The Lost Women
copyright 2016, Ann Michaels
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Perusing La Persouse.
Always Looking Up
Singing Days Done
Spy in the House of Love
Become a Philosopher
A Job to Do
Empty Hands and Empty Hearts
A Night to Remember
You Burn Me
All at Sea
Lost at Sea
No Way Out
All at Sea
Born to Rule
….Almost a Year later
The lost women
Thursday, November, 17, 1988
I froze as he said, ‘take off your top sweetheart and walk around a bit’. My face must have momentarily registered my real feelings, as he shot me a strange look; luckily, I remembered that I was supposed to be an ‘outgoing and bubbly drinks’ hostess’, and I slipped off the clingy, silk shirt that I was wearing, and pranced about in my tight, leather skirt and dagger like heels, pretending that I was not discomforted by his reptilian gaze and white, sucker-like hand, kneading the shiny, black tub-chair, in which he sat like some supreme ruler.
He let me strut around on the bile coloured carpet a bit longer, as the air-conditioner rattled and buzzed menacingly in the background; just long enough for me to begin to throb with discomfort and for seeds of suspicion to take root within my highly distrustful brain. Then he smiled, showing a fence of fake teeth, and drawled in almost bored manner, ‘you’ll do’. He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to me; waved his pale appendage toward a glass door, and said, ‘go through there doll and Candice will sort you out’.
I nodded and bent down to pick up my discarded shirt, and saw his cold, almost colourless eyes sweep across my body again: something unfathomable, flickering in their depths. It took all my will power not to shudder with disgust and aim some projectile at his balding dome. Instead, I quickly slid the shirt on and stalked toward the door at which he pointed. I was already wondering what sort of assignment I had got myself into, and whether it was too late to get out of this particular covert operation. But then, I was through the door, into a stuffy room, and faced by a tall woman with a scraggy mane of orangey hair, and a face like a constipated giraffe.
She immediately lurched toward me and snatched the paper and without lifting her eyes to even look me over, pointed to the right, and said, out of the side of her mouth, ‘over to rack and grab a uniform’.
‘Uniform’ was not quite the appropriate word for the teensy, triangles of the bikini top, with matching, micro miniskirt. I stared hard at the cheap threads of white, which looked even trashier, as I moved into the harsh sunlight flowing through the window. The Giraffe snatched the outfit from my hands, and pushed it into a plastic bag, sealed it, and handed it back. With a sour twist of her mouth, she scanned me over fleetingly, as though I was a thing, not even capable of speech, and shoved a piece of type written paper into my hand, with an address and many instructions.
‘You need to be at that address’, she said, in a dead kind of voice, pointing a long freckly finger, at the top of the paper, ‘and you must follow these recommendations’. I glanced down the page, at a shit-load of rules of behaviour, which I didn’t bother to read. I shoved the paper into my oversized, imitation, snakeskin handbag, along with the uniform, and I left from the door, which had a huge plastic ‘Exit’ sign emblazoned above it.
As I departed the double storey, Old South Head Road, building, I noticed a long, serpent-like line of hopeful, young women, standing patiently in the baking sun, who also wanted to land a job as a party hostess, for a man who was said to be one of the richest in Australia.
This was 1988 and men still ruled and dominated. The established money may have been in decline, and the nouveau riche and corporate cowboys in the ascendency, but the doors of success were still locked for most women, whose options were mostly low-wage, servile occupations, like hostessing.
Despite being a woman, I had a job as a plainclothes constable with Parramatta Detectives; a job which I had landed through sheer hard work and almost desperate determination. Presently, I was going undercover to investigate the multi-millionaire, Peter Ruslan, who had links to money laundering through Australian real estate. But my investigation wasn’t aimed in this direction. My job was to see what I could find out about the disappearance of three young women, in the last few of months, all of whom had been associated with Ruslan.
Ruslan wasn’t like Skase and Bond and those entrepreneurial buccaneers whose names were on everyone’s lips these days; shocking many with their excesses, as they took advantage of the financial deregulation and dismantling of trade barriers. I sniffed the air; I reckoned I could almost smell the stink, which would soon hit the fan, when paper empires inevitably crumbled.
Ruslan, it seemed, had been born into wealth and privilege, but he had lost the lot about five years ago, when a perfect storm of bad business deals exploded in his face. Now, it seemed that Ruslan was rebuilding his empire in various ways, like running a number of high class brothels and an illicit market selling prescription sedative drugs, like Quaaludes and Rohypnol – illegally. He would then launder the illegitimate funds through a system of property renovations.
Sargent O’Brien had warned me on the quiet that I needed to step carefully during this investigation, as bringing Ruslan down, might also bring down a raft of corrupt politicians, criminals, socialites and people from all walks of Australian life, which could spark public outrage and lead to civil unrest. I sighed, I liked a challenge, but this assignment was beginning to look like a mine-field. I hoped I didn’t take a fatal misstep, in a job where missteps were often unavoidable.
I jumped into sauna-like interior of the rented, white Ford Sierra and drove into the febrile sunlight, down toward Bondi Beach, where I would be living for the time being, in a cheap, rented apartment, a few streets back from the beach. Tabra Hayden, the first woman to go missing, who had been associated with Ruslan, also used to live around here, in the same building in which I would be living, in fact. The other missing women had also hailed from the eastern suburbs, so the location was convenient.
I parked the car behind the main drag, in a laneway which was run down and grubby, smelling overwhelmingly of urine and cheap frying oils. But it did the job and saved a few bob on parking expenses. I was at heart a frugal cheapskate, and also, generally, I tried very hard to keep my expenses down when on assignment; although, there had been times when I had ripped through some money, when the case demanded it.
I walked quickly down a dingy side street, my high heel shoes tapping a staccato rhythm, and onto the baking main road, which faced the beach and the expanse of foaming ocean. A blast of summer heat hit me like a blow, as I came out into the hard, muscular sunlight. The aroma of coconut oil, the smell of the sea, and frying fish, caused me to feel hungry and to begin thinking about summer holidays. But I kept walking.
The missing, Tabra Hayden, had last worked as a waitress at a seedy kind of restaurant here, named Cosmos. I thought that I would call into Cosmos for lunch, and have a bit of a scout around the place. Hayden had also worked as a so called ‘glamour model’, which essentially meant that she posed in her underwear for calendars and mens’ magazines. She had also ‘done time’ as a topless waitress at the Cambridge Tavern in Petersham and a few other ‘meat market’ establishments.
I sat down at a metal table outside the restaurant, which was set in a snug little shady corner, and I began to peruse the scanty menu. Most of the tables were empty though, as it was just after midday and this place looked down-at-heel and uninviting. I sat for a moment and absorbed the sweeping view of blonde sand, carpeting the iconic Bondi Beach. But then, my gaze was diverted by the various British tourists and narcissists, parading about, hoping that someone would spot them, and perhaps, offer a modelling contract. Don’t scoff! It happens, but not in the way you might think. A teenage neighbour of mine was set upon by a modelling scout, a couple of years ago, on her first trip outside the walls of the psychiatric unit, of Prince Henry Hospital, where she was being treated for Anorexia Nervosa. True story.
I ordered a plate of fettuccine and a salad, and as I ate, I went over the details of my undercover identity in my mind. My name was now Sally Brown, not Dana Roberts: nice and plain and hopefully forgettable. But I already felt attached to my new name: it felt honest. My fabricated back story was pretty generic, though; I grew up in the ‘burbs and went to state schools, then secretarial college and I wanted to get into glamour modelling, but all that was coming my way were waitressing gigs. None of this was close to my own story, except that, I did grow up in the suburbs; not around here, though, but in Newcastle, a steel town further north.
The ‘bubby drinks’ hostess’ job was still two nights away, on Saturday night to be exact, so I had a bit of time to fill in. I felt a fizz of anticipation; I simply couldn’t wait to get inside Palais Royale, the lavish, fortress-like, bay side home and pleasure palace, which belonged to Peter Ruslan. This mansion was rumoured to be worth a truck load of money, and I was deeply curious about it. And I felt in my gut that I would find important clues to the missing women there.
The word on the street was that this mansion was actually an ‘iceberg house’, with subterranean rooms. Or more precisely, it had a two storey basement extension, below the main house, which took up the entire floor area of the building. Beyond the usual luxury bedrooms and many bathrooms, it was said that Ruslan had a private theatre, pool, gun room, bowling alley and ballroom. It was also likely that, I wouldn’t even get into the main part of the house at all, but be ferried straight down to the basement ballroom by a lift. Anyway, I would find out soon enough.
The name of Ruslan’s mansion, Palais Royale, was somewhat pretentious, but it made me laugh just thinking about it, because back in Newcastle, we had a night club with the same name, which used to be a dance club. It was a huge place, like a farm shed, where plenty of the town’s people had met their first loves or life partners. But from what I knew of Ruslan’s joint, it was a very different place indeed. A meeting place for sure, but with no love involved.
Ruslen’s parties were decadent and extravagant. The music would play, the entertainment would roll, the food would be consumed and enjoyed, but it was said that Ruslen was a Gatsby-like figure, who stood aloof from the general revelry.
Rumours also circulated that, at the party, there would be a lot of beautiful, nubile, young women, and young men, bussed in, often wearing no more than loin cloths or body paint. There would be plenty of makeup and fake tans too, of course. You couldn’t escape the fake tans in such circles. The rest of the guest list would consist mostly, of suited business men, like high-flying real, estate agents, luxury car salesmen, accountants, lawyers and even some tradesmen and builders. But the serving staff role, the job which I would be doing, was deemed to be ‘professional’, even though we had to wear the skimpy, trashy outfits, we had to ‘maintain our distance from the guests’. But there would be a lavish spread of food, floods of alcohol, and an amazing array of entertainers: mime artists, jugglers, and nude wrestlers in body paint, opera singers, and acrobats. You name it.
I went inside the dark and dated restaurant to pay, and then, I made a detour to the Ladies’ Room, as I wanted to have a scout about. I strode down a bleak corridor, pushed open the heavy door painted in a shade of pealing, mission brown, marked with a 1950s style picture of a woman, and stepped in front of the mirror. The room was empty and a picture of gloom. A dripping tap echoed loudly and monotonously, and the cloying disinfectant couldn’t cover the ancient and ingrained, repellent smells.
As I became aware of the version of myself that was reflected back at me in that mirror, dotted with a leprosy of black spots, I felt disconnected from what I saw. With my flowing, blonde tresses, false eyelashes, thrusting breasts and carefully applied make-up, I looked like a bit of a bimbo. In my own life, I had plain, long brown hair, which was usually scraped back into a pony tail, for sheer utility, and no make-up. I was generally the type of woman that you wouldn’t give a second glance to, and that was the way I liked it.
I had to admit that as appalled as I was by my transformation, I was also intrigued by how a bit of ‘tarting up’, going blonde, and wearing a push up bra, had got me a job as a hostess for Ruslan, and how, it was influencing the eye movements of many of the males that I had passed on the street this morning. But, I concluded, as I often did that, it is indeed a mad world, where a bit of peroxided hair got you more attention than a good character. You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a cynic.
I stepped out of the ladies’ loos and glanced around the corner, where I saw another peeling, brown door ajar. I opened it, and walked through, and down a dark, tunnel-like corridor, where several red lights were glowing. I walked along the old, thin, wiry carpet, and I had just gone past the first door, when it flew open, to reveal a tiny woman, adjusting her shiny, red dress, and an overweight, middle-aged man, zipping up his fly, as he stepped out into the corridor, right near me. They both ignored me though, obviously thinking I was on my way to ‘work’, in one of the other rooms.
I continued walking and looking about; there were quite a few other doors, but all appeared to be locked, and so, I scooted out of that stifling, bleak darkness, and as I came into the lobby, which led outside, I passed that sleazy bloke, who been zipping up his trousers a few moments ago. He was standing at the public phone, almost blocking the whole passageway, and I heard him say, ‘Yes darling, I’ll remember to pick up the milk on the way home’. Another slime bag, I thought. But I didn’t linger about, because I had learnt something important. Tabra Hyden, the first missing woman, had likely had a job here, which involved much more than waitressing.
Thursday, November, 17, 1988
I walked through the open gate which was moving idly in the nimble, inland wind and walked toward a small, grey, metal building, with a flat roof, which said ‘Office’ and put my head through the open window. The security guard was asleep, but there was an empty bottle of grog, on a small laminex table, next-to to his dangling hand.
‘He-lo’ I called out, my voice echoing strangely.
‘Who de hell, are you!’ the leprechaun of a fellow yelled, staggering to his feet and looking about wildly.
‘Harry de Groot, police’, I said, as I flashed my ID through the window, in front of his bloodshot eyes. ‘I’m just going to look about the grounds, if that’s OK?’
The leprechaun said nothing, just shook his turnip shaped head slightly and windmilled his arms about a bit. His hair was sticking up, like he had been electrocuted and he was clearly under the influence of at least the alcohol. I didn’t wait for a reply, but turned around and began to walk, buffeted by the wind, toward the grand ruin, which once used to operate as an orphanage; run with predictable cruelty.
The once beautiful Federation style building, which had been abandoned over ten years ago, was now being vandalised at an alarming rate. However, Peter Ruslen, the shonky businessman that I was currently investigating, had recently laid down plenty of coin on this property, which in my book, made the place worth a serious look.
I walked up the stone steps, set in the middle of the sprawling building, and pushed the rotting timber door open: it was not locked. I found myself in the main office with a water-stained, pine desk, drawers hanging out haphazardly and decaying papers and files spread across the mouldy floor. A coffee cup, decorated with what looked like a burning heart, was sitting alone upon a rusty metal serving trolley, with missing wheels. Looking about, I saw that the paint on the walls was peeling off in huge strips, revealing many layers and colours of paint. The smell which hit me with a punch, was a soup of mould, rotting timber and stagnant sewers, but I ventured further in, and picking my way carefully across the chaotic mess on the floor, made my way toward another door, which led to one of the outside verandas, which ran in front of the building, on each side of the office.
Each veranda was the same, with similar piles of deteriorating rubbish piled up, and veranda rails, covered by a high, chain-link fence –which hadn’t kept the vandals and explorers out, as they entered right through the open front door. I turned around, continued on down the central wide corridor, which was covered with brittle, laminated flooring, which suddenly brought to mind my grandmother’s house, when I was a kid. I was thrown back in time, as my grandmother’s voice came from somewhere inside my head, telling me in that soft, wood smoke voice of hers, of life back in Amsterdam, when she was a child, long ago. It must be the silence and loneliness of this place, which is playing tricks with my mind, I thought. I then began to mull over how it must have been to live here, for those lost children.
Up ahead, I could see a staircase, a simple timber affair, at odds with the grand, ornate ceiling, which went straight up to the next floor.
Stepping as near as possible to the wall, where the steps seemed more solid, I reached the top floor, without incident, and walked along a creaking, timber landing. I saw a room, great and grand, balloon out in front of me, with more high ceilings and ornate plaster work. Many broken metal beds were lined up along two sides of the walls; some still had diseased looking foam pillows and mattresses on them, which made me, think of rancid fat, and an autopsy I once attended. But that’s another story.
There was a great gaping hole in the ceiling, covered with black plastic, like a monster’s mouth. And a single, open fireplace at one end of the large room, which couldn’t have contributed much to heating this huge room in the winter; especially, when it snowed, as it did occasionally around here. I looked down and saw a single, rigid, plastic doll, wearing a dirty, red, nylon headscarf, with staring, blue eyes and a missing leg; she was lying forgotten upon the soiled floor. I shook my head and got out of there; it was too sad to contemplate the diminished lives of those children, in this splendid, yet loveless place.
Across from the main bedroom was a shower room, tiled from floor to ceiling, in a flesh-like colour, with about ten cubicles lined up, and a couple of deep, white enamel baths. Each cubicle had its own window, where light streamed in unforgivingly. There were no doors.
I suddenly remembered a story a mate of mine had told me, about how he had spent some time living in an orphanage back in the late 1950s, when his mum had dropped him off there, so that she could run off with one of her boyfriends. He said it was a strange and cold place, where silence reigned, but what haunted him the most, to this day, about his experience, was how the girl inmates’ were made to bath the other children. He said, twice a week he was bathed by various girls, only a few years older than himself. It was a torture, he said. A torture.
I headed down the stairs again and continued along the dark corridor where huge graffiti words lined the walls; some of the words were offensive and others were strange, fading and unintelligible. At the end I came to another staircase, built in the same style as the one that I had just taken to the upstairs level. It was dark down below, but I was prepared for that, as I had a torch, which I pulled out of my bag. And down I crept.
My shadow loomed monstrously next to me, as I made my descent into the dark basement. The smells were even worse here; the air was cold and the floor was of packed earth. I walked along and shone the torch and saw a few broken washing machines and dryers; a line of old cement washing tubs and a tottering collection of shelves, sporting only a single, fossilised packet of Rinso washing powder. I moved along past a stack of broken cradles, and a couple of high chairs covered with dirt and mould, and then, came to a huge, plastic, rubbish bin filled with glass babies’ bottles. On the ground, beer bottles were scattered about and many diseased-looking cigarette butts.
‘What the….!’ I cried out loud, as I walked blindly into an old fashioned timber chair, with a hole for toileting and leather straps to restrain the arms, legs and torso of a child. I stumbled away from it, repelled and disturbed, and walked straight into a noose, from which another old, plastic doll hung, without eyes, dangling innocently from the heavy, timber beam. Extracting the instamatic camera from my bag, I took several photos.
I know it’s crazy, but I was shaking like a madman and feeling claustrophobic, with my breathing going at a gallop.
Before I got out of there, though, I darted the torchlight here there; then I crouched down and aimed the torch under the rotting fringe of a leatherette, low slung 1970s style couch, and there, I saw a discarded, red patent, ladies stiletto, lying on its side. I moved closer and noted that the shoe was a size 5 and it looked fairly new. The brand name was Paragon.
I flew out of there and headed back to my car, to radio back my report to headquarters. The Crime Scene Operations Branch would need to send an investigator out here, to collect evidence, like hair, clothing fibres, blood, semen, finger and footprints. Officially, I was only involved with the team investigating Ruslen for money laundering, though real estate renovations, but I think that there was a very good chance that I may have just found a clue to one of the missing women, who had been connected to Ruslen. I smiled, as I thought about my sometime partner in solving crime -and between the sheets -Dana Roberts, who was presently undercover tracking down the whereabouts of these women. She would owe me a beer……at the very least.
Thursday, November, 17, 1988
Right across the road from the dingy, Bondi block of flats, where Tabra Hayden used to reside, and where I would be living during my undercover assignment, albeit in a different flat, was a small supermarket where I stopped to pick up some groceries. As I wandered about the aisles, selecting pasta, sauce, a salami, eggs, cheese and milk, I couldn’t help wondering why these independent grocery shops always had the same smell, which was not exactly unpleasant – not really.
Somewhere in a room behind the supermarket, music was playing: a tuneless drone which was unsettling and disorienting. A form of psychological warfare, really, and I wanted to cover my ears, like my cousin with autism. I knew how he felt.
‘Hey pretty lady!’ the man behind the counter called out, flashing his large teeth and lots of pink gums, as I approached the cashier’s desk, with my basket.
Even though he looked a lot like Foghorn Leghorn, I decided that I would smile and flirt a little and see if I could glean a bit of information.
‘Oh hi!’ I said, in a breathy, little girl, kind of voice, like that perfected by Marilyn Munroe.
‘I haven’t seen you around here before… I would have noticed’, he continued, with a twinkle in his roosterish eyes.
Cynically, I thought this wasn’t exactly true, as I looked exactly like thousands of other stereotypical bleach blondes, with big boobs. However, I forced a smile and purred, ‘Why thank you, but I am just staying in the area for a while because I am trying to find a cousin of mine, named Tabra. She hasn’t called her family for a while…… We are starting to get a bit worried’. I whipped a photograph of Tabra Hayden out of my purse and shoved it into his stunned barnyard face.
All trace of flirting had gone now, and his fleshly lips, came down like a blind over his dentures. Rooster Man looked shifty and uncomfortable, and I could see a sweat breaking out just under his cockscomb-like hair.
‘Ah…well, yes, we have met’. He gulped, and it struck me that Mr Sleazy here had probably been a customer of Tabra’s. Suddenly, though, Poultry Man began to smile, showing his gums again, and he look pleased; he grabbed my basket, and accidently on purpose, brushed my hand with his. I tried hard not to shudder.
‘Any chance that you might be taking over her…. business’, he whispered, leaning forward and blasting me with the fermented flavours of his lunch.
However, just before this pleasant exchange, Roster Man had totalled my purchases on the grimy cash register; so, I ignored his unsavoury behaviour, turned away and fished my money out of my bag. As he handed my change back, I grabbed Rooster Man’s hand, and answered his insolent question, in my most dangerous voice, ‘No. No chance at all’.
Then I pulled the salami I had just bought, from the plastic, shopping bag, peeled off the plastic wrapper very slowly, and took a big bite, as I watched Leghorn Man carefully. He winced, and then, his bottom lip fell, and it jutted out, as though he was about to cry.
I continued chewing on the salami as I turned around abruptly on my heel to leave the shop. But Rooster Man called out to me before I made it to the door: ‘You have the wrong idea about me’, he said, sadly. ‘I liked your cousin very much….even though we had a business arrangement. She was nice, and she was funny and smart, and she was trying hard to change her life. She told me that.’ His eyes locked with mine. Breeching.
A small, elderly and shrivelled woman, bent over with age, accompanied by a cloud of garlic vapours, entered the shop at that moment, and almost knocked me over as she bowled past, like a wind-up toy. Aiming a crafty look at Rooster Man, she rolled by his morose looking face, pointing her finger and jabbering at him, in what sounded like a made up lingo. Rooster man seemed to shrink into himself and I realised that he was just a man.
I walked back toward Rooster Man and looked at the small name tag, pinned to his green shirt. ‘Thank you Neil’, I said quietly. ‘Is there anything else that you can tell me, which could help me find her?’ Neil’s face hardened and his eyes glittered. ‘Yes, look for her boyfriend. He drives a gold Porsche. That’s all I’m saying.’
He turned away and I could see his mouth set in a rigid line.
How very interesting, I thought. I already happened to know that Peter Ruslen had a gold Porsche in his car collection.
I parked behind the ugly, red brick, block of flats, and walked up the five floors to my rental. I inserted the rusty key into the lock and pushed the door open to my new home. It wasn’t a place you could get excited about, with its dirty, plain white walls, grey, synthetic carpet and the few bits of furniture: a maroon, vinyl, lounge chair, a faux wood table, two rickety chairs, and a stunted looking, pot plant, in a cracked, orange, plastic pot.
I walked into the square bedroom, where there was a single, tubular bed, with a new mattress; I had insisted on that! I opened my suitcase, which was full of miniskirts, and assorted cheap shoes, that I had mostly sourced from charity shops, as we police have smaller expense accounts than you may think, and found my portable, cassette player. I plugged it in, opened the window to let the blue sky and free flowing, sea breeze, enter, and then, I spent the next hour bopping about on the artificial carpet, to the Chantoozies, my favourite band. Harry said they were lame, but I didn’t care. Listening to the Chantoozies made me happy, and from what I had learned in my life, so far, you should grab happiness, wherever, and whenever, you can find it.
Friday November, 18, 1988
Early Friday morning, I drove past another property in the Ruslen portfolio, which operated as a brothel called, ‘Light Fingers’, on my way to meet up with a Professor Sprout, at his poky office in Kingsford. This bloke was the go-to expert, when it came to finding out about tax evasion, fraud and money laundering; he often appeared on the radio, bemoaning our laws and the fact that our systems were too lax, in regard to tracing offshore accounts and complex financial transactions, related to crime and corruption. I was simply hoping that he could give me a few pointers, with this tricky Ruslen case.
After that, I had an appointment with the Taxation Office in the city, and then, I would drop into the Sydney Water Board, which also recorded the purchase prices of many properties, and often had copies of floor plans. An old neighbourhood friend, Kerry, worked there, in the payments sections and she would give me access to a visual display unit.
I had stumbled across using the Water Board as a source of information, by accident one day, as I was visiting Kerry at work and she was processing water bills. Now, I often used this means to gain information about a property, as it is low key, under the radar, and so far, no one from the Water Board had even asked who I was, and what I was doing there.
What I was trying to do, was see if I could follow Rusden’s money trail, to find how much dirty dough he was actually washing through his real estate renovations. I already had a list of some of the tradesmen that he was dealing with, which was helpful, as it was these people that were the main facilitators of his schemes, as they were the ones who transformed the derelict buildings, paid for by dirty money, into capital gains, free of any payment records. But then, there were the lawyers, real estate agents and accountants, who were also involved, but they inevitably were hard nuts’ to crack, and very canny about where they kept any suspicious paper work. I would be keeping away from them for the time being, as I didn’t want to alert Ruslen that he was under investigation.
In reality, it was going to be almost impossible to blow Ruslen’s schemes apart, unless we could get someone to sing, and when everyone was happily making money, that was unlikely. The renovation industry has been operating a huge underground cash based system for a hell of a long time and there is a lot of money to be made by everyone concerned. And, as the professor said, the laws, systems of transparency and our ability to trace financial transactions were simply a long way behind the canny schemes being cooked up by criminals.
‘Lovely to see you!’ Kerry shrieked, as I walked into the huge foyer of the Water Board. I kissed her lightly, on her tanned cheek, and then, we looked at each other for some long seconds, as we tried to see the child that we remembered, in the body of the 32 year old adult. I grinned. ‘You will always be 8 years old to me, Kezza. That’s how I think of you, riding that purple dragster of yours, flat out down our street’. She laughed. ‘I picture you in my mind as being 16, always. God you were fine!’
‘What do you mean by ‘were’,’ I replied with mock outrage. I wasn’t upset, though, I knew what Kezza meant; there was an undeniable beauty in being 16 years old: not yet an adult, and yet, not a child. An age when you think that you will live forever. I didn’t know back then, that, one day, I would grow old…If I was lucky. And I didn’t think to value my youth, which now, seemed so fleeting that I could scarcely remember it, in any great detail. Also, I had little sense of self-reflection in those days.
I turned my scurrying mind back to business and we headed toward the visual display unit and sat down.
I already had a list of properties that Ruslen had flipped; that is, bought in a rundown state, renovated with dirty money and sold at a profit. I wanted to see was if these properties had really inflated sales prices, as this could provide some evidence of money laundering.
As I scanned the information on each property that Ruslen had bought and sold in the last four years, I could see that millions of dollars could have been laundered this way, by Ruslen and his associates. I then got Kerry to bring up the water rate details of Ruslen’s mansion, Palais Royale. As we both stared at the plan of the megalithic piece of architecture, located right on the harbour at Rose Bay, we were stunned by the vast subterranean regions of the house.
I pointed to the plan on the screen ‘Look at the size of that basement entertainment area and kitchen.’ I whistled, causing the heads of some of the Water Board workers to pop up momentarily. ‘And who needs a freezer room of that size? That’s bigger than my bedroom’.
‘Isn’t this guy single? Kerry asked, looking just as stunned as I felt.
‘Yep, he is single, but he always has plenty of girls about him’.
‘Well, I can’t see how he could possibly use all that space. I could use some of that space, though, with two kids and living in a Marrickville semi.’
‘How are those two monkeys’ of yours going?’ I asked, remembering that I had baptised one of Kerry’s kids.
‘Yeah, good, but they are always asking when you are coming to visit’.
I felt guilty suddenly and vowed that I would visit those two boys soon and take them down to McNeilly Park to kick a ball around. Kerry’s husband, Brett, had multiple sclerosis and would probably be in a wheelchair soon, if his illness didn’t go into remission.
I looked back again at the plan of Ruslen’s house. ‘Could you get me a copy of that plan? And, what about if I come over tomorrow night and bring dinner?’
‘There’s no way I’d say no to that offer, and yes, I’ll make you a copy and I’ll enlarge it’, Kerry replied.
She walked off, then quickly turned around, and walked back toward me.
‘Thank you, Harry’, she said softly, her eyes melting, as only brown eyes can.
‘No, thank you, Kezza,’ I replied really meaning it. Kerry had been a good friend for many years: she knew me, all about me, and yet, she still wanted to be my friend.
Getting out of the city, I drove along Oxford Street and out past the Moore Park Show Ground. I was heading to La Perouse, which is located about 14 kilometres southeast of the city centre, where I was to meet a contact who said he ‘might’ offer some information about Peter Ruslen. I wasn’t getting my hopes up, as most of these informers turn out to be con artists, who were trying to lever some advantage, or information, which would only benefit themselves
I brought the car to a halt in the car park, which sat next to the sea, and I stepped out. The wind whipped my hair over my eyes and punched my ears, as if to deafen me, as I crunched my way across the gravel.
I looked about as I trudged along, at the glittering, choppy water, the expanse of blue sky above and an odd feeling seemed to bloom within me: a momentary a sense of freedom. Then the feeling that I had job to do, quickly returned me to my usual self.
This bloke I was to meet in about 10 minutes had called himself, ‘Tyler’. So I headed toward the footbridge, which would take me over to Bare Island.
The odd name, ‘Bare Island’, came from Captain Cook’s description of it, as ‘a small bare island’. In 1877, a fort was built there. But it was decommissioned in 1902, and then, operated as an aged care home at one stage. Now the island is mostly visited by tourists. There are reefs all around the island too, and it is a great place to go diving, and to see all the fantastic sea creatures, but at certain times of the year, watch out for the grey nurse sharks.
I should also mention that the name of the suburb, La Perouse, is in honour of the French navigator of the same name. La Perouse sailed into Botany Bay eight days after Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet of convicts arrived there. He later left for France, with his two ships, but they never arrived home, and were never seen of, again.
Friday, 18th November 1988
Climbing out of bed and hobbling toward the fridge, I took out some eggs and put them on the bench. I closed my eyes; last night was a long way from the most relaxing sleep that I have ever had. I had found it hard to get comfortable, as the cheap, but new, mattress had more in common with a cement slab than an actual mattress. And the next-door neighbour, appeared to be engaged in some type of bacchanal the entire night, judging by how frequently the bed battered the wall next to my ear.
After eating a simple breakfast, I had a shower and put on my war paint. ‘What cheap and tawdry outfit shall I wear today’, I said out loud to my reflection, in the mirror stuck to the back of the door. I selected a fairly plain, black, mini skirt, and a white t-shirt, which had a rainbow spread across the front, with a small unicorn leaping over it. I knotted the t-shirt on one side, and then, sprayed a little spritz of Poison, my favourite perfume. I couldn’t face the very high heels today, so I selected a pair of white, mini stilettos and slipped them on.
I wound down the driver side window of my car, as I zoomed toward Bondi Beach again and let the air, which flowed from the Pacific Ocean fill my car and my lungs. As I came to the main beach, the sounds of seagulls floated on the breeze; heat rose up from concrete surfaces, and the sand, causing people without thongs to tap dance about in an ungainly manner. Further along, I saw a familiar posse of women, parading around, sans bikini tops. This group, who had even flashed their privates’ at the Queen, were part of a group who believed that being forced to wear clothes, caused humans to be estranged from Gaia, the mother of us all –or so they believed. The uniform boys would be along soon, to chivvy them to another part of the beach, where their eccentricities were better tolerated.
How strange we humans are, I mused. We are born nude, and then, we invent all sorts of beliefs about wearing bits of cloth, over certain parts of the body. Or not.
I parked the car in the same place as yesterday, but instead of going to the restaurant, I ploughed through the early morning hordes of tourists toward the huge surf shop, with its mega range of miniscule bikinis. In some of the photos that I had seen of Tabra Hayden and, June Roze – who was another missing woman connected to Ruslen – they were posing in bikinis, so, I thought that there was a good chance that these women might have frequented this popular and well-stocked shop.
I pushed open the heavy, glass door and stepped into the shop, where the obligatory blonde shop assistant bounded toward me like a deranged lap dog.
‘Hey, how’s it going’, she sang, sounding like my Uncle Pete’s pet parrot. ‘We have a new range of lycra bikinis from Seafolly, Watersun and Blackarrow, if you’ll just step this way’.
I followed the tiny, blonde assistant, who was chewing gum and looking bored, and attempted to start up a conversation.
‘My cousin, she’s a model, told me to buy my swimwear from here,’ I said, sounding especially brainless. I then pulled some photos out of my white, Glomesh handbag; ‘that’s her. I pointed at Tabra Hayden. ‘And this is her friend, June Roze, she’s a model too. Do you know them?’
‘Sure, I do’ dead-panned the blonde teenager. ‘They came in here together sometimes, with a really spunky looking bloke, who spent a lot of cash. And sometimes, another woman would be with them….a red head, from what I remember. They would all hang of the guy’s arm, like they were all going out with him at the same time.’
I opened my wallet and extracted the photo of the third missing woman, Lee Lin, who was posing in evening wear. She rocked a vibrant red rinse in her black hair’.
‘Yeah, that’s her. Tell them to come back when you see them and tell them that I’ll give them a special price.’ Then she added, almost to herself, ‘I’ve made a lot of commission from selling stuff to them’.
I wheeled around and saw a bargain bin with some markdowns and I pulled out a slightly soiled, fringed t-shirt, which looked as though it belonged in the backwoods of Oklahoma. ‘I’ll take this’, I said.
The assistant’s face fell, almost to the floor; a picture of disappointment. She dragged her feet over to the cash registrar to ring up the $5 price, and sullenly, shoved the fringed horror into a bag; then giving me the most fleeting eye contact, handed me my purchase.
Swinging my bag on my arm, I left the air conditioned store and stepped out into the burning morning sun. I was just standing there, deciding if I would grab a coffee, now or later, when I heard voices calling, as though from a long way off, ‘dumb Dana, dumb Dana ’; insults I had not heard since high school. I swung around and around, but I could not place where the taunting voices were coming from.
Then, I looked up.
Hanging over a balcony above me, I could see two bullies from my past: Rochelle Jane and Jodie Lamb. Dressed in sarongs, they were each smoking rolled up cigarettes…no joints; I could smell the herbal perfume from down here, as they laughed uproariously. Suddenly I felt small and uncertain and intimidated, like my thin armour had been punctuated and I needed to hide and repair my wounds.
I was taken back to those years at high school in Newcastle, when a group of bullies had terrorized me, forcing me to change schools. Everyone had turned against me, for no reason what-so-ever, and no one from that school ever talked to me again. I would pass people in the street sometimes in those teenage days, people that I had stated kindergarten with, or played marbles with in the neighbourhood, but they would invariably slink across the road, or call out some nasty comment, as space opened up between us.
Well, perhaps, there was something slightly odd about me, or perhaps, I didn’t wear the right clothes or say the right kind of things. Who knows? But what I am fairly sure about is that I never did anything to deserve the kind of treatment I received. But then, my mind began to spin and whirl and memories were thrown up, of me at the age of 12, wanting to be ‘cool’ and mix with the in-crowd; sick of being the person who was always different. The target. So I embarked on a study of what the popular kids wore and how they acted and set about transforming myself. Then one day, one of those mean, popular girls noticed me and I thought that my social butterfly transformation was complete. I readily dumped my less glamorous friends and prepared to move up the social scale. But it soon became apparent that it was all a joke. I was a joke.
I was sinking into that familiar sinkhole of sadness, when a thought dawned on me. Both of those bullies were breaking the law and I could call the police and report them. In fact, I was police. Now a dilemma faced me and I still stood there, with the hard sun burning down upon me, unable to move, as I listened to their mocking insults and cruel laughter.
No, I decided, I could not and would not be motivated by revenge and I would not fall to their despicable level. I tried to comfort myself that some type of cosmic arbiter of justice may exist in this world, silently observing and noting their tormenting behaviour, but I couldn’t really believe it.
I slowly walked away, with feet as heavy as bricks, back in the direction of my car. I felt sad and somehow diminished; even though I knew that the thoughts of such people did not matter. Still, to have them see me, as I now looked, not knowing that I was a successful detective, currently undertaking an uncover operation; hurt me more than it should have, after all these years.
Later that night, I was sitting in a cab heading into the city wearing a purple dress that I had picked up at Mean Machine, in the Mid-City Centre. It looked much better than you may presume, with its padded shoulders and pencil skirt. There was also an interesting cross over design on the front, which looked kind of designer-like. Or perhaps, I just have a very good imagination. Anyway, I was on my way to Julianna’s Nightclub, at the Hilton, as Tabra Hayden had been a Friday night regular at that nightclub.
I stepped out of the cab and immediately felt the breeze, which whipped down the canyon of George Street, flow around me. I looked about, but the street was fairly empty, as people were locked up in the cinema across the road, watching Mystic Pizza, with the new movie star sensation, Julia Roberts. I then stared up at the ugly building that housed the luxury hotel and I remembered how a bomb had exploded in a garbage truck, right here, outside this place, ten years ago. I shivered and walked past the parking attendants, through the electronic glass doors and toward the lift.
The Afternoon of Friday November, 18, 1988
The gate which led to the island fort was closed, and locked, because the fort was only opened to tourists at certain times. But this didn’t matter to me, as I was to meet with the potential squealer under the footbridge. So after rattling across the timber footbridge, I took the weathered staircase down to the rock floor, near the water’s edge, and stood there in the spirited, salt wind, with my back to the wall of sandstone blocks. This waiting game of police work was one of the main reasons that so many coppers took up smoking. But I had given up the habit some years ago, when my ex-wife wanted to get pregnant, and so, I had nothing else to do but wait.
Twenty minutes later, a bloke in acid wash jeans and a Billabong t-shirt, sidled up alongside me looking like a colicky baby, with an old man’s face. He also looked anxious, as he kept biting his lip, as though, expecting a cigarette to be hanging off it.
‘You the bloke from the coppers?’ he asked, out of the side of his dry lips.
‘Yes, I’m Detective Harry de Groot and you’re Tyler’, I said easily.
The man looked confused. ‘Nah, me name’s Keith, but the business I own does tiling, you know.’
‘Ah, alright. Got it’, I replied, feeling confused myself.
He shifted about a bit nervously and then shot me an intense look. ‘Look I’m caught up with some dirty dealings and it’s not sitting right with me. Me Mrs tells me to shut up and we can set ourselves up, pay off the house and all that. But me, I haven’t been able to sleep……’ Then his voice rose an octave. ‘But let me tell you now, I won’t go to court or anything like that. Info is all I’m giving you, and then, I’m done.’
I nodded and waited as he squirmed and looked about; took out a cigarette –a Winfield Blue – and then put it back, and kicked a rock, and then, started talking.
‘See the Ruslen operation knows that the cops are turning up the heat.’ He pointed a ragged fingernail at me in an accusatory way. ‘And you lot seem to think that you’ve been careful ‘n that. But you haven’t, and so, stuff has been moved about and things shut down, and then opened up elsewhere. When you lot go to find the trail, you won’t find one. Got it?’
That wasn’t strictly true, I thought, as I had only seen the Water Board trail of information this morning, and it could, in a pinch, provide some evidence that Ruslen was funnelling dirty money by paying contractors under the table, and also, making money with the increased sales price when he flipped the property. Kerry was at this moment copying the stuff that we had viewed on the visual display unit and she would hand it all over to me personally tomorrow night.
‘I know what you’re thinking, but I can guarantee you that any information that you think you have got on Ruslen, has already disappeared. You’ve been followed, and forget about the land Titles Office, too, ‘cos Ruslen, she don’t take no chances….’
I jumped, as the air shuddered from the explosive ‘crack’ of a gunshot, followed by the whizz of a bullet, and I saw, seemingly at the same time, a person in a clown mask hanging over the balcony and pointing a gun, and Keith the tiler (if that was indeed his name), crumple to the ground, like a house of cards, as a bullet exited his frontal lobe. All this probably occurred in a few seconds, but it felt like time was stretched out and in slow motion. But it was over in a moment, and I knew, without a doubt that, my first and perhaps only informant on this case was dead.
After checking the dead man’s pulse, just in case, I took off running, clattering up the wooden stairs and along the long, shuddering footbridge. But I was too late. There was no gunman -or gunwoman, in sight.
I turned around and looked about me; there was nowhere to hide in any direction that I could see. Whoever fired the gun, was a damn fast runner. Or, they had disappeared into thin air, but that wasn’t possible.
Keith had said that Ruslen was a ‘she’. That was curious. As far as I knew, Peter Ruslen had no wife, or sister. His father, Philip Ruslen, according to the newspapers, was in a persistent vegetative state, after having been injured whilst playing polo about eight years ago; his mother, Kristina Ruslen, was a well-known socialite, who raised money for hospitals and other well-known causes.
I ran over to my car, almost in a daze, to radio for an ambulance, but as I bent to open the door, I noticed a collection of finger marks on my driver side window, which were very obvious in the glaring, afternoon sunlight. I peered closer and noticed a rip in the weatherstriping, which sat between the bottom of the window and the glass. And suddenly, I was fairly sure that someone had recently used an implement, like a coat hanger, to disengage the lock-pin mechanism of my car door, in order to gain access. But why?
I quickly walked over to the nearby milk bar and used the public telephone to report to headquarters and request the dispatch of an ambulance –although, nothing now could save Keith the tiler.
I slowly walked back to my car and peered into the car window again, but the sun’s glowering rays were combative, impeding my vision. The fingerprints were suspicious, but I could not see anything amiss. So I opened the door, and popped the bonnet, so I could take a gander at the engine. I tinkered around a bit and checked things over, but everything seemed in order. Then, I checked the tyres and the bolts holding them, and again, I could see no obvious issues. I shrugged my shoulders.
But even though I had to wait around for the ambulance and the Crime Scene Operations Team, I avoided getting back into the car. I paced about and thought about how I would never get used to the horror of violent death; its barbarity and savagery, and its remorselessness. It always puzzled me how some people could so easily take another person’s life, for gain –as often was the case. To me, anything acquired in such a brutal manner would be tainted. As would I. People who have psychopathic tendencies, however, have little or no conscience and empathy, and for this reason, we should be very afraid of them.
Some hours later, the Crime Scene Operations Team had grilled me over the details of Keith’s murder and the ambulance had rocketed away in a cloud of dust; it was time for me to leave. I reluctantly pushed myself into the car and I was soon on my way back to headquarters. I felt hollowed out and drained, half listening to the police radio chatter in the background, as I baked in the hot afternoon sunlight, which made the car like a pressure cooker. I was thinking that my investigation had largely gone belly-up. If it was true that my Water Board intelligence had disappeared, it would also be likely that other mainstream sources of evidence may have vanished. And Ruslen was onto me.
It was about a half hour later, as I was driving along the Great Western Highway, that I became aware of a movement on the passenger side of the car. As I slowed and stopped at the traffic lights, I glanced down, and everything became more ghastly, a scene from a bad horror movie, as an Eastern brown snake reared up, right there, on the acrylic, grey carpet of the car, ready to strike at me. My reflexes zipped into to gear and I shot out of the car, like a cannon ball, into the stalled traffic and slammed the door shut, as the snake hit the glass of the window, and ricocheted off. It was a horrible sight!
I was sweating as I left the car right there on the road, with the blaring horns, shaking fists and exploding curses. I ignored it all and bolted into a nearby newsagent and telephoned Sargent O’Brien to report the latest happening. His response was that, ‘this case is becoming a bloody joke’. A bit of sympathy wouldn’t have gone astray, but you’ll never get that from The Sarge.
Soon enough, a tow truck was dispatched to remove my car to some place which could deal with an angry and highly lethal reptile and I went straight to the nearest pub and threw back a stiff, single malt, Scotch whisky. I decided that I would call it a night.
……except, as I came out of that pub, ready to hail a cab, I met a group of ladies looking for some fun.
The Evening of Friday November, 18, 1988
For various reasons, it is not the easiest thing for a woman to walk into a nightclub by herself. For a start, there are packs’ of women out on the prowl, who eye you with animosity, calculating the cost of your clothes and your hair-do. And then, there are the sleazy blokes, who are on the lookout for fresh meat. I’m not saying everyone is like this, but definitely, if you are looking for shallow people, this is the place to find them. But, I feigned an ice-queen kind of confidence, and sauntered in to the throbbing, jam packed club, to the sounds of ‘New Sensation’ by INXS, and headed straight for the bar. I ordered a glass of champagne, to give me a bit of false confidence, and then, turned around to find a not-too-bad-looking-bloke, blocking my way.
‘Hello. I was wondering if you would dance with me?’ he mouthed over the thumping music, as he waved his hands about.
‘Sure’ I replied, ‘but let me finish my drink first. Can I get you one?’
He looked affronted at this suggestion and shook his head vigorously. ‘The woman does not buy the drinks for the man’.
It was then that I caught his Italian accent and I groaned. Italian men are often very handsome and charming, but their general, male chauvinism, can be hard to take. I recalled visiting Italy a couple years ago, whilst on a European tour and the hordes of men on the streets, who would accost the females of our group, with cries of ‘Ciao Bella!’ and pinching our backsides. I had also noticed that the Italian women were off limits, though, and always appeared to be chaperoned. I was very independent and opinionated woman, and generally, I didn’t have the patience to pander to mother’s boys –which essentially, all Italian men are. However, I reasoned, I was simply here to get information, not to find a life partner and…Well; I liked the aroma of his aftershave.
After buying himself a glass of wine and more champagne for me, Angelo, escorted me over to a quiet corner and as we sat down on the high, black leather stools; he told me how he had been living in Sydney for six months, but that he would return to Milan soon. His job out here had been to research the market for Italian, handmade shoes and handbags. He decided it wasn’t great. ‘They prefer cheap here to quality, I think. Like the thong,’ he said sadly. I nodded. If you wore a pricey pair of handmade loafers about town, few people would even notice, and those that did, would most likely think you were a bit of a wanker, with tickets’ on yourself. But then I thought, this is changing, the old egalitarian ways are going and people are becoming what they term ‘aspirational’. It was a good thing in some ways, I supposed.
We chatted for a while, as I sipped my champagne slowly, as the spinning disco ball zapped beams and waves of light about, creating an alternate universe of freakish inhibition. Bodies writhed and thrashed on the small square dance floor, reminding me of a snake pit, which was somehow mesmerising.
I asked Angelo if he had been to Julianna’s before.
‘Yes, many, many times. It reminds me of home’. I wondered about that answer.
I sipped the photo of Tabra Hayden from my beaded purse and said. ‘This is my cousin, Tabra, she used to come to this club, until recently, but she has disappeared, and I am looking for her’.
Angelo’s eyes lit up and he pointed an elegant finger at her image. ‘I danced with her one night! I thought her very sexy. But her boyfriend he was jealous’.
‘Who was her boyfriend? Do you remember?’
Angelo looked up and across the room. I looked too, to where his eyes pointed. ‘She came here with that persona’. He said. And there, stood Peter Ruslen, in the flesh, looking as though he owned the joint.
This was not good. I had an undercover job as a drinks’ hostess working for Ruslen tomorrow night and it would look mighty suspicious, if he saw me here as well. However, as I continued to gaze stupidly in Ruslen’s direction, it became apparent that things had just got worse, as I saw my police colleague, Harry de Groot, strolling in behind the handsome Peter Ruslen, with a group of women who looked like they were celebrating a hen’s party.
‘Now we dance’, Angleo announced, grabbing my champagne glass and pacing it firmly on the bench. And so, I felt myself being propelled toward the middle of the dance floor, under the shimmering, mirrored disco ball, as, ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’ by The Pet Shop Boys, began to fill the room.
Angelo’s dancing was as smooth as his looks, but I kept gazing over his shoulder to see, Ruslen and de Groot, both staring back at me with pointed eyes. Sighing, I decided to throw myself into the music, and I was soon gyrating and swaying with the best of them. Thankfully, Harry kept his distance, pretending that he didn’t know me. Anyway, he was otherwise occupied with a woman who looked like his ex-wife, Linda. She was slobbering all over him and nuzzling his neck. I thought it likely that her latest marriage, which was only one year old, according to Harry, might already be on the rocks. The bride- to-be, however, was also looking at the pair of them, with eyes like poison darts, so I thought that trouble may erupt from that direction, too.
After a while, Angelo and I took a rest from our strenuous dancing and I indicated that I was off to the Ladies’ Room. He nodded, looking a bit sulky. As I told you, these mama’s boys are hard work: threatened by a trip to the toilet. Too bad, I thought, as I flounced off, through the milling, groping crowd.
I was sitting in one of the stalls, having a bit of a rest on the old, china throne, as I enjoy being by myself, as I suppose I am a bit of a loner, or at least an introvert, when slowly I became aware of two women talking on the other side of the door, near the sinks.
One twangy kind of voice said. ‘I’m telling you, don’t drink any of the drinks he buys you, OK; as he generally likes to throw a few ludes or roffies into the mix. And if you do, you might need to be carried out of here and…….’
‘I can look after myself’, replied a defiant, though, young, sounding voice.
I knew that ‘ludes’ and ‘roffies’ were slang names for the sedative drugs Quaaludes and Rohypnol. So, I tried peeking out through the crack in the door and saw what looked to be a petite woman of Mediterranean background, wearing a short, white dress and very high, gold shoes. She was the young defiant one. The other woman was a willowy, strawberry blonde, who was wearing what amounted to little more than a purple handkerchief.
The willowy one then said earnestly, ‘I am only trying to help you out because these things have happened to me before. Pete’s really generous and he will show you a good time, but you’ve got to learn to protect yourself and look after your own interests.’
The shorter woman said nothing; she just began to apply red lipstick very carefully. Her hand was shaking slightly, though. The taller woman could see this and it seemed to push her to continue. ‘Look I am only involved in this scene until I finish my thesis, and earn my doctorate.’
The shorter woman turned around and stared, mouth agape, as the willowy one continued. ‘Look I’ll go first… later on, OK…….. He is always crazier at first. The other woman nodded very slowly and swallowed. Then, with a final adjustment of their skirts, they tottered out. As the door opened and the cacophony outside invaded my toilet sanctuary, I could hear the strains of Paula Abdul’s ‘Knocked Out’ travelling from the dance floor.
As I re-entered the nightclub after my toilet interlude, I noticed that my Italian Stallion, Angelo, had moved on to a very young woman, almost an embryo really, who was wearing copper lamé hotpants. Easy come easy go, I thought. I looked about and noted that Harry was still trying to keep his ex-wife Linda at arm’s length. Or was he? I reminded myself that he didn’t belong to me; ours was a causal relationship and that was the way I wanted it. Didn’t I?
So I decided to dance by myself. I love dancing in case you haven’t noticed. Some people pray, others meditate: I dance. So there I was bopping out to this song called ‘Spy in the House of Love’, when I became aware that I was dancing with someone and that someone was Peter Ruslen. He was smiling at me, and my body, as though operating without the aid of my mind, felt a ping of attraction, which shocked me. I was also thrown for a moment, to be dancing with the prime suspect in the mysterious disappearance of three women, but then, I decided to go with it, and I continued grooving away.
That’s the good thing about disco style dancing; it’s pretty much the same whether you are dancing with a partner, or alone. Surreptitiously I stole a glance at Harry. He was eyeing me with what looked like alarm. But I thought that he had his own worries with Linda, who looked like she was trying to remove his trousers.
After a time, Ruslen grabbed my hand and began to tow me over to his table, where I could see the willowy, strawberry blonde and Mediterranean looking lady, from the ladies toilets. But I whispered into his ear, ‘Sorry, I can’t. I am actually working for you tomorrow night as a drinks’ waitress and I have to go home for some shut eye. And besides, it simply wouldn’t be very professional’.
Luckily or unluckily, my Italian Stallion, who had been deserted by his embryo, returned at that moment and propelled me in another direction. I looked back helplessly at Ruslen, who actually laughed and gave me a little wave. Suddenly I felt very exhausted. So, I made a decision. I leapt forward into the hordes of people, and then zigzagged about, before hurtling through the door, to escape, and to bed.
It had felt like a long day. But there was no reprieve, as when I climbed into bed, between the cool, white sheets, it became evident that the love-in, next-door, was again in full swing. So, I picked up my pillow and repaired to the lounge room, where I spent many hours awake, listening to the sounds of the night, and thinking about what the tall, blue eyed, Harry, might be doing right now. I looked at the lonely moon, floating so far above the Earth: so mysterious, so familiar, so near, and yet, so far.
Just after 3am, when I had finally fallen into a light doze, a stone shattered the window of the empty bedroom. Groggy and shocked, I staggered into the room to investigate. I saw jaggered fragments of glass covering the floor and the bed. Was someone after me? Or was this a random attack?
I did not know.
Saturday, 19th November, 1988
‘I never knew what real happiness was until I got married. And by then it was too late.’ -Max Kauffmann.
The forceful, bullying sun coming through the window woke me early that Saturday morning, as I’d forgotten to close the blinds the night before. I’d been otherwise occupied. I looked in horror at the reddish, brown hair, which mushroomed across one of my black pillowcases and I rubbed my eyes tiredly, and wondered, how I had got myself into this situation.
This is what happened. I left the pub yesterday after my restorative single malt whiskey, with the intention of heading straight home to my bachelor flat, in Maroubra. I was ready to jump in a cab, from which a group of ladies had baled, when one of these ladies, who as it turned out, was my ex-wife, Linda, latched onto me like an animal with suckers.
‘She’s been trying to molest the driver’, hissed a schoolmarm type with 36Ds, who looked like she had sucked on the vinegar bottle, instead of her mother’s breast’
‘Yeah, she tried to jump over the seat to get at him’, added a frizzy haired woman with a chin like a jetty.
A rotund Shelia with a sombre woolly voice, who was wearing a pink sash, emblazoned with the word ‘BRIDE’, added, ‘And before that at the pub up the road, she was ready to pole dance and we had to stop her going off with this bloke who said that he was into black magic and drinking blood. He wasn’t quite the full quid.’
I could tell that Linda was very drunk, and so, I hesitated. I couldn’t just let my ex-wife, the mother of my only child, step off into the abyss.
‘Where’s Alicia?’ I questioned. The frizzy haired woman replied. ‘She’s with her grandmother for the weekend, and John, Linda’s hubby, is on a sales conference for a week. Do you know each other?’
‘Yep, we know each other’, I replied succinctly. And with that, I determined to go along and see if I could keep Linda on the straight and narrow, even as the thought and feeling ran through me that I would live to regret it. Sure enough, when I took Linda home in a cab sometime after 2 a.m, she couldn’t find her keys. Or said she couldn’t. I then brought her back to my place and spent an hour fighting her off. It would have been so easy to succumb; after all, we had fallen in love once and fancied the pants off each other. But a bit of alcohol could only make us momentarily forget all the strife, bitterness and headache, which had followed those euphoric times. I knew that she would return to reality soon enough, and so, I was determined not to be led astray. And besides, Linda had married again. But I also knew, whichever way I went, I would be blamed for the outcome.
The phone rang.
The call over, I put down the receiver and went to make coffee and to think about that report from the station. It seems that local police in the region where the abandoned orphanage was located, had interviewed a bored but essentially harmless gang of young people, who had admitted to stringing up that doll in the abandoned orphanage. They said that they did it to scare ‘other people’ away from their ‘clubhouse’. When questioned more closely, it became apparent that these ‘other people’, specifically consisted of a golden haired man and three women, who they had found in their clubhouse, performing ‘rude acts’, on numerous occasions; often using the chair with straps. They wanted to scare the ‘perverts’ away and get their clubhouse back. They thought the ‘scary doll’ must have worked, because after they had hung it there, they had not seen those particular people again.
I turned around. Linda stood in the doorway with a very sour frown on her elfin face. I knew she was pissed and that as far as she was concerned, I was to blame. And as expected, she proceeded to launch her artillery on all my character faults. When I could interrupt, I said, ‘do you have your keys now?’ This resulted in a death stare and further abuse. I picked up my coat and opened the door, holding my arm out in a courtly manner.
I dropped Linda home, and as she stumbled to the door, I almost felt sorry for her. But another part of my mind knew that I would pay for this, and my daughter, would be the currency.
Later Kerry rang. She was frantic. She had copied the Ruslen plans and information on Friday and put them on her desk to take home. But somehow, by the end of the afternoon that yellow envelope containing the information had disappeared. She hadn’t been overly concerned, though, at the time, as she thought she could slip in on Saturday morning and make fresh copies. But now, she was feeling very agitated, as she sat in front of the Visual Display Unit, having found that every bit of information about Ruslen’s properties had been erased. Everything.
‘It’s OK, Kezza. I know. I got a tip off yesterday. I should have told you, but other things came up. Anyway, it was wrong of me to get you involved. It was my mistake.’
I could tell Kerry was nervous by the sound of her voice; she said that perhaps, we should postpone our dinner arrangement as ‘these people you are mixed up with sound dangerous… I have to think about my family’.
‘You are right’, I said a bit flatly. ‘We will take a rain check.’
After getting off the phone, I wondered if I should call Dana and warn her… Tell her about the murder and the missing information. But I decided not to. I was in enough trouble already.
I grabbed my car keys. Today I would head out to Double Bay to a charity event at the Sailing Club, as Mrs Kristine Ruslen, Peter Ruslen’s mother, would be attending. Kristine Ruslen was involved in many charities and was known to be a generous donor. But what I was thinking about, was how my now dead informant, Keith, had used the word ‘she’, in relation to Ruslen. As far as I knew, Mrs Kristine Ruslen was no spring chicken, but she was well worth taking a look at.
No stone unturned, I said to myself, trying to bolster my flagging spirits.
Sometime later I groaned as I turned the car into Ocean Street. This promised to be a very monotonous and boring day.
The Morning of Saturday, 19th November, 1988
I was a bit nervous thinking about tonight’s job at the Ruslen mansion, as The Sarge had contacted me, first thing this morning, and filled me in on how Harry’s investigation was fast turning into a ‘dog’s breakfast’. It seems that Ruslen had been clued into Harry’s snooping activities right from the beginning. The Sarge also told me, somewhat solemnly, that an informant had been murdered in the act of giving Harry information yesterday. I did not mention the stone through the window.
I then thought about how my being at Julianna’s Nightclub last night, at the same time as Harry, must have looked suspicious to Ruslen, especially, as I was working at the Ruslen mansion tonight. Then there was the fact that I had been snooping about Bondi, asking questions about Tabra Hayden and showing people photos of the missing women. Perhaps Ruslen was already onto me and he had simply been teasing and taunting me last night?
The Sarge also said that there was some talk filtering down, from the top brass, about this assignment being aborted. I said not yet. Though, I did agree to the wearing of a wiretap for tonight. In the meantime, I was driving toward Potts Point to snoop around the apartment where the second missing woman, June Roze, had lived. Sadly we didn’t know much more about June Roze, or Lee Lin, other than their last known address.
We had details about Tabra Hayden’s estranged family, where she went to school, and who some of her employers and former boy friends were. June Roze and Lee Lin, however, were foreign nationals and both seemed to have travelled under the radar. Not even the local shop keepers appeared to remember them. I sighed.
I turned on the radio, to the official sounding introduction to the news, followed by the mechanical voice of the news reader. ‘Yesterday President Ronald Reagan signed a bill providing the death penalty for drug king pins’….. I hit the steering wheel in anger. The death penalty only functions as a form of revenge, I ranted to myself. It does not work as a deterrent and it leaves no chance for redemption. I shook my head. On a smaller scale, this was emblematic of what we struggled with in Australia: the desire of governments to appear tough, authoritative and strong on certain types of crime. The problem is that it is often the case that, harsh, punitive punishments, simply made matters worse. They make people more angry and violent and less likely to regret their actions and more likely to be resentful. But at the same time, we often seemed to have this very lax attitude to corporate crimes and our government often turned a blind eye to dirty money generated by criminal syndicates. None of it made sense, and it made me feel like throwing in the job sometimes.
I came to stop outside a block of flats in Cowper Wharf Road, Potts Point and looked up to the third floor. June Roze had lived at flat number 14 until a couple of months ago. What a glorious place to live, with panoramic views of the ocean and the city; the melodic call of sea gulls in the background and a balmy, sea breeze to soothe body and spirit, night and day. And then she disappeared. Her disappearance was sudden; there was no note left, all her clothing was still in her wardrobe, and there were no major withdrawals from the bank. In fact, her bank account had not been used since she disappeared. Not a good sign.
Police had been alerted because of the putrid smells coming from her unit. When the door was broken down, her six cats were found dead, in an advanced state of decay. It had been an unseasonably hot month.
In searching her flat, police had found that June Roze possessed an extensive collection of designer clothing: Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani. These were but few of the names that adorned her fancy gladrags. She owned the apartment too: in her own name, straight out, with no loans. Bought in cash, as it seemed was the furniture, and the clothing collection; a very different story to, Tabra Hayden, who appeared to be living week by week, with no savings to speak of. The police did not find a passport, however, or visa, or any indication about how or when June Roza had entered the country.
I walked up the steep pathway toward the block of flats, stopping for a moment to admire a beautiful flower in the manicured front garden. I love plants and always have my eyes peeled for a new cutting to add to the large and ever growing pot plant collection, on my rented balcony. Looking up, I spotted a very elegant, elderly woman with a large, yellow, sun hat coming around the corner of the apartment building, holding an orange watering can. She was heading toward the front door and would soon begin to punch in the security code. So I vaulted forward to waylay her before she vanished.
‘Hello, hello, there.’ I called, trying to simulate some type of European accent. June Roze had some unidentifiable accent.
The lady turned around and lifted one bright red eyebrow in my direction and lifted the watering can in front of her, as though to ward me off.
‘Hello, I have just arrived in Australia and I am looking for my dear, old, school friend, June Roze. She gave me this address but she does not answer her phone or my letters for months now. I am so worried’. I set my face in what I hoped was a suitably distraught expression.
The elderly lady’s face softened and the watering can went down. She patted me on the arm, which was quite emotional for a member of the quality. They don’t generally like overt emotional displays.
‘I am so sorry, my dear, but I must tell you that your friend is the subject of a police investigation. She has disappeared. Without a trace.’
‘Oh no! I replied downheartedly. ‘Then I added. ‘I have not seen her for so many years; it is so sad. But she must be found. Is there anything you can tell me about my dear friend that I can share at our school reunion?’ I thought that I had overplayed this bit of rambling theatre, as the elderly lady looked very severe for a moment. Then she said:
‘My dear, your friend was a very private person, but I do know that she owned a swimwear company called Blackarrow and that she would often model the bikinis herself. She was so exceedingly attractive…..However, interestingly, the police did ask me whether I knew of connection between Ms Roze and the Ruslen family. I did not, but I was happy to be reminded of my dear old friend, Kristina Ruslen, as we had worked together on so many charity events over the years.’ Then, the old dear looked at me so craftily, with eyes so beady and bright, leaving me to ponder whether Kristina Ruslen was indeed her friend, or her enemy.
I had heard that the Ruslen’s were known to be involved in various charities, but I also recalled that the shop assistant in the Bondi surf shop, had mentioned the swimwear brand name, Blackarrow, when I visited the shop. The lady then looked thoughtful and added:
‘I am originally from Moscow, when I was a very young girl, and your friend, Ms Roze, hailed from there too, although she moved about a lot. I caught her accent straight away, from the very first word, when she knocked on my door one day and asked my daughter to move her car, from the front of her garage.’ She touched my arm lightly, ‘the young can be so thoughtless’.
I realised that I had dug myself a very big hole and had fallen in it. This lady knew I was a fake, she was telling me so, and yet, still, she was providing me with some very useful information…If it was true.
‘Did you tell the police this’, I asked.
‘I don’t think so my dear, but I’m telling you’, she smiled and then backed away. Sensing that I was dismissed, I thanked her and departed.
I had to smile and wonder how many people had also underestimated that wily, sharp-witted woman. I felt she was telling me something important, if only I could figure it out.
As I walked back to the car, a man who looked like he had a perennial toothache was standing next to my car, rocking backwards and forwards on his heels. His sausage like fingers were gripping the leash of a highly perfumed, and coiffured, peach coloured, pooch, and he was breathing heavily through his great pyramid of a nose. As I came closer to where the man stood, he began to tap one of his expensive, boat shoes, to communicate his annoyance with me. I immediately thought about Angelo at the nightclub; there might be a market for Italians shoes, right here.
‘Excuse me young lady but you do happen to realise that you have parked this car on a roadway? This is not a parking spot, you know? You are damned lucky that it is Sunday and so there is little traffic.’
I looked at this man, flaunting his expensive, Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, and feeling smug with all his trappings of success. But I felt like saying, do you know that Ralph Lauren’s real name is Ralph Lifshitz? That’s the kind of stuff I feel like doing, but I don’t actually do. Sometimes, I’m gutless, I guess.
‘I should call the police by rights’, he continued.
My stomach dropped. At this rate, the only person who would be apprehended during this assignment would be me.
As I zoomed away, the boating man glared after me like a malignant troll, so I poked my tongue out, like I was three years old, and funnily enough, this made me feel better. I drove down New South Head Road and as I stopped at the lights near Ocean Street, I glanced over and saw that Harry was sitting in the next car. He didn’t see me though, and we went off in different directions. I was heading down to Darlinghurst, an eclectic, inner city, neighbourhood, where Lee Lin used to work in a massage parlour. Officially, her working visa only allowed her to work in the laundry, which was the front business.
I mused over the fact that June Roze had no work permit, and that her swimwear appeared to be manufactured overseas, and imported into Australia. However, how June Roze herself had actually came into this country, was a mystery?
After I had parked the car in a little back street, I jogged down the busy road for some way, past skinny, Victorian, terrace houses, which had seen better days, until I came to the Laundromat. Then I whipped across the road, jaywalking between the banked up waiting cars and slipped into a quaint little coffee shop. I ordered coffee and a semolina cake, and went and sat down in front of the open long, front window, which faced the lively traffic and stared at the building across the road. The coffee was nutty and fragrant and the cake was moreish and chewy, but I realised that I had no actual plan here. I could not simply wander down that alleyway across the road, next to the Laundromat, and then take the stairs which led to the brothel and knock on the door. What would I say? That I wanted a job?
I sat there for over an hour, drinking a few more cups of coffee and sampling more of the establishments, sweet delights, and staring stupidly at the window above the Laundromat, hoping that something would happen. Nothing did. I thought about quizzing the coffee shop staff, but I had overheard one of them telling another customer that everyone who worked here came from a country town called Bathurst. And they were all related to the owner, who had migrated from Athens via London. That anyone here would know anything about the brothel across the road, and by association, Lee Lin, did not sound too promising.
I’m flogging a dead horse here I finally decided. So I got up and left. I had to start thinking about getting ready for tonight.
Saturday, 19th November, 1988
As I drove toward Double Bay, the news on the radio finished and a report on the Chinese triads operating in Australia began. These groups, who were involved in heroin shipments, illegal gambling, loansharking, and extortion, had mostly established themselves around Sydney. What really got me thinking was the assertion that, these triads were cooperating with other criminal groups. Could Ruslen be involved with Asian triads? Might the third missing woman, Lee Lin, be a link between the groups? It all sounded a bit farfetched, but then again, similar things had been happening in recent years, with the economic deregulation going on.
It was blindingly obvious that organising a phone tap on Ruslen would be a smart move. But we had already tried this and had come up with zilch. Now we believed that Ruslen was primarily communicating via pager, computer, and perhaps, public telephones. And at the present time, we had no method of surveillance for any of these.
I drove into the car park of the Double Bay Sailing Club and parked my Holden Commodore amongst the Mercedes, BMWs, and Jaguars. I obviously didn’t belong here. Not that I wanted to, as the obvious parade of wealth gave me a bad taste in the mouth. I think this is because flaunting wealth appears to be allied with selfishness and lack of generosity and empathy. I didn’t want to be that person and although it may sound like a cliché, I got into policing to serve others. I also think that the stories that my parents told me about their wonderful treatment by Australian police and immigration officers, when they migrated here from the Netherlands, after World War II, also had something to do with my job choice.
I bowled up to the door and paid the $40 to enter the charity auction. Ouch! Most of the seats were booked and had been purchased beforehand, but when I rang this morning, I was told that there were a few tickets at the door available. I stepped into the artificially cooled room and edged around the outside and took a seat near the back. Nobody rushed to greet me, or even looked in my direction; I imagine that I did not look like the right kind of person, and was therefore, uninteresting.
The first auction item was the right to name a luxury yacht that took rich American tourists out on the harbour. The flurry started, with the rhythmic monotone of the auctioneer and a growing sense of urgency. An exorbitant price was reached and on it went. So far, I had not seen Peter Ruslen’s mother, Kristina Ruslen, but I had my eyes peeled and my hopes up.
It was when a sable coat, donated by a Double Bay designer store, was held up, that lady Ruslen made her appearance. She stepped out from behind a blue silk curtain, like a queen, and went into battle to get that coat, seemingly, at any price. Of course, the matriarch ultimately won and she seized that dead, animal pelt, with relish. Smiling with lots of very white teeth.
Tall and queenly, with hair of white, fairy floss, Mrs Kristina Ruslen’s commanding presence was like a magnet to the whole room. But she also appeared to be popular too. The room smiled toward her and clapped at her success and she smiled back and mock bowed to her happy subjects.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Peter Ruslen appear. He languidly made a bid on a Hermes bracelet, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he soon sat back down, as he lost to a toothpick of a woman whose facelift made me think that her real age was about 102. I think Ruslen saw me, though, as I noticed his eyes flash and his mouth tighten in anger. Or maybe, he just had wind? Anyway I had seen enough. Time to skedaddle.
Luckily the auction was over and the crowd all seemed to move at once, mostly toward a small room where some delicious looking canapés were set out, along with bottles of expensive champagne, on tables covered in snow white, cloths. Everything looked delicious but I couldn’t stand this lot any longer. The bloke next to me had kept flashing his Rolex about; a watch worth thousands, which does the same job as my $15 number and the woman behind had kept blathering on about a Chanel bag that she had hoped to make a bid on. Although, she didn’t want to spend any more than $1000, she said. This parade of vanity was getting under my skin and I battled the tide and fled out the door into the blinding sunlight, which reflected off the blue waters of the bay.
I was a paradise around here, but it was only for the rich, and I mean rich. Working hard won’t cut it. A policeman, teacher or nurse can’t afford to buy Double Bay real estate, and strangely, there is this general thinking out there, in less salubrious suburbs, that those who have money and power must deserve it. Or is it apathy? In reality, most of these people have inherited wealth and social connections, and they have set up the structures for that wealth and privilege to be transferred to their children. And no, I’m not a Marxist. I just see the unfairness in the system. I care about justice and fairness.
I looked out at the water and my eyes skimmed over the gigantic, luxury yachts glittering in the golden rays of sunshine. ‘Ad Astra’ that was the name of Ruslen’s expedition yacht. The information given to me had outlined how this sea craft had its own helicopter deck, full size apartment under the pilothouse and could accommodate 16 guests and 14 staff. I thought about those homeless people that I had passed at Taylor Square yesterday. Perhaps I was turning into a Marxist.
I left the beautiful bay side and drove toward the grime of the city. I passed ‘Light Fingers’, the brothel known to be owned by Ruslen that I had driven past only yesterday. My head spun like a wheel on my shoulders. I couldn’t believe it! In just over 24 hours, the building had become a used furniture store. I shook my head, I was feeling distinctly rattled. How could we nail these people who had us outclassed with money and connections and a willingness to do whatever it takes?
I was feeling extra despondent now, not only because the threads of my investigation were evaporating before my eyes but because of the background anxiety about my ex-wife, Linda, and what she might do.
At the same time, I was thinking about Lee Lin, and a possible connection to the triads. What really made me take this avenue seriously was the fact that, the owner of the brothel at which Lee Lin worked, had been forced into a kneeling position and clubbed to death, around the time that she had disappeared. This style of execution is common in the world of Chinese crime.
We had been alerted to Lee Lin’s disappearance by immigration authorities, who had made an impromptu check of her working and living arrangements. The laundry owner, a Mr Chin, had folded pretty quickly under pressure, stating that he was being strongarmed into providing legitimate cover jobs for imported prostitutes, by his landlord. When asked who this landlord was, however, he had suddenly gone mute and unable to speak English. Later that day Mr Chin was found dead in his gas-filled car, behind the laundry. Sedative drugs were also found in his system. Medical experts had found it impossible to say whether this was a murder or a suicide.
However, earlier that day I had accompanied the officers who had made a search of Lee Lin’s room, at the back of the brothel; little more than a dingy cupboard, really. Her bed was neat and clean, covered in a black and red quilt. Her rickety, timber cupboard had been jam packed with evening gowns, and many were very expensive. I found that interesting. But even more enlightening, was her shoe collection. All her shoes were size 5 and either red or black in colour. Half of those pairs were of the Paragon brand. Lee Lin really liked black and red.
When we had checked the ownership of the building, where the laundry and brothel were located, we had encountered a tangle of complexity. The financial maze took us through tax havens and shell companies, ultimately, to a dead end.
Lee Lin had been connected to the millionaire, Peter Ruslen, after her photo appeared in the newspaper as a missing person. Various random people had called into a hotline set up by police, describing how they had often seen a women that resembled, Lee Lin, in the company of Peter Ruslen, and two other women, at restaurants and nightclubs. Pretty soon we found that Tabra Hayden and June Roze, who were missing as well, were also linked to Peter Ruslen.
Suddenly I wanted to take another look at Lee Lin’s room, in the brothel again, to see if I could find anything hidden under a lose floorboard or somewhere else. So I turned sharply into Cleveland Street; soon enough, I was parking the car and marching up the car bogged street and striding past the laundry and whipping into the side alley and storming up the stairs. When I got there, I found that the red light had been removed and the door had been boarded up. It was like the place had been deserted for years.
I went downstairs to the laundry, but it was also closed down. I rubbed a bit of the dirty glass and peered inside. The room was empty. A bare cement floor stared back.
I decided to head home.
As I let myself through the door to my flat, the phone was ringing. Without thinking, I picked it up.
‘I’m telling you now loser, leave my wife alone. You had your chance with Linda and you buggered it up. Go and get your own woman!’
The phone was slammed down hard in my ear and I was left listening to the mocking dial tone. So Linda had called her husband and done a number on me. But I wasn’t convinced by his anger. It sounded forced to me, like his heart wasn’t quite in it. I had to wonder if there was trouble in paradise on that front. Perhaps, John had begun to see the real Linda. But having had that thought, I felt bad; because I knew that there were reasons for Linda’s insecurity and unstable moods and behaviour. She had experienced neglect and family trauma as a child and it was likely that she had some kind of personality disorder. She refused go to a doctor or shrink though, so that was that.
I poured myself a beer and stepped out onto my little balcony. I looked out over the backyards which stretched out around the tall building in which I lived. I could see the black, snaking roads in the distance, and people walking and running at the local park like busy ants. I sighed and sat down on the strange looking 1950s patio chair that had come from my parent’s garage. What I needed was a new angle, a new line of attack. Then the phone rang.
Well that put a new slant on things! The missing person’s team, who had been investigating June Roze’s bank account, and her financial transactions, had just reported to Sargent O’Brien, that they had finally got some information out of June Roze’s bank manager. It appears that the old boy had needed his arm twisted a little extra, to share the fact that, an unusually large amount of money had been deposited into Roze’s main bank account about one year ago. After this time, there had been frequent account activity; mostly purchases from expensive clothing and shoe shops. There had also been several more large deposits at intervals in the following months, which had stopped only days before June Roze disappeared. This account had, however, been dormant until the last few days, when suddenly, various purchases have been made on a credit card, linked to that account. These purchases appeared to consist of designer clothing and shoes bought from luxury boutiques in the city. And, an overnight stay at the Regent Hotel, near the Rocks – only last night. Most bloody interesting!
I jumped up, ran inside, grabbed my keys and slammed the door on my way out, frightening Mrs Ginger, my elderly neighbour who had just come home from her weekly shampoo and set. I apologised profusely, as hope rose in my breast. There was a good chance that a five star hotel of that size would have CCTV footage.
I jumped back in the car and headed out toward the glowing city.
The Evening of Saturday, 19th November, 1988
I was standing in the middle of the lounge room of the cheerless flat, in my trashy, white micro-mini and bikini top, watching the door close with an ear-smashing bang. I’d sent the communications bloke away, as it had soon become blindingly apparent that there was no way that I could be fitted with a wire, whilst wearing this get-up. Basically, as I was hardly wearing anything at all, I could not hide the bulky, tape recorder, or its wires, which needed to go around my waist and wrists. There was no time now to organize a transmitter and I doubt we could justify the expense of having a team sitting in a van a few streets away, to pick up what might turn out to be party conversation only.
I took a look at myself in the mirror, at the fake, orangey tan that I had applied only this afternoon and at my long, shell-pink painted nails. I goggled at my breasts which were popping out of the tiny top, like overripe melons, and at the skirt, which barely covered my rude bits. I actually felt like putting on my comfy tracksuit and going for a long run. Instead, I slipped on the strappy, high shoes, threw a cotton housecoat over my glory and hurled my fringed bag onto my shoulder and began to clop down the five flights of stairs, making a racket, which would wake the dead. I came out into the growing evening and felt the salty breeze caressing my skin.
I drove to Rose Bay and entered Ruslen’s property from a back laneway, as I had been directed to do. There were quite a few other cars parked there, all as modest as mine. This was obviously the service car park and I suddenly felt that little had really changed since the Victorian era. It felt like I was a servant; considered just another member of the great unwashed, by the Ruslen aristocracy.
I saw another woman loping across the car park, wearing a similar clobber to me, and so, I quickly jumped out of the car, and loped off after her. We passed through some thick clumps of trees and soon came to a brick wall where a security guard stood with his legs wide apart. He had a gun in a holster on his hip. The other woman, who had a black, bee-hive hair-do, very white skin, and piercing green eyes, looked around quickly in my direction, but did not acknowledge me in any way. She gave her name, I gave mine (my fake one that is) and the guard stepped aside, so that we could enter the gaping mouth of the open elevator. In we stepped.
With a swish and ding and a fair amount of vibration, down we went, with not a word said. We soon stepped out into a long hallway next to a large, commercial kitchen, which was a hive of activity and delicious smells. I followed the bee-hive woman, who walked, with a slow, sensual sway of her hips, and quiver of her peachy shaped rump, down a carpeted hallway, with walls decorated with shiny, papered, silver panels. Then, giving me a questioning glance, she turned into an open double doorway, and we came out into a huge ballroom, where various other similarly clad women stood around waiting.
What hit me immediately was how nouveau riche the decoration was here. I had expected subtlety and class, but instead, found vulgar, enormous, white, leather lounges dotted about piled with a mix of diamante and Versace throw cushions. Gigantic, spangled chandeliers hung from the ceiling, which featured hideous, gold, ornate plasterwork mouldings. On one wall, I could see a huge, marble bar, loaded with bottles of alcohol, and coloured lights, and a muscly looking bartender, with no shirt and a pink bow tie. I turned around and saw a long table with a synthetic, gold cloth, covered with food and ice sculptures of fairies and kissing doves. Yuck!
I should have realised that vulgarity would be the order of the day the moment I saw the uniform that I was expected to wear. But I had assumed that Peter Ruslen, having inherited his money and rubbed shoulders with established money, would know to steer clear of flashy displays. It was odd.
An emaciated woman with a face like a crumbling cliff face, wearing head to toe Dior, clapped her talon like hands together and called out, ‘gather round gals, gather round’.
There was about fifteen of us who flocked about the woman like moths and waited for her to speak. She seemed to fix each of us each in turn with her gimlet eye, before she spoke:
‘Very shortly, our guests will have finished their entertainments and activities and will move en mass through that doorway.’ She flapped her hand like a limp lettuce leaf at a double doorway behind her, which was in the process of being hooked back by a man in a black tuxedo, with huge padded shoulders. ‘Once the guests move into this area, you gals are responsible for attending to their needs……I mean this in a purely professional, food service manner, of course. There will be no private arrangements’. She paused to let her words sink in. ‘Now, off you go and get yourselves a tray from Mr Antoniou at the bar.’ She clapped her hands again, and we sprung like deer, across the room.
Soon enough, through the door there advanced a lava flow of men of all shapes and sizes and many of them had beautiful women hanging off their arms, wearing little more than body paint or shiny adhesive patches, shaped like stars. At the same time, a part of the wall near the bar opened up and a 5 piece band appeared, complete with an Elvis impersonator and the strains of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ filled the room.
There was a great rush of guests toward the laden, food table, but I was tapped upon the shoulder by a hawkish, woman wearing a pink uniform, and apron, and told to circulate with a tray of finger foods. She shoved the enormous tray at me and off I went.
After about two hours of this I was bloody exhausted, my arms were killing me and many trays of food had been consumed. I felt like every part of my body had been gaped at, and groped, and I just wanted to have a shower and go to bed. And I hadn’t overheard anything remotely useful….. Then Peter Ruslen appeared.
It was a theatrical appearance that turned every head, as the gold Porsche appeared to float down from above, surrounded by glass. As the car hit the floor, the glass doors flew open and Ruslen stepped into the room with those two ladies that I had first encountered in the nightclub dunnies; the women appeared to fall out of the passenger doors and immediately began pulling down their skirts, which had ridden up their thighs, in an almost demure fashion. A trio of men then, jumped out of the boot of the car playing guitar, drums and a flute looking thing. It was music that made me want to tap my feet and it also seemed to send a wave of merriment through the room and a contagion of smiles.
I’d never seen a car lift before, and so, I just stared like the small town rube that I was.
Attention was then diverted away from Ruslen and his entourage, by the appearance of a posse of jugglers entering the room, tossing silver and gold balls, in mesmerising ways. Then a belly dancer sashayed into the melee and a young woman wearing a very busty, tight dress came through the double doors, wheeling an ice-cream cart and offering gelatos.
I felt a hot breath on the back of my neck, with the slight aroma of peppermint, and I swung around to find Peter Ruslen smiling at me, and covering me with a long fur coat, which probably belonged to his mother.
‘Hello, we meet again,’ he said softly.
‘Hello’, I answered back, not knowing what else to say.
He grabbed my hand. ‘Come, I want to show you something’.
Holding my hand, he and I began to make our way across the room.
The Afternoon of Saturday, 19th November, 1988
I sat on a hard, metal chair in a large, utilitarian room, with the hotel’s head of security, gawking at the CCTV film from last night. So far, I’d already seen a movie star, or two, roam into the hotel lobby and a banker who would soon be nabbed for insider trading. Then, I noticed a woman dressed in an emerald, silk dress wander through the door, rolling a small overnight bag behind her. She held several expensive looking shopping bags, in her other hand, but she managed to move along at a brisk pace. I leaned forward and peered closer, but the sun hat she was wearing, along with the large sunglasses, made it difficult to judge whether this was woman might be June Roze. I continued looking and decided that, yes, the designer, shopping bags would match, but none of this made sense. Where had June Rozze been for the last few months? And why would she abandon her pets and let them starve to death and then simply reappear to do a bit of shopping and stay in a luxury hotel. Unless she was some type of psychopath?
The hotel manager entered and he stood by the door, watching the film of the possible June Roze, as she opened her handbag and offered her credit card to the desk clerk. He fiddled with his immaculate cuffs.
‘There was an alert on that card’, the manager said soberly, with a faint, British accent. ‘And we could have notified the police last night. However, there was a small fire in the kitchens and everything was in disarray. So I must apologise.’
‘Thank you’, I said, surprised by his honesty.
‘And we will, of course, allow you to take this film away for further examination’, he added.
‘Is there any other film showing this woman, perhaps, going into the bar or restaurant or leaving in the morning’, I inquired.
‘No. We checked. ‘However, we thought that she may have exited from the fire door…….but with all the excitement last night, and the coming and going of the fire brigade, and the crush of staff, exiting the kitchen…not that anyone was in danger from the small fire in the toasting oven…well, I’m afraid that the CCTV camera footage is not very clear.’
‘I should like to examine this footage too’, I added
The hotel manager then looked at his watch, and said, ‘some of the staff who worked last night will have arrived for work now, if you would care to interview them.’ I turned toward the security manager, who said he would collect together all the relevant CCTV film for me to take away, whilst I conducted the interviews. I nodded at them both, and followed the manager from the room.
My interviews were informal and did not reveal anything of significance. The front, desk clerk, could barely remember the woman in the hat and sunglasses and kept repeating that she had been trained to ‘be discreet and allow guests their privacy’. The hotel porter looked bleary eyed and stunned and kept shaking his head. I shook my head too and went to ask if I could look over the room where the woman, who may or may not be June Roze, had stayed.
The room had the usual stuffy, hotel smell about it, with the usual attempt of camouflage with a synthetic scent. But nothing was out of place or looked like it had even been touched. We had no record of June Roze’s fingerprints, so pursuing that avenue would reveal nothing, unless she was really someone else, who had a criminal record. She was a foreign national so that was a possibility. I pulled out my fingerprint kit.
The maid, a petite, Filipino woman, then knocked, and said, ‘you wanted to see me sir’.
‘Yes, please come in.’
She stepped into the carpeted room looking uncertain, with a wary smile.
‘So you were responsible for cleaning this room, Cherry? I said, reading her name tag.
‘No, sir, I didn’t have to clean the room as it had not been touched. The bed was not used, or the bathroom. It was clean’.
‘Is that usual, Cherry?’
‘It happens’, Cherry replied mysteriously.
I looked at her quizzically and she continued.
‘Sometimes people book a room as a cover, when they plan to stay in another room, with another person.’
‘Like a lover you mean’.
‘Yes’. She smiled in a sad kind of way that told me that she had seen all kinds of behaviour from people in this job. She did not blush, though; she was past that.
I thanked her and she left.
I would have to wait until Monday for those dress shops in the city to reopen, where June Roze’s credit card had been used. But now, I left the hotel and drove out toward Parramatta to drop the CCTV film off at headquarters. I’d take look at the film tomorrow, but I wasn’t expecting much.
An hour later I was heading home to my lonely flat. I stumbled up the stairs and pulled the keys from my pocket. I felt beat. I just wanted to have a cold beer and fall into bed and sleep for at least 8 hours……..But, there, on the step leading to my studio flat, sat Linda, my troublesome ex-wife. I groaned inwardly as she reared up in front of me with her fists clenched.
The Evening of Saturday, 19th November, 1988
My mind was scrambling as Peter Ruslen towed me out from the room. Should I tell him that I couldn’t go with him because I had to do my job? But he was my employer. Then from the corner of my eye, I saw the lady in the Dior suit, and crumbling face, marching toward us and I felt a sense of relief. She would send Ruslen away and let me return to my duties. I felt like a damsel in the distress, but instead of a handsome young knight, my rescuer would be a walking skeleton in designer threads. I almost giggled.
Hurry up, I thought, as my saviour in Dior strode across the room, I still hadn’t had a chance to have a scout around and I needed to do that. But Peter Ruslen waved her away imperiously and she disappeared, absorbed into the crowd.
He turned to smile at me and I had to admit that Peter Ruslen was a handsome man. It wasn’t just his tall and well-built frame, or his golden hair, or his flirty blue eyes: it was the way he looked at you with those eyes, like there was no one else in the room. But I wondered how Peter Ruslen would score on the Psychopathy Checklist? A test developed by Canadian psychologist, Robert D. Hare. Ruslen certainly had a superficial charm, but did he possess a profound absence of guilt and empathy?
But I was jumping ahead of myself; a person is innocent until proven guilty, under Australian law. However, a voice inside my head, also reminded me that, this man was dangerous, and sleazy as hell.
We were striding down a wide, carpeted corridor now, where we passed a room with a swimming pool, which had statues of Roman gods and goddesses dotted around its sides, and blue and gold tiles decorating the walls. Inside, I could see a rotund, hairy man, pursuing a tiny, curly headed woman, across the water. She was laughing, almost cruelly, and he was panting with exertion. I noticed the quick flicker of a smile on Peter Ruslen’s lips, as he took note of the situation.
There was only one other open door, though, toward the end of the corridor. It was a small room that was stuffed with lots of old antiques -like it was a storeroom; everything was jammed and balancing one on top of another. I stopped and peered in, and saw that the walls were covered with many beautiful old paintings. I stepped back out of the room and ran my eye along of the many closed doors, along the corridor, and wondered what might be on the other side of them.
My ear, then, caught the muted splash of water and a muffled echo of a shriek. I hoped that the swimming woman was OK. Or was it the hairy man who had cried out?
We came to a lift and Ruslen pressed the button. He didn’t say anything to me as we journeyed upwards, surrounded by reflecting mirrors. He just smiled. And up we went to another floor, where we got out and were faced by a large, stainless steel, cartoon rabbit, which was about half the size of a human. It was very shiny and reflective, and standing on a pedestal.
‘That belongs to my mother’, Ruslen explained. ‘She buys the art’.
‘Who’s she—the cat’s mother?’ came the clipped tones of a woman speaking with a very proper accent, like the fake, received pronunciation of Margaret Thatcher. And out of a doorway stepped Mrs Kristina Ruslen, Peter Ruslen’s mother, looking expensive and immaculate, but to my mind overdone. Meow! We all think we are fashion critics when it comes to others. I also wondered how Mrs Ruslen had come by her very BBC accent: I made a mental note to find out, if I managed to get out of here —alive!
‘My husband has a particular passion for the Victorian era, doesn’t he, Peter,’ added his mother, continuing on from her son’s remarks about the art purchases of this household.
‘Yes!’ replied Peter, ‘we have all kinds of things downstairs like you wouldn’t believe’.
‘Yes my dear, like you wouldn’t believe’, Mrs Ruslen echoed, as she closed her eyes and waved her hand at him, before opening her eyes to stare at him indulgently, adding, ‘off you go now and have your fun’. It was like he was five years old instead of thirty.
Speaking of the father and husband, I could just see Philip Ruslen, in the crack between the door and Mrs Ruslen; he was lying propped up in a hospital bed, facing a woman on a burgundy chaise lounge. He looked like he was smiling at her, but I could only see her long, blonde hair and part of her green dress, which swept the soft, beige carpet. Interestingly, from what I could see, this room was furnished with dark, rich timbers, carved and covered with tapestries and there were paintings on the walls of classical design, in the style of the old masters. It was the very antithesis to the other parts of the house, which I had seen – except for the room of antiques and paintings.
We rocketed along the hallway, which was covered in modern, mostly abstract art. Then Peter Ruslen stopped, pulled open a door and we went into a huge, softly lit room, which reminded me of an upmarket piano bar. And certainly, a grand piano stood importantly on an elevated section of the room. A Leather, modular lounge suite in black, covered with red cushions, snaked about the place. And sitting on one section of that lounge, bathed in the light of a lampshade that appeared to be made of tinsel, were the two women that I had only just seen downstairs, who I originally saw first at the dunnies in Julianna’s. The willowy, strawberry blonde woman, who I remembered was working toward a doctorate, smiled, and the shorter, Mediterranean one, glanced up and looked at me with speculative interest.
I have to admit that my heart began to beat a bit louder, and harder, as we walked toward the two watching women, because I have found that it is generally, women that make life most difficult for the other women around them. To me, there is always this visceral awareness of the pecking order with women, and sadly, I have never experienced any sense of sisterhood, with any woman, other than my mother.
‘Hello, I’m Liz and this is Effie’, said the willowy one, showing a gap in her front teeth, as she spoke. I relaxed a bit; there was something about Liz that seemed kind, at least. Effie smiled, but it did not reach her eyes, she was more cautious, I thought.
‘Girls! Girls! Where is the champagne?’ Peter Ruslen cried, clapping his hands together, as he looked about in disbelief. He turned toward me, and said, ‘come with me darling and we’ll grab a few bottles’.
So out the door we went again and down the hallway right to the end, where there was a door disguised as a particularly ugly painting. Peter Ruslen swung it open and we stepped into a giant fridge.
‘We probably have one of the biggest cool rooms in the world’, Ruslen pronounced boastfully, ‘it has two storey’s’, he adding laughing, slightly; perhaps, at himself. ‘Downstairs at the party they can access one level and we can access another up here. And there are stairs.’ He put his finger to his lips and added, ‘mother won’t let me tell anyone about this secret entrance, so you don’t know’. He smiled bewitchingly and continued walking through the boxes of food and frigid air.
As we walked into the cool room and the cold air hit me, a dim light came on. I wasn’t feeling too relaxed, I had to admit, and the dull hum of the room’s machinery added to my agitation.
‘Come on, we have to go downstairs to get at the champagne.’ He called back at me, sounding overly loud.
So we walked past wheels of expensive cheese, boxes of strawberries, large cheese cakes and trays of fresh herbs. We went down some metal stairs and came to an Aladdin’s cave of champagne. The room appeared to be filled with champagne.
Peter Ruslen simply purloined two magnums of Veuve Clicquot, and up we went again.
‘The downstairs cool room appears to be smaller than up here’, I remarked, as Ruslen stopped and picked up a prepared tray of smoked salmon, cheese and olives. Ruslen snorted.
‘That’s because my mother has her own small, cool room, where she keeps her own stash of food. All you will find there is cold beet soup, potato pancakes and lots of peas. She loves peas.’
Funny, I thought that with Kristina Ruslen being so skinny, she must live on air.
As we brought the bounty into the room, Liz jumped up and grabbed the tray of food and began to eat. ‘I’m starving’ she half whispered, looking at me apologetically. Peter Ruslen popped open the champagne and Effie grabbed some glasses from a nearby cabinet. Soon we were all sipping the velvet, smooth champagne, and thinking our own thoughts.
After a while, Peter Ruslen walked away from us, still clutching his champagne flute, toward the piano. He sat down, his glass reflecting the light back at us from the piano’s top and started to play some music that I couldn’t quiet recognise, although there was something of the romantic, Tchaikovsky about it. Liz leaned over and touched my knee.
‘You look worried, but don’t be. He is interested in you, I think, because you look like his fiancé……yes, you do look like her in some way’.
‘Where is his fiancé? I asked.
‘I don’t know, but I don’t miss her, she was a bit of a bitch’. Liz smiled, which took the sting out of her words. Then she continued. ‘Pete’s one of those guys who has a Madonna –whore complex. Freud explained it well: “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love”. But his fiancé had him confused; on the one side, his mother approved of her and on the other……well….. she was a bit kinky’. I looked at Liz quizzically. ‘She liked girls too.’
‘Oh’, I said ‘stupidly’ ……I hope he won’t be expecting me to become his fiancé’, I joked.
Liz laughed. ‘No, of course not, you would need approval from the She Devil’.
‘Mother dearest, that’s who’.
‘I don’t look like much of a virgin in this outfit’, I grimaced, opening the fur coat.
‘That is true’, Liz giggled, and that’s why he put that coat on you. What Peter really wants is a wife who is a mother figure, and another woman on the side for the rest. His mother, though, she is his queen.’
‘That’s sick’, I cried, a little too loudly. Peter Ruslen stopped playing the piano and stared out at us suspiciously. Liz sprung up and began to dance a seductive dance and it came into my mind that she was trying to cover my faux pas. Ruslen just stared at her, though, like his mind was elsewhere.
Liz was still dancing, when an oscillating wail of fire sirens hit our ears, coming from somewhere in the mammoth house. Ruslen didn’t move. Liz, however, ran and flung the door open and watched as two fire men ran past yelling commands for everyone to evacuate the building.
I looked at Ruslen, Liz and Effie each in turn. Ruslen was beckoning Liz and Effie toward him; Liz waved me away. ‘Go’ she whispered. ‘He will want us now’. I looked at her, confused. ‘Don’t worry, we will be alright’.
I got out of there, but I didn’t leave. I wanted to take a look at Kristina Ruslen’s cool room. So as Liz and Effie walked like zombies toward Peter Ruslen, I retraced the steps I had taken with him to get the champagne. I could still hear the caterwauling siren, but as I moved out of the room, I could also hear running feet and voices raised in alarm and distress.
I whipped into the cool room, grabbed a few strawberries along the way and galloped down the metal steps. The champagne room was empty. I opened the door which led out of the freezer, and saw that I was just across from the kitchens, where I had entered earlier in the evening. Nobody was about. The place was deserted.
I went back inside and looked about for the entry into Mrs Kristina Ruslen’s personal cool room. Behind a pile of boxes of Krug, I could see a door with a small window. I rubbed the glass and I stared into the small, darkened room, where I could see a single light above Mrs Ruslen head; she was carrying a huge, eight layer cake. I rubbed the glass some more and tried to get a better look, but the fridge room was dark. I dropped down toward the floor, as Mrs Ruslen slowly turned around, as though she had scented something. And on my hands and knees, I scrambled out of there and through the doorway which came out near the kitchens. I dropped the fur coat off with the security guard, and wearing that hideous and tarty costume, I fled outside past flashing lights, and dazed looking people. Evidently, though, there was no actual fire.
As I drove my car away from Palais Royale, which was bathed in the sickly, flashing red of the fire brigade lights, I had the slightly sick feeling of a night gone wrong. I wondered where Tabra Hayden, June Roze and Lee Lin were; I certainly had found no trace of them. So much for gut feelings. I also wondered about Peter Ruslen’s strange relationship with women, and then, I had the sudden feeling that I had missed something very important.
Very Late at Night Saturday, 19th November, 1988
After I left the Regent Hotel, I drove out to Parramatta and dropped the CCTV film at headquarters. Most of the offices were in darkness and empty of humans, who were mostly home with their families, or sitting on pub stools. As I walked up stairs and along corridors of hard polished floors, smelling of bees wax, my shoes echoed noisily and the air felt cool; few lights were on and the shadows made this familiar place, foreign to me. Then, on the way out, I ran into Brian the communications guy, who had just returned from a bungled job and he stopped a few minutes to chin wag.
‘I couldn’t fit the wire mate and it was bloody obvious. A great waste of time, though Dana Roberts she’s a good sort, alright!’
When he left, I rang The Sarg to find out what Dana was up to. When I heard that she had gone into Ruslen’s place without any backup, I had an idea. It was the small fire at the hotel that made me think of it. So what I did was, get in my car and drive toward the city; then, I stopped at a random phone box and reported that a fire had started in the kitchen of Palais Royale, Ruslen’s mansion, which was currently full of people. If Dana was in trouble, the arrival of the fire brigade should help her get out of there. But obviously, I didn’t want that call being traced back to me, or for Dana to find out.
As I drove through the dark streets toward home I thought about Lee Lin: where did she fit into Ruslen’s scheme? And was she connected in some way to an Asian crime scene? What I did know, was that, the triads were rolling in cash and adept at money laundering through front businesses, so, what we needed were Asian background, undercover police officers, who could infiltrate the triads and break through their strong code of silence. So far, whenever we had tried to target these Asian gangs, they had simply disappeared; sometimes back to the countries of their birth, which would often provide a ‘protecting umbrella’.
So what happened between me and my ex-wife? Well she came inside and apologised to me. She said that she knew that she had problems, and that one of her major problems was depression. She was ready to go to therapy, she said.
‘What…what changed things?’ I croaked.
She shot a very sharp and suspicious look at me, and then, swallowed. ‘John called me and said that I had to get help. He said he…..cared for me, but he couldn’t live with me, unless I ….’
I smiled tiredly and hoped that this latest agreement to get help was true. I had heard all this before and it never lasted. Linda was so vulnerable, and damaged, and her moods were like a rocking boat. Still, I hoped what she said was true. We needed it to be true.
Sunday 20th November, 1988
Early the next morning the phone rang. It was a call from a Constable Hatsis, from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), regarding the dead man, Keith the tiler, who’s real name was Gary Nobbs. Constable Hatsis informed me that Nobbs’ wife, Sofia Nobbs, nee Mirkin, was the actual boss of what was a large renovating business, and that the AFP had had an ‘audit trail’ trained on that business for some time. The reason being that Sofia Nobbs was a Russian immigrant ,who had entered the United States, in the early 1980s, under immigration policies aimed at Soviet Jews; though evidence pointed to her actually being Russian Orthodox. She then headed for the Brighton Beach area of southern Brooklyn, where she was known to have links with the head of New York City’s, Russian Mafia. She, however, hot-footed it out of that country in early 1985, and landed in Australia, after the Don was shot twice in the head outside his Brooklyn apartment. The Feds rightly thought that keeping an eye on this dame, was a good idea.
Within a month of arrival in Australia, Sofia married Nobbs, who was a small time tiler and handyman. She swiftly took over his business, and pretty soon, the couple seemed to be swimming in cash and building a showy, home-palace, on prime real estate.
I rubbed my eyes, this case was like a giant confusing web, but things were at least looking up, as there was some possibility that there might be some documentary evidence linking Ruslen’s business enterprises, with the dead man, amongst this mess. Hallelujah for that! Things had been looking grim on the evidence front.
As I showered, I thought that I would first take a drive past Nobbs’ house at Coogee and take a gander at what sort of joint he had lived in. Then, I would head out to headquarters and watch the CCTV film I’d collected from the hotel, and also see if I could get my hands on the interview with Nobbs’ grieving wife, conducted last night; altogether, I had another fun day in store.
I came to a stop out the front of Nobbs’, faux mansion, which appeared to occupy about 98% of the block of land, looking over rolling waves and golden sands. The house was guarded by two large, cement lions, which sat at the entry to the driveway, leading to the triple garage. As I sat in the Commodore, I remembered how a mate who worked at the tax office, had once said to me that, he’d generally found that stone lions, out the front of houses, had proved to be a useful sign that, the taxation records of the occupants, should be looked into.
I a noticed a pink satin curtain twitch, in the Palladian window frame: I the watcher was also the watched.
Sunday 20th November, 1988
The lustomanics next door must have been worn out last night, because they didn’t bother me; there was no wall thumping, moaning, or calls to ‘give it to me baby’. I had arrived home from Ruslen’s place, fallen into bed and not moved. But then, I’d had vivid dreams, staring, Tabra Hayden, working as a snake charmer and acrobat, down at circular key, and at one stage, Peter Ruslen drove past at the wheel of a city bus. Weird!
Luckily the broken window had been fixed yesterday, as it was raining today. Outside there was a steady drizzle, and the sky was like a giant lead sinker, and dark, like it was heading toward night, instead of the beginning of a summer morning.
I thought about last night; the arrival of the fire brigade was the cherry on top of a very strange evening. I considered Liz and Effie; I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes. They were obviously being paid by Ruslen from what Liz had said in the ladies’ toilets at Julianna’s, but was such a job worth the money? Surely there were better jobs out there which didn’t involve selling yourself. But, then again, I suppose most jobs involved selling yourself to some extent.
I grabbed the compact, folding umbrella from my suitcase and soon I began to walk down to Bondi Beach, to buy some breakfast. I was wearing a pair of Levi jeans today, teamed with a too tight, white Bonds T-shirt, and a pair of red, high heels. A particularly ugly Glomesh handbag, which hung from my shoulder, swung idly, as I walked along the wet footpaths and thought about how I enjoyed walking in the rain, as it was relaxing and gave me time to contemplate. And generally, when I walked in the rain, I had the streets to myself. On the way, I would also stop off at a phone box and make a phone call.
Digging a coin out of my purse, I dropped it into the gold phone, which sat in front of a small milk bar. The blob nosed man inside, who was wearing a jet black toupee, was watching me carefully, in the hope that I would buy a milkshake or a Chiko Roll. I didn’t get the feeling that he was making a fortune in this business. Perhaps, the toupee was scaring off the customers?
I dialled the number and the phone began to ring. I hoped he was home.
‘Hi Harry’, I said. I didn’t have to tell him, it was me calling. He knew.
‘I’ve missed you’, he returned.
Then he began to tell me about what had been happening on his end of the investigation; about how June Roze’s credit card had been used at a few clothing shops, and at the Regent Hotel, by a woman wearing a green dress. He told me that there might be some evidence coming from the Australian Federal Police, linking the murdered man, a Gary Nobbs, who had met Harry under the bridge, with Ruslen. The murdered man’s wife, Harry said, also, had links, at one time, with the Russian Mafia that operated in Brooklyn, New York. He told me that he had suspicions that Lee Lin was connected with Asian Triads. Then, we arranged to meet later.
My mind felt like it was filled with a clan of chattering spider monkeys. How to make sense of all these crazy threads! I walked into the milk bar: I really needed a milkshake and a Chiko Roll!
Down at the beach I held the umbrella snugly over my head and gazed out at the roiling waves, which rose and crashed in a kind of hypnotic anarchy. June Roze was Russian, too. This was more than a coincidence. Then, as I thought about it, I remembered the woman lying on the chaise lounge across from Phillip Ruslen last night. This woman had long blonde hair, like June Roze. A coincidence? Maybe.
I walked back across the road and sat at a café and sipped a coffee and leafed through a newspaper that had been left on my table. There was a small article about Russia’s unmanned spaceflight and another about the dangers of cholesterol and eggs. Then, I came to the social pages and saw a full page spread of Ruslen’s party. Oh hell! There was a photo, clearly of me, half-naked being pulled out of the room by Peter Ruslen. The caption underneath said ‘Peter Ruslen Escorts Pebbles to His Cave’ Suddenly, I imagined Rochelle Jane and Jodie Lamb opening a packet of fish and chips one day soon, and beholding this scene. I then screamed inwardly at my bad luck, as the two ladies in question, pulled opened the door and entered the café.
I braced myself for an onslaught from the two bullies, but amazingly, they didn’t even see me, as they shuffled past deep in conversation and sat right behind me.
‘It’s hard being engaged to Spud when I still really love Cyclone’, I heard Jodie Lamb say with acute seriousness.
‘I know, I had the same problem giving up Gonzo, when me ‘n Pud got together’ answered Rochelle Jane.
And on they went talking about their love affairs, with the same people that they had been hanging around with since high school. In fact, hearing this conversation made me feel that I was back in year 10 maths, listening to the pair of them rabbiting on behind me; that is, when they were not trying to throw spit balls at my head and get me on detention.
Carefully, I began to scrunch up the offending newspaper page, and then, quickly tucked it into my handbag. I got up quietly, and slowly, and tried to inch my way out of the cafe without attracting any attention. Unfortunately, I also managed to tuck the table cloth into my purse, along with the newspaper page, and my empty cup hit the floor with a loud ‘poing’. Luckily, it did not break. I turned around to scoop the cup up and set the table to rights, and as I did, I noticed that the two bullies hadn’t noticed a thing; they were still deep in discussion about their love lives. Phew! I said, and out I scooted.
I walked out into the steadily falling rain and down the road and entered Cosmos, the restaurant where Tabra Hayden used to work; the place was empty. The sound of the rain was loud inside because of the metal roof and the large, front windows were fogged up, so that the ocean over the road was just a smudge of blue. A single young woman stood behind the counter.
‘We are not really open, yet’ she said with a shy smile.
‘Oh, that’s OK’ I returned. ‘Really……I am only hoping to find out some information about my cousin, Tabra Hayden, who used to work here…..She has disappeared’.
The pretty young woman, a Eurasian, smiled sympathetically. ‘I’m not sure that I can help you, as I have just come from Hong Kong for a visit and my uncle brought me here to work in the restaurant, while he sees to other business’.
‘Oh! How interesting, growing up in Hong Kong’, I said.
‘Well, it wasn’t that interesting.’ Then her eyes lit up. ‘Not as interesting as growing up in Shanghai, like my parents did. My mum lived for a while in the Shanghai International Settlement, but that came to an end in December 1941, when the Japanese came. Before this, mum said that they had felt safe with the presence of the consulate on the Bund……..Sorry, I am talking too much’ she said suddenly, turning red and looking bashful. ‘But I find my family history so interesting!’ She continued eyes bright.
A tall woman stepped out from the kitchen door and her blue eyes bored into me like electric drills. ‘We are ready to go now, Vera’, she hissed.
‘Yes mama’, the young woman replied, looking uncertain. She smiled at me slightly and disappeared through the door and I was left alone with my thoughts in the empty restaurant, while the rain continued to pound its fingers upon the roof, like the hand of god.
I turned the lights down and glanced over at the table, set with a simple cloth and a single candle. The spaghetti marinara that I had cooked was resting in a large bowl and the wine was chilling in the fridge. A knock rang out on the door.
‘Hello to you, too….But get inside before anyone sees you’.
Harry whipped inside and immediately began to waltz me about the room. I laughed, feeling suddenly light and happy. I didn’t trust many people, but I was starting to trust Harry: he hadn’t let me down yet. But of course, Harry himself tended to be a bit aloof and reticent in the romance department; but, from what I had heard, that was an appropriate response after his marriage to Linda.
We sat down to eat and I have to say that my marinara was a success. I am a bit of a hit and miss cook, so I was glad. Then we began to talk shop.
‘What have you managed to find out about Peter Ruslen and his brothels and his sedative business?’ I asked.
‘The brothels have closed up shop, it seems’, he sighed. ‘But The Sarg has someone combing through old cases looking for reports of drink spiking around the city. Unfortunately, most women who have had their drinks drugged, never make a police report, but blame themselves for being drunk. We do, have some evidence from local hospital reports, of young women who’ve passed out and had their stomachs pumped, so we know that these drugs are counterfeit: not stamped with the brand names Rorer or Lemmon.’
‘Quaaludes, from what I know, hit you hard and fast and then you lose your short term memory’.
‘Sounds like you are talking from experience’ said Harry softly.
‘Yeah, I had some tough teenage years and my mum had some prescribed for anxiety and sleep problems. And plenty of the kids at high school tried them; called them the ‘love drug’ in fact.’
‘Obviously we went to different schools’, Harry said, looking worried and amazed. ‘You do know that Quaaludes are really addictive and if you take them with alcohol -- what some people call ‘luding out’, the sedative effect can be fatal.’
‘Yes I know.’ I said quickly, ‘now wishing that I hadn’t revealed my rough, teenage past. I hated the way I often ended up feeling up like I came from the bottom rungs, when I disclosed some of the reality of my earlier life, and how those who grew up comfortably middle class, looked down at me.
‘But Ruslen seems to be moving into ‘roofies’; that is, Rohypnol, from what I’ve heard’, added Harry.
Any idea where he is sourcing them from?’ I asked; glad to move the conversation away from me, as I finished the last mouthful of my pasta.
‘We think they are coming in from overseas somehow…….And, I just remembered that, the name Quaaludes, supposedly comes from the words ‘quiet interlude’, Harry added.
‘We should be having a quiet interlude, don’t you think Harry?’ I said, and the silence stretched out.
A loud knock sounded ominously at my door and we both looked at each other, with wide eyes. Without speaking, Harry got up and moved, panther like, out of sight into the bedroom, and I went to answer the door.
‘Hello, I have a special delivery of flowers for…..’ he looked down at a piece of paper… ‘a Sally Brown’.
‘Thank you’, I said, taking the enormous bunch of pink roses into my arms and then closing the door. Harry came out.
‘Have a look at the card’, Harry said, pointing to a card tied on with a gold string. It said.
I hope that you will excuse my slightly unprofessional behaviour, but as I did not know your name and address, I was driven to calling our staffing manager, who most thankfully obliged me. However, I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to find you living in that particular building in Bondi, as I once knew someone who used to live there. But never mind that.
I would like to talk to you about a job offer. A job that would pay you much more than you would make now, with casual waitressing. So, if it is convenient, I would like to pick you up tomorrow morning -- say about 10ish, so that I can tell you what I have in mind.
My most fond regards,
I handed the note to Harry and after he quickly read it and we simply stared at each other in amazement.
Didn’t you tell me that Liz, the women that you first encountered at Julianna’s, was of the opinion that Ruslen sees women in terms of a Madonna/whore complex, and that she believes that he sees you as a ‘good girl’ type.
‘Yes that’s what she said, and yet, you would think that my dancing with a man at the nightclub and wearing that skimpy outfit last night would have divested him of such a notion’, I added, ironically.
‘Perhaps it’s something about you?
‘Liz said that he idolises his mother, and that, I, maybe, look a bit like his fiancé.’
‘How very interesting, a fiancé! Who is she then?’ Harry said looking hopeful.
‘I don’t know. Liz implied that the fiancé had disappeared’.
‘Hmmm, another woman from Ruslen’s circle who has disappeared!’ I’ll have to look into this. However, in the meantime, come here.
I walked into Harry’s arms and together we shut the bedroom door. It was my turn to entertain the neighbours.
Monday Morning 21th November, 1988
I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I was feeling both elated, and a bit out-of-it, as I headed out early Monday morning to drop by those city boutiques, where June Roze’s credit card had been used, to purchase some very expensive clothing items.
What I subsequently learned, was that some people think that it is a normal thing to buy a $3000 jacket, which may only be worn once. I couldn’t relate to this myself, as I always picked my suits up at Fletcher Jones, and they last me years.
An older woman who had reminded me of a very toothy, race horse, had been serving at the last boutique, I visited in Skygarden. She told me that the woman, who had used June Roze’s card, had been wearing a green dress, a hat, and sun glasses; this tallied with the CCTV film footage of the woman using the credit card at the Regent Hotel. She was the only shop assistant who seemed to remember anything at all about the customer of this credit card, which surprised me, considering how most women analyse the outfits and hair-dos of other women.
I wondered: could this woman of the green dress really be June Roze?
I headed out to Parramatta to take a look at the rest of the CCTV footage; the traffic was a nightmare, but eventually, I found an empty parking spot and headed into the office. As I sat down at my desk, a pile of phone messages greeted me, many shrieking their urgency. There was one from Dana saying that she had forgotten to tell me about a woman, who she had seen at Ruslen’s place, who resembled June Roze. Interesting. Dana didn’t mention this last night. Another message made me sit up straight away; it seemed that Lee Lin had been traced leaving Australia, using a false passport. She had landed in Indonesia, and then, her trail had gone cold. Was Lee Lin fleeing for her life? Or, was she just getting out while the going was good? I felt a bit of relief that at least one – maybe two, of these women was alive and kicking.
I could see one of the secretaries coming toward me, with another stack of messages and a serious look about her mouth. I jumped up; all this stuff could wait for the time being, as I really needed to take a look at the rest of that CCTV footage. I grabbed the heavy bag of VCR tapes and headed to a room with a videocassette recorder and TV.
Two hours later, my eyes were falling out of my head; So far, I’d seen a few minor celebrities check into the hotel and a couple of well-known lawyers and judges, dining out and later, heading up to a hotel room, with women…and men.. who were not their wives. This was bloody tedious! I really needed to get a coffee from that Italian café down the road, and perhaps, one or two creamed filled cannoli. But I pushed on, watching videos, almost as if I was unable to stop watching now that I had got started. This film showed the fire exit of the hotel, at about 3am in the morning. Nobody was using this fire exit much at this point, as the kitchen toaster fire, had been resolved hours ago and the fire brigade had long since left.
I was still staring at the unchanging scene an hour later, when I jumped up, Hell! this was getting beyond boring. My finger reached for the pause button; but, then, I saw something: a woman wearing a green dress dragging a small suitcase, on wheels, down the stairs. She hadn’t bothered to put on her hat, and sunglasses, and I could clearly see that this person was in fact Kristina Ruslen. ‘Silly move, sweetheart’, I said out loud, feeling pleased with her stupidity.
I looked at my watch; Peter Ruslen had been going to pick up Dana this morning at 10am. Now, it was 3 o’clock. How could I let Dana know this new information about Kristina Ruslen? Then a more terrifying thought hit me: perhaps Dana was already in trouble.
I ran back to my office, only to be met by The Sarg who was pacing about almost pulling his hair out.
‘Didn’t you get my messages, de Groot?’ ‘Were you wearing your pager?’
‘……Sorry Sarg, I was urgently viewing some CCTV footage…..And, now, I know that, Mrs Kristina Ruslen has been impersonating June Roze and using her credit card. And even worse, I think that Dana is at this moment, in that mansion, with Peter Ruslen’.
‘You are right, this is bad. But if you had come to my office, as my multiple messages directed, I could have told you the latest intelligence from The Australian Federal Police’. He paused, as I gaped at him, feeling like an axe was about to fall.
‘We have learned that Kristina Ruslen was a Russian 50 metre pistol and sprint running athlete, in her youth. She fled the Soviet Union by swimming across the Black Sea in 1956 and managed to make it to Turkey. From there, she stowed away on a ship and made it to Cyprus, where she was easily able to learn the Greek language; as supposedly, both languages have some similarities and they use the Cyrillic script.’
‘They also share a religion’, I added.
‘Yes, it seems that the religion was the key’, Sargent Obrien continued, giving me a sharp look as he knew that I was agitated about Dana.
‘AFP say that Kristina Roze, as her name was back then, approached a group of peasant women in a potato field, who seeing the Byzantine cross hanging around her neck, took the lost woman under their wing.’
‘Kristina Roze you say?’ Obviously there is a connection with June Roze, the missing woman’, I cut in.
‘Yes, the AFP also found out that June Roze, is Kristina Ruslen’s niece. After Kristina Ruslen escaped Russia, her brother experienced what they call Refusenik; denial of the right to emigrate, by the soviet authorities. It was not until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, a few years ago, that he and his family could leave. And when he did, it appears that he immediately became involved with Russian mafia in New York, as did his daughter, June Roze. The AFP also says that, there is evidence that this family have experienced discrimination and ostracism, particularly under Khrushchev, and that their crime links have ensured their survival. It is, as they say: complicated.’
‘Sarg, this is all very enlightening, but we need to extract Detective Roberts from the clutches of Peter Ruslen’, I said, somewhat desperately; then filling Sargent O’Brien in on Ruslen’s job offer to Dana and how he had been planning to take her to his mansion, Palais Royale, this morning.
Sargent O’Brien looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said, ‘Yes, I know about this de Groot, Roberts has been reporting to me every morning from a public phone box. But don’t worry, I sent her one of our Telecom Walkabout mobile phones this morning, which has a ‘roving bug’ feature. ….And, she’s been instructed to look after the damn thing as each phone costs over $5000 bucks!’
‘But who is currently listening to this bug’s transmission?’ I exploded.
‘There’s a car located near Ruslen’s mansion and the crew are transmitting the conversation. But don’t worry, nothing has happened yet. Ruslen has been quite the gentleman.’ The Sarg said, mimicking Ruslen’s more upmarket speech.
‘So how did Kristina Ruslen get out of Cyprus?’ I asked, mollified for the moment.
‘Smuggled out on a Cyprus Airways flight’, he said, looking at his watch’. ‘She also fell in with the Russian mafia soon afterwards. Married her boss and had two children. She didn’t meet Philip Ruslen for a few years after this; apparently at a party on his yacht. By this time, Kristina Roze was affecting a British accent and had invented an exciting new history for herself’.
‘I think there are links to Asian triads too’, I added, but before The Sarg could speak, one of the uniform boys nipped in the door and said, ‘Sarg, I think that you better come and listen to what Ruslen has been saying to Detective Roberts.’
We all took off down the hallway, toward a small room, where Dana’s roving bug was being transmitted, by the car crew. The policeman, whose name was Constable Barry, rewound a tape and this is what we heard:
‘So the job that I am offering you, Dana, would require you to work for me as a personal assistant. You would collect my clothes from the dry cleaners, make sure that my bills were paid and that I always have petrol in my cars. It is not a difficult or arduous job; although you may have to attend to my mother as well, sometimes. What do you say?’
‘I am very interested, of course, Peter, but may I ask why you have favoured me in this way’.
Bloody hell, she is starting to sound like him! I thought.
‘From the beginning, from the first, you reminded me of my fiancé, who is now lost to me…………..She is also my cousin, an excellent business woman…. and it was my mother’s dearest wish that we marry……but she was not all that she appeared……… She had to go.’
I wasn’t sure what to say. I wanted to ask how his fiancé was lost to him, but somehow, I thought that subject might be a dangerous one’.
‘You are also the sort of girl that I would like to marry. I am very interested in you, but I cannot go against my mother’s wishes…..Especially now that my sources of income have dried up so suddenly.’ He said this last bit as though he was talking to himself.
‘So your mother is mostly in control of business, then’, Dana said.
‘I took over business eight years ago after …..my… father’s accident, but things went badly, and then, my mother assumed control. She is the one who saved us. All this would have been lost if it was not for her. ……..Though, lately it has begun to trouble me that my mother has no absolutely no scruples. She will even do deals with the dictators of newly rich oil countries, who funnel the money out of their own countries, buying luxury cars, jewellery, watches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, of course, real estate in stable and generally law abiding countries, like Australia. Their own people are dying in the street from poverty…..’
‘You are involved in the property market aren’t you?’
Ruslen laughed. ‘My mother selects the rundown buildings, lets me play in them for a while, with my lady friends, and then, we bring them back to life……the buildings that is….. and sell the renovated buildings off at a big profit.
‘What do you mean ‘play in them’ with your lady friends?’
‘Leave that to me Dana. These women are none of your concern. These women come and they go; they are not marriage or mother material and you should not concern yourself with them’.
‘What about your fiancé?’
‘You look so much like her you know’.
‘But where is she?’
‘June is still here, but she is not well, and please don’t ask me any more questions’.
Sargent Berry switched off the tape.
The Sarg looked grave. ‘It could be that June Roze is alive and a prisoner in that house….. I would like to give orders to storm the place, but we don’t have enough evidence……..and we don’t have any clues about the whereabouts of Tabra Hayden.’
He looked grimly at me. ‘I want you, de Groot, to get yourself, right now, onto the Ruslen’s yacht and see if you can dig up some dirt’. He handed me one of those brick-like mobile phones and eyeing me with intensity, said, ‘this is to be used only in an emergency and for god’s sake, don’t lose it ’.
‘What about Dana, I mean Detective Roberts, Sarg?’
She seems to be safe enough…….for now. Now go.
Monday 21th November, 1988
It was a bit of a thrill to be picked up by a handsome man in a gold Porsche. As we sped along the roads as sleek as quicksilver, past imposing mansions and the ruffled blue of the bay, I noticed other drivers turning their heads to look at us, and one or two young women stared out brazenly through the glass at Peter Ruslen, as though inviting his interest. It is amazing what a bit of expensive moving metal can do for your mate value!
Electronic gates opened like magic and we drove down into an underground car park of Ruslen’s mansion, Palais Royale, where I could see a fleet of large, expensive cars, a generic white van, and one small Saab parked right at the end. June Roze had driven a Saab, but I couldn’t see the registration number from where I was. So as we stopped, I turned and said, ‘Can I take a look at your Corvette? I love Corvettes!’ I sounded like a brainless twit but it did the job, as he laughed and said, ‘please do’.
I quickly walked along the line of luxury cars, until I came to the Corvette; the Saab was parked right next to it. Yes! It had June Roze’s registration plate.
‘What a fabulous yellow!’ I lied, as I stared at the corvette, which screamed ‘look at me! ‘But that white van doesn’t really match, the rest does it?’ I added.
‘That van is mostly used for our charity work and is used by Liam, our boatswain and security man’.
Surreptitiously I tried to look over at the Saab. Through its window I could see what looked to be a huge advertising poster for swimwear. The lady posing on the front could have been June Roze, but there was another woman in the bottom, right hand corner…….was I hallucinating, or did she look like Kristina Ruslen? The words appearing on the poster, however, appeared to be in Greek, or was it Russian? I could make no guesses about what the poster was communicating. From the corner of my eye I could see Peter Ruslen advancing toward me, so I began gushing about the Corvette again, just rabbiting on about how sleek it was and how fast it must go. Absolute total drivel.
After this, we went up in a mirrored elevator, which reflected various versions of me back, adding to my discomfort. I followed Ruslen out into a carpeted hallway, and then, straight into a kind of sitting room, which was basically all beige and gold; I thought this must be the room where the Ruslen’s interviewed staff, as it reminded me of an upmarket doctor’s waiting room. It was very quiet and I felt sealed off from the outside world. We sat down and he picked up the phone and ordered some coffee. He didn’t ask me if I wanted tea or sugar; he didn’t offer me any choice at all. But so far, this was the first evidence of paternalism that I had seen from him, since we had met.
He was asking me about my family and I was filling him in with my bullshit story, when a maid, dressed in the full regalia entered the room after a timid knock. She had a frilled band in her black glossy hair, white frilly apron over a synthetic apricot dress and a skittish look about her, like a graceful, untamed horse. She placed a tray loaded with cakes and tiny sandwiches and a tall coffee pot upon the table, and then, quickly left. Peter Ruslen had his lecherous eye trained on her the whole time; like a sniper, on her attractive, youthful flesh. What a strange and confusing man he was!
While I munched on a couple of sandwiches: cucumber if you can believe it! Ruslen offered me a job as his personal assistant. He also mentioned how his money supplies had dried up. Then he stated telling me about his theories about women and how some were the ‘marrying kind’ and others, were more or less, ‘good-time girls’. He seemed to see me as the marrying kind….but not for him; all down to the obscure reason that I looked like his fiancé. It was all very confusing and I wished Liz was here, with her kindness and knowledge.
But as he talked, I was racking my brain about how I could get him to share some more personal and useful information, when my eyes alighted on a small painting of a harbour, surrounded by lots of small houses. ‘Oh what a lovely harbour’, I gushed. ‘Where is this place?’
‘This is the Russian port city of Vladivostok. My grandfather was born there, but the family fled to Shanghai China in 1922, when the Merkulov brothers, with whom my grandfather had business dealings, were deposed. Later my father, my real father, settled in New York.’
Ruslen reached into his pocket, which freaked me out for a moment, until I saw that he was holding a fine leather wallet. He opened it and removed what appeared to be a very odd looking bank note, printed all in one colour. ‘My grandfather gave this to me when I was young. This was the new currency given to him by the Merkulov brothers…….But my father, his brother and my grandfather never had the opportunity………He and the other anti-Communists had to flee to Shanghai.’
I watched Peter Ruslen struggle with his emotions, so oddly inarticulate.
‘It must have been very hard for your family to survive in China in the early 1920s’, I said, with what I hoped sounded like sympathy.
He was silent for a moment. ‘It was very difficult. Some were able to set up restaurants in the district known as Little Russia, which my grandfather did. But there were too many other such restaurants and he did not prosper’. Ruslen grew silent again and I was afraid that he would not continue. Finally he said, ‘my grandmother, who was still young, was forced to work as a taxi dancer….a paid dance partner, when her music teaching work dried up……………’. He looked angry as he said this and for a moment I felt scared. I also thought that he was not telling me the complete truth about his grandmother….and other things.
The door was flung open, and his mother, Kristina Ruslen, advanced like a tornado toward us. ‘Excuse me’ she said somewhat sarcastically. In the harsh light coming from the window, I noticed that her face was pulled so tight by a face lift, that she looked like wax work. ‘Peter, I hear that there is another housemaid that needs to be dealt with, by you.’ She pointed her icy, painted talon at his chest, like a weapon.
Peter Ruslen flushed slightly, and nodded, and was gone, leaving me with the old dragon.
La mare glared at me for a while, making me feel like I was a dirty, old, bag lady, with an enormous pimple on my nose, while her sickly, floral perfume gassed me slowly.
‘Ah, you are the young gal who has been enquiring all about town about my son and his……many paramours.’ She hissed in that ridiculous, whip-like, cut-glass accent. My heart stopped and seemed to fall like a rock; but then, I realised that she just thought I was a silly, love-struck girl. She obviously thought my enquiries around the place were aimed at capturing her heart-throb son.
This was good, but it also made me feel sad that we women often seemed to be so often at cross purposes; spending so much time and effort fighting each other and underestimating and distaining each other, in order to fight for what power we could get. In reality, in the whole scheme of things, we often had so little power and autonomy compared to men.
‘He is engaged, I will have you know; to his cousin, a most suitable gal, who also happens to be in business with me’.
I was beginning to get sick of her fake accent, and her upper class dame act, but I thought it prudent to remain quiet.
‘Also, I would not accept this job he is offering you. He has perhaps taken rather a shine to you…. just now, but it will not last, and then, he will want to be rid of you…….Which may not be pretty’.
‘That sounds like a threat’, I said, incensed now.
‘You may choose to interpret it that way’, she smiled, showing lots of pointed, perfect teeth, of an unnatural, artic white.
And with a swish of her designer skirt, she swept from the room, and as the aroma of her perfume, and the disturbance of her presence faded away, I began to breathe more easily.
Monday 21th November, 1988
Harry de Groot
Nodding at the Sarg, I headed to a small room on the third floor where we keep a collection of clothing for covert operations. I selected a blue overall, a carpentry belt, hardhat and a toolbox with a concealed camera and recording equipment, as my mobile phone didn’t have a roving bug.
Soon I was out on the highway and heading toward Rose Bay. I still didn’t have my usual car back from the de-snakers, so I had to use whatever car was available; which meant that, I was at the wheel of a Holden Camira, a lemon-of-a-car, which rattled and squeaked, with a transmission which was inclined to grind, and a steering which meandered about more than a bit. This car was going to stand out like dog’s balls, when I got to the marina.
I easily managed to find a park, as the day was blowy and the water choppy: not the best day for boat travel. I grabbed the small, tool box and headed out into the eye-watering wind toward, ‘Ad Astra’, the Ruslen yacht. But how one earth was I to get on there? The Sarg could have shared a few ideas with me, at least.
I hoped nobody was watching me, as I stood loitering about and staring at the white grandeur of the yacht in front of me.
‘Hey mate you here to fix the little problem with the interior woodwork’. A man with a deep voice and very bushy, red beard, yelled out, as he suddenly emerged like a nightmare, on the deck above me.
‘Not fix mate’, I yelled back, as the wind tried to steal my words. ‘I’m just here to measure and work out what materials will be needed…..it’s a tricky business matching up the right materials.’ I was ad-libbing, just pulling words out of my arse, and hoping that I was not overdoing it, as I had no idea what problem the yacht had with its interior woodwork; and my handy man skills were basic, at the very least.
‘Good-o, I’ll put the gangway down for you, in just a tick’
I waited, with the wind buffeting me with rolling punches; but soon enough, I was lumbering up some steep stairs and standing on the polished wooden deck of Ruslen’s luxury yacht.
‘Follow me mate and I’ll let you into the guest cabin, where all the drama went down’.
‘I don’t know the details on the drama mate’, I said casually, as I followed the bloke, who didn’t tell me his name, down some stairs and along a fairly wide corridor.
He turned around and lifted one eyebrow and gave a barking laugh, something like you would expect from a seal. ‘The young heir’, he said this in a way that was dripping with sarcasm, ‘found out that his woman likes the ….er……company of other woman….so to speak’.
‘Not one of his other women?’ I said, wiggling my eyebrows suggestively.
‘Too right! I couldn’t blame the fiancé, though. Tabra was a really good sort……And I mean ‘was’. Nobody has seen her since the night when The Heir caught them together in this room’. He pushed the door of the cabin open, and I looked in, and saw a great rough hole in the polished timber wall of the cabin.
‘We get paid really well to be quiet about what goes on with this lot, but sometimes, I swear, I am tempted to squeal to the cops and blow this whole caper apart.’ He said this, as he stood blocking the doorway, looking very troubled.
He walked in, and I followed, and he continued to stare strangely at the wrecked cabin wall; suddenly, his face took on an even more troubled and disturbed cast, and he muttered, ‘If I had known about this stuff, I would never have taken this job…..I didn’t ask for it…I only wanted to make him proud….my.. dad that is…..though it was too late for that’.
I really didn’t know what this bloke was talking about, but as he began to talk, I managed to press the record button on the tool box; I also thought I better try to look like I knew what I was doing; so I took a tape measure from one of my many pockets and a note book from the fake top section of my tool box, and as the verbal diarrhea flowed, I pretended to measure and make notes about the repair of the timber panel.
‘Me, I’m new to this security guard business, and already, I want to get out of it. Not only because it’s a damned lonely sort of life, which makes you start talking to yourself, but because……well, in this job anyway, your conscience gets confused, like you don’t know what’s right and wrong after a while.’ He said this, with his frown growing deeper and his eyes looking kind of dead.
‘So what do you reckon happened to young Tabra?’ I said, casually, as if I knew all the players in the drama, intimately.
He didn’t say anything for a long stretched out moment, and then, he said simply. I heard that she was ‘tied to an anchor and thrown overboard, out at sea’.
At these words, I felt an ice-cold sliver, trickle down my spine, and I thought about Dana who was inside the Ruslen house at this moment.
‘What about the fiancé?’ I muttered, as I scribbled in my note book again.
‘I watched her as she walked onto the yacht that day and I watched her when the old girl -his mother, came and took her away in a wheelchair. I don’t know the details…The Heir though… it was him. Mrs Ruslen and June Roze….the fiancé, are relatives, you know, and in business together….those people always stick together’. He pronounced bitterly.
‘You seem to know more than me’, I said, with a dry laugh, which sounded nervous to my own ears.
‘Yeah, well, I don’t have much to do most of the time, except talk when I get the chance,’ he remarked darkly.
He was silent for a minute or two and I thought that he looked a bit disoriented, like he wasn’t sure why he was here.
‘Of course, there’s a whole crew who collect the scoby snacks from labs around Asia occasionally. And they used to slip the heir’s fiancé into and out of the country….sometimes, just collecting swimwear. I had it from one bloke that the fiancé had been mixed up with some mafia types, and so, she was trying to stay off the radar. That’s what I was told…….Philip…I mean Mr Ruslen, he didn’t know about any of this dirty stuff, I mean…….I didn’t know either and I want to get out of it….but I’m scared…..not only for my life….’ He trailed off, lost in thought.
I couldn’t really stretch this measuring and writing notes out any longer, so I put my notebook away, but I thought that I would just throw in one more question. ‘I don’t understand the motivation behind this swimwear company’, I remarked, as casually as I could.
‘Ah, well, the captain of this here yacht says that, the Ruslen’s believe that the Soviet Union is about to fall. They want to be ready to move into that massive market with a legitimate front business. That is swim wear. Supposedly, the old girl…..Mrs Ruslen, that is, was a famous athlete once and she thinks that she can use her niece’s beauty, combine it with her connections and reputation, and they can expand their empire, taking advantage of the chaos, the criminals and the new rich people, who are bound to rise out of the ashes of fallen empire.’
‘Crikey!’ I exclaimed. ‘All I want from life is my own joint, a bit of love, and a secure job; this lot seems to be intent on worldwide domination. Anyway, look, I’ve got the measurements and info I needed, so I’ll be off.’
The red bearded man didn’t say anything for a moment, he just moved back into blocking the doorway and looking a bit crazed. I was waiting, just looking at the big fella and noticing that his clothing was a bit unkempt and in disarray. I felt my heart speed up, and I began to feel paranoid, and I began to wonder if he was on drugs, or if he was suddenly suspicious of me, and my motivations. Maybe he was going to challenge me and he was one big bloke.
Slowly he turned toward me, and said, in a slow motion, drawling way, ‘Sorry mate if I spooked you; it’s just that I’ve been spending days and nights alone on this boat and it’s getting to me. I can’t even leave for long because someone has to be here all the time……I’ve been eating cereal for every meal and I don’t even bother to shut the bathroom door anymore…… it’s too quiet…….I need to hear the TV and I smoke too much dope. I think I’m going loony tunes’. He said this as he pulled at his red beard in a strange manner; he didn’t move from his place in front of the door, though.
Doing a bit of fast thinking, I said ‘Why don’t you look for another job?…Look, I could ask around a bit ’, I added, as he still hadn’t budged.
‘You’re not serious! With all the stuff that I know about these people…I’d soon find myself wearing concrete shoes down at the bottom of the ocean, or shot by Mrs Ruslen herself……like she did to her son-in-law, Gary’.
‘What? How was Gary Nobbs her son-in-law?’ I spluttered.
‘Sofia Nobbs, Gary’s wife, is Mrs Ruslen’s daughter . Everybody knows this. She got pregnant with her not long after landing in America, to some Shanghai-Russian, mafia bloke. They got married when little Sofia was about a year old, and soon enough, Mrs Ruslen was pregnant again, with Peter. But the mafia man was gunned down and not long after this, she meets Phillip Ruslen; Sofia, for some reason had to stay out of the way. Mrs Ruslen managed to smuggle in her son Peter, though. I don’t know who brought Sofia up, but she’s a sharp-witted one, that one. And devious.’
‘Betcha Gaza didn’t know what he was getting himself into’, I said, as though scandalised, by the deception.
‘Me too, mate. Me too. But he was pussy struck, and then, it was too late’.
Red Beard looked so mournful and down-in-the-mouth that I was beginning to feel sorry for him. Then he jumped, kind of like a cat on hot cement. ‘What’s that noise’, he said, as his eyes rolled madly like a fearful horse, showing only the whites.
I stood very still and listened, but down here I couldn’t even hear the sound of the maverick wind out on the bay. All I could hear were various creaks and groans of the yacht, making it feel like we were inside a live thing. But I could hear nothing else.’
Then with great anguish, he said, ‘It’s that voice again, saying that I’m stupid and evil and worthless’. He started to cry, tears leaked from his eyes and he bent over and kind of hugged himself. He grabbed his head and started to press it hard, hurting himself. ‘Stop talking, stop talking, he cried’.
‘They are telling me you have to die’, he cried in anguish. And then, I really did feel genuinely sorry for this man in pain, just before his hand hit me, and for a brief moment, until darkness hit, I felt sorry for me, also.
Monday 21th November, 1988
I seemed to wait a long time for Peter Ruslen to return, but there was no clock on the wall and I had no watch, so I was clueless about how much time had actually passed. I sat on that slippery beige chair and my mind began to wander along roads to the past, and seek out the minefield of sadness and regret. I thought about my mother who had died after becoming an alcoholic and ruining her liver, and I felt empty; hollowed out --an imposter.
My mother had been removed from her family. She was about eight years old when the authorities took her from her mother, a half Aboriginal woman who I never met. My grandmother. My mum was sent to the Parramatta Girl’s Homes, where she experienced a deep and visceral pain and cried every day for one week, longing for her mother and former life. Soon, she learnt never to cry again.
I remembered once when my mother was standing cooking at our old, clapped-out, gas stove, and she mumbled to me these words:
‘I was dragged out of one reality into a different reality, which I didn’t want to be in. And ever after that, I always saw myself as being like a penguin in the desert, which could never get back to its melting home’.
It was an odd thing to say to a young child. Me. As I couldn’t possibly understand the meaning of those words back then. But the words stayed with me, haunting me, until I really understood them.
But what my mother really learnt was that vindictiveness and savagery existed on a previously unimagined scale. She and her other helpless inmates soon became adept at cleaning wooden floors, with a tooth brush; only to watch as they were immediately soiled, so that they could be cleaned again. It was a pointless, revengeful environment of fear and loathing. There was no education and my mother came out the other end damaged and functionally illiterate. All she had learnt was that those in charge were malevolent and ready to punish those who did not come from the ‘right places’, with abandon.
I never knew my father, but he passed on his genes to me in such a way that nobody looking at me ever thought that I came from a long and noble line of Aboriginal women, who had inhabited this land for many thousands of years. And those few times that I had told others of my Indigenous ancestry, I had been told, ‘you don’t look like one’, or, ‘you’re not black’. And so, I remained quiet, and I blended in, while my poor mum suffered and bore the shame and the punishment that often comes to those who ‘look wrong’; may believe in different gods --or even, no gods at all.
I don’t believe in any religion, or accept any dogma, other than, ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’. But when I really think about it, I often wish that there was really was some guiding goodness, somewhere in this world.
My mum loved me, her blue eyed child. She told me matter-of-factly that the crow was my totem animal, and that, I should honour its ancient knowledge and its magic. Mum couldn’t remember much that was passed on to her from her mother, but what she did recall, she held close.
However, what really sustained mum was the idea that one day she would be able to go home and find her mother, and her people. And by doing hard yakka as a cleaner, she was able to save up enough money for us to take this trip when I was five years old and she was twenty three.
In the old car we drove for a night and a day, only to stop with great frequency to fill up the leaking radiator. But when we got there, to that hoped for place, we found only signs and fences for a great big open cut mine. And nobody could tell mum where her people had gone. Mum was never the same after that.
And thinking of all this, I found that I didn’t have any tears left either. But I had been in this room so long that I could see that night was closing in; Peter Ruslen had not retuned and I needed to go home…That is, return to the grungy Bondi flat. I stood up and yawned and stretched and shook myself, trying to shake off all the sadness that had run through my veins. I needed to return to the present and regain my wits.
I had to stay away from the lands of the past, but it was hard, because that is where memories of my mother lived. But, visiting this place too often, I knew, could eat away at my future.
I picked up my handbag which contained the mobile telephone with the roving bug and silently, sinking into the plush carpet, I padded out of that room, closing the door softly behind me. I was alone in the long hallway, wondering which way I should go. I thought that perhaps I should try to find Peter Ruslen. But then I thought, maybe, I should just get out of this prison and catch a bus back to Bondi. I must have been standing there for a few minutes, when the maid who had served the tea emerged from the elevator at the end of the hall and I watched as she walked toward me.
‘Excuse me’, I said, ‘Mr Ruslen did not return…..could you tell me where I could find him’.
The young girl stared at me blankly, and then averted her eyes and said mechanically, ‘Mr Ruslen is sleeping presently………You can find him on the next floor down in the red room….The third door on the left. Thank you.’
I was soon zooming down in the lift and walking out into an almost identical hallway, of thick beige carpet, and mirrored walls, which gave me a feeling of vertigo and unreality, as I looked at the refracted, Picasso-like images of myself. Long, hanging, modern chandeliers, which resembled seaweed, hung low from the ceiling and various sculptures of giant, glass spiders sat on a metal pedestals, as I passed.
I came to the third door, which was slightly open. I pushed it slowly and looked into a darkened bedroom. As my eyes slowly adjusted, I became aware that the prone figure of Peter Ruslen was stretched out on a scarlet quilt, on top of a huge, silver, sleigh bed. He was snoring really loudly and strangely. Gradually, I noted that the room looked like it had been trashed; a dressing table and its contents appeared to have been thrown to the floor, and a chair and various photos lay smashed upon the ubiquitous beige carpet. I walked in a bit further and noted that an almost empty bottle of whisky lay on its side, draining its remaining contents into the carpet….And then; I saw a packet of pills, the silver, foil packaging, almost empty.
I tried to rouse Peter Ruslen by tapping his face, to no avail. I went into the ensuite bathroom and carried some water from the tap, cupped in my hands, and dumped it on his face. There was no response. He needed an ambulance.
I pulled the mobile phone out of my handbag but there appeared to be no reception here; I threw the bag to the floor, and rushed out of the room, and looked wildly about. Where on earth would I find Mrs Ruslen, a staff member, or a working telephone in this great mausoleum? I decided to try to get to the kitchens, so I went back to the lift and down I went to the basement and retraced the steps I had walked with Peter Ruslen so recently. I came to the set of double doors leading to the ballroom, only to find they were locked. I banged and smashed my hands upon them, and made as much noise as I could, but no one came.
So back I went. I travelled in the lift, one floor up. This was the floor where Mrs Ruslen had come out of a room, occupied by the disabled, Phillip Ruslen, and the woman who may have been June Roze. I sprang from the lift and saw the art work of the stainless steel, cartoon rabbit. I was in the right place. Calling out, ‘Mrs Ruslen, your son is in danger’, I began bashing my fist at what I believed was the door from which she had appeared, on Saturday night.
Monday 21th November, 1988
All around me it was dark, when I became aware of myself again. But unfortunately, at the same time, I also became aware of a pounding pain in my head, as my eyes registered the hulking frame of red beard, pacing about the room. He was muttering to himself, ‘you shouldn’t have come here’, over and over again.
I was pondering what my next move should be, when I heard a telephone ringing, seemingly from this room. To my amazement, Red Beard took a Telecom Walkabout mobile phone out of his coat pocket and sounding quite sensible said, ‘hello’. He listened attentively and nodded his head and then put the phone away. He looked almost happy.
Bending over me Red Beard tried to pull me to my feet, but I pretended to still be unconscious. ‘I didn’t want to hurt you’, he said, with a touching note of anguish. ‘But sometimes, I get confused and my head feels like it’s about to explode……and those voices are telling me bad things…..I didn’t want to hurt you’.
I believed him. It came to me that this man was being psychologically tortured by the Ruslen’s. He had only wanted a job but he had suddenly found himself mired in murder and dirty business and then, he was left with his conscience, in isolation, for days on end. It was sending him mad.
I stopped the pretence and said ‘I’ll be going now mate’. He nodded at me sadly and stated ‘I’ve got to get everything ready. We might have to leave in a hurry….Orders from Mrs Ruslen.’
I was surprised to hear this, and I was also torn between wanting to get off that yacht as fast as I could, and wanting to pump Red Beard, for more information.
I picked up my tool box and began to walk toward the doorway, which was now clear.
‘They’ll be here soon to load up, so you better go’.
‘Load up what?’ I asked, one foot out the door.
‘The money. Mrs Ruslen seems to think that everything is coming down around her ears. That was the Captain on the phone, he tells me things’, he said proudly.
I ran out of that yacht and down those rickety stairs, which wasn’t a real easy business, when you’re feeling concussed. I made it back to my car, and whipped out the brick-like telephone to report to headquarters. When I blurted my news to The Sarg, he said, ‘we know and we’re on it’. And as I sat there with fluttering ivory moths floating about in front of the windscreen, in the yellow light of a streetlamp, I realised that whatever had happened at Dana’s end, had already informed our lot, what was going on. But what had happened there? And was Dana Ok?
The night of Monday 21th November, 1988
I almost fell into the room as the door flew open. I was greeted by the sight of Kristina Ruslen, wearing lycra, exercise gear, and sweating profusely. In the background, I could hear a Jane Fonda exercise video playing.
‘What do you mean by this intrusion, girl?’ she hissed, looking like a snake wearing a wig.
I blurted out, ‘you need to call an ambulance……I think Peter has overdosed. There is an empty bottle of whiskey and some pills next to him and he is snoring really loudly…..I couldn’t rouse him. I tried’.
She didn’t move, but I could see in her eyes that she was calculating and weighing things up. Then she grumbled, ‘very well’, and shut the door in my face.
I stood there in a kind of shock, wondering what I should do next. Should I go back and see how Peter Ruslen was faring? Or, should I thump on the door and try to barge in and see if June Roze really was in that room?
Whilst I was deciding, I walked further down the windowless corridor and entered the piano bar kind-of-room, where Liz and Effie had been the other night; those two women from the ladies toilets at Julianna’s.
I switched on the light and walked a little way into the room; it was silent and empty and somehow forbidding. I looked about and thought that I would not want to spend too much time lounging about in here, as there was a sterile coldness and lack a personality about the place. But there was no one here; I had thought that I might find Liz or Effie here, but no, the room was quiet and empty.
A slamming door broke the silence and I quickly walked to the door and stuck my head out; I could see Kristina Ruslen walking quickly down the hallway, with her back to me, toward the lift.
Quickly ducking back into the room, I pushed the door so that it was almost closed, and then, I waited. After a few minutes in that cold and lifeless room, I crept out the door and nipped along the hallway. When I came to the room that Mrs Ruslen had just left, I turned the handle and found that the door was open, and in I went.
I felt like I had stepped into another world. There was no kitsch decoration here; it was grand and gracious with wonderful paintings of pastoral scenes and of idealised people dressed in old fashioned clothes, set in scenes of myth. Soft polished timbers glowed, set amongst tapestries and velvets and everything looked old, but well cared for and treasured. And then, I noticed the thin, skeletal frame of Philip Ruslen, propped up in a hospital bed; a piece of furniture which jarred with the elegant room. His eyes were open, but there was a lack of expression; an emptiness. He was a shell of a man with a 1,000 yard stare.
‘Who are you’, barked a brittle voice to my right, and as my head rocketed in that direction, I saw a short, but wide woman, in a nurse’s uniform, bending over the prostrate form of June Roze.
‘…..I was looking for Mrs Ruslen’, I stuttered. ‘Did she call the ambulance for her son?’
I looked from the toad-like face of the nurse, with her eyes narrowed to slits, trained upon me and then to June Roze, whose eyes were also fixed upon me, with awareness; her arm reaching out to touch my arm.
‘What is the matter with her?’ I asked.
‘She’s is in a minimally conscious state’ the nurse replied curtly, dropping her eyes and then looking toward the door.
‘How did it happen? I persisted.
The nurse’s eyes seemed to drill right through me and she did not answer.
I didn’t give up, but asked, ‘is Mr Ruslen also in a minimally conscious state?’
‘No’, she barked, ‘he is in a persistent vegetative state…..he has little brain function’. As she said this, her face softened and I could see that the nurse was not an unkind woman; she simply had a tough and tiring job to do, caring for two profoundly disabled people.
‘Can they get better?’ I persisted with my questioning.
The nurse looked over to Mr Ruslen and her eyes expressed sadness, but she did not speak. She merely shuffled about checking the comfort of her two patients. June Roze, however, was still looking intently at me and reaching out as though to attract my attention. Her mouth was moving as if she wanted to speak….Then she said the word ‘cat’ a number of times, with a question mark at the end. She is wondering about the welfare of those poor forgotten cats, in her flat, I thought. And I was overcome with a terrible feeling of wretchedness, as I thought of those poor, dead animals.
The door flew open. Kristina Ruslen had returned. ‘What are you doing in here?’ she shrilled at me after she turned around from fiddling with the door. I noticed that her posh accent had slipped, with her surprise, and she sounded more Russian.
I opened my mouth to say something, any excuse that popped into my head, but she had already dismissed me from her thoughts. So instead, I called after her as she strode purposely across the room, ‘has the ambulance arrived? Is Peter OK?’
Kristina Ruslen stopped mid stride and walked back toward me. ‘No my dear, he is not OK. He has stopped breathing, the stupid fool’.
She smiled as I recoiled from her, shocked as I was by her callous words; I had imagined that she loved her son, as he loved her.
‘These fools have destroyed everything’, she said, annunciating her words very clearly and looking me right in the eye. But I have planned. I knew this day was coming’.
‘What do you mean? …….where is the telephone?…..The ambulance must be notified’, I cried.
‘No I don’t think so. I am leaving here today and I will not be returning. Everything is mortgaged to the hilt, but we have been putting on a good show, don’t you think?’
I simply bit my lip and shook my head. Then I said in puzzlement, as I looked about, ‘this place must be worth an absolute fortune, surely……’
‘You don’t understand. My husband here’, she flicked her long, red painted fingers toward the incapacitated Philip Ruslen, ‘was more interested in giving his money away than ensuring the future of his family. This house, impressive as it is….. which I designed and put my heart and soul into….except this atrocious room….this was his hidey hole’, she said, curling her lip with distain. ‘This place is only mine to live in while my husband lives. The fool has left it to a homeless charity. He arranged his money so long ago, before he even met me. Can you imagine, a load of dirty homeless people living here? It’s outrageous!’ She looked truly ugly as she said this.
‘Also, he has children, of his own blood.’ Kristen Ruslen said sneeringly. ‘He gave up that foxy haired servant for me……He did go back to her, some years later’, she added. ‘He couldn’t help himself, he said, because she was so sweet; if you can believe it! But later I had her taken care of.’ She smiled a poisonous smile. ‘Those people were not stupid; they knew what I was about. The brats had their names changed and they disappeared with their family into the stews of the western suburbs. He didn’t acknowledge them, so I wasn’t worried. I only found out recently that he had put money away for their future and he had plans for them’.
I glanced over at the still living body of Philip Ruslen and I thought how a person’s life can be impacted by the people whose path they cross. Imagine if Philip Ruslen had got involved with an equally charitable person, instead of this psychopath. Imagine the good they could have wrought in the world.. …..Although, he had treated the other women, the mother of his biological children, pretty shabbily, I had to admit. And Kristina Ruslen had revealed that this other woman did not have a bad nature. Hell! people are complicated.
‘How was your husband injured?….I heard that he had a polo accident’, I said, as she turned around to walk away.
She whipped around and laughed. ‘Well, he was hurt on the polo field. I struck him in the carotid artery. Though, I blamed the horse, of course. Those hooves can be very dangerous.’ She laughed, as though very pleased with herself. ‘I thought he might die, but he hung around to haunt me’. But it was better that he lived, as I have been able to live here and have access to his money. I should mention that we never actually married, as I was already married and pregnant when we met. I simply changed my name by deed poll. A clever trick. No?’
I was very surprised by these revelations but I simply said, ‘I thought you said that you were ruined?’
‘Yes well, my son was a fool. I had to keep digging him out of trouble; he wouldn’t stay away from the women who were supposed to work for him. Then, when I find him a wife, my own niece, in fact, he attacks her because she liked the seedy side of life as much as he did.’
‘I heard that she fancied women, actually’, I added boldly.
‘That was the least of it, my dear’, she hissed acidly. And I thought about Lee Lin’s lost shoe in the basement of the abandoned orphanage and what Harry had told me of the chair, with straps, and the doll swinging from the beam. I shuddered.
‘But weren’t you in business together, selling swimwear’. I pushed.
‘My son really told you too much, but yes, we were. However, the swimwear was only a cover for certain drug imports. I let her imagine that she was the great designer and model’ she said, pointing a scarlet nail at the helpless, June Roze. ‘But, in reality, while it looked like I was helping my brother’s daughter, I was really helping my useless son to make his own fortune. I took care of cleaning the money though. That is a complicated business and it requires brains.’
I wanted to ask the suddenly chatty Kristina Ruslen about her connection with Tabra Hayden and the Cosmos restaurant and brothel at Bondi beach, but I sensed that doing that would be pushing things too far. However, it occurred to me that Kristina Ruslen’s first husband’s, Shanghai Russian connections, may provide an explanation.
The nurse, who had been standing in a darkened part of the room, carrying a towel, which she must have collected from a cupboard, looked like she was frozen to the spot. I’m sure that she had never, in all her life heard such a conversation and such cold-blooded and reprehensible talk from an employer. She dropped the towel on the floor and said from the shadows ‘That’s evil, what you’ve done. I’m leaving here and I’m going to the police.’
Kristina Ruslen laughed; a happy tinkling sound, and said, ‘I don’t think so. You won’t get off this floor, as it has been locked down, and unfortunately, there is a small fire in nurse’s little kitchen’ she added, looking at me, and flicking her red tipped talons at nearby door. ‘It is right at this moment, burning toward you.’ She turned her body toward the nurse and said spitefully, shaking her finger mockingly, ‘It is very silly to put chips into the deep fryer, and then, allow the tea towel to get too close.’
The nurse looked like she could not move or talk, like her brain had temporarily shut down. Perhaps these events did not tally with her previous experience and beliefs about the world, or the people that she had met in her life, and so, she was floundering in a great existential roaring void.
I walked toward Kristina Ruslen, intending to fight her if need be, but she whipped out a pistol from the back of her exercise pants and pointed it at me.
‘I’ll’ be going now girls, toodle oo’.
‘But what about your son?’ I yelled after her, my voice sounding strange and separate to me.
‘His goose is cooked, my dear’, and she continued walking away toward a door on the other side of the room.
‘But won’t it look very suspicious when the police find you gone, your house burnt down, and your son dead?
‘This house is so designed that only this floor should burn. And, you my dear are very similar to me in your height and weight, but your body will be so charred beyond recognition that, your DNA, fingerprints and teeth will be unusable as evidence. However, when they find my son dead from an overdose, I am sure the police will assume that he caused the fire and then killed himself. Such things happen, you know’.
Her hand was on the door knob now, but her other hand was still pointing the pistol toward us. ‘Besides’, she said, ‘my yacht comes and goes all the time. My dear husbands here also arranged in his will that it must be used for charity purposes; this is well known down at the yacht club. Only this time, the yacht won’t return. It will appear to be lost at sea, and, as it is worth a few million, I am sure that I can quickly sell it. ‘
Then she was gone, and the door snapped shut, with a sound like a lid closing on a coffin.
In that vacuum of silence, I became aware of the smell of smoke and I how my breathing was becoming more difficult. The nurse began to cough. ‘Is there a phone around anywhere’, I wheezed in her direction.
Philip Ruslen was simply staring ahead vacantly, but June Roze looked like she was doing a slow motion dog paddle, as her mouth worked, trying to form words. The nurse pointed to the door, under which smoke was now curling. ‘The phone in in there….in the kitchen……the sound disturbed Mrs Ruslen’.
Running toward the door, she pulled it open, only to be met by a wall of flames. ‘Close it, close it’, I screeched, as we both almost collapsed with coughing and trying to breathe. But it was like she was frozen again, and so, I threw myself toward the door to close it, and then, got down on the floor, where there was less smoke. I started to move toward the other door at the end of the room, from which Kristina Ruslen had exited, only to find that it was very solid, and very locked.
There were no windows in this room, only three doors, as it was in the centre of the house. This had made it feel cozy before, but now it felt claustrophobic.
Pulling my shirt over my nose and scuttling along the floor like a rodent, I charged back across the room, braving the swirling smoke and grabbed a large bolster cushion from the lounge chair and placed it along the bottom of the door to the kitchen, in a feeble attempt to block the smoke from coming in. Then, I scrambled over to the door from which I had entered the room, from the corridor and pulled hard at the handle. It was locked.
‘It locks with a keypad’, gasped the nurse, between coughs. ‘……she’s probably changed the code. She does this frequently’, she continued.
Sure enough there was a square keypad on the door. My brain was ticking…….I recently had to open a keypad lock during another job and I recalled that there was a factory-default password that could be used, which would generally open a locked keypad. I racked my brain and then typed in ### 00000099#*. The door popped open. Thankfully, I drew fresh air into my tortured lungs.
Turning, I saw that the nurse had fallen onto her knees; she looked ready to pass out. The room was getting very hot, like a furnace.
I dashed back into the room where fire was licking around the door and smoke swarming from around the bolster cushion. I pulled the nurse to her feet and propelled her into the hallway, where she collapsed wheezing loudly. Then I returned and seeing a vase of flowers, I pulled the flowers out and poured the water onto one of the tapestries, which covered a nearby table and put this over my face. I stumbled over to Phillip Ruslin and pushed his hospital bed into the hallway and then dived back in for June Roze, who seemed to be unconscious. Throwing her over my shoulder, as best I could, I fled the room and slammed the door. And there we were, like a bedraggled bunch of refugees. But for the moment the air was clear.
I had to lay June Roze down on the carpet of the hallway, I had no other choice. She was breathing but her skin looked bluish despite her cherry, red blush from the room’s heat. But I had no real time to think about anything other than getting out of this expensive tomb.
Limping over to the lift, I pressed the button, but as expected, it was not working. Then like an inflating balloon in my mind, the memory bloomed of the cool room that I had entered with Peter Ruslen.
The door to the cool room that was disguised as a painting was at the other end of this hallway. It also occurred to me that it would be almost impossible to get the two invalids through that narrow door, and down the stairs, into the champagne storage room, near the kitchen. But we had to do it; we didn’t have time to scout out other options.
I explained to the nurse, who belatedly introduced herself as Beryl, about the hidden door at the end of the corridor, and she nodded slowly, but I don’t think that her brain was functioning properly yet. We moved Philip Ruslen over to one side, and then, we both helped to lift June Roze up next to him; soon we were rocketing down that long hallway.
Stopping in front of the very ugly painting, which consisted of brown and yellow splatters of paint, which reminded me very strongly of animal droppings, we stopped and I swung the painting open, but it was soon very obvious that the hospital bed wouldn’t get through the opening.
‘Look, I’ll go by myself and see if we can get outside from the lifts near the kitchen’, I said. I didn’t like to leave the nurse alone with two vulnerable and helpless people, but it would be quicker for me to go by myself first, and see if the lifts were working, or, if I could find a telephone to call the ambulance and the fire brigade. So off I zoomed through the cool room, with its boxes of vegetables and large cheese wheels on display and I clattered down the metal stairs into the smaller room which was packed with expensive champagne. If the Ruslen’s were ‘ruined’ financially, as Kristen Ruslen had said, then they had decided to go out in style, as there appeared to be no sign they were economising.
Dashing out the door, I came out near the kitchens, as I had done on Saturday night, when there had also been the threat of fire. That time though, had been a false alarm. I turned around and noted that the door to the champagne cool room was disguised as a silver papered panel in the wall, opposite the kitchen.
The kitchen was deserted. But perhaps these commercial kitchens were only used for parties and other occasions. I ran toward the lift and pressed the button, but it did not make a sound. Wildly I looked around and thought that surely, there must be some fire stairs somewhere?
I started to run up and down the hallway and it suddenly occurred to me that this house had a lot of hallways which were sealed off from any view of the outside world. It was though I was a rat running in a maze. I shuddered and remembered that time was running out, as the fire would be spreading. How fast I did not know.
I stopped for a moment to think what I should do. As the silence expanded, I became aware of crying, which seemed to be coming from behind another silver panel in the hallway, near the lift.
‘Hello!’ I yelled. The crying stopped. ‘Please help me’ I screamed. ‘There’s a fire’.
A silver panel in the wall right next to the lift flew open and a petite, red head popped her head out. ‘W…w…what’s the matter?’ she stuttered.
‘The house is on fire and there are three people who need to be saved back upstairs’ I pointed upwards. ‘Do you know if there are any fire stairs which can take us outside?’
‘Yes. I am sitting on the fire stairs’, she said, in her curiously low voice, as she wiped her eyes and pointed to the open panel in the wall. I then noticed a reflective silver sign, with the words, FIRE EXCAPE.
‘But first, we must go back for the others’, she said, straightening her spine and the pink apron of her uniform, at the same time.
So back through the first silver panel we went, into the champagne cool room, up the stairs and through the larger cool room. But as we were passing a large box of carrots, we found Beryl the nurse had somehow dragged Philip Ruslen and June Roze in there by herself; she had them propped them up on some large boxes, next to a wall. I was pleased to see that June Roze was looking better.
‘There was too much smoke’, she said simply. ‘I knew I had to get them in here, or we would die’.
Without a word, I hefted June Roze into my arms and carefully began to carry her down the rattling metal stairs. Beryl and the red headed teenager, without a word, each grabbed one end of Phillip Ruslen and followed.
We had to stop and rest many times, as we carried and pulled the invalids from the burning building. Eventually we came out into the cool night air and found the place swarming with police and fire engines.
After Philip Ruslen and June Roze were loaded into ambulances, I collapsed in a heap on the wet grass. It must have rained lightly sometime that evening. But before I hit the ground, I saw a stretcher carried past. I could tell it contained the body of Peter Ruslen, and then, for some strange reason, I wept.
The night of Monday 21th November, 1988
I wound down the window of my car and noticed that there was a slight chill in the night breeze, as though it had travelled from far away across the ocean. I got out of the car and walked for a moment, thinking about what I should do. Should I storm Ruslen’s place? That’s plain stupid, I decided….and not to mention pointless. Or, should I just wait around here and see what happens? The sound of my footsteps echoed loudly in my own ears, as a white van passed, cutting loudly through a large mass of water on the road. As the oily water sprayed me, I felt a surge of anger, but I could not see the driver, through the darkly tinted, side windows.
I stood watching the van as it turned into the car park of the yacht club and my heart began to beat a bit faster. Was this the yacht’s captain? Or perhaps, Kristina Ruslen, ready to make her escape?
I waited in the chilled breeze, shielded by overhanging bushes, in the dark shadows and watched, as a tall woman with a puff of blonde hair, which was moving like octopus tentacles, emerged from the van. A street light nearby lit up the scene, like she was on stage.
This woman, who was indeed Kristina Ruslen, was wearing exercise clothing and gloves, but I saw a glint of metal flash as she turned around and I believed that she had a gun tucked into the back of her lyra pants.
She briskly walked around to the back of the van, threw open the doors, and began to lug two bags from the back, which she hefted, one on each arm, and then, she began to walk in the direction of the Ruslen yacht.
Another car slashed past me and stopped with a screech of brakes, next to the white van. A young man in a uniform bounced from the door and began to look around. Seeing Kristina Ruslen with the heavy bags, heading toward the yacht, he pulled out a trolley from his car, and rushed to help her, and I watched as they walked quickly along the jetty and boarded the yacht.
Without really thinking about it, I dashed forward into the brightly lit car park and ran toward the van. I threw open the driver-side door and immediately saw that the car keys were not in the ignition. I swore out loud, feeling the adrenalin seeping through me.
I swore again and ripped open the plastic cover over the steering column. I quickly found the bundle of wires leading to the battery ignition, and starter motor, and located the red battery wire; I efficiently striped back the plastic. But holy hell! Which one was the bloody ignition wire? I stared down at a brown and yellow wire, trying hard to remember.
I looked up suddenly, and not far away, I could see Kristina Ruslen and the Captain, lit up by an overhead light, coming back down the stairs of the yacht, at a fast pace. I didn’t have the time to work these wires out, so I shoved them back into the steering column and rammed the cover back on.
I wondered what I should do. If I tried to make a run for it, I would stand out like dogs balls in the lighted car park; and if I jumped inside the van, Kristina Ruslen and the Captain, would likely see me straight away.
As they came closer, I crouched down, still unsure of the best line of action. Then I could hear their voices, loudly:
‘Yes Mrs Ruslen, we’ll have to let Liam go.’ The Captain said in his oily voice.
As they headed toward the back of the van, I almost unthinkingly, slipped underneath the van and lay flat on my back on the hard asphalt.
‘Liam will be able to keep that Tabra gal company at the bottom of the ocean’, Kristina Ruslen cooed, almost flirtingly. ‘And he can take the rap for the missing yacht’.
The fawning Captain laughed as though this was the greatest joke he’d ever heard, and added, ‘There are some insulin supplies on hand, which will do the job again. It’s traceless in 24 hours’, he added happily.
Gee, they sounded pleased with themselves. I heard the doors at the back of the van squeak open and the vehicle shake above me; then the sounds of more bags being removed and placed on the trolley. I began to debate with myself. Should I try and stop them by myself? I didn’t like my chances though, as Kristina Ruslen was a crack shot. I’d seen what she did to Keith the tiler.
The pair began to move away again and I remained where I was. Motionless. I was just lying there telling myself how gutless I was, when I became aware of a ranting voice, which sounded like it was coming from the wee folk. It’s official, I’m going crackers, I thought, as I slipped out from under the van. But then, I patted one of my many pockets and found the outline of the brick shaped, mobile phone. My brain clicked into action. I hadn’t hung up after talking to The Sarg.
I pulled the phone out and put it to my ear. The Sarg was roaring, ‘pick up the phone you bloody idiot’.
‘Hi Sarg’, I said, as casually as possible.
‘Look’, the Sarg shot out intensely, ‘that conversation is on tape and Kristina Ruslen is finished. Now we just have to stop her leaving the country. A squad is on its way…….that’s all I can tell you.’
‘No pressure’, I mumbled. But I knew what I had to do. But not how I was going to do it.
The night of Monday 21th November, 1988
The uniform boys herded me, Beryl and the young, red head, into a squad car, and pretty soon, we were bucketing out of the Ruslen compound, and heading back to HQ, to have our stories and brains picked over. I wasn’t real keen to share my part of the tale, seeing as I had somehow managed to develop some pretty soft feelings toward Peter Ruslen, who, let’s face it, was pretty much a criminal and a creep. I had also managed to misplace…..OK, lose, that bloody expensive mobile telephone along the way, and so, I wasn’t real enthusiastic about facing The Sarg.
I looked out the window as we roared along New South Head Road. None of us spoke. The car felt like a space craft, rocketing away from the Earth, as the police radio fizzed and twittered with reports and messages. Beryl simply stared ahead, as though looking through the gates of hell and the red headed, young woman, wept silently, enmeshed in her private sorrow.
After some minutes, I noticed that we were about to drive past the yacht club at Double Bay and with a sudden realisation, like I had crashed through the surface of the water after rising from somewhere very deep, I remembered Kristina Ruslen and her escape plans.
‘Stop!’ I screeched.
Perhaps thinking I was about to eject the contents of my stomach into his just cleaned car, the uniform bloke, ground to a halt, as I opened the door and pelted into the darkness and toward the swaying masts of the yachts, which glowed richly as they bounced in the inky waters of the bay.
I kept running, passing a white van and a small, Toyota Corolla, in the car park, and headed toward the herd of yachts. Mid stride I was, when I felt a hard body slam into me.
‘What the hell are you doing here’, hissed Harry, incredulously.
‘I could ask you the same thing’, I hissed back.
Then Harry was kissing me, there in the dark, with an icy breeze cutting around us.
Before long, I came up for air, with every part of my body buzzing, but damn it! We had a job to do.
‘We need to make a plan’, I stuttered.
Before Harry could even open his mouth to speak, I felt a rope go around us, and squeeze tight.
We had been lassoed.
‘I learnt to do that back in the United States,’ boasted Kristina Ruslen, to the man next to her, dressed in a white uniform, with some ridiculous looking gold epaulettes on his shoulders.
‘Excellent work, Madam!’ the sycophant brayed, as though Kristina Ruslen had just won a teddy bear at a fun fair. And with the silver barrel of a gun aimed at us, Kristina Ruslen put her hands all over us, found the mobile phone and tossed it into the water. Then, we were shepherded, like some ungainly giant spider, onto the nearby Ruslen yacht.
Harry was cursing, using some very colourful language, which in no way helped matters, as we were led down a mirror lined, spiral staircase, into the bowels of the yacht, and then, along a long windowless hallway. At the end, we came to a set of carpeted stairs, where Kristina Ruslen removed a small panel on the wall and pressed a lever downward. The stairway flipped upwards, to reveal a doorway into a feebly lit room. Harry and I were shoved inside, and left staring, as the staircase fell back into place.
‘Any ideas?’ Harry asked, as he raked his hand through his hair and paced the floor.
‘Not as such’, I answered, sounding like a hysterical member of Monty Python.
Harry and I began to examine the room, with hopes of escape, but as the room had no windows and was empty of furniture, there wasn’t much to examine, or much hope for that matter.
‘I suppose they’ll be back soon’, I said, hearing the quaver in my voice.
‘No doubt, they will……. But we’ll be ready for them’, Harry added. I could see that he was worried, though, and probably thinking that we would have to try and overpower Kristina Ruslen, and the Captain, even if they still had a gun.
Harry froze mid stride and turned around to face me. ‘You’ll be going back to your usual self, he said, as he looked me over and his hands pointed toward my peroxided hair and pushed up breasts.
‘No, I thought I’d keep the look’, I replied, teasing him. ‘I’ve been getting lots of male attention, for some reason’.
Harry made a noise deep in his throat and said ‘Well, that means that I’ll have to start pumping iron and getting a few ‘tats, so I can match you……And, I’ll have to start looking at myself in the mirror a lot more’.
I knew he was joking, but I also knew that he was saying that he didn’t feel that we meshed together, looking the way I did. I found this interesting and I mulled it over in my brain for a while; I even forgot to think about our present predicament.
We waited what seemed a long time, pacing about and trying to think of a plan, when I felt cooler air and a brighter light entering the room. And sure enough, I turned around to see the staircase doorway opening.
‘You may have realised that we are already heading out to sea’, Kristina Ruslen, purred in that fake accent of hers.
I looked at Harry and saw him grow pale. It was suddenly obvious from the roll and sway of the yacht that we were no longer in the more gentle harbour, but we had been so preoccupied, we had not registered the change.
‘Not such good news is it my dears’, she said, teasingly, enjoying herself. Neither of us responded, as a huge man with a red beard stepped in behind Kristina Ruslen.
‘Liam, please tie up these interlopers, whilst I prepare their insulin shots’.
‘Yes mam’, the red bearded man, called Liam, replied robotically, as he stepped forward, holding pieces of rope. Kristina Ruslen meanwhile, raised her right hand and aimed the silver metal of her gun at us.
What could we do but submit to being tied up by the red bearded Liam, who had hands like dinner plates. I was watching Harry, though, and I noticed that Liam and he were giving each other some very intense eye contact. Did they know each other?
Then, before I could even prepare myself, Kristina Ruslen seemed to pirouette toward Harry, with the syringe and plunged it into the back of his upper arm. I was next.
The night of Monday 21th November, 1988
I didn’t even have time to prepare myself for certain death before the syringe entered my arm. As it happened, I was trying to send silent messages to Liam, with my eyes, as I knew he remembered me, despite the confusion and anguish he had experienced only a few hours ago, when I was pretending to measure up the yacht’s cabin for repairs.
But it was strange; I still felt essentially the same after the old battle-axe speared me with the syringe. I closed my eyes, pretending to be asleep or unconscious, but actually, I didn’t feel any different than I had before the shot. Bloody strange that.
I heard Kristina Ruslen’s footsteps heading over toward Dana and I cracked an eye. Dana was looking at me, as the old dragon injected her with the insulin. I saw Dana’s body slump. I felt myself screaming inwardly, hoping that Dana was putting on an act, but I couldn’t be sure.
Kristina Ruslen gave Dana a swift kick, with her snakeskin gym shoe, and then said to Liam, ‘we’ll throw these pair overboard, when we get further out.’ Liam swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbling like a lifebuoy. He blinked and followed Kristina Ruslen out of the room.
As the stairs closed the room exit, I started to wiggle and worm my way over to Dana. She didn’t move. I felt my heart begin to speed up. I was very afraid that I had lost her. Then, I felt ashamed of myself, as I thought about how my last words to this wonderful and confusing woman had been about her clothes and the way she looked.
‘I should be shot’, I said aloud.
‘True’, was all Dana said, as she gave me a wink; then she sighed and moaned, ‘I’ve have had more fun in my life’.
‘Me too’, I returned. But my mind was wondering what might be coming next, if we couldn’t work out how to get out of this room and off this moving yacht.
We lay there trying to think of some way out of the situation, in which we found ourselves.
‘I wonder why the insulin didn’t work’, Dana mused. ‘We should be dead.’
The staircase door was opening again and Dana stared at me in horror. ‘If this is it, Harry, I want you to know that you were one of the best…….’
But it wasn’t Kristina Ruslen, and Liam, who entered the room; it was a middle aged woman dressed as a nurse, accompanied by a pretty, red headed, teenage girl. I heard Dana cry out ‘Beryl!’ and I realised that she must know, at least one of the pair. I hoped that this was a good thing.
The red headed girl crouched down, and immediately, began to untie, what looked to me to be very complicated knots, with apparent ease, and very soon we were free and able to hop about and get some blood and feeling back into our limbs.
‘We came after you, when you ran from the car’, Beryl the nurse said. ‘And we saw you being taken onto the yacht. We followed, but Janie and I hid out in the nurse’s station – the room that I usually inhabit when I would accompany Mr Ruslen on small trips…. when that she-devil wanted to demonstrate that her husband was still alive,’ Beryl finished bitterly.
Janie broke in. ‘We’d just got in the room when we heard footstep, and so, we ran into the bathroom and locked the door. But we were able to hear Mrs Ruslen, as she entered, telling the Captain that she was going to kill you both with insulin,’
Beryl took over the telling of the tale. ‘Luckily for you pair, the Captain was called away by Liam, the boatswain…… something about where to store the money, and Mrs Ruslen said she would go with him. So, I whipped out of the bathroom and opened the fridge and saw the bottles of insulin that I had placed in there only two weeks before. One bottle had already been opened, for Phillip Ruslen’s use, when I was last on the yacht. I had just emptied it, when Liam rushed back into the room and he saw me about to refill the bottle with water. He said that he had been going to do that himself and told me to, ‘Hurry’. Then I did the same with the other unopened bottle, as he rushed away.’
‘We got out of there toot suite, because I was pretty sure that I knew where you both were being held prisoner’, Janie piped up.
Instantly it hit me. ‘Would Liam happen to be your brother?’ I asked Janie. She nodded. ‘He got me the job with the Ruslen’s, though I wasn’t supposed to…yet…. He showed me this secret room….. and other stuff….’, she added looking about. ‘He’s a good bit older than me’, she added.
Dana gave Janie an unreadable look, and then said, ‘Come on, let’s get out of here. Dana then grabbed my arm, squeezing my upper arm muscle a bit, and flashing me a cheeky smile; she pulled me through the doorway, and then, we all began to travel along the rolling corridor and to tramp up the spiral staircase to the upper deck, holding the wall as the yacht plunged and rocked about. Nobody mentioned a plan.
‘I’ve only been on this yacht once’, Janie whispered as we neared the top of the staircase. ‘It was a few months ago before I stated my job with the Ruslen’s. Liam sneaked me on one day…… he used to get so lonely…..I was worried about him……he wouldn’t go to the doctor. Anyway, he told me something really amazing, which he wasn’t supposed to tell me…….’
‘Shhhh, be quiet’, Dana shrilled. ‘Look’, she said, pointing through the glass. As all of us swivelled our heads in unison and we could see, Kristina Ruslen, lying inside a glowing sun bed, in a white bikini.
‘No wonder she looks like she’s made of leather’, Janie gasped, saying what the rest of us had been thinking.
‘She obviously feels no pangs of conscience. She’s looking quite relaxed’, I added drily. And as Kristina Ruslen was facing away from us, there seemed to be little danger that she would see us, so we continued on our way, along the corridor, until we came to another set of stairs, where we suddenly stopped.
‘What the hell is that?’ squeaked Janie, as a pulsing, whirring, thundering noise grew louder and louder, as we climbed the stairs to the captain’s deck. Soon it felt as if we would be swallowed whole by its force. Then it stopped and silence opened like a chasm, as the yacht heaved and shuddered.
Pushing the others aside, I leapt up the stairs and pushed open the very official looking door, to see the captain seated in a large, tan chair, something like a dentist’s chair, surrounded by instrument panels and holding a metal steering wheel. His epaulettes joggled about and his mouth gaped open stupidly, stunned. Beyond him, through the curve of the windows, lit up by the blazing, light beams, was the roiling ocean, and beyond that lay an exquisite darkness.
‘There’s a chopper’, he said in an odd monotone.
There was a scream, which tore through the air. But before my feet could leave the floor, the captain was sailing toward me, with eyes blazing, holding something in his hand. As I crashed to the floor, with my eyes and throat burning, I knew that I had just copped a hit of chloroacetophenone; otherwise known as tear gas, right in the face.
The night of Monday 21th November, 1988
We’d been wrong about one thing: Kristina Ruslen had seen us as we passed the room where she had been lying in the sun bed. And now, here she was, with her claws around Janie’s neck and pointing a gun at her head. Beryl had screamed, as Kristina Ruslen came upon us, but now, she was staring at her former employer, as though at the Devil himself.
‘Well, well, well. You have been clever, Mrs Powter. I really underestimated you’, Kristina Ruslen pronounced mockingly.
‘You’re evil, you are’, Beryl whispered, barely getting her words out.
‘You don’t understand, Mrs Powter, I will repent and I shall receive absolution’, Kristina Ruslen responded firmly.
‘What about love thy neighbour, and treating others as you would wish to be treated’, I heard myself say. Even though I wasn’t religious, these two ideas helped to guide my adult life.
‘I have God on my side’, Kristina Ruslen replied irritably, as though this should be perfectly obvious.
Nobody responded, as her level of delusion was made obvious.
I looked at Janie, so small, helpless and young, next to Kristina Ruslen; at her soft, red hair and her green eyes, wide with fear. I couldn’t let her die. But what could I do. I needed a plan…….And where the hell was Harry? I noticed Kristina Ruslen get a tighter grip on Janie, but I didn’t notice Liam come through the doorway, until he was standing towering over his employer, with a face sparking with threat and anger.
‘Put the gun away’, Liam snarled.
‘I don’t think so laddie’, came the condescending reply.
Then in a blur of movement, Janie hooked her foot around Kristina Ruslen’s ankle, causing Kristina Ruslen to stumble, and then……..there was silence and a strange whirring crash as we all fell like a bunch of grapes and hit the wall of the corridor, opposite the stairs. I could feel the cold metal of the gun under my back and the bony body of, Kristina Ruslen, half under me. Beryl lifted herself off my crushed legs and was scrabbling about looking for the gun, but Janie looked dazed, like a broken rag doll.
The Yacht seemed to have turned and it was pitching and rolling, as I tried to flip over and get hold of the gun. But, oh no! that silly looking captain with the giant epaulettes had half fallen down the stairs to join the fray and I felt his elbow connect with my jaw and my teeth shudder. Momentarily I was pleased with myself, though, as I reflexively spat blood into his stunned, clownish face.
Liam dove in, and almost effortlessly, pushed his sister to safety and grabbed the gun. I breathed a sigh of relief, too soon, as Kristina Ruslen performed some type of acrobatic manoeuvre and made a grab for the gun.
My head swivelled to the right, as two men came barrelling toward us, decked out in police riot gear. One took aim at Kristina Ruslen and I heard the roar of a gunshot, which whirred past Liam’s head and entered the wood work, as Kristina Ruslen effortlessly danced away.
As the yacht heaved and rolled I felt time stand still. My brain seemed to move in slow motion, my body felt drained of life. My mind a virtual blank. Then, I watched as a door opened and a willowy, strawberry blonde seemed to float toward us, as though joining an act of a play.
‘Liz’, I cried out, ‘what are you doing here?’ But she did not answer me, she merely made her way toward Liam and Janie and gathered them into her arms and closed her eyes. So that suspicion that had hung, half formed at the back of my mind, was confirmed: Janie, Liam and Liz, were siblings, and also, Philip Ruslen’s biological children.
‘You made your son what he was’ Mrs Ruslen, Liz hissed, as she turned her head, opened her jewel green eyes, her face drained of her usual calm beauty.
‘How so, my dear’, replied Kristina Ruslen, tranquilly, as she stood dressed in a white tracksuit as white as her hair.
‘You filled his mind with great stories of his family’s past and of the wrongs done to them. You did not tell him that his real father’s family, who you always painted as great nobles, who hailed from Vladivostok, had deep roots in crime. You let him think that his grandmother, your mother-in-law, had been ruined, that she was an innocent. You warped his notions of parental love. You made your criminal husband, an object of your competition, adoration, jealousy and anger. You passed this legacy along to your child. You sowed the seeds of his narcissism……And, you used, Philip Ruslen, our father, for your own ends.’
Kristina Ruslen seemed to think about these words for a moment, and then, efficiently thrust the gun which she was again holding, into the air and shot Janie. I saw Janie spring backwards, gasp thunderously, and a rosette of blood bloom on the side of her apricot uniform. I felt myself mesmerised by the horror and the beauty of it.
Kristina Ruslen sprang away and fled down the corridor. Spurred into action again, the two police officers in riot gear, vaulted forward to follow her, and I followed. We were right behind her as she threw a door open and came out on the yacht’s deck, bathed in darkness, lit dimly by a row of yellow lights. She was climbing now over the barrier, poised to throw herself into the black, deep ocean. My mind seemed to be running clear, and very fast, as the thought came to me that Kristina Ruslen, must not die on her own terms. I launched myself at her and dragged her away from the sea, crashing her under me on the deck. In seconds, one of the police in riot gear had wrestled the gun away from her. I lay still and tried to calm my racing heart, as handcuffs were snapped around her talon like hands. Then she got up, for a moment almost defiantly, before her face transformed itself into a mask of bitterness.
We walked back, marching the prisoner in front, to see Janie holding her side, wincing with pain and supported by her brother and sister on each arm. Bravely, Janie faced the puff haired Kristina Ruslen and said. ‘By shooting me you have perhaps murdered your grandchild. A child which could have brought our two families together, but now, that can never be….whatever the outcome.’
She plunged forward then, looking deathly pale, as Liam, with gentle strength, picked her up and looking like he might crack apart at any moment, strode away from us along the long corridor.
I looked about, as Beryl and Liz followed Liam, and I breathed a sigh of relief, to know that Janie would be in good hands. And then, I wondered for the first time: who was driving the yacht?
I ran up the stairs, pushed open the heavy, timber door and entered the yacht’s control centre, where I saw Harry, his eyes red and painful looking, at the helm, holding a metal steering wheel.
‘Where are we going’, I blurted out.
‘Back to land’, he said, as he examined a small screen, which showed the words, Etak Navigator, displayed on the bottom.
‘What?’ I asked, rudely, as my mind was still reeling.
‘It’s a global positioning system’, Harry answered, pointing at the screen apparatus.
‘OK, alright. Janie’s been shot and Kristina Ruslens in handcuffs ’, I said, sounding almost robotic and yet confused.
‘But the back-up is here, aren’t they?’
‘Yep, but they were not really of much use at first. No, sorry, that isn’t fair. It was a confusing and difficult situation after you turned the boat around’.
‘Boat? Oh, you mean this beauty’, he muttered in surprise, as he gazed around the cabin like a love struck teenager.
‘Anyway, how come you suddenly know how to pilot a yacht’, I asked, feeling my eyes narrow, as I stared at this new, ‘born to rule’, Harry, whose cheeks flushed the same shade of pink as my exercise ball at home.
He breathed out loudly. ‘Well, the truth is that my uncle Bruno is a rich business man who owns a big house at Hunter’s Hill. We spent a lot of time on his yacht…my family that is….and he taught me a lot. He’s rich, but he is a generous, good-hearted bloke. One of the best. ’
‘Not much of a working class man, are you?’ I teased.
Harry just snorted and looked ahead into the dark, where the lights of the marina appeared to be coming toward us.
Thursday, September 14, 1989
So much has changed in the last year that, the Ruslen Case feels very much in the past to me now. I don’t think about the case much anymore, because other than putting Kristina Ruslen in jail, we were never able to trace any of those other accessories, who made her criminal empire possible. Those lawyers, accountants, tradesmen, and indeed, Kristina Ruslen’s daughter, who had married the gunned down Gary Nobbs, had faded away and vanished like mist. Since then, I have lost and gained so much.
As I brought that yacht, Ad Astra, safely into the harbour, I knew in my bones that things would never be the same. Call it a premonition, or a realignment of the stars, or simply the distillation – the coalescence of my mind and memory, as I held that metal wheel and guided us all through the choppy seas.
Police vans were waiting and Kristina Ruslen was carted away, but before the doors closed behind her, I saw the gold cross around her neck, glint in a snap of light and I thought how the same words and ideas can so variously shape different beliefs and actions.
Janie, looking beyond pale, was sent away in an ambulance. She recovered, but lost the baby, and perhaps, part of herself in the process. But according to Dana, Janie is also developing into a new version of herself and growing in new ways.
After she had come out of hospital, Janie’s psyche had been bruised, but she got to thinking about her biological father, Philip Ruslen, and his legacy and was motivated to act. She thought about how Philip Ruslen had abandoned her mother – who had been a servant in the Ruslen household – with whom he had had three children, and she was appalled and saddened.
Then she thought how her brother had been approached by Ruslen’s lawyer, and told that the incapacitated Philip Ruslen was his father, only a year ago. But that Philip Ruslen had arranged years ago, that his three illegitimate children would work for the Ruslen business, and later, inherit money, when each gained the age of thirty. It was this work, arranged by the lawyer, that had almost destroyed all three of them and they didn’t want the money. It wasn’t that they didn’t like money or all the things that it could do; it was more the case that Philip Ruslen’s money felt all wrong, for so many reasons.
And it was important, Janie thought, that she find her own path. She knew she had skills but where to use such odd expertise?
It was from the man that she regarded as her real father, that she, Liz and Liam had learnt so much. He was the one who had taken them away on weekends camping; teaching them the survival skills and rope skills. He didn’t have much money, even less education, but he was a good man. He would beam with pride as he watched Janie untie a difficult knot, when Liam lit a fire using only sticks and as he watched Liz, reading yet another book. Then it occurred to her that she could join the fire brigade. And she did.
Liz graduated and became a psychotherapist. A good one too. But Liam was left very battered by his working life experiences, with the Ruslen’s, and he went into a treatment facility for a while – he escaped a jail sentence. But he came out, he said, a better man. He now runs a non-profit organisation for homeless people, which is something that he has in common with his father, who has now passed away. That giant house, Palais Royale, repaired with Liam’s money, with its subterranean rooms, now houses the old, the vulnerable, the lost and the destitute. This seems right, somehow. And according to Liz, such an arrangement has precedent, as Governor King, set up the Female Orphan School, in the most expensive house in Sydney, in George Street, way back in 1801.
Dana told me that when Liam turned 30, last month, and he was finally able to collect his inheritance, he sunk all his money into his enterprise against homelessness and Liz and Janie have pledged that when they come of age, their share of the money too, will be sent his way.
‘I want to make a difference in this world, for good’, Janie stated.
You may be wondering about those three missing women, who were at the very centre of this case. Of Tabra Hayden, no trace was ever found. Her remains lie somewhere at the bottom of the sea- a sad story, without any real justice. Lee Lin, however, from our reports, is still on the run. The last rumour to reach our ears was a whisper that, she had undergone extensive plastic surgery, in order to change her appearance. But this has the ring of myth and fairy tale about it. June Roze is currently in a nursing home and her home and its contents have been claimed and sold off by the government. She no longer resembles the beautiful, bikini model, and designer, she once was. I often think of her poor cats.
Oh and I should mention that Liam and Dana have starting knocking about together and…..well…. they are well matched, in some strange way.
I reconciled with my former wife, Linda, about six months ago and I have my darling child close to me again. Linda is in therapy, with Liz as it happens, and she has come so far. Her real strengths and inherent goodness become closer to the surface each day, crowding out the damaged parts of her being. But, I also attend therapy. Sometimes with Linda and sometimes alone, and I have also come to understand that I don’t communicate well; that I have been frightened of Linda’s more expressive emotions, retreating into anger and silence. We are all a work in process, it seems.
I am sad that I have lost Dana, but we both have moved on, and found ourselves again. But I must go now, and get dressed, as Linda and I are off to a wedding; we’ll pick up Dana and Liam along the way, and then, we’re heading out to join our good friend, beryl, as she pledges herself to her long time love, Peggy, at sunset, on Coogee Beach. Cheers.
Dana Roberts, using the name, Sally Brown, has gone undercover and is living in a flat in Bondi. She is trying to find out what has happened to three missing women, who have been connected to the rich and handsome, Peter Ruslen, who lives in a castle-like, iceberg house, in Rose bay; a house where Dana has scored a job as a party hostess. Her colleague, Harry de Groot, meanwhile, is working to find evidence on Ruslen’s suspected property flipping, money laundering and drug business. However, the trail he is following keeps disappearing and Harry feels out foxed and out classed……while at the same time, Harry is battling women trouble.