrad, studying stats. That’s how we met. Got an amazing mind.”
What about her body? “I hope it goes well.”
A shrug. “Statistically, the odds are lousy. But I’m going to listen to my heart. What do you want?”
Gary remembered his mission. “Let’s go inside and chat.”
“OK.” Vincent opened the front door and led Gary into his dusty living room. “Take a pew.”
Gary sat on a dying armchair that reacted angrily to being sat upon.
Vincent sat opposite. “How can I help?”
“I need some advice.”
“I’ve got some dirt on a major politician. I wanted to post it anonymously on the internet so lots of people read it. What’s the best way to do that?”
“Who’s the politician?”
“Wow. What sort of dirt?”
“I’ve got a couple of hundred documents that show he’s a major tax cheat with tens of millions stashed away in tax havens.”
Vincent looked excited for once. “Wow, wow, wow. The documents are legit?”
“Definitely. They come from the accountancy firm he uses; they absolutely nail him.”
Gary could have mentioned that several killings had confirmed their authenticity, but didn’t want to cause panic.
“What’s the name of the firm?”
“Merton & Co.”
Vincent squinted. “Really? A few days ago, you asked me about an accountant called Robert Merton, didn’t you? Wanted to know what properties he owned. Then I saw on the TV that he got killed – shot dead – up in his beach house. Whole place went up in flames, right?”
“He owned Merton & Co?”
“So these documents came from him?”
“Yes, though I didn’t take them.”
“Shit. Did his death have something to do with the documents?”
Vincent was entitled to know that, if he helped Gary, he might end up in real danger. “Yes, though I don’t want to go into details.”
“OK. And do you know what happened at the beach house?”
“Yes, though I don’t want to go into details.”
“You mean, you were there?”
“Yes, though I’d want to go into details.”
A laugh. “Wow. I think I’d rather not know. So, you want to publish these docs on the internet?”
“Yes, without being identified.”
“Because you want to hurt Trewaley?”
A shrug. “He’s a bad dude.”
“So you’ll help me?”
Gary had feared that, when Vincent realised how dangerous it was to help Gary, he would shy away. But Vincent did nothing of the sort. Gary saw him with new eyes. The guy was flaky and arrogant as hell, but he had balls – big ones – and that put his defects in the shade. “Good. How much will you charge?”
“Nothing. I’d love to stick a knife in Trewaley. He’s a total dickhead who wants to censor the internet. Let me at him, I say.”
“But censorship will be good for your business, won’t it?”
“True, but it’s wrong. And, of course, I’d love a chance to use my matchless computer skills to bring down a tall poppy.”
“Good. But how are you going to use those skills?”
“What format are the documents in?”
“Mmmm, let me think.” Vincent stared at the cracked and cobwebbed ceiling, enjoying the spotlight, chewing up lots of mental RAM. After about a minute, he stroked his jaw and smiled. “I think we should hijack the Parliament House website and pin the documents on it.”
Gary’s pulse raced. “Shit. You can do that?”
“Child’s play. Just got to find the host server of the website and change the DNS codes so that visitors get redirected to a fake website I’ve set up.”
“How long will they be redirected for?”
“I reckon it’ll take the computer techies at Parliament House at least 24 hours to work out what I’ve done and fix the problem.”
Gary smiled. “Then go for it.”
“I can also hack into the Parliament House server and get the email addresses of every politician and political journo in the country. There must be several hundred. We can send the documents to all of them with the push of a button.”
“Excellent. How long will it take to set up all of this?”
He shrugged. “Maybe three or four hours.”
“And nobody will know we’re responsible?”
“Don’t worry. My IP address is absolutely invisible. The whole US cyber-warfare unit could look forever and not find it, I promise.”
Gary consoled himself that, despite often sounding like an overconfident blowhard, Vincent always delivered. “Fine. Then let’s get cracking.”
“OK. Give me a copy of the PDFs and I’ll get to work.”
Gary handed over the flash drive. “They’re on there.”
“Good. While I’m doing my thing on the computer upstairs, you should write a catchy little blurb I can post with the PDFs so people know what’s in them. Make it snappy and use an avatar.”
“What sort of Avatar?”
“You’ll think up something. You got a laptop?”
“In my car.”
“Set it up in the kitchen.”
Vincent went upstairs and Gary retrieved his laptop from under the driver’s seat of his car. He set it up on the warped Formica table in the misshapen kitchen.
He had never tried to write a blurb before and found it a hell of a lot harder than he expected. After one hour, he had made no progress; after two, he had only written a couple of sentences he liked. It eventually took him four hours to write the blurb. A few minutes later, Vincent wandered into the kitchen carrying a laptop that he put on the kitchen table next to Gary’s.
Vincent said: “Everything’s ready to go. All I need is the blurb. Finished?”
“Yeah. Read this and tell me if it’s OK.” Gary turned the screen of his laptop towards Vincent.
Vincent read the blurb and smiled. “Excellent. You should have been a journo.” He held up a flash drive. “Put it on this.”
Gary copied the blurb onto the flash drive and handed it back. Vincent inserted it into his laptop and, after fiddled around for about five minutes, sat back and smiled.
“Alright. Everything’s ready to go. This is the fake website that people will see when it goes live.”
Gary stepped around and saw an exact replica of the Parliament House website, except that his blurb sat squarely in the middle. Nobody could miss it.
TREWALEY IS A TAX CHEAT
Everybody hates paying tax. But nobody hates paying it more than the Leader of the Opposition, Angus Trewaley. He’s got tens of millions of dollars stashed away in tax havens that he’s never disclosed to the Tax Office or declared to Federal Parliament. Last year his tax bill was $18,351. You read that right – $.
Trewaley uses Merton & Co – a criminal enterprise that calls itself an accountancy firm – to hide his money overseas and evade tax. The documents attached are from the files of that firm. They show that, instead of becoming our Prime Minister, Trewaley should go to gaol. Read closely. Vote wisely.
Gary saw that Vincent had found an image on the internet of Guy Fawkes, wearing a Tudor-style felt hat, and stuck it at the bottom of the blurb, next to a link marked “documents”.
Vincent said: “What do you think?”
“I’ve also attached the blurb and the documents to about five hundred emails that will be sent to every federal politician, chief of staff and political journo in the country. Just tell me when to hit the button.”
Gary glanced at his watch. Just after 6pm. He had no idea if this was the best time to release the information. So he shrugged. “Why wait?”
Vincent rarely looked happy. Now, a neon smile lit up his face. “Agree. Let’s get this done.”
Vincent typed for about 30 seconds, punched a few buttons and smiled. “Bo-o-o-o-m. Let me show you the website.”
Vincent googled the Parliament House website and turned the screen towards Gary. The fake site was in place. The blurb dominated the screen.
Gary smiled. “Well done. Thank you, thank you very much.”
Another wide smile. Vincent had smiled more that afternoon than during the whole time Gary had known him. “No, I should thank you. This is the greatest moment of my life. My whole life has been a preparation for this moment. The internet has unleashed its awesome power.”
Gary started to laugh and realised Vincent was deadly serious. He felt obliged, before he left, to build an emotional bridge to the guy. “You know, one of these days, you should explain to me why you think reality is full of software errors.”
A frown. “I could try, but I don’t think you’d understand.”
Gary already regretted being nice. “Well, see it as a challenge.”
A faint smile. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. OK, let me know when you want your mind expanded.”
It took Gary an hour to fight through peak-hour traffic and reach his apartment. During the journey, juicy clouds looked ready to burst. However, they restrained themselves and he arrived home in a good mood. The fate of Trewaley’s file was now beyond his control and he could turn his face towards the future.
Once inside his apartment, he threw his jacket onto the couch and laid Cassidy’s revolver on the coffee table. The cat usually appeared when he arrived home, but didn’t front up. He looked around. “Oscar, where are you fella?”
He soon discovered why Oscar was a no-show. A tall and swarthy guy with a big piece of plaster on his forehead stepped out of the bedroom and pointed a pistol at him.
Gary’s nerves sizzled. Cinders fell from the roof of his mouth onto his tongue. He didn’t spend much time, in the Alexandria terrace, studying the face of the guy he choked to unconsciousness. But the dude holding the pistol looked a lot like him. The plaster on his forehead removed any doubt. Christ on a crutch. This guy must work for Trewaley.
“Don’t fuckin’ move.”
“Who’re you?” Gary rasped and wondered if he could grab the revolver on the coffee table and snap off a shot before … no, that would be suicide.
“Shut up. Put your hands in the air, right now. I want to kill you bad, so don’t give me an excuse.”
As Gary raised his hands, his gaze jumped between the pistol and its scowling owner. At least the guy hadn’t shot him, yet.
The intruder strolled over to the coffee table and picked up the revolver. “This yours?”
“I think the cleaner left it behind.”
The thug tucked the revolver behind his waistband and frowned. “Hah, fuckin’ hah. Now, keep your hands up or I’ll shoot you.” He pushed the muzzle of his pistol into Gary’s belly and used his spare hand to pat down Gary, searching like a cop or ex-cop.
“What’s this about?”
“Shut up.” The intruder stepped back a couple of paces and looked at the bedroom door. “You can come out now.”
Gary got another shock when Angus Trewaley’s Chief of Staff, Oliver Bristow, emerged from the bedroom. Bristow was a tall, thin man, with lank hair in his early thirties. Gary had never met someone wearing a pinstripe suit. Yet Bristow wore his as if it was the fashion of the future. For some reason, he held a soft-leather carry bag.
Gary’s realised that Bristow’s presence was a positive sign. Surely, a big political player like Bristow wouldn’t be here if Gary was going to be iced. Unless, of course, the stakes were so high Bristow had no choice. That was possible.
Gary’s trembling subsided. “I don’t remember inviting guests.”
The thug waved his pistol. “Shut up.”
Bristow said: “He’s clean?”
“Good.” Bristow looked at Gary. “If I was you, I wouldn’t mess with this guy: he’s ex-SAS. You know who I am?”
Gary decided to play dumb until he knew what game this young fogey was playing. “No idea.”
“Really? I’m sure you do. But, in case you don’t, my name is Oliver Bristow. I work for a man called Angus Trewaley. You’ve heard of him?”
Bristow nodded towards his henchman. “And you know this gentleman, don’t you?”
Gary peered at the thug. “Have we met?”
A scowl. “Of course we have, you dickhead. You knocked me out in Alexandria a couple of days ago and shot my pal.”
“I think you’ve got the wrong man.”
“Bullshit. I recognise you – I didn’t see you for long, but I recognise you.”
Bristow looked at Gary. “Patrick Arnott’s mother employed you to find her son, didn’t she? You found him in Alexandria. Then Tony here and his pal Roger turned up. You knocked out Tony and shot Roger, who’s still in a hospital, I’m afraid. Won’t be out for another week.”
Gary said: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I missed the first half of this movie.”
A frown. “Don’t play dumb. Three days ago, Pastor McKenzie from the Sunrise Mission told me that Patrick Arnott stole a file from Merton & Co that could embarrass my boss. When I complained to Merton, he mentioned that Arnott’s mother employed you to find her son. That’s why, when I heard about the mayhem in Alexandria, I assumed you were responsible. Tony’s just confirmed you were.”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree. But tell me: why are you here?”
Bristow ignored his question. “You also killed Robert Merton in his beach house a few days ago, didn’t you?”
“I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play games with me.”
“You are talking in riddles. So tell me what you want – what you really want.”
A frown. “I want two things: I want to know where I can find Patrick Arnott and I want the file.”
“Don’t play dumb: the electronic file of my boss’s tax affairs that Arnott stole from Merton & Co. Now, tell me: where is Patrick Arnott?”
Gary was a little surprised to learn Bristow didn’t know that Arnott died in the beach house with Merton. There obviously wasn’t much coordination between the Trewaley and Merton camps. Maybe that explained why their hunt for Arnott was a fiasco.
Gary said: “I have no idea.”
“Bullshit. You found Arnott at the Alexandria terrace.”
“Once again, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t believe you. And where’s the file?”
Gary was tempted to reveal that Bristow could find the file on the internet or in his email inbox. However, if he did, the guy might go crazy and tell his henchman to start shooting. He didn’t want to give these guys a chance to be stupid, because they would probably seize it. Better to play for time.
“I don’t know anything about a file.”
A deep frown. “Don’t play games. I hate to sound corny, but we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
He did sound corny – very corny. He was obviously a political fixer operating far outside his comfort zone. A real thug wouldn’t have talked so much and sure as hell wouldn’t have worn a stupid-looking pinstripe suit. The guy should have stuck to leaking stories to the press and backstabbing political enemies.
Gary said: “Really? What’s the hard way?”
“I don’t want to resort to violence. But, if you don’t co-operate, I’ll go for a walk and Tony will interrogate you. He’s dying to do that. Like I said, he’s ex-SAS. He was dishonourably discharged for torturing Afghan prisoners. So he knows a lot about torture.” Bristow looked at Tony. “You’ve brought your stuff?”
The more Bristow talked, the further his credibility slipped and took his henchman’s down with it.
Gary said: “And what’s the easy way?”
“Tell me what I want to know and you’ll be well rewarded.”
Gary’s brain tingled. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll give you $200,000.”
Wow. “Oh? How can I trust you to pay up?”
“You won’t have to. I’ve got the money here, in this bag. Let me show you.” Bristow unzipped his carry bag and held it up to expose numerous bundles of $50 notes.
Gary felt a surge of greed and got tired of playing dumb. Time to pretend he would do a deal. “What’s happening? Your goons tried to kill me in Alexandria. Now you’re offering me money.”
A coffin-plate smile. “So you were at Alexandria?”
“Of course I was.”
“Well, they didn’t try to kill you. They just got, well, over-enthusiastic. But I believe in the carrot rather than the stick. So, do you want to take the easy way or the hard way?”
Gary’s plan to disarm the thug required that he pretend to cave in. “I’ll take the easy way. Put the money on the coffee table and I’ll tell you what I know.”
Bristow smiled and put the money on the coffee table. “Good. Where’s Patrick Arnott?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean: you don’t know?”
“After we left Alexandria, he said he didn’t trust me and disappeared.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Gary made a sweeping motion with his hand. “Can you see him around?”
“Did he die in the beach house – is that what happened to him?”
“How would I know?”
A deep frown. “You said that, if I gave you the money, you’d tell me where he is.”
“No, I didn’t. I said I’d tell you what I know. I don’t know where Arnott is. But I can tell you where the file is.”
Bristow’s eyes glowed. “Really? Where?”
“You’ll give me the money right?”
Gary knew that was a lie, and reciprocated with one of his own. “OK, Arnott gave me the file, on a flash drive, before he disappeared.”
Bristow flushed royal red. “Really?”
“Where is it?”
“I’ll get the money, right?”
“Of course, of course.”
Despite the pistol pointing at him, Gary almost laughed at Bristow’s insincerity. “OK. It’s under the sideboard. Let me get it.”
“No, don’t you move. I’ll look.”
Bristow stepped over to the sideboard, dropped to his knees and peered under it. He was greeted by a loud screech. A blur of fur dashed past him into the bedroom. The Chief of Staff yelped and fell backwards.
The thug instinctively turned to watch Bristow’s reaction. As his pistol wandered off-line, Gary took two quick steps and grabbed it. The thug tried to swivel it back on target. Wrong move. Gary stepped forward and lifted his knee into the guy’s balls. The thug tried to turn his hip to protect himself. Too late. The knee ploughed into his groin and lifted him several centimetres off the ground.
The thug emitted a loud “woof” and looked like he had swallowed his tonsils. He doubled over and lost his grip on the pistol. Gary kneed him in the face and watched him topple over backwards.
Gary quickly rolled the dazed thug onto his belly and yanked out the revolver nestled in the small of his back. Then he rose, stepped back and pointed both weapons at Bristow. “Sorry, I forgot to mention the cat. That’s where he hides from visitors.”
The thug clutched his balls and flapped around like a wounded seal. A tear-stained voice. “You prick.”
“Shut up.” Gary looked at Bristow. “If he’s ex-SAS, you can cut off my legs and call me Shorty. He couldn’t believe his luck when you fell for that bullshit. You really are a goose. Thank God you won’t get a chance to run the country.”
Gary glanced down at the thug’s pistol: a Walter 9mm that carried 19 cartridges. Nineteen. Christ. Did the fool think he was in a Hollywood movie? Was he planning a shopping mall massacre?
Gary tucked the pistol behind his waistband and aimed the revolver at Bristow. “You two aren’t very good at this, are you?”
Bristow had obviously never had a gun pointed at him and looked ready to pack his dacks. “Y-y-you won’t shoot me, will you?”
“Whether you behave.”
“I will, I promise.”
Bristow recovered some composure. “Look, can’t we make a deal? You can have the money, of course. Just give me the file.”
Gary smiled. “But I’ve already got the money.”
“No you don’t, it’s mine.”
Bristow looked shocked at Gary’s treachery. For a few moments, Gary could have heard a pinstripe drop. Finally, the Chief of Staff said: “Bullshit. You can’t do that.”
“Why not? I’ve got two guns and you’ve got none. But don’t worry, I’m going to keep my side of the deal.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m going to tell you where to find the file.”
A childish grin. “Really? Where?”
“Pull out your smartphone and google the Parliament House website. You’ll end up at a fake site with a link to the whole file. It’s very easy to download. I’ve also emailed the file to every federal pollie, chief of staff and political journo in the country. It’s probably in your inbox right now.”
Bristow looked like someone was pissing on his shoe, Even his pinstripes seemed to sag. “Oh, Jesus – you’re kidding?”
“No. So, you see, you’re too late.”
Bristow whipped out his smartphone and did some furious tapping. Then he emitted a low moan. “Fuck, fuck. You bastard. You can’t do this.”
A shrug. “I’ve already done it.”
“You’ll pay for this: I’ll report you to the police.”
“The shootings at the beach house. I bet you were involved.”
Gary scowled. “Really? You want to get involved in that? You want to get Trewaley involved? You must be mad. I had nothing to do with that. But, if you claim otherwise, I’ll murder you – I flat-out guarantee that. If I’ve got to go to hell, I won’t go alone. But, for once, why don’t you do something smart and cut your losses.”
“What do you mean?”
“Trewaley’s cactus. Find another politician to brown-nose.”
A beady stare. “You’re not working for Arnott’s mother, are you? You work for the Government.”
Gary laughed. “I don’t work for anyone; I’m just a self-employed businessman trying to make a buck.”
“You cunt.” Bristow looked at his henchman, who had risen to his feet and was gingerly massaging his balls. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Bristow reached out to pick up the bag of cash.
Gary pointed his revolver at his head. “Don’t touch it.”
Bristow retracted his hand as if stung. “It’s mine.”
“No, it’s not. It stays here.”
“You can’t do this.”
“Really? Who’s going to stop me? You can’t go to the police – you definitely can’t do that. So fuck off.”
The thug interjected: “I’m going to settle up with you.”
“Please do. I can’t wait. You can use all that SAS training you never had. Now, get the fuck out of here.”
Bristow scowled at his henchman. “Come on, let’s go.”
He stormed out the front door with the limping thug in tow.
After Bristow and his henchman had left, Gary rummaged around in the bag of cash to make sure there was no padding. Thankfully, there seemed to be about $200,000 in genuine notes. That was extraordinarily decent of Bristow. If Gary was in his shoes, he would have used fake notes. Maybe Bristow was too anal retentive to cheat like that.
Of course, Bristow might send someone back to recover the money. But Bristow had much bigger worries on his plate and, if he made even a semi-rational calculation, would leave Gary alone.
Gary wondered if the Trewaley file was still on the internet. He strolled into the spare bedroom, turned on the computer and tried to access the Parliament House website. The fake site appeared with the blurb in the middle of the screen, impossible to miss. He clicked the link marked “documents” and PDFs started appearing. Excellent. Vincent really had done a great job.
Gary wasn’t entirely sure how Bristow and his henchman entered his apartment, but suspected the thug picked the cheap lock on the front door. Gary would get a new one installed when he got a chance. As a temporary measure, he pushed his couch up against the door. That wouldn’t stop a determined intruder. But the noise the intruder made would give Gary plenty of time to grab a weapon and come up shooting.
He put the carry bag full of cash in a wardrobe and put the Walther 9mm beside it. Then he put the revolver on his bedside table and lay down. Despite recent events, he soon fell asleep and dreamt he was in a bathtub full of bank notes.
He woke the next morning with something heavy on his chest. At first, he thought Karen had turned up in the middle of the night and got into bed, as she sometimes did. But he carefully raised his eyelids and locked eyeballs with the cat. He blinked first. “Hello, fella. Good work last night. Sorry about those nasty intruders. I don’t think we’ll see them again.”
Gary delicately lifted the cat onto the bed and padded into the kitchen, where he replenishing the cat’s food and water bowls, and resolved to buy him some treats when he got the chance. After showering and dressing, he again tried to access the Parliament House website and was again redirected to the fake site. Great.
While eating a bowl of muesli, he realised he could do nothing further about the Trewaley file. He had to wait and see how much exposure it got. But he had to move the cash he took off Bristow. He couldn’t keep it his apartment because Bristow and his pal might try to reclaim it. Better to stow it in the small safe in his office and, when he got a chance, hire a bank safe-deposit box to hold it.
He finished eating, tucked the revolver into the small of his back, grabbed the carry bag with the cash and strolled down to his office, alert for threats. Once there, he stashed the carry bag in the safe and, sitting at his desk, accessed the Sydney Morning Herald website. No mention of the Trewaley file. Instead, he saw a story that mentioned the death of Michael Cassidy the previous day:
POLICE INVESTIGATE STRANGE DEATH PLUNGES
The Homicide Squad is investigating the strange deaths of two men who plunged from an apartment building in Drummoyne on separate days.
The first man to plunge from the building in Lawton Street was a university student, Mr Tony Tam, who lived in an apartment on the tenth floor. Mr Tam was found dead in the empty swimming pool of the building on Friday evening.
A police spokesman said yesterday that the police initially thought he jumped from his apartment and treated his death as a suicide.
However, yesterday morning, a second man, Michael Cassidy, fell from the same apartment building into the same empty swimming pool. Mr Cassidy served time in gaol for violence offences and was known as a standover man in the drug trade.
Mr Cassidy did not live in the building and the police are not sure where he fell from. They have not discovered any connection between Mr Cassidy and Mr Tam.
“These deaths are very strange,” the police spokesman said. “We initially thought we were dealing with a suicide. But when a second man plunges from the same building into the same empty swimming pool, you’ve got to suspect foul play of some sort. Unfortunately, at the moment, we have no leads.”
Gary felt a shiver of concern and wondered if he was a little rash when he tossed Cassidy off the balcony. But what else was he supposed to do? If Gary had shot the guy, he would have sparked an even more frenzied Homicide investigation. At least, it seemed, the cops had no leads. Hopefully, that situation would continue.
He repeatedly scrolled through internet news sites and listened to ABC News Radio, hoping to come across a report on the Trewaley file. Not a peep until eleven o’clock. Then an ABC news announcer reported that an anonymous hacker was redirecting visitors from the Parliament House website to a fake site that contained “explosive allegations and supporting documents about the Leader of the Opposition, Angus Trewaley”.
Gary’s nerves tingled as the radio newsreader said: “A spokesman for the Department of Parliamentary Services said the department is trying to restore access to the genuine site. However, it will probably take several more hours to do that. The ABC has contacted Mr Trewaley’s office and asked him to comment on the allegations on the fake site. To date, it has received no reply.”
The ABC obviously felt entitled to report that a Government website had been hijacked and mention the “explosive allegations”, but was too timid to detail them. However, it didn’t have to. Listeners would be flooding to the fake site for edification.
Just after noon, a story was posted on the Sydney Morning Herald website headlined: “Fake Parliament House website makes allegations about Trewaley.” The story was very similar to the ABC report, except that it also mentioned the fake site claimed the supporting documents came from an accountancy firm that worked for Trewaley called Merton & Co. The story pointed out that the principal of that firm, Robert Merton, recently died under suspicious circumstances at his beach house. Like the ABC, the Herald didn’t identify the “allegations” against Trewaley.
Gary tried to access the Parliament House website and was again redirected to the fake site with the blurb and link to documents. By now, thousands of people must have done the same.
Gary wanted to get closer to the unfolding story about Trewaley’s finances. The solicitor, Terry Burke, was the treasurer of the local branch of the Conservative Party. He had told Gary that Trewaley planned to hold an election rally at Paddington Town Hall at 4pm that day, and asked if Gary wanted to accompany him. Gary had brushed him off. Now, he changed his mind and phoned Terry on his mobile.
“Terry Burke here,” the solicitor said chirpily.
“Tezza, it’s Gary.”
“Yes mate, how can I help?”
“You still going to Trewaley’s rally this afternoon?”
“Of course. Why?”
“Can I go with you?”
“Why the change of heart?”
“Oh, I thought it might be interesting. Still not sure how to vote.”
“OK. It starts at four. Be over here at three and we’ll go together.”
Gary hung up and realised that, if Terry had heard the allegations circulating about Trewaley, he would have canned the chirpiness. Terry would soon get a rude shock.
Gary continued monitoring news websites and ABC News Radio. Just after two o’clock, the Herald site reported that the Prime Minister had issued a statement that called upon Trewaley to “respond” to the allegations made on the fake website and indicate whether the documents attached to it were genuine.
After reading that story, Gary almost punched the air with excitement. The Prime Minister was obviously trying to push the story along without over-committing himself. It really looked like this scandal was starting to heat up.
Just before three o’clock, Gary left the revolver in a desk drawer and strolled around to the offices of Burke & Co, where he told Terry’s stocky secretary, Olga, that he had an appointment to see her boss. Olga used her phone to tell Terry that Gary had arrived and then instructed Gary to take a seat in the small reception area.
Five minutes later, Terry bowled out, looking flushed. “Jesus, mate, have you heard the news?”
“There’s a story on the Herald site that someone’s created a fake Parliament House website with nasty allegations about Angus Trewaley.”
“I checked the website. Some joker who calls himself Guy Fawkes claims Angus has millions hidden overseas and cheats on his tax. He’s attached lots of documents to prove it.”
Gary enjoyed sounding bland. “Are the allegations true?”
“Of course not. It must be bullshit.”
“Did you look through the documents?”
“Nah, I’m not going to read that shit. They’ll all be fakes. I’d love to get my hands on the miserable bastard who attached them and throttle him, whoever he is. That’s the problem these days: any dickhead can post shit on the internet under an assumed name and nobody can stop him. Bloody cowards. Anyway, I’m sure it’ll go nowhere. Ready to go?”
Terry always parked his BMW in a small car park behind his office building. He got behind the wheel, with Gary next to him, and started the engine. “You know, this Guy Fawkes shithead claims the documents he attached came from Merton & Co.”
“That’s the firm Patrick Arnott worked for, right?”
“Do you think Arnott had something to do with this?”
“Putting this shit on the internet.”
“Why would he?”
“He obviously disappeared for a reason. Maybe he stole those documents.”
Gary reminded himself that Terry was once a good, if not great, detective, and not to be taken lightly. “I’ve got absolutely no idea.”
A suspicious glance. “You didn’t put this shit on the internet, did you?”
Yep, Terry still had his mojo. Gary feigned surprise. “Me? Of course not. I have trouble turning on a computer. I couldn’t do something like that. Anyway, you said this stuff is all bullshit.”
“Yes, I did, didn’t I? But this is the sort of crazy shit you’d do.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
The Paddington Town Hall, perched at the top of Oxford Street, was an impressive late Victorian building with a high clock-tower. The local council moved out long ago. Most of its halls and rooms were now rented out to the public.
Terry parked a couple of blocks away and they approached on foot. When Gary asked why the rally was being held at 4pm, Terry patiently explained it was so the evening news programs would show Trewaley before an enthusiastic audience. “Colour and movement – that’s what politics is all about.”
Dozens of riot police were clustered near the front entrance, leaning on their shields, keeping a wary eye on a hundred protesters waving placards and chanting unintelligible slogans.
Guests presented their invitations to a couple of burly security guards before filing into the building. Terry showed his invitation and said Gary was his guest. The guard shrugged and waved them through.
They climbed a long flight of stairs to the first floor, and crossed a small foyer into an elegant hall with a high ceiling and polished timber floor. At the far end was a low podium with a lectern. Conservative Party buntings and posters with Trewaley’s beaming face coated the walls. A couple of hundred supporters milled about chatting loudly. Most of the men wore a navy jacket and grey slacks; the women, a lace frock, tennis tan and expensive jewellery. This had to be one of the most affluent election crowds ever assembled. Many were probably waiting for waiters to circulate with champagne and canapes.
Gary wondered how many had their wealth salted away in tax havens like Trewaley. Probably quite a few.
Terry glanced at Gary. “Can I leave you here? I’ve got to speak to a few people about party business.”
Terry crossed the hall, climbed onto the podium and disappeared through a side door.
Gary noticed about 30 media people stood in a roped-off section next to the podium. He strolled over to it. While photographers and cameramen set up their equipment, half-a-dozen reporters stood together, chatting. Gary had seen several on television. They looked shorter and less glamorous in the flesh. One was describing how she recently broke her leg while skiing.
A fat guy whose name-tag said “Robert Steffens – Media Liaison” approached them and they formed a horseshoe around him.
He said: “Any questions before we start?”
A female TV reporter pushed forward. “Yeah. When’s your boss going to comment on the tax haven allegations?”
“Those allegations are bullshit.”
“Maybe. But when’s he going to say that?”
“He’ll do a doorstop out the front, after the rally. You can ask him about the allegations then.”
“And he’ll deny them?”
The chunky guy wandered off and the reporters went back to comparing skiing injuries.
Gary strolled about the hall, listening to the party faithful chat about the price of yachts, the price of imported cars, the price of real estate, the price of private schools and the price of everything else. A couple expressed disgust at the allegation that Trewaley was a tax cheat. A heavily botoxed matron said: “The Government is behind this attack. It’s just the sort of slimy thing those rodents would do.”
A voice behind Gary said: “What the hell are you doing here?”
Gary spun around and found himself looking at the scowling face of Oliver Bristow. After a stab of concern, he realised he had nothing to fear. Bristow couldn’t afford to make a scene.
Gary lifted his finger to his lips and smiled. “Shhhh, not so loud.”
Bristow wore a pinstripe suit, maybe the same one. But his pocket handkerchief was missing and he looked like a man dying for a good night’s sleep, or maybe just dying.
“I’ll have you thrown out.”
“Don’t be silly. You’d just cause a commotion. Now piss off.”
A tongue flicked dry lips. “Why are you here?”
“Don’t worry, I’m just here to watch. Hell, if he gives a good speech, I might vote for him.”
“You’d better not cause any trouble.”
“Good. You stole my money. I want it back.”
Cops are taught to take command of a situation. Gary used that training. He leaned forward and whispered in Bristow’s ear. “You’re in a different world now, Sunshine – my world. It’s a world where little bugs like you get squashed. I’ve got a special place in the bush where I bury pricks who annoy me. Do you want to visit it?”
A part of Gary sat in the stalls admiring his tough-guy act. True, it was a little hammy. But Bristow was an unsophisticated consumer and swallowed it whole. He paid Gary the high compliment of stepping back and glowing with fear. “You can’t talk to me like that.”
“I just did.”
“Give me back the money.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Scram.”
A long hot stare. “Fucker. I’ll deal with you later.”
Gary smiled. “You’ve been warned. You bother me again and I’ll make you eat your stupid fucking suit with chips. Now piss off.”
Bristow made a strange whinnying noise to release tension and stalked off. Gary wandered around for another 10 minutes, eavesdropping on conversations while the hall swelled until it was jam-packed. Terry appeared at his shoulder. “What have you been doing?”
“Oh, just strolling around, getting the vibe.”
“I saw you chatting with Bristow. What was that about?”
“You mean the guy in the pinstripe suit?”
“Oh, nothing. He thought I was someone else.”
Terry squinted. “Really?”
A minute later, the local Mayor, who belonged to Trewaley’s party, emerged from a side door wearing his chain of office over a suit. He gave a short speech praising Trewaley while the audience applauded. Then Trewaley came through the side door and waved to the cheering crowd while striding purposefully towards the lectern. But Gary detected a slightly hunted look and wondered if the release of his Merton & Co file was responsible.
Trewaley put some notes on the lectern and grabbed both sides. “Thank you, Mayor Tucker, for that wonderful introduction. I am most flattered. And thank you all for your warm welcome. I’ve travelled all over Australian during this election campaign and met lots of wonderful people, but nobody treats me as well as the people in my electorate.”
Trewaley spent the rest of his speech running through his party’s election platform and attacking the Government. His voice was surprisingly flat – as if there was something on his mind – and the audience was quite muted. That was not surprising. The wealthy citizens of the Eastern Suburbs rarely indulged in ostentatious displays of emotion.
However, when Trewaley finished with a promise that he would win the election, the audience erupted with wild applause. After waving for a while, he descended to the floor of the hall and strolled towards the rear door. While cameramen and photographers orbited around him, he shook hands and accepted slaps on the back. Gary followed him closely and got separated from Terry. He trailed the politician and the press pack down the stairs and out the front entrance.
Trewaley strode towards a big black Mercedes parked against the curb while waving to a few well-wishers and ignoring the screeching protesters, who showed how much noise a motivated political crowd could make.
A male reporter trailing after Trewaley kept asking for his comment on “… the documents posted on the Parliament House website”.
Trewaley ignored the reporter until he reached the Mercedes and spun around, looking tense. Even before he opened his mouth, Gary sensed it was a mistake to talk.
Trewaley said: “I understand that someone has posted scurrilous material on the internet about my taxation affairs. That material is false and the documents are forgeries – complete forgeries. I have always paid my fair share of tax and will continue to do so.”
A female reporter yelled: “How much tax did you pay last year?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Will you release your tax returns?”
“No, that’s a private matter.”
“Do you have money in accounts in the Bahamas or Cayman Islands?”
“Of course not. The documents on the internet are forgeries.”
Another reporter: “Do you know Mr Robert Merton, the principal of Merton & Co?”
Trewaley, who obviously hadn’t expected that question, hesitated and frowned. “I may have met him – I meet many people.”
“Has his firm ever done work for you?”
“I don’t know. I’ve dealt with many accounting firms.”
“Do you know who killed Merton?”
“Of course not. I know nothing about that.” Trewaley realised he’d talked too long and lost command of the situation. “That’s all I have to say. Goodbye.”
While the journalists shouted more questions, Trewaley ducked into the back of his vehicle and it sped off.
“Fucking idiot,” someone behind Gary said.
Gary turned and saw Terry standing behind him. “Hello. You heard that?”
“Yes, a total train wreck. Let’s get out of here.”
They pushed through the tight ranks of police and protesters and strode towards Terry’s car.
Terry said: “I told that little jerk-off Bristow that his boss shouldn’t comment on his tax affairs – that would just give the story more oxygen. But Bristow said his boss was determined to answer the allegations.” A sigh. “That’s the problem with politicians. They think they can talk their way out of anything.”
“Surely he had to answer the allegations?”
“No, he didn’t. News stories last a nano-second these days. In 24 hours, the story would have been old news. But now he’s on record talking about his relationship with a man murdered a couple of days ago – sheesh.”
Gary didn’t think Trewaley could have ignored the growing scandal so easily. “You think he’s in trouble?”
“He’s in free-fall.”
They turned a corner and headed along an empty pavement. The chaos behind them receded. After about twenty metres, Terry frowned at Gary. “You’re behind this, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re Guy Fawkes.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why do you say that?”
“Patrick Arnott worked at Merton & Co. I reckon he swiped Trewaley’s tax records and went on the run. Merton chased after him and so did you. You shot Merton and somehow got your hands on the records. Then you pinned them up on the internet. You’re Guy Fawkes, aren’t you?”
Terry should have stayed a first-rate cop instead becoming an overpaid and second-rate lawyer.
Gary stopped and stared at him. “I could tell you the truth – the whole truth – but you won’t thank me if I do.”
Terry smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m a big boy – I can take it. But don’t tell me everything, just the highlights.”
Gary was relieved he could finally unburden himself about the carnage at the beach house, despite the risk of doing so. “OK. Merton and two thugs kidnapped Arnott and took him to the beach house. I tried to rescue him. Everything turned to shit and there was a big shoot-out. Arnott died; Merton died; a thug died.”
“Who killed who?”
“I killed Merton and the thug; the thug killed Arnott.”
“OK, got that. But you said there were two thugs. What happened to the other one?”
“He got away and died later.”
“Of natural causes?”
A rueful smile. “OK. And, after the shoot-out, you torched the beach house?”
“Yes. That seemed the smart play. If I called the cops, they would have charged me with three counts of murder and forced me to prove my innocence. No, thank you. I’m not fond of juries and didn’t want to embarrass Karen.”
“She doesn’t know about any of this?”
“Understand. And you don’t want to tell Madeline that her son died in the beach house because she’ll blab to the cops?”
A frown. “Jesus, this was supposed to be a simple missing-person job.”
“It got complicated.”
“Fuckin’ oath it did. Jobs always do when you’re involved. I shudder to think what would have happened if it was a big assignment.”
Gary flushed with anger. “That’s unfair. Arnott was a silly boy who trod on the wrong toes. It wasn’t my job to save his arse; I sure as hell wasn’t getting paid to do that. But I tried and almost got killed.”
Terry showed his palms. “Fair enough. I spoke in haste. But I wish we could tell Madeline something.”
“We can’t because she won’t keep her mouth shut. Hell, she’ll probably blame me for her son’s death. But, for what it’s worth, she’ll soon find out he’s dead. She gave some of his DNA to the police when she reported him missing. They’ll match it with a body found in the beach house and inform her.”
“I guess so. But she won’t know why he died.”
“True. But lots of things in life don’t get explained, like why we’re here and where we’re going. And, to be quite frank, I don’t owe her the full story. It’s not my job to hold her hand. There are times to keep your mouth shut and this is one of them. I’ve got to look after myself.”
“I accept that.” They got into the car and Terry glanced at Gary. “But tell me this: why did you post that stuff on the internet about Trewaley?”
Gary put on his seat-belt. “Why? Because a lot of people died – including Patrick Arnott – to protect his dirty secrets. I couldn’t let him get away with that.”
“Hah. You never change, do you? When you were a cop, you were always fighting with the top brass.”
“Yep, and Trewaley is much worse. Chopping him down is the best fun I’ve had in ages. I’m not a good man, but I’m a saint compared to him.”
“So you’re going to punish the world’s crooks, one by one?”
“No, just the ones who wander into range.”
Terry sighed. “You know, I believed in him. He talked a lot about his Christian values; I thought he was honest. But I should have remembered he was a property developer before he went into politics. Most of them would kill for a buck.”
“Sorry I burst your bubble.”
A frown. “Shit, you know, I was looking forward to being pals with the Prime Minister, maybe even visiting The Lodge. That won’t happen now.”
“You think he’ll lose the election?”
“Of course. The Conservative Party doesn’t have a hope. People don’t want a PM who’s a big tax cheat.”
“Will he lose this seat?”
“No, he’ll hang on. There’ll be a big swing against him, of course, but this is a Conservative Party bastion. Plenty of voters will hold their noses and vote for him.”
A sigh. “Yeah, including me.”
“No. I’m the treasurer of the local branch, for God’s sake. I can’t just abandon the party. It’s a tribal thing. But I assume you won’t vote for him.”
“Only if I go insane.”
Terry drove on for a while. “You know, it doesn’t matter how many tax cheats they catch, there will always be plenty more. A few weeks ago, my accountant said my business is getting so big I should start looking at, umm, moving my money off-shore.”
“To evade tax?”
“He didn’t say that directly, but that was obviously the plan.”
“What did you say?”
Terry glanced away. “I, umm, said I’ll think about it.”
A smile. “Don’t worry, I won’t. I’ve got to make sure there are no skeletons in my closet.”
“If Trewaley’s forced to quit politics, the Conservative Party will probably need a new candidate for this seat – someone squeaky clean.”
Terry’s eyes twinkled. “Why not?”
When he got home that evening, Gary turned on his computer and checked to see whether the fake Parliament House website was still live. It was. Vincent Drew said it would take the Government’s computer technicians at least 24 hours to fix the problem. He was right as usual.
Karen said she would turn up at 6.30pm. She knocked on the front door shortly after that, with her overnight gear in a small shoulder bag. They sloppy-kissed and sat on the couch.
He felt guilty about not telling her that he had killed three people. But she wouldn’t thank him if he did and every relationship had secrets, though not usually such dark ones.
Oscar appeared out of nowhere and jumped onto her lap. She stroked him gently. “Hello, boy.”
“Jeez, how come the cat doesn’t give me that sort of attention?”
“Because he’s not stupid.”
“Thanks. How was your day?”
She smiled. “Great. We arrested the murderer of the old wino.”
“You mean, you didn’t have to frame anyone?”
She giggled. “Nope. This was a righteous arrest.”
“Congratulations. Who is he?”
“Another wino. Seems they got into an argument over a packet of cigarettes.”
“How’d you catch him?”
She looked a touch embarrassed. “He, umm, turned up to Surry Hills Police Station and confessed.”
“Because he realised the net was closing on him.”
“Hah, I doubt that. He’s almost a drooling vegetable. I think he wanted to sleep in a nice warm prison bed.”
He shrugged. “Well, at least the investigation’s over. You must be glad about that.”
“And a half.”
“What’s your next assignment?”
She stroked Oscar, who purred loudly. “I was going to tell you that. The Super wants to send me out west, to join the Bernice Drummond team. They’re throwing a lot of resources into that investigation.”
Bernice Drummond was the wife of a cattle station manager brutally murdered at a homestead near Broken Hill about a week ago. Her husband was in town at the time and not a suspect. The murder had received saturation coverage, so Gary wasn’t surprised the police top brass wanted to bolster the investigation team.
He said: “When will you be going?”
“Probably tomorrow – sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry, I understand. How long will you be gone?”
“Not sure. But probably at least three or four weeks.”
He had feared she would be assigned to investigate the beach-house shootings or the two deaths at the Drummoyne apartment block. So, while disappoint she was going away, he was relieved she wouldn’t be on his trail. “Don’t worry, I’ll survive.”
“Good. I’ll miss you.”
“Ditto.” She rubbed under the cat’s jaw and provoked a crescendo purring. “And look after Oscar.”
He tried to sound casual. “I will. You know, I read this morning that people keep landing in an empty swimming pool in Drummoyne. I thought you might get that assignment.”
“No, I dodged that bullet, thank God. Those deaths have got everyone walking around scratching their heads. Nobody’s got a clue what’s going on.”
“Maybe two people suicided in the same week.”
“Hah, I doubt it. But I bet they’ll get nowhere and decide that’s what happened. Those guys couldn’t find a clown at a circus.” She kept stroking the cat. “What are we doing for dinner?”
“I bought some takeaway – Thai. That OK?”
“Good, I’ll heat it up in my usual stylish manner. Then we can watch the news.”
“OK. I heard on the radio that Trewaley’s in a bit of trouble.”
“It looks like we both pay more tax than him.”
He went into the kitchen and microwaved two bowls of the takeaway. Back in the living room, he gave a bowl to Karen and sat next to her, just in time for the start of the ABC Evening News.
After the credits had rolled, the female news announcer said: “The Leader of the Opposition, Angus Trewaley, today denied explosive allegations posted on the internet that he is a tax cheat who has hidden millions of dollars worth of assets and income in overseas tax havens. Yesterday evening, a hacker seized control of the Parliament House website and posted the allegations. The hacker also attached 200 documents concerning Mr Trewaley’s financial affairs. Those documents come from an accountancy firm called Merton & Co. The principal of that firm, Mr Robert Merton, died in suspicious circumstances at his beach house a few days ago.
“After an election rally at the Paddington Town Hall today, Mr Trewaley denied the allegations posted on the internet …”
The program televised Trewaley’s entire curbside press conference, during which he had a guilty sweat and raspy voice. The news announcer then interviewed the ABC’s Canberra Political Editor, Matthew O’Rourke.
She said: “Matthew, will today’s developments affect the election?”
O’Rourke had a billboard forehead and blank stare. “It’s too early to say. However, the onus is now on Mr Trewaley to make full disclosure of his tax affairs. If he doesn’t, his campaign will suffer serious damage. His association with Robert Merton, who was shot dead in his beach house a few days ago, also needs to be explained.”
“Thank you, Matthew.”
The news reader moved on to the next item, about heavy storms and flooding in outback Queensland.
Gary turned to Karen. “What did you think of that?”
“Trewaley looked guilty as hell. But I’ll still vote for him.”
Gary knew she was, like most cops, very right-wing. But he was shocked. “You’re kidding?”
“No, I’m still going to vote for him.”
She shrugged. “I’ve always voted Conservative.”
“But he’s a tax cheat.”
“So what? All politicians are dodgy.”
“Not many have millions in tax havens.”
She yawned. “Really? I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Now that he had $200,000, thanks to the stupidity of Oliver Bristow, he could afford to rent a good apartment that they could share. But first, he had to find out if she was interested. He was nervous about doing that. So, when the evening news ended, he yawned and said: “You know, while you’re away, I might look around for a better apartment than this one.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Why?”
“Let’s face it, this place is a tip. So I thought that if I found somewhere better we could, umm, try living together for a while – just a while.”
He held his breath until she smiled and nodded. “I’d like that, I really would. But how would you pay for it?”
“Don’t worry, business has been quite good recently.”
Why mention he had a huge one-off spike in revenue? “Yep.”
“OK then, have a look around. I trust your judgement.”
She stood up. “Alright then, let’s go to bed.”
“It’s a bit early.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m not sleepy.”
Trewaley spent the rest of the election campaign claiming that the “Guy Fawkes allegations” and supporting documents were false. However, when politicians vehemently deny something, most voters take it as the gospel truth. Trewaley certainly encouraged scepticism by refusing to release his genuine tax returns or any other financial records.
His association with Robert Merton, who died in violent circumstances, also caused him immense grief. He tried to deny any link. However, photographs of them standing together at several social functions popped up all over the internet. It also became clear that Merton did accountancy work for Trewaley. Voters were entitled to ask – and did ask – if the Opposition Leader had some involvement in Merton’s death. Conspiracy theorists had a riotous time. They posted scenarios on the internet that could have been ripped from a Ludlam novel.
The Taxation Office refused to say whether it was investigating Trewaley for tax fraud. However, a week before election day, it raided the premises of Merton & Co and seized all of its documents. That cast a further dark cloud over Trewaley.
The scandal that beset Trewaley propelled his party from a commanding lead over the Government in the opinion polls to trailing badly. On election day, the Government was returned to office with a decisive majority.
Trewaley barely won his seat and was soon dumped as leader of his party. Indeed, many of his colleagues called upon him to resign from parliament. Instead, he hung around for a year, until he was finally charged with massive tax fraud and forced to resign. Terry Burke joined the cavalcade of political wannabes who tried to win party pre-selection for the seat and narrowly lost to a prominent barrister. Afterwards, he told Gary he was a little relieved to lose, because he couldn’t have survived on the salary of an Opposition backbencher. But he was obviously disappointed.
A week after election day and while Karen was still in the outback investigating the Bernice Drummond murder, Gary decided to find out who was leaving flowers on his father’s grave. That would not be easy. The mystery person only seemed to leave them every week or two and Gary didn’t want to stake out the cemetery for that long.
Terry Burke had mentioned that his 17-year-old son, Alex, by his second wife, had just finished high school and nothing to do until university started. Gary called up Terry and asked if his son wanted gainful employment.
“I desperately want the lazy little sod to do some work.”
“Good, then I might have a job for him.”
Terry’s tone darkened. “You? I’m not sure I want him working for you.”
“Don’t worry. This job will be easy. He’s just got to sit in a cemetery and wait for someone to put flowers on a grave.”
“Why the hell do you want him to do that?”
“That’s a bit weird. This is a personal thing, huh?”
“I guess the little sod’s capable of sitting on his arse watching a grave, though he’ll probably fall asleep.”
“That’s a risk I’m prepared to take.”
“How long would he have to wait?”
“Probably a week or two.”
“Wow? How much will you pay him?”
“Oh, a couple of hundred a day.”
“Shit, he’s not worth that.”
“I know. But he’ll have to cope with extreme boredom.”
“I guess so. I’ll give him a call and see if he’s interested.”
An hour later, Terry called back and said his son would love to sit around in the open all day and wait for someone to lay flowers on a grave.
The next day, Gary met Terry and Alex in Angelo’s coffee shop. Gary had met Alex several times before. He was a nice kid with a mop of curly hair and solid build who planned to study Chemical Engineering at university.
Gary explained what he wanted and Alex cut to the chase: “Dad said you’ll pay two hundred a day.”
“Great. I’ll do it.”
“It’ll get pretty boring.”
“I’ll cope. I’ll listen to music and text my friends.”
“OK. And if someone does turn up, contact me immediately and I’ll dash over there.”
“What if this person starts to leave and you haven’t arrived?”
“Identify yourself and say I’m on my way. But, whatever happens, take a photo and get a car licence number.”
“Will do. When do you want me to start?”
“As soon as you can.”
“OK, I’ll start straight away.”
Gary was fairly busy for the next ten days doing workers’ compensation surveillance for an insurance company. Indeed, for long periods, he forgot about Alex sitting alone in the cemetery.
The surveillance target was a bricklayer who claimed he badly injured his back at work. Whenever he went out, Gary followed him around with a concealed camera in a bag, hoping to film an athletic move. Just after 5pm on a Friday, Gary was following the limping bricklayer through the Bondi Junction Shopping Centre – and starting to believe the guy really had a bad back – when he got a call on his mobile phone. With a quickening heart, he saw it was from Alex.
He accepted the call. “Alex, what’s happening?”
Alex sounded excited. “He’s here.”
“The guy with the flowers.”
“Great. What’s he doing?”
He’s sitting next to the grave.”
“You’ve got a photo of him?”
“Good. How did he get there?”
“I think he drove a car.”
“What does he look like?”
“An ordinary dude in a good suit.”
“OK. If he tries to leave, tell him you’re working for George Maddox’s son and I want to talk to him. Whatever happens, make sure you get his licence number.”
Gary’s surveillance van was parked underneath the shopping centre and would take too long to reach. Instead, he dashed outside, jumped into a taxi and told the driver to take him to South Head Cemetery, pronto.
Twenty minutes later, he climbed out of the taxi in the cemetery car park and, after paying the tariff, legged it down the hill. To his great relief, Alex stood beside his father’s grave with a tall man, aged about forty, wearing an expensive dark suit and tie. Fresh-looking yellow roses lay on the grave.
Both men watched him approach. He reached them, a little breathless, and looked at Alex. “Thanks, mate.”
“No problem, Mr Maddox.”
Gary looked at the stranger. “Hello. Thank you for waiting. I’m Gary Maddox. I’ve been trying to find out who’s leaving flowers on my father’s grave.”
The stranger had handsome features and reeked of self-confidence. He had a pleasant voice. “Yes, Alex here mentioned that. My name’s Felix Angerer.”
They shook hands.
“Thanks again for waiting.”
“No problem. So you want to know why I’m leaving flowers on your father’s grave?”
“Yes, I’m curious. It’s rather unusual. None of my father’s close relatives or friends is still alive, so far as I know, except me.”
A smile. “OK. But it’ll take me a while to explain.”
Gary had feared the leaver of the flowers would not want to reveal his identity or motive. But this guy was very accommodating. “I’ve got plenty of time.”
“Good. My car’s up in the car park. Why don’t we find a coffee shop and have a chat? Alex said you work in Bondi. Let’s go there.”
Felix Angerer turned to Alex. “Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
Alex shook his head. “No, thanks, my motorbike is in the car park.”
“OK then, let’s go.”
Alex led them up the hill to the car park where, after Gary had thanked him again, he climbed onto his motorbike and zoomed off.
Felix Angerer looked at Gary. “Nice kid. My car’s over there.”
Angerer led Gary over to a top-of-the-range BMW which must have cost a fortune. He got behind the wheel and Gary sat beside him.
Angerer drove out of the car park and headed along the coast towards Bondi Beach.
Gary said: “So, Felix, what do you do?”
Angerer popped open the glove box, took out a premium-quality business card and handed it to Gary. “I’m a merchant banker. Here’s my business card.”
Gary glanced at it.
Delroy Finance Corporation
Gary slipped it into his top pocket. “I don’t know much about merchant banking. How big’s Delroy Finance?”
“It’s a boutique firm – only got a couple of billion in assets.”
Gary wondered if he misheard the figure. “Couple of million?”
“Wow. Must be hard to keep track of it all.”
A laugh. “It’s not easy. I understand from Alex that you’re a private investigator.”
Gary fished a shabby looking business card out of his wallet. “Yes, here’s my card.”
Angerer glanced at it. “Bloodhound Investigations.”
“Yes. I hate the name, but I’m too cheap to get new cards printed.”
A smile. “The name’s OK – I wouldn’t bother.”
Angerer drove for ten minutes along the top of the sandstone cliffs that lined the Pacific Ocean and down a bending road to the Bondi esplanade. He turned up Curlewis Road and found a vacant spot in front of a coffee shop.
They sat at a table on the pavement. The melting sun painted them with sharp rays of light. A waiter appeared and they both ordered coffee.
Angerer turned towards Gary. “You want to know why I’m putting flowers on your father’s grave?”
“If I tell you the full story, you might not like what you hear.”
“Don’t worry, I’m hard to shock.”
A shrug. “OK. My father, Keith Angerer, and your dad worked together on the Drug Squad about forty years ago. They were great mates. I understand they were also great cops. But they weren’t perfect. According to my mother, they often shook down drug dealers for money. Did you know that?”
Gary didn’t. But now he understood how his father accumulated the $300,000 buried in his backyard. “No. Did they, umm, sell drugs?”
“Mum said no, they never went that far. They just ripped them off.”
“Still, the dealer you rip off is the dealer you don’t arrest.”
“I guess so. You know about that sort of thing?”
“I was a cop myself. In fact, I worked undercover on the Drug Squad.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Anyway, my father was lousy with money. He took huge risks ripping off dealers and then pissed away the money on booze and gambling. In fact, he fed most of it into pokie machines. Died without a penny to his name.”
“About thirty years ago. Tried to drive home drunk one night and slammed into a telegraph pole. I was ten at the time. Anyway, because he died off-duty, Mum only got a small pension from the police force. So, there she was, a destitute widow with a young son. Then your father stepped in and started helping her out. Every couple of months, he gave her a big wad of cash. He also paid for me to go to Cranbrook. That must have cost him a fortune.”
“Did you meet my father?”
“Yes, sometimes, when he dropped over to the house. But I didn’t know he was giving Mum money or paying my school fees, until much later when she told me. I thanked your father, of course, but he shrugged and said it was no big deal.”
Gary felt his chest tighten. “I didn’t know any of this.”
“I don’t think your father wanted to make a big fuss. He wanted to help the wife and son of his best mate, and that’s what he did. Anyway, he made a huge difference to my life. Because he paid for my schooling, I’m now a successful businessman. I owe him a lot.”
“That’s why you leave the flowers on his grave?”
“Yes. My parents’ graves are further down the hill. So I often visit your father’s on the way back up.”
“When did your mum die?”
“About ten years ago – cancer.”
“Sorry to hear that. I didn’t see you at my father’s funeral.”
A shrug. “I was never really part of his life and wasn’t sure I should tell you this stuff. I mean, if your father didn’t tell you, why should I? But, now you’ve asked, I’m glad I have. I guess this is all a big shock?”
“It is and it isn’t. Just before he died, my father told me he had $300,000 buried in his backyard. He didn’t say where it came from, but I assumed he did something dodgy to get it. I guess you’ve confirmed my suspicion.”
The waiter put their coffees on the table and Angerer took a sip. “Our dads obviously did bad things. But, the older I get, the more I realise we’re all just a patchwork of good and bad. Depends on which part you’re looking at. All I can say is that I’m profoundly grateful to your dad. He was a great mate to my father and a wonderful help to Mum and me. Quite frankly, I don’t care what he did in other parts of his life.”
Gary sipped his coffee and felt a wave of calm. “You know, I used to be angry about the money buried in the backyard. But I’m relaxed about that now. I mean, I’m not thrilled to hear that he ripped off dealers. But he was a good father. I can live with the rest.”
A smile. “What choice have you got?”
“None, I guess: they don’t pump new fathers off a production line.”
“True.” Angerer drained his cup. “Anyway, I’d better go home. Are you married?”
“No, but I’ve got a girlfriend.”
“Well, if you want, you should both come over to my place at Watsons Bay for lunch one weekend. I’ll introduce you to my wife and two kids.”
“Thanks. I’d like that.”
Angerer rose to his feet and shook Gary’s hand. “Very nice to meet you. You’ve got my card. Give me a call when you want to come over.”
“I will. Thank you for telling me all of this.”
A big smile. “A joy, believe me.”
That night, in bed, Gary stared at the dark ceiling and remembered how, when he was about eight-years-old, he stood with his father in surf. They ducked and weaved as big waves broke around them. Sometimes, his father lifted him out of danger. Then a big wave knocked him over. His face slammed into the sand; his gullet filled with briny water.
A big hand grabbed his arm and dragged him to the surface. He gagged hard and sucked in painful breaths.
His father’s nose was coated with zinc. “You OK, son? You alright? Got to stay alert.”
Gary nodded. “I’m OK.”
“Good. Want to go back to the beach?”
Gary finally cleared his lungs. “No, I’ll be fine.”
His father smiled. “Good, good.”
They dove together into a big dark wave.
The next morning, Gary sat in his office reading an article on the internet about whether to give milk to a cat. High-powered experts were lined up on both sides of the issue. He’d almost finished when Terry Burke phoned his mobile.
Gary answered the call. “Hello, Terry.”
Terry sounded unusually stressed. “Hi, mate. I just got a call from Madeline Arnott. She said a Homicide detective contacted her last night and said one of the bodies found in the beach house is Patrick’s. The detective said all three people in the house were shot dead, but they’ve got no leads.”
Gary’s stomach dropped. “Shit. How did she take it?”
“Very upset, of course, poor dear. I’m going over to her place to see her.”
“Will you tell her what really happened?”
“Of course not. You want to keep that quiet and I understand that – I really do.”
Gary hung up, feeling guilty about hiding from Madeline Arnott what happened at the beach house. But if he told her the truth, there was a big risk she would get upset and go to the police. Then his whole life would turn black and white. He had seen lots of people pass through the criminal justice system and knew the innocent suffered the most.
Gary felt too distracted to return to the internet article. Instead, to burn some energy, he went shopping for a couple of pairs of jeans. He’d just got back to his office with his purchases, an hour later, when he got another call from Terry; he answered it with some trepidation. “Yes, Terry?”
Terry’s voice was dark. “Umm, Gary, I’m with Madeline Arnott right now.”
“Yes. And, umm, she wants to chat with you.”
Damn. “Chat? What about?”
“I’d better let her explain. Can you come over to her house right now?”
Terry obviously couldn’t warn Gary what Madeline Arnott wanted to discuss because she was in earshot. Bloody hell. What was this about? But he could hardly refuse. “OK, I’ll be straight over. What’s the address?”
Terry gave Gary an address in Woollahra.
“Alright, I’ll be there shortly.”
“Good. We’ll be waiting.”
It took Gary 30 minutes to drive to the address he was given. He spent most of the journey wondering what Madeline Arnott wanted to talk about and eventually gave up. He’d find out soon enough.
Madeline Arnott’s home was a modest Californian bungalow on a quiet tree-lined street. Gary strolled up a snaking flagstone path, took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer. After about ten seconds, the door swung open and Gary found himself looking at a dour-faced Terry.
Terry said: “Thanks for coming. Madeline’s in the living room.”
“What’s this about?” Gary whispered.
A shrug. “She’ll tell you.”
Gary followed Terry up the hallway and into the living room. Its marble fireplace, oriental carpet, intricate floral wallpaper, ornate drapes and solid oak furniture obviously tried to mimic the original 1900s interior. Madeline Arnott was perched on the edge of a damask sofa; she had red eyes and a crumpled handkerchief in her right fist.
She looked up at Gary. “Thank you for coming.”
“It’s no problem.”
Terry sat on another couch and pointed to an armchair. “You’d better sit over there.”
Gary sat and studied Madeline Arnott for some sign she was upset with him. He saw grief without anger. “Umm, I’m sorry to hear that your son died. Please accept my commiserations.”
She sat up straight, put her hands in her lap and sounded a little distant. “Thank you. I knew that Patrick might be dead and tried to prepare myself. But when the policeman contacted me yesterday, I was shocked. And then I heard that Patrick was shot dead, with two other people, in a burnt-out house. I couldn’t believe it.”
“Yes, ah, Terry mentioned that. Do the police have any idea what happened?”
She sat even straighter. “Not really. The detective said the other bodies in the house were Robert Merton and a stand-over man called Michael Oliphant. They’re not sure who killed who, and they think a fourth person started the fire and ran away. That’s all they know.”
“And you couldn’t help them?”
“No, except to say Patrick worked for Merton. The detective sounded rather surprised about that.”
Gary’s chest tightened. “Did you, umm, mention that you employed me to find Patrick?”
“No, that didn’t come up. Of course, at first, I was too stunned to think about what happened in the beach house.” She stared at Gary. “Then, this morning, I realised that Robert Merton was in the news because someone took a file about Angus Trewaley from his firm and put it on the internet. So I wondered if Patrick took the file and that was why he disappeared. I mean, it was the sort of silly and immature thing he would do.”
Gary sensed that he had under-estimated Madeline Arnott. Despite her tennis tan, frozen features and dronish lifestyle, she was far savvier than he thought. “I suppose that’s possible.”
“And, if he took the file, Merton would have tried to get it back. So maybe Merton caught Patrick and took him up to the beach house to punish him.”
Yes, he definitely had under-estimated her. His lips went dry. “That sounds plausible.”
Her eyes narrowed. “But that leaves a couple of big questions.”
“Oh, like what?”
“Merton obviously killed Patrick. But who killed Merton and the stand-over man? And who burnt down the beach house? It must have been the fourth person the detective talked about.”
Something wet crawled across the nape of Gary’s neck. “I suppose so. Maybe he worked for Merton.”
“He couldn’t have.”
“Because, if he did, he wouldn’t have shot Merton, would he? No, the fourth person must have been on Patrick’s side. That’s why he killed Merton and his henchman.”
The wet slug veered down Gary’s back. “Patrick’s side? How’s that possible?”
Her stare intensified. “I’ve got a theory.”
Her eyes gleamed. “Yes. I think you were the fourth person.”
Shit. Gary’s time as an undercover cop made him a good liar. Now, he summoned up that talent and locked eyes with her. “Me? I wasn’t the fourth person. I wasn’t even there. That’s crazy talk.”
“Is it? You were chasing after Patrick and were the only person who might have tried to save him. You know, before I hired you, Terry said you’re very resourceful and don’t take a backward step. You didn’t take a backward step at the beach house, did you?”
“You’re mistaken – very mistaken. I wasn’t there.”
“Yes you were. But don’t worry Mr Maddox, I understand your predicament: you’re afraid that, if you tell me what happened, I’ll go to the police. I promise you that, if you do, I won’t.” A pleading look. “I just want to know what happened to my son.”
Half of Gary admired her perspicacity, while the other half desperately considered his options. He could, of course, keep lying. After all, she couldn’t prove anything. But it would be undignified to keep doing so and he felt obliged to help relieve her pain. Anyway, if he didn’t come clean, she would probably take her suspicions to the police. Time to lay at least some cards on the table. He wouldn’t tell her everything – just what she needed to know.
He took a deep breath and glanced at Terry, who nodded. “Alright, Madeline, I’ll be frank with you. But you must promise that, if I tell you what happened at the beach house, you’ll keep it to yourself.”
Her chin wobbled with emotion. “Don’t worry, I will.”
“OK. But first, I apologise for not telling you what happened before now. I did some things that could get me into a lot of trouble. I was afraid you’d talk to the police.”
“I understand, I really do. But don’t worry, I won’t talk.”
He started to relax. “Good. Then I’ll tell you what happened. I won’t tell you everything, just the important stuff if that’s alright?”
“OK then, you’re right: Patrick stole the Trewaley file from Merton & Co. When I caught up with him, at a terrace in Alexandria, I asked him why he did that and he said it was his Christian duty to expose Trewaley. Unfortunately, he gave me the slip – he went back to his apartment to save his cat, of all things – and a couple of Merton’s thugs grabbed him. They took him up to the beach house. I found out and followed Merton up there. When I arrived, I heard shots inside the house. I ran into the living room, but Patrick was already dead.”
He didn’t want to reveal that Patrick actually died in his presence, in a cross-fire, in case she blamed him for his death. So he put a little distance between himself and it.
“Then you shot Merton and one of the thugs?”
“They shot at me and I shot back. I got first prize.”
A savage smile. “Good, good. But you said there were two thugs.”
“Oh, yes. One of them got away.”
“What happened to him?”
“He expired soon afterwards.”
A savage gleam in her eyes. “Excellent. That’s good news. Thank you – thank you very much – for risking your life to save my son and killing his murderers. It’s a great relief to know the scum are dead. But why didn’t you tell the police what happened? Why did you burn down the house?”
“Because, in this state, if you shoot someone, you’re almost always put on trial for murder. No ifs or buts. Then you’ve got to prove you acted in self-defence or whatever. No thank you. I don’t trust juries and had no intention of letting one decide my fate.”
“I understand. Well, don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. Like I said, I’m profoundly grateful to you for what you did.”
Gary felt a great burden fall away. He didn’t have to hide the truth from Madeline Arnott anymore and sensed she would honour her promise to keep quiet. “Thank you. I’m just sorry I didn’t save Patrick.”
Her eyes misted over. “Don’t worry, I know you did everything you could. Patrick was a lovely son, but I’m afraid he was a bit, umm, immature. He got himself into a situation he couldn’t handle.”
“Well, at least you know he got into trouble doing the right thing. I mean, if I stole that file, I would have handled the situation a bit differently. But, in the end, he exposed Trewaley and destroyed his career.”
“Yes, that is comforting. Did you put the file on the internet?”
“Yes, I worked out where Patrick left it and pinned it up.”
“You’ve been very busy. All I asked you to do was find my son.”
A smile. “I can’t stay out of trouble.”
Terry said: “I’ll vouch for that.”
She said: “Now, I hope you will send me a bill for your services. I would like to pay it as soon as possible.”
Gary shrugged. “Don’t worry. This one is gratis.”
A frown. “No, I want to pay it.”
Gary accidentally acquired $200,000 while doing the job. It would be cheap to ask for more. “Look, I won’t accept any more of your money. But you have paid an advance. Why don’t I keep that and we’ll call it quits?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. And I’ve got your son’s cat. Do you want him back?”
“Yes. Do you want him back?”
She shrugged. “Do you want to keep him?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind. I kind of like him.”
A quick smile. “Then please do. He’s all yours.”
Gary felt relieved. “Thanks. I’ll take good care of him.”
“I’m sure you will, though you don’t strike me as a cat person.”
Terry interjected: “I agree with that.”
Gary sighed. “I wish people would stop saying that.”
Gary woke the next morning and remembered Madeline Arnott’s grief. He got angry, and that anger soon focused on one individual.
After breakfast, he put on a sports jacket and tucked his revolver behind his belt. Then he got into his Toyota sedan and drove over to the headquarters of the Sunrise Mission in Pyrmont. It was a Wednesday and the foyer was almost empty. He scouted around the ground floor until he found a board that said the office of Pastor McKenzie was on the third floor. He caught a lift up there and strolled along a vacant corridor with several closed doors on each side. A nameplate on one said: “Pastor McKenzie”. Thankfully, the Pastor didn’t seem to have a secretary. Gary knocked on the door.
A male voice said: “Who is it?”
Gary pushed open the door and entered a large office with bookshelves, two leather couches and a desk beside a long window. The Pastor sat at the desk, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, typing on a computer. He looked in great shape, particularly for a man of the cloth, so Gary was glad he brought his revolver for insurance.
The Pastor looked surprised: “What are you doing here? Who are you? I’m not seeing members of the congregation right now.”
Gary shut the door behind him. “I just want to have a chat.”
A frown. “I told you, I’m not seeing members right now. You’ll have to make an appointment. Send me an e-mail.”
Gary noticed a day-glow painting of Jesus above the desk. “I want to chat about Patrick Arnott.”
The Pastor’s tan evaporated. “Who?”
“Patrick Arnott. He was a friend of mine. He belonged to this church. Now he’s dead.”
After a long pause, the Pastor spoke with a burr. “He’s dead?”
“Yes. He was shot dead.”
“Umm, really? Who shot him? When?”
“I’m not here to answer questions. The police will probably announce the details fairly soon.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I want to know why you betrayed Patrick to Oliver Bristow.”
The Pastor’s eyes gleamed and his Adam’s Apple looked like a cork in a storm. “What’re you talking about?”
“Patrick told you that he stole some documents about Angus Trewaley from Merton & Co, didn’t he? But to curry favour with Trewaley, you warned Bristow about that.”
“T-t-that’s not true. It’s all a lie.”
“Bullshit. I know it’s true; you know it’s true, and God sure as hell knows it’s true. You know, if you’d helped Patrick, instead of betraying him, he would still be alive.”
“I had nothing – nothing at all – to do with his death. Nothing. Zero. If you don’t leave here, right now, I’ll call the police.”
Gary lifted his jacket, pulled out his revolver and pointed it at McKenzie’s head. “You can try, but you’ll be talking to God first.”
The Pastor’s eyes ballooned and locked onto the revolver. His lips moved several times, but only squeaks emerged. “J-J-Jesus Christ.”
“D-d-don’t shoot me, please.”
“I won’t, if you do what you’re told.”
“Give me your hand.”
“Give me your hand.”
“W-w-w-hy do you want my hand?”
“I want to read your fortune.”
“N-no you don’t. Why do you want my hand?”
“Stop asking questions. Give me your hand. Then I’ll go.”
“W-w-what are you going to do with it?”
Gary ground his revolver into the Pastor’s neck and growled. “Give me your fuckin’ hand, now.”
“Either fuckin’ one.”
Slowly and tentatively, the Pastor extended his left hand. Gary grabbed the wrist and pushed the hand flat onto the table. Then he slammed the butt of the revolver down onto the fingers and heard a satisfying crunch.
The Pastor screamed, wrenched the hand from Gary’s grasp and fell backwards off his chair. He lay on his back, holding his hand, and looked up at Gary with tears in his eyes. “You broke them – you fucking broke them.”
“Hold up your hand so I can check.”
Gary pointed the revolver at the Pastor’s forehead. “Show me your frickin’ hand or I will shoot you dead.”
The Pastor grimaced and whimpered as he held up his shaking hand.
The angle of two fingers made even Gary cringe. “Good.”
The Pastor went back to cradling his injured hand while his legs writhed. “Good? You fuckin’ broke ‘em.”
“You really shouldn’t swear. I don’t mind, but God hears everything you say, I am told.”
“You bastard. I’ll get you for this.”
“No, you won’t. You don’t know who I am. But if you ever find out and complain to anyone, I’ll tell everyone how you betrayed a member of your flock and got him killed. Think how bad that will be for business.” Gary chuckled. “I’ll also tell everyone about the little singer you’ve been shagging.”
Alarm replaced pain on the Pastor’s face. “W-w-what are you talking about?”
“The singer with the black bob and the good voice. She turns up to your house in the morning after your wife has left. In fact, I’ve got photos of her outside your place.”
The Pastor looked into the depths of hell and screamed: “For God’s sake, no.”
“It’s your decision, not mine. Have a nice day.”
Gary couldn’t believe his luck when Oliver Bristow broke into his apartment carrying $200,000 in cash sorted into neat bundles. That meant Gary got to rob the guy in his own living room. Very few victims of a robbery were that considerate. Indeed, for the first time in his life, Gary wondered if there was a God in heaven who loved him and wasn’t to blame for his lousy servants on earth. That thought soon expired, but was nice while it lasted.
However, one thing was certain, if the pinstriped idiot had tried to reverse Gary’s good luck and recover the money, Gary would have pumped him full of bullets without a sliver of remorse. Gary now owned the money as if he’d sweated for every cent. But Bristow didn’t reappear and nobody else tried to claim the dough. That was no surprise. Trewaley must have decided he had much bigger problems to worry about, which was undoubtedly true.
After Gary rearranged Pastor McKenzie’s fingers, and while Karen was still on outback assignment, he paid the tax man $15,500 and started looking around Bondi for an apartment to share with her when she returned.
He soon found a nice two-bedroom unit about two hundred metres from the beach. The advertisement claimed it had “genuine ocean glimpses”. That was crap. But it was clean and roomy, and had the 10-foot-high ceilings he loved. The rent was steep, but he could afford it for several years, at least. He signed the lease and bought lots of new furniture, though he kept his leather couch because Oscar would murder a new one.
It took the Homicide team out west almost six weeks to catch the killer of Bernice Drummond. He turned out to be an itinerant shearer with a low IQ and ice addiction. In time-honoured fashion, he boasted about the deed to his mates in a pub and they shopped him to the cops.
Gary had warned Karen on the phone that he had a new apartment. When she arrived back in Sydney, she rushed over to see it. After giving Oscar a cuddle, she scouted around, making approving noises.
Finally, he said: “What do you think?”
“It’s great, though the listing on the internet said it had water glimpses.”
“It does, if you stand on the balcony railing. You like it anyway?”
“Of course. But can you afford it?”
“Yep. Business has been very good recently.” Why mention that his one-off profit would never be repeated?
He shuffled. “So, do you, umm, want to move in here with me?”
A penetrating stare. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, of course – totally.”
“Yes, very sure.”
To his surprise, she nodded enthusiastically. “OK then, I’d love to.”
“You’re really sure?”
“Yes, I’ve been waiting for you to ask.”
Iron hoops fell off his chest. “Great.”
“But you’ve got to let me pay some of the rent.”
“No, I’ll pay it. You can contribute in other ways.”
A shrug. “We’ll sort something out.” She grabbed the front of his shirt. “Now, let’s see what the bed is like.”
The next Sunday morning, just after nine o’clock, he slouched out of the bedroom and sat on the couch. The cat sat beside him and savagely clawed its leather surface. Gary had given up trying to stop it. The couch was doomed.
The Sunday service of the Sunrise Mission was often broadcast on television. He turned on the set and channel surfed until he found it. Pastor McKenzie appeared on the screen, stomping around a stage in a ripped T-shirt, jeans and biker boots. His left hand was in a cast and his right hand kept waving a Bible above his head.
Gary turned up the volume and listened: “… I want to talk this morning about Angus Trewaley. He had everything: looks, power, money. But he didn’t listen to God or his conscience. He took short-cuts. So what happened? He succumbed to temptation and committed sins. Then he lost his good name and the election. If he had spent more time listening to God and reading the good book, he would be Prime Minister now …”
A voice behind Gary said: “What are you doing?”
He turned and saw Karen, wearing pyjamas. “Watching a church service.”
“Why? Have you gone religious?”
Gary muted the TV. “No, I was just channel surfing. But, you know, he’s rather good at what he does.”
“Yeah, sell shit.” She stared at the screen. “What happened to his hand?”
“He must have broken it.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if you ever join his church, I’ll shoot you.”