Two Homicide detectives drove along the Princes Highway soon after dawn. The ocean glittered on their left and the sun sat on the horizon like a burning oil tanker.
However, Detective Inspector Paul Holloway couldn’t enjoy the scenery because his companion, Detective Sergeant Dan Brooks, kept moaning about his wife. True, she was a bitch. Holloway had met nicer serial killers. But Brooks was giving him the shits. He married her; now he should just shut up and do his time.
Brooks said: “You know, I keep having a strange dream.”
“I dream that I’ve got to arrest my wife.”
Holloway felt a flicker of interest. “Arrest her? What for?”
“Don’t know. Never find out. But when I try to cuff her, she runs away.”
“Yeah? What do you do?”
“I yell for her to stop, but she keeps running.”
“I take out my pistol and shoot her.”
Holloway was shocked. “You mean, kill her?”
“Yeah, she’s stone dead before she hits the ground.” Brooks glanced sideways. “Weird dream, huh?”
Hard to argue. “No warning shot?”
Brook shrugged. “Dunno. Just don’t think of it, I suppose. What do you think the dream means?”
That you’re very fucked up. Holloway stared hard at his partner. “You know, you really should get some marriage counseling.”
Brooks shrugged again. “Maybe.”
Holloway decided that, from now on, he’d confirm every night, that Brooks had checked his pistol into the armoury.
Their destination was a beach-house, just north of Nowra, nestled in a clump of eucalypts. Holloway parked against the curb. They climbed out. A salty sea breeze ruffled their ill-fitting brown wool-blend suits.
Holloway knew little about the owner of the beach-house, Rex Markham. Just that he was a novelist and, last night, someone broke into his Sydney terrace and stabbed his wife to death. Now Holloway had to break the big news, if it was news.
Brooks said: “You think this guy murdered her?”
Funny question from a man who had just talked about shooting his wife. Holloway frowned. “Yeah. Probably.”
“He’s a novelist, right?”
“Read any of his books?”
“Nah, I don’t read much. What about you?”
“Nope. Don’t read at all.”
Holloway pushed the doorbell. “Well, let’s see what story he’s got to tell.”
After about thirty seconds, the door opened, revealing a tall, well-tanned man in his late-forties, with brown hair and intelligent eyes. He looked puzzled. “Hello. How can I help?”
Long practice had taught Holloway how to dull his feelings at moments like this. “Rex Markham?”
“I’m Detective Inspector Holloway. This is Detective Sergeant Brooks. We’re from the Homicide Squad.”
Markham looked startled. “Homicide Squad?”
Holloway studied him closely, to see if his surprise was genuine. Hard to tell on such short acquaintance. “Yes. I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news.” Holloway sucked in air. “Umm, your wife’s dead.”
Markham’s jaw dropped. “Alice? You’re joking, right?”
He looked sincere, but Markham had met plenty of murderers who deserved Oscars.
Fortunately for Holloway, Brooks, showing his usual insensitivity, stepped forward. “I’m afraid not. She was murdered at your home in Sydney last night.”
Markham put his head in his hands. “That’s crazy. It can’t be true. I don’t believe you. Show me some ID.”
Brooks held up his official ID card and Markham studied it intently. “Satisfied?”
Markham went white and wobbled slightly. “I suppose so. God, this is terrible. What happened?”
“We’re still investigating. But it seems someone broke into your house and stabbed her to death.”
“We don’t know.”
Markham slumped against the door frame. His voice crackled. “I don’t believe this. This is crazy.”
“Maybe. But when you feel ready, we’ve got to ask you some questions.”
“Like when did you last see you wife?”
“Umm, about a week ago. Just before I came down here to write.”
“OK, and where were you last night?”
“Here, of course. Why? You don’t think I …”
Holloway interjected: “At the moment, we don’t think anything.” He held out a folded document. “But I’ve got to serve you with this.”
Markham took the document and stared at it blankly. “What is it?”
“A warrant to search these premises.”
Markham looked nervous. “Search? Why?”
“Don’t worry, Mr Markham. This is routine – just routine. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Robyn Parker had appeared in some shabby courtrooms during her four years at the Bar, but this one took the prize. It was a Local Court with a low ceiling, bad lighting, cheap pine-panelled walls and diseased carpet; an overflowing waste bin and not even a water carafe on the bar table. It made the law seem like a cheap commodity.
Her client, Mavis Vandervelt, sat in the witness box. Mavis, 72, with her silvery bun, half-moon glasses and prim lips, looked like she should be selling cakes at a church fete. Hard to believe she’d been charged with swearing at a police officer. According to the cop, after he stopped her for speeding, she called him a “prick”, a “piece of shit” and a “fucking turd”.
Before the trial, Robyn was sure the cop was lying. True, there was something a bit spooky about Mavis’ relentless niceness. But Robyn believed her story that the cop used the bad language and, after Mavis complained, charged her out of spite. It was well known that dead-beat cops often used an offensive language charge to flex their puny muscles.
However, Robyn had already cross-examined the cop without much success. He seemed surprisingly decent and well-mannered. Obviously, a good actor.
Still, if Mavis performed well under cross-examination, she would be acquitted. And surely she would – surely her patent decency would shine through.
The bald and burly police prosecutor didn’t mess around, quickly accusing Mavis of swearing at the police officer.
She pursed her lips. “No I didn’t. I was brought up properly: my mother taught me to never use bad language.”
The prosecutor glared. “Really? You’ve been charged with using offensive language before, haven’t you, Mrs Vandervelt?”
Mavis had told Robyn she had no criminal record. Robyn felt a shiver of concern, but remained confident. This must be a mistake.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Yes you have. Ten years ago, you worked as a receptionist for an accountant called Frank Tucker, didn’t you?”
Mavis frowned. “Ah, yes.”
“And he sacked you, didn’t he?”
A nervous wiggle. “I stopped working for him.”
“Yes. And then you started making obscene telephone calls to his office, didn’t you?”
Mavis reddened. “That is untrue – a total lie.”
“But you were charged and convicted, weren’t you?”
She rose slightly and grabbed the front of the witness box, face red. “Yeah. But only because that bastard told lies.”
Robyn was shocked to hear Mavis swear; her timing couldn’t be worse.
The prosecutor grinned. “That what?”
Mavis frowned and sat down. “I mean … umm …I mean, Tucker, Frank Tucker.”
“You just called him a bastard, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You mean, you don’t remember calling him a bastard?”
Mavis looked genuinely perplexed. “I didn’t call him that – I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
Mavis’ hands gripped the witness box even tighter. “No, I didn’t.”
The prosecutor shrugged. “Well, Mrs Vandervelt, have it your way. But you made obscene calls to his office, didn’t you?”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did. In fact, the police taped one of your calls, didn’t they?”
“It wasn’t me on that tape.”
“Yes it was.”
“It was, because you just can’t control your bad language, can you?”
Her eyes bulged, as if some demon inside was trying to break out. “Yes I can.”
The prosecutor barked. “You can’t?”
Mavis could control herself no longer. Her eyes gleamed, nostrils flared and lips twitched. Her mask of normalcy hit the ground and shattered into a thousand pieces. She stood and half-screamed. “Yes I can. So don’t keep talking to me like that you, you, you arsehole.” The word sprang from her mouth like a battle-cry.
Squeals erupted from the party of school-children in the back of the court. Robyn’s heart sunk. Now she had two clients, one of whom was barking mad.
The prosecutor looked surprised and delighted. “What did you call me?”
Mavis scowled savagely. “I call you an arsehole, because you are one – a fucking arsehole.” Her spittle doused the court reporter sitting just below her.
The usually benign magistrate stopped mangling his paper clips and scowled at the gorgon in the witness box. “Madam, please control yourself. You’re in court.”
Mavis glared at him. “I know where I am.”
“Then behave yourself – and sit down.”
She waved a finger in his direction. “I am behaving myself. But that … that bastard’s talking shit.”
Robyn wanted to crawl under the Bar table and hide. But they’d soon come looking for her.
The magistrate frowned. “Madam, don’t talk like that.”
“Fuck you, you knob-head” she said with true abandon.
Knob-head. Robin hadn’t heard that expression for a while.
The Magistrate went crimson. “Madam.”
The police prosecutor smiled triumphantly. “No further questions, your Honour.”
The magistrate turned to Robyn, trying to balance shock and amusement. “Umm, Ms Parker, any re-examination?”
She couldn’t repair this damage. The jig was up. She sighed. “No, your Honour.”
The Magistrate told Mavis she could leave the witness box. Scowling and muttering to herself, Mavis stomped over to a chair behind Robyn.
The police prosecutor and Robyn only made perfunctory final addresses, because the result was obvious. The Magistrate spent five minutes giving his reasons and declared Mavis guilty.
Robyn stood. “Your Honour, before you pass sentence, I think you should order a psychiatric report.”
The magistrate nodded energetically. “Yes. That would be a good idea. I so order.”
He adjourned the matter for several weeks so the report could be prepared.
As he left the bench, Robyn saw that Mavis had put her saccharine mask back on – Client Number One had returned from somewhere – though her eyes still had an eerie glow.
Mavis said: “So what happened dear?”
“You were convicted.”
“Because you swore at the magistrate and the prosecutor.”
Mavis smiled with the beautiful calm of the true hysteric. “No I didn’t.”
No point telling someone who’s mad that she’s mad. Robyn shrugged. “Well, he found you guilty anyway.”
“Can I appeal?”
Robyn pictured the appeal judges snickering over the transcript, but didn’t want an argument. “Yes, you can.”
“Good. Well, I don’t want to sound rude, deary, because I appreciate everything you’ve done. But I think I’ll get another barrister to represent me from now on.”
Robyn was delighted. “Please do.”
Mavis smiled serenely. “You mean, you don’t mind?”
“Not at all.”
“That’s very sweet of you.”
As Robyn left the courthouse and strolled towards the train station, one question was uppermost in her mind: how did she end up appearing in the Local Court for clients like Mavis Vanderveldt?
Robyn’s most vivid memory of her father was of the time, when she was five years old, that her mother took her to watch him preside over a trial. They sat in the back of an impressive mahogany courtroom with a huge coat of arms hanging high above the bench. Her father, wearing a wig and gown, argued for a long time with two fat, red-necked men also bewigged and gowned. One wig was so yellow and shabby it looked ready to disintegrate.
Robyn had always found her father rather distant and forbidding. Now he seemed quite scary, particularly the several times he half-yelled at the barristers. But she was also proud that he wielded so much power and authority.
Most of her other memories of him were rather grey. He flitted in and out of her life, rarely showing much affection. She couldn’t remember him ever picking her up – she had no memory of his hands – or saying anything nice. Instead, he often ordered her to “stand up straight and speak clearly”.
Maybe, in time, they’d have got close. However, when she was seven, her mother tearfully explained that he’d gone off to heaven and wouldn’t be back – a disappearance she found strange rather than upsetting. Only several years later did she learn that he suffered a fatal heart attack while sitting in his chambers, writing a reserved judgment. His associate found him slumped over his desk.
After his death, he remained a ghostly presence in her life, particularly when her mother repeatedly told her that, if he was alive, he’d have want her to go to the Bar and rise to become Senior Counsel. “Think how excited he would have been if you took silk,” her mother said. That was not an emotion she associated with her father. But she nodded dutifully.
For a long time, Robyn resisted the whole idea. She always had plenty of drive and ambition. At high school, she was an outstanding student. But she didn’t want to live in her father’s shadow or do her mother’s bidding. She’d choose another profession.
However, during her last year at high school, she still hadn’t chosen one and started to toy with the idea of becoming a barrister. She’d always enjoyed debating at school, and surely she could do better than the fat guys she saw in court. True, there were downsides. She suspected that, until now, she hadn’t really dealt with her father’s memory and becoming a barrister might force her to do that. But so what? Everybody had baggage. She could handle hers. Yes, she’d study law and go to the Bar as soon as possible.
So, after graduating from university with first class honours, she worked for a couple of years in a big corporate law firm before heading for the Bar, trembling with excitement.
So far she had gained little traction. After four years, she was still appearing in suburban Local Courts for petty criminals like Mavis Vandervort.
She now realized her whole approach had been dreadfully naïve, because she thought she could succeed without help and acted as if she was on a quest rather than building a career. That was a recipe for disaster. Success at the Bar depended on patronage and contacts. Without them, she would never get a chance to shine.
There was, of course, a simple way to remedy her mistake: she was not unattractive and there were plenty of lecherous senior barristers around who, if she slept with them, would send work – good work – in her direction. She didn’t want to stoop that low. But failure was not an option. Maybe it was time to toughen up and stop being a princess.
Most of Sydney’s barristers occupied drab buildings that lined both sides of Phillip Street, just before the street reached the 23-storey concrete tower that housed the Supreme and Federal Courts. It was a legal canyon in which barristers stripped clients of their money and judges stripped them of their illusions.
When Robyn arrived at the Bar, a hoary old barrister advised her that it was vitally important to buy a room in “the right set of chambers”. However, with typical stubbornness and naivety, she bought a room in Fisher Chambers instead. True, the room was cheap. But there was a reason for that. Fisher Chambers occupied the fourth floor of a squat building with a green-tiled façade festooned with rusted air-conditioning units. A decade ago, it was a leading set of chambers with a dozen heavy-weight silk and plenty of successful juniors. But its glory days were over. Judicial appointments, retirements, costly divorces and defections to other floors had drained its strength. Now, it only had four bantam-weight silk – who brought in little work – and about twenty struggling juniors like Robyn.
The next morning, she sat at her desk, munching a bagel and flicking through the Sydney Morning Herald when, to her surprise, Brian Davis strode into her room. He was in his early forties, tall and well-built, with prominent features and expensively maintained hair. He wore a Zegna suit and a Rolex glinted on his wrist. He looked like he was dressed by a valet.
Brian belonged to Lord Mansfield Chambers, a couple of floors below, but much higher in prestige. It was bursting with busy silk and successful juniors. But none shone brighter than him. He was a silk with a huge criminal law practice and a glowing future.
In a rare stroke of good fortune, a solicitor friend of Robyn had recently briefed Robyn to act as Brian’s junior. They appeared for the accused in a big heroin importation trial.
When she first met him, she thought he was arrogant, superficial and doused in self-regard. He probably looked smug while asleep. Nothing he subsequently did changed her opinion. However, to her surprise, in front of the jury, he did a great impersonation of a bluff, straight-talking barrister while, at the same time, twisting the evidence out of shape. Indeed, after their client was acquitted, he leaned over to her and grinned. “You know, I hope I didn’t mislead the judge and jury too much.”
During the trial, he seemed anxious to impress her and even asked her out to dinner. She politely declined, saying she was too busy. She wasn’t quite sure why she said no. After all, he was good-looking, bright and articulate – light-years ahead of the sorry bunch of losers she’d dated recently.
However, his smugness was a big turn-off and he was widely known as a skirt chaser. One female colleague warned her that “he’s a hard dog to keep on the porch” and another cautioned that “he’s nice enough to break a girl’s heart, but not marry her”.
After declining his invitation to dinner, she didn’t expect to see him again. Now he was back. Why? What the hell did he want?
He nervously shot his linen cuffs. “Umm, hi.”
“I haven’t seen you for a week, so I thought I’d pop up and see how you’re getting on.”
“Oh, I’m fine.”
“Really? Good, good, that’s good. Well, I was wondering if you’ve got time for a cup of coffee. I’ve got some good news to impart.”
Jesus. Why couldn’t the arrogant bastard take no for an answer? But she might as well have coffee with him. She wasn’t busy and a little curious. “OK. Sure.”
They descended in a lift and strolled across the road to Angelos, a cafe with black walls, polished floorboards and metal tables. The cafe was full of lawyers loudly talking to each other or into their mobile phones. The waiters were all female Scandinavian backpackers who spoke better English than most of the barristers they served.
Robyn and Brian sat near the pavement.
He said: “How’s life? How did the offensive language case go?”
Robyn sighed and described how Mrs Vandervelt imploded in the witness box. “She looked so sweet and gentle, but was mad a meat-axe.”
He laughed. “That’s not your fault. I once had a client who found God in the witness box. I’m not kidding: he saw a vision of Jesus on the wall behind the judge and confessed to everything. The judge gave him ten years inside.”
“But maybe I should have noticed earlier she was totally insane.”
“And done what? Told her to behave herself? That wouldn’t have worked. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember, you can’t drag all your clients into the lifeboat. Some are gonna drown. And when they do, send your bill and move on.”
His sympathetic tone surprised her. Maybe she’d misjudged him a little. “I suppose. But I’m tired of representing total losers in the Local Court. I want to play in the big leagues.”
He smiled broadly. “And so you shall, and so you shall – maybe sooner than you think.”
“What do you mean?”
His soft lips curled arrogantly. “Well, yesterday I got a fantastic brief, really fantastic.”
Typical of him to start talking about himself. “Really? Who’s the client?”
His smile almost jumped off his face. “Rex Markham.”
Robyn was stunned. Nine months ago the novelist was charged with murdering his wife, igniting a media frenzy. Soon afterwards, a magistrate committed him to stand trial. It must be due to start fairly soon.
She said: “You’re going to appear for him at the trial?”
“When does it start?”
“In three weeks.”
“You must be excited. It’s gonna be big.”
Brian grinned. “Huuuge.”
A very senior silk called Bert Lightfoot had appeared for Markham at the committal hearing. “But what about Lightfoot? What’s happen to him?”
“He’s been dumped.”
“According to Markham’s solicitor, a guy called Bernie Roberts, Markham lost confidence in old Lighthead, which isn’t surprising: he’s well past his prime. Markham wants a young and vigorous silk who’ll run rings around the prosecution. So Bernie recommended me.”
Christ, he was full of himself. “Have you met Markham yet?”
“No, Tomorrow morning.”
“And who’s your junior?”
He leaned forward and smiled. “That’s what I want to talk about.”
Her stomach flip-flopped. “What do you mean?”
“I want you.”
A big hand squeezed her lungs. Why the hell did he want her? Because he respected her legal ability? Or wanted to shag her? Or both?
The answer didn’t really matter because she couldn’t afford to waste this opportunity. Appearing in the Markham trial, even as junior counsel, would really boost her career: she’d get priceless exposure, earn good money and maybe even learn a trick or two.
True, she’d probably have to beat off his grubby advances, but she was a big girl and could defend herself, if necessary.
She leaned forward and smiled. “Thanks. I’d love to?”
He showed plenty of sparkling teeth. “You sure?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. I’ll tell Bernie to brief you.”
“And he will?”
“Yeah. He said I could pick my junior, and now I have.”
“Thanks, thanks a lot.”
He looked smug. “Forget it. Believe me, good juniors are bloody hard to find.” He leaned forward. “And you know the best thing?”
“Bernie has money in trust – lots of it. You can charge your full rate.”
Christ. She’d earn twice what Legal Aid usually paid. She smiled. “Goodness, then he must be innocent.”
Brian beamed. “You betchya.”
She squirmed. “This is really exciting. You know, I’ve even read some of his novels. Four, in fact.”
“Yeah. I’m a big fan. You read any?”
“No. But I’ve seen a movie based on one, I think.”
“That doesn’t count. You’ve got to read a novel, not watch it.”
“I know. But these days, I don’t get much time to read. I used to. In fact, I majored in English Lit. Even got a few credits.”
The waiter brought their coffees and both took sips.
Brian said: “Anyway, I’m meeting Markham tomorrow morning, in my room, at 10 o’clock. Can you make it?”
They exchanged some Bar gossip. Then he strolled over to the counter and paid for the coffee. As he did, she noticed that her skirt had ridden up her thigh. She smoothed it down.
Once again, she wondered if he was just trying to get her into bed. Probably. But it wasn’t her job to crawl into his perverted brain and find out what nasty erotic fantasies were brewing. She hadn’t enticed him and didn’t plan to. She’d be polite, friendly and, above all, professional. If he put the hard word on her, she’d pull him into line.
That evening, Brian Davis drove his late-model Audi coupe across the Harbour Bridge towards his big water-front apartment in Milson’s Point. He usually enjoyed his drive home because it was one of the few times during the day when he could, without interruption, wallow in self-satisfaction, although he didn’t quite see it in those terms.
At forty-one he was already a silk with a huge practice. Many silk aged fast in the job and started shying away from battle. But he still had most of his brain cells and a thirst for combat. In Court he was extremely glib and good at massaging the truth. His clients were usually acquitted. Solicitors deluged him with briefs.
His love-life was just as successful, arithmetically at least. He had a panel of girlfriends who shifted in and out of favour, oblivious to each other. The trick was not to invite them anywhere – like his apartment – where their paths might cross.
He’d always pitied his pals who got married and endured twenty years of wage-slavery – shackled to shopaholic wives and nasty kids – before divorce consigned them to penury. Marriage was a psychotic illness that could only be cured at ruinous expense. No woman would lead him into captivity. He’d keep all of his options open all of the time.
Then he met Robyn Parker.
Without his knowledge, she was briefed as his junior in a drug trial and he was immediately smitten. Despite her clunky glasses and slightly frumpy clothes, she was more attractive and alive than any of the panellists who, he now saw, were just banal and grasping. She didn’t just act like a woman, she was one. Maybe, after a while, he’d find her cleverness a threat and her bluntness tiresome. But, for the moment, they were invigorating.
Her sudden appearance made him take stock of his life. Strange fears infected his brain. What if he ended up childless and alone? Died without issue? Would his whole life have been wasted? Would all of his great accomplishments be rendered naught? Jesus. Maybe he should settle down and have kids? He even fantasized about reading bed-time stories to his incredibly good-looking and well-behaved children.
Because his previous relationships had been so sterile, his love for Robyn hit him like a freight train. He’d vowed not to have a mid-life crisis, but was obviously now in the middle of one, ahead of schedule.
He usually pursued women aggressively, but sensed she would react badly to pressure. Better to stay cool and let his charm soften her defences. So, during the trial, he was quite formal. Only after it finished did he ask her out to dinner.
And she refused!
Shit. Women rarely did that. He was perplexed and upset.
On the few occasions he’d been rebuffed, he shrugged his shoulders and moved on. Plenty more fish in the sea, especially for a fine angler like him. But this time, defeat was not an option. He wanted Robyn and intended to have her. The hunt was on.
He wasn’t sure what he’d done to displease her, but suspected she was just confused and nervous. She found him intimidating and feared he wasn’t serious. Somehow, he had to put her mind at ease and show his bona fides.
However, first he had to get close to her again.
His chance came sooner than he expected. He was briefed to appear for Rex Markham and told he could pick his own junior. He immediately chose Robyn.
It was easy to justify that decision to himself, because she was bright, enthusiastic and hardworking. With the right opportunities, she’d go far. She deserved the brief on merit alone.
Having a woman on the defence team might also soften Markham’s image with the jury. Certainly, in a murder trial, he fought for every possible advantage he could get.
But his main motive was to curry her favour and win her over. He wouldn’t be pushy. She obviously needed gentle coaxing. Indeed, he’d impress her with his professionalism and courtliness until she finally succumbed.
For once, while chasing a woman, he’d actually have to suffer a little. That prospect gave him a strange erotic charge.
And when he won her over he’d disband the panel – or, at least, most of it – and become a one-woman man. But, of course, until then, the panel would continue as presently constituted. Indeed, he might need their support in the lonely weeks ahead while he chased the woman of his dreams.
That afternoon the solicitor, Bernie Roberts, had called Robyn and said that Brian Davis wanted her as his junior in the Markham case. “You interested?”
She tried to sound calm. “Of course.”
“OK. What’s your hourly?”
Better to shoot high and compromise if necessary. “$300 an hour, plus GST.”
He giggled. “Really? That all? I’d be embarrassed to tell the client that; $400 an hour, plus GST, and you’re onboard.”
“You’ve twisted my arm.”
“Good, I’ll send you the brief.”
An hour later, a courier delivered three lever-arch folders from his office. She immediately dropped the first onto her desk and opened it.
Clipped inside the front cover was a publicity still of Rex Markham which she studied closely.
Her clients were usually young male recidivists from the Western Suburbs with scars, tattoos, missing teeth, long criminal records and limited vocabularies. They started their lives at the bottom of the pile and finished there. In between, they popped in and out of prison.
But Markham was in his late forties, with strawberry blond hair, sharp features and alert blue eyes. Hard to believe he would murder anyone: too normal with too much to lose.
Robyn had read several of his thrillers. The main characters were usually ordinary people struggling to survive sinister forces while a hot-button geo-political issue – like terrorism, the clash of civilizations, religious extremism, ethnic warfare or famine – throbbed away in the background.
In the latest, Jihad, an Australian doctor doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan falls in love with an Afghan woman. Taliban insurgents kidnap them and force him to save the life of a brutal Taliban leader. After the doctor discovers the Taliban leader is really working for the CIA, the couple must flee to Pakistan. The pace was quick and the dialogue snappy, but the book had enough keen insights into politics and human nature to give it some weight.
Robyn slowly read through the ten pages of “observations” her instructing solicitor had prepared and the “prosecution brief” which included police witness statements, forensic reports, crime scene photographs and police notebooks.
She pieced together that Rex and Alice Markham were married for six years – no kids – and Alice worked at a literary agency. They lived in a large terrace in Paddington and owned a beach-house near Nowra, a few hours south of Sydney, where Rex often retreated to write his novels.
Six days before the murder, he drove down to the beach-house to finishing off his latest one. Alice stayed in Sydney.
They never saw each other again. On Saturday night, at around nine o’clock, someone broke into their terrace and stabbed Alice to death in the kitchen. The terrace was ransacked and some jewelry stolen.
When Homicide detectives visited Rex, at the beach-house, he claimed he spent the whole weekend there, except for a short shopping trip to Nowra. He went nowhere near Sydney. The detectives started to suspect that a burglar committed the crime: a druggie whose conscience was erased by addiction.
Then Rex’s story unravelled.
First, the detectives discovered the Markhams had a rocky marriage. Indeed, about six weeks before the murder, they quarrelled so loudly a neighbour called the police. Two patrol officers arrived and found Alice with a large cut on her head. They took her to a hospital. But she claimed she tripped and fell. No charges were laid.
Soon afterwards, she confided to some girlfriends that she and Rex had agreed to divorce and just had to sort out the financial details.
But Rex’s credibility took a real hammer blow when the detectives checked his credit card transactions and discovered that, a couple of hours before his wife died, he purchased petrol at a service station in Redfern, a few suburbs from Paddington. His claim that, on that weekend, he went nowhere near Sydney was obviously a total lie.
Markham was now the prime suspect. The detectives confronted him with the credit card evidence and, not surprisingly, he changed his story. Yes, he drove up to Sydney that evening. But he went nowhere near his terrace. Instead, he visited his literary agent, Hugh Grimble, at Watson’s Bay. After dining with Grimble, he drove back to Nowra.
Asked why he’d previously lied to the detectives, he said he was afraid that, if he mentioned he was in Sydney, they’d suspect him of murder.
The cops interviewed Grimble, who supported his client’s alibi. But to no avail. The cops were now sure Rex’s plan was to slip quietly up to Sydney, kill his wife, fake a burglary and head back to Nowra. But he messed up because he ran out of petrol and used his credit card to buy some more. When confronted about that, he cooked up a false alibi that Grimble supported. The cops charged him with murder.
If the cops were right, it was a pretty tawdry tale, hardly worthy of a novelist. Where was the fantasy and imagination? Surely, there had to be a twist.
Brian Davis had arranged to meet Markham tomorrow morning, in his chambers, and Robyn was invited. Supposedly, it was never a good idea to meet a favourite author in the flesh. But she had no choice.
The next morning, just before nine, Robyn caught a lift down to Lord Mansfield Chambers and strolled past the vacant reception desk to Brian Davis’ room.
The door was open. Brian sat behind a huge boomerang-shaped desk, talking to a chubby man with a shiny pate, red cheeks and mutton-chop whiskers.
Robyn coughed politely.
Brian said: “Ah, Robyn. Come in. This is our instructing solicitor, Bernie Roberts.”
The solicitor stood and looked at her with twinkling eyes. She immediately liked him.
She said: “Hello. Thank you for the brief.”
They shook hands.
“Don’t mention it. Brian was very complimentary.”
She wondered if the solicitor thought Brian recommended her because Brian was sleeping with her. She prayed not.
She also wondered if Brian also suggested that Rex Markham, charged with murdering his wife, needed a woman in his corner to improve his image. The sneaky bastard probably said something like that.
Bernie said: “So you got the brief?”
“Yes. And I’ve read through it. Very interesting. Our client here yet?”
“No, but he will be soon.”
She sat next to the solicitor and they all chatted about the case for a few minutes, sharing their pessimism.
The phone rang. Brian picked it up, listened briefly, put it down and glanced at Bernie. “He’s here.”
Bernie rose. “Alright. I’ll get him.”
The solicitor left the room and, thirty seconds later, returned with Rex Markham.
The publicity photograph was a little misleading. Markham was taller than she expected, and his face more worn and lined. Maybe being charged with murder had expunged his last traces of youth.
She searched his face for some sign he was capable of murder, but saw none: no demonic glint in his eyes; no pent-up aggression; no furtiveness. But clients like Mrs Vandervelt had taught her to distrust appearances and Markham obviously had plenty of rage in his breast. His punch-up with his wife proved that.
Seeing him in the flesh made Robyn realize, for the first time, they were playing for high stakes. Her guts squirmed a little. As a colleague once commented, being a barrister is all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Bernie said: “Rex, let me introduce you to Brian Davis and Robyn Parker, who’ll be representing you.”
Markham studied them carefully, smiled quickly and shook their hands. “Hello. Pleased to meet you.”
Robyn interjected. “No, it’s my pleasure. In fact, I’ve read some of your books.”
Markham relaxed slightly. “Really?”
“Yes. My favourite’s Edge of the Abyss.”
Markham’s smile widened. “Funnily enough, it’s mine too. I admire your taste.”
Brian said: “Anyway, let’s sit down.” He retreated behind his desk and dropped into his high-backed swivel-chair. The others sat facing him, Markham in the middle.
Brian looked at Markham. “Alright then. Robyn and I have read through our briefs. But we want you to tell us what happened. Start by telling us about your wife. How did you meet?”
Markham wrung his hands. “Oh, through my literary agent, Hugh Grimble. Have you heard of him?”
“He’s mentioned in our briefs.”
“Hugh’s one of the biggest agents in Australia. Acts for lots of successful writers. Alice was one of his assistants. That’s how I first met her, about ten years ago. Hugh asked her to edit one of my novels and one thing led to another. We married about six years ago.”
“After you married, she kept working for Grimble?”
“On your novels?”
“No. We wanted to keep our personal and professional lives separate, so Hugh handled all of my affairs.”
“OK. And what was your marriage like?”
He shrugged. “Well, like everybody, we had our ups and downs. But towards the end, it got pretty difficult.”
Markham shrugged. “It’s hard to say. Boredom? Fatigue? Latent incompatibility? Take your pick. We stopped communicating and got on each other’s nerves. I even suspected she was cheating on me.”
Brian leaned forward. “Really? Why?”
“Oh, lots of little things. Sometimes she disappeared for a few hours and I couldn’t contact her, or she got dressed up when there was no point and so on. Maybe I was jumping at shadows. I don’t know. But I just had this feeling.”
“Who do you think she was seeing?”
“I’ve got no idea.”
“Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t even sure she was cheating. So it was pretty hard to draw up a list of suspects.”
“Did you ever confront her with your suspicions?”
“Yes. About six weeks before she died, we were at home and we’d both been drinking. I accused her of cheating. She denied it. We started screaming at each other. She hit me a couple of times. I pushed her off and she fell and hit her head on a table.”
“Then a neighbour called the police?”
“Yes. An ambulance also turned up.”
“Who called it?”
“I did.” Markham dropped his head. “I know the whole episode sounds bad. I’m ashamed of it. But believe me, I was just trying to protect myself.”
“Your wife had a temper?”
Markham half-smiled. “She looked like a pussy-cat, but had claws of steel.”
“I understand you two were going to get divorced?”
“Yes. Soon after our big fight we agreed to split up. In fact, that’s why I kept going down to the beach-house: to get away from her and write in peace and quiet.”
“And you went down there about a week before she died?”
“Yes, to finish my latest novel, Summer Storm.”
“Finished it yet?”
“No, I’ve been, umm, distracted. In fact, for the first time in my life, I’ve got writer’s block. Getting charged with murder sort of stifles the creative juices.”
“I can understand that. Alright, now tell me what you did on the weekend your wife died.”
Markham repeated what he told the Homicide detectives at his second interview. When he’d finished, Brian asked him why he decided to dine with his literary agent, Hugh Grimble.
Markham shrugged. “After almost a week by myself at the beach-house, I got stir crazy. Hugh’s been a mate for a long time. In fact, I owe him a hell of a lot. Without him, I’d probably still be a hack reporter on the Sydney Morning Herald, dreaming of becoming a novelist. Anyway, I drove up to see him. He cooked dinner, we drank a few beers and we chatted.”
“Nothing much: gossiped about other writers; argued about books we’d read; talked about my latest novel.”
“And you left at about eleven o’clock?”
“Yes, and drove straight back to Nowra.”
“Didn’t see your wife at all?”
Markham shook his head ferociously. “No. I mean, why would I? Like I said, our relationship was lousy. She was the last person I wanted to see. There was no point.”
Robyn reflected that the antagonism between Markham and his wife gave Markham a good motive to avoid her and a good motive to kill her.
“I understand,” Brian said and turned to Bernie Roberts. “The police have interviewed Grimble, right?”
“Yes, and he supported Rex’s alibi.”
“And you’ve spoken to him?”
“He’ll give evidence for us at the trial?”
“Oh, yes. Definitely.”
“And he’ll come in here for a conference?”
“Yeah. He’ll see you any time you want.”
“Good. Then you’d better wheel him in.”
Bernie nodded. “I’ll arrange it.”
Markham leaned forward anxiously. “So what are my chances?”
Brian exhaled loudly. “Frankly, you’re in a lot of trouble. You had a bad marriage; you had a violent argument with your wife; you lied to the police and you were in Sydney on the night of the murder. The prosecution has a lot of ammunition.”
Markham said: “I’ve got an alibi.”
“Yes, you have. But you divulged it late and your alibi witness is a very close friend. It might not be believed.”
Markham blanched. “OK. But I’ve got a chance, right?”
“Yes, you definitely have. A lot can happen in a courtroom and I’ve certainly won more difficult cases than this one.”
And, Robyn reflected, lost easier ones.
Brian stood and shook hands with Markham. “Thank you for coming in. This chat’s been very helpful. Where are you living right now? At the terrace?”
“Oh no, too many bad memories. I’ve rented a small apartment in Potts Point.”
“That’s understandable. I’d like to inspect the terrace fairly soon. You’re welcome to join us.”
Markham looked uncertain then nodded. “Yes, I think I will, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Bernie’ll co-ordinate the visit.”
When Markham shook hands with Robyn, his hand felt clammier than before and he didn’t quite meet her eye.
Markham and Bernie left, and Robyn turned to Brian. “So, what do you think? Guilty?”
“It doesn’t look good. The only person who can save him is Grimble. He’s the joker in the pack. The sooner we talk to him, the better. However, I suspect he won’t be much help.”
“Why? You haven’t even talked to him.”
“True. But I know a big fat juicy lie when I hear one.”
Hugh Grimble was in his mid-fifties with silver hair, a square jaw and trim frame neatly encased in a bespoke suit and white linen shirt. To prove he was an aesthete, he wore green suspenders and a blue polka-dot bowtie. Robyn bet he also wore striped silk boxers. His manner was smooth and affable, but slightly unreal and inflated, as if he was performing on the stage.
He sat between Robyn and Bernie, facing Brian behind his desk.
Brian leaned forward. “Mr Grimble, thank you for coming to see us. Your evidence is obviously an important part of Rex’s defence.”
Grimble said: “I’ll do anything to help.”
Brian frowned. “Good. But I hope you won’t say that in the witness box.”
Grimble grinned. “Oh, I see. Well, don’t worry, I’ll be discrete.”
“Fine. How long have you been a literary agent?”
“Oh, about twenty-five years. I represent lots of novelists. That’s the work I love. But I also represent scriptwriters, film directors, producers, historians and even a few actors.”
“And how’s the book trade at the moment?”
A wry smile. “The market for cookbooks and gardening manuals is quite buoyant. Everything else – including novels – is in the toilet, I’m afraid. Apart from the fact we’re moving into a post-literate world, digital piracy has gone crazy.”
Robyn interjected: “How long have you known Rex Markham?”
“Oh, about fifteen years. He was a journalist who sent me a manuscript called Dark Before Dawn. It was a bit of a mess. I mean, in those days, he was just learning his craft. But it showed real promise. So I helped him knock it into shape and found him a publisher.”
Brian said: “And since then, he’s done well?”
“Oh, yes. Nine novels translated into 14 languages; eight million copies sold; two books made into movies.”
“And his dead wife, Alice, she worked for you?”
“Yes. She was one of my assistants. That’s how she met Rex.”
“And after they got married, she kept working for you?”
“So you got on well with her?”
“Yes, I think so. I mean, we didn’t fight or anything. We had a harmonious working relationship.”
“What was she like?”
Grimble laughed. “Ah, intelligent, charming and tough – very tough. She seemed meek and mild. But if you tangled with her, she’d take lumps out of you. Nobody pushed her around.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“Umm, probably on the Friday before she died.”
“You’re not sure?”
“Not really. I’m a bit vague on that. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time.”
“OK. Now, according to Rex, on the evening she was murdered, he dined at your house in Watson’s Bay?”
Robyn studied Grimble closely to gauge if he was telling the truth. His tone was calm and confident. But she suspected he could slip from truth to falsehood without ever grinding gears. After all, fiction was his great love.
Brian said: “You live alone?”
Grimble looked rueful. “Yes. I’ve had three wives. But the last one threw in the towel four years ago. I was disappointed at the time, of course. But, quite frankly, it was a blessing in disguise: bought myself a Harley Davidson and started taking long overseas trips.”
“Sounds like fun. There were no other guests?”
“Correct. Just us two.”
“Who arranged the dinner?”
Grimble shrugged. “Well, he phoned and said he was tired of writing his latest novel and desperately wanted company. I could understand that. Writing novels is lonely work. So I invited him to drive up and have dinner with me. I cooked osso bucco, if I recall. Very tasty. We also drank a good deal of red wine.”
“What did you talk about?”
Another shrug. “Not much. We chatted about books we’d read and exchanged gossip. But, to be honest, I don’t remember many details. I drank quite a lot and never thought I’d have to repeat it in court.”
“When did he leave?”
“Oh, around eleven. I asked him if he wanted to stay the night. But he said he’d head back to Nowra.”
“OK. Now, since then, have you spoken to Rex about that evening?”
“You mean, compared notes?”
Grimble shook his head. “Of course not. Rex said we shouldn’t talk about it and I agreed.”
Robyn knew that was a lie. It was a universal law of litigation that witnesses in the same camp always talked to each other, then denied it.
“Good. Now, I assume you’re prepared to get into the witness box and repeating what you’ve just said?”
“Of course.” Grimble picked up his briefcase and put it on his knees, ready to go. “Any more questions?”
Brian shook his head. “Not right now.”
“Good. So, you’ll get Rex off?”
Brian shrugged. “There are no guarantees. We’ll do our best.”
Grimble smiled. “If you get him off, sales of his novels will go through the roof.”
“And if I don’t?”
A wolfish smile. “Probably go into orbit.”
The literary agent stood, shook hands with the two barristers and said goodbye before Bernie escorted him to the lifts.
When they’d gone, Robyn turned to Brian. “You think he’s telling the truth?”
“About dining with Rex on the night of the murder?”
“No, I think he’s lying his head off. But my opinion doesn’t count. It’s what the jury thinks.”
“And will they believe him?”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, for a start, they’ll probably think he’s a bit too slick, especially if he gets into the witness box dressed like Beau Brummell. I mean, he looks like he pisses cologne. That won’t enhance his credibility. But the biggest problem is that he’s a good mate of Rex. The jury will reckon that Rex invoked the Old Mates Act and they cooked up the alibi together.” Brian shook his head. “I’m afraid Rex might have outsmarted himself. I’d prefer it if he didn’t have an alibi, so Grimble doesn’t have to give evidence.”
“Because I hate calling witnesses. Hate it. You know why? Because witnesses fuck up. Even when they’re trying to tell the truth, they stuff up: they get nervous and confused, make stupid concessions. Remember, the easiest way to lose a case is to call a witness. Whenever you call one, you’re a hostage to fortune.”
“You don’t trust anybody, do you?”
“You’ve got that right.” He hesitated and smiled. “Oh, yeah, except you.”
“Don’t put yourself out for me.”
Bernie re-entered the room and looked at Brian. “Pretty smooth, huh?”
“Too smooth. In fact, ask him to ditch the suspenders and bowtie before he gives evidence. Jurors don’t like witnesses – particularly alibi witnesses – who wear artsy-fartsy accoutrements.” He almost pronounced the last word right. “Ask him to dress more middle-class.”
Bernie sighed. “I’ll try. But he’ll probably say no. I get the impression he sleeps in that bowtie.”
“OK. So do you think Rex has got a chance?”
Brian rolled his eyes. “Let me see: our client had a punch-up with his wife just weeks before she was murdered, he told a huge pork pie to the cops concerning his whereabouts, and his alibi witness is an old buddy who dresses like Oscar Wilde. In other words, he’s in bad shape – very bad shape.”
Bernie sighed. “I was worried you might say that.”
When Robyn got back to her room, she had to forget about the Markham case and prepare for a sentencing hearing the next morning.
She’d just started re-reading the brief when someone entered her room. She looked up at a floor colleague, Gary Monahan. He was in his early thirties, tall and thin, with lank dark hair and incredibly normal features.
She’d only chatted to him a few times, at floor gatherings, and knew little about him, except that he specialized in tax law, which was about as foreign to her as alchemy. She quickly decided he was nice, but very dull. Of course, she was biased against him because he was a tax lawyer. But who could blame her? All the ones she’d met were photocopies of real people.
Now, he shifted on his feet, looking nervous. “Sorry to bother you. Got a moment?”
She leaned back, reluctantly. “Yeah, of course.”
He shuffled forward. “I’ve got a friend who’s been charged with drink driving and he wants to know what the magistrate might do. But it’s not my field; I don’t have a clue.”
“You want me to speak to him?”
“Oh, no. Just give me some idea and I’ll pass that on.”
She shrugged. “Sure. What was his blood-alcohol reading?”
Gary explained that his friend, while driving home from a dinner party, was pulled over and scored a 0.12 reading.
Robyn had represented lots of drink drivers in a similar predicament. “Does he accept the reading?”
“Yeah, I think so. He was pissed. He admits that.”
“Then he’s got to plead guilty and I’m afraid he’ll lose his licence. The only question is: for how long? If he’s a clean-skin, the beak will probably take it away for about a year.”
“Ouch. You sure?”
“Yup. When’s he got to appear in court?”
“A few weeks’ time.”
“Well, if he wants me to represent him, let me know.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll probably do it myself.”
“Thanks.” He looked like he was about to say some more, but shrugged and shuffled out.
Robyn wondered why he didn’t consult someone on the floor he knew better. Maybe he didn’t know many of the criminal barristers. Anyway, no point speculating. She dove back into the brief on her desk.
Robyn’s best friend at the Bar, Silvia Tyler, occupied a room a few doors away. Silvia had been a barrister for twenty years, specializing in land & environment law. That meant she handled disputes about building approvals, home extensions, backyard fences, obstructed views and property zonings. Since these were major concerns for most Sydneysiders, business was always good.
She had spiky gray hair and a leathery face. Her only concession to femininity was an ironic dab of lipstick. In court, she was blunt and acerbic. Outside, she was even harsher, particularly with male colleagues, who often feared her. “You know,” she once told Robyn, “there aren’t any real men on this floor. We should tell them to stop using the male loo.”
Robyn thought she was a lesbian until she learnt she had a husband and three kids. She’d never met the husband, but if only ten per cent of Silvia’s complaints were true, he was a truly pathetic specimen.
That afternoon, Robyn wandered into Silvia’s room and found her at her desk, reading a brief and smoking a hand-made cigarette.
Silvia looked startled and instinctively waved away the incriminating smoke. “Robyn. Fuck. Thank God you’re not the building supervisor. He’s on the prowl right now. What’s cooking in crime?”
Robyn was reluctant to mention getting the Markham brief, because she’d have to reveal Brian Davis was her benefactor. But Silvia would eventually find out. “Oh, I just got a junior brief in a big case.”
“Really? Who’s the punter?”
Silvia looked shocked and her hand twitched. A plug of cigarette ash skittered across her desk and napalmed the ragged carpet. “Wow. Congrats. That’ll be a blockbuster. Who’s your leader?”
The question she’d feared. “Umm, Brian Davis.”
A sardonic smile danced across Silvia’s lips and ignited her cheeks. “Oh, really? You’ve been his junior before, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, a few weeks ago.”
“So how’d you get this guernsey?”
“Well, it seems Brian recommended me to his solicitor.”
Silvia elevated heavy eyebrows. “Really? That was very nice of him.”
“It was, wasn’t it?”
Silvia leered. “Goodness, he must think you’re an able barrister – very, very able indeed.”
Robyn put her hands on her hips. “What are you suggesting, you evil woman? I didn’t fuck him, if that’s what you think.”
Silvia sucked on her cigarette and blew out a plume of smoke, like a femme fatale in a 40s movie. “Oh, no, I’m not suggesting that at all. But it’s quite possible, of course, that you got the brief because he wants to fuck you.”
Robyn crossed her arms. “You mean, you don’t think I deserve the brief on merit?”
“I’m sure you do. But let’s face it, he’s a known womaniser. In fact, I’ve heard he’s a one-man bonking team. And you are not unattractive, even if you could dress better.”
“Thank you, I think. But I’m not responsible for his behaviour. All I can say is that I haven’t bonked him and won’t bonk him. In fact, about a week ago, he asked me out to dinner and I turned him down flat.”
“Yet he still wants you as his junior in the Markham case?”
“Yeah. So maybe he thinks I’m the best person for the job.”
Silvia giggled. “Or he’s completely smitten and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Robyn shrugged. “If he is, that’s his problem. I’m not interested – not at all.”
“You sure about that?”
“He’s quite good-looking and bloody successful.”
“So what? He’s not my type.”
“Too self-satisfied, for a start. He could only ever love himself.”
Silvia’s eyebrows danced merrily. “My goodness, what an unusual barrister.”
Robyn sighed. “You know, on reflection, maybe I should have refused the brief.”
“Because a lot of people will probably think I’m shagging him.”
“No they won’t.”
“True. But I’ve got a dirty mind. You’d be insane to give it up. Keep it and do a good job.”
Robyn nodded. “Don’t worry, I will.”
“Good. Let’s celebrate your good fortune.” Silvia opened a drawer and fished out a whiskey bottle and a couple of glasses, which she puts on the desk.
Robyn frowned. “It’s a bit early.”
“Rubbish. It’s already past five.”
“Actually, it’s only four-thirty”.
“Close enough. Come on, one glass won’t hurt you.”
“OK. Just one.”
Silvia filled the two glasses and handed one over.
Silvia took a gulp and smirked. “You know, Brian Davis isn’t your only admirer. You’ve got one on this floor.”
Robyn mentally surveyed the male barristers who belonged to Fisher Chambers. None had caught her fancy. Indeed, she’d rarely seen so many sub-standard specimens. Their drawbacks ranged from alcoholism to slothful manners, gayness, obesity and excessive use of cologne. Most would look better with their wigs on backwards. She couldn’t pick her admirer and was reluctant to be told.
Morbid curiosity triumphed. “Really? Who?”
“Gary Monaghan’s been asking me about you.”
Christ. She hadn’t thought of him. This explained why he popped into her room for a chat.
Robyn said: “You’re kidding, right?”
“No. I think he likes you.”
“How do you know?”
“Because he asked me about your background and wanted to know if you’re married or seeing anyone.”
“Why’d he want that information?”
Silvia drained her glass and started rolling another cigarette. “Don’t play dumb, dearie. I’m sure he wants to drag you into bed.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I said you’re fertile, single and desperate.”
Robyn looked horrified. “You didn’t?”
“No. I only told him you were single.”
“He’s quite nice, but he’s very, very dull.” She pretended to yawn.
“You sure? I think he’s just shy, which is a pretty rare commodity these days, particularly around here.”
Robyn was a little surprised that Silvia, who usually savaged the men on the floor, had spoken up for Gary. But it didn’t matter. He lacked panache.
“Sorry, there’s no chemistry, I’m afraid.”
Silvia blew out another plume of smoke and held up the whiskey bottle. “Your call, dearie. Now, finish that glass and have another drop.”
Robyn drained her glass and praying that Gary Monaghan left her alone. Fortunately, he seemed to shy to make trouble.
Robyn rented a small terrace in Glebe with a friend, Veronica Schubert, who worked as a corporate solicitor at a huge legal fee factory called Douglas, Martin & Ross, better known as Double-Cross. Whenever Robyn worried she was too ambitious and driven, she consoled herself that Veronica was much worse. Double-Cross was basically a vertical gulag, except that inmates were allowed to wear suits and sleep at home. Only the strong survived. But Veronica loved it. She worked ridiculously long hours to meet outrageous billing targets. After five years at the firm she was already a senior associate and, in a few more, would become an equity partner with an office overlooking the harbour and no life outside work.
In her miniscule spare time, she exercised, shopped, read self-improvement books and chased men with demented energy. She was rarely home before eight o’clock. So that evening, when Robyn opened the front door, she was surprised to find the lights on.
“Veronica, you home?”
Veronica yelled back: “Yoo-hoo, in the kitchen.”
Robyn dropped her briefcase at the bottom of the stairs and wandered out to the kitchen. Veronica’s spidery frame was hunched over the bench, chopping zucchinis while humming to herself and bouncing around as if at a nightclub.
Robyn said: “How was life in the salt mine today?”
“Frantic. A big client wants us to sue a competitor. Now we’re working like crazy.”
“Who’s the client?”
“Can’t say: market-sensitive information.”
“Who’s the competitor?”
“Can’t tell you that either.”
“What’s the case about?”
Robyn didn’t want the details anyway. She’d never been interested in commercial litigation because there was little human drama: just big corporations slugging it out over sums that meant nothing to any of them.
Veronica tossed some zucchini slices into a pot. “How was your day?”
“Not bad. Got a fantastic new brief.”
“Really? Who for?”
Robyn grinned. “Would you believe, Rex Markham?”
Veronica turned and stared. “Shit. You’re kidding?”
“No. I’ll be junior counsel at his trial in about three weeks.”
Veronica smiled. “That’s great. Fantastic. How’d you snag that one?”
“You know that silk I worked with a couple of weeks ago?”
“Brian Davis – the one who asked you out to dinner?”
“Yes. He put in a good word for me.”
Veronica frowned. “I don’t understand. You said ‘no’ to dinner, but he got you this brief. Mmm. What’s going on?”
Robyn shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t care. All I know is that when someone offers you a brief in a big murder trial, for a client who’s paying top dollar, you take it, no questions asked.”
“Of course. But it sounds like he’s interested in you. So, if I was you, I’d hump him without delay.”
Robyn frowned. “You’ve never even met the guy.”
“True. But he’s a silk and has no major disfigurements. That’s all I need to know.”
“He’s also jumped into bed with almost every woman at the Bar.”
“Then why miss out?”
“You’re incorrigible. Why’re you home so early?”
“Steve’s dropping over.”
Veronica had been carrying on an affair with a married partner at her firm called “Steve” for several months. Robyn had met him several times when he dropped over for a quick shag, but still didn’t know his surname.
“You mean, Steve from your firm?”
“Yeah. His wife’s visiting her parents for a few days. She’s taken the kids. So he’s riding his bike over. I hope you don’t mind.”
Actually, Robyn did mind – minded a lot – because she was starting to feel like a co-conspirator. But there was nothing she could do short of move out.
She shrugged. “It’s up to you.”
Robyn looked at the food on the bench. “What’re you making?”
Veronica finished chopping the zucchini. “A vegetable risotto. You’re welcome to join us if you want.”
“Oh, no, you don’t want me.”
“Don’t be stupid. There’s heaps of food.”
She didn’t want to seem rude or judgmental and was hungry. “OK then. I’ll get changed.”
Robyn went upstairs, had a quick shower and changed into jeans and a T-shirt. Back downstairs, she found Steve sitting on a kitchen stool. He was in great shape for a man in his late thirties, wearing bicycle shorts and a Lycra singlet that barely contained his ropey muscles. His curly blond hair was damp and face flushed. Hard to believe his job was to advise on major finance transactions. Robyn would have found him quite attractive if he wasn’t a cheating bastard.
Robyn said: “Hi Steve.”
She hesitated, not sure which topics were safe. “How’s work?”
“Fine, fine. Busy, of course.”
Fortunately, Veronica said the food was ready and started serving the risotto.
While they ate, Veronica and Steve gossiped about their firm: which factions were ascending and descending; who was sleeping with whom; who would soon make partner and who would soon get the boot.
Everything about the conversation was depressing: the smallness of the topics, the meanness of the attacks and the helplessness of the targets. Neither worried about the big questions in life or clocking down towards death. They would spend the rest of their lives hiding in suits and finding meaning in timesheets; they would divide their lives into billable units and hand their self-images to performance review committees. Their conversation convinced Robyn that she would never, ever work in a big law firm again, no matter what.
Afterwards, she cleaned up while Veronica and Steve slipped upstairs. Soon they were whimpering like torture victims. She turned on the dishwasher to drown them out.
In desperation, she went into the living room and tried to watch an American court-room drama, but kept wanting to object to the stupid fucking questions the hero kept asking witnesses. The judge was also a moron who knew nothing about the laws of evidence. They should have put the scriptwriters in the dock.
The rodeo was still underway in Veronica’s room when she slipped up to bed. For a while, she’d been considering moving out and living on her own. Maybe it was time to act.
The next morning, Robyn strolled several blocks to the District Court Building for the sentencing hearing of a client called Felix Basten.
Felix was once a senior executive at a plastics factory. The cause of his downfall was an addiction to gambling and almost uncanny ability to lose money on horses, poker machines, greyhounds, cards, stock options and foreign-currency swaps. After losing all of his own money, he stole from his employer. That was easy because Felix was responsible for paying the firm’s building insurance premiums. Instead, he gambled that money away, losing almost $1.1 million in three years.
Then he lost his biggest bet. He arrived at work one morning and found the main factory engulfed in flames. He cruised past the assembled fire engines and drove straight home, where he scoffed half-dozen Valium, climbed into bed and pulled the blankets over his head.
However, the world would not leave him alone. The company soon discovered it had no building insurance and, within a month, Felix was charged with eleven counts of embezzlement, to which he pleaded guilty.
Robyn made her plea in mitigation to Judge Tony Tuck while her client sat in the dock with waxy skin, cherry-red eyes and several days of stubble. His shirt collar gaped away from his scrawny neck. His distressed wife sat in the back of the court.
Robyn spent half-an-hour pleading for the judge to be lenient because Felix was an honest and loving family man battling the demon of addiction.
“Hard Luck” Tuck listened impassively, then turned to Felix and accused him of abusing his position of trust and causing enormous loss to his employer. Indeed, the loss of its main factory without insurance cover almost put it out of business.
The judge sentenced him to six years in prison, with four years non-parole. Fortunately, he recommended that the sentence be served in a minimum-security facility.
Felix was led away and Robyn and her instructing solicitor, Bob Gilbert, consoled Felix’s wife, who asked if there were grounds for appeal. Robyn shook her head and said the sentence was “within the range”. Eventually, she extricated herself and trudged back along Elizabeth Street to her chambers.
Her bad mood got even worse when she saw Helen Muldoon sitting in the reception area, wearing a battered straw hat and enormous floral frock. The old woman had a square face, furry upper lip and snaggly teeth. But her most arresting features were eyes which glowed like volcano vents.
Almost two years ago she was charged under the Dog Act because her pet schnauzer allegedly attacked a postman. The heaviest punishment she faced was a fine; the dog faced being put to sleep.
Mrs Muldoon claimed her dog was in her back yard when the postal worker lost a big chunk of his arm. The real perpetrator was another schnauzer that lived nearby.
She couldn’t afford to pay for legal representation. Nor was she entitled to Legal Aid. However, a local solicitor generously agreed to act pro bono. He then asked Robyn to take the case on the same basis.
Back then, Robyn was a newly-minted barrister with high ideals and an empty diary. She was desperate to gain experience, even if it meant representing a crazy woman and her vicious dog. So she said yes.
However, she soon regretted that decision. Mrs Muldoon had a persecution complex, chronic narcissism and possibly schizophrenia. Conspiracies lurked everywhere. The dark forces arrayed against her included the police, her neighbours and the RSPCA. She had no doubt that, when the public finally understood the horrific persecution that she and her dog had endured, the legal system would crash to the ground. Robyn herself had to continually demonstrate her undying loyalty to both of them.
Further, despite paying nothing, Mrs Muldoon was unbelievably demanding. She telephoned Robyn almost weekly to rehash her numerous allegations and proclaim every small development a major crisis.
She also frequently turned up without an appointment. So Robyn wasn’t surprised to see her in the reception area clutching the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag that held the key documents in her case.
Robyn managed a stiff smile. “Hello Mrs Muldoon. I didn’t realize we’d arranged a conference?”
“We didn’t, but I was in the city, so I thought I’d drop in for a chat.”
“I’m very busy right now.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be long. I’ve brought you some fudge.”
Robyn would have preferred some money rather than risk losing a tooth on rock-hard fudge. “Oh, alright. I can only give you ten minutes, understand?”
Mrs Muldoon smiled indulgently. “Of course, dear, don’t worry.”
Robyn led the old woman into her room, where they sat facing each other across the desk.
Robyn couldn’t help staring at Mrs Muldoon’s moustache. Had it grown? It seemed bigger. “What do you want to talk about?”
Mrs Muldoon’s eyes flitted around the room to make sure they were alone. “I was watching one of those American police dramas on TV last night. You know, the one with the lesbian forensic examiner who looks after two disabled orphans. Anyway, do you know they can do a forensic examination of bite marks?”
“I’m sure they can.”
“We should do that, to prove Vinnie didn’t bite the postman.”
“I’m afraid we can’t.”
“Because the bite marks have healed.”
“You mean, they’ve destroyed the evidence?”
“No, the marks have healed. It’s a natural process.”
“They could have examined them before they healed?”
“Yes, I suppose so. But that would have cost thousands of dollars.”
“That’s no excuse.”
Not for the first time, Robyn wanted to scream that the whole universe didn’t revolve around her fucking dog. She resisted the urge. Instead, she glanced at the clock and wondered what she’d done to deserve Mrs Muldoon as a client. At least, for enduring this hell, she would appreciate all her other clients, no matter how horrible they might be.
Mrs Muldoon leaned forward. “So dear, you ready for the trial?”
Robyn vaguely recalled the trial was in a month or so. But she usually kept Mrs Muldoon in the back of her mind and couldn’t recall the exact date.
Oh, hell, she’d better check. She picked up her diary and turned over the pages. Ah, yes, it was due to start in three weeks time, on 16 June.
The penny dropped. Jesus. The Markham trial was scheduled to start a few days before that and run for at least a week. The trial dates clashed. Damn. What should she do?
The Bar Rules included the cab-rank principle: that a barrister – like a taxi driver – can’t dump a client because a better fare comes along. She was ethically bound to retain the Muldoon brief and return the Markham one.
But there was no goddamn way she’d do that. She wasn’t going to dump the greatest brief she’d ever received so that she could represent Mrs Muldoon and her vicious schnauzer in the Local Court for nothing.
Robyn boiled with frustration. Maybe she could flick the Muldoon brief to another barrister. But whoever took the brief would have to spend at least a day preparing for the trial and at least another day in court, for free. Who’d be stupid enough to do that? Robyn only took the brief because she was young and naïve. If she was offered it now, she’d run a mile. No question.
Mrs Muldoon saw the look of concern on Robyn’s face. “Something wrong, dear?”
Robyn managed a grim smile. “Oh, no, no. I’m definitely, umm, ready.”
Now completely distracted, Robyn let Mrs Muldoon burble on for another ten minutes, without listening, before abruptly telling her she had to see another client.
Mrs Muldoon looked annoyed and said she’d almost finished. But Robyn rose and defiantly escorted her to the lifts.
The solicitor instructing Robyn in the matter was a suburban practitioner called George Kotakis. Because he was also acting pro bono and now heartily despised Mrs Muldoon, he’d shown little interest and made Robyn do all the work.
Robyn called him at his office. After they’d exchanged hellos, she said: “George, I’ve got a problem.”
“I’ve been offered a junior brief in a murder trial.”
“The Markham case.”
“Congratulations. That’s fantastic.”
“Yeah. But it’s in the same week as the Muldoon trial.”
A long silence. “Really?”
“So I was wondering if you could find another barrister to do it.”
“You’re kidding, right? Nobody will take the brief. Mrs Muldoon doesn’t have a cent – not a zack.”
“You must know some barristers who owe you a favour.”
“Yeah, I do. But I won’t call in any IOUs for Mrs Muldoon. Definitely not.”
George could appear himself for Mrs Muldoon. The charge was small potatoes and he’d do as good a job as any barrister. But he obviously wouldn’t lift a finger to help. He’d act as a mail-box, no more.
She said: “Alright. I’ll ask around and see if I can find someone.”
“OK. But I don’t like your chances.”
“Nor do I.”
“If you can’t find a replacement, tell Mrs Muldoon she’s on her own. There’s a limit to how much she can expect.”
“I hear what you say. But I don’t fancy breaking the news to her.”
George sounded grim. “I take you point. Anyway, good luck.”
She hung up and desperately wondered whom she could persuade, without telling any lies, to represent Mad Mrs Muldoon and her delinquent dog. Nobody sprung to mind. Nobody.
OK then, if she had to tell some lies, she would.
The next morning, Robyn spent several hours wandering around Fisher Chambers trying to find a barrister crazy enough to take Mad Mrs Muldoon off her hands. She wheedled, pleaded and begged. But no-one – not even the baby barristers with no work – would appear in a dog-bite case for free. Indeed, several looked insulted she’d asked.
Who else could she importune? The only remaining candidate was Gary Monaghan. So far, she hadn’t approached him because he was a tax lawyer who’d probably never appeared in a criminal case. But Silvia said he was very keen on Robyn. So maybe he’d take the Muldoon brief to impress her.
Of course, Robyn couldn’t offer him anything in return. She certainly didn’t want a relationship. So she’d have to be careful she didn’t manipulate him or raise his expectations. She’d ask him very formally to take the brief. And if, despite her best efforts, he fooled himself that she liked him, that would be his fault. She strolled around to his room and stepped through the open doorway.
Though Gary had only been at the Bar for a few years, he was obviously prospering, because he had a big room overlooking Phillip Street. The three inner walls were lined with a massive collection of leather-bound law reports and loose-leaf tax services. The room was scrupulously neat and clean. Indeed, every document on his desk was carefully aligned with the edges and all of the carpet pile ran in the same direction. Christ.
Gary sat behind his desk, head down, dictating softly into a mini-cassette recorder. “Of course, the question you have asked is not without difficulty. However, on balance, I believe that the proposed tax-minimisation scheme complies with s149YZK of the Income Tax Assessment Act and is therefore legal. Thank you for your instructions. I enclose my memorandum of fees. End of tape.”
He switched off the tape recorder, sat back, noticed Robyn and flushed slightly. “Oh, hi.”
Despite vowing not to play any games, she couldn’t suppress a coquettish smile. “Hi. Got a moment?”
He leaned back, a little nervous. “Oh yeah. Sure.”
She’d planned to warm him up with some chit-chat, before asking him to take the Muldoon case. But she was too nervous. He’d probably say no anyway, so why delay?
She shifted on her feet and glanced down. “It’s like this: I was wondering if you could do me a favour.”
He brighten a little. “A favour?”
“Yes, a favour.”
Words tumbled out. “I’m looking for someone who’ll take over a pro bono brief I’m stuck with. It’s not much of a brief, I’m afraid. It’s umm, a dog-bite case in the Local Court. I’m for the defendant dog-owner, and the dog I suppose. The trial’s going to start in about a month. I’m jammed, because I’ve got a junior brief in a murder trial and, well, funnily enough, I’d rather do the murder trial.”
He looked a little puzzled. “A dog-bite case?”
“Yeah. Like I said, I’m for the defendant and I’m afraid she’s pretty mad. In fact, very mad. I’ll be so grateful if you’ll take the brief – so grateful.”
God, she’d vowed she wouldn’t try to manipulate him. But surely, by promising to be grateful, she’d done just that. Shit.
Gary looked uncertain. “A dog-bite case? You know, I haven’t done one of those.”
“I bet you haven’t. So this is your big chance. And, umm, I’d be so grateful.” Shit. She had to stop buttering him up. It was dishonest. It was wrong. It was unavoidable.
“When’s the hearing?”
“On 16 June.”
He took a small diary out of a drawer and flicked through it. “Yeah, well, I think I’m free.”
“Oh really? So you’ll do it?”
He shrugged and smiled nervously. “Why not? I probably should do a criminal matter some time, even if it’s only a dog-bite case. It’ll be an interesting experience. What do I need to know about it?”
Robyn studied his face, trying to divine his motives. Did he really want some criminal law experience? Or was he trying to curry her favour? He was so shy and polite it was hard to know. Indeed, he was so nice she wondered how he made a living at the Bar. Must be very bright.
Ultimately though, Robyn didn’t care why he’d agreed to take the brief. The important thing was that she could now appear in the Markham trial. Hallelujah.
She spent the next five minutes explaining the main features of the case, while he kept nodding his head. “OK. I understand. Drop in the brief when you get a chance.”
“I will, and thank you. Thank you very much.”
He looked a touch embarrassed. “Think nothing of it. I’m sure you’d do the same for me.”
Not a chance. She looked down at the carpet. “Well, I’m very grateful.”
Before the conversation could get more personal, she spun around and strode from the room, deeply relieved.
However, she soon felt a nagging guilt that she’d toyed with the affections of a very decent guy and prayed that sin didn’t come back to haunt her.
Brian Davis nudged his Audi coupe through dense traffic, with Robyn next to him, heading for the Markhams’ terrace in Paddington to inspect the murder scene.
Brian had already asked her several personal questions, trying to create a rapport. She kept her answers short to give him no footholds.
However, he persisted. “Your dad was a judge, right?”
“Died in chambers, I hear?”
“I’ve spoken to a few old-timers who appeared before him. Said he was very able.”
“Yes, and very frosty, I’m told.”
Brian smiled. “They mentioned that. You want to become a judge yourself?”
Now he was getting annoying. “First up, I want to make a living – then I’ll see.”
“Yeah. It’s hard isn’t it, when you start out? It’s all a question of who you know.”
Was he suggesting that, if she shagged him, she’d get ahead? Crude bastard.
“And I suppose all your Dad’s old pals are long gone?”
If he had any. “Yes, unfortunately.”
“What about you? Did you have any contacts when you started?”
“Yeah. My dad was a silk. When I came to the bar, he took me under his wing.”
That figured. Sometimes the Bar was like a guild into which parents introduced their children. It certainly explained his great sense of entitlement.
He skirted around a taxi and said: “What do you think of this car?”
Why stroke his ego? “Nice colour.’
He smiled uncertainly. “That all?”
“What else matters? Does it have good petrol mileage?”
He frowned. “Mileage? You don’t buy a car like this for mileage.”
She was enjoying herself. “Then what do you buy it for?”
He looked puzzled and half-smiled. “Oh, I see what you’re saying. It’s pretty self-indulgent, I know. But I can’t help myself. I’ve never been good at deferring gratification.”
She was tired of his weak attempts at boyish charm and shifted to professional matters. “What do you hope to learn at the murder scene? I mean, we’ve both seen the police forensic reports and photos.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I just want to poke around and get a feel for the place. And I want to keep our client happy. Clients expect their lawyers to visit the locus in quo. Otherwise, we look slack.”
He’d already mentioned that Rex Markham and Bernie Roberts would meet them at the terrace.
He weaved past a couple of cars, turned into a narrow cul-de-sac and parked against the curb. Fifteen metres away, Rex and Bernie stood outside a large terrace with a third man Robyn didn’t know. That man was in his late thirties, with blond hair and fine features.
Ten metres beyond them, leaning against a car, was a fat guy in an ill-fitting brown suit. Obviously, the Homicide detective assigned to supervise their visit. Maybe he took his suit off a corpse.
The two barristers approached the group of three.
Brian said: “Sorry we’re a bit late – bad traffic.”
Rex, looking strained, nodded towards the tall blond man. “This is Tim Nolan, a good friend of mine. Tim’s here to provide moral support.”
Nolan shook hands with the two barristers.
Brian said: “You a writer too?”
Nolan laughed. “Not really. I’m a sports reporter. I cover cricket for the Herald.”
“That’s writing, isn’t it?”
Another laugh. “A very low form.”
Rex said: “He’s selling himself short: he’s a good writer; has even ghosted a few cricket auto-biogs.”
Bernie said: “Tim’s agreed to provide character evidence at the trial.”
Accused in criminal trials can call witnesses to prove their good character and the unlikelihood of them committing the crime.
Nolan said: “It’s the least I can do. There’s no way Rex killed Alice. I’m sure of that.”
“Good.” Brian looked back at Rex. “You sure you want to go inside? You might find it upsetting?”
Rex shrugged. “I’ll be fine. In fact, this might help me slay a few demons.”
Bernie turned towards the fat guy lounging against a car. “Detective Brooks, we’re ready to go inside.”
Jowls bouncing, the detective lumbered towards the front door holding a set of keys. “Alright. I’ll let you in. But I have to accompany you, OK?”
Bernie nodded. “Sure. Just don’t listen to our conversations.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll stay back.”
Robyn stared up at a wide, three-storey terrace. Rex had obviously made plenty of money from scribbling novels and selling film rights.
Detective Brooks unlocked the front door, stepped aside to let them enter, and then followed several paces behind.
In the hallway, Bernie said: “Alright. Alice was murdered in the kitchen. We’d better go there first.” He glanced at his client. “Rex, perhaps you’ll lead the way.”
Rex led everyone down a long hallway to a massive kitchen with a stainless-steel topped island big enough for ping-pong, overlooking a tiny back-yard.
According to the report of the police forensic pathologist, Alice Markham, wearing pyjamas, was stabbed several times in the chest while standing in the kitchen. She fell to the floor and quickly died from “exsanguinations of blood”.
There were no traces left of the murder. After the police finished their forensic examination, professional crime-scene cleaners sponged away all blood-stains and even the chalk outline of the body on the floor. However, they hadn’t expunged the spooky vibe.
Brian glanced at Rex. “You OK?”
Rex looked tense. “Yeah, fine.”
Everybody stared at the back door, with its splintered jamb.
Brian would claim, at the trial, that the jamb showed an intruder broke in and murdered Alice. However, the police would allege Rex deliberately smashed the jamb to deflect blame.
Detective Brooks stood well back while everyone bent over and studied it. Robyn said quietly to Bernie: “Any idea what implement was used?”
Bernie said: “The police think it was a metal bar.”
Brian straightened up. “Alright, nothing more to see here. According to the police, some stuff was missing from the main bedroom. We’d better go up there.”
Nolan glanced at Rex. “You sure you want to see the bedroom?”
Rex took a deep breath. “Yeah. I’ll be OK.”
Brian said: “Alright then, you lead the way.”
Long-faced, the novelist trudged back through the terrace and up a long flight of stairs to a wide landing with several closed doors. He took a deep breath and pointed. “That one.”
Robyn pushed open the door and stepped into a large sunny bedroom with a balcony overlooking the back yard.
Whoever killed Alice came up to the bedroom and took a couple of boxes of jewelry from the dresser, which explained why a few drawers were still open.
Rex stepped into the bedroom, next to Robyn, looked around and sobbed. “Christ.”
Robyn stared at his trembling features and sensed he was innocent.
The rest of the group stepped into the bedroom and stared at Rex.
Robyn touched his forearm. “You alright?”
He gulped and smiled tensely. “Yeah, I’m OK. But I think I’ll wait outside.”
He spun around and disappeared. Nolan followed.
Brian looked at Robyn. “Will he be OK?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Detective Brooks stepped through the door and asked them not to touch anything.
Brian said: “It’s been cleaned.”
The detective shrugged. “I’ve got my orders.”
Brian looked slyly at the detective. “OK. But how much did they take?”
The detective looked puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“The first cops at the crime scene: how much did they take?”
Detective Brooks frowned. “Ha, ha. Very funny.”
Brian turned to the others. “Well, that seems to cover it. Let’s get out of here.”
They left the terrace and found Rex and his friend standing on the pavement. Rex still looked pale.
Robyn said: “How’re you feeling?”
Rex half-smiled. “Better. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
Brian said: “Need a lift anywhere?”
“No, I came with Tim. He’ll drop me off.”
Brian shrugged. “OK.”
Brian and Robyn said goodbye and strolled over to his Audi coupe. As they got in, Brian said: “Well, that was staggeringly uninformative.”
“Yeah, except for our client’s reaction when he stepped into the main bedroom.”
“What do you mean?”
“He looked so upset. You know, I think he really did love her.”
Brian rolled his eyes and slipped on his Raybans. “Of course he loved her. That’s why he killed her. No point killing someone you don’t love.”
“So, you really think he’s guilty?”
“Of course he’s guilty. Isn’t it obvious? He was in the middle of a bitter divorce. She was claiming a big slice of his money. So he snuck up to Sydney and bumped off the bitch. But he fucked up when he used his credit card to buy some petrol. What a bonehead.”
“But he’s a smart man. Why would he do something that stupid?”
“Because, in my experience, the only thing humans will never be short of is stupidity. In fact, the smartest people often do the dumbest things. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because they’ve got their heads in the clouds or because they’re so arrogant they don’t take normal precautions.”
“OK. But what about his reaction today? He seemed really upset.”
Brian snorted. “Yeah, but why? Because his wife got murdered? Or because he got caught? Who knows? Or maybe he wasn’t upset at all: maybe he was just acting. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Hah, hah. I think he’s innocent.”
“Well, if you want to carry that burden around with you, you can. Just don’t get too attached to him. That’s never a good idea in a murder case. Remember, he’s single at the moment because his wife was murdered. Further, there’s a good chance he’ll soon have a long vacation in an iron motel.”
His insinuation that she was attracted to Rex Markham was very annoying. Her interest in him was entirely professional. She sympathized with the pain he was going through. But his personality didn’t set her pulse racing. And even if it did, it wouldn’t matter: though he denied murdering his wife, he’d admitted to assaulting her. That alone put him beyond the pale.
It sounded like Brian was jealously trying to ward off a potential rival. Shit. She prayed he kept his distance, at least until the trial was over. After that, she would tell him to take a hike.
She said: “Don’t worry. I’m keeping my distance.”
Brian drove out of the cul de sac and headed towards the city.
She said: “OK then, let’s assume he’s guilty. How’re you going to get him off?”
“The traditional way: I’ll point the finger of blame at someone else.”
“You mean, like a burglar?”
“Yeah. Though most burglars are gutless cockroaches who couldn’t kill anyone. Juries know that. I’d prefer someone else.”
“Rex thinks Alice had a lover. What about that guy?”
“Yeah. He’ll be perfect if he exists and if he had a motive to kill her. They’re pretty big ifs.”
Bernie Roberts had employed a private detective to investigate Alice Markham’s past, but the guy didn’t identify the lover or anyone with a motive to kill her.
Robyn said: “There’s still a lot about Alice we don’t know, isn’t there?”
“Yep, definitely a woman of mystery.”
The sun had almost disappeared and the street lights started to glow. They were cruising down Oxford Street between restaurants and nightclubs.
He peered at her over his Raybans. “I’m hungry. We could have a bite to eat, if you want?”
Finally, he’d made a move. A small one. But so obvious.
She looked straight ahead. “No. Got to get back to chambers, I’m afraid: things to do.”
“OK,” he grunted.
Brian Davis had told Robyn that her main job, as his junior counsel, was to make him look good. He spoke in a jocular fashion, but was obviously serious. Certainly, he looked satisfied when she nodded dutifully and promised to do her best.
However, she had no intention of buffing up his reputation. The Markham case was a fantastic opportunity to build her own, and she wasn’t going to squander it. So it was vital two things happen: Rex got acquitted and she grabbed a big share of the credit.
To that end, she spent many hours reading and re-reading her brief, especially the prosecution materials, looking for flaws in the Crown case. But she ended up conceding the case against Rex was very strong. In fact, he probably should plead guilty and hope for a lenient sentence.
Yet, she was troubled by how little they knew about the victim, Alice Markham. Who was she? Who were her friends and enemies? Was she, as Rex suspected, having an affair? And, if so, did her lover have something to do with her death?
After some hesitation, Robyn decided to make a few inquiries of her own. Maybe a woman would find it easier to extract information from Alice’s friends.
The Bar Association frowned on barristers investigating crimes. Their job was to appear in court, not gather evidence and risk becoming witnesses. Snooping around could get Robyn into trouble.
But this was no ordinary case. It just might just launch her career. She was prepared to push the envelope. Anyway, if she found evidence that cleared Rex, her sins would be forgiven. And if she didn’t, well, hopefully nobody would notice her snooping.
She considered telling Brian about her plan, but soon scotched that idea. He’d just spout the official line and assume she was trying to grab a big slice of glory for herself, which was true.
The literary agent, Hugh Grimble, had been close to both Rex and Alice, and was Rex’s main alibi witness. Robyn wanted to talk to him again: maybe he knew something important they’d overlooked and she was keen to see exactly where Alice worked.
She picked up the phone to call Grimble and hesitated, afraid she might get into trouble. But she told herself “no guts, no glory” and punched the numbers.
A receptionist answered and put her call through to Grimble. Robyn told him she had a few more questions and hoped he could find time for a chat.
He sounded a little annoyed. “We’ve already talked.”
“Yes. But there are a few more things I want to cover.”
“Oh, alright,” he said unhappily. “I’m very busy, but can probably fit you in some time this afternoon. That alright?”
“Oh yes. What about four o’clock?”
“OK. See you then.”
The literary agency, Grimble & Co, occupied a large suite on the seventh floor of a red-brick office building on the fringe of Chinatown. Robyn stepped from a lift into a large, sparsely furnished reception area. A receptionist – in her early twenties, with a pale, acne-sprinkled face – was reading a dog-eared Ludlum thriller. She put it down and smiled sweetly. “Hi. How can I help?”
“I’ve got an appointment to see Hugh Grimble.”
“And your name is?”
The receptionist picked up a phone and said Robyn had arrived. After listening for a few seconds, she put it down. “Mr Grimble’s running a bit late. Be out as soon as possible. Please take a seat.”
Robyn sat on a long leather couch. The receptionist picked up her novel and resumes reading.
Robyn said: “Good book?”
“Not really. You know, with thrillers, I can never follow the plot: everything happens so fast and nothing fits together.”
“I know what you mean. I suppose you must be very upset.”
The receptionist wore a blank expression, which suited her. “Upset? About what?”
“Alice Markham getting murdered.”
The receptionist’s eyes widened. “Oh, yes, Alice. Terrible, terrible. She was such a lovely woman. Oh, yes, terrible. Did you know her?”
“No. I’m one of the barristers representing Rex Markham at his murder trial.”
“Oh, Mr Markham. It’s horrible they charged him with murder, isn’t it? I’m sure he didn’t kill her, I really am.”
“Do you know him well?”
“Not really. But he sometimes drops in here. He’s very sweet.”
“Hopefully we’ll get him off.”
“That would be wonderful.”
“Did you know Alice for long?”
“About a year.”
“And when did you last see her?”
The receptionist still looked vague. “You know, I can’t really remember. I suppose it was the day before she was murdered.”
“You mean, the Friday?”
The receptionist buried her head back in the novel and Robyn flicked through a literary magazine for a couple of minutes, until Hugh Grimble appeared. His polka-dot bowtie and green suspenders were a very conventional way of looking unconventional. Her eyes were tired of them already.
Grimble said: “Ah, Ms Parker. Sorry to keep you waiting. Please, come into my office.”
He led her down a narrow corridor, past a couple of open doorways, into a large office with a wide mahogany desk and two red-leather couches. A whole wall was festooned with photographs of Grimble with various celebrity authors, including Patrick White, Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis.
Grimble got Robyn to sit on a couch and dropped down next to her. He crossed his legs. “You said on the phone you’ve got a few more questions. How can I help?”
Robyn took a pad from her bag and put it on her lap. “I’m really trying to find out more about Alice Markham: dig around in her past, see if anyone else had a motive to kill her. I thought I should talk to you first, because you knew her so well.”
“Yes, I did. I employed her for about ten years. We grew very close.”
“You must have been shocked when she was murdered?”
“Absolutely stunned. And when I heard Rex was charged, it just took my breath away. Unbelievable.”
“What exactly did Alice do for you?”
“Well, I started this business on my own. But as it expanded, I employed assistants. Alice was the first. Then, about four years ago, I employed another woman, Beverley Nolan. She’s still with me.”
“Really? When we visited the murder scene, Rex brought a friend called Tim Nolan. Any relation?”
“Yes. They’re married. You see, Alice and Bev worked very closely together and became good friends. Then their husbands – Rex and Tim – got to know each other.”
“OK. So Alice and Beverley were your assistants. But what, exactly, did they do?”
“Basically looked after any clients I didn’t have time to handle.”
“Looked after? How?”
“Oh, stroked their egos, edited their manuscripts, negotiated with publishers, handled their PR, passed on royalty cheques…”
“After deducting your commission?”
“Of course. This isn’t a charity.”
“How many writers did Alice handle?”
“About twenty or so.”
“A few. But I handled most of them.”
“He didn’t want his wife to act for him?”
“They wanted to keep their professional and private lives separate. Understandable, I think.”
“So who looks after her writers now?”
“I do, except for one.”
“A novelist called Richard Olsen.”
“Why not him?”
Grimble smiled ruefully. “Because I’ve got absolutely no goddamn idea who he is.”
“‘Richard Olsen’ is his pseudonym; I don’t know his real name.”
“Because Alice somehow discovered him and brought him to this firm. She promised him she wouldn’t divulge his identity to anyone, including me. And now she’s taken that secret to her grave.”
A tight smile. “I wish I was.”
“And he hasn’t contacted your firm since she died?”
“Forgive my ignorance: what’s he written?”
“Only one novel, called Waiting for Rain. It’s about a small country town in the grip of a drought. Everybody goes crazy and someone starts strangling little old ladies. Eventually, the cops find the culprit is the local priest, who’s lost his faith. The book came out a few years ago. Won several awards. It’s brilliant. Just brilliant. Richard Olsen – whoever the hell he is – is a major talent.”
Robyn knew this was a big detour, but was intrigued. “If he’s so good, why doesn’t he want anyone to know his real name?”
Grimble shrugged. “How would I know? I’ve never met him.”
“It seems rather strange.”
“Of course it does. But novelists are strange people. They spend years writing manuscripts that rarely get published and, when they are, often get mauled by critics and dumped into remainder bins. Anyone who’ll go through that wringer must have some very big screws loose.”
“Including Rex Markham?”
Grimble laughed. “He’s saner than most, but I wouldn’t give him a clean bill of health.”
“Did Alice Markham give you any clues about who Richard Olsen might be?”
“Not really. I mean, at first, I suspected he was one of her existing novelists. Then I realized he couldn’t be. None was good enough to write something like Waiting for Rain. Nor did they have Olsen’s style.” Grimble shrugged. “Of course, I could be wrong on both counts: judging novels is a very subjective art.”
“Did you ever ask to meet this guy?”
“Of course. But Alice said he wouldn’t see me. She said I should be glad, because he was difficult to deal with.”
“Difficult? In what way?”
“For a start, she claimed he lusted after her.”
“Really? And how did she respond?”
“According to her, she brushed him off.”
“Has he written anything else, since Waiting for Rain?”
“Yes, but I haven’t seen it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I kept pestering Alice about when he’d produce another novel and she kept saying he was hard at work, but she didn’t know when he’d finish it. So I started to assume he was a one-novel wonder, when …”
Robyn was completely hooked. “When what?”
“A couple of weeks before Alice died, she said he’d sent her another manuscript.”
“Wow. Did you read it?”
“No. But Alice did and was very disappointed; said it needed a lot more work before it could be published.”
“Did she explain what was wrong?”
“No, and I didn’t ask. She said Olsen was very upset when she gave him her verdict.”
“Does that surprise you?”
“No. Novelists are very touchy people. They think everything they’ve scribbled deserves a Nobel Prize.”
“And what happened to the manuscript? Where is it now?”
Grimble frowned. “I don’t know. After Alice died, I searched her office and didn’t find it.”
“Got any idea where it might be?”
“Nope. Maybe she sent it back to Richard Olsen with her comments. I don’t know.”
Robyn slowly exhaled. “That’s quite a story. So maybe Richard Olsen killed Alice?”
Grimble looked surprised. “You’re kidding, aren’t you? Why would he kill her?”
“I don’t know: to protect his identity; because he was infatuated with her; because she said his second novel was crap. There are lots of possible reasons.”
A hard stare. “I think you’re grasping at straws.”
Robyn knew he was right. Richard Olsen, whoever he was, probably had nothing to do with Alice’s death. But she had no other leads and was quite curious to know his real identity. “Maybe. But Rex doesn’t have to prove that someone else murdered Alice. He just has to create a reasonable doubt.”
Grimble nodded. “True.”
Robyn got to her feet. “Well, thank you. You’ve been very helpful. Do you mind if I speak to Beverley Nolan?”
Grimble frowned and nodded reluctantly. “No. It’s a free country. Let me introduce you.”
He led Robyn down the short corridor and stepped into a small, cluttered office. At a desk, reading a galley proof, was a thin woman in her mid-thirties with a blonde page-boy haircut, pert features and turbulent eyes. She gave Robyn a probing stare.
Grimble said: “Bev, this is Robyn Parker, one of Rex Markham’s barristers. She wants to chat with you, if you’ve got time.”
Beverley Nolan folded a wary gaze into a tense smile. “Sure. No problem.”
Grimble hesitated and shrugged. “Alright then, I’ll leave you two alone.”
As he disappeared, Beverley Nolan took some books off the only other chair and asked Robyn to sit.
Once seated, Robyn nodded towards the galley proof. “Interesting book?”
“Hardly. It’s a gardening manual.”
“So you don’t only work with novelists?”
Beverley grimaced. “No. In fact, I usually handle our non-fiction writers. They write cookbooks, gardening manuals, self-help books, travel guides, biographies and stuff like that. Hugh and Alice usually handled the novelists.”
“Because the book industry ain’t what it used to be: publishers are disappearing; book shops are closing; everybody is publishing on-line and digital piracy is rife. It’s a bold new world in which literary agents probably won’t even have bit parts.”
Robyn noticed a framed photograph of Tim Nolan on the desk. “You know, I’ve met your husband, Tim.”
“Yes. He was with Rex when we all visited the murder scene.”
Beverley nodded. “Oh, yes, that’s right. Tim went along to support Rex. They’re good friends.”
“How’d that come about?”
“Because Alice and I were close, Tim and Rex kept bumping into each other, and eventually became good mates.”
“Are you close to Rex?”
Beverley shook her head. “Not really. We’ve never hit it off.”
A shrug. “I’ve always found him a bit arrogant, I suppose. And he used to bully Alice and criticize her in public, which I couldn’t stand.” Beverley smiled. “In fact, I don’t even like his novels.”
Beverley smiled. “I think he tries too hard to imitate Le Carre, but only proves he’s nowhere near as good as The Master.”
Beverley smiled. “You asked.”
“Yes, I did. But your opinion of him didn’t affect your friendship with Alice?”
“Oh, no. We were very close. Told each other everything.”
Robyn felt a hint of excitement. Beverley was just the sort of person who might have vital information. “You talked about her marriage?”
“Oh, yes, and I had a ring-side seat when it fell apart. They agreed to divorce. Did you know that? They even started talking – or rather, arguing – about dividing up their assets. Alice thought he was trying to hide his money and rip her off.”
“And she wanted to stop that?”
“Rex thinks she was having an affair. That true?”
Beverley bit her lip and looked out the window at the patchy grey sky. “I’d rather not comment.”
Robyn interpreted that as a big “yes”. She edged forward on her chair. “I’m afraid you must. Rex has been charged with murder. So if you’ve got any information – any at all – that might save him, you should tell me. I know you don’t like him. But you wouldn’t want that on your conscience.”
Beverley hesitated. “OK. But if I tell you what I know, it’s off the record, right? You won’t tell anyone – including Rex – that I told you?”
Robyn couldn’t honestly promise that, but was desperate for the information. “Yes, of course.”
“Alright. But if you try to involve me, I’ll deny telling you anything. Understand?”
Robyn didn’t even blink. “Of course.”
Beverley leaned forward and said quietly: “Well, yes, Alice had an affair. Like I said, we talked about everything. For a few years before she died, she saw a guy.”
Eureka. Robyn tried to slow her heart and control her breathing. “Who?”
“One of the writers she handled.”
“Guy called Terry Torkhill?”
Robyn regarded herself as well read, but didn’t know the name. “OK. And were they serious?”
Beverley shrugged. “I don’t think so. I got the impression it was just nice and uncomplicated, which is what they both wanted.”
“And how was the affair going when she died?”
Beverley shrugged. “OK, I think. I mean, she never complained about it.”
“Have you met Torkhill?”
“Yes, quite a few times, and I quite like him.”
She shrugged. “He’s no oil painting. But he’s intelligent, funny and quite nice.”
“Yes. A bit of a loner, like many writers.”
“What does he write?”
Beverley grinned. “Question of taste, I suppose. I’ve only read one. It was brutal, violent and misogynistic. But I rather enjoyed the lack of artifice. His style comes from within the story, rather than outside, if you know what I mean.”
She didn’t. “And Alice liked them, I suppose?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t really discuss them. They don’t provoke much critical reflection, and she didn’t like him because of his command of the long sentence, if you know what I mean.”
“What do you think about her sleeping with one of her novelists? Sounds a bit unprofessional to me.”
Beverley smiled. “Maybe. But book industry people aren’t professionals. We’re in a small dying trade with lousy pay. That’s probably why there’s so much bonking, to compensate for the rotten conditions.”
Robyn giggled. “OK. And tell me, have the police talked to you?”
Beverley lifted her eyebrows. “No. Should they?”
“Maybe they decided they’d charged the right man and there was no point.”
“Maybe. Oh, and one last thing: do you have Terry Torkhill’s telephone number?”
“Sure. Let me get it.”
“I understand you write crime thrillers,” Robyn said as Terry Torkhill led her down a short hallway to his living-room.
“Yeah. They’re variously described as splatter novels, blood ballets or nihilistic noir.”
“What are they about?”
“I usually bring together a group of violent criminals who commit a dirty deed, like rob a bank or kidnap a wealthy industrialist. But, of course, the biggest crimes they commit are against each other.”
“No good guys?”
Torkhill smiled. “The bad guys are the good guys.”
“Only if they like shootin’ and rootin’.” Torkhill smiled. “So, as you can guess, when I write a novel, I don’t unlock the great mysteries of life or tear out a chunk of my soul and give it to the reader. I assume you haven’t read any of my books?”
“I’m afraid not. I’m out of touch with nihilistic noir, though I sometimes read detective novels, mostly Scandinavian.”
“You mean novels about depressed policemen written in Ikea prose?”
She laughed. “Yeah.”
The living-room was neat and clean as a dental surgery, with modular furniture on sea-grass matting. Glass doors fronted a balcony overlooking Bondi Beach. Hundreds of brown bodies lay scattered on the sand like the casualties of an invasion force. Swimmers bobbed about in the surf; wet-suited surfies scrawled on the front of waves. In the distance, two oil tankers crawled along the horizon like black slugs.
They sat and faced each other over a glass coffee-table. He was in his early forties, quite tall, with thinning brown hair and plain features. If she stood next to him on a bus, she wouldn’t remember anything about him when she got off, except maybe for his twinkling eyes.
He said: “Do you know the real difference between a so-called literary novel and a thriller?”
“There’s no objective standard for judging a literary novel. So if it’s boring or badly written, the writer can easily blame the reader for being impatient or lacking insight. But with a thriller, the standard is obvious: it thrills or it doesn’t. The writer’s got nowhere to hide.”
“I hadn’t thought about it like that. I’m sure yours pass the test.”
“How many novels have you written?”
“Half-a-dozen. But the last one didn’t sell too well. I think readers are getting a bit tired of me and the sub-genre. Time to reinvent myself.”
“I think I’ll start writing vampire or zombie novels. For some reason, they’re selling like hot cakes right now.”
“Of course. I’m a commercial novelist. I follow the market. I’d even put product placements in my novels if I could. I certainly don’t want to go back to my previous job.”
“What was that?”
“I was a lawyer.”
She laughed. “I fully understand.”
Torkhill smiled and leaned back. “Anyway, on the phone you said you’re a barrister representing Rex Markham?”
When Robyn told him that, and asked for a chat, she expected reluctance. Instead, he immediately agreed in a friendly tone. Didn’t even ask what she wanted to talk about. Just told her to come right over, as if he had nothing to hide.
Now, she said: “Yes, that’s right.”
“And how can I help you?”
“Well, umm, I understand Alice Markham was your contact at Grimble & Co?”
“Yeah. Looked after me for about five or six years: read my manuscripts, negotiated with publishers, stuff like that. I was devastated when she died.”
“You got on well?”
“Yes, very well.”
Time to toss her grenade. She cleared her throat and stared out at the white sand curving around to the headland. “Really? Well, you see, I’ve been told you, umm, had an affair with her.”
Robyn expected a vigorous denial. Instead, Torkhill coolly sat back and crossed his arms, as if such accusations were a daily occurrence. “Who told you that?”
“I’d rather not say.”
Torkhill shrugged. “Fair enough.”
“Well, did you?”
He looked serene. “Yes, in fact, I did.”
Robyn was surprised at his openness. “Really?”
“Yes, for a few years.”
“And when did it end?”
“When she died.”
“How often did you see her?”
“You mean, intimately?”
“Oh, once or twice a month.”
Robyn was puzzled. The Homicide cops should have interviewed Torkhill. Yet he wasn’t even mentioned in the prosecution brief. Why not?
She said: “Just out of curiosity, did any Homicide detectives talk to you about Alice Markham’s death?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Yes. A little birdie must have told them I had an affair with her. Probably the same one who told you. They wanted to know if I murdered her.”
Robyn desperately wet her lips. “And did you?”
A wry smile. “Alice was murdered on 17 September last year, correct?”
He leaned forward and his face lit up. “On that day I was in London, attending a writers’ festival. In the morning I chaired a panel discussion called The Death of the Femme Fatale; in the afternoon I gave a talk called Cherchez la Feminist. Snappy, huh? If you want, I can show you my passport. It’s got entry and exit stamps. So, when Alice died, I was on the opposite side of the globe.”
Robyn’s heart sank. No wonder he was so blasé about admitting his affair with Alice. He couldn’t possibly have murdered her.
She said: “That’s a pretty good alibi.”
Torkhill laughed. “Show me a better one.”
Though not a suspect, he still might know some useful information. “OK. So did she talk much about her marriage?”
“No, not much. She came here to get away from her husband, not talk about him. But it was obviously a shambles, and she mentioned, a couple of times, that he’d hit her during arguments. He obviously has a bit of a temper. That’s one of the reasons she wanted a divorce.”
“And what did you do, when she mentioned his violence?”
Torkhill sighed and looked guilty. “Nothing. She told me not to get involved – she could handle him. Now, of course, I wish I’d done something. She might still be alive.”
“Have you met Rex Markham?”
“Yeah, a couple of times.”
“You think he’s capable of murder?”
Torkhill smiled. “Well, plenty of people think novelists are too wimpy to kill anyone: we’re observers, not doers.”
“You don’t agree?”
“No. Novelists are as capable of murder as anyone – maybe more so. Remember what Graham Greene said…”
“…that in the heart of every writer is a splinter of ice.”
“And you think Rex Markham has that splinter?”
“I’m sure he does.” Torkhill grinned. “And let me say, as a fellow novelist, that I hope he’s guilty. I really do. It would boost the morale of the whole profession.”
Robyn suppressed a ghoulish laugh. “I think he’s innocent.”
“Really? Have you read his latest novel, Jihad?”
“Yes. What about it?”
“At the start of the novel, the hero is in a bad marriage. One night, he’s driving home with his wife and crashes the car. He lives; she dies. For the rest of the novel he’s haunted by a fear that he deliberately crashed the car to kill her. That’s why he goes to Afghanistan to work as a doctor: to heal that psychic wound.”
“And you think Rex was writing about his desire to kill his own wife?”
“But it’s just a novel, right?”
“True. But there are no accidents in a novel. Everything means something, even if it’s hard to work out what it is.”
“Hopefully, the jurors won’t read Jihad as closely as you. Thanks for your time.” As she stood to leave, a new thought intruded. “Oh, and by the way, did Alice ever talk to you about a novelist called Richard Olsen?”
“You mean, the guy who wrote Waiting for Rain?“
“Yes, though Richard Olsen is a pseudonym.”
“I know that. Yeah, we talked about him.”
“Did she mention his real name?”
“Did you ask?”
“Asking would have been bad manners: novelists are entitled to hide behind pseudonyms.”
“OK. Thanks for your time.”
Torkhill smiled ruefully. “Sorry to disappoint you. I bet that, when you heard I was Alice’s lover, you got very excited: thought you could pin the murder on me.”
Robyn flushed, but there was no point lying. “That crossed my mind.”
A sly smile. “Well, don’t worry, all is not lost.”
“What do you mean?”
“Alice had another lover.”
Robyn had never considered that possibility, which seemed rather indulgent. Her jaw dropped. “What?”
“Alice had another lover.”
“You mean, you weren’t the only one?”
Torkhill laughed at her consternation. “That’s what I just said.”
“OK. Who was he?”
“I don’t know. You see, once, when we were kidding around, Robyn said I’d better stay on my toes, because I had a competitor.”
“Did she name the guy?”
“She might have made him up?”
“That’s possible. But I doubt it.”
“Maybe her other lover was Hugh Grimble.”
“Why do you say that?”
“They worked together and he looks like a ladies’ man.”
“True, but he wasn’t the other guy.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I asked Alice that very same question for those very same reasons, and she denied it. Said he wasn’t her type.”
“Maybe she was lying?”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I always got the impression she didn’t like Grimble and only put up with him because he was her boss. In fact, she often bitched about things he did at work and poked fun at his pomposity.”
“OK. So when did she first mention this other lover?”
“About a year before she died. Then he became something of a running gag between us.”
“You weren’t offended?”
Torkhill shrugged. “No. She knew I didn’t care. We had a good time together, but not a close, clingy relationship. In fact, she probably mentioned the other lover to emphasize that fact.”
“You didn’t want to marry her or anything like that?”
“Definitely not. I mean, I liked her, I really did. She was an interesting woman. But I’m not the marrying type. I like my freedom; like my space. Having an affair suited me down to the ground.”
“You weren’t excited about her getting divorced?”
“Not really. I wanted her to be happy, but I didn’t want to change our arrangement.”
“Sounds a bit sordid, doesn’t it? But I did nothing wrong. I didn’t cheat on anyone. She did, and that was her business, not mine.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not here to judge you. Far from it.”
He smiled. “Thanks.”
Robyn headed towards the front door.
He said: “Hey. You want to read one of my novels?”
Robyn didn’t, but didn’t want to be rude. “OK.”
Torkhill went to a bookshelf and removed a paperback, which he handed over. The title, Slash and Burn, appeared above a blood-spattered knife. Though Robyn had no intention of reading it, she dropped it into her bag, next to a copy of Waiting for Rain that she’d bought an hour ago.
She said: “Thanks.”
Torkhill looked her straight in the eye. “If you’ve got any more questions – about the novel or anything – give me a call, OK.”
She averted her gaze. “Sure.”
When she reached the pavement outside, she mobile phoned Beverley Nolan at work.
They exchanged hellos and Robyn said: “I’ve just been speaking to Terry Torkhill, who told me something very interesting.”
“He claimed that Alice Markham had two lovers. He admitted he was one of them, but couldn’t name the other one.”
Beverley sounded genuinely surprised. “You’re joking, right?”
“No. Alice told him she had another lover.”
“She might have been lying.”
“He doesn’t think so.”
“Well, I don’t know who the other guy might be. Alice only told me about Terry.”
“I thought she told you everything?”
“She did and that’s why Terry’s probably wrong.”
“OK. But if you work out who the other lover might be, give me a call.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
It was now almost six o’clock. Robyn headed straight home. When she got there, Veronica wasn’t around. She ate some left-over lasagna, went upstairs, lay on her bed and started reading Waiting for Rain.
As Hugh Grimble had said, it was about a drought-stricken country town where everyone is going mad. The townspeople suffer from boredom, alcohol abuse, violence and heat. Someone starts killing cats and dogs, then graduates to little old ladies. Eventually, the police discover the culprit is the local priest, who’s lost his vocation. The novel ends with the priest immolating himself in his church.
Robyn couldn’t stop reading it. Four hours later, when she’d finished, she knew that Richard Olsen was a brilliant writer. She also suspected he was slightly demented. But demented enough to kill? She had no idea and was curious to find out.
If Robyn wanted to ask Rex Markham any questions, she was supposed to funnel them through her instructing solicitor, Bernie Roberts. But she was too impatient to take that course. The next morning, she phoned Rex direct.
“Hello, Rex Markham here,” he said guardedly.
“Rex, this is Robyn Parker, your junior barrister.”
His voice brightened. “Oh, yes, how are you?”
“Fine. Look, I’m sorry to bother you. I’ve got a few questions to ask, about the case.”
“You want to ask them right now?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
He paused. “I’ve got a better idea: why don’t we have lunch together? Then you can ask as many questions as you want.”
Barristers weren’t supposed to meet their clients without their instructing solicitor present. “Umm, I’d rather not.”
“No, I insist. What about Olivia’s, in Paddington, at 12.30.”
“I really don’t think I should.”
“Good. I’ll see you there.” He hung up.
Robyn hesitated. Should she go? Oh, hell, why not?
Olivia’s was a posh French restaurant on Oxford Street, with tables spilling out onto the pavement. When Robyn arrived, Rex sat inside, next to the front window, idly munching dry bread. Several other patrons eyed him discretely, reveling in his notoriety.
In the strong light, he looked pale and drawn, which was hardly surprising. In his position, she’d have lost all her hair and ground her teeth down to the gums.
She said: “Sorry I’m late.”
He rose and shook her hand. “No problem. Thanks for coming.”
She sat and scanned the restaurant. It was a fancy place that served morsels artistically arranged on a plate. The waiters all slid around on the balls of their feet, looking intense. Most were probably aspiring actors. Right now they were playing waiters and giving the performances of their lives.
He said: “I should apologise for forcing you to lunch with me. But, right now, I’m rather short of lunch companions. Most of my fair-weather friends have stopped calling.” Rex glanced around. “Even now, I can feel eyes drilling holes in me.”
“Forget about them. You’re innocent.”
He smiled. “Thanks. But business first: you said you’ve got some questions?”
“Yes. You see, I’ve been digging around a bit, to find out if anyone else had a motive to kill your wife.”
“Really? Any luck?”
“Yes. If I recall, you thought she was cheating on you?”
“Well, I’ve discovered she was.”
Rex filled his cheeks and exhaled slowly. “Christ. Who with?”
“A writer called Terry Torkhill.”
“Torkhill? The crime writer?”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
“Yeah, but not well. I’ve only met him a few times.”
“Alice handled his career.”
“I know. Are you sure they were, umm…?”
“Yes, I spoke to him yesterday and he admitted it.”
“Wow. Do you think he murdered her?”
“No. He’s in the clear.”
She described Terry Torkhill’s cast-iron alibi for the night of the murder. “So, you see, he was 15,000 kilometres from the murder scene.”
Rex sighed. “Damn.”
“But it appears he wasn’t your wife’s only lover.”
Rex looked stunned. “You’re kidding?”
“No.” She repeated Torkhill’s revelation that Alice claimed to have another lover.
Rex said: “That’s unbelievable.”
“Not really. Once she had one lover, it probably wasn’t a big step to have two.”
“You mean, she got a taste for it?”
“But Torkhill can’t name the other guy?”
“Christ. Alice really did get around, didn’t she? I suppose she found that pretty easy with me spending so much time down at the beach house, writing my novels.”
“Yep. So have you got any idea who the second lover was?”
Rex shook his head. “Not a clue.”
“How did you find out about Torkhill?”
Robyn had promised Beverley Nolan not to name her as the source. “I’ve promised not to say.”
“OK. Is that the only reason you wanted to talk?”
“No, there’s another matter.”
“Your wife acted for a writer called Richard Olsen – or, at least, that’s his pseudonym. He wrote a novel called Waiting for Rain.”
“I know. So what?”
“I was wondering if you know his real name?”
“Why do you want to know that? Is it important?”
She shrugged. “Probably not. But your wife thought Olsen was infatuated with her. And just before she died, Olsen sent her a new manuscript, which has now disappeared.”
“And you think this Olsen – whoever he is – had something to do with her death?”
Robyn shrugged. “I don’t know. I just find the timing very curious. Don’t you?”
“Yes. But I’m afraid I can’t help you: I don’t know his real name.”
“Alice never told you?”
“Correct. She said she’d promised not to reveal it and I didn’t press her. In fact, I wasn’t all that interested. I started reading Waiting for Rain and gave up after about thirty pages. It’s pretentious twaddle.”
“So you didn’t write it?”
He leaned back and laughed. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“Oh, no particular reason. Just idle speculation.”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
“And Alice didn’t write it?”
“No, I don’t think so. In fact, so far as I’m aware, she had no literary ambitions at all. Loved books, but not writing them.”
A handsome young waiter appeared and they both ordered lunch. Rex also ordered a bottle of chardonnay.
As the waiter left, Robyn leaned forward. “How are you coping with the strain?”
A facsimile smile. “Surviving. At first, of course, I was stunned. I mean, almost overnight, I found out my wife had been murdered and I was the prime suspect. Suddenly got more publicity than I dreamed possible. That’s a lot to digest in one go. My whole life tipped upside down. But I’m slowly adjusting. Indeed, this whole farce is starting to feel quite natural.”
“I think you’re very brave.”
He smiled. “Thanks. I hope I can stay that way.”
“I’m sure you will. So tell me about Alice. Did you love her?”
“Yes, at first, before everything fell apart.”
“And how do you feel about her now?”
He frowned. “It’s hard to say. I mean, I’m very angry that she cheated on me. During our marriage, I stayed faithful: I had chances to stray and didn’t. But I suppose my main emotion is guilt.”
The last word worried Robyn. She prayed he wasn’t about to confess he murdered his wife. “Guilt?”
“Because our relationship became so bitter. For some reason, we just grew apart. And now she’s dead I’ll never get a chance to say sorry and repair the damage. That feels horrible.”
Robyn was intensely relieved he hadn’t confessed to murder.
Rex leaned forward. “Anyway, let’s talk about something else. I want to get my mind off this case.”
“OK. Tell me how you became a novelist?”
He smiled and told her how, while working as a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem, he decided to write a novel about a Palestinian attempt to assassinate a visiting US President. “It was as if the novel had been sitting inside me all my life, waiting to pour out.”
The rest of the meal passed pleasantly enough. Rex gave her a potted summary of his literary career, the highs and lows. He slowly relaxed, growing more articulate and amusing, obviously finding their chat a great release.
It was nice to dine with a well-spoken man who used his knife and fork properly, didn’t push his peas around the plate and could interpret a fancy menu. But she spoke the truth when she told Brian she didn’t find Rex attractive. Yes, he was intelligent and successful. But he was too old, too arrogant and in too much trouble. Nor could she forgive his violent altercation with his wife. No, when she totted up the ledger, he was well in the red. She sympathized with him, but that was all.
After Rex paid for lunch, they strolled out to the pavement.
He said: “Thanks for having lunch with me. You’ve really raised my spirits.”
“Think nothing of it. I enjoyed myself.”
Rex hesitated, as if he wanted to say more, but just nodded his head. “We’ll obviously be seeing a lot of each other. If you’ve got any more questions, give me a call.”
He turned and strolled off, whistling.
Just before midnight, Brian Davis sat in the living room of his big harbour-side apartment in Milson’s Point. It had a high ornate ceiling, polished cedar floor, white leather couches, art deco lamps and black onyx coffee table. Aboriginal paintings lined the three interior walls. Through a long window he watched the dancing lights of a ferry pass in front of Fort Denison. Beyond the fort were the ghostly shells of the Opera House.
The interior decorator he hired had promised to create “a very masculine environment”. Brian was now convinced the decorator, who was ultra-camp, had no idea what “masculine” meant. How many of his guests had looked at the décor and wondered when Brian was coming out? Now he had to hire another bullshit-artist who’d charge double when he heard Brian was a barrister.
He’d just arrived home and devoured a takeaway pizza, but still felt strangely empty. Something was wrong. He knew what: Robyn Parker. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. Working closely with her on the Markham case had boosted his desire and frustration.
He’d kept his distance for a while now, hoping she’d appreciate his charm and tact. But she’d shown no interest. Of course, she sometimes batted her eyelashes or smiled at one of his jokes. But that meant nothing. All women flirted, even when they hated a guy, just for practice.
Still, he sensed she was keen on him – how could she not be? – but too shy and hesitant to take the first step. Maybe it was time to stop being tactful and put the hard word on her. Yes, that was what he’d do, at the right moment. Surely, she’d thank him when he did.
In the meantime, he definitely needed female company. Thank God he’d arranged to see Patricia Lenehan tomorrow morning. She was a barrister he’d been bonking for five years. They met secretly because she was already married. Indeed, before their affair started, she made it clear that she loved her husband and would never leave him. Brian assured her that he fully understood and would respect her wishes. Indeed, he was delighted to get regular sex without commitment. Later, when he discovered she was a sex maniac, he knew he’d hit the jackpot.
He often made sure she was briefed as his junior counsel in cases. That gave them a good excuse to meet in his room and shag each other silly. Fortunately, he had a “conference” with her pencilled in for tomorrow morning. He couldn’t wait.
Robyn hadn’t told Brian Davis about her little investigation into Alice Markham’s murder, because he’d have tried to stop her, arguing she was a barrister not a detective. Now she had to lay her cards on the table.
The next morning she strolled down to his chambers and asked the receptionist if he was available.
She glanced at the diary in front of her. “No, he’s in conference right now.”
“Any idea how long he’ll be?”
“No. But it’s been going for a while. He shouldn’t be much longer.”
“OK. I’ll wait.”
Robyn sat in the reception area and watched Brian’s door. She only had to wait a few minutes before it swung open and a tall leggy woman in a business suit strode purposefully towards the lifts. Robyn had bumped into her a few times and knew she was a junior barrister called Patricia Lenehan. Something about her appearance today was a little odd, but Robyn couldn’t figure out what.
Patricia nodded casually. “Hi.”
Patricia got into a lift and disappeared.
Robyn glanced over at the receptionist, who picked up her phone and told Brian that Robyn was waiting for him.
The receptionist put down the phone and looked at Robyn. “He won’t be long.”
Robyn unleashed her hyper-active imagination and wondered if Brian and Patricia really had a conference, or there was some hanky panky? Brian had a reputation as a mad shagger, but Patricia sported a wedding ring, if that meant anything these days.
Robyn had to concede the evidence for a tryst was very slender. And even if they were bonking, so what? None of her business. Good luck to them. Patricia was guilty of nothing except bad taste. Robyn gave up speculating and flicked through a women’s magazine.
Brian strolled out looking a bit flushed, reactivating her suspicions. Then again, his face usually had a reddish tinge.
He said: “Sorry. Just tidying up. Come in.”
“Thanks. I see you just had a conference with Patricia Lenehan.”
Brian frowned. “Oh, Patricia. Yes. You know her?”
“She’s prosecuting one of my clients. We were discussing a possible plea.” He didn’t look her in the eye.
“Yes. Anyway. Come into my room.”
He led her into his room and made her sit in a chair facing his desk.
She said: “You look a bit flushed.”
He hesitated and shrugged. “I do? I went to the gym this morning.”
She sensed he was lying, but reminded herself his love life was none of her business. “That’s good.”
He frowned and plopped into his armchair. “What do you want?”
“To talk about the Markham case. I’ve been, umm, poking around.”
He stared hard. “Poking around? Into what?”
“Into Alice Markham’s life.”
His face clouded. “You shouldn’t have done that. You‘re supposed to be a barrister, not a cop.”
“I know. But it’s too late now. So, do you want to know what I found out?”
He sighed and shrugged. “OK. What?”
She explained what she’d done and learnt during the last few days.
Brian looked reasonably impressed until she mentioned having lunch with Rex; he grimaced. “You shouldn’t have done that either.”
“He’s our client. Only talk to him with a solicitor present. You know the rules.”
“I know, I know. But he insisted.”
“So what? You didn’t have to agree.”
“OK, I take you point.”
“Good. Anyway, finish your story.”
When she’d finished, he said: “So Rex was right about Alice having an affair?”
“Yeah. Though, to be more accurate, she was having two affairs.”
“And you’ve identified one lover, Torkhill – who’s got an alibi – but not the other?”
“Correct. So we’d better find out who he is.”
“Yeah. Though, from now on, let Bernie handle this, OK? He can put the private detective back on the case.”
“That guy’s hopeless. I’ve done a better job than him.”
“Maybe. But rules are rules.”
“You just want to cover your arse, don’t you?”
“Yes, and yours. I don’t want our client complaining that an amateur – namely you – handled the investigation into an important issue.”
“Even though the professional’s a fool?”
“Correct. Nor do I want you having to give evidence. That would be a disaster for the client and you.” He jabbed a finger at her.
“OK, I understand.”
He sighed. “Even if we identify the other lover, we’ll still have to show he had a motive and opportunity to kill Alice.”
“Yeah. But what if we can?”
A grin. “Then I’ll make some very nasty accusations about him.”
“OK.” She wondered if she should mention “Richard Olsen”. Brian would probably regard her suspicions about the pseudonymous author as crackpot. Yet, she couldn’t stop herself. “And there’s another potential suspect?”
As briefly as possible, she described what she’d learnt about “Richard Olsen” and his missing manuscript.
Brian looked annoyed. “So what? Alice handled a novelist too shy to use his own name. What’s that got to do with her death?”
“Maybe he murdered her?”
Brian’s eyebrows fluttered. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m serious. I mean, it’s rather strange, isn’t it, that this novelist, who hasn’t written anything for several years, suddenly sends a new manuscript to Alice, just before she gets killed. Then the manuscript goes missing.”
Brian shook his head. “It doesn’t sound strange to me. It just sounds like you’re over-interpreting some unrelated events. Co-incidences happen, you know? That’s why we’ve got a word for them.”
“OK. But don’t forget that Alice told this guy – who was infatuated with her – that his novel needed a lot of work. That must have really stung. Or maybe he killed her to protect his identity.”
“Both motives sound ludicrous.”
“Murderers often do crazy things.”
A shrug. “True.”
She frowned. “You’re not interested in this angle, are you? You don’t want to unmask Richard Olsen?”
“No, I don’t.”
Another frown. “Well, I’m still waiting for you to come up with a brilliant strategy – indeed, any strategy – to win this case. At the moment, all Rex has got is a piss-weak alibi. Unless we come up with another culprit, damn fast, he’ll be sniffing other guys’ B.O. for the rest of his life.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll think of something. Just don’t go off on a wild-goose chase. We’ve got to focus our energy.”
“Energy? You haven’t used any energy at all.”
“Yes I have. But you’ve obviously used too much. Like I said, don’t get emotionally involved.”
“What do you mean, ‘emotionally involved’?”
“I mean, don’t start liking him too much.”
Jesus, he sounded jealous again. The presumptuous bastard was acting as if he owned a part of her. She wanted to kick him in the shins, hard.
“Look, I’m just trying to get him acquitted, OK? That’s all. Nothing more. He’s just a client.”
A frown. “Good. Then there’s no problem, is there?”
“Fine, then I’ll see you on Monday morning to start preparing for the hearing.”
He paused and looked like he wanted to say something important. Instead, she stomped out the door.
On Monday morning, Robyn headed for Brian’s room, to start their final preparation for the Markham trial, now just a week away. Her stomach knotted. She probably wouldn’t have to say anything during the trial, unless Brian fell under a bus. But that was a possibility and the stakes were huge. When the trial was a long way off, she’d fantasized about making a big impact, maybe even saving their client’s skin. Now she just wanted to avoid making an idiot of herself. Please God, grant that wish.
Brian sat behind his desk, flicking through the brief. He looked up and smiled brightly. “Hi. Now we earn our money.”
His coolness calmed her nerves. He was right in the firing line; if he could stay composed, so could she.
They spent the next two days carefully analyzing the prosecution’s witness statements, identifying any inadmissible evidence – there wasn’t much – and discussing possible lines of cross-examination.
Then Brian leaned back in his chair and outlined his strategy. “You know, I’d love to point the finger of blame at someone else. But we don’t have a good candidate. So I’ll just keep hammering the prosecution’s high burden of proof. Unless the jury totally disbelieves the alibi evidence of Rex and Grimble, they must acquit.”
“You think that’ll work?”
He shrugged. “There’s a chance.”
“A good chance?”
“Won’t say that.”
On Wednesday, with Bernie Roberts present, they re-interviewed their client, taking him back and forward over his evidence, making it fresh in his mind and giving him a chance to explain any inconsistencies.
Rex was understandably nervous. Yet, Robyn also sensed some relief that he’d soon know his fate.
The next day they re-interviewed Hugh Grimble, who stuck firmly to his story. However, he got annoyed when Brian, after giving him a few tips about how to conduct himself in the witness box, casually suggested Grimble not wear his bowtie.
“I’m afraid most jurors don’t really understand men who wear bowties.”
Grimble frowned. “Well, I’m wearing it. I feel naked without it.”
Brian frowned back, and shrugged. “Fair enough. Up to you.”
Grimble left and Brian muttered, “Tosser”.
On Friday, with Bernie Roberts again present, the barristers interviewed the four friends of Rex Markham who were going to give character evidence. They were a famous historical novelist, the headmaster of a GPS School, a merchant banker and the sports reporter, Tim Nolan. All spoke highly of Rex and said they couldn’t believe he’d murder anyone, let alone his wife.
Robyn found the novelist, Dudley Kline, the most interesting. Balding and pot-bellied, he’d written numerous novels about Australia’s colonial past. The latest, about Ned Kelly, won a swag of literary prizes.
After the barristers satisfied themselves that Kline would be a good witness for the defence, they chatted for a while about Ned Kelly, whom Kline had portrayed as a psychopathic killer with no redeeming qualities – a controversial depiction that many regarded as treason.
When Brian slipped out of the room to answer an urgent telephone call, Robyn seized the chance to ask Kline if he’d read Richard Olsen’s novel, Waiting for Rain.
Kline smiled. “Of course. Brilliant novel. Absolutely brilliant.”
“Richard Olsen’s a pseudonym – did you know that?”
“Of course. I think that’s even mentioned on the back cover.”
“But Alice Markham knew his real identity.”
“I know. In fact, I once chatted with her about Olsen.”
“Really? Did she tell you his real name?”
Kline laughed. “Afraid not.”
“Damn. So who do you think he is?”
“If I had to guess, I’d pick Rex.”
“There aren’t many novelists around with the talent to write Waiting for Rain. I think Rex is one of the few.”
“But why write under a pseudonym?”
“Isn’t it obvious?
“Not to me.”
“Because, like most novelists, Rex writes in a genre ghetto. In his case, it’s political thrillers. Nobody expects him to write a profound work about the human condition. So if Waiting for Rain appeared under his own name, nobody would take it seriously. That’s why he used a pseudonym.”
“I asked Rex if he’s Richard Olsen and he denied it.”
Kline giggled. “Did he? Well, he would, wouldn’t he? I mean, why use a pseudonym if you’re just going to roll over and confess? Anyone who uses a pseudonym is entitled to lie about it.” Kline put his hands on his belly and smiled. “And don’t forget, novelists are good at lying: we do it for a living.”
The last character witness they interviewed was Rex Markham’s close friend, Tim Nolan. The three lawyers had met him before, when he accompanied Rex to the inspection of the murder scene.
Robyn had also met his wife, Beverley. So, when they shook hands, she said: “You know, I’ve met your wife.”
“Yes, at Grimble & Co.”
“That so? She didn’t mention that.”
It soon became obvious that Tim Nolan would be a good character witness because, though he liked Alice, he was happy to claim Rex would not have murdered her.
Brian then chatted with Nolan about the Australian cricket team’s chances on the forthcoming Ashes tour of England. Robyn was mildly interested in cricket, but Brian, who attended an expensive private school which he never really left, was a tragic case. She let the boys connect.
After Nolan left, Robyn suddenly recalled her last conversation with Beverley. Something that puzzled Robyn about it now made sense.
She turned to Brian and Bernie. “You know, I haven’t mentioned it before, but Beverley Nolan is the person who told me that Alice had an affair with Terry Torkhill.”
Brian shrugged. “Really?”
“Yes. Beverley knew about it because Alice told her.”
Brian frowned. “Yeah. So what?”
“Well, Alice only told Beverley about her affair with Terry Torkhill. She didn’t mentioned her second affair.”
“And, your point is?”
“Why did Alice tell Beverley about her first lover, but not her second?”
Brian’s frown deepened. “I’m sure you’re going to tell us.”
“I am. Alice didn’t tell Beverley about her second lover, because Beverley would have got very, very upset if she knew his identity.”
“Isn’t it obvious? Alice’s second lover was Tim Nolan, Beverley’s husband.”
Brian frowned. “I think you’re jumping to conclusions.”
“No, I’m not. It makes perfect sense.”
“OK. Let’s assume you’re right and Alice was bonking Tim. Where does that get us? We can’t prove he had either a motive or opportunity to kill her. In fact, we’ve got absolutely no idea where he was on the night of the murder.”
“I know. That’s why I should have another chat with Beverley.”
Brian frowned. “No, don’t do that.”
“Because it’s not your job. I want you to focus on the trial. Leave the poking around to Bernie and his private detective.”
“The private eye hasn’t turned up anything so far.”
“I don’t care. Leave it to them.”
Brian scowled. “Do as you’re told.” He turned to Bernie. “Can we leave this matter to you?”
The solicitor nodded. “Sure. I’ll get the private detective to check Tim Nolan’s whereabouts.”
Robyn sighed. “What a waste of time.”
Brian lifted an eyebrow. “God, you’re impetuous.”
“I just want to win.”
He frowned. “Maybe, but every game has rules, including this one.”
She’d noticed Brian was happy to bend the rules if he could get away with it and he would benefit. He was obviously worried she might steal his thunder. Further, like many with rubbery morals, he loved to preach.
Soon afterwards, Bernie left and the two barristers started loading folders onto the metal trolley they would take to court on Monday morning.
They’d almost finished when Brian’s secretary, Denise, entered and said the Court List for Monday had been posted on the Supreme Court’s web site. The Markham trial would be heard in the old Supreme Court Building, before Justice Craig Dobell.
As Denise disappeared, Robyn turned to Brian. “Dobell – I’ve never appeared before him. Have you?”
“Yep. Several times. I also opposed him quite often when he was at the Bar.”
“What’s he like?”
“A brilliant lawyer. But has a heart the size of a pea. He’ll referee a fair fight: there’ll be no biting or kicking. But if we lose, he’ll put Rex away for a very long time.”
Robyn’s heart revved up a notch. The case was really getting serious. “Then we’ve got to avoid that, don’t we?”
“Yep.” Brian put the last folder on the trolley and sighed. “Anyway, I’m going home. You want a lift?”
She’d worked hard to keep their relationship purely professional and give him no openings. So far he’d behaved himself and now, with the trial only a few days away, she felt surprising affection. The pressure he was under made him seem more human and his composure increased her respect.
She’d let him give her a lift home, but be on her guard. “Yeah, OK.”
They strolled across Macquarie Street to the car-park under St Mary’s Cathedral, where Brian had left his Audi.
He drove from the car-park and glanced at her. “Look, it’s up to you, of course, but why don’t you let me buy you dinner before I drop you home? You don’t have to say yes. But I could do with some company right now.”
He’d finally used the dreaded “dinner” word. What to do? In the circumstances, it would be petulant and rude to refuse. And, truth be told, she was nervous about Monday and didn’t fancy spending the evening alone. Even his company would be good. But if he wanted her for dessert, he’d go hungry.
She said: “OK. Where to?”
He smiled. “Italian?”
“And we won’t talk about the case, OK? That’s verboten.”
She only wanted to talk about the case, but couldn’t insist. “OK. Agreed.”
He used his mobile to book a table at an expensive Italian Restaurant in Woollahra and drove over there.
After they were seated and ordered their meals, Robyn asked how he planned to spend the weekend.
“Oh, I’ll probably drive down to my farm. I often do before a big trial. Helps me clear my head.”
“You’ve got a farm?”
“Well, not much of one – just a hobby farm.”
“Kangaroo Valley. Takes me about three hours to reach it.”
“Tiny. Just a homestead on 20 hectares.”
“Sort of. The farmer next door pays me to agist his cattle. That’s all.”
“How often do you go there?”
“About once a month. The rest of the time, I’m too busy.”
“Then why have it?”
He blushed slightly. “I love tramping around in gumboots and talking to the cattle and, to be honest, the farm helps me minimize my tax. My accountant won’t let me sell it.”
The waiter poured the wine and Brian told some funny stories about his career at the Bar, including some disastrous early experiences. It was reassuring to know he’d also stuffed up cross-examinations and had judges scream at him.
He said: “You know, during my first two years at the Bar, I was a positive menace to my clients. I shouldn’t have represented anyone.”
“Thank God you’ve improved. You worried about Monday?”
“But you will start worrying?”
He frowned. “Oh yes, definitely. But let’s forget about that.”
She deeply sympathized with the weight on his shoulders. Now the moment of truth had arrived, she preferred taking a back seat. Suited her fine.
While they chatted, she polished off most of the wine bottle and felt her mood lift. He only drank a few glasses.
She said: “You haven’t drunk much?”
“And if you weren’t?”
He smiled. “I’m not a big drinker. I have many vices, but boozing isn’t one of them.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Really? What vices?”
He laughed. “You’ll have to find out.”
Maybe she had misjudged him. He was arrogant and supercilious – no doubt about that. But he was also handsome, witty and could be surprisingly self-deprecatory, though never comfortably so.
When he recommended her for the Markham brief, she feared he just wanted to get her into bed. The jury was still out on that. But so far, at least, he’d behaved himself, maybe too much.
However, the big test – when he drove her home – was still ahead. Would he make a move when they got there?
And, if he did, would she resist? To her surprise, she wasn’t sure. She’d drunk a fair bit and hadn’t been to bed with a man for a long time. She was also tired of being too judgmental and ending up alone. Maybe it was time to hold her nose and take a few risks; maybe he was a frog who would turn into a prince.
He paid the bill and escorted her out to his car. She felt a little unsteady, but the cool breeze freshened her up.
Fifteen minutes later, after lots of idle and slightly tense chatter, he pulled up outside her terrace in Glebe. She grabbed the door-handle. “Thanks. That was very nice.”
He looked nervous. “Yes, it was, wasn’t it? In fact, I’d like to do it again, if possible.”
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to or not, but had to be polite. “OK. So would I.”
Then, to her horror, he cleared his throat, squeezed the steering wheel and stared straight ahead as if he had a lot on his mind. “Look, you know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’ve been pretty stupid where women are concerned. But, umm, I know it sounds corny, but I’ve never met a woman like you – I really haven’t. I think you’re fantastic.”
Christ, the moment of truth had arrived. Her brain split in two. She was desperate for sex, company, love, and Brian had risen in her estimation. Their shared mission had brought them closer together. But she also knew she had drunk far too much booze and was in no fit state to make a proper assessment. She tried to subtract the influence of the booze from her grading of him and got more confused.
He leaned closer. “You want me to park the car?”
What a fucking stupid line. Sleazy bastard. The spell was broken. Now, she just wanted to get away from him. “No. I’ve got to go. I’ll see you on Monday.”
She pushed the door open and jumped out.
“Monday. See you then.”
She scuttled across the road and into the terrace, heart thumping. Fuck, that was close.
The next morning, Robyn woke with a hangover. Edgy thoughts rattled through her stone-dry brain. She slowly and painfully sifted through the events of the previous night and realized how close she came to sleeping with Brian. Thank God she didn’t. Somehow, despite being half-pissed, she’d escaped his creepy embrace. In the cold light of day, she realized he was the last man she needed in her life. Womanisers like him never change. He would act sincere until he got her into bed – then the nightmare of infidelity would begin.
She was desperate to put some distance between them but, until the trial was over, they were stuck together like Siamese twins. Somehow, she had to be diplomatic and reduce any tension, without making any concessions. That wouldn’t be easy.
An hour later, she gingerly descended the stairs and found Veronica in the kitchen, wearing bicycle shorts, eating toast.
Veronica grinned. “Hi. You came in late last night.”
“Yeah, I had dinner with Brian.”
Veronica’s eyes and mouth widened. “Your leader?”
“Yeah, my leader.” Robyn sighed. “I know, I know. It probably wasn’t a smart move. But nothing happened. When he dropped me off, I didn’t invite him in.”
Veronica frowned. “You’re unbelievable – you really are. You should have dragged him in here and fucked him to death. I would have. Would have made this building shake.”
“Maybe. But I don’t really like him.”
Veronica sighed, as if dealing with a troublesome child. “You’re kidding? He’s a legal superstar and quite dishy besides. If you decide you don’t want him, I’ll take him off your hands.”
“Be my guest.”
Robyn soon forgot about Friday night and focused on the Markham trial, now only a few sleeps away. Brian had told her not to investigate Tim Nolan’s whereabouts on the night of the murder. But they couldn’t wait for the private eye to turn up something. Surely, she had to make her own enquiries.
She hesitated until Sunday afternoon, when she finally decided to act. But who could tell her where Tim Nolan was that night? The only candidate was his wife, Beverley.
Robyn considered driving over to the Nolans’ house and confronting Beverley face-to-face. But if she did, her husband would probably be there.
She eventually decided to phone. True, that would give Beverley a better chance to dissemble or even hang up. But Robyn had little confidence Beverley would tell her anything anyway and wanted to minimise her own embarrassment. Yes, one quick call and then she’d bury this issue.
Heart thumping, she found the Nolans’ phone number on the internet and dialled it, praying Beverley would answer. Thankfully, she did.
“Hello”, Beverley said.
“Beverley. This is Robyn Parker, the barrister for Rex Markham.”
Beverley sounded guarded. “Oh, hi Robyn. What can I do for you?”
“Umm, I’ve got a few questions to ask, if you don’t mind.” Robyn heard kids screaming in the background.
“Yes. I won’t take long.”
No point shilly-shallying. Robyn took a deep breath. “Well, I’ve been wondering why your best friend, Alice Markham, only told you she had one lover when, in fact, she had two.”
Beverley’s voice quavered. “What do you mean?”
Robyn cringed inside. “Have you talked about that issue with your husband?”
Robyn heard an intake of breath and feared Beverley would hang up. But, after a long pause, Beverley whispered “Yes, I have.”
“What did he say?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Maybe. But he admitted sleeping with Alice, didn’t he?”
“Christ, you’re very rude.”
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
Beverley’s voice cracked slightly. “Yes, he did, the bastard.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. That’s tough news.”
“You’ve got no idea. We’ve got two children – two.”
“I understand.” Robyn was already embarrassed about her intrusive questions. But they were mild compared with those to come. She opened the bomb doors. “Look, I hate having to ask you this: but where were you and your husband on the night Alice was murdered?”
Beverley sounded affronted. “You’re not suggesting, are you…?”
Like a good cross-examiner, Robyn kept her questions flowing. “No. That’s why I need to know: to eliminate you two. Where were you?”
Long pause. “OK. That’s easy. We were at home.”
“Yes, with our kids.”
The kids screaming in the background sounded very young. Hardly competent witnesses.
Robyn said: “Tim didn’t go out?”
A slight pause. “No, definitely not.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes. He definitely stayed home.”
Robyn wasn’t sure whether to believe her. But there was no point accusing her of lying.
Robyn said: “OK. So what’re you two going to do now? You’ll stay together?”
Beverley’s voice cracked slightly. “I don’t know. At the moment, we’re still sleeping together, and he’s promised to stay faithful. But I’ll never really trust him again. I’m not sure what to do.”
“I hope things work out. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you; I’m just trying to help my client.”
“That’s all?” Beverley said, sounding relieved.
Hand shaking, Robyn put the receiver back on its stand. Their conversation had resolved some issues, but not the biggest: where Tim Nolan was on the night Alice was murdered. Beverley could easily be lying about that. But the trial started in the morning and Robyn had run out of time. If Tim Nolan was the murderer, he was in the clear.
Obviously, there was no point telling Brian about her conversation with Beverley. The information was irrelevant and he wouldn’t appreciate her efforts at all.
Brian Davis’ greatest strength as a barrister was his self-confidence. Because he’d convinced himself of his ability, he was good at convincing others; because he looked in control, people thought he was in control. He learnt early in his career that clients didn’t want to hear his doubts and fears. They wanted to be led towards the promised land. And that was what he did, even if he didn’t know where it was and their journey often ended in prison.
However, despite that, he usually felt jittery on the morning of a murder trial, though he wasn’t one of those barristers who habitually threw up into bathroom sinks. His nerves usually lasted until he started talking in court. Listening to his own voice always calmed him down.
That Monday morning, he woke and immediately felt queasy. Bile tickled his tonsils before receding. Squadrons of butterflies did aerial acrobatics in his stomach and refused to land. God, he wished he’d gone into another profession – any other. Instead, he now had to suffer for his ambition, vanity and greed.
It was vital during a big trial to eat regularly and not lose weight. So he shuffled into the kitchen and forced himself to eat a few pieces of toast, washed down with orange juice. After showering, he dressed and headed for his chambers.
He arrived just after eight. On the metal court-trolley in the corner of his room were four ring-bound folders containing his whole brief. No point re-reading them and wasting precious mental energy.
To distract himself, he sat at his desk and tried to read the sports section of the Sydney Morning Herald. But his nerves refused to settle. He stood and stared out his window at the ant-like pedestrians scurrying along Phillip Street, heading for their offices to shuffle paper, drink coffee and gossip about their weekends. Too bad he couldn’t join them.
However, before long, his natural self-confidence started creeping back into his system. He’d appeared in murder trials before and survived. Indeed, he’d been brilliant before and would be brilliant again. No reason to think this trial would be any different. He’d be fine.
He started pacing around his room, practicing his opening address to the jury, and was still mumbling to himself when the door opened and Robyn entered, fully robed.
For the last two days, he’d been too preoccupied with the trial to reflect much on Friday night. But he strongly suspected that her rejection of him was not final. Indeed, the big problem was his timing. After all, propositioning her just before the trial – when they were both under so much pressure – was unforgivably dumb. No wonder she reacted so hysterically.
Now, he had to wait until the trial was over and then delicately – yes, delicately – declare his love. Surely she’d succumb.
Still, he looked for some sign she was angry or upset with him and saw none – just tension and excitement.
She said: “Hi. How’re you feeling? Get much sleep?”
“Not much. Only a couple of hours.”
“Well, I bet you slept more than our client.”
“Yeah, he must be terrified.”
He couldn’t just ignore Friday night. “Look, umm, about Friday night: I’m sorry if I offended you.”
She shook her head. “Forget about that. I already have. We’ve got to focus on the trial. We can talk about that sort of stuff afterwards, OK?”
It looked like he was right: the only problem was his timing. He felt much better. “OK.”
“Good, now, do you want to talk about the case?”
He preferred a distraction. “No point. The die is cast. What did you do over the weekend?”
Robyn gabbled for a while about how she shopped on Saturday and spent Sunday at home. He tried to focus on what she was saying, but his mind kept drifting towards the day ahead.
Just after nine o’clock, Brian’s secretary, Denise, popped her head through the doorway and said Bernie Roberts and their client had arrived. Brian told her to send them in.
Soon afterwards, Bernie led Rex Markham into the room. Rex wore a light-blue business suit and dark expression. Large pouches underlined reddish eyes. But his bearing and gait were steady, suggesting he wouldn’t crumble under the pressure. Brian was relieved. He hated having to fight a case while propping up a fragile client. That was exhausting.
Brian had warned Rex that, when the trial started, he’d be remanded in custody, so Rex carried a small overnight bag.
Brian and Robyn said hello.
Rex responded with a concrete smile and damp handshakes. “God. So the day has finally arrived.”
Brian said: “Yes, soon be over.”
He asked everyone to sit in the chairs facing his desk. Then he sat behind the desk and explained to Rex how, in court, Rex would be arraigned, the jury empanelled and the trial commence. Rex kept nodding, but obviously wasn’t taking much in.
At 9.45am, Brian told everyone it was time to go. He quickly robed, picked up his bar bag and led everyone out of his room. Bernie pushed the metal trolley.
On the pavement outside, Brian turned right and headed towards the old Supreme Court building, less than 50 metres away. Roiling around its entrance was a huge media pack. They saw the Markham party and scurried forward. The case was sub judice, so the reporters didn’t bother asking questions. Instead, cameramen and photographers fanned out and aimed their lenses at Rex.
Brian had a theory that television made people look like they were walking fast and thus scurrying to get away. So he led his little party at a funereal pace through the media throng and up the steps into the main foyer.
The Banco Court, built in the 1860s, was the most splendid courtroom in the state. A large skylight was embedded in an ornamental wrought-zinc ceiling. All the furnishings were made of polished cedar, including a massive carved canopy above the judge’s bench. On the judge’s right was an elevated jury box, facing the dock. A raised public gallery jutted out over the well of the court.
When Brian entered, the Crown Prosecutor, Sam Mahoney SC, was already at the Bar table, wearing his customary smirk.
One of the first illusions Brian lost when he joined the Bar was that prosecutors were impartial and honest. He soon discovered they liked winning as much as anyone and didn’t care how they won.
Mahoney was one of the worst of the breed. A devout Catholic, widely known as “the Pope’s Prosecutor” or “the Mad Monk”, he truly believed God had chosen him as an instrument of wrath. For him, trials were an apocalyptic struggle between the Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness, the Children of God and the Spawn of the Devil, with the fate of Christendom in the balance. He took far more guidance from the Old Testament than the Crimes Act.
Certainly, like all fanatics, he believed that ends justified means and was happy to misrepresent evidence, hide unpalatable facts and lie to opponents. God knew and understood.
A few months ago, Brian clashed with him during a trial, because Mahoney kept flipping through a bible while Brian was extracting evidence from his client. Brian asked the judge to discharge the jury on the basis that Mahoney was trying to influence the jury; the judge agree.
Brian never liked it when someone else pulled a dirty trick in court and was always anxious to claim the high moral ground. So, out in the hallway, he called Mahoney a professional disgrace. The two barristers then engaged in some fairly pathetic pushing and shoving until their solicitors dragged them apart.
Sitting next to Mahoney at the bar table was his regular junior, Angus Tucker, tall and spindly with a bushy beard. Brian knew nothing about him and had never heard him speak. He was just a spooky presence.
When Brian sat at the bar table, Mahoney smiled. “Hello Davis. How are you?”
Brian half-smiled. “In a bad mood.”
“Oh, really? Why?”
“Because you’ve dragged my poor client down here on a trumped up charge. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Mahoney’s smile widened. “Come off it. He’s a murderer, and I can prove it.”
Mahoney’s grin turned malevolent. “In fact, I feel especially confident about this one.”
“Oh, I’ve got something up my sleeve.”
Mahoney waved airily. “You’ll find out, in good time.”
Brian glared. “No, I want to know now. You’ve got a duty to disclose all relevant information.”
Mahoney looked smug. “Don’t worry. I’ve complied with my duty. I always do.”
Did Mahoney really have something up his sleeve? Was Brian walking into a trap? Such claims were usually a bluff. But Mahoney was a sneaky bastard and sounded particularly confident. Maybe he was planning an ambush.
However, no point jumping at shadows. The die was cast.
At ten o’clock, Justice Dobell trudged solemnly onto the bench and sat down. He was a thin, hatchet-faced man with the politeness of a coiled snake. His gaze travelled along the Bar table to see who might give him trouble.
Mahoney announced that he appeared for the Crown with his learned junior, Mr Tucker.
Brian rose. “Your Honour, I appear for the accused, with my learned junior, Ms Parker.”
The judge said: “Alright, Mr Davis. Your client here?”
Brian nodded towards Rex Markham, sitting behind him, next to Bernie Roberts. “Yes, your Honour.”
“Good. Please ask him to step into the dock.”
Bernie guided their client into the dock.
Mahoney passed the indictment of murder to the Judge’s Associate, who arraigned the accused by reading it out and asking him how he pleaded.
Rex spoke loudly. “Not guilty”.
A dozen reporters in the press box bent over and scribbled in their notebooks.
A Sheriff’s Officer led a panel of twenty prospective jurors through a side-door and seated them in the well of the court. Each juror was handed a card with an identification number. Identical cards were placed in a ballot box. The Judge’s Associate drew cards from the box until twelve jurors sat in the jury box.
The prosecution and defence were only allowed three pre-emptory challenges.
Mahoney made none. But Brian scanned the prospective jurors. He tended to be suspicious of young women, public servants and anyone carrying the Daily Telegraph; he didn’t mind old guys, because they had usually seen a bit of life.
He challenged two young women in short skirts chewing gum and prayed he hadn’t just removed the two jurors most likely to acquit.
Two new jurors were chosen and the jury empanelled. While that happened, Brian recalled an old barrister’s advice that: “Most jurors are idiots. But a jury is always much smarter than the sum of its parts: it misses nothing and forgets nothing, so never take it for granted.”
His nerves had settled and his mind was now completely focused on the trial. He probably wouldn’t panic again until just before the jury returned its verdict.
After the Judge’s Associate had read out the charge of murder, Mahoney made his opening address to the jury, outlining the evidence he intended to call against Rex Markham. It would show that Rex had a bitter marriage, was present in Sydney on the night of the murder and initially lied about his whereabouts. “At the end of this trial, it will be very obvious to you that Rex Markham, angry at his wife, drove up to Sydney and murdered her. However, he slipped up badly and now finds himself in the dock.”
The first witness Mahoney called was the head of the homicide investigation, Detective Inspector Paul Holloway, a fat man with a gingery crew-cut and no-nonsense features. He spoke slowly, but was obviously no fool.
Holloway explained how, at 9pm on the night of the murder, a neighbor of the Markhams heard a woman scream. The neighbour called the police and a patrol car was dispatched to the scene. The patrol officers found the back door of the terrace had a broken lock. They entered and found the body of Alice Markham in the kitchen.
Soon afterwards, Holloway arrived at the crime scene, where he supervised the collection of evidence and removal of the body. The next morning, he drove down to the Markhams’ beach-house near Nowra, where he executed a search warrant and conducted a tape-recorded interview with Rex Markham. During that interview, Markham claimed he’d been at the beach-house for the whole weekend.
Next, the detective described how an analysis of Rex Markham’s credit card records revealed that Markham purchased petrol in Sydney at 6.50pm on the night his wife died. The detective confronted Markham with that evidence. Then, in a second interview, Markham admitted that he had lied about his whereabouts on that night. Instead of staying at the beach-house he had, in fact, dined with his literary agent, Hugh Grimble, at Watsons Bay.
Mahoney tendered transcripts of both the first and second interviews and the credit card records. Copies were handed to the jurors.
Brian didn’t intend to spend much time cross-examining any of the prosecution witnesses. The crucial issue in the case was not whether they were telling the truth, but whether Rex was. Fruitless attacks on them would just underline the strength of the prosecution case. Better to accept their evidence and submit it proved nothing.
However, Brian did get Holloway to admit that, after the murder, the detective discovered several pieces of jewelry missing from the Markhams’ terrace.
“They have not been recovered?”
“No. We don’t know where they are.”
“You’ve interviewed my client twice?”
“Did he ever refuse to give an interview?”
“He always co-operated with the police?”
“And when you searched the beach-house, did you discover anything relevant to your investigation?”
“You mean, nothing incriminating?”
“So you didn’t find the murder weapon there?”
“In fact, you still haven’t found it?”
The next witness was Dr Rowena Butt, the police pathologist who performed the autopsy on Alice Markham. She was a small, whey-faced woman whom Brian had cross-examined many times before and found competent and honest, with an unusual devotion to the facts.
Mahoney asked her to explain the cause of death. She said Alice Markham died from three stab wounds in the chest. The time of death was about 9pm on the Saturday night.
The pathologist also explained that, on the victim’s dress, she found hair fibres with Rex Markham’s DNA.
Brian cross-examined on that. “Doctor, you’d expect, wouldn’t you, that a woman’s dress would contain some of her husband’s hair fibres?”
“Yes, it’s quite possible.”
“And those fibres could find their way onto the dress during normal domestic interaction?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“You found other hair fibres on her dress, didn’t you?”
“Yes, three other templates.”
“One was the victim’s?”
“But you couldn’t identify the other two people?”
“And either of them could have been the murderer?”
She shrugged. “Not for me to say.”
Next, the prosecutor called several friends of Alice Markham to give evidence about the poor state of the Markhams’ marriage.
There had already been an interlocutory hearing – before Brian and Robyn were briefed in the matter – during which Rex’s former counsel had objected to this evidence. However, the judge decided that the state of the Markhams’ relationship was relevant and the evidence could be adduced at the trial.
Now the friends told the court how Alice often described having bitter arguments with her husband and confided that they planned to divorce. They were obviously telling the truth, so Brian didn’t cross-examine them. Better to submit that their evidence had little or no probative value.
Next, the prosecutor called the two patrol officers who attended the Markhams’ terrace six weeks before Alice Markham was murdered. They described finding Alice in a distressed state with a large head wound. She claimed that her husband hit her, but refused to press charges.
Once again, Brian saw no point cross-examining these witnesses and inflaming the issue.
The prosecutor rested his case on the third day, just after the morning tea adjournment. Justice Dobell then turned to Brian and asked if he wanted to make an opening address.
Brian rose and told the jury in a calm, conversational manner that the prosecution’s case was entirely circumstantial and went nowhere near establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “Rex Markham does not have to prove anything and isn’t going to try. We’ll probably never know exactly what happened on the night Alice Markham was murdered. Maybe a burglar snuck into the terrace and, when confronted, stabbed her to death and fled with some items of jewellery. Or maybe someone else killed her. We’ll never know. And it is precisely because of that uncertainty that you must acquit Rex Markham.”
Brian said it was obvious that the Markhams had an unhappy marriage. “But so what? People don’t murder because they’re unhappily married. If they did, this city would be littered with bodies.” A few jurors tittered. “I am surprised that is the best motive the prosecution can come up with.”
Brian admitted that his client lied to the police when he said he was at the beach-house when his wife was murdered. “He shouldn’t have done that. But he’d just lost his wife and was being interrogated. He did what many people do when they are afraid and confused: he fibbed. That makes him a liar, not a murderer…”
Brian then explained that Rex Markham had an alibi for the night of the murder. “He dined with a well-known literary agent, Mr Hugh Grimble, who will give evidence to support that fact.”
Brian said a number of prominent citizens would attest to Rex Markham’s good character. “Indeed, it is important to remember, members of the jury, that Rex Markham is a well-respected and successful citizen whose novels have given pleasure to millions. He has no criminal record of any kind. Yet the prosecution wants you to believe that he drove up to Sydney and murdered his wife in cold blood. But where is the evidence that he is a monster capable of such a crime? There is none.”
In a confident tone he turned to the judge and said: “Your Honour, the witness has been advised of his rights and elects to give evidence.”
The judge asked Rex Markham to step into the witness box. Rex left the dock, strode to the witness box and took the oath.
Brian wanted Rex to deal with the worst evidence against him in chief, rather than have it dragged from him in cross-examination. So he suggested to Rex that his marriage was in a bad state when his wife died.
Rex spoke with a raspy voice. “Yes, that’s true. We’d started to argue a lot. That was one of the reasons I spent a lot of time down at the beach-house.”
Brian said: “What about the domestic disturbance, six weeks before your wife died? Tell the Court what happened.”
Rex described how, during an argument, his wife attacked him and he pushed her away. She fell and hit her head. Looking upset, he said: “I’m very ashamed of that. It shouldn’t have happened.”
“And after that, you agreed to divorce your wife?”
“Now, when the police interviewed you, you lied about where you were on the night of the murder, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I was afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“That I’d be charged with murder.”
“Why were you afraid of that?”
“Because my wife and I had a bad marriage. Maybe, because I’m a novelist, I’ve got an over-active imagination. But I panicked and lied. I didn’t want the police to know I was in Sydney on the night of the murder.”
“But you were in Sydney?”
“I had dinner with my literary agent, Hugh Grimble.”
“At his house, in Watson’s Bay.”
“When you drove up to Sydney, why didn’t you drop in and see your wife?”
A strained smile. “We would have ended up arguing. Frankly, the main reason I went down to the beach-house was to get away from my wife. So there was no point going to see her.”
Brian looked up at the judge. “No further questions your Honour.”
The judge looked at the prosecutor. “Mr Mahoney, any questions?”
Mahoney leapt to his feet and went on the attack, focusing on the bitterness between the Markhams, their violent altercation six weeks before her death and Rex Markham’s big fib to the Homicide detectives about his whereabouts. However, because Rex had already given evidence-in-chief about those matters, the cross-examination was less effective than it might have been. Rex also remained fairly composed. When accused of lying to the police, he didn’t duck or weave. He boldly admitted that he had, out of fear.
Brian noted that the Pope’s Prosecutor was not a subtle cross-examiner. He rarely tried to lay snares for witnesses or lull them into a false sense of security. Rather, he hurled blunt accusations and greeted denials with scowls, snorts and sneers. Brian lost count of how many times he warned Rex that he was on oath, as if perjury was a worse crime than murder.
Mahoney’s best moments came when questioning Rex about his bond with Hugh Grimble. “You have a business relationship?”
“And he’s a close friend?”
That was obviously true, so Brian prayed Rex wouldn’t try to lie or equivocate.
Rex said: “Yes, he’s definitely a close friend.”
Brian loved clients with the brains to admit unpalatable facts instead of dig deeper holes for themselves.
Mahoney said: “And when the police discovered you were in Sydney, you cooked up an alibi with Hugh Grimble, didn’t you?”
“No, that’s not true.”
“You turned to him because he’s a close friend?”
“And you concocted the alibi together?”
“In fact, you didn’t see Hugh Grimble on the night your wife was murdered, did you?”
Rex scowled. “Yes I did. I had dinner with him.”
“No you didn’t. In fact, you drove up to Sydney, bought some petrol, then went home and murdered your wife, didn’t you?”
Rex looked like he’d been slapped. He half-rose from his chair. “No, I didn’t. I did not. That’s a lie.”
Mahoney was now almost yelling. “You murdered her out of bitterness and spite, didn’t you?”
“No. We had an unhappy marriage. I admit that. But I didn’t want her dead. I definitely didn’t want that.”
“You’re a novelist, right?”
Rex looked puzzled. “Yes.”
“A successful novelist?”
“I’ve sold a lot of books.”
“So your job is to make up stories?”
Rex shrugged. “Yes, I suppose so.”
Mahoney jabbed a finger at him. “And you’re good at making up stories?”
“I hope so.”
Brian leaned over to Robyn. “Christ. Now he’s a literary critic.”
Robyn had to stifle a titter.
Mahoney said: “And you’ve made up this story about visiting Hugh Grimble, haven’t you?”
“No. It’s true.”
“Even though you’re a novelist?”
Rex looked nonplused. “Just because I’m a novelist doesn’t make me a liar. I mean, I don’t swear an oath before I sit down in front of my computer, do I?”
The courtroom rocked with laughter.
Brian whispered. “Touché.”
Even Mahoney looked a little embarrassed to receive such a huge back-hander. And, to make it even worse, it came right at the end of his cross-examination, because he turned to the judge and said he had no further questions.
Justice Dobell looked at Brian. “Any re-examination, Mr Davis?”
Re-examining a witness to clarify answers was always dangerous, because the witness could easily deepen the hole he’d dug for himself. Brian said: “No, your Honour.”
Justice Dobell turned to Rex and told him to return to the dock.
As Rex left the witness box, Brian reflected that his client had played a weak hand very well. Indeed, Brian felt a glimmer of hope. For the first time, he started to believe, truly believe, he just might pull off the biggest win of his career – the one that made him the pre-eminent criminal silk in Sydney, if not the country. Everything now depended on Hugh Grimble. Pray God he didn’t get a mauling.
Robyn whispered: “I think he did rather well.”
“So do I.”
Justice Dobell asked Brian to call his next witness. Brian rose and called Hugh Grimble.
Bernie Roberts quickly slipped out through a side door and returned with Grimble in tow. Brian noticed the literary agent had ignored his request to ditch his polka-dot bowtie. Arrogant bastard.
Grimble confidently strode to the witness box and took the oath. Then Brian commenced his examination-in-chief. “Alice Markham worked for your firm, Grimble & Co, didn’t she?”
“Yes, for about ten years.”
“And when was the last time you saw her?”
Grimble frowned. “Actually, I’m not too sure. I suppose it was on Friday, the day before she died. I can’t remember exactly when.”
“OK. Now, what did you do on the night of the murder – the Saturday night?”
“I had dinner with Rex.”
“How did that come about?”
Grimble explain how Rex Markham telephoned him from his beach-house and suggested they dine on Saturday night.
“Did he say why he wanted to have dinner with you?”
Grimble smiled. “Yes. He said, quote: ‘I’m bored shitless down here’.”
Several titters floated out of the jury box.
“What did you say?”
“I told him to come up and I’d cook him a meal.”
“And that’s what happened?”
“Yes. Rex arrived at about seven-thirty and left at about eleven.”
“When he left, did he say where he was going?”
“Yes. He said he was heading back down to the beach-house.”
Brian said he had no further questions and sat down.
Justice Dobell looked at Mahoney: “Any questions, Mr Prosecutor?”
Mahoney rose and glared at the witness as if he wanted to chew his leg off. “Mr Grimble, you’ve been the accused’s literary agent for many years, haven’t you?”
“Yes. About fifteen.”
“So you’re very close to him?”
“Yes, I like to think so.”
“And you say the accused arrived at your house at about seven-thirty and left at about eleven o’clock, don’t you?”
“And you’re aware, aren’t you, that if the accused was with you during that period, he has a perfect alibi? He couldn’t have murdered his wife?”
“Yes, so I understand.”
“And you’re aware, aren’t you, that when the accused gave his first interview to the police, he didn’t mention being at your house?”
“So I understand.”
“And you certainly didn’t approach the police and tell them he was wrong, did you?”
“And after he changed his story, and said he was at your house, you declined a police request for an interview, didn’t you?”
Grimble waved his arm flippantly. “Oh, I didn’t see much point. I mean, by then they’d charged Rex with murder and, I suppose, I didn’t want to get involved.”
Mahoney looked contemptuous. “Didn’t want to get involved, even though your client – your good friend – had been charged with murder?”
Grimble shrugged. “Maybe I was wrong. But the police obviously weren’t going to change their minds, so there was no point talking to them.”
“In fact, you and Rex Markham have concocted this alibi, haven’t you?”
Grimble flushed. “No, certainly not.”
The Pope’s Prosecutor leaned close to Brian and whispered malevolently: “Time to shake my sleeve.”
Brian felt a tremor of fear. Mahoney obviously had a nasty surprise in store and there was nothing Brian could do.
Mahoney turned back towards the witness. “Alright. You own a mobile phone, don’t you, Mr Grimble?”
“Yes, of course.”
Mahoney picked up his pad and read from it. “Number 0044 286 787?”
“Could you read that out again?”
Mahoney repeated the number.
“Yes, that’s it.”
“And you used your mobile phone on the night of the murder, didn’t you?”
Grimble’s face reddened. “Did I? I can’t recall.”
“Yes you did, Mr Grimble. According to your telephone records, you used it at 8.35pm.”
Grimble trembled slightly. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Yes, and when you used it, you weren’t at home, were you?”
Brian realized the defence case was hurtling towards an abyss. Trying to look relaxed, he leaned towards Robyn and whispered. “Oh, fuck.”
Grimble said: “Are you sure? I think I was.”
Mahoney said: “No, Mr Grimble, you weren’t. I’ll be calling evidence from your telephone company to show you were nowhere near Watson’s Bay when you made that call. In fact, you were in the city centre, weren’t you?”
Grimble shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tugged at his collar. “Umm, no, I was at home.”
Mahoney’s voice became shrill. “I put it to you again: you were in the city centre, weren’t you?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Brian wanted to put his head in his hands and scream. Instead, he kept a poker face and doodled on his pad. Only immense self-control stopped his eyeballs rotating towards the jury box.
Mahoney said: “Oh, come on, Mr Grimble. You weren’t at home at 8.35pm when you made that phone call, were you? So you didn’t have dinner with the accused, did you?”
Grimble licked quivering lips. Brian had seen plenty of witnesses crack and Grimble wasn’t far away.
Grimble’s shoulders slumped and his voice slurred. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s such a long time ago.”
“Oh, so now you’re not sure whether you dined with Rex Markham that Saturday night?”
Grimble vigorously rubbed his temples. “I suppose I’m not sure. Maybe I got confused. I don’t know. It’s such a long time ago.”
“So you’re not sure?” Mahoney insisted.
Looking defeated, Grimble whispered. “That’s true. I’m not sure. Maybe I had dinner with Rex on a different night.”
Mahoney looked like a tenor who’d just nailed a couple of High Cs. “In fact, you’ve been lying to this court, haven’t you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Mahoney screamed triumphantly. “You’ve been lying?”
Grimble paused for a long time while the court throbbed with tension. His shoulders slumped again and he spoke softly. “No, I wasn’t lying. I just got confused, that’s all. I got confused.”
The Mad Monk grinned ecstatically at the jurors, just in case they didn’t get the message.
Brian maintained a straight face while continuing to doodle on his pad, as if he’d never heard such boring evidence. But he whispered to Robyn. “You can toe-tag this one. It’s all over.”
Fortunately, the judge glanced at the clock on the wall, which showed 4pm. “I note the time, Mr Prosecutor. Will you be much longer?”
Mahoney glowed with self-love. “Probably only another ten or fifteen minutes, your Honour.”
“Alright then, I’ll adjourn until tomorrow morning. You can continue your cross-examination then.”
“Thank you, your Honour.”
The judge gave the witness a lofty stare. “Mr Grimble, you’ll have to return here tomorrow morning and continue your evidence.”
Grimble looked like he’d rather jump off a cliff, but nodded glumly. “Yes, your Honour.”
“Good. And just remember, you must not discuss your evidence with anyone between now and then. No-one. Do you understand?”
“Right. Then, we’ll resume at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.” The judge looked at the jurors. “Members of the jury, I’ll see you then.”
The Court Officer stood and bellowed: “All rise.”
As the judge left the bench, Robyn leaned close to Brian. “That didn’t go well.”
“A fucking disaster.”
Grimble left the witness box and scuttled away, deliberately ignoring the defence team.
Brian turned and looked at the ashen features of their client. A Sheriff’s Officer pushed Rex towards the steps leading down to the holding cells.
Brian said: “We’ll see you downstairs.”
Rex nodded mechanically and disappeared.
Brian turned back to Robyn. “You know, to win this one, we always needed a big slice of luck. Now we need an outrageous miracle.”
Brian led his junior and solicitor down to the holding cells, where they found their client sitting in a small interview room, head in hands, shoulders quivering.
Brian had kept his emotions in check. Now he yanked off his horsehair wig and threw it against a wall. It bounced off and fluttered to the floor like a shot bird.
He glared at Rex. “Christ. What the fuck were you thinking when you cooked up that false alibi with Grimble? What the fuck were you fucking well thinking?”
Rex licked his lips and spoke in a cracked voice. “I was thinking that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison. That’s what I was thinking.”
“Well, let me tell you, you’ve made sure that’s exactly where you’ll reside for many decades to come. So who came up with the idea? You or Grimble?”
Rex’s shoulders slumped and his voice was colourless. “I suppose he did. I mean, when the cops found out I was in Sydney on the night Alice got murdered, he said I needed an alibi.”
“And he offered to give you one?”
“Jesus. What a pair of dumbshits. And I suppose Grimble didn’t mention he was cruising around Sydney that night, squawking on his mobile phone?”
Rex gasped for air. Words emerged in bunches. “No, he didn’t. But I didn’t kill my wife. I know I’ve told lies. But I was scared – scared. I didn’t kill Alice. I didn’t.”
“Then what were you doing in Sydney that night?”
“If you really want to know, I came up to see a movie.”
Brian looked incredulous. “A movie? By yourself?”
“Yes. Why not? I needed to get away from the beach-house, so I came up and saw a movie. I could get back in the witness box and say that.”
“Yes, you could. But I’m afraid nobody will believe you. Not now.”
“So you don’t want me to give any more evidence?”
“No. You’ve given enough.”
“Then what are you going to do?”
“I’m going home to have a couple of stiff drinks. Maybe after that, I’ll think of something. But I doubt it.”
Bernie interjected. “Maybe Rex should consider entering a plea of guilty.”
Brian said: “Yes, he definitely should. But there are two problems with entering a plea.”
“The first is that Rex still claims he’s innocent. If he wants to plead guilty, he’s got to instruct us that he is, in fact, guilty.” Brian turned to Rex. “You understand that?”
Rex nodded. “Yes. But I’m not guilty. I’m not.”
“Exactly. The other problem is that, even if he changes his plea, he won’t get much leniency. He’s left it too late in the day for that.”
Rex’s face sagged. “Oh.”
Brian sighed deeply. “You think about your options overnight and we’ll have a chat in the morning, OK?”
On that note, the lawyers trooped out.
Robyn had just started to truly believe Rex Markham would be acquitted when Hugh Grimble got hammered in the witness box and the alibi defence turned to dust. Now Rex looked doomed.
That was bad news for him. But it was also bad news for her, because she’d been determined to make a big impression at the trial. Soon she’d be back in the Local Court, defending petty criminals, wistfully pondering what might have been. If she was lucky, in a few years, she’d graduate to representing child molesters and low-level drug dealers in the District Court. But she’d probably never get another murder brief in the Supreme Court.
While Grimble’s credibility was being shredded, she wore a mask of indifference. However, after court, she enjoyed watching Brian’s angry outburst at their client. She felt like throttling the bastard herself.
As the defence team left the old Supreme Court building, it was already dark. The media pack had scattered to meet their deadlines.
Bernie looked glumly at Brian. “So, do you believe his story about going to a movie?”
Brian shook his head. “Nope. Sounds like more bullshit to me. I’m sure the jury won’t swallow it. Not now.”
Bernie shrugged. “Oh, well. We tried our best. Anything you want me to do before tomorrow morning?”
Brian shook his head. “No. Just try to get a good night’s sleep.”
“Hah. No chance of that. Well, see you tomorrow morning.”
Bernie departed and the two barristers strolled towards their chambers.
Brian sighed. “What a debacle. Rex has done a wonderful job of outsmarting himself, hasn’t he? I told you that calling witnesses is dangerous, and this proves it. I probably shouldn’t have called anyone. Not Rex. Not Grimble. No-one.”
She’d never seen him so depressed and full of self-doubt. It worried her a little. “Look, don’t beat yourself up about this. The alibi defence was our best bet. We had to run it. We couldn’t know Grimble would self-destruct.”
Brian shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not.” He half-smiled. “Anyway, what’s done is done.”
She felt a wave of sympathy for Brian. But that feeling was overwhelmed by a growing unease about the day’s events. Grimble seemed too cunning to make such a bad slip-up. So maybe he didn’t slip up. Maybe he was playing a deeper game and wasn’t really on their side at all.
She said: “You know, I can’t understand how Grimble could have been so stupid.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s a smart guy. Surely he realized that, if he gave Rex an alibi, the cops would check his phone records. Yet he still offered to help Rex.”
Brian shrugged. “Must have forgotten about the telephone call.”
“No. He’s too smart to do that.”
“Smart people do dumb things all the time.”
“Yeah. But not when they’re as smart as Grimble. You know, it’s as if he deliberately set out to sabotage Rex’s case. Deliberately.”
“Hah. Now you’re getting paranoid. This was just an old-fashioned cock-up.”
“No, I think something funny’s going on.”
“It’s not. But even if it is, the fact remains that our client has told two whopping lies and has no alibi – none at all. Nada. Zip. Zero.”
“True. But he’s not the only person without an alibi.”
“What do you mean?”
“Grimble doesn’t have one either. I mean, if he wasn’t with Rex on the night of the murder, where was he?”
Brian looked puzzled. “Who cares? You don’t think he killed Alice Markham do you?”
Robyn shrugged. “Yeah. Why not?”
“You’re kidding, right? Why would he kill her?”
“I don’t know. But maybe that’s why he destroyed Rex’s case.”
Brian looked bemused and scornful. “Look, a few days ago, you thought that fake author, Richard Olsen, might be the murderer. Now you think it might be our main alibi witness. You’re getting tired and paranoid. You need a good night’s sleep.”
“I do, but I’m not paranoid.”
“Yes you are,” he barked.
“OK. Maybe I am. But I still want to find out what game Grimble’s playing.”
“Listen, he’s not playing a game. He fucked up. That’s all.”
They entered their building and got into the lift. The neon lighting made Brian’s face look old and worn-out.
He said: “Look, right now, the best strategy is to get a good night’s sleep. That’s what I plan to do.”
“You mean you don’t want to talk about the trial?”
The lift reached Brian’s floor and the doors opened. He put out an arm to stop them closing. “Correct. I’m all talked out. See you in the morning.”
He shuffled out and the doors shut.
Robyn rode up to her floor and strolled towards her room, pondering Hugh Grimble’s evidence. How did the bastard forget making a mobile phone call that would destroy the alibi defence?
However, that wasn’t all Grimble forgot: in the witness box, he couldn’t even remember when he last saw Alice Markham alive. How was that possible? Surely, when he heard she was dead, he immediately recalled their last encounter and froze that moment in his mind.
Robyn suddenly recalled the receptionist at Grimble & Co also couldn’t remember her last encounter with Alice. The receptionist obviously wasn’t as smart as Grimble, but was surely bright enough to remember such a significant event.
So two people who worked closely with Alice Markham couldn’t remember when they last saw her. Why? Was there some turbulence between Grimble and Alice they were both trying to hide?
Robyn decided to quiz the receptionist about her forgetfulness. She glanced at her watch. If she jumped into a taxi now, she should reach the offices of Grimble & Co, in Chinatown, just before six o’clock.
Robyn rushed downstairs, hailed a taxi and reached her destination with ten minutes to spare. However, instead of entering the building she tarried outside, watching everyone leave.
After fifteen minutes, the receptionist emerged. Despite the cold, she wore a short skirt with tights, and carried a small pink plastic handbag.
She walked past Robyn without noticing her. Robyn rushed up and touched her elbow. “Excuse me.”
The receptionist spun around, surprised. “Yes?”
“Do you remember me? I visited your firm a couple of weeks ago. We had a chat.”
“Oh, yes, I remember. You’re one of the barristers working for Rex Markham.”
“Yes. I suppose you know his trial’s started?”
The receptionist blanched. “Yes, I saw that on TV. Umm, I’ve got to catch my train.”
As she turned to leave, Robyn grabbed her arm. “Look, I won’t be long, I promise. I’ve just got a few questions.”
The receptionist pulled her arm away, but remained stationary. “What questions?”
“Well, when we spoke before, I asked when you last saw Alice Markham…”
“Yes. And you said you couldn’t remember.”
“Yeah. So what?”
“I find that hard to believe. By Monday, at the latest, you knew Alice Markham had been murdered. Yet you can’t remember when you last saw her…”
“I forget things.”
“Yeah, maybe. But you wouldn’t forget that. It would have stayed very fresh in your mind. So tell me, what happened the last time you saw Alice?”
The receptionist’s eyes jiggled and she spoke with a burr. “Nothing happened. Nothing.”
“Really? There was a problem, wasn’t there, between her and Grimble? Some issue?”
The receptionist’s jaw quivered. “There was no issue.”
Robyn had feared she was on a wild goose chase. No longer. Her heart tried to bash its way out. “Yes there was. Look, I’m not asking you to be disloyal or anything. But the trial is going really badly for Rex. In fact, the evidence of your boss was disastrous. I think he’s trying to get Rex convicted. So Rex will go to prison, unless you help. You don’t want that on your conscience.”
The receptionist shook her head vehemently. “Look, I just don’t want to get involved, OK? I don’t. It’s nothing to do with me.”
“An innocent man will go to gaol.”
The receptionist looked ready to cry and she bleated: “I just don’t want to get involved, OK?”
She obviously wouldn’t budge, so Robyn said: “OK. OK. But if you change your mind, let me know. Here’s my card. It’s got my mobile number on it.”
Robyn proffered her business card, fearing it would be refused. But after some hesitation, the receptionist snatched it and scuttled away.
Robyn strolled around for a while. Adrenalin washed out of her system and depression rolled in. The receptionist might hold the key to Alice Markham’s death. But the bloody woman wouldn’t hand it over and Robyn couldn’t make her. At least she took the business card. That gave Robyn some hope.
Robyn caught a taxi home. Veronica wasn’t there. So, after eating a salad sandwich, she took the unusual step of downing a can of beer before gloomily trudging up to bed. In her career at the Bar, this was definitely the lowest of many low points.
She fell asleep and had a familiar dream that she was in a courtroom, appearing before her dead father. As usual, the footage in her head had no sound-track. But they were definitely arguing about something. She kept scowling and waving her finger. He kept shaking his head, looking annoyed. His beetle brows twitched beneath his full-bottom wig.
She woke three times that night and each time worried about the trial. But the fourth time, just after six o’clock, she woke because her mobile was ringing. She groggily picked it up and heard a nervous voice. “Hi, this is Justine Pearson, ah, the receptionist. Look, umm, I think we’d better talk. I’ll tell you what I know.”
“Who killed Alice.”
At home, Brian Davis reflected on the day’s events, while downing a few whiskeys, and concluded that Rex Markham’s fate was sealed. A conviction was inevitable, unless a mad juror ignored all the facts and held out for an acquittal. But a juror that crazy would have already started drooling and mumbling to himself, maybe even seeing visions, and he’d seen no signs of that.
At least he wasn’t to blame for this debacle. It wasn’t his fault if their alibi witness turned out to be a dumb arse-hole. That was just a bad break. Even a top barrister like himself couldn’t always twist the facts and win an acquittal. Sometimes, the truth intruded and demanded respect.
He was annoyed he wouldn’t win this high-profile case and establish himself at the pinnacle of his profession. However, losing would be a temporary setback. Future triumphs in celebrity cases were inevitable. No point getting bent out of shape.
Having absolved himself of blame and convinced himself his career was still on track, he got a good night’s sleep and rose at 7.30am, feeling rather chirpy. The sooner he got this mess over and done with the better.
When he arrived at his chambers, an hour later, he tried not to think about the trial. He couldn’t repair the damage Grimble had done and didn’t want to waste any more emotional energy. So, to distract himself, he sorted through the pile of mail on his desk.
Bernie Roberts turned up at 9.20am, looking downcast. “Morning. Any flashes of inspiration?”
“Afraid not. You?”
“Robyn should be here by now. Have you spoken to her this morning?”
Bernie gave a wintry smile. “No. Maybe she’s abandoned ship.”
“If she has, I don’t blame her. You know, she reckons Grimble deliberately sabotaged our case.”
Bernie frowned. “Why?”
“Because he killed Alice Markham.”
Bernie emitted a strangled laugh. “Really? You’re kidding, right?”
“Hah. I reckon Grimble just fucked up.”
Neither wanted to chat about the trial. So they discussed other cases they were doing together. At 9.30am, Brian said: “Well, we’d better head for court.”
“What about Robyn?”
“Can’t wait for her. Let’s go.”
They left the building and strode up Phillip Street, through the usual roiling media throng, into the old Supreme Court building. Downstairs, beyond the security gate, they found their client sitting in an interview room, waiting. Rex looked like he’d lost a couple of pints of blood.
Brian said: “How’re you feeling?”
“Like hell. Boy, I’m in deep shit, aren’t I?” He looked around. “Where’s Robyn?”
“Oh, she’s attending to a few things. She’ll be here soon. Have you considered what you want to do?”
Rex took a deep breath. “Yes. I won’t plead guilty – I just won’t.”
“Fair enough. But you understand, don’t you, that your chances of winning this trial are bleak – very bleak?”
“I understand. But I won’t say I murdered my wife, because I didn’t.”
“OK. That’s your right.”
Rex rubbed his jaw. “So, can I give evidence again, to explain what happened?”
“You mean, explain how you cooked up your alibi with Hugh Grimble?”
Brian shook his head. “No. Quite frankly, that would just make things worse.”
Rex sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”
“Good. We’ll see you in court.”
The barrister and solicitor went upstairs and entered the Banco Court. As they did, Brian looked around for Robyn. Still no sign. But Grimble sat in the public gallery, stone-faced, wearing a pin-stripe suit and subdued grey bowtie. He looked marginally happier than Rex Markham.
Brian sat at the Bar table, next to Sam Mahoney and his sinister junior, Angus Tucker.
Mahoney smiled malevolently. “I told you I had a surprise in store, didn’t I?”
Brian wanted to pick up a law book and bash Mahoney’s brains out. But kill one dodgy prosecutor and another would immediately take his place. “What surprise?”
A frown. “Grimble’s phone records.”
“Oh them? Non-issue if you ask me.”
“Yeah? Try and convince the jury of that.”
“I will.” Brian swallowed his pride and tried to sound friendly. “Look, Sam, I don’t have any instructions, but if you drop the murder charge, I’m sure I can persuade my client to plead guilty to manslaughter.”
Mahoney shook her head. “Sorry. No chance. It’s the Big M or nothing.”
Brian tried to look confident. “Well, don’t say I didn’t give you a chance.”
“Hah, you’re whistling in the dark. We both know that.”
The Court Officer yelled for everyone to rise and Justice Dobell took his place on the bench.
The judge ordered the jury be brought into court. When they were seated, he looked at Mahoney. “Mr Prosecutor, do you wish to continue cross-examining Mr Grimble?”
Brian knew Mahoney would want to remind the jury of the devastating evidence Grimble gave the day before. So he wasn’t surprised when Mahoney said: “Yes, your Honour. I won’t be long.”
The judge sat back with a veiled smile. “No need to hurry, Mr Prosecutor. Take your time.” He looked over at Grimble. “Mr Grimble, would you please return to the witness box.”
Grimble walked stiffly towards the witness box and sat heavily. As he did, Robyn rushed breathlessly into the Court, robes swirling, and sat next to Brian.
Brian glared at her. “Where the hell have you been?”
Still puffing, she whispered: “Grimble killed Alice Markham.”
Her wild theories were really starting to annoy him. “You’ve said that before.”
“I know. Now I’ve got proof.”
Brian’s heart accelerated. “What’re you talking about?”
Before she could answer, Mahoney started his cross-examination and they both turned to listen.
Mahoney said: “Mr Grimble, do you recall that, yesterday, I asked whether Rex Markham dined at your house the night his wife was murdered?”
Grimble stared straight ahead. “Yes.”
“And you said you couldn’t remember, correct?”
“And that’s still your evidence, isn’t it?”
Grimble rubbed his temples ferociously. “No, it isn’t. I’ve thought about that overnight and now I’m sure I didn’t have dinner with Rex.”
Mahoney’s smile shone into every nook and cranny of the courtroom. He looked back at Grimble and trilled: “You didn’t?”
“Then why did you say you did?”
“I got confused.”
“So now you’re certain you didn’t have dinner with Rex Markham on the night his wife was murdered?”
Grimble kept staring at the back wall. “That’s correct.”
“Then where were you?”
“As I recall, I went over to the casino and did some gambling.”
“For most of the night?”
Christ, Brian thought. This was the fucking coup de grace. Grimble seemed to be deliberately making sure Brian had no wriggle-room in his final address to the jury. Maybe Robyn was right: the bastard was trying to bury Rex.
Mahoney smugly looked at Justice Dobell. “Your Honour, I have no further questions.”
The judge looked at Brian. “Mr Davis, do you wish to re-examine your witness?”
Brian saw no point. Better to get Grimble out of the witness box as soon as possible. “No, your Honour.”
Robyn rose and interjected loudly. “Yes we do, your Honour.”
Brian couldn’t believe her impudence. He grabbed her arm and muttered. “What the hell are you doing?”
She whispered insistently. “Let me re-examine him.”
“Leave that to me.”
Justice Dobell looked genuinely amused. “Well, is the defence going to re-examine or not?”
Robyn said loudly: “Yes, we are your Honour.”
“That right, Mr Davis?”
Brian glared at Robyn, hoping she’d back down. But she shot back a steely gaze. If he opposed her, she’d obviously cause a big scene: she was that sort of girl. That was the last thing he wanted.
He muttered to her: “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Of course I do.”
Brian looked up at the judge and shrugged. “Yes, your Honour. We want to re-examine this witness. My learned junior will conduct the re-examination.”
The judge frowned. “Alright then, get on with it.”
When Robyn answered her mobile that morning and heard the receptionist, Justine Pearson, say she wanted to talk about who killed Alice, her heart went crazy and assaulted her breastbone.
Robyn gulped in air. “What do you know about that?”
“I know about … about … what happened at the office that Friday.”
“You mean, the day before Alice Markham got killed?”
Robyn now had the receiver in a death-grip, mouth dry as dust. “OK. Tell me.”
Haltingly, Justine described how, at about three in the afternoon, a courier arrived with a package for Hugh Grimble marked “urgent”. Justine reckoned it was probably just another unsolicited manuscript from a desperate author. But, in case it wasn’t, she decided to take the package straight to Grimble.
When she reached Grimble’s office, the door was slightly ajar. She was about to push it open when she heard Grimble and Alice Markham yelling at each other on the other side. Justine couldn’t hear everything they said. But Alice accused Grimble of stealing her husband’s book royalties. When Grimble denied that, Alice said she’d discovered two sets of accounts showing Rex Markham’s royalties – one true, one fake – which she had photocopied. She tossed the photocopies onto his desk and told him to have a look.
Grimble glanced through the photocopies and told Alice not to tell her husband. If she kept quiet, he’d make it worth her while.
At that point Justine, afraid she’d be noticed, retreated to her desk.
A few minutes later, Alice strode past and got into a lift.
Robyn said: “Did she look angry?”
“Not really. In fact, she looked rather pleased.”
“Did she return that afternoon?”
Fifteen minutes later, Justine returned to Grimble’s office with the couriered package. As she entered, Grimble took a sheaf of papers off his desk and shoved them into a desk drawer.
“Do you know what happened to them?”
Justine’s voice quivered. “Yes.”
“Yes. You see, after Alice got killed, I got really curious and wondered if they might be important. So, on Monday evening, after Mr Grimble went home, I took the papers out of the drawer and photocopied them. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did. Then I put them back.”
Robyn’s emotions soared. “Wow. And do you still have them?”
There was a long pause while time hobbled on crutches. Finally, Justine said: “Yeah, I do.”
Robyn sighed. “Thank God. Where?”
“I’ve got them here, right now.”
“Shit. When can we meet?”
“I usually catch the eight o’clock train to Town Hall. It arrives about 9.10. I can see you there.”
“Great. But why didn’t you reveal all this earlier?”
“The police never talked to me and I sorta didn’t want to get involved. I mean, I shouldn’t have listened at the door and photocopied that stuff. So when they charged Mr Markham with murder, I just accepted he was guilty. That was the easiest thing to do. It was only when I spoke to you, yesterday, that I realized Mr Grimble might be the real killer and I had to do something. I won’t have to give evidence will I?”
If Robyn had to slap Justine around and drag her, by the hair, all the way from Town Hall Station to the Supreme Court and force her into a witness box, she would. But first she had to lure Justine within range. “That’s highly unlikely.”
Robyn told Justine to meet her outside the main exit at Town Hall Station, at 9.10am.
Robyn arrived at the station half-an-hour early and stood anxiously next to the long bank of turnstiles.
However, by 9.15am, Justine still hadn’t arrived and Robyn started to worry. Five minutes later, she was panicking. Then Justine came through the turnstiles, carrying her pink handbag and a slim plastic shopping bag, looking desperately afraid. “Oh, sorry I’m late. They’re working on the track.”
“Forget it. You’ve got the documents?”
She held up the shopping bag. “Yeah, they’re in here. You want to look at them?”
Fifty minutes later, Robyn stood at the Bar table in the Banco Court, staring at Hugh Grimble. Brian had just sat down and she felt incredibly lonely. A great weight landed on her shoulders. Until this moment, Brian had carried all of the responsibility. Now her client’s freedom and her career depended on this re-examination. If it blew up in her face, she’d have nowhere to hide.
Her bloated tongue stuck to the walls of her dry mouth. God, she hoped she could speak. Her father’s voice reverberated in her head. “Stand up straight and speak clearly.”
His intrusion got her jaw working. “Umm, ahh, Mr Grimble, umm, yesterday you said you had dinner with Rex Markham on the night Alice Markham was murdered, didn’t you?”
Grimble looked quite relaxed, sensing his ordeal would soon be over. He just had to answer a few questions from this stupid woman, then disappear. A half-smile. “I did at first – but I was wrong.”
“But initially, you gave him an alibi, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then, during cross-examination, you denied having dinner with him, correct?”
“So tell me, Mr Grimble, why did you initially say you dined with Rex Markham?”
Brian whispered to her: “Christ. Don’t dredge this up again.”
She muttered: “Shut up.”
Grimble leaned forward. “I was trying to help him – to give him an alibi. That was a stupid thing to do.” Grimble looked at the judge. “I’m sorry, your Honour, I really am. I was just trying to help a friend. When Rex came to me, he was desperate. I wanted to help.”
“But Mr Grimble, you suggested the alibi, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You suggested the alibi, even though you knew the police would check your telephone records and discover it was false?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“In fact, you wanted to sabotage Rex Markham’s defence, didn’t you?”
Grimble recoiled slightly. “You’re mad. I tried to help him.”
“No you didn’t. You pretended to help him, but really wanted him convicted?”
“Mr Grimble, you now claim, don’t you, that on the night of the murder you went to the casino?”
“So you don’t have an alibi either, do you?
Grimble’s brow furrowed. “An alibi? I don’t need an alibi.”
Robyn had reached the moment of truth. She took a deep breath, said to herself “here goes”, and gave her voice a grating edge. “Because you stabbed Alice Markham to death, didn’t you?”
A hubbub erupted in the public gallery. Justice Dobell glared at Robyn. Brian muttered “Jesus Christ.”
Grimble looked shocked. “That’s ridiculous.”
The Mad Monk leapt to his feet. “I object your Honour. My learned friend is cross-examining her own witness.”
Robyn said: “I’m entitled to do that, your Honour, because his evidence has become unfavourable to the accused.”
Justice Dobell stared hard at Brian. “What do you say, Mr Davis? Is this the approach you want to take?”
Brian half-rose and sighed. “I suppose so, your Honour.”
The judge looked annoyed. “You don’t sound very sure about that.”
“Umm, yes, I am – I am sure.”
The judge looked at the prosecutor. “Well then, Mr Mahoney, it’s obvious this witness has proved highly unfavourable. In fact, I can’t imagine a more destructive witness. So the defence is entitled to cross-examine him.”
Mahoney nodded reluctantly. “As your Honour pleases.”
The judge stared at Robyn. “But I trust, Ms Parker, that you have a sound basis for the accusation you just made? I can’t even begin to tell you how upset I will be if you do not.”
“I do, your Honour.”
“Alright. You can proceed. But I intend to keep you on a very short rein.”
“Yes, your Honour.” Robyn looked at Grimble. “The Markhams decided to get divorced, didn’t they?”
“So I understand.”
“And, because of that, Alice became very curious about her husband’s wealth, didn’t she?”
Grimble shrugged. “How would I know?”
“Well, you handled some of Rex Markham’s financial affairs, didn’t you?”
“In fact, you collected his book royalties and paid them over, after deducting your commission?”
Grimble’s eyes darted about. “Umm, yes.”
“And Alice Markham wanted to find out how much her husband was earning, didn’t she?”
Grimble shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“So, without your permission, she broke into your office and looked through your records?”
Grimble licked his lips and tugged his bowtie. “No, not so far as I’m aware.”
“And she discovered that, for a number of years, you’d been siphoning off royalties?”
“No, she didn’t,” Grimble croaked.
“She also discovered you’d created a whole set of false accounts for her husband?”
Grimble scowled. “No, definitely not.”
“In fact, over a six-year period, you stole approximately $340,000 from Rex Markham, didn’t you?”
“No, that’s a lie.”
“And on the Friday afternoon, before she died, Alice Markham confronted you about that, didn’t she?”
Grimble’s eyes widened. “No.”
“She confronted you and you promised that, if she kept quiet, you’d buy her off?”
Grimble’s voice rose an octave. “No, that’s a lie – a total lie.”
“But rather than buy her off, you went over to her house on Saturday night and murdered her, didn’t you?”
“No. Completely and utterly untrue.”
“Then, to make sure Rex Markham got convicted, you persuaded him to use an alibi you knew the prosecution would destroy.”
Grimble snarled. “Absolute bullshit.”
Robyn had already photocopied the records Justine Pearson provided. Now she now got a Court Officer to place them in front of Grimble.
Robyn said: “Mr Grimble, please look closely at the bundle of documents that has been placed before you.”
Grimble’s face and hands trembled. He spent five minutes leafing through the twenty-page bundle, as if it might be infected. The only sound was the rustle of pages. He looked up like a startled rat. “Ah, yes, I’ve looked at them. Where did you get them?”
Robyn felt a surge of power as Grimble exposed his flank and she closed in for the kill. “Mr Grimble, I’m here to ask the questions, not you.”
Robyn spent the next half-hour taking Grimble slowly through the bundle to show it, in fact, contained two different versions of Rex Markham’s royalty entitlements.
Robyn said: “So you agree with me, don’t you, that one set of accounts must be fake?”
Large beads of sweat appeared on Grimble’s forehead. “Maybe, but I didn’t fake it.”
“Really? You kept both sets in your office, didn’t you?”
“Ah, no. Only one set.”
“Really? Which one?”
Grimble shakily held up a pile of papers: “These are the accounts I kept in my office.” He held up a second pile. “I don’t know where these documents come from. I’ve never seen them before.”
A Court Officer handed the first pile to Robyn, who saw that Grimble had verified the false accounts which understated Rex Markham’s royalty income by $340,000. He really had no choice.
Robyn said: “Well, Mr Grimble, I intend to show that all of these documents came from your office.” He turned to the judge. “Your Honour, could these documents be marked for identification?”
The judge stared at her intently. “You intend to call someone to prove both sets came from his office?”
“Yes I do, your Honour.”
“Alright then.” The judge assigned each set an identification number.
“Thank you, your Honour. I’ve finished my cross-examination.”
As Robyn sat down, Brian muttered softly: “I hope you can prove all that.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a witness.”
“Wow. A good one?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Where is she?”
“Outside, I hope.”
“Actually, I’m praying she’s there – praying very hard.”
Justice Dobell told Grimble he could leave the witness box. Face crimson, Grimble rose and lurched towards the side door.
The judge asked Brian to call his next witness.
Brian looked inquiringly at Robyn, who shot to her feet and said: “Your Honour, the defence calls Ms Justine Pearson.”
Grimble turned and looked horrified before scurrying out the side door. Most of the jurors noted his reaction.
Robyn turned to Bernie Roberts and whispered: “She’s outside, I hope. Short skirt. Pink handbag.”
Robyn had had enormous difficulty persuading Justine to give evidence and prayed the receptionist hadn’t bailed out. But Bernie soon returned with Justine in tow, wide-eyed and shaking. Thank God.
Justine looked at Robyn for reassurance. Robyn smiled and pointed towards the witness box.
Justine stumbled across the courtroom and sat down, looking like a trapped faun. She grabbed a glass of water and took a big gulp.
The oath was administered and Robyn patiently led Justine through her story. Haltingly, Justine described how she overheard Alice Markham accuse Hugh Grimble of skimming off royalties and later photocopied the two sets of accounts.
Robyn sought to tender both sets.
The judge looked surprised. “Really? On what basis?”
“They’re not relevant, your Honour.”
A wry smile. “Mr Mahoney, you’re not serious, are you? I allow the tender.”
Robyn said: “Thank you, your Honour. I’ve finished my examination of this witness.”
As Robyn sat down, Brian muttered, “fantastic”. Then he leaned close to Mahoney and smiled. “Sorry Sam, I forgot to mention that we had a trick up our sleeve. Hope you’re not too surprised.”
Mahoney grunted, got to his feet and immediately attacked Justine for not telling the police what she’d seen and heard.
Justine was soon on the verge of tears and wailed, “Why should I? The police said Mr Markham was the murderer, right? I thought they knew what they were doing.”
Mahoney kept accusing Justine of lying. But the louder he yelled, the more determined and confident she became. Eventually, he realized he was pounding sand and huffily told the judge he had no further questions.
As Justine left the witness box and headed towards the side-door, Brian whispered to Robyn: “Any more witnesses?”
“No. You’re back in charge.”
He grinned. “Thanks.”
Brian got to his feet and looked at the clock. “Your Honour, it’s already 12.30pm. I need a little time to arrange the attendance of our next witness. Perhaps we can go to lunch now?”
The judge looked at Mahoney, who shrugged, before turning back to Brian. “Alright, Mr Davis. We’ll resume at two o’clock.”
As soon as the judge had left the bench, Robyn rushed from the court and saw Justine about to leave the building. “Justine, Justine.”
Justine turned, still flushed and nervous, but obviously proud. “Hi. Did I do OK?”
“You were fabulous. I’m very proud of you.”
“Thanks. I guess I’ll have to find another job now.”
“Well, if you need a reference, let me know.”
Robyn warned Justine that, when she left the building, she’d have to run a gauntlet of media cameras. “You should be proud of yourself, so walk slowly, keep your chin up and don’t answer any questions.”
As Robyn strolled back towards the Banco Court, she passed Detective Inspector Holloway, sitting on a wooden bench.
He smiled ruefully. “You know, I’d have bet my life your client was guilty.”
“We all make mistakes.”
“Yeah, though this explains something that puzzled me.”
“The anonymous caller who told us to check Grimble’s phone records.”
“Yes. The caller was obviously Grimble, making sure we didn’t overlook them.”
“Didn’t you smell a rat?”
He smiled. “Why look a gift horse in the mouth?”
“Maybe. But everything that glitters isn’t gold.”
The detective smiled again. “Hah. I prefer my saying.”
“So now you’ll investigate Grimble?”
“Whether your client gets convicted. That happens, we’ll close the file.”
“Even if Grimble’s the real culprit?”
“The real culprit is whoever the jury convicts.”
“Well, Rex will get off now.”
He shrugged. “Probably. But I’ve given up predicting what juries will do.”
Brian and Bernie had already left the courtroom, and obviously gone to see Rex. She went downstairs to the holding area. A Sheriff’s Officer let her through the security gate.
Laughter spilled out of an interview room. She stepped through the open door and found Brian, Bernie and Rex sitting around a small Formica table, looking happy.
Rex saw her first. “Ah, Robyn, my saviour. You were magnificent.”
She flushed. “Thanks. But this is no time for accolades. We’ve got important issues to discuss.”
“Like what? Surely, it’s all over.”
“No. You’re still not in the clear.”
He frowned. “Why not?”
“The jury could still go rogue and convict. So you’ve got to tell them where you were on the night Alice was killed.”
Rex licked his lips. “Like I said: I went to see a movie.”
Robyn frowned. “Really? I don’t believe that and the jury won’t either.”
Rex paused for a long time and frowned. “You really want to know?”
He emitted a long sigh and scuffed the floor for a while, before fitfully crossing his arms and staring at her. “Well, alright, if you must know, I was … with another woman.”
She wasn’t surprised. Indeed, she’d vaguely suspected that for a long time. She smiled. “You mean, with a woman not your wife?”
“Yes.” Rex explained that for three years he’d been having an affair with a public relations executive called Danielle Tucker. He stayed at her apartment on the night his wife was murdered, then drove back down to the beach-house early the next morning.
Brian scowled. “Christ. Why didn’t you tell us earlier?”
Rex paused for a long time and frowned. “Isn’t it obvious? I wanted to protect her and was worried an affair would count against me. The cops would think we both plotted to kill Alice. Using Hugh as my alibi witness seemed a lot smarter at the time.”
Brian snorted. “It looks pretty shabby now.”
“I accept that.”
“And you’re still in a relationship with Danielle?”
“So she’ll give evidence, if you ask?”
“Yes, I think so. But is that really necessary?”
“Yes. Despite Grimble’s evidence, this trial isn’t over. I think we have to tell the jury about her. It would explain your lies and – finally – give you a decent alibi.”
“Good, so give her a call and ask her to see us this afternoon, after court.”
Rex reluctantly nodded. “Alright. I’ll try.”
Rex used Bernie’s mobile to call Danielle Tucker and spent several minutes reassuring her that the trial was going well and explaining how Hugh Grimble’s scheme had collapsed. “So, umm, it’s time for a change of plan. I’m afraid you’ve got to give evidence … Yes, I know … But we’ve got no choice … You will? … Good.”
He gave her the address of Brian’s chambers and asked her to be there at 4.30 before hanging up.
When the trial resumed Brian filled up the afternoon by calling the four character witnesses to give evidence. They all steadfastly asserted it was inconceivable that Rex killed Alice. Mahoney only cross-examined two and got nowhere. The wind had clearly gone from his sails.
The last character witness was Tim Nolan. As he left the courtroom, Robyn realized how foolish she had been to suspect he murdered Alice.
At four o’clock, the judge adjourned for the day.
The three lawyers returned to Brian’s chambers and waited for half-an-hour until Danielle Tucker arrived. Brian’s secretary showed her into the room.
She was a petite, attractive woman in her late thirties who obviously had a vivacious personality when she wasn’t scared to death.
Everyone shook hands and introduced themselves. Then Brian sat behind his desk and the others sat facing him.
Danielle shivered and exhaled loudly. “This is frightening.”
“We fully understand.”
“But I’ll do anything to help Rex. So what do you want to know?”
“For a start, is it true you had an affair with Rex?”
She looked down. “Umm, yes. In fact, we’re still seeing each other.”
“How long’s it been going on?”
“About three years.”
“And when Alice Markham was alive, how often did you see each other?”
“Oh, once or twice a week, usually in the afternoon; and sometimes, when he was at the beach-house, he drove up to my place and stayed the night.”
“And he visited you on the night his wife was murdered?”
“And stayed with you?”
“Yes. Stayed the whole evening and whole night, then drove back early the next morning.”
“Didn’t go out?”
“Then why didn’t you come forward, initially?”
“Brian said he didn’t want to get me involved; he said people would just think we conspired to kill Alice. He said Hugh Grimble would give him a better alibi.”
“And you went along with that?”
“I trusted him.”
“But now you’re prepared to get into the witness box and say Rex was with you on the night his wife was murdered?”
Her lips quivered. “Do I have to?”
She twisted her hands. “OK then, if I have to. I’ll do anything to help Rex.”
“Good. Tomorrow, we’ll call you to give evidence.”
Bernie led her out, and Brian looked at Robyn. “She seems rather nice.”
“And, I suppose, you can’t really blame Rex for having an affair.”
“His marriage was obviously a shambles, so it’s not surprising he strayed.”
She frowned. “Really? Maybe he should have waited until his marriage was over before he shacked up with someone else.”
Brian looked slightly amused. “Goodness, you’re a real hardliner aren’t you?”
If he was still trying to entice her into a relationship, he was doing a lousy job. “Yep, I sure am.”
He nodded. “Nothing wrong with that, of course. I’m pretty traditional myself.”
Only a desperate effort stopped her punching out a laugh.
The next morning, in the absence of the jury, Brian asked Justice Dobell for leave to recall Rex Markham to the witness stand.
The judge usually wore a seen-it-all expression. Now he looked like Brian had grown another head. “Really, Mr Davis. The accused doesn’t usually get two bites of the cherry. Why should I grant that indulgence?”
“Because, your Honour, he wants to say where he really was on the night his wife was murdered.”
The judge frowned. “He’s already done that.”
“Yes, but he didn’t tell the truth.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Then where was he?”
“He spent the night with his mistress.”
The judge’s gaze rose and studied the delicate tracery in the decorative ceiling. He blew out his cheeks. “Really? And this mist … this woman is going to give evidence?”
“Yes, your Honour. I intend to call her.”
The judge turned towards the prosecutor and asked if he opposed the application.
Mahoney angrily protested that it was much too late for the accused to produce a new alibi. “We have not been given the required notification and, in any event, would need time to investigate it your Honour.”
“True, Mr Mahoney. Normally, I would not grant this indulgence. However, there is some evidence that Mr Grimble cooked up the false alibi. Further, if the accused wants to retract some of his evidence and set the record straight, I suppose I should give him that chance. Then the jury can sort out what to believe. So, in the interests of justice, I’m inclined to grant leave.”
Mahoney protested for a few more minutes, but the judge rarely listened to the arguments of counsel. He turned to Brian and granted the leave sought.
The jury was summonsed and Brian recalled Rex to the witness box, where Rex explained how, on the night his wife died, he was not with Hugh Grimble, but with a woman called Danielle Tucker.
Brian said: “You’d been having an affair with her?”
“For how long?”
“Oh, about three years.”
Gasps and titters floated to the ceiling. In the press box, reporters scribbled furiously.
“Right. And why didn’t you tell the court about this alibi earlier?”
Rex said he was afraid that, if he did, he wouldn’t be believed. In fact, if his affair became known, he would look even more guilty. “I also wanted to keep Danielle out of the spotlight, if possible.”
“So, when Hugh Grimble offered to be your alibi witness, you accepted?”
Rex blushed and croaked, “Yes, I was very stupid.” He looked at the judge. “I’m sorry, your Honour, it was a very dumb thing to do.”
The judge frowned so hard his eyebrows almost touched his wig.
Brian said: “No further questions, your Honour.”
Mahoney rose and cross-examined Brian once more. However, though he scowled and half-shouted his questions, his heart obvious wasn’t in it. Even he seemed to sense that Rex was foolish, but innocent.
Next, Brian called Danielle Tucker to give evidence. Her body and voice quivering, she corroborated Rex’s new alibi and endured Mahoney’s verbal assault without breaking. Indeed, his tirade increased the jury’s sympathy for her.
After she left the box, Brian closed the defence case.
The next day, both counsel made their final addresses to the jury. Mahoney went first and told the jurors to ignore the evidence that Alice Markham tried to blackmail Hugh Grimble. That was a red herring. Rather, they should focus on what Rex Markham did on the night of the murder. “And in relation to that, members of the jury, he’s told you one lie after another. You can’t believe a word he says.” He huffed and puffed, in a similar vein, for almost two hours.
When it was Brian’s turn, he admitted that Rex Markham told some untruths to the police and the court. “But, members of the jury, consider his situation: he was wrongly accused of murdering his wife; it’s hardly surprising he acted irrationally and lied. But he’s not on trial for lying: he’s on trial for murder – a murder he didn’t commit.”
Brian spent the next hour explaining how Hugh Grimble, who had been stealing royalties, had an excellent motive to kill Alice Markham and no alibi. “If anyone should be sitting in the dock right now, it is him. Certainly, you could not be satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Rex Markham killed his wife. Indeed, the evidence clearly shows he is innocent.”
Next, the judge summed up the law and evidence, and dropped some big hints that he thought there was a reasonable doubt. Then he sent out the jury to consider its verdict.
Half-an-hour later, the jury returned and the forewoman pronounced Rex not guilty. Robyn turned and saw he was in tears.
Amid the hubbub, Brian leaned over to the prosecutor. “You’re welcome to join our celebration, if you want.”
“Tut, tut. You should have accepted a manslaughter plea – really, you should.”
Out of the courthouse, into the sunshine.
As Brian led his little party down the front steps, a bristling cordon of sound-booms, microphones and cameras folded around them. Questions created white noise.
A shrill female voice sliced through it. “Rex, Rex, how do you feel?”
The hubbub abated. Rex Markham turned and grinned. “Happy. Relieved. Ecstatic. This has been an incredible ordeal. Thankfully, it’s turned out well. For that, I’m profoundly grateful to my legal team and the jury.”
The same voice climbed an octave. “Did you ever suspect Hugh Grimble was the killer?”
He shook his head. “No. That came as a great shock to me. A terrible shock.”
A burly and bearded radio reporter interjected. “How do you feel about him now?”
“Angry – angry and disappointed. I feel horribly betrayed.”
“Are you going to marry Ms Tucker?”
“Are you going to write a book about this?”
Rex half-smiled. “Probably a whole series of books, when I have enough distance.”
The burly reporter turned to Brian. “When did you realize Grimble was the killer?”
Brian said: “Well, as you saw, only after the trial started. The credit for unmasking him must go entirely to my junior, Ms Parker. She dug up the incriminating evidence and, as you saw, conducted a brilliant re-examination of Grimble.”
Every lens now pointed at Robyn. Microphones danced under her nose. A sound-boom almost clubbed her on the head.
A female reporter said: “Ms Parker, is that right?”
Robyn’s moment of glory had arrived and she was desperate to embrace it. But the best strategy was to back into the limelight. “Oh, no. I was just part of a team. We all worked together. I’m just glad I played a part.”
“Who found the new evidence?”
“We all did.”
Brian shook his head. “Robyn’s being too generous. As I said, she found it.” On that note, Brian held up his hands. “Now, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I think Mr Markham deserves some peace and quiet. He has been under enormous pressure. Thank you very much.”
A beefy male reporter yelled: “Will there be a press conference later?”
Ignoring him, Brian broke through the media phalanx with the others in tow.
A dozen cameramen and photographers pursued them along the pavement, jostling for good angles. They only fell away when the party entered the building that housed the barristers’ chambers.
Everybody got into a lift and Brian turned to Rex. “How do you feel?”
Rex had the bug-eyed look of a combat survivor. “Stunned, mostly. Christ, I need a drink.”
Bernie said: “So do I.”
In his room, Brian opened a small bar fridge and handed everyone a can of beer.
Rex ripped his open and raised it high. “Thank you all for saving my scrawny neck. I know I threw a few – several – stumbling blocks in your way. But you managed to push them aside, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.”
Brian said: “Like I said, you should really thank Robyn. If she hadn’t got the receptionist to talk, you’d now be sitting in the back of a prison van with some very smelly career criminals.”
Rex looked at Robyn: “Thank you Robyn – thank you very much.”
She blushed deeply. “It was a team effort.”
Brian said: “Did you ever suspect that Hugh Grimble was ripping you off?”
Rex smiled. “I started to. A few months before Alice died, I noticed my royalty stream had dipped and couldn’t understand why. So I told Hugh I wanted my accountant to go over his books.”
“What did he say?”
“Didn’t object. Said I was well within my rights. But, of course, he kept finding reasons to delay the whole thing. And then Alice got murdered and I had bigger things to worry about.”
“Ironic, isn’t it, that she found out you were getting screwed?”
“Yeah. But, why’d she suddenly discover Grimble was stealing my royalties? Why’d she start snooping?”
“Isn’t that obvious?”
“You two were getting divorced and she wanted to make sure you weren’t hiding any assets or income. So she looked through Grimble’s records and discovered he had two sets of accounts and was ripping you off.”
“So she confronted him?”
“Yep, and demanded a slice of the action. You see, she didn’t care that Grimble was stealing your money – in fact, she was probably pleased – but she wanted her cut.”
“And Hugh agreed to that?”
“Of course. But instead of honouring their bargain, he killed her instead.”
Robyn shrugged and interjected. “True. But maybe he didn’t have enough money to pay her off; or maybe he didn’t trust her; or maybe he was just a greedy pig. I don’t know. One thing is certain: he couldn’t let her talk.”
Brian said: “So, when Grimble heard you’d been charged with murder, he must have been ecstatic. If you ended up behind bars, he’d get away with murder and fraud and, as a bonus, could keep stealing your money. You know, his plan was fiendishly clever.”
Rex shook his head. “I still can’t believe he killed Alice and betrayed me. I mean, we were close as brothers.”
Robyn rolled her eyes. “Now you’re being naïve: he was just a bullshit artist who, in the end, outsmarted himself.”
Rex sighed. “I’m so lucky you unmasked him.”
“Well, I wasn’t always on the right track.”
“What do you mean?”
“At one stage, I thought Richard Olsen might be the killer.” No point mentioning she also suspected Rex’s mate, Tim Nolan.
Rex smiled. “You did?”
“Yes, and I still don’t know his real name.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know either.”
“You mean, you’re not him?”
“Yes. I know I’ve told you a lot of porkies. But this time I’m telling the truth.”
Robyn crossed her arms and frowned. “Mmm. Looks like I’ll have to do a bit more snooping.”
They spent the next hour drinking beer while recalling the highs and lows of the trial. Grimble and Sam Mahoney were the main targets of ridicule.
But their celebration grew sombre as it slowly dawned on each that the trial could have easily ended in disaster.
Just after seven o’clock, Rex stood up, looking incredibly tired. “Well folks, I’d love to keep drinking, because I owe you so much. But there’s someone I’ve got to see and thank.”
Robyn said: “What’re you two going to do? Get married?”
Rex shrugged. “I don’t know. Recent events have done a lot of damage. I’ve got a lot of repair work to do.” He dropped his beer can in a bin. “Do you think the journos are still downstairs?”
Brian peered out the window. “Yeah. There’s quite a few across the road.”
“Damn. Is there a back way out of here?”
“Yep. Go down the fire-escape. It leads to a side-lane.”
Bernie stood up. “I’ll go with you.”
“OK. Let’s go.”
Rex thanked the two barristers again and left with Bernie.
Brian turned and half-smiled at Robyn. “Congratulations. You’ve covered yourself with glory – you really have.”
Robyn wondered if her efforts really won the trial. Or would the jury, irrationally, have acquitted Rex anyway? She’d never know. But she was happy to take the plaudits, deserved or not. “Thanks. And thanks for giving me the credit when you talked to the press.”
Brian’s grin widened. “Hey, I may be a bastard, but I’m not a fucking bastard.”
Her tone softened. “I know that.”
He shuffled slightly and looked down. “Well, umm, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Want to join me for dinner? It’s up to you.”
Should she accept? She had to be very careful that her triumphant mood and the boozed she’d drunk didn’t artificially boost his appeal. But he had risen dramatically in her estimation. During the trial he showed plenty of grace under pressure and, afterwards, generously praised her efforts. Most silk would have elbowed her aside and grabbed all the bouquets. Maybe she could knock off his rough edges and create a good finished product.
She stood on the edge of a precipice. Should she jump or not? Oh hell, why not? She took some huge risks during the Markham trial and triumphed. Why not take some more? She was on a roll.
The last time he took her out to dinner, she only just escaped his clutches. Tonight, she wouldn’t even try to run. “I’ve got a better idea.”
He frowned. “What?”
“Come over to my place and I’ll cook you something.”
A broad smile. “You’re kidding?”
She slowly shook her head. “No.”
He drove them over to her terrace in his Audi and parked outside. Fortunately, Veronica had gone out for the night.
In the hallway, Robyn said that, on reflection, she wasn’t in the mood to cook.
He raised his eyebrows, knowing where events were heading. “Then what do you want to do?”
A smile. “Come upstairs and I’ll show you.”
Now that she had committed herself, her inhibitions disappeared. When they reached her bedroom, she clawed off his clothes and almost fucked him to death.
Afterwards, he lay on his back, sweating and breathing hard. “That was great. You know, I’ve been crazy about you for months. Like I said before, I’ve never met anyone like you. I know I’m rushing things and I know I sound stupid, but I want to get old and senile with you. I really do.”
She lay next to him. “You think that now. But that won’t last.”
“Yes it will.”
For the first time since she’d met him, he sounded sincere.
She said: “Well, I want to see a lot more of you. I really do. But let’s not go overboard just yet? One step at a time.”
He nodded. “OK. But I won’t let you down. I promise.”
“Let’s see how we go. Just remember this: I’m not a forgiving girl – your first chance is your last chance.”
He grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ve worked that out.”
Soon afterwards, he fell asleep and snored gently.
She lay awake for a long time, wondering if she had made a terrible mistake.
The next morning, Robyn woke with Brian snoring softly beside her and savoured her triumph in the Markham case. She’d always planned to grab plenty of glory for herself, but succeeded beyond her wildest dreams: in the biggest trial of her life, under a harsh media spotlight, she saved their client from decades behind bars. Good work, girl. Bloody good work.
On top of that, Brian had climbed in her esteem and might even make a decent partner. Early days, and she still had doubts, but there were promising signs. She even fantasised about them bringing up cute kids together in a fine house on the harbour. OK, maybe she was deluding herself. But why not? She deserved a break from reality.
After a while, Brian sleepily rolled over and put an arm around her. “Hi,” he muttered.
He opened a bleary eye. “How ya feeling?”
“Don’t regret last night?”
“No, not at all.”
“Good. Then you’re not going to tell me to back off?”
“Not yet. But remember, you’re on probation.”
“How long will that last?”
“Until your dying day.”
He giggled. “I can handle that. What’re we going to do now?”
“I don’t know about you. But I’m going to work.”
“OK. And what about tonight?”
“You get to buy me dinner.”
At the train station, Robyn purchased a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald. The splash headline said: FAMOUS NOVELIST ACQUITTED. The story below summarized the trial and gave her credit for uncovering the “dramatic new evidence” that pointed the finger of blame at Hugh Grimble. It also said her cross-examination of Grimble had “destroyed the prosecution case”. Brian wasn’t even mentioned. She hoped that didn’t annoy him too much.
At Fisher Chambers, she found her pidgeon-hole clogged with messages from friends and colleagues. Phoning them back took time because, after congratulating her, they all wanted a blow-by-blow description of the trial, which she soon got tired of giving.
Several journalists also phoned wanting interviews. She was strongly tempted to say yes. But Brian was her leader: it was his prerogative to deal with the press. So she politely steered them in his direction. None sounded happy about that. They obviously regarded her as better copy. But she stuck to her guns.
Numerous colleagues also slipped into her room to offer their congratulations and demand a full briefing.
Just before noon, she got the phone call from her mother that she’d been dreading. Robyn hadn’t seen her for several weeks. But, for once, her mother didn’t accuse Robyn of neglect. Instead, she chided Robyn for not mentioning the murder trial. “It was so exciting to see you on TV. You obviously did a wonderful job – wonderful. Your father would have been so proud of you. Won’t be long now before you’re a silk, will it?”
“Mum, that’s a long way off – ten years at least.”
“Oh, that long? But, in the meantime, it would be nice if you wore his wig. I’ve still got it here. Maybe I should send it to you?”
“No, don’t Mum. I’ve got a wig. I don’t need it.”
“I’ll send it anyway. And come and see me soon, OK? I want to hear all about the trial – every detail. “
Robyn knew her mother would grill her for hours, slowly sucking the joy out of her triumph. Then her mother would use the information gathered to claim bragging rights at the local lawn bowling club where she spent most of her days.
No point insisting that her mother keep her father’s wig, because she wouldn’t listen. “I will visit. But I can’t talk right now. Got so much to do.”
She hung up, trembling slightly, hating the way, whenever she did something good, her mother clubbed her over the head with her father’s memory. Still, she couldn’t help wondering if her father would have enjoyed her performance in the Markham trial. Surely, he would have managed a small smile.
She’d just started to relax when Rex Markham strolled in wearing a light-green linen suit and holding a big bunch of red roses. His eyes seemed brighter, and skin smoother and tighter, than before. There was a bounce in his step. He almost looked like the man on the back cover of his books.
He must have sneaked past the reception desk.
She said: “Rex, welcome. Why the roses?”
“I woke this morning and decided I still haven’t thanked you enough for saving my worthless hide. I mean, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have enjoyed coffee and croissants at a local cafe. So these are for you.”
He handed her the roses. She sniffed them appreciatively and laid them on her desk. A strange tremor of desire ran through her. No man had ever been so grateful before. It was rather intoxicating. Didn’t Kafka say that accused men are the most desirable?
“They’re very nice. Thank you. Take a seat.”
He dropped into the chair opposite, looking a touch uncomfortable. Indeed, his eyes had a strange light.
She said: “Did you see Danielle last night?”
He fidgeted. “Umm, yes. But I didn’t stay at her place.”
Why mention that? “Really? And how did you sleep?”
“Like a baby.”
“No hang-over from your ordeal?”
Rex shrugged. “No. But I’m sure there’ll be nights when I have nightmares about what happened.”
“Maybe you should go on a holiday – get away.”
He shifted nervously. “Funnily enough, I’ve decided to go sailing. I’ve got a 36-foot yacht. I’m going to take it to New Zealand.”
“A long voyage.”
“Yeah. But I’m looking forward to it. On the high seas there are no cops, judges or reporters. It’ll be fantastic.”
“Danielle going with you?”
“No. In fact, it doesn’t look like we’ll stay together.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yes. After the trauma we’ve gone through, I think it’ll be too hard to return to what we had.” He nervously stared down at the space between his feet. “But, umm, any chance that, before I go, we can have dinner – to celebrate my freedom?”
“You mean, celebrate with Brian and Bernie?”
A keen stare. “No, I just want to celebrate with you.”
A lump in her throat. She’d suspected he was attracted to her, but kept quiet because of the charges against him. And she certainly wasn’t interested in him because he was facing 25 years behind bars. Getting emotionally involved would have been spectacularly stupid.
So was she interested now? Having just saved him from prison, she felt some affection. But even if Brian wasn’t on the scene, she wouldn’t have wanted Rex. For a start, he didn’t make her heart race. Indeed, the longer she knew him, the smoother and slimier he seemed. The murder charge had obviously forced him to restrain his womanizing. Now he was off the leash. And she couldn’t ignore that he once struck Alice and was now cheating on Danielle. In fact, seen in that light, his offer was truly insulting. How stupid did he think she was?
She avoided eye contract. “No, I’d rather not. I’ve got, umm, other commitments.”
He frowned. “Really?”
“You mean, someone else?”
A frown. “Anyone I know?”
He probably suspected she was shagging Brian. But why indulge his curiosity. “No.”
A deeper frown. “You sure you won’t have dinner? I would like to show my gratitude.”
Christ, did she have to stencil “Not Interested” on her forehead? “No, best not.”
He studied her closely and nodded ruefully. “OK. Well, I’m terribly grateful for everything you’ve done. I really am.” He stood up.
She smiled and shook his hand. “Think nothing of it.”
As he left, she realized that he had probably confused his gratitude to her with passion for her. She also pondered how relationships between barristers and clients usually blaze brightly for a while and quickly fade. Hopefully, she wouldn’t see him again and she certainly wouldn’t read any more of his books. Indeed, he’d confirmed that it’s never a good idea to meet a favourite author.
His appearance reminded her that she still hadn’t sent a bill to Bernie Roberts, who was holding money in trust. Humming away, she abandoned herself to the thrill of typing up a hefty bill that would soon be paid. She’d almost finished when Brian Davis strolled in, smiling until he saw the flowers on her desk.
His eyes narrowed. “Hi, nice flowers.”
“Who gave them to you?”
Brian frowned. “Really? Why?”
“To thank me, of course.”
“He didn’t send me any flowers.”
“Not my fault.”
Brian’s frown deepened. “Not even a bottle of brandy.”
“Maybe he thinks that paying your extortionate bill will be thanks enough.”
Brian looked annoyed. “Oh, so you’re not going to bill him?”
“Not as much as you.”
“Not my fault. How did you get the flowers? Did he send them?”
“No, he delivered them himself.”
Brian’s frown returned. “When?”
“About ten minutes ago.”
“That so? And what did you talk about?”
She smiled. “Why do you want to know? Jealous, are you?”
Brian managed a low-watt smile. “Me, jealous? Why would I be jealous?”
She shrugged. “Because you’ve been worried I like him.”
Brian gave a hollow laugh and pushed his hands into his pockets. “No, I haven’t. But what did you two talk about?”
She was enjoying herself. “Oh, he thanked me, of course, for saving his hide and asked me to have dinner with him.”
Brian looked shocked. “Dinner? Why?”
“He said he wanted to celebrate his freedom.”
“Yep. Just the two of us.”
“He’s got the hots for you, hasn’t he?”
“Looks like it.”
“But the dirty bastard’s already in a relationship with Danielle.”
“He claims that’s on the ropes.”
“What an arsehole: cheated on his wife and now his mistress. What did you say?”
She loved teasing him. “Guess.”
“You said ‘no’, right?”
She gazed out the window and let him dangle for a while, twisting in the breeze, before looking back. “Of course I said ‘no’.”
He looked relieved. “Good. And you’re not interested in him, right?”
She was tired of this game. “Of course not. In fact, call me crazy but, right now, I’m only interested in you.”
A broad smile. “Great. Fantastic. So, I’m buying you dinner tonight?”
“And I was thinking that maybe, this weekend, we can drive up to the Hunter Valley, visit a few wineries and stay overnight.”
He slipped around behind the desk and kissed her on the lips. “OK then, I’ll speak to you later.”
When he’d gone, Robyn finished typing her bill and faxed it off to Bernie Roberts, before returning more calls from well-wishers. In her spare moments, she thought about Brian. He really seemed more sensitive and thoughtful than she’d originally believed. Maybe she could knock him into shape. But that prospect made her a little afraid. If she wasn’t careful, she’d fall in love with him and find herself on very dangerous ground indeed.
Robyn desperately wanted to discuss her triumph with Silvia Tyler. But Silvia spent most of the day in court, not returning until four-thirty. When she did, Robyn slipped into her room and found her unbuttoning her bar jacket.
Silvia smiled. “Oh, it’s our very own superstar. Well, girlie, I can’t watch TV or read the paper without seeing your ugly mug. It’s pathetic. Can I kiss your hem?”
“Only if you’re sincere.”
A smoky laugh. “No chance.” She hung her bar jacket in a small wardrobe. “Want a drink to celebrate?”
Silvia reached into a desk drawer and fished out a whiskey bottle and a couple of glasses. She filled them and handed one to Robyn. “Congratulations. No stopping you now.”
They both sipped the whiskey.
Silvia raised an eyebrow. “You know, you got more publicity than your esteemed leader, Brian Davis.”
“Not my fault.”
“I know. But I must say, he was very generous after the trial. A lot of glory-hogging silk would have airbrushed you out; they’d have preferred their client got convicted rather than share any credit.”
“I know. In fact, I think I’ve misjudge him.”
“I thought he was arrogant and superficial.”
Silvia arched both eyebrows. “And he’s not?”
“Well, he’s not as bad as I thought.”
“Goodness. Sounds like you’re starting to like him.”
Robyn flushed slightly. Was it the whiskey? Embarrassment? Both? “Actually, I am.”
“Yes, in fact, umm …”
“In fact what?”
“In fact, we’ve got quite close.”
Silvia giggled. “How close?”
“You mean, you’re shagging?”
“When did that start?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because, dearie, I want all the grubby details.”
“OK then. Last night.”
“A sort of victory celebration?”
“Yes. But I think it’s more serious than that.”
“Really? You think he’s capable of being serious?”
“Maybe. He says he’s ready to settle down.”
Silvia shrugged. “You know him better than me. But if I’ve learnt one thing in life, it’s that you can’t trust men until they’re stone dead and the coffin lid has been screwed on tight.”
“But what about Geoff? You trust him, don’t you?”
“No. He looks meek and mild, and I’ve never caught him cheating. But he’s got a dick, and that makes him as rational as a suicide bomber.”
“Well, if I catch Brian cheating, he’ll be toast. No second chances.”
“None at all?”
They downed a couple more whiskeys while Silvia peppered Robyn with questions about the Markham trial. Eventually, Robyn put down her glass and got unsteadily to her feet. “I can’t keep drinking, I’m afraid. Got work to do.”
Silvia said: “OK. But just out of curiosity, what happened to the dog-bite case Gary Monaghan did for you?”
Shit. Robyn had forgotten about that. The hearing was several days ago. Goodness. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen Gary around. Have you?”
“Not for a few days.”
Robyn already felt guilty for asking Gary to take the case in the first place. She only did so because Silvia mentioned he was keen on her. As a result, she feared she’d trifled with his affections.
And now she hadn’t even bothered to ask him what happened. Very haughty and naughty.
However, she wouldn’t beat herself up too much. This was a triumphant time in her life. Why ruin it with a guilt trip?
Still, courtesy demanded that she talk to Gary about the case. In fact, she’d best do that right now, while she had some whiskey in her system.
Robyn said: “I’ll go and ask him what happened.”
“OK. Let me know. And, congrats.”
Robyn strolled across the corridor and stepped into Gary’s spookily neat room, and was relieved to find he wasn’t there.
She strolled around to the floor’s receptionist, Wendy, a middle-aged woman with a huge bosom whose default expression was boredom. Barristers on the floor often complained she was lazy, but were too lazy to do anything about it. She probably had the most secure job in Sydney.
As usual, she was polishing her nails. When she broke one, she cursed like a top athlete who’s pulled a hamstring.
Robyn said: “Wendy, is Gary around?”
Wendy slowly shifted some gum from one cheek to the other and gave Robyn a blank stare. Words dribbled from her lips. “Gary? He’s in Canberra. Got a hearing in the Federal Court. Should be back tomorrow morning.”
“That’s what he said. I can give you his mobile number, if you want?”
Robyn preferred to delay her chat with Gary. “No, don’t bother. I’ll speak to him tomorrow.”
Wendy returned the gum to its original location and used her tongue to fix it in place. “OK.”
That evening, after dinner in a nice restaurant, Robyn took Brian back to her place for another bout of torrid sex. The next morning she again left the house before him, keen to get to work. Phone calls and visits from well-wishers kept her busy until mid-morning. Then her conscience demanded that she ask Gary Monaghan about the fate of Mad Mrs Muldoon and her stupid dog.
He sat at his desk, head bowed over a law report, exposing the razor-sharp part in his lank dark hair. He was actually quite good-looking in a very regular and non-descript sort of way.
She cleared her throat. “Hi.”
He looked up, surprised. “Hi and, umm, congratulations.”
“The murder trial. You got a lot of publicity and obviously did a fantastic job.”
He spoke with a frankness and sincerity she rarely encountered, especially at the Bar. What was wrong with him? Did he grow up in the country? Was he the son of missionaries? Did he study for the priesthood? “Ah, yes, thanks.”
“You’ll have to tell me what happened.”
“Yes, I will. But first tell me about Mrs Muldoon.”
He frowned and looked crestfallen. “Oh, bad news there I’m afraid. She was convicted and fined $500.”
“And the dog?” The dog’s fate was much more important.
“Better news. Touch and go, but the magistrate gave it a reprieve.”
“Good. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“I wanted to. But you were very busy with your case.”
Goodness, he was nice in a slightly saccharine way. “OK. Thanks. So how did Mrs Muldoon take the verdict?”
“She’s very angry, as you can imagine.”
“Yep, she wants to appeal.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“Nobody will represent her.”
A tight smile. “I will.”
“You don’t have to do that. You did the hearing pro bono and you certainly won’t get paid for the appeal. You’ve done enough – more than enough – for Mrs Muldoon. She can’t expect any more.”
“I know. But I’m not happy with the beak’s decision. I know it sounds crazy, but I really think the dog is innocent and I don’t like losing, even dog-bite cases.”
Until now, he’d seemed like a mild-mannered tax lawyer. But his hard tone and clenched jaw suggested a spark of life, though he could have found a worthier cause. Her eyes widened. “Oh God, she’s driven you mad, hasn’t she? It’s all my fault.”
He half-smiled. “No, I’m still perfectly sane.”
“Well, don’t go overboard. It’s only a dog-bite case. As far as miscarriages of justice are concerned, it rates pretty low. You don’t have to act like Clarence Darrow.”
“Maybe. But I’ve got no choice. I took the case, and now I’ve got to finish it.”
Robyn shrugged. “Up to you. But thank you for taking the brief.”
He leaned forward and nervously wrung his hands, as if about to say something important. Christ. Was he going to ask her out to dinner? Claim his reward for taking the Muldoon brief?
He was very sweet. No doubt about that. But even if she wasn’t seeing Brian, she wouldn’t have looked at him twice. No pizzazz. Before he could say anything embarrassing, she spat out: “Well, thank you very much. Thanks a lot. I owe you one. I really do. We’ll have coffee some time.”
She spun around and scuttled from his room, ignoring the bleating of her conscience.
After the Markham trial, Robyn’s career surged ahead. Solicitors she’d never met before started instructing her to appear for armed robbers, serial rapists and drug traffickers in the Supreme Court. Indeed, to staunch the flow of briefs, she jacked up her fees. But that had little impact because solicitors seemed to expect – indeed, almost demanded – that she charge a huge amount because they found that reassuring. So, for the first time in her career, she got choosey about which solicitors she would work with. Indeed, it gave her profound satisfaction to dump several of the more incompetent non-payers who’d wasted her time for so long.
She even got a call from Gary Frost SC, the Senior Public Defender in NSW, who asked her to be his junior in a High Court appeal. Robyn felt a shot of adrenalin. The High Court. She’d have walked to Canberra and appeared for nothing if asked.
Her relationship with Brian also went from strength to strength. His attitude wasn’t perfect. Sometimes, he made arrogant or insensitive comments, glanced at other women or smirked so hard she wanted to slap him. But he was obviously trying to improve his behaviour and she was confident she could consolidate those gains.
She spent a few nights at his apartment. But he preferred sleeping at her place and they soon settled into a routine where he slept there every second or third night.
One weekend, he drove her up to the Hunter Valley to stay in an elegant guesthouse and visit wineries. The next he took her to his hobby farm and introduced her to the cattle in the main paddock.
The only wrinkle in the smooth surface of her new and improved life appeared about four weeks after the trial, when she got a telephone call from Detective Inspector Holloway, from the Homicide Squad.
When her receptionist announced he was on the line, she wondered what the hell he wanted. Was he about to charge Grimble with murder? Did he want to thank Robyn for her efforts? If so, he’d taken his time. Still, she would be gracious.
After they exchanged hellos, she said: “So, what can I do for you?”
“I thought you’d like an update on our investigation into the murder of Alice Markham.”
“Yes, of course. How’s it going?”
“Well, after the trial, we zeroed in on Hugh Grimble.”
So she was right: the cops were about to charge Grimble with murder. “That’s good.”
“Yes. In fact, we’ve just finished that part of our investigation.”
“Yes. It didn’t take long to establish he’s innocent.”
Christ. Did the detective say ‘innocent’? Impossible. The bowtie-wearing artsy-fartsy bastard was guilty as hell. She wondered why she ever through this cop had a brain. He was obviously another shining illustration of the legendary incompetence of the NSW Police Service. He should be playing the triangle in the police band. “You’re kidding? He’s not innocent.”
“Yes, he is, completely innocent,” the detective said smugly.
“He can’t be – he just can’t.”
“I’m afraid he is.”
Robyn struggled to decipher, personalise and then digest this new information, with little success. “How do you know that? Why are you so sure?”
“Because, for a start, we’ve compared his hair with hairs found on Alice Markham’s clothes. No match.”
“Big deal. That isn’t conclusive. There are plenty of reasons why his hair mightn’t be there. Or maybe you missed it.”
“True. But other evidence proves he’s innocent.”
“The clincher is the security film.”
“What security film?”
“The security film we obtained from the casino. Grimble claims he went to the casino that night. So we asked the casino for its security film and, thankfully, they still had it.”
“The film shows he arrived at the casino just after 7pm and didn’t leave until nearly midnight.”
Shit. “You sure? Maybe he snuck out long enough to murder Alice?”
“Nope. He was never off camera long enough to do that.”
“Yep. So he’s definitely not the murderer.”
She still couldn’t get both arms around this news. “My God, I’m stunned.”
“I bet you are,” the policeman said wryly, enjoying the chance to contradict a smarty-pants barrister.
“But what about the argument between Alice and Grimble on the Friday afternoon?”
“So what? People argue all the time. It was just a co-incidence, nothing more.”
“So you’re not going to charge him with murder?”
“Of course not, though the Fraud Squad will probably charge him with stealing royalties. He’ll be ruined anyway.”
“Then why’d he agree to give Rex a false alibi and then recant in the witness box?”
“Probably wanted to cover up his fraud, and the best way to do that was make sure Rex went to prison for a very long time. Indeed, if that happened, he could have kept stealing his money.”
Rex Markham told Grimble, a few months before the murder, that he wanted an accountant to audit the royalties Grimble was collecting. So the detective’s theory was convincing. “Mmm, I think you’re right.”
“So congratulations,” the detective said acidly.
“It looks like you got a murderer off the hook. Now he’s free as a bird.”
“That’s not true. You can’t prove Rex killed anyone.”
“I’ve got no other suspects.”
“Maybe. But what about his second alibi: that he was with Danielle?”
“It was obviously just another concoction.”
The detective’s annoyance made Robyn uncomfortable. ‘Yeah, well, thanks for giving me this news.”
“My pleasure,” the detective said sardonically.
Robyn hung up and was forced to concede it now looked quite possible that Rex Markham did, in fact, murder his wife and, through her efforts, he’d escaped just punishment. Well, if he did, it wasn’t her fault. She did nothing dishonest. The system failed.
Indeed, in a rather perverse way, the detective’s revelation enhanced her triumph. Anyone could get an innocent client acquitted; it took real skill to get a guilty one off. True, non-lawyers wouldn’t see it quite like that, but they didn’t understand the game.
Of course, it was also possible that Rex was innocent and a third party killed Alice. Before the trial, Robyn had suspected both the pseudonymous Richard Olsen and Tim Nolan. Maybe one of them was the killer, or someone she hadn’t even considered.
Anyway, it wasn’t her job to look for an answer. She’d leave that to the police. But she was dying to tell Brian what the detective had said. She caught a lift down to his floor and strolled past the vacant reception desk to his room.
Brian wasn’t in his room. But his suit jacket hung over the back of his chair, suggesting he hadn’t wandered far. She’d wait a few minutes.
She perched on the corner of his desk, next to a lever-arch folder containing a brief. The cover-sheet on the folder identified the matter as “R v Stavros”. How odd. Brian often mentioned his cases, but not that one.
Further down the cover-sheet was the standard formula:
“You are briefed to appear at the trial of this matter, for the accused, with Patricia Lenehan as your junior counsel”.
A jolt of anxiety. Patricia Lenehan. A few weeks before the trial, Robyn saw Patricia leave Brian’s room after a “conference”. Brian said Patricia was prosecuting one of his clients and they were plea bargaining. He certainly didn’t mention she was also acting as his junior in a case.
Why not? Why did Brian try to put some distance between himself and Patricia? The answer was obvious: he was shagging her.
Robyn now realized what was unusual about Patricia’s appearance when she left Brian’s room: she wasn’t carrying anything. If they were really discussing a plea deal, she’d have at least had a pen and paper, if not her whole brief.
Of course, after Brian started seeing Robyn, he might have stopped bonking Patricia. Robyn felt a surge of optimism, which evaporated fast. A chronic skirt-chaser like Brian would hate to give up such a lovely arrangement. No way. In her heart, she knew he was cheating. Fucking bastard. Turd.
She wanted to dump the arsehole straight away, but couldn’t without solid proof. Certainly, if she confronted the bastard and accused him of cheating, he’d brush her accusation aside and make her look paranoid and disloyal.
She needed smoking-gun evidence.
She surveyed his room and spied his computer. Brian had probably exchanged e-mails with Patricia, which might contain incriminating material.
Accessing his computer was bad. Definitely. But so was cheating, and she just had to confirm that he was.
She shut the door and rushed over to his computer, which was already on. Hands shaking, she looked through his e-mail in-box and saw that Patricia had sent several e-mails during the last week. She opened the most recent one. In it, Patricia asked when Brian wanted to have another conference in the Stavros matter.
Brian replied that he’d see her at 6pm on Thursday.
The exchange looked quite innocuous until Robyn read the final sentence of his reply, which said: “P.S. Don’t wear any panties.”
Fucker. Fucking bastard. She’d trusted him and he’d treated her like dirt. The rotten turd had promised to stop womanising, but didn’t. The grub would pay for this, in spades.
He obviously wanted to meet Patricia Lenehan at 6pm tomorrow because, by that hour, most barristers would have gone home and they wouldn’t be disturbed.
Well, she would turn up and cause a massive disturbance.
Fearing he might return at any moment, she dashed out to the lifts and rode up to Fisher Chambers feeling hurt, humiliated and, most of all, angry – fucking angry. The bastard. She’d always thought she was incapable of murder. No longer.
The next morning, Robyn woke alone and immediately saw an image of Brian on the back of her eyelids. Bastard. Her blood pressure spiked. She tried to calm down. But her anger kept returning. What a prick.
She considered dumping him straight away. But then she’d have to reveal that she looked through his e-mails. No, she had to catch the bastard in flagrante. But how?
Her feverish mind quickly engineered a plan – a fiendishly clever one – which required getting to work early. She glanced at her watch. Six-thirty. Still plenty of time to put it into effect. She jumped out of bed.
An hour later, she strolled into the building that housed both of their chambers, got out of the lift on his floor, which was deserted, and strolled over to his secretary’s cubicle. In the bottom drawer of the secretary’s desk, she found a large bunch of keys. She used each key on Brian’s door until she found the right one, which she slipped into her pocket, before returning the rest of the bunch to the drawer.
She headed for the lift, feeling a lot better.
That afternoon, Brian phoned and asked if she wanted to spend the night at his place. She coughed and said in a husky voice that she couldn’t because she had a cold. “But don’t worry Darling, I’ll be fine in a few days.”
“OK. And just remember, I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
“Lots of love.”
“Yes, lots of love.”
She hung up and, after stifling an urge to vomit, put a hand in her pocket and fingered the key.
Robyn’s performance during the Markham trial changed Brian’s attitude from infatuation to rapture and awe. He didn’t usually praise his juniors, especially in public. But he was so besotted he couldn’t help himself.
Of course, he soon worried he’d diverted too much glory away from himself. But, to his relief, numerous colleagues congratulated him on winning the case. They obviously thought that, because he was in charge, he was the architect – if not the immediate cause – of victory. Indeed, he soon started to believe that himself. After all, he had the foresight to choose Robyn as his junior, conveniently forgetting his main motive for doing that was lust. He’d been thinking for a while about entering federal politics on the conservative side and performing on a larger stage. Maybe the celebrity he’d gained from this case was the springboard he needed.
Then, to his great joy, Robyn’s attitude to him thawed and she climbed into his bed. He’d never chased a woman so long and hard. Yet finally he claimed his quarry.
In all of his previous relationships he was emotionally complacent, even comatose. But, with Robyn, he tried hard to please, even pretending, against the grain, to be humble and sensitive. They obviously had a golden future together as one of the Bar’s power couples.
The only fly in the ointment was his panel of girlfriends. In a display of tremendous discipline and decency, he dumped every one of them except Patricia Lenehan. Further, even when he bonked Patricia, his weak and malnourished conscience suffered a pang of guilt. However, he told himself that he wasn’t really cheating on Robyn because he and Patricia didn’t have a strong emotional bond. He didn’t take her out to dinner or give her flowers. In fact, she made it very clear she’d never leave her husband. Shagging her was just like meeting an old friend for coffee.
However, despite that, he knew their affair must stop. That was partly because he knew, deep down, that it was time to grow up and partly because he feared getting caught. Robyn had said that, if he cheated, she wouldn’t give him a second chance, and he believed her. The stakes were too high.
So when Patricia stepped into his room, on Thursday evening, for one of their regular “conferences”, he considered telling her straight away that their affair was over. However, he already had an erection and didn’t want to miss out on one last bonk. Better to tell her afterwards, if he had the courage.
They usually started their “conferences” by actually discussing the case at hand. That brief period of sexual abstinence usually created a wonderful erotic charge. Indeed, after talking about R v Stavros for ten minutes, he was desperate for a shag.
Finally, he frowned and said they’d talked enough about the case.
She grinned and stood up. “OK then, I’d better be going.”
He felt a touch of concern. Surely she was joking. But what if she wasn’t? “No, don’t go. Stay and have a beer.”
She shrugged. “OK.”
He opened the small fridge behind his desk, pulled out a couple of cans and passed one to Patricia. He stood close to her and inhaled her musky perfume. She didn’t seem to mind.
Should he make a move right now, or be a gentleman and let her taste the beer first?
“So, how’s Fred,” he said, referring to her husband.
They often talked about Fred, even though Patricia was cheating on him. She enjoyed unloading her frustrations.
She sighed. “Oh, he’s very nice, but so, so boring. Sometimes, during dinner, I almost fall face-first onto my plate. And in bed? Jesus, if everyone was like him, our species would disappear.” She stepped closer. “You know, I followed your instructions.”
He touched her hip. No elastic. “Good girl.”
They put down their beers and locked lips, her tongue probing for his tonsils. Eventually, Brian stepped back and unbuckled his belt. Patricia started unbuttoning her blouse.
He thought of Robyn and felt a stab of guilt. He shouldn’t be doing this: she meant a lot to him. His erection subsided. Shit, how annoying. Unnerved, he heard someone – obviously himself – say: “You know, I shouldn’t be doing this.”
Patricia looked puzzled. “Why not?”
“Because, umm, I’ve started seeing someone, seriously.”
“Robyn Parker – a barrister.”
“Robyn? I’ve met her.” Patricia frowned. “How long have you been seeing her?”
“Oh, about a month.”
“Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It didn’t seem important.”
Patricia shrugged. “Well, don’t worry. You’re not really cheating on her. I mean, we haven’t made a commitment or anything. This is just sex.”
Patricia was right. She was just an old friend whom he sometimes bonked. In his heart, he was still faithful.
Anyway, he couldn’t refuse Patricia now: her blouse was almost off. They’d look stupid putting their clothes back on. Afterwards, he’d terminate their affair. This would be a goodbye fuck, full of exquisite pathos.
He smiled. “You know, you’ve got a point.”
She removed her bra. “Of course I do.”
What Robyn didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt her. He dispatched her from his mind and kicked off his shoes. Then he pulled off his pants and tossed them over the back of an armchair.
To promote trust and camaraderie, barristers had always had an open-door policy. However, that evening he’d taken the precaution of locking his door. So he got a big shock when he heard the familiar squeak of his door-handle turning. He’d never imagined it could sound so loud.
Brian Davis, clad in only a singlet, underpants and socks, fearfully watched the door swing open. He prayed the visitor was a cleaner, a security guard or even a colleague wanting to borrow a law report. As long as it wasn’t Robyn. He would happily suffer the most hideous embarrassment if it wasn’t her.
No such luck. Robyn – the woman he loved – stepped into the room, holding a key. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Her eyes immediately fell on his trousers which, instead of clothing his legs, were draped over the back of an armchair. He desperately wanted to jump into them. But even if he did, he couldn’t just hide Patricia in one of the pockets.
Next, Robyn’s eyes oscillated between the two scantily clad barristers. Her face went white, then red. She yelled at Brian, “you fucking, fucking bastard”, spun around and stormed out of the room.
Patricia yelped and reached for her bra.
Brian felt a strange combination of shock, fear, guilt and embarrassment. But one thought reigned supreme: he had to catch Robyn before she disappeared.
Heart pounding, he grabbed his pants and almost vaulted into them. No time for shoes. Buckling his belt, he raced across the deserted floor towards the lifts, where Robyn maniacally jabbed the down button. At some point, his penis had cancelled his erection.
He said: “Stop Robyn. Stop. Let me explain. Stop.”
Robyn kept punching the button. “Leave me alone.”
Brian’s occupation was to think up excuses for the most atrocious conduct. Now, in his own defence, he was bereft. He just started talking, hoping for a flash of inspiration. “Look, umm, I know that looked bad. I know you must be very angry. But, ah, nothing happened – nothing.” Yes, he’d claim there was no actus reus.
She turned and glared. “Nothing happened? You had your fucking pants off.”
“Yeah. But we didn’t do anything. There was no sex.”
She grimaced. “Oh, I see. You were going to fuck her, but didn’t get the chance. So everything’s Okay-Dokay. Is that what you’re saying?”
His defence stunk, but he couldn’t think of a better one. “Well, yeah, I suppose so.”
“If I hadn’t turned up, you’d be fucking her right now, wouldn’t you?”
She snarled and roared. “Not necessarily? You had your pants off. Do you think I’m a moron?”
“No. But I was having doubts about going ahead.”
She looked sardonic. “Yeah, I could see that.”
“But you don’t understand about Patricia and me: we’re not in a relationship; we’ve never had a relationship – we’re just friends. So you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Robyn grimaced. “You kidding? You were going to shag her.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t mean anything to me. Nothing. In fact, I’ll never see her again, I promise.”
“Look, as far as I’m concerned, you can shag her for all eternity. I don’t care, because I’m finished with you, understand? Finished.”
Brian knew his blathering had stripped him of dignity without improving his position one iota. He should shut up. But his mouth was in overdrive. “I love you. You’re the woman I want.”
Robyn shook her head vehemently. “You should have thought of that before you tried to shag her. I just hope she’s worth it.”
A lift arrived. Robyn stepped inside and slapped the “down” button.
He looked desperate. “Maybe we can talk about this tomorrow, when you’re calmer?”
The lift doors shut.
Brian slouched back to his room, depressed and embarrassed. How the hell did he get into this situation? One possibility was that he fucked up. But he couldn’t accept that, because only fools fuck up, and he wasn’t a fool. No, this was a simple case of bad luck. For once, fate had dealt him a shitty hand.
Patricia, now fully dressed, looked concerned. “Was that your girlfriend?”
“Ex-girlfriend,” he said glumly.
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
Robyn had plenty of time to prepare herself for the scene in Brian’s room. But the reality was a lot uglier and more distressing than she expected. She’d never felt so angry and humiliated.
Still trembling, she left the building and stopped a passing taxi. As it took her home, she slowly regained her composure and wondered what to tell people about their break-up. Should she reveal Brian cheated on her? If she did, people would laugh at her for trusting such a notorious skirt-chaser and then letting him wander. Better to say they were incompatible and separated amicably? Yes, she’d bury the messy details; just say the chemistry was wrong.
She trotted up the front steps. The hallway light was on. Veronica. Shit. Robyn didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. She’d just exchange a few pleasantries and retreat to her room.
As she opened the front door, Veronica called from the lounge room. “Hey, I’m in here.”
She stepped into the lounge room and saw her friend sitting on the couch in a grey track-suit, holding a bowl of cherries, watching a cooking show noted for ritually humiliating contestants.
Robyn thought she had her emotions under control. But Veronica immediately looked concerned. “Hi there. You OK?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, you look a bit, umm, upset.”
Veronica’s concern unbalanced Robyn. Her raw emotions welled up and she burst into tears: “No, no, I’m not OK.”
Veronica jumped up and threw her arms around Robyn. “Christ. What’s wrong?”
Robyn had vowed not to reveal that Brian cheated on her. But now, tasting salty tears, she desperately needed some sympathy, even though that was not usually Veronica’s strong suit. “It’s Brian. He’s…he’s been seeing someone else.”
Robyn dropped her head onto Veronica’s shoulder and sobbed loudly. Veronica patted her on the back. “There, there. That’s terrible. Terrible. When did you find out?”
Robyn stepped back and brushed away her tears. “Tonight. I caught him in his room with another woman.”
Veronica frowned. “Really? Maybe you misinterpreted what you saw.”
“No. They were both nearly naked.”
“Mmm, I see what you mean.”
Robyn’s crying slackened and her legs grew heavy. She slumped onto the couch.
Veronica sat beside her and took her hand. “God, men are so stupid, aren’t they? Did you recognize the woman?”
“Yes. Her name’s Patricia Lenehan. It seems they’ve been bonking for a long time. He said they’re just friends and weren’t serious.”
“You think that’s true?”
Robyn shrugged. “Probably. But so what? I don’t care why they were shagging. I’m finished with him. I won’t take him back. Never.”
Veronica frowned. “You sure about that? I mean, I know he did cheat – which is wrong, of course. But we all make mistakes and he’s still got a lot to offer. Don’t burn all your bridges.”
Typical of Veronica to adopt such a cold-blooded attitude. Robyn shook her head. “No, it’s over, totally.”
“But maybe, after a while, you’ll calm down?”
Veronica shrugged. “Fair enough. You want a cup of tea?”
“No. I’ll go to bed, if that’s OK? But thanks for your support.”
“Don’t mention it. And if you want that cup of tea, let me know.”
Robyn rose and headed, unsteadily, for the door.
Veronica said: “Hey, I know something that might cheer you up.”
Robyn turned. “What?”
“The Shy Boys are coming to town. Three gigs next month.”
The Shy Boys were Robyn’s favourite band. From New York, they played a musical brew called hillbilly punk. She’d seen them the last two times they toured Australia.
“That’s good news. But who’m I supposed to go with?”
“Oh, don’t worry, you’ll find someone,” Veronica said with little conviction.
Brian Davis woke the next morning in the grip of two novel emotions: guilt and remorse. He hadn’t cried since he was a kid, but almost did now.
God. What had happened to him? He usually didn’t care about losing a woman. He’d dumped and been dumped many times without giving a shit. But Robyn was the most exciting woman he’d dated and, having passed forty, he finally wanted to settle down and have kids.
He felt a huge tug of self-pity. Jesus. He’d cheated on plenty of women and got away with it. So why now, when he really cared about one, did he get caught? So unfair. In a way, he was a victim of his attractiveness. Women like Patricia kept throwing themselves at him. So what was he supposed to do? Say no? What sane man would do that?
He spent his days representing murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Compared with their crimes, cheating on Robyn was a tiny moral lapse. Yet she’d treated it like a major criminal offence.
However, there was no point bemoaning his bad luck. He had to decide his next move.
A loud inner voice told him to forget about Robyn and move on. She’d never take him back. Why subject himself to more pain and embarrassment?
But a shrill heckler in the back of his head yelled that he should, at least, try to win her back. He wouldn’t offer any excuses: just accept his guilt, apologise and ask for clemency.
Brian’s natural optimism reasserted itself. Robyn was angry right now. That was understandable. But she was too smart to dump him permanently. He had too much to offer. She’d eventually forgive him.
Even so, maybe he should back off for a while and let her cool down. No. The sooner he put his charm to work – showed her what she was losing – the better. So when he got to work, he dropped his briefcase on his desk and caught a lift up to Fisher Chambers. If he announced his presence, she might refuse to see him. So he ignored the receptionist and headed for her room, nerves jangling worse than before his first murder trial.
Her door was open. His doubts returned. Maybe this wasn’t a good time to talk to her. After a long hesitation, he stepped through the doorway, half hoping she wouldn’t be there. But she was, at her desk, reading a law report. Shit. His throat went dry.
He coughed and shuffled towards her desk. “Umm, hi.”
She looked up and scowled. “You! What the hell do you want?”
He expected a frosty reception, but not her gorgon expression; he talked quickly, like a salesman through a screen door. “Umm, I want to chat? I think we need to sort some things out.”
She glowered and spat out her words. “There’s nothing to sort out. Just leave me alone, OK. Get out, you cheating bastard.”
“Can’t we talk like adults?”
“No, because you’re just a pathetic child.”
He spread his arms imploringly. “Look, I’m sorry about what happened. I really am. What I did was, well, wrong.” Boy, that sounded weak. Maybe he should have thought more about what he was going to say. “No, no, unforgivable. But, believe me, I’ve learnt my lesson. I really have.”
She leaned forward, still scowling. “Really? And so have I. I’ve learnt you’re a lousy cheating piece of shit. I’ll despise you until my dying day. Got that? Or do you want it in writing?”
Hell. She definitely hadn’t calmed down since last night. Shit. Maybe she really wouldn’t take him back; maybe this approach was a huge mistake.
“But Robyn …”
She leaned forward. “In fact, if you don’t leave me alone, I’ll report you to the Bar Association.”
That shocked him. “Report me? For what?”
A shiver ran through his body. These days that was like being accused of murder or paedophilia. A definite career-wrecker. “You’re kidding?”
“No. And believe me, if I do, you’ll be stuffed. The Ethics Committee will hang you out to dry. They’d love to nail a top silk for sexual harassment and look noble.”
Shit. Surely she was joking. “You’d do that to me?”
“You bet. So leave me alone.”
He’d vowed not to get angry, no matter what. But he hadn’t expected such rudeness. Despite the offence he had caused, she should remember he was a silk and show him some respect. He considered telling her that, but sensed she would not understand. “You’re not being fair, you know. You should be grateful I got you the brief in the Markham matter.”
Her forehead buckled. “Listen, you miserable bastard. The only reason you got me that brief was because you wanted to sleep with me. And now you’re pissed off because your shabby little plan has backfired. You’re pathetic – truly pathetic.”
Brian realized he’d charged headlong into a cul de sac. He tried to back out. “I think we’re getting off track. Please just forgive me for what I did. I beg you. I mean, I made a mistake.”
She rose to her feet and screamed. “It was more than just a mistake, you fucking egomaniac. You cheated on me. Comprendre? So get out and leave me alone.”
If she owned a gun he’d obviously be dead right now. His natural optimism dried up. She wouldn’t take him back – not in this life anyway. The damage was irreparable. He showed his palms. “OK. OK. I’ll leave you alone.”
He wanted to say something dramatic and noble before leaving, but nothing suitable crossed his mind. “Well, ah, goodbye.”
He strode out the door, shoulders square to prove he was bloodied but unbowed. Yet his guts were churning. He’d never received such a savage emotional kicking. Finding love and losing it was fucking hard on the nerves. He vowed to never fall in love again.
But what if he couldn’t honour that vow? What if, having sampled love, he was now addicted and would keep searching for another fix? A voice deep inside him said he wasn’t an addict. But it didn’t sound very confident.
As Brian departed, Robyn was incandescent with rage. The sleazy bastard had demanded that she be grateful to him. Jesus.
She never wanted to see him again. Never. Nobody cheated on her and got away with it, particularly a repeat offender like him. He wasn’t the right man for her and never would be. Lucky she found out now.
That night she slept surprisingly well and, the next morning, riding a train to work, felt strong enough to convene a Royal Commission into her love life. What lessons had she learnt from this latest debacle?
The most obvious was that she kept going out with the wrong sort of guy. She seemed attracted to brash, ambitious types incapable of real commitment. Maybe she should stop dating good-looking bastards and find someone less exciting, but solid and dependable. Seemed worth a try.
However, unfortunately, dependable types usually got snapped up fast and stayed off the market. The only man who sprung to mind was Gary Monaghan who, Silvia claimed, was keen on her. He was smart, polite, good-natured and very dull. But right now his dullness was a plus. And maybe there was more to him than met the eye. Surely there had to be.
However, assessing Gary was pointless, because it was much too early to dive back into a relationship. She needed to lick her wounds for a while.
When she reached Fisher Chambers, she saw that Silvia’s door was open. She stepped through it and found Silvia on the phone, talking in a low growl. “Listen Ted, I sent you my bill almost six months ago and I still haven’t been paid …Yeah? Well, we’ve all got financial problems and, quite frankly, I rank mine a lot higher than yours … Yeah, well, if I don’t get paid in the next few weeks I’ll sue you … Oh, yes, I will.”
Silvia slammed down the phone and saw Robyn. “Oh, hi.”
“Cripes. That sounded pretty heavy.”
Silvia waved dismissively. “Oh, that? Just doing some debt-collecting. Sometimes you’ve got to yell at solicitors or you never get paid.”
“Aren’t you worried he won’t brief you again?”
“If he won’t pay me, I don’t want his briefs.” Silvia leaned back. “What’s happening?”
“I’ve got some bad news.”
Robyn dropped onto the chair facing Silvia. “I’ve broken up with Brian.”
Silvia’s eyes widened and she leaned forward. “Hell. That was quick. What happened?”
Robyn desperately wanted to unburden herself to her good buddy, Silvia. “I found him in a compromising position with another woman.” Why the circumlocutions?
Silvia frowned. “Really?”
“Yeah. They were both in his room, almost naked.”
“Shit,” Silvia snickered.
Robyn glared at her. “It’s not funny.”
“True. But what did you expect? That’s who he is, I’m afraid.”
“I thought he’d change; he said he’d change.”
“Ha. After he dies, he’ll rise from the grave to chase women.”
“You did try to warn me.”
“Yep.” Silvia’s tough features softened. “But we live and learn. How’re you coping?”
“Still a bit shell-shocked. But I’ll be alright. In fact, I can see a silver lining to all this. He obviously wasn’t right for me, so it’s good we broke up before I got in too deep.”
“Yeah. Lucky you saw his black heart before marriage and kids.” Silvia reached into her bottom drawer. “Anyway, let’s have a drink to drown your sorrows.”
Christ, it was still breakfast time. Silvia really had a problem.
“Oh, no, not right now. Too early. I’ve got work to do.”
Silvia straightened up, without a bottle. “Fair enough. Drop back in after work. We’ll get plastered and bitch about men.”
“OK. You know, next time, I think I’ll go out with someone plain and boring.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
For some reason, Gary popped into her head again. “Maybe someone like Gary Monaghan.”
A rueful smile. “Oh, so you’re interested in him now, are you?”
“No, definitely not. I don’t want to rush back into a relationship. But he seems rather nice.”
Silvia frowned. “He is, and he was keen on you. But I think he’s found someone else.”
Robyn’s stomach lurched with surprising force. “Oh?”
“Yes. He mentioned that he’s been dating someone from the Crown Solicitor’s office.”
A shrug. “Oh, well.”
Silvia’s smile broadened. “But at least you’re starting to think straight about men.”
“Thanks.” Robyn edged towards the door.
“And don’t forget to come around after work and we’ll get shit-faced.”
Robyn left the room feeling depressed. Since her triumph in the Markham case, Brian had cheated on her and Gary Monaghan had disappeared from her list of potential partners, leaving it empty. She still wasn’t sure Gary was suitable. But it would have been nice to have the option of finding out. Indeed, his sudden unavailability was particularly annoying because he probably had few women chasing after him.
However, maybe she was lucky to miss out on him. True, he seemed rather decent. But he was also a barrister. So under his mild-mannered exterior there probably lurked an Olympic-standard egomaniac. She would take a breather from men for a while. And when she returned to the fray, no barristers need apply.
To boost her spirits, back in her room, she went on-line and booked two tickets to the Shy Boys’ first concert in Sydney. She’d find someone to go with, even if it was Veronica.
Despite working phenomenally long hours at a legal fee factory, Veronica often went out on week-nights. But for the next fortnight the frequency climbed. Several times, Robyn casually asked where she was going. The first time, Veronica said she was meeting some friends at a pub. The next two times she said she was meeting a new boyfriend called “Alex” for dinner.
Finally, Robyn said: “What does he do?”
“Oh, he’s in advertising – a creative director.”
“So you really like him?”
“Oh, yes. He’s very nice.”
“Then when will I get to meet him?”
“Soon, soon. Don’t worry.” Veronica glanced at her watch, said she was late and bolted out the door.
Robyn sensed Veronica wasn’t being candid, but didn’t know why. She found out the following Saturday morning, while pushing a shopping trolley through the Coles Supermarket in Broadway. She turned a corner and almost collided with Steve, the partner at Veronica’s law firm with whom Veronica had been having an affair. He wore jeans and a white T-shirt. No sign of his wife and kids.
Swerving to avoid him, she said: “Oops. Sorry Steve.”
They both stopped. Robyn felt uncomfortable: it was hard to know how to deal with someone having an affair with a friend. Was he also a friend? She hoped not.
Robyn said: “You haven’t dropped in to see Veronica for a while?”
“No. We’ve both been busy. She’s also seeing some guy – but I suppose you know that.”
“You mean Alex?”
“Alex? I thought his name was Brian – Brian, the barrister. She’s very excited about him.” He shrugged. “Maybe she’s seeing two guys. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Robyn’s heart lurched. The little cow. Veronica had always liked Brian, who was just the sort of wealthy and successful guy she was always hunting. Robyn had even caught her flirting with him a few times. So it was easy to believe that, with him back in play, Veronica went in hot pursuit.
Should Robyn be offended? Was Veronica entitled to chase after her ex-boyfriend? Or was she treacherously profiting from Robyn’s misery and comforting the enemy? Surely, the latter was true.
Robyn composed herself. “Actually, she hasn’t told me about Brian yet. How long’s she been seeing him?”
“Not long. But she’s dead keen. Keeps calling him ‘The One’. Bugger doesn’t have a chance.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Of course not. I don’t own her.” He glanced at his watch. “Anyway, got to finish shopping. Stay well.”
Robyn took a can of peas off a shelf and wondered how far she could throw it.
Robyn didn’t tell Veronica about her encounter with Steve until the following Tuesday night when Veronica, wearing a small black dress, wandered into the kitchen and said she was going out.
Robyn said: “Really? Who with?”
“Alex, of course.”
“Oh, that surprises me.”
Robyn leaned against a wall and crossed her arms, intending to enjoy herself. “Because I ran into Steve from your firm on Saturday morning and he said you’re now going out with a guy called Brian – Brian, the barrister.”
For once, Veronica looked dumfounded. “Fuck, did he?”
“He shouldn’t have told you that.”
“Maybe. But it’s true, isn’t it? You’re seeing a barrister called Brian?”
Veronica bounced on the balls of her feet and fidgeted wildly. “Umm, I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Because, if I do, you’ll hate me.”
“No I won’t. You’re seeing Brian Davis, aren’t you?”
Veronica jiggled like an aerobics instructor on speed. “You sure you want to know?”
Veronica stared up at the ceiling. “Well, OK, I’m going out with Brian.”
Hussy. Bitch. “But I’ve just broken up with him.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I called him up to see if I could help. I wanted to get you two back together again. Anyway, we had coffee and sort of clicked. I mean, I didn’t plan for us to get involved. But one thing led to another and, well, you said you didn’t want him back, didn’t you?”
Robyn knew this was all crap. The little trollop obviously homed in on Brian like a heat-seeking missile. She showed him plenty of cleavage, batted her eyelashes, inferred it was all Robyn’s fault and even intimated she wasn’t as hard-line on fidelity.
Robyn felt angrier than she expected. But why make a scene? She waved dismissively. “You’re both adults. You can do what you like.”
Veronica looked relieved. “Really? That’s good. So no hard feelings?”
Oh Christ. Robyn had let her off lightly, but now she wanted total absolution, which she wouldn’t get it – not yet, anyway. Robyn put her hands on her hips. “Well, to be quite frank, I’m quite annoyed. You two got together so fast.”
“Yeah, I know. But, like I said, we had coffee and just sort of clicked. The moment was bigger than both of us.” Veronica nervously glanced at her watch. “Anyway, I’d better get moving. I’ve got to meet him in fifteen minutes. We’ll chat when I get home, OK?”
“I can’t wait.”
“Ciao.” Veronica dashed out of the terrace.
Robyn sat on the living-room couch, drinking tea and reading a novel, until eleven o’clock when Veronica sashayed back into the terrace, tipsy and smiling broadly.
Robyn said: “How was dinner?”
Veronica flopped onto an armchair. “Oh, fine. We had a lovely time.”
“So where’s this relationship going?”
Veronica grinned. “It’s early days, I know, but I think we’ll get married – I really do.”
“No. We’ve even started talking about it. He says he’s never met a woman like me. He seems very keen. You know, he’s obviously on the rebound, but I don’t care.”
Robyn couldn’t believe her ears. They’d both gone crazy. “You must be delirious. He’s a cheat. He cheated on me and he’ll cheat on you.”
Veronica shrugged. “He told me about Patricia and why you dumped him. But he’s promised to be faithful. Says he’s a new man.”
Robyn’s mouth dropped open. “You believe him?”
Veronica looked offended. “Of course not.”
“And you don’t care?”
“Because I’m not judgmental like you. I don’t get hung up about fidelity. It’s not high on my agenda. As long as he’s discrete, I don’t care. Anyway, two can play that game.”
“You mean, you’ll cheat?”
“I’m sure I’ll have other, ah, interests – like Steve. It’ll be an open relationship.”
“And you’ve told him that?”
Veronica grinned. “Not exactly. I don’t think he really needs to know.”
“My goodness. You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you?”
“Yep. Now, all I’ve got to do is close the deal.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“So am I. In fact, I’ve started making plans for when I’m Mrs Davis. You want to hear?”
Robyn felt morbid curiosity. “Why not?”
Veronica excitedly described how she would renovate Brian’s apartment, his farm-house and Brian himself. She intended to spruce up his manners, his wardrobe and his circle of friends. She had it all worked out. Brian had no chance.
Robyn looked at the calculating gleam in Veronica’s eyes and wondered why men couldn’t see it too. How could they miss the coldness in her heart? What made them so fucking blind?
However, Robyn was now glad Veronica had grabbed Brian, because Veronica would suck him dry, financially and emotionally. If he thought that marrying her was a good investment for his old age, he was sadly mistaken. He would die lonely and broken. Maybe then he would realise that cheating on Robyn was the dumbest thing he ever did.
Robyn was so busy at work that Brian Davis quickly slipped from her mind. On the few occasions they bumped into each other, she just nodded and kept walking. She also told Veronica she didn’t want to talk about him. After a while, Veronica got the message.
Robyn sometimes wondered who really killed Alice Markham. Before the trial, the finger of suspicion pointed straight at Rex Markham; during the trial, it pointed at Hugh Grimble; then, after the trial, it turned out that Grimble was innocent and the finger swung back towards Rex Markham.
However, Robyn had always suspected two other people: Tim Nolan, who had an affair with Alice Markham, and the pseudonymous author Richard Olsen, who wrote Waiting for Rain.
Robyn was no longer interested in trying to identify the real killer. If the cops couldn’t do it, she couldn’t. However, she was still keen to know the true identity of Richard Olsen. After all, she’d loved his novel and wondered why such a talented writer craved anonymity.
The only person who might know his real identity was Alice’s best friend, Beverley Nolan. Beverley had previously denied that Alice spilled the beans to her. But maybe now, with the trial over, Beverley might be more frank. Why not find out?
Robyn telephoned Grimble & Co to see if Beverley – or anyone else – was still there.
A woman answered. “Hi, Bev Nolan here.”
Robyn was in luck. “Bev, this is Robyn Parker, Rex Markham’s barrister. I spoke to you just before the trial.”
“Oh yes, hello Robyn. Goodness, a lot’s changed since then, hasn’t it?”
“Certainly has. So what’s happened to Grimble & Co? You the only person there?”
“Yes. In fact, I haven’t seen Hugh or Justine since the trial. Neither’s turned up.”
“Why hasn’t Grimble turned up? The police have decided he didn’t murdered Alice – he’s in the clear.”
“I know. But the Fraud Squad’s after him. They came and seized all of his financial records – took away thousands of documents – to see how many clients he’s ripped off. You know, he often complained he was short of money. I think he gambled a lot.”
“I suppose the firm will fold?”
“Of course. In fact most clients have already left and I don’t blame them. The rest are diehards with a misplaced sense of loyalty. They’ll eventually disappear.”
“Why are you still there?”
“I just pop in occasionally to answer the phone and tell clients what’s happening. I’m not getting paid or anything.”
“So you’re looking for another job?”
“Yeah. But that’s OK. I was getting tired of this one.”
“Good. And is everything else OK?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I was wondering how your marriage is coping?”
“You mean, since I found out Tim had an affair with Alice?”
Beverley’s voice grew somber. “I’m afraid we’ve broken up. He’s moved out.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks. We’re talking to our lawyers right now.”
Maybe, now they’d split, Beverley would be more honest about where Tim was on the night of the murder. “Look, you told me, a while ago, that when Alice was murdered, you were at home with Tim. Was that true?”
Robyn prayed Beverley wouldn’t slam down the phone. Instead, she sounded indignant. “Yes, of course it was true.”
“Yes. We were both at home.”
“OK. I accept that.”
“Good. Anything else?”
Robyn still hadn’t got to the reason for her call. “Yes, just one last thing.”
“I still don’t know who Richard Olsen is. You sure Alice didn’t tell you?”
“Why are you so curious?”
“I was born curious, and I loved his book. Did she tell you?”
A long pause. “No, she didn’t.”
“I thought you two were best friends.”
“We were. But she didn’t tell me that.”
“Yes,” Beverley said firmly.
“OK. Thanks. Stay well.”
Robyn put down the phone and returned to her work. But something Beverley said made her uneasy, though she wasn’t sure what.
Just after noon, she strolled out into the sunshine and bought a sandwich. A thought got stuck in the base of her brain. It tried to work its way to the surface, but was trapped. She relaxed and tried to give it room. Still blocked, screaming for help. Fuck.
Then it broke free. She suddenly realized that Alice withheld two significant pieces of information from her best friend, Beverley Nolan. Robyn already knew that, understandably, Alice didn’t tell Beverley about her affair with Tim Nolan. Now Robyn also knew that Alice didn’t tell Beverley the true identity of Richard Olsen.
Why didn’t Alice tell her best friend who Richard Olsen really was? Was she being scrupulous? Possibly. But the most obvious explanation was that Alice didn’t tell Beverley who Richard Olsen really was because he was Tim Nolan.
Yes, that made sense. Tim Nolan wasn’t an established novelist. But he was a cricket journalist who’d ghosted a few sports autobiographies and could obviously write for publication. And didn’t most journalists have a draft novel sitting in a bottom drawer?
So he wrote Waiting for Rain and showed it to his lover, Alice, but not his wife. Then Alice arranged to have it published under the pseudonym Richard Olsen. But, of course, after that, Alice couldn’t reveal to Beverley that Richard Olsen was really her husband, Tim. If she did, Beverley would want to know why Tim dealt with Alice and not her. The affair would have been exposed.
Robyn had vowed that, after calling Beverley, she’d stop snooping. Now she’d caught a faint whiff of the truth and couldn’t stop. She had to talk to Tim Nolan and ask if he wrote Waiting for Rain.
However, if Tim Nolan was both Alice’s lover and the true author of Waiting for Rain, he might have also murdered Alice. If he did, asking him intrusive questions could be very bad for Robyn’s health. So best to meet him in a public place.
Robyn had read, in the Herald that morning, that Tim was covering a cricket match between New South Wales and Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground. She’d try to casually “bump” into him after the day’s play.
Robyn reached the SCG just after five o’clock and asked a grizzled old attendant where to find the press box. He said it was in the Members’ Stand, which she couldn’t enter. So she stationed herself outside its main gate.
Just after six, spectators trickled out of the Members’ Stand. But she had to wait until six-thirty before Tim Nolan emerged, wearing a navy jacket over a white T-shirt, jeans and loafers. Slung over his shoulder was a satchel containing a lap-top.
She casually strolled in his direction, avoiding eye contact.
He saw her and looked surprised. “Hello Robyn. Didn’t know you were a cricket fan.”
Robyn feigned shock. “Oh, hello Tim. Yeah, I come a few times every season.”
“Well, this game’s tragically boring. I only filed six pars and most of them will get cut.”
“Too bad. But, umm, unless you’ve got to race off, let’s have a drink.”
He looked suspicious, then shrugged. “OK, why not?”
They strolled over to a pub on Anzac Parade: dark, smelly and jam-packed with poker machines flashing and jingling as they stole from patrons. The presence of a dozen drinkers and several CCTV cameras was very reassuring.
They sat at the bar and Tim ordered a couple of beers, before giving her a cool look. “You didn’t really come here to watch the cricket, did you?”
She flushed slightly. “No.”
“You’re here about Alice, aren’t you?”
He shrugged. “OK. What do you want to know?”
She half-smiled. “You mean, you want me to lay my cards on the table?”
He also half-smiled. “Yeah, why not?”
“OK.” She took a deep breath. “Well, for a start, I know you had an affair with Alice Markham.”
He trembled and nervously rubbed his nose, before trying to look indignant. “No, I didn’t.”
“Yes you did. In fact, I even know that Beverley found out about the affair and confronted you – and you confessed.”
His face flushed. “Beverley told you that?”
“Yes. That’s why you’re getting divorced, isn’t it?”
“None of your business.”
“Maybe. But it’s true isn’t it? You had an affair with Alice?”
He breathed deeply and fingered a beer coaster. Then his shoulders slumped and voice dropped. “Yeah, we got close.”
“You mean, you had an affair?”
He dropped the coaster and sighed. “Yes.”
“For how long?”
He shrugged. “Several years.”
“Because you really loved her, didn’t you?”
He looked mournful. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“And you certainly didn’t love your wife, did you?”
“I’m afraid I stopped loving Beverley a long time ago.”
“And that’s why you showed Waiting for Rain to Alice and not your wife, isn’t it?”
He looked stunned. “Christ. W-what do you mean?”
“I mean you’re Richard Olsen, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes you are.”
He nervously sipped his beer and scanned the room before trying, unsuccessfully, to look Robyn in the eye. “I’m not. But why do you think I am?”
She pressed forward remorselessly. “Because Alice didn’t tell Beverley – her closest friend – the real identity of Richard Olsen. I think she with-held that snippet of info because you’re Richard Olsen. If Alice had told Beverley that you wrote the novel, Beverley would have wondered why you show it to Alice and not her, and immediately realized you two were having an affair.”
Tim shook his head vehemently. “That’s ridiculous. I didn’t write it.”
“Yes you did. I also know you’re Richard Olsen because the cops found, on Alice’s computer, several e-mails you sent to her about the book.”
Robyn was bluffing, but fairly confident Tim sent Alice some e-mails about the novel.
Nolan gave Robyn a long nervous stare, and opened and closed his mouth several times, before looking annoyed. “This is none of your business.”
“Maybe. But if you don’t talk to me, you’ll be talking to the police.”
He shuddered and splashed beer on his jacket. “The police? What about?”
“Oh, about your affair with Alice, about you being Richard Olsen and about where you were on the night Alice was murdered.”
His voice turned shrill. “I had nothing to do with her death. Nothing.”
“Good. Then you’ve got nothing to hide, have you?”
“That’s right,” he said petulantly.
“Then tell me the truth: you’re Richard Olsen, aren’t you?”
“I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“True. But like I said, if you don’t talk to me, you’ll be talking to the cops.”
He anxiously studied and re-studied her face before shifting on his stool and licking his lips. “OK. I’ll tell you the truth. But if I do, you’ll keep it to yourself?”
“Of course,” she lied. “I just want to sort this stuff out in my own mind.”
After resurveying the room and fidgeting some more, he sighed and nodded reluctantly. “OK, if you must know, I’m Richard Olsen. I wrote the fucking thing. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. But I did.”
Robyn was delighted she’d finally cracked the mystery. “Good. And tell me this: why’d you write about a country town, in a drought?”
“Why? I grew up in the country. I’ve experienced droughts. I mean, I tried to write a couple of novels before Waiting for Rain, but they were lousy. Felt false. Waiting felt honest and real. It arrived like a gift.”
“And you concealed Waiting from your wife, didn’t you?”
“That’s right. I told her nothing.”
“Was it hard to conceal?”
“No, it was easy. At home I often wrote articles for the paper or ghosted autobiographies. I didn’t talk to her about them, because she wasn’t interested, and I didn’t tell her about Waiting.”
“And you published under a pseudonym to keep her in the dark, didn’t you? You wanted to create a secret bond with Alice? That’s why you showed Alice the novel and not your wife. In fact, concealing the novel from your wife was a pretty aggressive act, wasn’t it?”
He frowned and avoided her gaze before nodding glumly. “I suppose so. I know it sounds corny, but I really thought Alice was my soul-mate. I also published under a pseudonym because, if I used my name, nobody would have taken the novel seriously. I mean, I’m just a sports writer. Then the book was successful and I was stuck with the pseudonym.”
“Didn’t you want some public acclaim?”
“Of course, but I could live without it.”
“So what were you and Alice planning to do after she got divorced? Live together?”
He sighed. “Maybe. We talked about that. Certainly, I wanted to.”
“You were prepared to leave Beverley for her?”
“Yes, of course. Like I said, I stopped loving Beverley long ago.”
Robyn had wondered if he killed Alice because his great passion for her soured when she didn’t like his second novel. It sounded far-fetched, but Robyn had to know.
She said: “You wrote a second novel, didn’t you, and showed that to Alice?”
He looked surprised. “Yes, that’s right.”
“And she didn’t like it, did she?”
His eyes widened. “I wouldn’t say that. She thought it needed some changes and I agreed with her. In fact, I recently put it back on the workbench and started tinkering with it. I think it’ll end up being quite good.”
“You didn’t argue with her about it?”
He looked perplexed. “Oh, no, definitely not.”
She was afraid to ask where he was on the night of the murder, but couldn’t hold back. She gulped some air. “So, just out of curiosity, where were you when Alice got killed?”
He looked stunned, then angry. “What?”
Her mouth turned sub-Saharan. “Umm, where were you when she died?”
“Why do you want to know?”
Her stomach churned. “Oh, I’m just curious. I’m not implying anything.”
“Bullshit. But if you must know, I was at my parents’ house, in Bowral, with my kids. I drove up there for the weekend.”
“No. She doesn’t like my parents. She stayed in Sydney.”
Robyn was shocked. She’d expected him to corroborate his wife’s claim they spent the night together in Sydney. Instead, he’d hung her out to dry. Why? It sounded like the Nolans, who were getting divorced, hadn’t bothered to co-ordinate their stories.
Certainly, if Tim was telling the truth, Beverley might be the murderer. In fact, all of a sudden, the finger of suspicion was pointing right at her. “You know, I’m surprised about that.”
“Beverley told me you were both at home together.”
He looked genuinely surprised. “You’ve spoken to her about this?”
“Yes. And she said you were both at home.”
“Did she? Well, she’s wrong – very wrong. That’s not true.”
“But if you’re telling the truth, she could have murdered Alice.”
Tim looked flustered. “You’re joking, right?”
“Why would she kill Alice?”
“Why? Because she found out you had an affair with Alice and wrote Waiting for Rain under her nose but didn’t show it to her. Keeping your novel secret showed your total contempt for her and your marriage. Her rage must have been terrible – terrible enough to make her kill. And, of course, like most wives, she blamed the mistress more than her husband.”
Tim hunched over as if he might be sick. It was a long time before faint words emerged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Robyn leaned forward, close to his left ear. “Yes you do. You know exactly what I’m saying. In fact, you’ve suspected Beverley for a long time, haven’t you?”
“No I haven’t?”
Robyn raised her voice. “Come off it. You’re not that stupid.”
He looked at her angrily. “Look, I don’t know what happened, OK? I was in Bowral when Alice got killed. I don’t know what happened in Sydney. I just don’t.”
“OK. But it’s true, isn’t it, that Beverley found out about the affair, and that you wrote Waiting for Rain, well before Alice was murdered?”
Tim sighed deeply and croaked, “Yes, yes, she found out before. For some reason, she looked in my computer and found a draft of Waiting for Rain. Then she pieced everything together and confronted me.”
“And you confessed?”
“Yes, yes, I did.”
“And she was angry?”
“And all that happened shortly before Alice was murdered?”
“OK. And have you asked Beverley about the night Alice was murdered?”
He shook his head savagely. “No, no, I’ve never asked her about that. Never.”
Tim glared. “Because I don’t want to fucking know.”
“You mean, you were afraid she might say she killed Alice?”
He frowned. “Yes, I suppose so. So, you see, I don’t know who’s responsible. All I know is that I didn’t do it. I’m innocent.”
He was innocent of murder, but not much else.
He gulped down half his beer and gave her an anxious look. “So what are you going to do? Talk to the police?”
Robyn now knew that Beverley had an excellent motive and fantastic opportunity to kill Alice. The only uncertainty in her mind was whether to contact the police tonight or tomorrow morning. But why risk his anger by telling him that?
She got to her feet: “No, of course not. The last thing I want to do is get involved in their investigation.”
He looked relieved. “Good.”
“Well, thanks for the beer. Sorry I dredged this up.”
He looked at her with bleary eyes. “You know, this has been a nightmare – a total nightmare.”
She felt little sympathy, because it had been a bigger nightmare for Alice Markham and everyone wrongly accused of murdering her. “I bet it has.”
She considered telling him how much she enjoyed Waiting for Rain, but the words went sour in her mouth.
Robyn left Tim Nolan and arrived home just after dark to an empty terrace, Veronica obviously still at work.
She made herself an omelette and washed it down with a couple of glasses of red while pondering whether to telephone Detective Inspector Holloway that evening. He’d probably gone home; she’d call him in the morning.
She’d just tidied up the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Veronica? No, she had a key. Then who?
She padded down the hallway and looked through the eye-hole. Beverley Nolan stood on the porch in jeans and a sequined T-shirt, clutching a handbag and rolling nervously on the balls of her feet. Her slightly demented expression reminded Robyn of Mavis Vandervelt. Christ. What the hell did she want?
Robyn didn’t want to let her in. After all, she was fairly sure that Beverley killed Alice Markham. So it was nice to have a couple of inches of wood between them.
Beverley semi-shrieked, “Robyn, I know you’re home, so open the door.”
Robyn considered staying mute. But that wasn’t her style. “Beverley, I’m here. What do you want?”
“I want to talk,” Beverley said in a whitish tone.
“There are a few things I want to explain.”
“Please let me in – please.”
Robyn already felt guilty for wrongly accusing Hugh Grimble of murder. What if Beverley was also innocent? Maybe she should listen to her before calling the cops. Beverley was small and alone. Surely she couldn’t cause much trouble.
With a trembling hand, Robyn opened the door and stood back. “Hi.”
Beverley shook with anxiety and relief. “Thank you, thank you.”
Robyn watched apprehensively as Beverley brushed past her; she nervously pointed towards the lounge room. “In there.”
Beverley stepped into the lounge room and perched on the edge of the couch, still clutching her handbag, face bloodless.
Robyn eased into an armchair and grabbed the armrests in case she had to move fast.
Beverley leaned further forward. “Umm, you spoke to Tim this evening, didn’t you?”
“Yes. He called you, did he?”
“Yes, and told me what you two talked about.” Beverley’s eyes shone. “Are you going to talk to the police?”
Robyn already regretted opening the door and putting herself in peril. She took a few deep breaths. “That depends.”
“On what you tell me.”
“For a start, about Tim’s affair with Alice. You found out about it a lot earlier than you pretended, didn’t you?”
Beverley gave Robyn a long and uncertain stare before dropping her head and speaking softly. “Yes, I did.”
“How’d you find out?”
“I was looking for something in Tim’s study and found some scraps of paper with parts of Waiting for Rain. So I looked on his computer.”
“And found the whole novel?”
Beverley’s voice barely carried. “Yes.”
As Robyn extracted more information from Beverley, her nerves subsided. This was just like a cross-examination. Stay calm and try to sound sympathetic. “And that was when you realized Tim was having an affair with Alice, wasn’t it?”
Beverley’s face flushed and her voice grated. “Yes. I mean, can you imagine how I felt? Tim wrote a wonderful novel – just wonderful – and told me nothing about it. Nothing. In fact, he hid it from me. But he showed it to that bitch and told her everything.” Beverley’s face crumpled and she emitted a few dry sobs. “Tim and I were married for ten years. We had our problems, but I thought we had a real connection. Then I realized it was all just a sham – a joke – and he really hated me – hated me.”
“So you confronted him about the affair and the novel?”
“And he admitted both?”
“Of course, and we had a huge fight. In fact, that’s why he went up to Bowral that weekend: to get away from me.”
“And you went to see Alice?”
“And she let you in?”
Beverley smiled at a fond memory. “Oh, yes. Didn’t suspect anything.”
Beverley’s admissions were making Robyn very, very nervous, because Beverley obviously didn’t think Robyn would survive this conversation and repeat them to anyone.
“And you told Alice what you’d found out?”
“And she denied it?”
Beverley scowled. “No. In fact, she taunted me about it – said it was my fault if I couldn’t keep my husband happy. Jesus, the bitch. For years she pretended to be my best friend while she slept with my husband, edited his novel and treated me like shit.”
Small crazy eyes peered out through a mask of sanity. But Robyn was too engrossed to feel any fear. “So what did you do?”
Lines snaked across Beverley’s forehead. “I didn’t mean to kill her. I slapped her a few times and she ran into the kitchen. So I ran after her.” Beverley’s eyes went foggy and she started mumbling. “There was a knife on the bench. I grabbed it and stabbed her, and stabbed her again.” Beverley snapped out of her deep revere and glared scarlet. “She deserved it – fucking well deserved it, the bitch. I hope you understand that. You do, don’t you?”
Robyn looked at the handbag Beverley was clutching and wondered if it contained a knife. Fear lit up her whole system. She tried to sound conciliatory. “Of course I do. Of course.”
“So, you won’t call the police?”
God, she really was mad. Robyn said: “Oh, no, of course not. I understand your reasons, I really do. You were justified.”
Beverley looked suspicious. “You’re lying, aren’t you? You’re going to call the police.”
Robyn shook her head. “No, of course not.”
Beverley’s eyes glinted like daggers. “I can’t let you do that, understand? She deserved it and I’ve got two kids. Why should our lives be ruined because of that bitch?”
Robyn showed her palms. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to call the police. Definitely no police.”
“I don’t believe you. You are, aren’t you? You shouldn’t have been so nosey.”
Beverley produced the demented expression Alice must have seen just before she died, then reached into her handbag, extracted a long knife with a bone handle and dashed forward. Terrified, Robyn watched the knife rise high in the air. Instinctively, she jumped to her feet and stepped sideways, using her forearm to ward off the descending knife. It slashed a long groove down her arm which sprayed blood. Adrenalin blocked out the pain.
Robyn desperately wanted to run, but that would have given Beverley more elbow room. She seized the wrist holding the knife and grabbed Beverley around the waist.
Beverley had crazy strength. She put her foot behind Robyn’s ankle and tripped her. Robyn fell over backwards with Beverley on top. But Robyn clung to the wrist. If she let it go, she was dead.
Beverley sunk her teeth into Robyn’s shoulder. Robyn screamed and was about to release the knife when Veronica dashed into the room, grabbed Beverley around the neck and rode her face-first into the carpet. Beverley yelled and dropped the knife.
Robyn rolled out from under Beverley, scooped up the knife and crawled away, gasping for air. Her back hit a wall and her bloodied forearm throbbed.
Veronica lay on Beverley’s back and used the strength gained from three gym work-outs a week to choke her hard. Beverley wasn’t going anywhere.
Veronica was breathing heavily, but looked remarkably composed. She stared at Robyn. “What the fuck’s going on? Who is this bitch?”
Robyn looked at her and was, for once, relieved to be living with a future managing partner of a major law firm.
Robyn’s relationship with Veronica improved markedly after Veronica saved her life. True, she still thought Veronica a cold and manipulative cow. But Veronica showed plenty of strength and courage when she held Beverley until the cops arrived and made the arrest.
Indeed, Robyn was so grateful that, the next day, she sat in a café with Veronica and Brian, and told them how she discovered Beverley killed Alice. Robyn even managed to be polite when Brian revealed that he and Veronica had decided to get engaged.
Veronica smiled like a ruthless general who has just sacked a wealthy city. If Robyn had any pity, she would have told Brain to run for his life. But she said nothing.
Brian said: “Thank you. You know, I’m sorry it didn’t work out for us. But Veronica’s a wonderful girl – wonderful. I’m sure we’ll be happy.”
Robyn thought that unlikely. “I’m sure you will.”
“And I hope we can all stay friends.”
“Oh definitely,” Robyn said, while wondering how she could avoid these two in the future.
Two days later, Detective Inspector Holloway phoned Robyn to report that he’d charged Beverley with murdering Alice and attempting to murder Robyn.
Robyn said: “You can prove she murdered Alice?”
“Oh yes. For a start, some of her hair was on Alice’s clothes and – wait for it – we found traces of Alice’s blood in her car.”
“No. She must have deposited it there when she fled the scene. Very careless.”
The detective laughed. “Yeah. But best of all, she’s confessed.”
“Yep. Ignored her solicitor’s advice and gave us a full interview. Answered all our questions. Gave us a blow-by-blow account of how she murdered Alice and tried to stab you. You know, I think she wants a medal for bumping off Alice: kept calling her ‘the bitch’. Said that if she spends the rest of her life in prison for killing her, it was worth it.”
“Boy, one angry woman.”
“Got that right.”
“She’ll plead guilty?”
“I expect so.”
“So you’ve finally got the real culprit.”
“Yes, and I suppose I should thank you for that – for solving the case.”
“I’m sure you’d have solved it eventually,” Robyn said politely.
“No I wouldn’t. I was positive Rex Markham was the murderer and got off the hook because of his smart-arse barristers. I’d already closed the file. As far as I was concerned, it was over.”
Robyn giggled. “Which just shows, doesn’t it, that there’s a role for smart-arsed barristers?”
An uncertain laugh. “Sometimes – just sometimes.”
For the next few days, there was blanket media coverage of Beverley being charged with murder. The stories highlighted Tim Nolan’s affair with Alice and authorship of Waiting for Rain. Robyn was credited with solving the mystery, so lots of people called to congratulate her, including Rex Markham, sounding a little embarrassed, but very pleased he was no longer under suspicion.
She even got a call from Gary Torkhill, the crime novelist, who sounded a little nervous. “Hi. I read in the paper that Beverley killed Alice and you solve the mystery. Congratulation.”
“I’m not surprised Beverley dunnit. I only met her a few times, but always thought she was tuned to the wrong frequency.”
He paused. “You know, I think you should publish a book about the trial. It would make a great true crime story.”
“I’m not a writer.”
“I know. So I’ll ghost it for you. Your name will appear on the front cover as the author, and you’ll be the heroine of course, but I’ll do all the writing.”
“Because I think the name of the real author should always appear on the cover. Saves a lot of trouble.”
Torkhill laughed. “Hah, yes, I see your point.”
“Anyway, I’ve already returned my brief in the Markham case. It’s time to move on.”
He paused. “OK then. Well, I suppose I should get to the other reason I called: I was wondering if I can buy you dinner one night.”
Robyn had decided to start dating again. But Torkhill was definitely not the sort of guy she wanted. True, he was intelligent and amusing. But he was obviously a self-contained loner, and she’d grown wary of novelists. She wanted something stable and lasting.
She said: “Thanks. But I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
He sounded disappointed. “Why not? Because I had an affair with Alice?”
“Oh, no. That’s none of my business. I’m not judgmental about that.”
“Then why not?”
“Because I glanced at your novels in a bookshop and saw they’re all dedicated to different women.”
A friendly laugh. “Touché. But if you change your mind about dinner, or the book, let me know, OK?”
After the Markham trial, Robyn became used to arriving at work and finding one or two new briefs sitting on her desk. However, one morning she found a square package, which looked too small to contain a brief. Puzzled, she opened it and found a red enamel tin with the intitials “BJP” – her father’s initials – on the lid. She took off the lid and found a barrister’s wig with a note on top, in her mother’s handwriting:
“You might find this useful.”
Damn. She told her mother not to send it. Why didn’t her mother ever listen?
She tentatively picked up the wig, yellow and frayed, at least 50 years old, obviously needing a few repairs. At the Bar, tattered wigs with a pedigree were highly prized, but she preferred her shiny new one.
She twirled the wig around on her finger. Should she wear it to court? Why not? Surely she’d stepped out of her father’s shadow and done enough to make him proud. Wearing it would be a nice way to remember him. In a few months, she’d be appearing in the High Court as junior counsel to Gary Frost SC. She’d get it repaired and wear it then.
The rest of the day, she struggled to get on top of her chamber-work. By 9pm she was too tired to think straight and decided to go home. She wearily put on her overcoat and strolled towards the lifts. To her surprise, someone was playing Earth on Fire, one of the Shy Boys’ biggest hits.
“You stab me in the chest with your cold hard lies
“Stab me one more time and I’m gonna, gonna die.”
Light spilled out of Gary Monaghan’s doorway. She hesitated, stepped through it and found him at his desk, reading a tax textbook. From the sound system behind him came a raunchy bass guitar riff.
He looked up, surprised. “Hi.”
“You’re here late.”
“Got a big advice to finish.”
“You’re listening to the Shy Boys. I’m a big fan.”
He leaned back and paused the music. “So am I. Got all their CDs, including the bootlegs.”
He smiled. “Yeah. You sound surprised.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes you are. You think I’m just a boring tax lawyer, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t,” she lied.
“Yes you do. You know, a lot of people are deeply prejudiced against tax lawyers: they think we’re all as dull as ditchwater. I’ve spent my whole career fighting against that sort of bigotry.”
She laughed. “You must admit that some tax lawyers are a little bit dull.”
A grin transformed his face. “That’s not how we see ourselves.”
She smiled. “You know, the Shy Boys are playing in Sydney next week.”
“No-one to go with.”
“Really? I heard different.” Shit, that was a big give-away.
He flushed. “Who told you that?”
“Oh, someone on the floor.”
“I was seeing someone for a while; it didn’t work out.”
“Well, I’ve got a spare ticket to the Shy Boys. You want to go with me?”
He stared hard. “You serious?”
“But I heard you were seeing someone.”
“I was, but it didn’t work out. So, you’ll come along? It’ll be a great chance for you to fight bigotry.”
A broad smile. “Yeah. And I promise I won’t talk about tax.”
“You can talk about anything you like.”