/ Language: English / Genre:det_crime, / Series: Cliff Hardy


Peter Corris

Peter Corris



I looked at the card he’d laid on my desk after he’d finished shaking my hand. He was Oscar Cartwright and he was evidently the director of Sydney Casinos Ltd.

‘What do you know about casinos, Mr Hardy?’

The man now sitting in the client chair in my office looked as if he could buy the whole building. If he did he’d certainly junk the chair. He’d told me to call him O.C., but so far I hadn’t done it.

‘Not much,’ I said. ‘I’ve been in a few-Monte Carlo, Hobart, Port Douglas, places like that.’

‘I gather you don’t like ‘em much. This one’s different.’

I shrugged. Thousand-dollar suits, gold watches and silk ties tend to bring up my levels of resistance. ‘I was in one in Las Vegas a few years back. It had a tiger in a cage in the lobby. I still didn’t like it.’

He laughed, showing expensive teeth. Everything about him was expensive-the blow-waved hair, the aftershave, the tan, the facelift. Oscar Cartwright had fifty-year-old eyes in the thirty-year-old face, which made him a hard man to read and not an easy one to like. Still, he was sitting there, breathing the stale, cheap air in my office, and obviously about to make me a proposition. The three other little jobs I had on hand were from a small payer, a slow payer and a probable non-payer-I couldn’t afford to take too strong a dislike to Oscar’s grooming. And he had laughed, that was something.

‘They told me you were a comic. I like that. They also tell me you’re tough and honest. I like that even more.’

Oscar was the sort who liked to anticipate the next question. He told me who ‘they’ were- several satisfied clients over the past couple of years. One of the jobs had sent a man to hospital, hence the reputation for toughness. I guess the honesty tag comes with my low prices. The shabby office two floors up from St Peters Lane in Darlinghurst, and the fact that my new Hong Kong linen suit cost about as much as Oscar’s shampoo and trim probably helped reinforce the image.

‘It’s nice to be well-regarded,’ I said. ‘Especially in this game, but all I’ve ever done in casinos is lose money. If you’re looking to set up a security system and so on, you need a specialist in that kind of work.’

He shook his head. ‘That’s all in hand. You know we’re opening next week?’

After years of wrangling, a solution to the Sydney casino question had finally been worked out. I’d followed the machinations in the press in a random kind of way. As I understood it, a local syndicate with an acceptable amount of foreign backing had been granted some kind of provisional licence. ‘So I heard. Best of luck. You’ll be putting people to work. I’m all for that.’

‘I want to put you on the payroll, Cliff.’

I couldn’t resist. ‘O.C.,’ I said, ‘I’m already in work.’

Keeping his tight young chin firm, he let his middle-aged eyes drift around the room, taking in the battered filing cabinet, the frayed carpet, faded holland blind and the scarred desk. He rocked back a little on the chair, causing it to creak dangerously. ‘I’m not saying you’re not making a living, but you could be doing a whole lot better.’

‘I know that. I could be working for one of the big agencies that’ve tried to suck me in over the years. I could be driving a BMW with a mobile phone. I could have a desk with a pot-plant and a fax machine. But then I couldn’t go off to Hong Kong for a week when I’d made a few bucks or just piss off to the Central Coast when I felt like it.’

Cartwright leaned forward. I could see white wrinkles on his tanned neck and when he got interested in what he was saying rather than how he looked, there was a little stomach sag. ‘A year with us and you can have it all.’

‘A year’s a long time in the private inquiry business,’ I said. ‘With all these regulations coming in, the whole game could be belly-up before…’

‘All the more reason to listen to what I have to tell you.’

I sighed and leaned back in my own chair, making it creak almost as much as the other one. I was never much of a chess player and he’d put a good move on me. ‘OK, O.C., what’ve you got in mind?’

‘You’re still taking the piss out of me. I want you to know that I can see that. And I can live with it.’

He was trying very hard and I’ve always had a soft spot for triers, being one myself. I relented to the extent of admitting that I didn’t have a lot of work on hand and that things had been slow of late. I was already almost regretting the trip to Hong Kong. Glen Withers and I had had a good ten days hammering the plastic and the mattress in the four-star hotel. We’d taken tea in The Peninsula Hotel and fantasised about staying in the place with the rich and famous. One night would have broken the bank. I jerked myself away from these memories to concentrate on what he was saying.

‘Come and take a look. What’s the harm?’

The implication, that my time was valueless, irritated me. ‘What would be the good?’

‘I’ll pay your hourly rate.’

I had to laugh at that. ‘I’m a private inquiry agent in a small way of business, Mr Cartwright. I’m not a lawyer or a CPA. I charge by the day- $150, if I think the client can afford it.’

He was already out of his seat. He took his wallet from off his hip and slid out three fifty-dollar notes as if he could keep producing them for half an hour. Then he was moving towards the door in his slightly built-up Italian slip-ons which might have got him up to five foot nine, just. I’m six feet and half an inch; I had that on him. ‘You’ve got a deal. A day’s pay for an hour’s tour, maybe two hours. I say again, what’ve you got to lose?’

Gambler’s talk, and I’m not a gambler. Money talk, and I’ve never been seriously interested in money. But there was an enthusiasm and eagerness and energy about him that did appeal to me. I picked up the money and stuffed it into my pants pocket, hooked my wrinkled jacket off the back of the chair and stood up, hoping he wouldn’t hear the joints creak. “Where’re we going exactly?’

He smiled. “You’ll be taken and you’ll be dropped back, Cliff. You don’t have to worry about a thing.’

He had a white stretch limmo with driver parked in St Peters Lane. The car just fitted in the space between the workshop that specialises in repairing European automatic transmissions and a big roller door that opens so seldom it’s impossible to say what goes on behind it. Cartwright introduced me to the driver, whose name was Graham, as ‘Mr Hardy’.

‘Cliff,’ I said, reaching through the window to shake hands. ‘I hope you don’t have to wash this thing.’

‘We have people for that,’ Cartwright said. ‘I believe in employing specialists. Graham’s never hit an unnecessary bump, have you, Graham?’

‘That’s right, O.C.’

I climbed in the back with Oscar and we could really have spread ourselves out if we’d wanted to. There was a mobile phone with fax attachment, a minibar and a TV with built-in VCR. The late February day was warm with high humidity and some dark clouds building in the south. That was outside; in the limmo the air-conditioning was set for perfect comfort.

‘Drink, Cliff?’

I shook my head and watched him prepare a Perrier as if it was Dom Perignon. The limmo purred away down the lane and I waited for the bump at Forbes Street. No bump. Either the suspension was superb or Graham was the artist Cartwright proclaimed him to be. My 1980s Falcon has a reassuring number of knocks and rattles. I’ve learned to diagnose its state of health by those sounds and to take appropriate action, often too late to save a vital organ. There were no such signals from the limmo. We whispered along William and Park Streets and swung right at Elizabeth.

‘I remember now,’ I said. ‘Darling Harbour- a temporary location and a provisional licence.’

Oscar knocked back half of his glass of mineral water in a gulp and chewed on an ice cube. The pricey dental work was good, he chewed recklessly. ‘Right, right. But we’ve spent a bundle on setting it up, and if everything works out right we’ll keep it as an overflow venue. Meantime, it gives us a chance to show what we can do.’

‘And the authorities a chance to pull the chain on you.’

Cartwright wagged a manicured finger at me. ‘You’re hostile. Shouldn’t be hostile.’

He pronounced it ‘hostil’ and I began to wonder where he called home. His dress, speech and mannerisms were a strange mixture of Australian and American. These days Americans can get that way from living here for years and Australians from watching a lot of television. I was finding O.C. harder and harder to read. But I had $150 of his money in my pocket and the least I could do was be civil.

‘I’ll keep an open mind,’ I said. ‘And I’ll take a light beer.’

The casino was in one of those Darling Harbour structures that seem to be made out of glass and white-painted plastic tubing. Oscar explained that his syndicate had taken over a shopping complex that hadn’t been able to find enough tenants and that they had a three-year lease, although their casino licence ran for only two years.

‘Gotta take chances in this business,’ he said as the limmo slid down a ramp into an underground car park. ‘Something not everyone understands. We’re dealing with people and money. They’re the only factors, but how volatile’s that for a combination?’

I gave Graham a wave as he glided off. ‘You tell me.’

‘Powder keg. Contains everything-advertising, fashion, greed, style, you name it. The casino business is at the cutting edge of the human psyche.’

We’d gone through a set of automatic glass doors and we were walking along a mirrored passageway decorated with large vases that cried out for big flowers. I stopped and burst into laughter. ‘Where the hell did you learn that?’

He laughed with me. ‘Don’t ask. They have these bullshit courses in the States. I’ve done ‘em all. Kinda fun. In case you’re wondering, Cliff, or inclined to check up, my real name’s Colin Cartwright and I was an SP bookie in Marrickville before I saw the light. I’m telling you, compared to the horses, the casino business is honest- house percentages and all.’

I liked the man. As he gave me the deluxe guided tour he spouted about the percentages that would go to the government, the hospitals that would get built, the charities the casino would sponsor. I believed him. He explained how all the materials used in the refitting of the building- the carpets, the lights, the furniture-were Australian-made. Even the gambling equipment, the tables, the roulette wheels, the poker machines-all Australian.

‘You know what? The kips they use at some places’re made of Malaysian timber. Can you believe it? Rainforest timber from a place where half the country’s sliding into the sea.’

‘Don’t tell me you’re a conservationist.’

‘Sure, why not? Well, what d’you think of the joint, Cliff?’

Despite myself, I had to admit that it was impressive. The decor was plush without being gaudy; there were excellent dining and drinking areas and places where people could do all the things the casino offered in a smoke-free setting. That had to be a first. The facilities for the staff were of a high standard and Cartwright explained the computerised monitoring procedures that checked on the fair operation of the equipment and the customer screening that was designed not to let low-rollers get themselves into high-roller territory. The security arrangements were terrific-sealed tellers’ cages, pneumatic money chutes, time locks, drive-in strongroom, automatic doors, a minimum of weapons.

‘It’s good,’ I said. ‘How long before it breaks even?’

‘Depends. A year.’

‘You’ve got everything you need. On paper, a first-class security set-up, top staff…’

We were in his office, a medium-sized room with a good view over the city. He was on the Perrier still and I was on my second glass of white wine-well, I was being driven back, wasn’t I? There was a bookshelf, something you don’t see in every office, and the books looked read-a lot of stuff on gambling and business management, but also some dictionaries of quotations, biographies and novels.

‘You’re sharp. You’ve put your finger on it. This is all on paper and it’s not worth much unless the right people are running it, particularly the right man at the top.’

I drank some of the very good dry white and didn’t say anything.

‘I want you to head it all up. Hire the security staff, supervise the whole operation. You’ll be the number three man below me and my systems manager. Office just like this one. Secretary, the works. The job’s worth around two hundred grand a year-car, clothing allowance and rent of a flat in the package, expenses. A one-year contract. Option to renew. What d’you say?’

I’ll admit I thought about it. My Glebe house was crumbling around me for lack of maintenance, business wasn’t good and was unlikely to get better. I was healthy but a few old injuries were slowing me down a touch. The Hong Kong trip had given Glen and me a taste for travel. I wanted to see… But I only thought about it for a minute, maybe less. I finished my drink and put the glass on the low teak table beside the scale model of the casino.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘It’s an attractive proposition, but I just don’t have the temperament to work inside an organisation. I’m no good at routine. I don’t like doing the same thing twice even. I do it, of course, but I duck it as much as I can. Also, I’m a bit erratic. Your job would involve a hell of a lot of repetition and attention to detail.’

He looked gratifyingly disappointed, but not shattered. He knocked back his Perrier and gazed out over the city. It struck me that things looked very different through clean windows. Dirty ones like mine lend a shadowy, double-imaged look. Trees can appear solider than buildings, clouds and roofs can seem to touch. From Oscar’s office everything looked clean-edged and sharp. I think I prefer the shadowy stuff.

‘Yeah,’ he said slowly. ‘They told me there was no way. Still, I reckoned it was worth a shot. You like the place, though?’

‘As casinos go, it’s the best I’ve seen. Thanks for showing me around, thanks for the offer, thanks for the drinks.’ I reached into my pocket. ‘I can’t take any money for this.’

There was a different look on his surgically-tightened face now, tougher, less charming. ‘Hang on, I haven’t finished. You can still earn the money by recommending someone to me. Call it a consulting fee. Someone good who can do the job.’

Funny thing was, I’d had the name of someone who would be good at the work as Oscar was showing me around so I didn’t have to think about it long. ‘Scott Galvani could be your man.’

I gave him Scott’s phone number and a thumbnail sketch. He wrote notes with a gold pen on a sheet of letterhead paper. Then he got up and shook my hand. ‘Your ride’s waiting. I’ll get someone to take you down. And thanks, Cliff, thanks a million.’


That night, Glen and I ate dinner in an Italian restaurant in Petersham not far from her flat. Glen teaches part-time at Goulburn police academy and conducts refresher courses for cops around the city. We get to spend two or three nights a week together, usually at my place, occasionally at hers. She’d had a promotion and we were celebrating with whitebait and salad and Frascati.

‘Don’t mean to upstage you, love, but I got offered a job for two hundred grand per today.’

Glen put down her fork with a load of whitebait on it. ‘Doing what?’

‘Eat,’ I said. ‘You’ve been skipping meals again. I can tell. You look hungry but you’re out of practice at eating.’

She took a forkful of fish. Glen half-likes, half-hates her job, works too hard at it and runs herself ragged. She feels guilty about not being an operational police officer, the result of a bullet wound in the arm that still sometimes troubles her. She thinks she’d like to do something else but doesn’t know what. She’s not interested in having children-just as well since I’d be the world’s worst father. We have a good time but she worries about the future. We ate; I drank more than my share of the wine and told her about O.C. and the casino.

‘Bet you didn’t take it,’ she said.

I said, ‘How’d you guess?’ and wiped up the oil with a piece of bread.

‘Can’t see you going off to work in a three-piece suit. Besides, it’d be a seven day a week job.’

‘I work seven days a week now.’

‘When you work. You were right to knock it back. It wouldn’t suit you.’

‘The money’d suit me. We could go to the Greek islands and Turkey. I want to see the Crimea and Gallipoli.’

‘Bloodthirsty bastard. Anyway, they’re all crooked, those casinos-money launderers, tax-dodgers, you know the form.’

‘They seemed to be on the up and up.’

Glen poured herself some more wine, surprised to see that I hadn’t emptied the bottle. ‘Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Come on, Cliff, they were romancing you. Who’s behind them? And who’s behind them? And so on. It’ll be dirty somewhere, that’s for sure.’

‘The government’s happy, apparently.’


I let it go, she was probably right and there was no point in arguing over my slight degree of doubt. I told her that I’d recommended Scott Galvani and filled her in a bit on his history. He’d been driving taxis when I met him and he helped me out of a nasty spot. He went on to get himself a law degree, the TAFE private enquiry agent’s certificate and to run a fairly successful one-man agency for a few years. I knew that he was smart, funny and ambitious. I thought that a year as O.C.’s number three man would amuse him and the dough would be welcome-he’d married a few years back and had recently fathered twin daughters.

‘How old is he?’ Glen asked.

‘About thirty,’ I said. I told her about Oscar Cartwright’s facelift and how youth seemed to be almost a theme of the casino. I explained that I’d had trouble understanding some of the computerised systems. Scott would eat all that up.

‘Sounds right for him,’ Glen said. ‘They’ll probably play it straight for the first year or so. Your mate should be able to take the money and walk. Might even make some useful contacts.’

‘So why wouldn’t it be right for me?’

‘You answered that yourself. You’re too old to change. Don’t look at me like that. I love you the way you are. I don’t want you to change and I don’t particularly want to go to Turkey. Sorry. Let’s have coffee.’

I laughed. There’s something about Glen’s tough, forthright manner that amuses me. And I always know where I am with her-in good odour or bad, and why. I can’t say that about the other women I’ve been seriously involved with. It made for a good, uninhibited relationship with plenty of laughs and serious efforts on both sides to make it work. We had our coffee and walked back to her place. The storm that looked to be building had subsided after a little cleansing rain. It was a nice night. We went to bed and made love twice before falling asleep, something that doesn’t happen all that often and is very heartening when it does. Different positions, too.

Scott rang me at home two days later.

‘Hey, Cliff, thanks a million.’

‘You sound like O.C. already.’

‘He’s a character, isn’t he? Seriously, Cliff, I’ve got to thank you. Things were getting pretty lean what with Gina not working and the twins and all. And you must know how business has been. I’ll be able to hire some help, give Gina an easier time.’

‘Good, how are the kids?’

‘Just great. One’s as dark as me and the other’s as fair as Gina.’

‘So what’re you calling them-Cher and Madonna?’

‘Claire and Rosa. Listen, Cliff, just out of interest. Why’d you knock it back?’

Fair question. The weather had broken and we’d had a day and a half of heavy, warm rain. The damp walls were sweating and a stain on the living room ceiling that I liked to think was vaguely the shape of Australia was spreading to become more like Africa. I’d had trouble starting the Falcon after a quiet day at the office and, as I’d suspected, the non-payer had run true to form. A few phone calls suggested that he’d become a non-resident of our fair city. Still, I didn’t have to wear a three-piece suit or get my hair cut more than once every two months.

‘Too old,’ I said. ‘Also, I thought your Mafia contacts’d make you the right man for the job. Think you can handle it?’

‘No worries. But a year’ll probably do me. Be good for my book. Have I told you about that?’

‘Remind me.’

‘Dago Days: the memoirs of an Italian private eye. I’ve got to go, Cliff. I’ll be in touch.’

‘Love to Gina, Cher and Madonna.’

He laughed and hung up. I’d been to the wedding and could remember Gina clearly. She was a tall, fair-haired girl with a smooth, slightly olive complexion. Striking. Galvani, Australian-born of Sicilian parents who had wanted to give him a distinctively Australian first name, was nuggetty and dark. He had been a near-Olympic standard wrestler and his personal library featured shelves of Penguin classics. He claimed to have finished Moby Dick, making him the only person I knew who had. I got drunk at the wedding and danced, something I never do when sober, but I couldn’t remember who with. I must have gone on my own because it happened in the hiatus between Helen Broadway and Glen Withers. A bad time.

The rain stopped and the walls sweated less and the ceiling stain retreated, ending up about the size of South America. The Falcon performed better in the dry weather. Glen did her teaching and ran her courses and enjoyed her promotion. I did the usual things-a spot of bodyguarding, a little summons-serving, and acted as a consultant for a documentary film-maker who was making a movie about private enquiry agents-strictly off-camera stuff. Glen bought herself a CD player for her birthday because she was flush and I bought her several CDs because I wasn’t-Crosby, Stills amp; Nash, The Big Chill, that sort of thing.

I heard from Scott once, a few weeks after he took the job. He rang and asked me to run a check on a player at the casino whose behaviour was giving them some concern.

‘I can put a bit of this work your way, Cliff, if you’re interested,’ he said.

‘I’m interested.’ It’s not often that doing someone else a good turn brings results for yourself.

The man in question was a toy importer with political aspirations. His products were shoddy and illegally labelled, and his solid financial front turned out to be a tissue-thin facade of debts and deals that would fall down at the first puff of an adverse economic wind. He had some unfortunate personal habits, too, like steering his BMW convertible with his feet when he had a skinful. I reported to Scott and I got a cheque accompanied by a card-’with the thanks and compliments of Scott Galvani, Security Manager, Sydney Casinos Ltd.’ Very nice.

A few weeks later I was driving back from a job in Campbelltown and switched on the 11 p.m. news. I heard that police had cordoned off an area of the Balmain peninsula and were searching for the men who had shot and wounded another man in a house in Louisa Road. The victim was Scott Galvani, thirty-one, of Rozelle. ‘Mr Galvani,’ the newsreader said, ‘is a former private detective, now head of security at The Sydney Casino.’

I used the mobile phone to find out where Scott was and wished I had a siren as I drove down Parramatta Road towards the RPA hospital. When I got there they told me that he had died without regaining consciousness.


I went to the funeral with Glen. The church was in Manly and they buried him in the cemetery in Fairlight. The day was hot and the business was done with all the Roman Catholic trimmings, making it slow and exhausting for the principals and tedious for the others. The Galvanis and Spadonis appeared not to like each other very much, being southerners and northerners, but they were united in their grief. There were a lot of kids who grew fractious in the church and unruly in the graveyard amid the white plaster Madonnas and ornate tombs. I found it all ghoulish. I knew that Scott thought religion was for the simple-minded and that he’d be as pissed-off at all this carry-on as I was.

Glen was moved by it. She looked elegant in her dark green dress, one source of pleasure in all the nonsense. My suit was a few shades too light in colour and somewhere along the line I’d undone my top shirt button and loosened my tie so that I was looking a bit dishevelled when the dirt hit the lid. This drew disapproving glares from a few of the veiled, black-clad matrons. Gina was surrounded by them and I scarcely caught a glimpse of her.

‘That’s it,’ I whispered to Glen. ‘Let’s go.’

‘You have to go back to the house,’ she said. ‘It’s the decent thing to do.’

So we joined the procession back to the Galvani residence in Balgowlah Heights. Scott’s father had done well for himself, building up from being an immigrant pastrycook to becoming one of the biggest manufacturers of pasta in Australia. They’d long ago made the jump from Leichhardt to Middle Harbour and the huge, over-elaborate house was a monument to that transition. Set on a double block with high fences all around and a three metre brick wall in front, it resembled a fortress. I parked between a white Mercedes and an oyster-coloured Mazda with leopard-skin seat covers.

‘Scott didn’t grow up here,’ I explained to Glen as we mounted some marble steps. ‘In fact, he seldom visited.’


In my discomfort I’d been speaking too loudly, and a woman on the Galvani side had heard me. I loosened my tie a fraction more and we went on up into the house. It was crowded and noisy. The church service and funeral might have been pompous and solemn, but the Italian version of the wake celebrated the continuation of life, especially for the men. The wine was flowing freely and I poured a few down quickly. I wasn’t hungry, but plenty of the other guests were and the mountains of food quickly become hills and then small heaps. There were a couple of Australian-Italian cops present and they fell into conversation with Glen, leaving me to wander about with a glass, to stare out through a picture window at the patio, the swimming pool and the tennis court, the manicured flower beds and the bowling green lawn.

The back garden featured a gilded and enamelled grotto-a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Inside, the pictures had heavy frames; the furniture was all fat, dimpled and padded. There was nothing of Scott here-nothing of his athleticism and scepticism, wit and irreverence, his love of books and good talk. This was all saying Yes, I-love-you, to the angels of success and excess, the god of the bottom line.

I turned away from the picture window when I heard the wail of an infant. From behind a door came soothing sounds and I stood rooted to the spot, drinking wine, knowing what I was going to see next and dreading it. After a few minutes Gina came through the door. She was wearing a long black dress and a veil, but I could see a few strands of her blonde hair escaping from the confines of the headgear.

‘Gina, I… ‘

She pushed the veil up and looked at me. Her wide, generous mouth was set in a hard, thin line and her blue eyes glittered like the enamel on the Virgin’s shrine. The intensity behind them made me take a backward step. My hand felt big, hot and clumsy wrapped around the glass, and my tongue was dry and swollen in my throat. I suddenly felt drunk and incapable. It’s a wonder I didn’t stumble. She swept the veil down and glided past me without a sound as if she was a creature not quite of this world.

I was badly shaken. I leaned against the silvered, vertically striped wallpaper and tried to regain my composure. I put my glass down on the first level surface I came to, blundered through the house, detached Glen from a small group and almost pulled her through the door and down the steps.

‘What’re you doing?’ she protested. ‘We haven’t even spoken to… ‘

I kept yanking her and descending. I had a headache building and I was sweating inside my shirt and suit coat. I pulled off my tie and ripped the stitches in the jacket tugging it off.

‘Cliff, for God’s sake, what’s wrong?’

‘Will you drive, please?’

We were crossing the bridge before I could compose myself enough to speak. I told Glen about the look in Gina’s eyes. The disdain, the contempt. The hatred.

‘She’d be in a state something like hysteria,’ Glen said. ‘Something as sudden as that, two little kids… It’s a female nightmare come true. You can’t take it on board this way, Cliff.’

‘She blames me.’

‘She has to blame someone or something. A couple of weeks ago she was probably singing your praises along with Scott. My mate Cliff, who got me this beaut job…’

‘Don’t, love.’

‘Snap out of it, then. She’s young. She’ll recover. That place reeks of money. They’ll see her right. She gave him children… ‘

‘Daughters,’ I said. ‘I’m not sure they count.’

Glen gunned the motor, police-driver style, and sent the car whipping around the turn into Wentworth Park Road. ‘Are you trying to pick a fight?’

I leaned back in the seat. ‘I’m too pissed to fight.’

‘Probably got something to do with your overreaction. Let’s go up to the beach for a couple of days. You might catch your first flathead.’

We went to Glen’s house at Whitebridge where I ran on the beach, swam, read, drank wine and didn’t catch any fish. I had trouble letting go of the feelings that had been stirred up in me by the sound of Scott’s daughters and the look in the eyes of his wife. I was morose, not good company, and Glen and I had more than the usual number of disagreements.

Back in Sydney and on my own for a time while Glen was on a tour of country police stations, I rang my chief police contact, Frank Parker, and asked him if any progress was being made on the murder case. As far as the press was concerned, the case had got cold very quickly.

‘Nothing,’ Frank said. ‘We don’t even know why he was there. He got out of his car and two men approached him. One of them shot him twice. They drove off in a car the witness couldn’t identify. The descriptions are useless-medium this, ordinary that. You know. And that’s all.’

‘What about speculation?’

‘Who knows? Connected to the job at the casino? Or some case he was working on or had worked on? We’ve got good people on it, believe me, but so far there’s nothing. If anything happens I’ll let you know.’

I kept busy and tried to forget that look in Gina Galvani’s blue eyes. The jobs trickled in and I did them and paid bills with the proceeds. Financially, I was treading water and I sometimes felt that I was doing the same in my relationship with Glen. A card appeared in my letterbox informing me that ABC Roofs amp; Guttering Ltd had detected damage to the capping and coping of my tile roof and inviting me to call them for a quote on the cost of repairs. I called and they quoted. I couldn’t afford it. Everything seemed to be on hold.

I was in my office on a cool Monday morning, about to go out to post two reminder invoices to clients and to eat lunch, when the phone rang.


‘This is Gina Galvani.’

I clutched the phone so tightly my knuckles cracked. ‘Yes, Gina.’

‘I’m in the city and I want to see you. Can I come now?’

‘Yes, of course. You’ve got the address?’


She cut the call and I replaced the phone, moving almost in slow motion. The voice hadn’t been quite as cold as the eyes, but cold enough. I forgot about the invoices and lunch. I tidied the office, which took only a few seconds, while my mind raced. Gina, I knew, was in her late twenties and well-educated. She’d been a publicity officer in a government department when Scott had met her and he’d boasted of her languages, wide reading, extensive travel experience and sophistication. Surely she wasn’t going to come in with a weapon and express that hatred I’d glimpsed? I dismissed the idea, but it lingered worryingly around the edges as I brewed a pot of coffee, rinsed out two mugs and set out the sugar and the long-life milk. I was as nervous as a first-up parachutist when I heard her footsteps in the passageway.

I opened the door before she could knock. ‘Come in, Gina.’

I won’t say she gave me a friendly smile, but it wasn’t the maloccbio either. She didn’t appear to be carrying any weapons. She walked into the office and sat in the client chair without brushing it down or testing it for soundness, indicating some kind of confidence in me. She put her bag on the floor and crossed her legs. She wore a royal blue blouse with a darker blue skirt. Her fair hair was tied up inside a black scarf and she wore dark tinted stockings with black shoes, medium heels. I made all these professional observations as I was negotiating my way behind my desk.

She looked directly at me and took off her large-lensed sunglasses to reveal eyes hollowed by lack of sleep. ‘First off, Cliff,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry for the way I behaved the day of the funeral.’

‘Forget it,’ I said. ‘Times like that, no-one’s keeping score.’

She smiled and her oval face suddenly became longer and more attractive. She wasn’t beautiful, but she had something much more important. I guessed that any man lucky enough to have her would think she was beautiful, which is all that matters.

‘That’s the kind of thing Scott would say,’ she said. ‘Why do Australian men always talk in sports metaphors?’

I shook my head. ‘I don’t know. Would you like some coffee?’

‘Yes, please. I remember how you looked when I walked past you. All the colour went out of your face and I thought you were going to drop your glass. You left then, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. Glen said it was a rude thing to do. She was right. Milk? Sugar?’

‘A bit of both, thanks. I blamed you, of course. You got him the job. I was out of my mind with grief and very mixed-up. You’d given him a job you hadn’t wanted yourself and he was dead within… ‘

I put the mug on the desk in front of her and took mine back to a defensive position. ‘I went through all those thoughts myself, Gina. It wouldn’t be natural for you not to have had them. I wish I hadn’t made that call, or that I’d called somebody else, or that I’d taken the bloody job myself. But…’

‘I know. It’s useless to think that way. Does no good at all. I don’t blame you now, I want you to know that.’

‘Thank you. Drink your coffee.’

She took a sip but she hadn’t come to drink coffee or to talk about the past. She hauled up her bag, opened it and took out a long, bulky envelope. It had the look of recycled paper- something from the good guys, the pure at heart.

‘This is from Sydney Casinos. They say they took out an insurance policy on Scott. Standard procedure for senior executives. The payout is $200,000. They deduct about twenty to cover costs of their own, but there’s $180,000 for the girls and me. What d’you think of that?’

I drank some of my fast-cooling coffee and resorted to the standard psychiatrist’s ploy. ‘What do you think of it, Gina?’

‘I think it’s a bribe. I think they’re saying-take this, Mrs Galvani, and shut up.’ She touched her headscarf and smoothed back a few errant strands. I guessed that she wasn’t used to having her hair constrained. ‘It’s funny. It’s really funny.’

‘What’s funny?’

‘I can’t afford not to take the money. We didn’t have anything saved and the mortgage on the Rozelle house is pretty heavy. It wasn’t going to be a problem with that money Scott was suddenly getting, but… I can’t go back to work for a while and I have to be very careful about what I do.’

Gina, Scott had told me more than once, was a ‘thinker’. She had obviously been doing a lot of it lately. I drank some more coffee and let her talk, sensing that getting to whatever she’d come to me for would take some time. She tossed the envelope onto the desk like someone throwing money into a poker pot. Big pot. She told me that the Galvanis were looking for a pretext to take the twins away from her. Gina wasn’t a Catholic. Her parents had no money and the Galvanis had all the economic and moral clout.

‘I need this money. I can’t survive and raise Scott’s children the way he would have wanted without it.’

‘Take it, then,’ I said. ‘Corporations cover their insurance with other insurance. It’s all one big tax-deductible scam.’

She snorted derisively. ‘I know that. Government departments do the same. Everybody insures against everything so that no pain can ever be felt. No economic pain, that is.’

I nodded. She was getting to it now.

‘I’m taking the money, and there’s no strings attached. No-one’s telling me how to spend it.’


‘So I want to hire you to try and find out who killed him. Will you do it, Cliff?’


I tried to talk her out of it, using the usual arguments. But she put the obvious question and I had to admit that the police weren’t encouraging.

‘I’ll tell you what it’s like,’ she said fiercely. ‘It’s as if his body hadn’t been found. You’ve heard about how that affects people, how they live the rest of their lives in a sort of limbo. That’s how it feels. I’ve got a sister who had a baby when she was fourteen and had it adopted. She’s twenty-five now and she says a day doesn’t go by when she doesn’t think about that baby. And in case you’re wondering, yes, she got married and she’s had two children. Doesn’t change it.’

Uncomfortable territory for a middle-aged, childless, unmarried Australian male who expressed himself in sporting metaphors. I tried to think of other objections, but I knew she’d have them covered.

‘Look,’ she said. ‘Scott and I used to talk about his work. He talked a lot about you, too. He said you were weak on analysis but good on persistence and results, and that’s what counted. I know what investigation’s like. I know it can cost a hell of a lot of money and that it doesn’t always resolve things. I’m putting pressure on you-because he was your friend and you got him the job-but I’m not saying you have to find the killer. That’d be unrealistic. I said try, remember? If I know we tried it’d help.’

I wondered if it would. I could have given her chapter and verse about the people who hired men like me to get their revenge. Some got ripped off, some saw no result at all. Others had the experience of discovering who had done them wrong but finding no legal remedy. A few had the satisfaction of having their enemies brought to court only to see them being acquitted on a technicality or being given a sentence they regarded as ten times too light. A very few got what they sought.

Her question came out of nowhere. ‘You’ve had a couple of wives, haven’t you, Cliff?’

‘One, and a few near misses. Lucky women.’

‘Scott was a wonderful husband. I thought I was so lucky to have him and I did everything I could to keep him happy and in love with me. I stopped smoking the day after I met him because I knew it disgusted him. I didn’t go around the house in jeans and sloppy joes all the time because I think that makes a man lose interest. He liked to make love in the afternoon, so I… He wanted kids but not a whole houseful like his brothers. When the twins came I thought, How can things go this well…?’

She was close to breaking but she struggled against it. She drank some of her coffee, a brave act in itself, and wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. Businesslike. No fishing for tissues, no props.

‘OK, Gina,’ I said. ‘I’ll do what I can. You’re right about one thing, it could cost a lot of money. But there’s another side you haven’t thought about.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Investigations don’t always turn out the way you expect. I don’t just mean they lead nowhere. Sometimes, things come up people would rather not have known about. Do you know what I’m saying?’

She shook her head. ‘No.’

‘What if this had nothing to do with the casino job? What if it relates to something else, some case, some client?’ I drew in a breath. ‘What if he broke the law, suppressed some evidence, took a bribe? What if he had a girlfriend, or a boyfriend?’

Her eyes went wide with shock, as if she’d caught me pissing on his grave. ‘Scott? You can’t be serious.’

‘It happens, believe me. Do you still want to look into this, Gina?’

She wanted to scream, throw the coffee mug at me, break a few of my dirty windows. I could see it in the line of her jaw and the set of her body. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Then she dug into her bag and pulled out a chequebook. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to do. Now, how much do I pay you and how do we proceed from here?’

I opened a drawer in the desk, the one above the deep one where I keep the cask of red wine. I contemplated producing the cask as well as the contract form, but decided against it. I filled out the form and slid it across to her. “You sign that and you pay me $750 now. That’s for five days’ work.’

She scribbled on a cheque. ‘Full-time?’

‘Just about.’

‘I want you to work on it full-time. I want… ‘

‘Gina,’ I said gently. ‘I admire you. It took guts to come here and go through all this shit. You mentioned being realistic before. Well, be realistic now. I’ll do my best. And I’m persistent, remember.’

She forced a smile, tore out the cheque and signed the contract form. I gave her the carbon copy and she folded it and put it away in her bag. Doing the routine things seemed to calm her and I continued the mood by getting out a notebook and jotting down a few details I already knew, like the address of Scott’s office, the registration number of his car and the name of the young woman who worked part-time as his secretary. Gina was in full flight-she gave me details of his bank accounts and a copy of his last tax return along with his passport. Then she produced two sets of keys.

‘These are the keys to his office. The police have looked through it and they gave the keys back to me. He was carrying them when… when they found him.’

I nodded and took the keys. I couldn’t remember when I’d begun a case with such an accumulation of items. She tossed the other set of keys onto the pile.

‘These are for the BMW they gave him. I think it’s in a police pound somewhere or they might have taken it back. I don’t know.’

I handed her back the letter about the insurance, stood and came around the desk. ‘I’ll take care of it. Now you should go home to the kids. How’re you travelling?’

She stuffed the letter in her bag and slung it over her shoulder as she got up. ‘Cab. I’ve got Scott’s car, his real car, but I haven’t felt up to driving yet. I think I will soon. I know I will.’

‘Sure. I’ll come down with you.’

‘No.’ She put her hand on my arm and kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you, Cliff. I’m glad I did this. Goodbye for now.’

She went out and I heard her heels tapping steadily along the old brown linoleum to the stairs. The building is especially quiet on Mondays when some of the other tenants, like the osteopath and the grief counsellor, take a day off. A second-hand bookstore specialising in military history recently opened on the same level as me at the other end of the hall, but the proprietor’s hours appeared to be as erratic and unpredictable as most military campaigns. I went past the closed doors and down the stairs to the street. I bought myself a proper lunch in a cafe and planned to eat it in a leisurely fashion as befitted a man who’d been paid for five days’ work in advance. But I had no appetite and didn’t do much more than push the food around on the plate and nibble at the bread.

Back in the office, I rinsed the coffee mugs and filled one of them with red wine. An hour later it was empty and I had a few pages of notes.

I’d rung Parker again, told him of my new-found interest and learned the name of the detective in charge of the case-Detective Sergeant Peter Carboni. The BMW Scott had been given by the casino was in a police compound at Leichhardt. I got the name of the officer in charge, rang him, explained my interest and got permission to take the car away upon producing my contract with Mrs Galvani.

From the day he had set up as a PEA, Scott had worked out of an office above a real estate agency in Lilyfield. He claimed that the location put him in an ideal position to go north, south, east and west as required. I suppose it did. Like me, he shared his office building with others, but his co-tenants were a solicitor, an accountant and a literary agent, all battlers. Scott and the literary agent, when they could afford it, used the secretarial services of Vita Drewe, an intense young woman who occupied a tiny office in the building and freelanced for all and sundry. I rang her number and got her answering machine. I left the message that I’d be coming to the office soon and hoped to talk to her.

I drove to Lilyfield in the midafternoon, trying to think of all this as a job, trying not to think of Scott as anything but a part of an equation that might or might not be solved. Some hope. I parked in the space the real estate agency declared, without justification given the layout, was for the exclusive use of its clients, and went up a narrow flight of stairs to the office level. A better set-up than mine-air-conditioning for one thing, newish carpet and clean windows.

Something seemed to be happening in all the offices-machines clacked, phones rang and people walked around. I knew why I preferred the semi-derelict building I was in.

Vita Drewe’s cupboard-sized office was closed and locked. I went past the literary agency, where a photocopier was spewing out pages, to Scott’s door and unlocked it. The door had ‘Scott A. Galvani, B. Juris., Lie. Pvt. Enq. Agent’ on it in gold lettering. I wondered what the A in his name stood for. I went into the office and saw the signs of a thorough, legitimate search-filing cabinet drawers left slightly open, books disturbed, waste paper bin up on the desk. I leafed through the neatly labelled manila folders containing the contract forms, investigation notes and relevant documents. Like the rest of us, Scott kept minimal records, sticking to the letter of the law but preserving large areas of the client’s confidentiality. His final reports were models of typing and layout.

I ran through from ‘Allenby-missing daughter’ to ‘Williamson-advising on business security arrangements’, taking out files at random and not finding anything helpful. I hadn’t really expected to. If Scott had had secrets he wouldn’t have kept them here. Still, it was useful to take a look at his methods and to glance through some of his notes. As far as I could see, he ran a neat, economical operation, charging reasonable expenses, writing accurate reports. He stepped on official toes from time to time-the police, statutory authorities, municipal bodies-exactly as I would have expected. You can’t pry without offending somebody. I did notice that all the files were of cases concluded, one way or another.

Like me, Scott used a spiral notebook day-to-day, tore the pages out and put them in the file when the case was finished. I couldn’t find his current notebook or any current files. I was particularly interested in cases he had on hand when he’d taken the casino job. Maybe there was some unfortunate overlap, a fatal misunderstanding.

I could understand why Scott hadn’t put his current files on open display. I don’t myself when they contain sensitive information. I take them home and keep them in my bedroom. Maybe Scott did the same. Then again, in my house there’s only me. If someone comes looking for something and is hostile, I’m the only one in the firing line. Maybe Glen, but she can take care of herself. I couldn’t see Scott putting his wife and children in any kind of hazard.

I sat on the desk and stared around the room. No obvious hiding places-no wall safe behind the Drysdale print, no revolving bookcases, no hollow lampstands, no loose floorboards. The police had obviously moved the rug and Frank would have told me if they’d found anything unusual in Scott’s office. The walls and ceiling were gyprocked, the room’s dimensions were uncomplicated and unambiguous. There was nothing in the desk drawers that didn’t belong and the aluminium windows opened onto a straight drop to the street. I remembered Scott telling me he’d had the office painted not long ago and what a nuisance it had been putting drop cloths all over the place. The paint job was fresh and sparkling, so why was there a faint mark on the wall behind the filing cabinet? As someone had once said to me, the place to hide shit is in the barnyard.

I took a grip on the filing cabinet and rocked it to the right. It came up and I could see some manila folders lying on the polished boards, dead centre in the middle of a slightly dusty square. I hooked them out with my foot and lowered the heavy cabinet back into place. I congratulated myself on my powers of detection and sat down at the desk to examine the files. There were only two-business had been slow as he’d said. A Ms Angela Prudence Cornwall had hired Scott to investigate the financial affairs of her fiance, Roger Cruise, before she let him take her down the aisle. Scott seemed to have made very little progress on the matter. Brian Roberts, an Aboriginal Rugby League footballer was in dispute with his club over a requirement in his contract that he not drink alcohol. Apparently the club secretary, Allan Thurgood, was a notorious drunk and Roberts had hired Scott to provide some evidence on this to use as leverage. Scott had staked out a few venues, taken a couple of photographs. It didn’t seem like the stuff of murder and mayhem, but it was something to keep in mind.


I put the files under my arm and left the office. I could hear a soft clicking coming from behind Vita Drewe’s door. I approached it cautiously. I had met her a couple of times and felt I’d lost ground and credibility with each meeting. She was a tall, cranelike creature who favoured collarless shirts, weskits, jeans and Doc Martens. Gina Galvani had nothing to fear from her-she had a large framed photograph of a very soulful Virginia Woolf on her office wall-a certain sign of sexual orientation. The first time I met her, introduced by Scott when she delivered him some typing, she told me that working part-time for a PEA was amusing but sharing a room with two of them was oppressive. I thought she was joking.

‘She’s not,’ Scott told me. ‘She believes men deliberately contrive situations to outnumber women. Especially macho men like you and me.’

‘You, macho?’

‘Laugh if you will. It gets tricky.’

It got tricky the next time I was there. She had another woman with her in Scott’s office, making it pretty crowded. She was trying to persuade Scott to do something for this woman, gratis. Scott was resistant. My arrival broke up the gathering although as far as I could see the numbers were even. I made a remark to this effect and got a visual broadside from Vita that I could still remember. That was months ago. I tapped at her door, cautiously, as I say.


Interesting choice of word. I opened the door and stepped in. She was staring at a screen as her fingers flicked over the keys. Normal enough, except that she was standing up, and the remote control keyboard was sitting on top of a bookcase at waist height. She inclined her long, narrow head at a chair that just fitted into the available space. Somehow it seemed wrong to sit and I closed the door behind me and leaned back against it. She looked annoyed. Her fingers became a blur and she completed whatever she was doing. The screen froze.


‘Do you remember me, Miss Drewe?’

‘Ms. The face, yes. The name, no.’

‘I’m Cliff Hardy, a friend of Scott’s and in the same line of work. I’d like to talk to you about him if you have a minute.’

‘Oh, yes. God, that poor man. Come in. Shit, you’re already in. Typical.’

‘You asked me in. Would you mind… why are you standing up to work like that?’

‘Woman are constantly being put in subservient situations. I do this to remind myself of that fact. I may be working for men, but I don’t have to be bowing my head to do it. I notice you elect not to sit, Mr Hardy. How come?’

I could hear an American twang in her voice, making it harder to judge whether or not she was serious. ‘I’m not staying long, that’s why. I just wanted to ask you whether you saw Scott very much around the time he was killed.’


‘For God’s sake, he was my friend and…’

‘Don’t get abusive. Stop threatening me.’

‘I’m not threatening you, Ms Drewe.’

‘You’re lying to me. That’s a kind of threat.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You wouldn’t just turn up here out of the blue, throwing your weight around and asking me questions. There must be a reason.’

I stared at her; her brown hair was strained back like a ballerina’s; her eyes were dark and searching and her nose was slightly beaky. She was attractive in an off-beat style, and she wasn’t stupid. I slid sideways, sat in the chair and shuffled, trying to find room for my feet. ‘You’re right. I’m sorry. Let’s start this again. Scott’s wife wants me to investigate his death. She isn’t satisfied with what the police have done and she feels a need to do something herself. I understand that and I want to help her as far as I can. I hope you’ll be willing to talk to me for a while about Scott. I believe you liked him.’

She smiled and the effect on her face was dramatic, opening it up, making her features more generous and seeming to dissipate the pent-up reproachfulness. ‘Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Telling the truth and treating me like a fully fledged human being? I like Gina. What happened must be terrible for her. I’ll be happy to help you.’

‘Thank you.’

I was off-balance now and tipped further by her getting up and lifting her drawstring bag from the floor. She wore a cluster of bracelets on her right arm, pushed up beyond her wrist. She released them, one by one. ‘You can take me out for a coffee. I can work without coffee and cigarettes, but I can’t talk without them.’

By agreement, we walked down Norton Street to the Bar Napoli, one of my favourite places. In her Doc Martens, she wasn’t much shorter than me, and she had a long, loping stride. She was dressed exactly right for the weather in jeans, singlet and unbuttoned, loose cotton shirt. As usual, I was hot inside my lightweight suit. I juggled the folders and peeled off the jacket. She ordered a caffe latte and lit up a Kent. ‘This is one of the few places where you can smoke and not feel as if you’re giving everybody AIDS or something. OK, now, Gina’s right when she criticises the police. One of them talked to me for about, like, half a minute, and his questions were so dumb I didn’t give them memory space.’

I sipped my long black, wished passionately for a cigarette, fought it down and pulled out my notebook. ‘Who was that?’

She was a serious smoker. The Kent was half gone in a few drags and she pulled it all down into her lungs before letting some of it go. She tapped off a long ash and stared at the travel posters on the wall as if seeking inspiration in scenes of Tuscany. She shook her head. ‘Forget the name, if he gave it. Sorry. Not the boss. There were two of them. Sergeant something-biggish, about your size and build but with darker hair, less grey. The one who talked to me was much younger, fair and slim, well-combed, smelled good, no doubt suppressing his femininity like mad.’

I scribbled that down. ‘Much younger’ and the reference to the grey hair was a bitter pill to swallow, but she hadn’t meant it maliciously. I felt very much on my mettle, keen not to make my questions as dumb as the coppers’ had been. “What did you think about Scott taking the job at the casino?’

She drank some coffee, snuffed out the cigarette and immediately lit another. ‘Hey, you’ve surprised me. Congratulations. I’m thinking, like, he’s just another walking prick with slightly better manners than most, and you come up with a real question.’

I was careful not to preen. ‘So, what’s the answer, Ms Drewe?’

‘Vita, OK? I thought it was right for him. A one-year contract, what’s the harm? I’m all for change and variety-in everything. Like, you might think I’m just this typewriter dyke, two hundred words a minute, right? But I’ve white-watered the Colorado River and been a mountain guide in New Zealand and culled deer in Tasmania.’


‘Impressed? Good. People underestimate people all the time. It’s one of the world’s biggest problems. I don’t think I can help you very much. The police were schmucks, not interested. Scott was real pleased about the casino job. He was getting a little pissed at working out of that office and making peanuts, well, mostly.’

‘Did he confide in you?’

‘Sure. Faithful-to-his-wife kinda guy, he felt safe with me. Couple of times he had trouble paying me on time. He was embarrassed, you know? A power situation that was running against him. Scott loosened up some when I explained to him what was happening.’

‘OK, Vita. Good. Did the police take anything away from Scott’s office?’

‘Not unless they’re sleight of hand experts. I watched real close. They just searched through the stuff, kinda uninterestedly. You know the difference between uninterested and disinterested?’

‘I… I think so.’

‘Shoot, then. Say, you’re on expenses, right?’

I nodded, rehearsing my answer to the question.

‘Make sure you get a receipt for the coffees. I’ll have a cappuccino now.’ She lit another cigarette. ‘Let’s hear it.’

I went to the counter and ordered. Her mannerisms and attitude were beginning to annoy me. I sat down and fanned her smoke out of my face. ‘Disinterested means you haven’t got a personal investment in the outcome, uninterested means you don’t give a shit. Do you know where Scott kept his notebook?’

She squashed out her cigarette, pushed the ashtray away and dropped the packet and lighter into her bag. Then she gave me the face-transforming smile again. ‘That’s enough of that for now. Don’t want you to think I’m an addict. I really think we could get along, you know? But you’d have to show a whole lot more confidence in me.’

I was off-balance again. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘You’re nice, but slow. I want to help you. I feel guilty, too. I advised him to take the job, for Chrissakes. I fucking sold it to him. I like casinos, did I mention that? No? Well, I have more going on in here than I can get out. I like to dress up in the sequins and silk and throw money away. It’s a buzz. I told him to go for it, and now he’s dead. Dead at thirty-one’s the pits. I’m thirty, how old’re you, Cliff?’

‘Older, where’s this going?’

‘I’m not sure. Where do you want it to go?’

‘Towards finding out why Scott died. I wouldn’t expect to get much further with it than that.’

‘A pragmatist. OK. I can buy that. I don’t know where his notebook is. Hey, have you got a card?’

I decided then that she was seriously unstable, someone to be humoured. I took out a card and put it on the table. She flicked it up with her long, slender fingers and replaced it with one of her own. I hadn’t seen where her card had come from.

‘Thanks. Surprised, huh? Conjuring’s another one of my talents. Take the card.’

I picked it up and put it in my shirt pocket. Despite the fans cooling the heated air in the cafe and keeping it moving, the shirt was sticking to me. I was suddenly aware of a nervous sweating and an urgent need for some alcohol. ‘Well,’ I said. ‘Thank you, and I think that’s all I need for now.’

‘You’re full of it,’ she said. She reached out a long, thin, lightly tanned arm and rapped her knuckles on the file folders I’d put on the table. ‘Tell me about these.’

For all the irritation I felt, for some reason I didn’t want to part company with her. I pushed the files across. ‘Preliminary stuff. Do you happen to remember the clients?’

She flipped through the files. ‘Nope. I very rarely saw any. Mostly I just typed up his reports.’

‘I saw them. Terrific typing, better expression than I’d have expected from Scott, too.’

She smiled. ‘Yeah, well, I finessed them a little. Sometimes. He was no John Updike. You read Updike?’

‘I’m not up to date.’

‘The Rabbit books are the great American novel, I’m telling you. Fun name isn’t it-Updike? Hah! Weird you can’t find his notebook. It wasn’t on him when he got shot?’

‘I haven’t checked but I don’t think so. He was in a different job, after all.’

‘Not necessarily. He came in to the office a few times after he got the casino job, and it wasn’t just to pick up mail. He had that redirected I think. Hey, I remember now. He came in one night as I was quitting. I tried to get him to buy me a drink but he wouldn’t.’ She banged the side of her head, quite hard. ‘How could you forget that, dummy?’

‘Was he alone? What did he do?’

She held up a hand and the bracelets slid back over her bony wrist onto her forearm. ‘Hold on. I’m like trying to recall it scene by scene. I was coming out of the building and he was going in. Hurrying. He was carrying something. Papers, no, a folio, something like that.’

‘You didn’t tell the police about this?’

‘I didn’t tell myself. I was tired, plus it was my fasting day. You move into some strange spaces at times like that. It’s only just coming back now.’

‘How did he seem?’

‘I smelled his sweat. He was a clean guy. He was definitely upset. I was flirting with him a bit, the way we did, but he didn’t put anything out. Real cold. I remember thinking that his wife might be around so I glanced at the car… Shit!’


She kept her eyes focused on a point somewhere above my head and moved like an automaton, dipping into her bag and coming up with the packet of Kent and the lighter. She lit a cigarette. I moved my head slightly so that the cloud of smoke wouldn’t envelope me. Her head was rigid and she blew the smoke straight at that focus point. ‘I can see him,’ she said. ‘He was sitting in the car. Real still.’


‘I don’t know. Some guy. Small, dark, maybe. There wasn’t much light’

It was like talking to a medium, trying to get in contact with the dead. Quite unconsciously I spoke in a hushed, sepulchral tone, aware that some of the other patrons were beginning to stare at us. ‘Would you recognise him again?’

‘I sure would!’

The emphatic words seemed to jerk her from the trance. She laughed nervously, drew on the cigarette and missed the ashtray as she tried to flick off the inch of ash. ‘How about that? Vita the woman of mystery-I actually hypnotised myself. First time. You’re a restful man, Cliff, in your uptight way.’

‘When was this, Vita?’

‘It was just two nights before he died.’


It was too much to expect that Vita Drewe would be able to give me a description of the man she saw in Scott Galvani’s car. Nothing about her could be that uncomplicated.

‘Not like that,’ she said. ‘I’d know him if I saw him again, but like tell you his height and weight- hey, why aren’t they pronounced the same? Never mind. I mean, a clinical type description? No way. My memory doesn’t work like that.’

I hoped it was her memory that was at issue, not her imagination. We left it there. I paid for the coffee and we walked together back to the office, not saying much. I pointed to my car and she said automobiles were the curse of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We shook hands.

‘My address and number are on the card,’ she said. ‘Don’t be a stranger. So what’s your next move?’

‘Talk to the cops.’

She shrugged and swung her bag on its long strap. I realised how fluidly she moved and how completely unselfconscious she was-probably necessary for white-water rafting and deer-shooting. ‘You’ll be wasting your time.’ There’s a lot of that in this business.’ ‘I noticed.’ She walked away, waving her fingers back at me like Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Very like.

I used my recently acquired, low-budget mobile phone to call the police centre, and was put through to Peter Carboni. From Vita’s account he didn’t sound like one of the ‘best people’ Frank Parker had referred to. It was a good chance to check out the reliability of Vita’s impressions.


‘My name’s Hardy, Sergeant. I’m…’

‘Frank Parker told me about your interest, Mr Hardy. What can I do for you?’

Good strong voice, no bullshit. Vita wasn’t scoring so well. I told him I’d searched Scott’s office and couldn’t locate his working notebook and wondered if it had been found on him or turned up anywhere.

‘Don’t think so. Hang on while I check the file. You’re right, that could be important.’

I was still to get the hang of talking on the phone while driving in solid traffic. I turned off Lilyfield Road and headed towards the pub across the road from Eastern Park for the drink I’d needed for an hour or more. Carboni came back on line just as I got the pub in sight.

‘No sign of the notebook. Any ideas? I think we should have a meeting. We’re getting nowhere fast with this one.’

Nothing in his voice or manner seemed to tally with Vita’s description. I grunted something noncommittal and asked him if he’d been present at the search of Galvani’s office.

‘Not me. That was… well, another officer. He’s been taken off the case. I understand you’re working for the wife? Has she given you anything to go on?’

Different guy. Vita vindicated. ‘I’ve got a few things to check. Nothing much. If I come up with anything solid I’ll be in touch. What do you know about the casino operation?’

‘Not on your life, Hardy. That’s asking too much. Play it your way for a while if you want, but the offer to talk’s open.’

The world is changing fast. Ten, even five years ago, a cop in Carboni’s position would have pulled me in for a chat on threat of giving me trouble with my licence or the roadworthiness of my car. Now there was a civilised request for cooperation. I wasn’t yet completely comfortable with the new style, but I managed to say something polite to him before he hung up. I’d pulled up in Burt Street by this time and parked under one of the old plane trees that would give good shade as well as sappy, duco-damaging leaves and bird shit. From years of this sort of treatment the Falcon has a weathered, stippled look that I rather like.

I shoved the phone in my jacket pocket and got out of the car. A slight breeze was blowing, stirring the leaves and moving the discarded soft drink cans, empty chip packets and other rubbish around on the ground. Some kind of school sports meeting must have been held there earlier and the patrons had left their mark in the usual way.

I stared out across the grass towards a part of Sydney that was changing already and will be totally changed in a few years.

The oval was well-grassed and the fence was more or less intact. It was possible to imagine cricket matches of an earlier era-when the working-class teams played off for the sub-district championship, and living east or west of Victoria Road really meant something. There was still a whiff of that spirit in sporting competitions in Sydney when I was young, but it was swept away, so I’ve read, by the affordable family car and the larger requirements of television. It had gone the way of local beers and suburban picture theatres.

I went across to the pub and bought a middy of the mass-produced beer which still tasted pretty good. I took it outside and sat on a bench overlooking the sportsground. A couple of joggers had decided the sun was low enough and were circling the ground slowly, moving in and out of the shadows cast by the trees. A man and a woman-sharing something good. A dog ran around behind, through and ahead of them, darting off to chase birds and bits of paper. It was a nice, restful picture and helped me to relax and order my thoughts on the day’s work. Not a lot to assemble-the Cornwall and Roberts files still active when Scott had taken up the job with the casino; unusual behaviour and an unknown companion a couple of nights before he was killed. A missing notebook. And no necessary connection between any of the above.

I finished the beer and reluctantly decided against another. The lunch had been light and a fair while ago, and two middies could put me over the limit for driving. I sauntered back towards the car, decided I wanted the drink anyway and went back and had it. The joggers and their four-legged companion had gone and I took their place, walking briskly around the oval several times with my jacket slung over my shoulder, breathing deeply and telling myself that this was bound to metabolise the alcohol. It was pleasant, too, as the sun dipped down and the shadows spread out across the grass. I drew a few curious looks from strollers and dog-walkers but I didn’t care. Suddenly, I realised that I was thinking of Vita Drewe, of the way her hair was arranged, wondering how long it was and how it would look on her shoulders instead of strained back and tied up. I remembered her long legs and slender, graceful body and I was aroused. I had her address in my pocket and her half-invitation, half-challenge: ‘Don’t be a stranger.’ Bloody Yanks. What did that really mean? Glen was hundreds of kilometres away and hadn’t phoned for two nights. Our last words had been close to angry. There’d never really been any commitment between us, and in my experience commitment was living death anyway. Why not? Why the hell not?

I decided I was sober, stopped walking and vaulted the fence, clearing it easily. Life in the old dog yet. I scooped up a Coke can and threw it angrily into a rubbish bin, not sure of the source of the anger. The calm and peace had evaporated. I felt edgy and emotionally undernourished. I strode towards the car, feeling the phone bump against my back and angry about that as well. Stupid modern gadgets. A sign of the breakdown of public amenities

I was about fifty metres from the car when I saw the two of them. One man was standing, looking in the direction of the oval and seeming to strain his eyes. The other was sitting on the driver’s seat with his feet on the ground and the door open. Of my car! I shouted, dropped my coat and broke into a run. Bad move. The one keeping a lookout saw me and shouted something himself and started to run. The other man jumped up and took off, sprinting but looking awkward. Anger fuelled me and over the first few metres I gained steadily on them. We were running on the grass, heading towards the tangle of small streets that made up this part of Rozelle. One of the men fell and the other stopped to help him.

I caught up with them and was alarmed at the size of the one still on his feet. He was big and he was quick. He came at me with his shaved head lowered and looked ready to butt, kick or punch. I took a swing at his right ear and he swayed away from it easily. I wasn’t as fit as I should have been and my wind was short after the run. His was sound. He slammed a punch into my left shoulder and brought his knee up as I sagged. I managed to twist aside and hit him with a wild, glancing backhander that tore skin from my knuckles and ripped open his right cheek. He bellowed, wasting breath, and I drove hard at his nose. It caught him but he’d pulled back from it and it didn’t hurt him nearly enough. I was gasping and the shoulder hurt.

I didn’t even see the other man. He must have scrambled up and slid behind me. He kicked the back my of right knee and the leg buckled. The big man came in and slammed me twice, right hand, left hand, as I was on my knees with my head up. Just the way Dempsey finished off Firpo. It finished me, too.

The woman holding my head smelled of roses, then of mint. Her face yellow, then green. All my senses seemed to be jumbled and I was feeling pain in my stomach, feet and arms instead of my shoulder and head.

‘His eyes look funny,’ someone said.

The woman said, ‘Probably a concussion. Can you talk? Do you know your name?’

‘Dempsey,’ I mumbled. ‘Jack Dempsey’

‘Better call an ambulance. He needs to go to hospital’

I hate hospitals. The sound of the word helped to unscramble my brain. ‘I think I’m all right,’ I said. I felt my jaw, sore but not broken and I could see out of both eyes. My shoulder was numb but I could flex my knee. The woman let go of me and I managed to stay sitting, almost upright. Three or four people had gathered round but interest was waning now that I clearly wasn’t seriously hurt. I smiled my thanks to the woman who was still saying something about concussion and got slowly to my feet. I swayed but I could stand.

‘Don’t give him that!’

It was the woman again and she’d exceeded her brief because someone had gone to the pub and come back with a glass of beer. I took it and drank some. ‘Thanks, mate. Thanks all of you. I’ll be OK.’

‘At least you stopped them stealing your car,’ the beer-provider said. ‘Fucking bastards.’

The woman turned and walked away. ‘See a doctor,’ she said over her shoulder.

I took a few shaky steps, propped myself against a tree and finished the beer. I handed back the glass and someone gave me my coat. I wasn’t functioning well but I was functioning. I said some more thankyous and moved towards my car-a long, long way off. It would have been closer if I’d been able to walk in a straight line, but I got there and slumped down in the driver’s seat. Not surprisingly, the door lock seemed to be undamaged. Car door locks are for stopping ten-year-olds, not anyone who seriously wants to open them. The mobile phone was still in the pocket of my coat along with the car keys. My wallet was on my hip. It seemed I’d lost nothing at all but some skin off my knuckles and some pride.

I wasn’t ready to drive just yet and I wondered what the last beer had done to my blood alcohol. So many things to worry about these days. Like having lost a metre or two as a runner and not being able to hit as hard as I once could. I swung my legs inside and tested my shoulder by putting both hands on the wheel. Painful, but possible. For the first time in my life I wished my car was an automatic. I leaned back against the seat and took some deep breaths. My knee, jaw and shoulder hurt. Not vital spots. I put the phone on the passenger seat and that’s when I remembered the files and Baldy’s mate’s awkward running style. He’d looked that way because he was carrying the two folders in his right hand.

I swore, thumped the steering wheel and felt the pain travel along my shoulder and down my arm. I still wasn’t thinking straight and it occurred to me that being beaten up was a punishment for being careless.

‘Cliff, what in hell’s happened to you?’

Vita Drewe was standing by the car door. She was wearing shorts and sneakers and a T-shirt with Chinese characters printed across it. A largish dog on a leash was sniffing at the upholstery.

‘Stay, Dylan!’ She let go of the leash; the dog backed and sat with its tongue lolling out. She leaned closer to look at me. ‘Kee-rist, you’ve got a bruise there. Anything broken?’

I shook my head dopily and wished I hadn’t. ‘Don’t think so. They took the files. Two men. What’re you doing here?’

‘This is where I walk Dylan. Run some. I’m just here, that’s all. You smell of beer.’

‘Good Samaritan came by. People are decent. They helped me. But I really needed the help a bit earlier on. Not the man I used to be.’

‘OK. Let’s get you outa there and round the other side. I’ll drive. You mind Dylan getting in the back? He’ll behave, likes riding in cars.’

‘Can you drive? You hate cars. This is a manual.’

She helped me out, flicked up the knob on the back door and reached across to open the passenger door while I leaned against the car and looked at Dylan who looked back. Sceptically, I thought. I folded myself into the seat and she closed the door. A click of the tongue and Dylan was in the back.

She settled behind the wheel. ‘Can I drive a manual? I drove a Land Rover from Cape Town to Cairo.’


She laughed. ‘You’re right. I lie a little. But I can get this heap from here to my place.’


She handled the Falcon well, not crunching the gears and quickly getting used to the brakes and steering. Dylan growled contentedly in the back and only briefly pawed at the vinyl. He could have clawed it all up for mine, I was hurting too much to care. I’d have bet on a terrace house, but Vita told me that her place was a basement flat under a pathology laboratory on Victoria Road. She followed a complex pattern of lanes to get to the barred back gate. The light was failing but I could see a grassy area with shrubs and a few tall trees.

‘I’m sorta the watchperson,’ she said. ‘But Dylan does the work. It’s cheap rent and the traffic roar from the road up front only drives me half nuts half the time. I guess the car’ll be fifty per cent safe here in the alley.’

‘There’s a steering lock.’

‘I know a guy can get through them with a ballpein hammer in three seconds flat. But OK. Out you get, boy.’

She was talking to the dog. He sprang from the car and lifted his leg against a wheel. I should be so mobile. I climbed out stiffly, trying not to crouch and hobble like Olivier playing Richard III. She took some keys on a ring from a pocket in her shorts and unlocked the gate. Dylan bounded through and immediately began what looked like a search and destroy patrol. He was a German shepherd, mostly black and tan, with a bit of something else in him that reduced his bulk. A nice dog to be nice to. He came running back as Vita and I went up the path to the back of the red brick building. The dog was frisky.

‘You cost him his run.’

‘Tell him I’m sorry. He got a ride in the car to compensate.’

‘True. I’ll try to explain that to him.’

Another key unlocked a security grille on the back door and the door itself. We went through into a cool, dark space that smelled vaguely of something I identified with Fiji. I was aware that my thought processes were still jangled.

‘Cliff Hardy.’ I said.

‘Say what?’

‘I was testing to see if I had concussion. I remember my name and you’re Vita Drewe.’


‘Curry. I can smell curry. I think I’ve got some circuits crossed.’

She steered me through to another dim room and helped me to lower myself onto a couch. She dropped her bag and my jacket beside me. ‘Fear not,’ she said. ‘I’m cooking a curry. I’m a curry freak. I like to come back all sweaty from a run and eat curry and sweat some more. Kooky, huh?’

I closed my eyes. I didn’t have the energy to reply, but I was glad curry smelled like curry.

‘Take it easy. I’ll just get your shoes off here and get a cushion under your head. Let’s see your eyes.’

I opened up and found myself looking at a slightly wrinkled, narrow brow, a beaky nose and intense, dark eyes. I blinked. ‘You win the staring contest.’

‘Big deal. Any bleeding from your ears? No? Not a skull fracture. I don’t think you have concussion. A bit of shock, maybe. Rest up. I’ll feed Dylan and be back pronto.’

Shock? I thought. From a couple of taps like that? In my book, if I wasn’t concussed I was OK. I struggled up into a sitting position and looked around the room-minimal furniture, books galore, lots of music on vinyl and cassette. A piece of cloth-covered pasteboard with a massive montage of photographs, paper clippings, postcards and stickers occupied most of one wall. I guessed I could get a pretty good reading of Vita Drewe’s life from it if I had the strength to get up and take a look. I made it to my feet and snuffled across the room. I leaned against the wall and looked at the mass of images. Somehow, I’d expected Vita herself to appear in many of them but she was in very few. About some things she hadn’t been lying-there were river scenes and desert scenes and other rugged outdoor stuff. The whole kaleidoscope was difficult to take in quickly but, at a guess, there were as many pictures of men as of women. It looked as if I was wrong about the significance of the portrait of V. Woolf.

‘What are you doing?’

She came into the room silently, having taken off her squeaky sneakers. She’d let her hair out and it fell thick and slightly crinkly to her shoulders. She had a can of mineral water in one hand and a packet of Panadol in the other-a modern Flo Nightingale.


‘Hey, that’s cool. I wouldn’t have it all up there like that if I didn’t want people to look, right? But you shouldn’t be moving around till we’re sure you’re OK.’

I liked that ‘we’. I liked this strange woman with her skinny limbs and crinkly hair and face-transforming smile. My head had stopped aching, but that might have been in anticipation of the pain-killers. My face felt tight and puffy but my knee felt all right; only the shoulder bothered me-not a bad outcome.

‘The Panadol’s a great idea,’ I said. ‘But have you got anything else to wash ‘em down with?’

‘I’ve got a bottle of Jack Daniels left over from my thirtieth birthday party. Somebody must’ve thought I drank that stuff.’

‘You don’t?’

She grinned. ‘I do. Sometimes.’

I staggered back to the couch and faked a collapse, hurting my shoulder. ‘I reckon that’s what I need.’

She threw the packet to me and I fumbled the catch but held it. She spun around and went out, the dark hair swishing around her shoulders. I tapped out three tablets and let them sit in the palm of my left hand. I noticed then that I’d grazed the hand at some time in the proceedings. Both hands bloodied. Two-fisted Hardy. All the more reason for the pain-killers.

‘I don’t run to serving trays. This is the bread board.’

She had a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels on the board along with two glasses, a bowl of ice and the mineral water. There was also a plate with a couple of slices of some kind of pie on it. She put the board on the floor and selected a cassette. Soft rock with a touch of soul. Unobjectionable. She sat next to me on the couch.

‘If you could see yourself, Cliff, you’d understand why the food. You look like an old grey wolf, starving to death. When did you last eat?’

‘I had lunch. I forget what.’

She shoved the plate at me. ‘Eat. Then you get to drink’

‘I need the pills.’

She poured out a measure of mineral water and I swallowed the tablets. The spinach pie was good and I managed to get down a few mouthfuls before my throat seized up and I fell back into my picking and crumbling routine. I realised then that I’d been doing this for days. I forced some more of the food down and then pushed the plate away.

‘A drink,’ I said. ‘Please.’

She made a solid one for me and a weaker one for herself. I took a swig and watched her eat a piece of pie with obvious enjoyment. I felt sour and old and damaged in the presence of someone sounder and younger and healthier. Not a good feeling. I felt a little better after some more of the whisky went down.

‘So,’ she said. ‘Somebody stole your files?’

‘Yes, Roberts and… ‘

‘Cornwall. Does that make any sense?’

I shrugged and felt the dull pain in the shoulder. Not as bad, but still there. ‘Not to me. I’ll have to follow up on it though. It might mean something.’

I finished my drink and let her make me another. Then I described my two assailants.

She said, ‘Eat some more pie while I think. Otherwise you’re going to get drunk and you won’t be any good in bed.’

‘I’m not sure that’s going to happen.’ But I was interested.

‘We’ll see.’ She stared at the montage while I ate. The pills were starting to work and nothing was hurting as much. What with the whisky and the music I was feeling relaxed.

‘Not the bald one,’ she said. ‘The other guy maybe, but like I said, I’d have to see him to be sure.’

I’d almost forgotten what she was supposed to be thinking about-whether either of the men who’d broken into my car resembled the man she’d seen with Scott. I hadn’t expected a matchup, I was just going through the motions. I sipped my drink and tried to sort things out in a professional way. How had I been targeted? Presumably by someone watching Scott’s office. The who and the why that went with that would just have to hang in the air.

She peeled off her socks and wriggled her toes. ‘So what are you thinking about now?’

‘Somebody must be keeping an eye on Scott’s office. My going there set off some kind of signal. Did we have your door closed when we were talking?’

She squinted, remembering. ‘I think it was sorta ajar. That’s the way it hangs. Anyhow, the walls in that place are so thin you could hear from the next room, either side.’

‘I’d better ring Gina. Make sure she’s all right. You could be drawn into this, too, Vita, whatever the hell it is.’

She pointed. ‘The phone’s in the bedroom, through there. Don’t worry about Vita, she can take care of herself She reached into her bag and came up with a snub-nosed pistol. ‘Beretta Puma, and I know how to use it.’

The way she handled it suggested she did. ‘You’re full of surprises.’

‘It’s licensed. I told you, I’m the caretaker here. Those poor fucked-up junkies think a pathology lab’s a place to keep drugs. Go use the phone. Check on your client, Mr Detective.’

Her tone was hard to interpret but my concern about Gina overrode that. I took the rest of my second drink with me and went into the bedroom. It was dim and large with a low double bed jammed against the wall making space for an exercise bike, more bookshelves and a desk with a computer. The phone was on the floor beside the bed. I sat down gingerly and was pleased to realise that I could remember Scott’s home number. My left arm was giving me trouble and I had to juggle the phone awkwardly.

A man answered the phone and I asked to speak to Gina.

‘Who’s calling?’ Fair enough question, under the circumstances, but I didn’t see the need for the hostile tone.

‘My name’s Hardy. I was a friend of Scott’s and a colleague. Gina’s asked me to tidy up some business matters. Who am I speaking to? Is Gina all right.’

‘This is Ken Galvani, Scott’s brother. I know who you are. You’re the one who got him that fuckin’ job. You stayed for about two minutes after the funeral. Gina wouldn’t ask you to do anything.’

‘We won’t argue about it. Can I speak to her, please.’

‘She’s not here. She’s gone to my mother’s place for a while.’

He hung up in my ear. Scott had two brothers. I couldn’t have recalled their names, but it didn’t surprise me that one was Ken. Scott had told me that his parents had wanted to give their sons Australian-sounding names to speed their integration. His own name was a little wide of the mark, but Ken was spot-on. It didn’t sound like a good deal for Gina, staying with the in-laws, but it was none of my business and at least it was safe. I replaced the receiver and massaged my fast-stiffening shoulder.

‘Let me do that for you.’

Vita was in the room, again silently. She motioned for me to unbutton my shirt and when I had trouble using the left arm she helped. After that it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take off my pants and shoes. I lay on the bed in my jockettes while she examined me, squatting beside me in her silky shorts and loose T-shirt.

‘Bit of flab, not too much for a guy your age. That’s one hell of a bruise, though. Gonna be sore awhile. Better let it be.’ She traced a few scars on other parts of my body with a fingernail. ‘You’ve knocked yourself about some, haven’t you?’

‘A little.’

‘I’ll bet there’s still a bit of life left in you, though.’ Her hand snaked inside my underpants and what she said seemed to be true. I reached up under the shirt and touched her breasts. The novelty of the shape and size and texture of them was arousing me and her hand was doing its work expertly. She pulled down my jockettes and snapped her fingers. A condom appeared in her hand and I laughed.

‘Jesus. How did you do that?’ I tried to lift myself off the bed to take off her shirt but the shoulder sent waves of pain through me and I groaned and fell back.

‘Take it easy,’ she said. ‘I’ll make the arrangements.’

She rolled the condom onto me and kissed the tip. ‘Lubricated, ribbed and with a tickler.’ Two quick up-and-down movements and she was naked. She was thin but not bony, with good muscle tone. She put my hands on her breasts and told me to squeeze hard. I did and her nipples stiffened. She stroked me with one hand and herself with the other. Then she straddled me and controlled everything, guiding me in, adjusting the angle, settling down. She was light and tight. I was highly aroused but the condom reduced the sensation and I was able to move with her and not come too quickly.

‘Good?’ she said. ‘Good?’

We fell into a rhythm that caused me almost as much pain as pleasure. Everything that had hurt before was hurting again, but I didn’t care. She guided my hands around behind her and instructed them to stroke her buttocks and cleft as she moved. I was in full rut, out of control, I probed with my fingers and thrust up at her, roaring with pain and pleasure as I came.

I flopped back, with sweat breaking out all over me. She leaned down and kissed me, pushing her tongue into my mouth and then rearing back.

‘“There’s enough left for me. Just enough left for me.’

She pressed down and I felt her pubic bone bite into me. She rocked backwards and forwards, her breath coming faster and shallower until she collapsed, bringing her weight down on my chest and shoulders. I think I screamed, but it might have been her.

She brought the bottle and the melted ice and the mineral water to the bed along with the remains of the pie.

‘What happened to the curry?’ I said.

‘I’ll have it tomorrow.’

No ‘we’, and I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or disappointed. We drank and ate companionably, propped up against the pillows. The only light in the room came in from outside- a streetlight shining through some bushes creating a dappled effect on the bedsheets.

I rattled a tiny ice-cube. ‘D’you know what we used to do at times like this in the sixties?’

‘Probably I do, but tell me.’


‘Are you talking dope or tobacco?’

‘Both, but mostly tobacco.’

‘If this is the I’m-too-old-for-you routine, relax. I know you’re too old for me, or too fucking young for me, or not Mr Right. Don’t worry about it.’

‘I didn’t mean anything like that. I was just talking. That was a good fuck. This is nice. I’m not saying any more than that.’

She leaned down and kissed me. ‘Your generation was, is, and always will be full of bullshit, Cliff. As well as being full of alcohol and tobacco and other nasty stuff. You can’t help it.’

‘We’re the same generation. Generations last thirty years.’

‘Hah! What generation laid that piece of crap down? Not a recent one.’

‘You win.’

‘You’re a nice man, but you wouldn’t say that about anything important, would you?’

‘Vita… ‘

‘Don’t worry about me. I’m a ball-breaker. You can stay the night. I wouldn’t throw a Florida Republican out in your condition.’

She pulled on her T-shirt and shorts and slid off the bed. I could feel the pillows getting softer behind my back and the sheet that was covering me beginning to feel heavy and comforting. ‘Who’s the dog named after?’ I said. ‘The rocker or the poet?’

Vita took the empty glass from my hand and gave me a gentle shove, not on the bad shoulder. ‘You choose,’ she said.


I woke up in Vita’s bed around 9 a.m. My tongue was furry and there was a dull ache behind my eyes as if I’d been drinking heavily the night before, which I hadn’t. A glance at the floor showed that the Jack Daniels bottle still contained liquid. It hadn’t been one of those bottle-emptying nights. I decided that my head hurt as a result of the blows I’d taken, an almost honourable injury. I began to roll off the bed and the pain in my neck, shoulder and arm made me gasp and sink back onto the pillows.

The shoulder was bruised, but I’ve had worse, including bullet wounds. This hurt more than bullets or broken bones. After lying still for a while, I figured a way to get off the bed without putting any pressure on the shoulder. I managed to stand upright. I cradled the left elbow with my right hand and shuffled out of the bedroom. The flat was empty but Vita had left a note propped up on the kitchen bench beside the Panadol packet.

Dear Cliffo

The working girl has gone to work. You were groaning in the night so I figured something must be hurting and you might need these. I don’t know what you eat in the morning but you’ll find some cereal and stuff in the cupboards. If you drink beer for breakfast like some men (and women) I’ve known, then you ‘re shit out of luck.

It was great getting to know you. Next move is up to you. I’d like to help with the matter on hand (being discreet here, see?), if you think I can.

The key unlocks the back gate, just be firm and confident with Dylan. I’ve told him you are a friend of mine and I think he understood.


I stood in the sunny, warm kitchen, grinning and feeling good despite my injuries, infidelity and uncertainty about the matter at hand. Still nursing my left arm, I rummaged in the cupboards and found a packet of muesli that seemed to be so low on some things and so free of others that it was unlikely to have any taste. I toasted a few slices of wholemeal, low-salt bread, spread them with something called Canola and drank a cup of decaffeinated instant coffee with fat-free milk. This was an overload of self-denial-I felt as if I was training to be some kind of monk, but I was still happy.

There was something liberating and novel about being in another person’s house and not needing to snoop through their belongings to discover their secrets. She trusted me not to do that and I wouldn’t. I took another long look at the montage in a better light and all I could see were signs of good health and good fellowship. There were enough joints being smoked and cans being drunk from not to give it a God-bothering accent.

I was getting used to protecting my left arm, but the few times I tried to move it normally the pain shot through me and set up a throbbing ache. I took two tablets and poured a small measure of whisky into my cooling coffee. For medicinal purposes.

Her bathroom was about the size of a voting booth and I stood under the shower with hardly enough space to get the soap to the right spots. I washed my hair with her shampoo and dried myself off, performing both actions right-handed. I dragged a wide-toothed comb through my greying but thick hair, thought about using one of her disposable razors on my heavy beard, but decided against it. Clean was good enough; cleanshaven would be trying too hard.

I realised how incapacitating the injury to my shoulder was when I tried to get dressed. Like all right-handed men, I put my right arm into my shirt sleeve and take it from there. There was absolutely no prospect of dropping my left arm far and back enough to be able to bring it through the sleeve. The movement was hopelessly restricted, and any attempt to extend it sent shooting pains through the arm and shoulder. I swore and put the shirt on clumsily by slipping my left arm in first and shrugging into it. I felt like a child, just learning to dress himself, and my good mood evaporated.

I finished dressing, picked up my jacket from the couch and Vita’s key from the bench and went out into the yard behind the flat, slamming the door behind me. I was so preoccupied with the stiff shoulder that I forgot about Dylan and didn’t react in the normal wary fashion when he approached me.

The dog stood off and growled.

‘Don’t fuck with me,’ I said. ‘I’m not in the mood. Anyway, I’m the lady’s friend.’

He followed me to the gate and watched me unlock it. My having the key seemed to mollify him and he backed off. I went through the gate and was relieved to see the Falcon standing in the lane with all its bits and pieces apparently intact. The big question was-would I be able to drive it?

‘Shoulder cuff lesion,’ Dr Ian Sangster said. ‘Popularly known, although I shouldn’t say that because it’s bloody unpopular, as frozen shoulder.’

I said, ‘What’s the treatment?’ as I put my shirt back on by the left-arm first method which, for some reason, exasperated and annoyed me as much as the injury itself.

Ian lit a cigarette. He accepts all the scientific findings about smoking and disease but says smokers have to have some doctors they can go to without being lectured and he’s willing to make the sacrifice and assume the role. ‘Three ways you can go once it really freezes up on you, and this will, in my judgement. One, you can have an operation under general anaesthetic that turns the arm in the cuff, ignores the inflammation, breaks up the scar tissue and frees the joint. Two, you can spend a thousand dollars or so over the next year or so on physiotherapy, osteopathy and bloody acupuncture. Three, you can do a few stretching exercises, leave it alone and wait for the bugger to get better.’

‘Number one sounds quick, and I’ve got full medical cover.’

Ian, who has been my friend and patcher-upper for twenty years, butted his cigarette and looked at the clock. It was just past eleven, a fraction early for him to propose having a drink. We were in his Glebe Point Road rooms, immediately across the way from the pub, and lan’s patients were used to him ducking across the street. Often, they ducked across with him. He lit another cigarette, coughed and reconciled himself to being a physician for just a little longer. He is a tall, lean man whose bad habits so far have left no significant exterior mark.

‘Trouble with that is, the tissue damage done by the operation can be worse than the injury itself and you can be looking at an even longer recovery period.’

‘Shit, why is it done?’

Ian shrugged. ‘Makes money for orthopaedic surgeons and it’s the option often taken up by impatient bastards like you.’

‘OK, so you’re advising me to let it heal by itself and depriving your colleagues of custom. Sounds all right. What do I do-put it in a sling? It hurts like hell when I move it like this.’

‘I thought you were a tough guy. No, that’s the worst thing you can do. Keep it moving. Make it hurt. Your pain will be good for you.’

‘You’re a sadistic bastard, Ian.’

He snorted derisively as he ran my card through his stamping machine. Ian has long ago given up on receptionists, being unable to find one who would tolerate his erratic methods and eccentric patients. I moved to sign the slip, forgot about the arm and gasped as I put it in a painful position. ‘Bugger it. I won’t be playing tennis for a while.’

‘Your biggest problem will be in bed.’


‘Getting to sleep. You’ll find it hard to achieve a comfortable position and when you roll over onto it you’ll wake up. What about a drink?’

‘That’s terrific. I’m facing a year without sleep. Recommend alcohol, do you?’

‘Always. Shouldn’t worry a hero like you. If it gets too bad I’ll prescribe you some anti-inflammatories. Might help. By the way, Cliff, how’s Glen?’


Guilt hit me when I jockeyed the Falcon into my street and saw Glen’s red Nissan Pulsar parked outside my house. She’d left it at a garage for some repairs and made arrangements for it to be delivered back to me. The keys would be in my gas meter box and I was to drop a cheque Glen had left with me off at the garage with the amount entered. One of those little domestic things lovers do for each other whether co-habiting or not. Glen took good care of the car, much better care than I took of mine and the sight of it brought my feelings for her back with a rush.

I’d had a lot of trouble driving from Rozelle to lan’s surgery and then home. Each gear change was an agony and I’d annoyed many drivers by trying to negotiate in second. The driving had left me sweaty and irritated and a conscience didn’t help. I slammed into the house, kicking angrily at the pile of mail that had come through the slot and, consequently, losing balance and instinctively reaching out with my left hand to steady myself. The pain was like a pulled muscle, a sprain and a severe cramp all at once. The answering machine in the living room was winking and I gave it the finger as I went past. I blundered on through to the kitchen, hoping that there was something for the cat to eat because I knew it’d be in from its wandering life as soon as it heard movement in the house.

Sure enough, it jumped through a window and rubbed against my legs. It was in luck because there was a chicken carcass in the fridge-the detritus of a meal I’d long forgotten. I stripped off the meat and fat and put it on the plate for the cat who then thought of me as a king. Some king. My clothes were overdue for a wash and a good airing. I stripped off and shaved in the bathroom, accustoming myself to using the razor without employing my left hand to check for missed areas. As with the shirt problem, it was like learning to shave all over again. My face was puffy and bruised where Baldy had hit me.

As I shaved I thought of my paternal grandfather who I remembered as a big, but decaying old man with an Irish brogue. Hardy isn’t an Irish name, and the story in the family was that grandad had left his true name behind on some army muster or ship’s company list when he’d deserted or jumped ship. My sister, who’s interested in such things, is pursuing the matter. She was convinced about O’Halloran some time back, but that may have changed. The old boy died when I was about five, but I distinctly remember the pinned-up sleeve of his striped pyjama jacket. Having outlived his wife, a rare thing for a man then and now, he occupied a sleep-out behind the house of Aunt Grace, one of my father’s sisters in Drummoyne. He’d lost the arm in a south-coast coal mine, but I could recall him telling me that he suffered rheumatism and arthritis in it, just as in the heavily tattooed limb that remained. He was full of blarney as I later realised, but I experienced a surge of sympathy for him across the years-my left arm was useless, but it hurt like hell.

Perhaps sensing my mood, the cat ate and left. I finished cleaning myself up and put on fresh clothes. I ate dry biscuits and cheese and drank white wine from a cask. The messages on my answering machine were routine-a man getting back to tell me that his wife had returned and that I needn’t bother looking for her, and one from the garage asking when I was going to pay the bill on the Pulsar. I’d never intended to look for the wife-the signs that she’d absented herself to throw a scare into him were as obvious as her motives. He was rich and she was poor; he was old and she was young. I hadn’t expected to make any money out of that one. The woman would probably do all right in the end. I took Glen’s cheque from between the leaves of the Macquarie Dictionary and looked at it sourly, telling myself that her signature was the bold flourish of someone who had money in the bank.

I was sinking into a torpor of self-pity and guilty rationalising. How was I to know who she was screwing when she was away on tour? What about those young constables she admired and those older officers who could be very useful to her career? What could I offer her except sex and some laughs and a slice of my seedy, underpaid, heavily mortgaged, over-regulated semi-professional life?

It was early afternoon; I had a slight buzz on from the wine and was beginning to think about another dose of pain-killers for the arm. Very positive stuff. Ian had told me about several exercises useful for frozen shoulders. I stood in a door frame and screamed as I tried to raise the left arm up to the lintel.

As I swore and raged there was a knock on the front door. I was just in the mood for a salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness. I tramped down the hall and jerked the door open ready to snarl.

A motorcycle courier stood on the step swinging his helmet from one hand. His machine was ticking in the street. ‘Mr Hardy?’

I nodded and he handed me a large envelope. ‘No signature needed. Have a nice day.’

I took the package and he was helmeted and astride his bike before I could think of a response. ‘I’ll try,’ I said as he gunned his motor and shot off down the street. I got Glen’s keys and the garage bill from the meter box and took the whole lot inside. The envelope was a big padded postbag, sealed by a strip of masking tape with my name and address printed in block capitals on the outside. No indication of where it had come from. I flexed it uninterestedly, thinking it was probably something from my accountant-some new superannuation plan or savings scheme I didn’t need. I dumped it on the kitchen bench and looked at the garage bill. Three hundred and fifty-two dollars and sixty-five cents for work on the electrical system and brakes.

‘Automobiles are the curse of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,’ I said aloud. I filled in the amount on Glen’s cheque and put it with the account.

My arm was hurting and I wondered if the effect of twenty-five years’ use of pain-killers was cumulative. I took a couple more with wine and used my Swiss army knife to slit open the envelope. I up-ended it. The files I’d found in Scott Galvani’s office and had taken from me a few hours later fell out.

Motorcycle couriers all look alike and there was nothing to distinguish the one who’d brought the package from a hundred others. The envelope was completely unmarked. I shook it thoroughly but no note saying ‘Sorry, taken in error’, fell out. I looked through the folders but could see no sign that anything had been removed or tampered with. The delivery of the files in pristine condition increased my already high level of anger. Here was I doing my Lord Nelson act, facing months of incapacity and all for nothing. It would almost have been better to have got them back ripped to shreds or soaked in blood. At least that might have meant something.

I read the files through carefully before phoning the business number for Angela Prudence Cornwall. Ms Cornwall was apparently a partner in a company controlling a number of up-market florist shops. I would have expected the recession to hit hard at the flower business-after all, you can go out and gather them for free if you try-but the addresses were prestigious and the phone operator who put me through to Ms Cornwall sounded very secure in her job.

‘Angela Cornwall.’

‘My name’s Hardy, Ms Cornwall. I’m a friend and former colleague of Scott Galvani who was engaged by you some time before he was killed. You were aware that he was dead, I take it?’

The voice was as cool as a lily. ‘Of course, yes. I was very sorry to hear about it. May I ask how you come to know about my dealings with Mr Galvani?’

I explained to her that I was tidying up loose ends in Scott’s business affairs, had no intention of prying into her circumstances and was bound by the PEA code of confidentiality, having thought the expression up on the spot.

‘I see. Well, what can I do for you?’

‘Did Mr Galvani conclude the enquiry?’

‘Did I pay him, do you mean?’

‘No, not at all. I’m uninterested in that side of things. I imagine his executor and accountant will concern themselves there. I’m talking about the professional aspect.’

‘Very well. Mr Galvani made me an entirely satisfactory verbal report and I sent him a cheque. He undertook to submit a written version and a full accounting, but it hasn’t arrived. I assumed that.. well, what happened to him, prevented that. I’m sorry, did you say that you were a friend of his?’

‘Yes, I was. Thank you for your cooperation, Ms Cornwall.’

‘I liked Mr Galvani. He was knowledgeable about flowers.’

‘Was he? I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. He was knowledgeable about a lot of things.’

‘Can you tell me, Mr Hardy, what happens to the records of private investigators in these circumstances? I take it you’ve read Mr Galvani’s file on me. I might say that I’m soon to be married.’


‘Thank you, but you will understand my concern.’

The question had never occurred to me. My own files, chaotic though they were and some of them no doubt eroded by time and insects, were full of secrets. Some cryptically concealed, others obvious. I wondered what had happened to the records of all our predecessors, stretching back into the ‘Brownie and bedsheets’ era and encompassing almost every known human foible. I had no answer-probably deposited on the various city dumps or burnt-but I decided to play Ms Cornwall straight, the way she’d played me. I told her I didn’t know the answer in general terms, but that I would personally forward her file to her, if that was what she wanted.

‘Thank you, Mr Hardy. That is very understanding of you.’

‘As a last question, how long was it before he was shot that you heard from him? I take it he telephoned?’

‘Not at all. He came to see me in the shop at Double Bay. He told me about the new job he’d taken and, well, he spoke to me for some time.’

‘Could you tell me how he behaved, how he looked and sounded?’

‘I thought there was more to this than you admitted. What are you up to, Mr Hardy?’

‘I haven’t been entirely frank with you. His wife has hired me to investigate his death. I’m in the process of eliminating…’

‘I understand. I wish you luck. I saw Mr Galvani two nights before he died. I would say he was extremely tense and agitated.’

I wasn’t nearly as lucky with the Roberts file. The footballer’s private number didn’t answer and a club official told me that Mr Allan Thurgood, the secretary responsible for inserting the no-drinking clause in Roberts’ contract, was on leave. Brian Roberts, I was informed, would be training at the club’s practice ground in Marrickville later in the afternoon. I decided that I had to get out of the house. Driving the Falcon was out of the question but I thought I could probably manage the Pulsar’s automatic transmission. I collected my bits and pieces and Glen’s keys and went out to the car. After a bit of experimentation, I discovered I could engage drive and release the handbrake with my right hand. By keeping the left hand low on the wheel, steering wouldn’t be a problem and, even if it did hurt a bit, I’d been told that was therapeutic.

The car handled well and I complimented the man in charge at the Newtown service station where I left the cheque.

‘Good. How’s Glen?’ he said.

I used to play football myself in Marrickville when I was a member of schoolboy and junior district teams. Then it was a solidly WASP working-class area, always with a few more churches than I felt comfortable with. It’s changed enormously over the past decades with Greeks, Turks and Vietnamese moving in and giving it life and variety. I drove down Addison Road and took the turn at Livingstone Street just to see how the bizarre three-winged building on that corner was looking. My work rarely took me to this part of Sydney and I hadn’t seen the place in years. The building is like a cross between a Moorish palace and a redbrick university administration block. I’d been told that it was put up by a squatter with a large family and has served many functions since, like a Salvation Army training school. I was pleased to see that it was still standing. At a guess it had been converted into apartments.

The football ground was beside the Cooks River to the east of the municipal golf course. The Gregory’s told me that a strip of parkland ran alongside the river for several kilometres, with picnic spots and barbecues. The last time I was close to the Cooks River I would have thought twice about eating anything within a hundred metres of it. I parked near the entrance to the golf club, ducked under a fence and went through a clump of trees and across a stretch of grass to the oval. I seemed to be haunting sporting arenas lately, but this time I had a Smith amp; Wesson. 38 revolver in a holster that sat above my right buttock. It might have made me look a little lop-sided, but a one-armed private detective can’t afford to take any chances.

The afternoon was cool and a couple of players were already jogging around the oval, slinging a ball between them, getting ready for the time when their courage and collarbones would be on the line. I wandered across to the group of watchers, some in shorts and singlets, others in civvies. They were standing in several knots of two or three, watching the ones doing the sweating. A couple of the onlookers broke away and joined the doers. My arm was aching and I hooked my left thumb into my belt and let it hang there. An overweight man in white singlet and shorts and wearing a floppy hat jogged out onto the oval. Despite his size he ran well, an old athlete gone to seed but retaining the moves. He gesticulated and shouted and the players fell into a series of routines, doing his bidding.

I moved into the shade, close to four men, two white and two black, who were standing around a half-carton of beer cans. Resch’s Pilsener. Good beer.

I used to be a Rugby Union man and only got interested in League when I took up with Glen, who is a passionate Newcastle supporter. I’m still divided about the merits of the two codes, and was a little surprised to see that the players seemed to be concentrating on speed and ball-handling skills rather than the more physical stuff. One of the Aborigines, built more on the lines of a tennis player than a footballer, plucked a can from the box and came towards me.

‘Fancy a beer, mate?’

I accepted the can and opened it awkwardly, one-handed. ‘Thanks.’

‘Wouldn’t be from the press, would you?’

I drank some of the cold beer and shook my head. ‘No.’

He finished off his own can and crushed it expertly in his hand. ‘Club supporter, eh?’


Our conversation attracted the attention of another member of the drinking group, who joined us. He wore a blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, striped tie and red braces. He had a can in each hand and offered one to the Aborigine who declined with a shake of his head. This man was red-headed with a fair and freckled skin. He was about my size or a fraction taller, around the 185 centimetre mark. He was ten years younger than me and carried a good deal more flab. Vita would not have approved.

‘Who’s this, then?’ he said.

The Aborigine glanced at the players and winced. ‘Jesus, Brian,’ he said.

I took a long sip of the beer that was warming up fast but still tasting good the way properly brewed beer should. ‘Is Brian Roberts out there?’

‘Who wants to know?’ the redhead said.

‘Told you, I’ve got some business with him.’ I turned to the Aborigine. ‘Could you point him out to me, please?’

‘In the red singlet. Mad bastard.’

‘What’s it to you?’ The redhead again, and the can he was drinking wasn’t his first in recent memory, maybe his fifth or sixth.

‘Told you, I’ve got some business with him.’

I watched the big, dark man in the red singlet and white shorts weave and twist his way down the field, avoiding two men detailed by the coach to stop him, and intimidating another into stepping aside. He seemed to moving from side to side excessively. “Why’s he doing all that fancy side-stepping?’

‘Had a knee problem,’ the Aborigine said. ‘Had surgery on it at the end of the season and now he’s testing it out. Going too hard, like always. He’s my brother. He’s been like that since he could fucking walk, probably before.’

I laughed, put the can down on the grass and stuck out my hand. ‘Cliff Hardy.’

‘Lenny Roberts. What’s wrong with your left hand?’

‘I buggered the shoulder. Frozen shoulder they call it.’

The blow that came almost from behind staggered me. I’d turned slightly to talk to Roberts, and the redhead had thumped me somewhere around the left shoulder-blade. I left the can on the ground and turned back towards him.

‘I’m Bob Grady-Brian’s manager.’

‘Bullshit you are,’ Roberts said. ‘Brian sacked you a couple of weeks ago. Fuck-all good you ever did him.’

This seemed to infuriate Grady and to decide him to take out his anger on me. He raised a meaty, freckled fist and waved it in my face. ‘Some kind of sports agent are you, shithead?’ he roared. ‘Turds like youse are fuckin’ everything up.’

He swung a punch at me from close range, but he was so badly balanced and poorly coordinated it was child’s play to avoid it. The anger that had been building in me since the incident in Eastern Park reached flashpoint. I swayed back from the inept punch and hit Grady three times-all with my right-in the ribs, nose and throat and he went down like a kite when the wind drops.

‘Hey, man,’ Roberts shouted in my ear. ‘Hey, take it easy!’

I realised that Grady had sagged to his knees and that I was setting up to finish him off the way it had happened to me the day before. I pulled the punch and bent down for my can. ‘You’re right. Sorry. I didn’t mean for anything like this to happen.’


Grady wasn’t badly hurt. Lenny Roberts helped him up and told him to piss off if he couldn’t behave himself. Grady thought briefly about having another go but decided against it. He walked over to the other group, took a can and sat down on the grass. I sucked the skinned knuckles that were stinging again now and drank the rest of my beer. Roberts looked at me warily.

‘Not a cop, are you?’

‘No. Private investigator. I just want a quick talk with your brother. Nothing heavy.’ I explained the circumstances and Roberts listened, dividing his attention between me and the action on the oval. I saw Brian Roberts go down hard and bounce straight back up. His brother let out a snort of relief.

‘I think that all got sorted,’ he said. ‘Anyway, you can ask Brian when he has a spell. Should be soon. Shit, you can whack. Done some boxing?’

‘A long time ago.’ I unhooked my thumb and moved the stiffening-up arm. ‘Bit early for all this training, isn’t it?’

‘Sevens comp coming up. Brian missed the last part of the season. He needs the match practice. Shit, there he goes again.’

Roberts had the ball and was side-stepping again, fending off tacklers and swivelling on the full run, shaping to pass.

‘He looks good.’

‘He’s bloody good. Question of whether that fucking knee’s as good as the rest of him.’

‘Who’s the coach?’

‘Paddy Parkin. One of the greats.’

The training session wound down with some of the players being sent off to jog a few laps and others to do stretching exercises. Parkin walked off the field deep in conversation with Roberts who was sweating profusely but looking happy. Lenny Roberts tossed the two empty beer cans into a bin and called his brother over. Brian was a couple of years older and built along entirely different lines-wide where Lenny was narrow and a couple of inches shorter. Someone threw him a can of Diet Coke and he caught it deftly.

‘Any trouble?’ Lenny said.

Brian popped the can and guzzled half of it. ‘Naw. Sweet as a nut. She’ll be right. I was a bit slow off the mark, but. Haveta work on that.’ He glanced across to where Grady was sitting on the grass. ‘What’s the matter with Bob?’

Lenny said, ‘What was your name again, mate?’

‘Cliff. Cliff Hardy.’

‘Cliff here dropped him. Bob started throwing his weight around and he copped a few.’

Brian Roberts grinned. ‘That’s overdue. I would’ve done it meself except the cunt’d sue me if I did.’ He finished the can and crushed it in one hand, not showing off. It looked like a habit.

‘Cliff wants a word with you. I’m your new manager and I reckon he’s all right.’

Lenny sauntered off to talk to other players and Brian eyed me suspiciously as I rubbed my stiff arm. I was conscious of the bleeding knuckles and the condition of my face. ‘You look a bit of a mess, like me after a tough game. What can I do for you?’

I explained. He did a few knee bends and arm swings as he listened. I envied him the free movement. He lifted his singlet to wipe sweat from his face and I saw the thick slabs of muscle on his body. Meeting him on the run would be like being hit by a five metre wave. He rotated his head, freeing the neck muscles and making mine feel all the more stiff.

‘Yeah, that was a worry for a while but it got sorted out.’ He looked around to make sure no one was in earshot. ‘You’re not going to talk to the papers about this, right? Nothing like that. I’m up to fucking here with the papers.’

‘Nothing like that.’

‘Well, your mate found out that Allan Thurgood was trying to get me not to sign a contract. He done a deal with another club to get me for less money. Those cunts would’ve filled me full of pain-killers and let me cripple meself. He was a good bloke, Scott. I was real sorry to hear what happened to him.’

‘But it had nothing to do with your business?’

‘Can’t see how it would. He got the stuff on Thurgood and the club lawyer took it from there. I paid him.’

‘Thurgood’s supposed to be on leave.’

‘Like fucking hell he’s on leave. He’s out looking for another job. They’re just giving him a bit of time.’

‘OK,’ I said. ‘Thanks. Look, when did you last see Scott? Was it close to when he got killed?’

‘Brian! Keep moving! Two minutes!’ Coach Parkin shouted.

Roberts signalled with a clenched fist and did a little jog on the spot. ‘Yeah, I saw him at the gym. Musta been only a coupla nights before. He told me what he’d told the lawyer and that everything’d be sweet.’

‘How did he seem?’

‘Funny thing, that. He had a work-out, a real hard one. He was a pretty fit bloke but he really pushed himself. Did a lot of that karate shit, you know? I reckon he was expecting to have to fight someone. Jesus, I never thought about that till now.’

I stuck out my hand. ‘Thanks.’

We shook, with him using about five per cent of his strength. ‘Look, if I can help in any way, just ask. I owe that bloke me peace of mind and probably this good knee as well.’

‘I’ll let you know.’

‘What’s wrong with your arm?’

‘It’s called a frozen shoulder. Ever had that?’

He laughed as he went into another series of knee bends. ‘No, but I’ve had just about every other fucking thing. You want to come down to the club. We’ve got a real good physio. I could fix it for you.’

He jogged back onto the oval and caught the first ball thrown at him. Then he kicked it out of sight.

There was a message from Glen on the machine when I got back to Glebe-a time to ring and a number. I had an hour to fill in and I did it by having a hot shower, putting an ice pack on the shoulder, drinking whisky and thinking. The two live cases Scott had had on his books seemed unlikely to be connected to his death, but there was still the puzzle of what had happened to his notebook. He’d done some leg and phone work evidently, and he must have made records of the conversations and of his expenses. My interest was in what else he might have written down- say about the passenger in his car when he made the late call to his office or who he thought he might be coming up against that made it necessary for him to brush up his karate.

I phoned Glen and discovered that she was in an Ulladulla motel.

‘You sound funny,’ she said. ‘What’s wrong?’

Glen’s antennae for moods, resentments, misunderstandings are supernaturally sensitive. I had the counter this time though. ‘I’ve got a frozen shoulder.’

She laughed. ‘I’ve heard of the cold shoulder. What’s the frozen shoulder?’

I told her about the injury, not making it clear how it happened. She sounded unimpressed. If you’ve taken a bullet in the arm and come close to losing the use of it a frozen shoulder probably doesn’t sound like much. I mentioned football and physiotherapists.

‘Bloody physios,’ she said. ‘They all vote Liberal. How are you otherwise?’

‘OK. Got your car back. Three hundred odd bucks. I’ve been driving it because the automatic’s easier on the arm. It’s going well.’


It wasn’t like her to be indifferent to the condition of the Pulsar. ‘Now it’s you who sounds funny. What’s up?’

‘Nothing. I’ll be here for a couple of days. They’ve got a few rookies in the station who don’t know breakfast from dinner. Then I’ve got a bit of time in Nowra. I’d say I’ll be back in a week. OK?’

‘Sure. Of course.’

‘What’re you working on?’

For the first time in our relationship, I didn’t want to tell her. And I didn’t know why. ‘Just the usual stuff. Bits and pieces.’

She didn’t believe me. I could tell from the pause and the tone of her voice when she spoke again. And I didn’t believe that she was just dealing with dumb rookies in Ulladulla and would need an indeterminate amount of time in Nowra. Glen was normally super-organised; she knew exactly how long she needed to spend doing what, where and with whom.

‘Well, take care,’ she said. ‘See you next week. Love you.’

‘Same here.’


Concern in her voice. A confession coming up? An ultimatum?

‘Don’t forget to feed the cat. There’s some food in the cupboard.’

We rang off more or less simultaneously and I realised that we’d made no arrangement to speak again before she got back. She must have been aware of it too. Bad sign.


Ian Sangster had been right about the sleeping. A few pain-killers and a couple of glasses of wine got me under, but I’m a restless sleeper at the best of times and when I rolled onto the shoulder I woke up yelling. I slept in snatches, waking often. If I managed to keep pressure off the shoulder, the arm stiffened up on me. It was a bad night. When I was in the army in Malaya, the brass told us that sleep-deprivation and disruption was one of the ways the Chinese would torture us if we were captured. The other ways involved bamboo splinters and water. Losing sleep sounded like the softest option then, but after this night I wasn’t so sure.

I was glad to see the sky lightening and to hear the cat mewing for food. I found the cans Glen had bought and opened one awkwardly. I didn’t have a lot of gripping power in my left hand. First time I’d ever felt the lack of an electric can-opener. I read the paper, ate breakfast and had a shower as hot as I could bear. The heat seemed to ease the shoulder and allow me a little movement. I stretched it until the pain made me sweat and need another shower. I decided to ignore the injury, use the arm as normal and put up with the pain. I drove the Pulsar into my office, determined to be purposeful and productive, the way all the politicians kept urging us to be.

I put the high-powered Ms Cornwall’s file in an envelope and addressed it. Then I attended to some untidy small matters, putting off the moment when I’d have to decide my next step in the service of Gina Galvani. The phone rang, a further welcome delay.


‘This is Peter Carboni, Mr Hardy- I think it’s time for us to have our talk. I’d like you to come down here.’


‘Why not now?’

‘What’s happened?’

‘Let’s talk about it when you get here. I’ll expect you in fifteen minutes.’

‘Make it twenty.’

Visiting police headquarters isn’t one of my favourite activities. There are few pats on the back and, although these days there aren’t usually any whacks over the head either, it’s still an unsettling experience. The difficulty I have is trying to believe that the cops, with all that manpower, firepower, computer power and influence are on the same side as me. I’ve never heard of a private detective becoming a policeman. There’s a certain amount of movement the other way, but the examples aren’t encouraging.

I identified myself at the modernistic reception booth, went through a metal detector, and was escorted up two floors to Carboni’s office. He opened the door for me, nice touch.

‘Have a seat. I hope you don’t smoke. It’s a smoke free zone.’

‘Funny,’ I said. ‘It used to be compulsory to smoke in cop shops.’

‘So I’ve heard.’

Carboni was a smooth number. Above average height, medium build, dark hair and plenty of it. He looked conscious of his neat, pleasing appearance but not vain about it. His office was small and functional with the obligatory computer on the desk and a certain amount of random paper. It looked like a surface where work got done. I sat in an imitation leather chair and looked at the landscape picture he’d hung on the wall to take the place of a view. The windows were high and small. Most of the light was artificial; the air-conditioner was quiet and effective.

‘Well, things happen around you, don’t they?’

‘I’m not sure I know what you mean.’

‘You took a bit of a thumping in Rozelle the day before yesterday I hear. Walked away, but you don’t look the best. Want to tell me about it?’

I told him about it, briefly, leaving out almost everything about Vita and finishing with the files arriving intact. He was interested, but not sympathetic. I didn’t make anything much of finding the files where the police had already been, but he scribbled a note about it. I entertained the suspicion that he was more of a politician than a policeman, looking for the main chance.

‘And what do you make of all that?’

I shrugged and wished I hadn’t. The shoulder hurt like hell, but true to my resolve I tried not to show it.

‘I haven’t a clue. As I say, the two cases didn’t go anywhere, and all I found out was that Scott was troubled. I’m still interested in his notebook.’

‘Maybe you’ll find it where all others have failed.’

I ignored the sarcasm. ‘Maybe. Look, I’m impressed by your intelligence network, Sergeant. I didn’t think that Rozelle stoush had attracted any attention. But you didn’t get me down here just on account of that.’

‘That’s right.’ He picked up a sheet of paper and glanced at it. ‘A complaint has come in about you, Hardy. From a Mr Kenneth Galvani. He claims that you’re exploiting his sister-in-law. According to him, ah… you’ve convinced her that you can find her husband’s murderer and you’re going to bleed her dry while you play detective.’

‘That’s crazy. She approached me. I’ve got her signature on a contract

Carboni waved his sheet of paper dismissively. ‘Grieving widow, easily influenced. He says you were rude at the house function after his brother was buried and that you were abusive to him on the phone.’

‘He’s crazy. And he’s lying.’


‘I don’t know. He’s upset. Why don’t you ask Gina about all this?’

‘Mr Galvani says she’s ill and staying at her mother-in-law’s place. There’s two little fatherless girls to take care of, distressed relatives. I’m Italian myself and I know how a family like that behaves. I don’t think it’s quite the time to put those sorts of questions to Mrs Galvani.’

I sat back in my chair, trying to make sense of this. Gina had expressly said she wanted to keep her distance from the Galvanis and would use her insurance money to do so. Was it the right time to mention the money to Carboni? Almost certainly not. I was in a bind. Carboni let the sheet drop onto his desk.

Peter Corris

CH18 — Casino

‘So where are we?’ I said. ‘I take it your investigation hasn’t progressed in any way?’

Carboni nodded. ‘That’s right.’

In his place, I might have shaken my head and said no, but Detective Sergeant Carboni was a positive kind of fellow. ‘Why do I get the feeling you’re trying to tell me something?’

‘I’m not telling you anything. It’s your licence. You know the way things are in your game these days. Is your record good enough to withstand a formal complaint from a highly respectable source?’

I decided that I didn’t like him and I got up from my chair. ‘Point taken. I don’t have to bother the Galvanis. It looks as if the casino’s the way to go. I guess it always was, but it seemed worthwhile to tie up those loose ends first.’

He leaned back in his chair to look up at me. ‘I don’t think that’s a very good idea. That’s where we’ve been concentrating, of course. It wouldn’t help for you to get in the way.’

I was slow I suppose, but now I could see where he was coming from and what his message was- hands off the marvellous Sydney casino, the money-spinner, the tourist trap and what else besides? I didn’t know whether he was obeying instructions from higher up or was working on his own behalf, and I didn’t care. I’d moved towards the door but now I took a step back.

‘I don’t like being warned off!’

His big brown eyes opened wide in well-acted mock surprise. ‘Who’d do a thing like that?’ he said.

I left the building swearing under my breath about the bastardry of policemen. For all I knew, he might have invented the Galvani complaint, or provoked it for his own reasons. I was so angry I didn’t even think of trying to enlist Frank Parker’s help. I had a down on all coppers, Italian, Australian, Hindu-bloody-stani, male and female. I stalked back to my office, too enraged to feel any pain in my arm or to give a sling to any of the Darlinghurst street hustlers who approached me. I usually give once in the morning and once in the afternoon, trying to be fair to young and old, men and women, white and black. Today, they were all out of luck.

I’d contrived to get a council sticker that enabled me to park the Falcon close to the office. Not so, of course, with the Pulsar, and an infringement notice was fluttering from underneath the wiper. I moved the car and took the notice up to the office. Another expense item for the Galvani file. It took a few very painful arm-stretches and a full mug of red wine to get me steady enough to ring Gina’s number. I got Ken’s voice on an answering machine inviting me to leave a message. Somehow, I kept myself from being abusive. I rang off quietly and looked at the wall. The building is in an advanced state of decay and some interesting cracks have opened up in the old plaster walls. I squinted and let the cracks in my wall form patterns. All I could see was a rough outline of Italy and the old rhyme jumped into my wine-heavy head:

Long-legged Italy

Kicked poor Sicily

Right into the middle

Of the Mediterranean Sea

Not very helpful.

I searched through my pockets until I found Vita Drewe’s card. I laid it on the desk and looked at it for a while. I drank a half-mug of red and felt it hit my empty stomach. I was full of anger and frustration and randiness as I grabbed the phone and rang Vita’s work number.

‘This is Vita Drewe.’

‘Vi, Cliff Hardy.’

‘Hey, hello. I had a feeling you’d call.’

‘What kind of a feeling?’

‘You wouldn’t understand. How’s your shoulder?’

‘Not too bad. Remember how you said you like to put on the glad rags once in a while and throw your money away on roulette?’

‘Not my money, but sure, I remember. I look great in sequins and heels. Very Sigourney Weaver, or so I’ve been told.’

‘I’ll bet you do. How about tonight? You can play with some of my client’s money.’

‘So this is business?’

‘And pleasure. So long as you don’t ever, ever call me Cliffo.’

‘You’re on,’ she said.


If you’re going to break the rules, smash ‘em is what I say. I hadn’t worn a monkey suit for over twenty years but I went out and hired one at a William Street outfitters-double-breasted, with the shirt, tie, studs, cummerbund, black shoes and silk socks. The works. Thirty-eight long-not too bad for a man of my age carrying just a little flab. Then I went along to a barber shop and had a hair trim and a professional shave. After my restless night, the period in the chair was blissful. I nodded off and embarrassed myself by snoring loudly. Waking up with a start, I apologised to the barber who said he preferred to work on a sleeping man. I gave him a good tip for his tact. I passed a florist and did something else I hadn’t done in a very long time-bought a corsage. The florist presented the thing in a little cold pack which she told me would keep it fresh for eight hours.

I mailed Ms Cornwall’s file, drew some money from the bank and, thinking of the flab, walked briskly to Kippax Street in Surry Hills where Harry Tickener presided over the Challenger, an independent monthly that printed what the big news organisations were afraid to touch. The paper was constantly on the brink of closure as a result of libel writs, legal costs, low advertising support and all the vagaries of the recession. It survived on Harry’s energy, the dedication of his staff, and the support of unnamed benefactors. Harry had a knack for getting well-known and good writers to step outside their usual territories and write something off the wall. As a result he had months where his circulation sky-rocketed, helping to compensate for the flat ones. What with the lawyers’ writs, the politicians’ threats and the writers’ egos, he led an exciting life.

The office is on the third floor, the door is always open and the phones are always ringing. I took the stairs, wandered in and the first thing I saw, as I expected, were Harry’s feet. He had them parked on the desk in front of him while he leaned back, reading proof copy. I sat down and put my feet up so that the soles of my size eleven slip-ons almost met those of Harry’s Nikes. He’s a smallish man with feet to match. He lowered the proof sheet.

‘The shamus,’ he said in very bad Bogart. ‘Here’s trouble on wheels.’

‘Gidday, Harry. Still in business I see. Every time I come here I expect to see empty rooms and blokes with industrial vacuum cleaners sucking up the paper clips.’

Harry groaned. ‘Sometimes I almost wish it’d happen. But I just can’t disappoint my reader. What can I do for you, Cliff?’

A young woman wearing blue and white horizontally-striped tights under a long loose shirt drifted up and dropped some more copy on Harry’s desk. She had an impossible amount of blonde hair held in place by red combs.

‘How is it, Abi?’ Harry said.

Abi smiled, showing the sort of white teeth that didn’t exist in Australia until the 1960s. ‘It stinks. It’s going to need your special skills.’

‘What’s wrong with giving it your special skills?’

‘I have. Now it just stinks, before me it absolutely reeked.’

Harry sighed. ‘Leave it with me.’

Abi grinned, nodded at me in the casual way young people do nowadays, and strolled away. Her long, thin legs in the hooped tights were strangely eye-catching.

‘First class honours in Communications from the University of Technology,’ Harry said. ‘Can do everything, including make me feel like an idiot. Want to hear a joke she told me?’


“What do you get when you cross a Mafia don with a semiotician?’

‘What’s a semiotician?’

‘You’re no fun. The answer is-an offer you can’t understand. Try it on Glen, she’s smarter than you. It’s always good to see you, Cliff, and I’d love to go out for a drink if that’s what’s on your mind, but we’re snowed under. Deadline approaching and printer’s bill overdue. If you can’t edit, proofread, do computer graphics or give me cheque for ten grand I can’t use you right now. What’s wrong with your arm?’

‘Tennis elbow. Didn’t you tell me you’d recently put the whole of your rag on computer disk?’

‘That’s right. CD-ROM, to be precise about it. Preserved for all eternity, maybe.’

‘So if I want to research a certain subject I can call up everything you’ve got on it?’

‘Right again, as long as we have exclusive rights to any story that might come out of your investigations.’

‘Goes without saying. Lead me to it. Can I get print-outs?’

Harry scratched at his scalp as if counting the few hairs remaining. ‘Yes, for a moderate charge. What’s the subject? I may exercise my much-challenged editorial and tenuous proprietorial veto.’

‘The Sydney Casino.’

‘Ah, yes. Is this to do with Scott Galvani, your protege?’

I nodded. ‘Right. His widow has hired me to find out who killed him. And that is not for publication.’

‘Abi!’ Harry called.

The casino story had attracted media interest some time back and there had been various false starts as a number of players were ruled out on account of their dubious histories and connections. There had been a lot of disputation over how the establishment was to be financed, supervised and taxed. Both sides of politics had tried to claim the high moral ground and the Independents had wavered. The Challenger had dug up some dirt on a few of the rejected bidders, but the pickings were disappointingly slim on Sydney Casinos Ltd. A US and a Singaporean syndicate had entered into partnership with an Australian conglomerate to secure the licence. According to the paper’s investigator, the tangle of Australian companies was somewhat impenetrable, but all the relevant authorities had been satisfied. A board had been formed consisting of twenty people, fourteen men and six women I’d never heard of with the exception of one, Oscar Cartwright. It was nice to know that O.C. had himself a slice of the action.

I made notes on the companies the Challenger had been able to identify but they were bland- Carter Holdings, Cameron Securities, Kemp amp; Associates Pty Ltd, etc. Among the board members, there were several Asian names and a few that sounded American, like Robert E. Anderson Jnr. The Challenger had probed but had come up dry- the lease of the Darling Harbour site was legitimate, not something shonky rigged up between the government and the company. Sydney Casino Ltd’s claim that all the materials in the temporary casino were Australian-derived checked out.

I switched off and pushed my chair away from the screen.

Harry strolled across the room, his Nikes squeaking on the floor. ‘You look disappointed, mate. Didn’t even make one print. Or are you just economising?’

‘Squeaky clean, it appears.’

‘No way. I remember a couple of those pieces- there’s something funny going on in that business structure but we just haven’t got the time or resources to ferret it out. I could put you in touch with the bloke who did the articles.’

‘Wouldn’t hurt,’ I said.

Harry scribbled on the back of a discarded galley sheet. ‘Ivan Novacek, young but bright. I know he had some more stuff on the casino mob but it didn’t look like panning out as gold and we couldn’t keep him on it any longer.’ He pointed at my notebook. ‘You need to run all those names past someone who has access to corporate and business records. You look for some pattern, some concentration of interests and then you sniff hard at that. Sounds dull, huh? Much more painstaking stuff than your slap-dash methods.’

I took the paper and put it in my left pocket, reaching across my body to get there.

‘What’s wrong with your arm?’

‘I hurt it lifting weights.’

‘You’ve never lifted a weight in your life. Hey, Cliff, something’s going on, right? You’ve got that look.’

‘What look?’

‘There’s a look you get when something’s really pissing you off. Plus you’ve taken a few knocks recently. You look rougher than usual, except for the haircut. I thought you wanted a quieter life?’

‘Wanting isn’t getting. Thanks, Harry. I appreciate the help. I’ll talk to your bloke and if there’s anything in it for you I’ll see him right.’

‘See if you can get some sex into it. Personally, I’m tired of sex and I suppose it’s showing. I’ve been accused of not having enough about it in the rag. Mind you, I’ve also been criticised for never having printed anything about Elvis what’s-his-name.’

‘Sex. I’ll try to remember. Do you like a police corruption angle?’

‘Love it. You might get yourself in dutch with Glen, though. How is she, by the way?’

‘Fine,’ I said.

‘Sorry, I need the chair.’ Abi had arrived with a stack of floppy disks in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. I got up from the chair and winced as I pushed off with the left arm.

‘Shit, you’re really hurting.’

‘Only when I move. Thanks again, Harry. ‘Bye Abi.’

She fluttered her fingers the way Vita Drewe had done. Another Cabaret fan. I tried it myself as I left the office and Harry laughed. I think it was the only laugh I’d heard so far that day. Good old Harry. I thought about his remark that he was sick of sex as I rode the lift down to the ground floor. Harry used to be quite keen on sex, but only on a part-time basis. When he was a hotshot reporter on the News, he seemed to go without everything for long stretches-sex, food, drink, sleep-except Camel cigarettes. But sometimes he binged. I remembered the six-foot redhead he’d turned up with at the Moody-Rosso fight and wondered what had happened to her. For that matter, I wondered what had happened to Moody and Rosso. Gloomy thoughts, impropriate to a night on the town.

I walked back to the office, arriving sweaty and tired and telling myself I’d have time for a short sleep before picking up Vita. I loaded the precious cargo-my soup-and-fish and the orchids-and set off for Glebe. I even stopped along the way to buy a tin of tuna, a steak and a couple of bottles of Yellowglen champagne to put the cat, Dylan, me and Vita in the right mood.


She did look great in sequins. Mind you, there weren’t many of them-just a scattering around the neck and on the shoulder of her short, tight black silk dress. She wore shoes that lifted her height to within an inch of mine and the hair was all brushed out into a crinkly mop that framed her face. Her make-up was not what you’d called restrained-heavy lipstick and eye shadow. She showed me the long, white silk scarf she planned to drape around her shoulders and the black patent leather purse she planned to carry.

I was trying not to look too impressed by her appearance. ‘With the Beretta inside.’

‘Of course. I won’t kiss you just now. You don’t want to get this goo on your nice, smooth face. Later.’

She gave the steak to the dog and I opened one of the bottles of champagne. ‘I haven’t got any of those jazzy glasses,’ she said. ‘What should we drink it out of?’

‘Anything.’ She was oddly put together, with wide shoulders, small breasts, a flat stomach and slightly jutting backside. She was ever so slightly knock-kneed. I wanted to run my hands over the whole lot, to explore her. I reached out and stroked her hip as she moved away with the open bottle in her hand.

‘Mmm. I’d fuck you now,’ she said. ‘Except that climbing into this outfit, what d’you call it, these togs? It took me like an hour.’

‘Same here.’

‘And you look real nice. Hang there, I’ll just get something to

… ‘

‘Shit! I forgot!’ I rushed out the back door and through the yard where Dylan didn’t look up from his steak. I’d left the cool pack on the wall as I’d juggled the bottles to get through the gate. I reclaimed it and came back inside, feeling young and foolish. I presented her with the flowers.

‘Drums and trumpets,’ I said.

‘Baby, you’re going to have to wash your face.’

She kissed me and although my first sexually charged kiss was something like thirty years in the past, I could remember it and this felt something like the same. I was pleased and scared at the same time as I returned the pressure. I didn’t feel foolish any more, just young. She broke away.

‘Thank you, they’re lovely. You’re a very nice man.’

I was dry-throated and aching for her, tasting her lipstick and smelling her perfume.

‘You’re embarrassed,’ she said. ‘Cliff, we can both walk away from all this, right. Not tonight, not tonight, but… like, you know.’

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Go and get the vegemite glasses, maybe you’d call them jelly glasses, while I scrub this goo off my face.’

She pointed to the box of tissues on top of the TV set. ‘Tough guy.’

‘You bet.’

I took a couple of tissues and rubbed at my mouth. I also opened the purse. Sure enough, the Beretta was there. Why not? I thought. Smash the rules.

Vita drove. Valet parking. We went up the stairs under the chandeliers and through the illuminated archway that led to the reception area. The archway proved to be a metal detector and it shrilled as Vita passed under it. The uniformed man who approached her got a sweet smile and the Beretta. He looked unfazed, as if an Uzi might have caused him to raise an eyebrow. He issued Vita with a receipt and waved us on. That would certainly focus some attention on us, but I wasn’t worried about that. Anyway, Vita in that dress with those trimmings, was going to attract plenty of attention anyway.

We skipped the bar in favour of the buffet, both needing something to blot up the champagne. A chattering crowd of smartly dressed people, some startlingly young. Smoked salmon, avocado, lobster pieces, crusty bread, Perrier. We ate standing up, watching multi-coloured fish swim around in a large tank.

‘Why’re we here?’ she said.

I held up a biscuit with a piece of lobster and a slice of avocado balanced on it. ‘For the grub, Vi, and to win a pile of dough.’

She used the end of her scarf to flick a crumb from her dress. ‘Well, that sure would be nice, but it is also horseshit.’

‘Keep your eyes open for the man you saw in the car the night Scott came to the office. I’ll be looking for the two who broke into my car.’

‘What if we see them?’

‘We’ll discuss it. Come on, let’s try our luck.’

We went into one of the gaming rooms. Three roulette wheels, three blackjack dealers and a craps table. Gambling bores me, but people don’t. The crowd had built up quickly and the air was developing that ripe smell of tobacco smoke, perfume and liquor. The casino was enforcing a dress code of jacket, collar and tie for men and nothing less formal than tailored slacks suits for women. Most of the females were in glad rags of one kind or another, long and short-skirted, and at least half the men wore evening clothes. Uniforms destroy identity, masking class, income, occupation and means. I suppose that’s the point. Nevertheless, some individuals stood out-a tall, silver-haired tycoon type handed chips to an anorexic blonde who was feeding them to a blackjack dealer as if she was playing a slot machine; an immaculately dressed Chinese couple were having a run of luck on a roulette wheel and gathering an audience; a thin, nervous-looking man in an ill-fitting dinner suit (probably hired, like mine) was throwing craps as if his life depended on the outcome. And his life was slipping away with every throw.

I bought some chips and we played in a desultory fashion for a few minutes. Vi asked me to get her a drink, a serious drink. I went to the bar and got two double Jack Daniels with ice.

‘OK,’ she said. ‘It’s easy to see this bores you rigid. Why don’t you leave me here to have some fun while you look around a bit? I want to play some blackjack and I have to concentrate. Can’t do that with you looking as if you’d rather be someplace else.’

‘Sorry. Got enough chips?’

‘I’ll be fine. Scoot!’

We touched hands and I left the room, glad to be out of it, troubled by the look on the face of the thin man and the glitter in the eyes of the high-rolling Chinese. There was something more than money involved and I knew I’d never really understand what it was.

I recalled the layout of the place fairly well from the guided tour Oscar Cartwright had given me and I went roaming, looking at faces, eavesdropping on conversations, trying to get a feel for the place that had somehow brought about the death of my friend. The casino, which had looked somewhat contrived, even antiseptic on my first visit, had acquired atmosphere, almost a personality. Despite the tasteful, expensive fittings, it was vulgar and garish if you cared to think of it that way. Despite the abundance of services and assistants, you were essentially on your own in a money vacuum cleaner. What else was there to do there but win or lose, get drunk or stay sober? The place had no other function. The thought of being there alone was almost terrifying.

I staved off these phantasms with a few sips of Jack Daniels and the thought of taking Vi home later. I concentrated on singling out the employees-waiters, croupiers, barmen, cashiers-looking for Baldy and his knee-kicking mate. No luck. The smoke-free rooms were surprisingly well-patronised. I’d thought that the action might be tamer in these non-suicide sections but not so. If anything, the non-smokers seemed to be drinking more and I saw two men and four women who were beginning to draw looks from the other gamblers for their rowdiness and willingness to argue about the run of the cards. I caught an exchange of glances between a barman and a man who looked like a slightly jaded gambler. When he moved it was clear that he was a peacekeeper and a good one. He took one of the drunk women by the arm and spoke briefly to her male companion. The rowdy group was split smoothly into two and another handler came in to calm the waters. Nice work.

Out of professional interest, I watched the operation of the cash cages. Everything seemed to going like clockwork with the pneumatic capsules humming away and the keyboards clicking and the screens glowing brightly. Knowing where to look, I saw that every area where money was handled was well covered by closed-circuit TV cameras. I was sure that the fire extinguishers would work and that the airconditioning system didn’t house a single Legionella bug.

I finished my drink, put the glass down on a table and decided to check a couple of the glossy toilets with the sour thought that my attackers might be handing out towels or scrubbing down the tiles. The toilet I entered was sparkling clean and fresh-smelling as I expected. I used the urinal and washed my hands. When I lifted my head to look in the mirror I became aware of two men standing behind me. Both had come up, not silently, but making natural noises-a lot harder to do.

Both wore dinner suits and looked ordinary. One was slight, had receding hair and a moustache, the other was stocky without being fat. He said, ‘I must ask you to come with us, sir.’

‘And who would you be?’

‘My name’s Carstairs and this is Mr Ralston. We’re employees of the casino.’

‘Perhaps Mr Ralston would be good enough to hand me a towel.’

Ralston would have to step back and sideways to reach the pile of snowy towels. He smiled and shook his head. The two of them moved in concert so that I could get to the towels while they still had me enclosed and cut off from the doorway. Experts. I got a towel and dried my hands. Carstairs took it from me the instant I’d finished. No flicking it in their faces, no diversions.

‘What’s the problem?’

‘I’m sure we can sort it out very quickly. Just come with us and don’t do anything foolish.’

I shrugged, reminding myself of the sore arm. We left the toilet with Carstairs and Ralston flanking me and talking amiably to each other over and around me. All very natural-looking. Nothing to frighten the horses. We passed quickly through the gaming room and into an elevator leading, as I knew from my tour, to the executive level. Better than the basement. Once we were in the lift, Carstairs searched me quickly and efficiently for weapons. He didn’t say ‘Clean’ or anything like that. He wasn’t interested in impressing Ralston or me. He was impressed enough with himself already. Dangerous.

I studied their faces as we tramped along a brightly lit corridor. There was something familiar about Ralston. Give him back some of his hair and lose the moustache and I thought I’d know him. But that meant it must be years ago that I’d met him. ‘Ralston’ didn’t quite fit, but I couldn’t replace it with anything else.

We passed a long window that gave a good view out over the water towards the city. All of a sudden, my hired shoes pinched me and I almost stumbled. Carstairs gripped my arm and pain shot through me. Quite involuntarily, I swore and pulled away. Ralston was quicker than Alfie Langer; he slid behind me and had my arms locked and twisted up before I could draw breath to swear again. The pain was excruciating and I buckled, hissing and uselessly attempting to land a kick at the same time. By sheer luck I caught Carstairs on the ankle. He cursed and bunched his fist.

A door opened ahead of us and a man stepped out.

‘What the hell’s going on here? I said to bring him up quietly.’

It was Oscar Cartwright, resplendent in a white tuxedo jacket, red bow tie and midnight blue dress trousers.

‘Hello, O.C.,’ I said. As I spoke Ralston loosened his grip slightly.

He approached closer, squinting through his contacts against the bright light. ‘Jesus Christ. It is you. Cliff Hardy. I thought I recognised you on the monitor but in the suit and with the haircut, hey

‘Tell Mr Ralston to let me go,’ I said. ‘I’ve got a buggered-up shoulder and he’s making it a hell of a lot worse.’

At a gesture from Cartwright, Ralston released me. Carstairs stepped away. ‘OK, boys,’ Cartwright said. ‘That’ll be all for now.’

Ralston was the keen type. ‘What about the woman?’

‘Keep an eye on her but hands off.’

The two moved away down the passage and Cartwright ushered me into his office. ‘You’ve gotta understand, Cliff. I get a report that this woman comes in with a Beretta in her purse in company with this guy looks like he can handle himself. It’s only natural I’d take an interest.’

‘No harm done,’ I said.

‘Take a seat and have a drink. It’s the least I can do to make up for the inconvenience.’

‘Can’t you rig the blackjack shoe so my lady friend can win some money?’

‘Hah, hah. What’ll you have?’

So far that night I’d had Australian champagne and Tennessee whisky. Smash the rules. ‘I’ll have a beer. Got any Heineken?’

He got two of the green bottles from his fridge along with chilled glasses, flipped off the tops and poured. ‘Good choice. Cheers. You should’ve told me you were coming. I’d have made special arrangements.’

I drank some of the cold beer. ‘Why?’

He shrugged. ‘After what happened to Scott. You know. I was real cut up about that. We sent flowers and one of our guys went to the funeral. But he was your friend. Damn nice guy, too.’

It was all a bit scrambled but the emotion behind it seemed genuine enough. In Oscar’s world things ran on exchanges of favours, and it probably seemed natural to him to say he was sorry about my friend’s death by giving me a free night out.

I said, ‘How was he doing at the job?’

‘Just great.’

‘Who killed him?’

The older-than-the-face eyes opened wide. ‘Hey, hey, there. Is that why you’re here?’

‘Why else? The police don’t seem very interested. The guy in charge of the investigation practically warned me off. As you say, he was my friend and I got him this job. I want to know what happened and I plan to do something about it.’

The friendliness had gone. We were back to business. ‘And you figure it was to do with his job here?’

‘I’ve eliminated all the other possibilities.’

‘Have you got any leads, any evidence?’

‘Just bits and pieces. Nothing solid. I’m still looking and talking to people. Now we’re here, have you got any thoughts on the subject? Anything that might help me?’

He shook his head slowly. ‘No. How long was he here? A couple of months. He was learning the ropes, doing good, like I say. But like you said when you knocked the job back, it’s routine work. I can’t think of anything about it that would get him killed.’

I believed him and his concern seemed genuine, but it was for his operation, not for Scott and not for me. I drank some more beer.

‘Hey, let’s see how she’s doing,’ Oscar said. He touched a button on his desk and a panel in the wall behind me slid away to reveal a bank of TV screens. You say she’s playing blackjack? Which room?’

I swung around to look. ‘I don’t remember.’

He opened a drawer, took out a remote controller and began changing the images on the screens. A picture of Vi, Kent in hand and with an empty glass at her elbow came into focus. Her pile of chips had grown significantly. ‘That’s her,’ I said.

‘Interesting-looking dame. She looks a bit like…’

‘Sigourney Weaver.’

‘Yeah, right. And she’s doing OK. What was her stake?’

‘Not much.’

‘She’s doing swell, Cliff. Must be a good player. You’ve gotta be bright to play good blackjack. What’s she do when she’s not gambling?’

I didn’t feel like answering that, still not sure how far to trust Cartwright. For all I knew, Baldy and his pal were parking cars or sitting in some security room watching the same pictures.

Oscar switched off the screens and closed the panel. ‘I’ll be honest with you, Cliff,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t real sorry when there was no follow-up in the press on Scott’s death. No arrest, no more publicity. I’ve got something to protect here.’

‘I know. You’re on the board, you’ve got a stake as you might say.’

‘So you’ve been digging? That’s fine but it worries me a little to have you so suspicious. Don’t get me wrong-if there’s anything wrong going on around here, I want to know about it and get it stopped. Clean is the go. We’ve got to look, sound and smell clean to get the permanent licence.’

‘So what’re you saying?’

‘I want to help. How’s this? We’ve got a guy coming from the States to take over Scott’s job. But he can’t be here for a month. How’s for you to fill in for that time? You’d have the run of the place. If there’s something to find you’d have every chance to bloody-well find it.’


‘I’ve won close to five hundred bucks!’

‘Great, time to pack it in.’

‘Hey, I’m on a roll.’

Vi’s eyes were bright with victory and it would have been churlish to stop her. I kissed her cheek, caught a waiter and ordered her a bourbon with water and another beer for myself. When the drinks arrived I drifted off to lean back against the bar and survey the room. It had filled still further in the time I’d been away and the clientele had changed. The drunks and the tycoon had gone, but the Chinese pair were still playing with devoted intensity. Thin and nervous had changed from craps to roulette but it didn’t look as if his luck had improved. Every table had its share of hard-core gamblers, flirters and tourists, the mix that makes the business so profitable.

My arm had stiffened and I exercised it, flexing it and clenching and unclenching my fist. This attracted the attention of a character who was apparently tossing up whether to cash in his chips or take another flutter. In fact he was watching Vita and me. I memorised his face-square jaw, slicked back fair hair, prominent ears. After all, he was going to be one of my underlings and it would be up to me to teach him to be less obvious about watching people.

It was after midnight and I was tired. I sipped some of the beer I didn’t want and yawned. Vi came towards me, jiggling chips and swaying slightly on her high heels.

‘Kept your stake and won a hundred,’ she said.

‘Have fun?’

‘Sure did. You look ready for bed.’ She tucked her purse under her arm and lifted her free hand to touch my cheek. Then she kissed the spot she’d touched. ‘I’ll give you a Montana massage you’ll never forget.’

I cashed in the chips and Vi recovered her pistol from the security desk. The driver brought up the Pulsar and I tipped him and slid into the passenger seat. ‘Watch your scarf,’ I said to Vi. ‘Remember what happened to Isadora Duncan.’

She laughed, flicked the scarf end at me and settled into her seat. We were in a line of cars, three back from the front. Suddenly, Vi stiffened and gripped the steering wheel. “That’s him!’ she said.


‘The guy I saw with Scott. That’s him!’ She was pointing ahead at the silver-grey Mercedes at the head of the line. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a man getting in the back. The Merc accelerated away sharply and we were left with no room to get around the Mazda in front of us. Vi slammed the lever into drive but the Mazda was taking on its passengers in leisurely fashion. She honked and the driver gave her the finger.

‘Fuck you,’ she said. ‘Get moving!’

I was squinting against the artificial light, trying to get a look at the Merc’s licence plate as it cruised away. No chance. Vi fumed.

‘Take it easy,’ I said. ‘We’re a good chance to pick it up when we get out of the tunnel.’

‘If this fucker ever moves!’

The Mazda pulled out slowly and Vi went around it in a screech of rubber on tarmac. She shot up the ramp to street level and went the only way she could, into the series of roads that lead from Darling Harbour to all points of the compass. The traffic was light at that hour and I saw the Mercedes take an exit a hundred metres ahead. Vi saw it too and accelerated. She wasn’t familiar enough with the car to do it smoothly and the Pulsar rocked and swayed as it gathered speed.

The worst thing you can do to a driver is sound as if you can do what they’re doing better, but I had to tell her. ‘Ease back, Vi, we don’t want him to see us come rocketing up behind him. We want to know where he’s going.’

She was a greenhorn, slamming her foot on the brake so that the car slewed and skidded. She fought out of the skid nicely, and stalled. By the time we got going again the Mercedes was out of sight on a road that branched three ways ahead.

‘Shit,’ Vi groaned. ‘I’m sorry. I lost him.’

‘Take the left!’

‘Why, for chrissakes?’

‘Just take it.’

She turned off down the left track and we followed the road for a kilometre or so at speed. There was no sign of the Mercedes and Vi was almost weeping. ‘Damn, damn, damn-why did I have to fuck up like that?’

‘It’s not the end of the world. You spotted him and we got something. Let’s get back on the track to your place.’

She made the turns, driving carefully, the adrenalin rush diminishing. ‘Why’d you tell me to turn left back there?’

‘Which way would you have gone?’

‘I don’t know. I’d probably have stopped.’

I reached over and stroked her hair, feeling the wiry frizz turn soft in my fingers. ‘That’s why. We had a one in three chance-you have to gamble.’

She nodded. ‘I get it. It’s not quite like in the movies, huh? Did you see that dumb flick when Debra Winger… like, she can’t drive at all, right? She gets in this car and drives through the city. Really dumb.’

‘Legal Eagle?’ I said. ‘Yeah, Glen got it out on video and…’

She shot me a look. ‘Aha. Glen, eh? What would that be-Glenda?’


‘Glenys!’ I don’t fucking believe it! No one’s called Glenys.’

‘Vi… ‘

We had just made the turn into Broadway where the traffic was thickish and mixed-late night drunks, long-haul drivers and sober suburbanites, fresh from something frothy at the Entertainment Centre. She took both hands off the wheel and patted the air in front of her. ‘It’s OK. It’s OK! I’m screwing this guy called Ralph, off and on. Funny, I call him like Rafe, you know? He likes that… ‘

‘Put your hands back on the wheel. None of this’s worth dying for.’

‘You sure?’

Her long jaw was set and her hands, when she re-gripped the steering wheel, locked onto it like a dog gripping a bone.

‘Let’s talk about it at home.’

‘Before you fuck me or after?’

She took off from the lights jerkily, her front wheels straying into the next lane. I resisted the impulse to grab at the steering wheel, but held my right hand ready and kept my voice low and calm.

‘I thought this was all no-strings-attached stuff,’ I said. ‘I must have misunderstood.’

We passed the Ross Street corner, travelling too fast, just getting through on the amber. My hand was itching for the wheel.

‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’

‘I’d like to talk about it.’

The driver’s side window was fully down; she tore off the corsage and flung it into the back seat. Some of the sequins came away from her dress and flickered through the air, falling inside and outside the car. We shot through the next set of lights on the green and she swerved into the right lane to avoid a slow-moving semi-trailer by inches. Its acrid exhaust filled the car and I coughed.

‘Cough, you weak bastard. Cough your fucking guts up.’

We were heading towards Norton Street, going much too fast, but not impeded by anything. I had to decide whether to let her make the turn or not. She swivelled her head, pressed down on the accelerator and spat at me, ‘Scared, tough guy?’

She increased speed and swung the wheel carelessly. I knocked her hands down, gripped the wheel and kicked her foot away from the gas pedal. The Pulsar slowed but fishtailed, narrowly missed the traffic light and almost collected a car making a late left turn. The front left wheel mounted the footpath, grazed a lamppost and I hauled it back, touching the brake, ready to steer into the skid. It took only split seconds but seemed to last an age. An awning post flashed past me and then the car was back on the road, slowing, steadying, straightening. My arm felt as if it had been loosened in the socket and I was grinding my teeth with the tension and effort.

I drew into the kerb and stopped with the rear end still sticking out into the street. Sweat was running off me and my vision was starred and blurred as I looked out through the windscreen at the moving lights and shapes. Vita Drewe was almost crouched in her seat, pressed back towards the door, arms wrapped across her body, legs drawn up. She was staring fixedly at my hand which was locked on the steering wheel. Suddenly, she lashed out at my face, whipping her left arm around, flailing wildly. I blocked the blow, she whimpered and her head sunk onto her chest.

I got out of the car, opened her door and eased her across into the passenger seat. She didn’t resist-just as well because I couldn’t have lifted her. I started the motor, employed my right-hand-across technique and drove slowly to Lilyfield. She sat bolt upright in the seat and didn’t say a word. I stopped in the lane outside the gate. Dylan padded down the yard and stuck his nose through the bars. I opened my door.

‘What d’you think you’re doing?’ she snapped.

‘I just want to make sure you’re all right.’

She threw open the door, banging it on one of the heavy garbage bins in the lane. ‘What you can do is fuck off.’

‘Vi, I… ‘

She fished in her purse and for a moment I thought she was going to pull out the gun, but she came up with a key. ‘Get going, or I’ll tell Dylan to take a chunk out of your miserable hide.’

She unlocked the gate, went through and slammed it after her. I heard her heels clicking on the path and waited until I saw a light come on in the flat. Dylan came back to the gate and looked through it at me, growling. I drove slowly down the lane, partly dazed by the violence of her reactions, partly puzzled about what had set her off. The car steered oddly and I got out to look. The front bumper bar had twisted when it had hit the lamppost and part of it was brushing against the tyre. I straightened it with my right hand. But the panel above it was buckled and the radiator grill had also taken a knock.

I got going again and hadn’t covered more than half a kilometre when a police car drew up alongside me and waved me to the kerb. The policeman approached cautiously.

‘Are you all right, sir? You seem to be driving very slowly.’

‘I’ve had an argument with someone,’ I said. ‘She smashed the car a bit in the front. Just being cautious.’

He went forward and examined the damage. ‘Could I see your licence, please?’

I showed it to him and he looked in closely at me. He would have seen a lot of strain, some facial bruising, lipstick, sweat and a bow tie very askew.

‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to take a breathalyser test. If you’ve no objection?’

I did a rapid calculation: two glasses of champagne some hours back, a double bourbon and two beers on top of a pretty light meal. It’d be touch and go. I climbed out of the car. ‘No objection.’

He went back to his car and he and his partner prepared the machine and registered the time, date and place of the test on a form. I blew into the tube and watched their expressions.

‘Had a bit to drink tonight, sir?’ one of them said.

‘A little. Not a great deal. I wasn’t expecting to be driving.’

‘Probably shouldn’t be. You look pretty crook.’

‘It’s been an upsetting night.’

‘You just sneak in. How far do you have to go?’

I told him and he said I could go, advising me to be careful and instructing me to get the damage to the car attended to immediately. I drove away with exaggerated care. I could see their headlights in my rear vision mirror and it seemed like an age before I could make a turn to get away from them. I went through Annandale, picked up Wigram Road and went up the hill into Glebe. I was driving on automatic pilot, still numbed by the recent events, resisting the impulse to analyse them until I was out of the car. I turned into my street and narrowly missed a taxi that was just pulling out.

Its lights dazzled me briefly and when I recovered I saw Glen Withers standing with her bags at her feet outside the house, shielding her eyes against the headlights as the battered front end of her precious car came towards her.


Glen’s welcoming, but slightly surprised, smile faded as she saw the state of her car. I sat behind the wheel, dazed and confused by guilt and apprehension. She approached the open window and looked in at me.

‘Cliff, are you all right?’

I nodded.

I saw her take in the dinner suit, the lipstick on my face. She could probably smell the liquor on my breath and Vita Drewe’s perfume and the casino smoke in my hair and on my clothes. I opened the door slightly but just sat, saying nothing and her eyes drifted over the inside of the car. Opening the door was a mistake; the interior light let her see the crumpled corsage lying on the back seat.

She went back to the kerb, lifted her bags and dumped them on the bonnet. ‘Please get out and leave the keys.’

I climbed out and she looked me up and down. ‘I’ve never seen you looking so handsome, Cliff. Or so bloody ridiculous.’

She brushed past me, got in, started the engine and drove off. I hadn’t said a word. The brain behaves in a crazy way at these moments. All I could think of was what’s a Montana massage?

Somehow, I dragged myself inside, yanking off the tie and jacket as I went. I ripped open the shirt and stepped out of the pants. I took off the shoes and socks and dumped the whole outfit at the foot of the stairs. Then I went through to the bathroom and had a shower, scrubbing hard, washing all over, letting the hot water loosen my stiff shoulder and using the left arm almost as normal. It hurt like hell, but I told myself I deserved to hurt and didn’t spare it.

I wrapped a towel around my waist and went into the kitchen. The cat had had a big tin of tuna before I’d left on my big night out and it wouldn’t reappear for at least twenty-four hours. Fitting, somehow. I wanted oblivion and all I could find to help me get it was a half-bottle of gin, left over from a night when Glen and I had set up the TV and VCR at the foot of the bed, hired a pornographic video and drunk gin and tonic while we watched. The results had been highly satisfactory-multiple orgasms and a lot of fun and we’d resolved to do it again but hadn’t yet found the time and mood. I was out of tonic. I put a big measure of gin in a tall glass and added a few furry ice cubes and a couple of chunks of over-hard lemon. I took a big drink and tried to let the alcohol loosen the tightness I felt in every nerve and sinew.

The gin loosened my tongue. ‘You fuckwit,’ I said aloud. ‘Why didn’t you say something?’ After another drink, I felt emboldened enough to pull the phone towards me and dial Glen’s number in Petersham. When she answered I’d think of something to say. I was the charm king-the man who’d beaten the breathalyser and steered the crippled ship back to safe harbour. The phone rang and rang with the tone that convinces you that the party is home but isn’t going to answer. More gin, definitely.

I slept until mid-morning, too drunk to be disturbed by the shoulder, and woke up feeling that to even make a start on this day was a mistake. My bladder insisted though, and I came down the stairs to find Glen sitting with a cup of coffee in the living room. She’d folded up the monkey suit and put the whole rig neatly on a chair.

‘Good morning,’ she said.

‘I doubt it. Excuse me, Glen. Nature calls.’

‘There’s coffee in the pot.’

I’d pulled on an old, torn T-shirt and crumpled, stained tracksuit pants and when I looked in the mirror I saw a face that matched the clothes. My eyes were bloodshot and there were asymmetrical bruises and swellings on both sides of my nose. I still wore a smear of lipstick, now with aggressive black beard bristle poking through it. I washed and tidied myself as best I could, but when I went back in with a cup of black coffee I still looked and smelt like a bum. Glen was in a crisply ironed white blouse and blue skirt. She was neat and well-ordered from head to toe, giving her a decided advantage.

I sat down and drank some coffee. ‘I’m sorry about all this. I’ve been very stupid. I’ll get the car fixed.’

‘I don’t care about the bloody car!’


‘You’ve been fucking someone.’

‘Once and once only. Not again.’

‘How’s that? I thought one-night stands weren’t your thing? Tell me about it. I want to know.’

I told her in some, edited, detail not putting myself in any worse light than I needed to, but not making too many excuses either. When I got to the mention of her name and the sudden change in mood it had triggered in Vita she looked shocked. ‘She must be unbalanced. You pride yourself on your ability to spot crazies. What went wrong?’

‘Bad judgement. That’s when your car got smashed. It was lucky it wasn’t both of us as well.’

‘Bad judgement, is that how you account for it? You wouldn’t root the first woman who offered just out of bad judgement, Cliff. Something was festering, feeling all wrong to you, eh?’

I nodded. ‘We seemed to be… separate. I don’t know. I suspected your south coast tour was more than just a job.’

‘That’s more like you. Suspecting stuff, looking below the surface. Did you snoop, open my mail?’

‘Of course not. I’m sorry, Glen. It was just a pile of little things… I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be. You were right.’


‘You’re right. I thought I might be able to string it out a bit longer while I tried to sort my feelings out, but the old Hardy nose was onto it.’

I shook my head and drank the rest of my coffee. It was stone cold but it didn’t matter. The taste was in my mouth, not in the drink. ‘So, it’s something serious. Are you going to tell me about it?’

‘Bugger you! Why don’t you jump up and hit something? Why are you being so fucking rational? How much does it matter to you?’

I held up my right hand and showed her the scabby knuckles. I lifted my left arm as far as it would go-not quite shoulder high. ‘I’m too damaged to hit things. Talk’s violent enough for me right now. If you tell me you love someone else… If you tell me that… we can take it from there. Glen?’

‘I don’t know. I just bloody well don’t fucking know!’

‘Who is it?’

‘Not it, he!’

I stared at her. Some of the carefully brushed and pinned brown-blonde hair had come astray. There was a light film of sweat on her upper lip and she’d splashed a few small drops of coffee on her pristine white blouse. The skirt had creased where she’d plucked at it and she was unconsciously rubbing the spot on her arm where the bullet had gone in and torn the tissue. It would trouble her always, she’d been told. It was certainly troubling her now. I wanted to reach out and put my arms around her, but the word-created barrier between us was like a three metre cyclone fence.

I said, ‘He, then. I guess he’s a policemen. That’s not so bad. Some of my best friends are policemen.’

‘Fuck you, Cliff Hardy. I can see any wounds I might leave healing up already.’

‘Don’t you believe it.’

Glen got up and began to walk around the room. She stopped at the chair where she put my clothes and stared down at them. ‘I was going to tell you, of course. I knew you’d sense it anyway. Shit, I’m repeating myself.’

‘It’s all right.’

‘You bet it’s all right,’ she flared. ‘I come back and I find you’ve been slipping it to some nutty flower power bitch who’s probably a lezzo anyway. Why should I feel guilty? You’ve never made a commitment, never wanted children…’

Neither had she, as I recalled. But all things must change and this sounded like the big one. I sat in my chair with my aches and pains and I realised that what she had said was true-I was looking past this, into a future where the actors and the script and the story would be different. I tried to pull back to the here and now, to feel the intensity of the moment. I couldn’t do it. Hardy, the great survivor. I sat mutely while she paced and talked with none of it really reaching me. In fact, my thinking started to slip sideways-towards my fleeting impression of the man I’d seen getting into the Mercedes outside the casino and what that might mean, towards Scott Galvani’s job and what it would be like to do it, towards my professional connection with Gina, which seemed to be growing more complicated and more distant.

Glen was gathering up her things, a bag, sunglasses, keys. ‘You’re not even listening. You don’t give a shit!’

That got me out of my chair. I was suddenly aware of a gap, a yawning empty space, not between us, but in me. I moved towards her, reaching out.

She dodged and headed for the front door. ‘I’ll call you, Cliff. I’ll call you soon.’

I stood in the middle of the room listening to the sounds of an empty house-the refrigerator hum, the banging back screen door, the creaks and rattles. Glen’s cup sat on top of a book that balanced precariously on the arm of the chair she’d been sitting in. The book was Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore. I’d lent it to Glen with a strong recommendation. I realised that she’d brought it back and left it behind. I had an almost physical need to discuss the book with her, to learn what she’d thought of it. I didn’t even know whether she’d read it, and it looked like I never would. There was something bleak and final about the empty cup and I took it through to the kitchen and rinsed it, losing it among the other cups and plates and cutlery I’d rinsed or half-washed over the past few days.

I stood at the sink and let the emptiness take me over. I’d felt it before-when Cyn walked out on me, finally, and when Kay Fletcher had relocated to New York, and when Helen Broadway had gone back to her husband and child. The moment had an unmistakable smell, taste and feel to it, and each time it came, I never knew whether it was painful or somehow welcome. Frank Harkness, the eye doctor who I’d bodyguarded a few years back, had told me that the only antidote to one woman was another. But he’d found the ultimate cure in his wife, putting him a long way ahead of me.

In my brief discussion with Oscar Cartwright the night before, I’d negotiated a working agreement for the conditions to apply to my temporary appointment. They included very flexible hours, the right to continue working on cases I already had on hand and a relaxed dress code, very relaxed. In return for these concessions I agreed to scale down from a BMW to a Commodore. I’d made a crack about the chiefs driving foreign cars and the Indians driving Australian-made. It got a sort of a grin and Oscar said he’d consider changing the policy.

‘It’s a contra-deal situation,’ he’d said.

I asked him not to use language like that and got a laugh. I was a laugh a minute that night. These thoughts kept jumping in my head as I shaved and showered and got ready to go to the first regular job I’d had in almost twenty years. My arm was stiff but I exercised it brutally and at the end of the session in the doorway and on the floor I was sweating so much I had to shower again. I ran the water on the shoulder as hot as I could stand it and then cold and the equipment felt looser when I finished. One area of improvement.

It was almost midday and I felt justified in drinking some wine with my toasted cheese sandwich. No gin. I cleaned up the kitchen, put some clothes on to wash and phoned a courier to transport the dinner suit back to the hirers. I couldn’t stand the sight of the thing. I was dressed in my lightweight grey suit when I looked out the window and saw the grey sky and the blowing leaves and a neighbour wearing a sweater. I changed into dark trousers and leather jacket and took off the tie. I knew what I was doing, fiddling about, wasting time, putting off the moment. Washing the teapot my mother used to call it. I rang for a taxi to take me to work.


Oscar must have worded the casino staff up that I was a low-key type who didn’t require the red carpet treatment. Maybe the leather jacket was a bit too low-key for them, but at least I was wearing a clean shirt. I was shown to my office and introduced to Marie, my secretary for the duration. Marie was what you would call a big woman, close to 180 centimetres and heavy with it. She was dark-haired and vivacious, a toey character who looked as if being busy was her main joy in life. I was feeling tired already and I had to pump myself up to match her energy. From what I’d seen of the personnel so far, the casino resembled a TV studio in that every woman had a claim to good looks of one kind or another. The men were a good deal plainer.

Marie watched me try out my chair and desk for size and fiddle with some of the fittings. Then she handed me a printed sheet. ‘I always had a daily schedule drawn up for Mr Galvani and he’d work through it. We were getting to be a team. I was very sorry about what happened to him, Mr Hardy. I liked him a lot.’

‘Me, too,’ I said. ‘Please sit down. What would you consider being a team to be like, Marie? And the name’s Cliff.’

She sat and visibly relaxed into the chair. She was a comfortable kind of woman who liked to be at her ease. OK with me. ‘Generally speaking, I’d give him too much to do in a day and he’d run himself ragged getting through it. Then I’d over-compensate and give him too little and he’d be twiddling his thumbs. Getting the right balance is what I’d call teamwork.’

‘Couldn’t he initiate things himself?’

‘Leaving space for that is good teamwork!’

Bossy, but not overbearing. I grinned. ‘I get it. Well, for me, I think you should start out with the lightest schedule you can imagine and we’ll work up from there.’

‘Beginning tomorrow?’

‘That’s right. I’d like to have a little time to myself just now. No calls, no interruptions. Say, half an hour, and then I’d like to see Messrs Ralston and Carstairs. D’you think you could arrange that?’

She glanced at her watch. ‘They come on at four. I could send them straight up.’

‘That’s would be fine. What’s my title here again?’

‘Security Controller.’

‘Just tell them that the new Security Controller wants to see them. No explanation, no name. OK?’

She smiled, apparently enjoying the notion, and left, no doubt to plan what she considered a light program. I waited until the door was closed before taking off my jacket and draping it over the back of the chair. The air-conditioning kept the room at a comfortable temperature for any kind of dressing. Whether it was any good for thinking I didn’t know. Marie had given me a set of keys and I unlocked the top of the big filing cabinet that stood against the wall opposite my desk. It held a few thin files scattered among the divisions in the first drawer. The other drawers were empty. No problem to shift, even for a man with a crook arm.

I dropped a telephone directory on the floor, rocked the filing cabinet and slid the directory under it. I crouched and slid my hand into the gap. My fingers closed over the spiral binding of a notebook and I pulled it out. I restored things to normal and took the book back to my desk. Scott’s writing wasn’t neat but his notes were legible. The first dozen or so pages dealt with the Cornwall and Roberts cases. As I’d expected- records of interviews and telephone conversations, dates and times, scribbled phone and fax numbers, addresses and tentative conclusions. He kept a running account of his expenses and several receipts and dockets were stapled to the pages. Good work, conscientiously carried out. Full marks.

Two blank leaves followed and then the pages were written on again, more than a dozen of them. The only trouble was that every single word was written in Italian. My Italian is virtually nonexistent-limited to ordering certain items of food and drink and odd phrases picked up from books and the movies. Knowing Scott, these notes were probably filled with Sicilian slang and shorthand expressions and his own brand of abbreviations.

I flicked through the pages and could distinguish only words like ‘casino’, ‘Sydney Casinos’, and names like ‘Cartwright’, ‘Kemp’, ‘Anderson’. There have to be other names, I thought and I looked carefully for them, examining each page as if the meaning of the words might miraculously become clear to me. It didn’t and I had to conclude that if other names were mentioned, they were entered in some kind of code.

The intercom buzzed and I shoved the notebook in a drawer and pressed the button.

‘Mr Carstairs and Mr Ralston are here, sir.’

‘Send them in.’

I was standing when the pair entered, both looking apprehensive. Honest employment in their line of work is hard to come by in a recession. Both did a double-take when they saw me.

‘Jesus,’ Carstairs said.

Ralston groaned. ‘Fuck me. This is the sack, then?’

Both wore neat suits, were well-groomed and bright-eyed. But it’s my belief that most of the evil in the world is perpetrated by men in suits. ‘I don’t think so, boys,’ I said. ‘Have a seat and let’s talk’

Stocky Carstairs unbuttoned his jacket as he sat down. Skinny, balding Ralston looked the more uptight. He sat and fingered his moustache.

‘As far as I’m concerned you two were just doing your job last night. Did it pretty well, too. If I’d known this was coming up,’ I waved at the office, ‘I’d have offered you some money to lay off me. Just to see your reaction.’

Ralston stiffened and I remembered where I’d seen him before. He’d been a Homicide detective back in the days before they split up the special squads. Fatter then and with more hair. I couldn’t remember the case or what our contact had been like. I wondered if he did.

‘We’d have knocked you back,’ Carstairs said. ‘Happens all the time. The job’s too good to risk it for something like that.’

I nodded, swivelled around and opened the bar fridge. I took out three stubbies of Toohey’s Draught and put them on the desk. I opened them and slid two towards Ralston and Carstairs.

‘Let’s have a drink to get this on a friendly footing.’

Carstairs reached for his bottle but Ralston shook his head. ‘Not allowed to drink on duty.’

I said ‘Cheers’ and drank. ‘Like when you were on the force, Mr Ralston.’

He nodded, ‘I remember you, too, Mr Hardy.’

‘We didn’t have any trouble did we?’


‘OK. You don’t have to drink if you don’t want to, but this isn’t any kind of a test. I’m the boss here for a while and if I say you can drink, you can drink.’

‘Right.’ Carstairs took a long swig.

Ralston gazed at the open bottle with burning eyes and I saw his whole history in that look. The lost weight, the precise movements, the raw nerves, the restrained emotions. Poor bastard. He was a dried-out drunk and I felt sorry for putting temptation in his way. I took a bottle of mineral water out and passed it across to him, sliding the beer towards Carstairs.

He took it gratefully and drank.

‘How did you get along with Galvani?’

The bad moment, the worst of moments, having passed for him, Ralston relaxed a little. ‘He was shaping up well. Bright bloke. Bit young for it maybe. Len had his doubts, but I thought he was ok.

‘His mind wasn’t on the job,’ Carstairs said. ‘Simple as that. He did what he had to do and did it pretty well, but he could’ve been a bloody sight better if he’d given it a hundred per cent.’

I drank some more beer and Carstairs did the same. Ralston sipped at his drink. ‘He was still working on a couple of cases from before taking over here. I’m afraid I’ll be doing the same.’

‘More to it than that, I’d say.’ Carstairs drained his stubby.

‘Either of you got any ideas on who killed him, or why?’

‘What is this, Hardy?’ Ralston burst out. ‘Are you really the boss here, or just investigating Galvani’s death?’

‘Easy, Keith,’ Carstairs murmured.

‘Good question,’ I said. “The answer is both, and I want some help from you two. Help me with this and I’ll give you a very big rap to the bloke who takes over from me.’

The two exchanged nods and Carstairs reached for the second bottle while Ralston worked on his moustache and the mineral water.

‘I spotted someone last night-a short, dark guy getting into a silver-grey Mercedes outside. This was when I was leaving. I only got a glimpse of him and I didn’t get a good sight of the licence plate-KI, might have been an F or an E, and there was a zero in the numbers.’

‘Not much to go on,’ Ralston said. ‘You couldn’t run an RTA computer check on that.’

‘I know. But does it ring any bells?’

Carstairs made a movement as if to loosen his tie, but he checked it. It was odds-on he was an ex-cop, too. He had a lot of the moves. ‘Shit, Mercs are like fleas on a dog around here, and dark, stocky guys’re about the same. Still, we can keep an eye out, right, Keith?’

Ralston nodded. He looked worried and I wondered if that was just a facet of his battle with the booze or if another talk with him might pay dividends. A 4 p.m. start was ideal for someone in his condition-it’d get him past the six o’clock horrors and with any luck leave him tired enough to sleep when he knocked off. I thanked them both for their cooperation and they got up and moved towards the door. Carstairs buttoned his jacket and swung around with his hand just touching the knob. Another old cop trick. ‘That woman with the Beretta…’

‘She won’t be around.’

He nodded and I could see that he was looking at the fresh scratch on my face, trying to read something into it. He and Ralston trooped out, looking a lot more comfortable than when they had come in. That was good. They were allies of a kind, and I needed all the support I could get. Carstairs’ appraisal prompted me to consider my quick answer and led to the thought that Vita Drewe could be one of those women who harassed and pursued those who had offended them-made late night phone calls, heaved bricks through car windows, poisoned pets. I might have deserved it, but I didn’t need it, not now.


As I’d expected, the casino job was routine followed by more routine. It was a fairly quiet night I was told, and I walked through my various duties without any difficulty. My visit to the cash collection room was brief. The sight of so much money, even though it was what they called a low count on a quiet night, was numbing. I had a very acceptable light meal in the executive dining room and before knocking off at 1.30 a.m., dog-tired, I checked with Ralston and Carstairs. No sightings of the Merc and their discreet, they claimed, enquiries hadn’t yielded anything. I’d already taken possession of a Visa card with a credit limit greater than all my personal cards lumped together. Now I was handed the keys and security remote controller for a fully-fuelled, current model, maroon Holden Commodore. A long-term Falcon man, I felt like a traitor driving it away, but after a kilometre or so I decided that the only thing I didn’t like about it was the colour.

Back in Glebe, I squeezed the Commodore into a parking space-an action certain to anger my neighbours. One car per house was the unspoken rule. Inside, I approached the answering machine with trepidation-half-wanting a message from Glen, fearing one from Vita. The only message was from the video store requesting the return of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, now long overdue. I’d watched it with Glen and I seemed to recall that her response had been strange, not nearly as accepting of Woody’s propositions as usual. I’d put it down to a reaction to all the publicity over the split with Mia Farrow and the molestation charges. Now, I wasn’t so sure, and it all seemed to have taken place in another life.

The cat reminded me that some things never change. I opened one of the tins Glen had bought and it sniffed at it and mewed, probably protesting at the drop in standards from the supposedly-fit-for-humans tuna.

‘That was an aberration,’ I told it, ‘in many more ways than one.’

It ate about half of what I’d doled out, leaving the rest for the cockroaches, before jumping out the window without so much as a grateful leg rub, I trudged up the stairs and fell into bed with Scott’s notebook pushed under the pillow. I fell asleep with the bedside light still on and dreamed that I was working in a Las Vegas casino, wearing a maroon tuxedo with a green ruffled shirt. I kept trying to slip into a toilet to remove the clothes but Carstairs and Ralston continually barred my way. Vita Drewe was a topless croupier, swinging her breasts from side to side as she leaned over the roulette wheel. Winners got to cup their hands around her breasts as she shovelled chips at them. Losers were marched away by Ralston and Carstairs. I must have rolled onto my shoulder because I woke up with pain shooting through my arm and neck. I stumbled downstairs for painkillers, thankful that the dream had ended.

I woke up at about nine and made my first mistake of the day by reaching out for Glen. Not good to come up empty on your first move. I calculated I had about seven hours of being a private eye before I had to be a security controller again. I examined my face in the mirror as I shaved. The bruises and puffiness had almost gone and the scratch was little more than a dark line. Glen was right-I was a quick healer.

Primo Tomasetti used to run a tattoo parlour in Darlinghurst near my office building. I used to rent a parking space from him before the council introduced a sticker system for residents and commercial users. AIDS had done a lot of damage to the tattoo business, what with the heightened awareness of the dangers of contaminated needles and blood, and Primo had switched horses. Unbeknown to me, he had owned the freehold on the building he’d worked out of and he sold it for big money to a developer who’d gone broke trying to turn a buck on the property. Primo, a movie buff but a practical man, had set up a small production company making promotional and instructional videos and films for corporate clients. His office was in Bondi Junction, in the shadow of the freeway. I drove out there in the Commodore with Scott’s notebook in my pocket and a hundred questions in my head. Primo’s new office was on the tenth floor in a tower block and his secretary recognised me from earlier visits and told me that he hadn’t come in yet.

I looked at my watch. ‘It’s after ten.’

She shrugged. ‘He’s the boss. He’s taken up golf…’

I groaned. I could just see Primo on a golf course, trying to get his one hundred kilos behind the ball. ‘How long?’ I said.

Another shrug. ‘Depends. Nine holes-any minute. Eighteen-midday if we’re lucky.’

Primo breezed in fifteen minutes later. He was wearing checked plus-fours, a pink Lacoste shirt, a Dunlop visor and his white buckskin golf spikes clattered on the floor. When he saw me he almost dropped the oversized bag of Ping clubs.

‘Cliff! Cliff! Hey, Cliff, you know what? I got a birdie, an honest to God birdie. You should’ve seen the drive. like an arrow. Ten centimetres from the hole and pop, in she goes, one putt, one bloody putt for my first ever birdie.’

‘I’m happy for you, Primo,’ I said. ‘Are you going to give all your slaves here the day off?’

He lowered the clubs to the floor and lovingly fingered the seven iron. ‘Slaves, what slaves? All they do around this place is eat lunch and give me the bill. Excepting Suzie. Suzie knows what a day’s work is. If I had five Suzies… ‘

‘You’d be able to play five days a week instead of two. You’ve got calls coming in, Primo. Better see what Mr Hardy wants and then get on with it.’

Primo winked at me. ‘See what I mean? A worker. An honest to God worker. OK. C’mon in, Cliff. I can give you all the time you need.’

‘As long as it’s ten minutes,’ Suzie said.

Primo opened a door and I followed him into his office-big but not flashy, good view towards the city, a few framed awards and honourable mentions on the walls. He plonked himself down in a chair and took off his spikes. He had large, powerful hands that used to draw designs and wield the tattooist’s needle with uncanny skill. It occurred to me that he might be a very good golfer. He wriggled his toes in his socks and took off his visor. There was more grey in his thick hair but he looked a lot better than when he’d worked in Darlinghurst; his body looked solid rather than fat and the tan suited him. He seemed happy and I hadn’t met a whole lot of people looking that way lately.

‘So, Cliff. How’s Glen?’

‘She’s OK. Am I right in thinking you’re literate in Italian?’

‘You wound me deeply. Of course I’m literate in Italian. How many times d’you think I had to write “I love you mother” and “Maria I adore you” on wogs?’


‘I can read and write it. I correspond with people back there, for God’s sake. I write letters for some of the oldies who can barely spell their own names. How they got houses in Vaucluse and yachts in Rushcutters Bay I’ll never know.’

I pulled the notebook from my pocket, opened it where the Italian section began and handed it to him.

‘Can you read this and translate it?’

He frowned, got up and scrabbled on his desk for a pair of glasses. When he had them on he looked at the first page, reading for a second or two before looking up. ‘A Sicilian?’

‘Right. Is that a problem?’

‘No. I can read it.’

I took a reporter’s tape recorder from my pocket and set it up on the desk. ‘Go for your life,’ I said.

Primo read, stumbling, hesitating, correcting himself, for about fifteen minutes. When he’d finished he dropped the notebook on the desk, wound the tape back and popped the cassette. ‘I could get Suze to type this up for you if you’d like. Wouldn’t have to worry about her hearing it. She sort of goes on automatic pilot-bashes away and doesn’t take a word in.’

I was staring out the window at the city trying to digest what I’d heard. ‘That’d be great. Thanks.’

Primo buzzed Suzie in and gave her the instruction. I sensed that she was about to protest but a sideways look at me silenced her. She hurried out and the soft clack of keys started up almost immediately. Primo took a few calls and slid smoothly into his role as deal-maker, oil-pourer and standover man. I could tell that he was enjoying it, but then, he had the gift of enjoying life. He’d enjoyed conceiving the designs and decorating bodies while being a street psychologist and philosopher. I remember him telling me that he referred anyone who wanted to be marked on the face to a psychiatrist. He had only one tattoo himself-a map of the world, about ten centimetres by five, on the underside of his left forearm. ‘That’s all there is,’ he’d told me. “That’s everything.’

He finished a call and hung up. I was still looking at the city, across the leafiness of Bellevue Hill and Woollahra.

‘Hey,’ Primo said. You need any help with these people? I know a guy or two who speak the language, know the trails. Just because I don’t live in Leichhardt doesn’t mean I don’t know the scene.’

I wanted to see the words in print, couldn’t make sense of them in my head. I was jumbling them already, unsure of what I’d heard. ‘Where do you live these days, Primo?’

‘Woollahra, near the course. Was at the beach but who needs skin cancer? Say, Cliff, how’d you like to do the odd job for me? Sometimes need a frightener, you know? You’ve got the moves.’

I spun around, suddenly angry and becoming impatient. ‘Do I look as if I need work? Do I look like a bloody charity case? I’m driving a brand-new Commodore. I’m getting a grand a week… Jesus!’

Primo got up from his desk and came across the room in his stockinged feet. ‘Easy, Cliff. Easy, mate. I was just rabbiting on. No need to get upset. What’s wrong? All that stuff in the notebook meant bugger-all to me. I’m sorry if I… ‘

I shook my head, trying to dispel memories, earlier events. Not again, not this shit again, I picked up the notebook from the desk and forced a grin. ‘It’s OK, Primo. I’m a bit on edge, one thing and another. What’s the fascination of golf? I’ve never been able to understand it’

Primo played along, the king of tact. ‘Your game’s tennis, right?’

‘Darts,’ I said.

‘Funny. Ever hit a serve as good as McEnroe? Ever whack a backhand like Courier? Volley like Edberg? No? The weird thing about golf is that, just once in a while, a hacker like me can hit a shot as good as Nick Faldo. Not a drive, shit, no. But a seven iron, a pitch, maybe a putt-per-fucking-fection. That’s the thrill.’

I could see it. Access to perfection. Unusual. Suzie knocked and came in with several pages of print-out. I thanked her, shook Primo’s hand and left the office.


I sat in the car and leafed through the transcript. Then I played the tape and read as I listened. Suzie’s typing was certainly fast, but it wasn’t altogether accurate and I made a few scribbled amendments as I leafed through the pages. Cracking Scott’s code wasn’t difficult. ‘Number one’ was his oldest brother, Ken. Brother Joe, younger than Scott, was ‘number two’. I had heard Scott refer affectionately to Joe as a ‘knee-jerk greenie’. Joe was an architect with strong environmental convictions. A pain in the arse to anyone planning to cut down a tree or lay a brick in what he considered a wrong place, Scott had told me. Ken was at the other end of the spectrum. A property developer with his own construction company, demolition outfit and waste disposal business, he agreed with Joe on no topic under the sun. Scott, caught in the middle, had spent a lot of time and effort over the years arbitrating between them.

Scott had stumbled on the fact that Ken’s company was part of the Australian conglomerate that made up the Sydney Casinos corporation. No harm in that, but when Joe had come to Scott with a story about how an architect named Julian Clark had been stood over and blackmailed by one of Ken’s lieutenants, Scott’s antennae went up. Clark was no lightweight. He was the boss of a big firm, Clark, Perkins amp; Wells, of the kind that Joe Galvani had little time for, but this project had been a pet one for him. According to Scott’s account of his conversations with Joe, Julian Clark had had a dream of designing a casino. Although he’d scarcely put pen to paper in years he’d come up with a design for the Sydney Casino that he considered his masterpiece.

Clark had a weakness for casinos in more ways than one. He’d been an enthusiastic player at the Sydney shop from the day it opened and before they’d perfected their system for monitoring the resources and habits of the clients. The architect had got himself into serious trouble by playing and losing big stakes backed by cheques and credit cards that could not be honoured. He was a quarter of a million in the hole before the problem had come to the casino’s attention. A deal had been worked out for him to pay off the debt, but Ken Galvani’s representative had put a simple proposition to him-withdraw the design from the consideration of the board or the arrangement would be cancelled and Clark would be bankrupted. Knowing of Joe Galvani’s reputation for straight dealing and opposition to his brother, Clark had come to him for help.

Joe, in turn, had come to Scott who had not long taken up the casino job. Scott’s notes contained an account of his conversation with the architect, as well as research into Ken’s position in the management structure and the procedures covering tenders for design, construction and location of the permanent site for the casino. In his notes, Scott speculated about Ken’s motives. There were a number of tenderers for the designing job and Scott had worried about the confidentiality of the system. Scott was a bright operator and he’d homed in on the central question-was there something unique about Clark’s design that would explain Ken’s motive, or was he just throwing his weight around generally?

An entry posing that question was the last one in Scott’s notebook. I flicked back through the pages of transcript to the point where Scott had noted Clark’s address. I stared out through the windscreen at one of the pylons that held up the freeway. High above me the tyres were thumping across the lane markers.

‘Louisa Road,’ I said aloud. ‘Shit me, he was on his way to talk to the architect again.’

I was conflicted, as the Americans say. Suddenly, the fact of Gina being under the control of Ken Galvani disturbed me. It sounded as if Ken was pulling a lot of strings. On the other hand it was imperative to talk to Joe Galvani and to Julian Clark, to try to penetrate the mystery Scott had been scouting around. I dithered; I played back parts of the tape and ran my eyes over the pages, looking for answers and leads I knew were not there. The Commodore came with its own car phone, of course. I rang Gina’s number and got the same, worrying, recorded message from Ken.

Scott had noted the address and number of Joe’s office in Greenwich. I called it and got an engaged signal. I hung up, waited, and called again with the same result.

I sat back in the comfortable bucket seat and tried to feel my way around the various questions. Was Julian Clark a stocky, dark guy who owned a silver-grey Mercedes? It would help if he was. Was Ken Galvani holding his sister-in-law hostage in some way? Had he arranged for his brother to be murdered, and if so, what did an architect’s design for a casino have to do with it?

I riffled through the sheets to see if Scott had entered phone numbers for Julian Clark. No luck. The nearest intact telephone directory proved to be a ten-minute walk and a long wait away. I fumed outside the box while an overweight woman ploughed her way through the books, keeping the phone to her ear and making several calls. She seemed to need all the books at once. I gave up on her and went in search of another phone. The one in the Oxford Street pub had no accompanying directories. I had a beer anyway for my nerves and went back to the booth. Fatty had gone and I seized the yellow pages. The offices of Clark, Perkins amp; Wells were in Chatswood. I groaned at the thought of the drive and hurried back to the car.

I pressed the buttons and rehearsed aloud what I would say.

‘Mr Clark, my name’s Cliff Hardy. I’m a private investigator and I’m… I was a friend of Scott Galvani. I’m calling about… ‘ What? The blackmail attempt? The threat that made you withdraw your design for the casino? Your gambling debts…?

I decided that it was impossible to handle over the phone, cut off the call before it was answered and started the engine. About the last thing I wanted to do was drive to the other side of the city, but no-one ever said that this kind of work was about doing what you wanted. At least I had a good car, with air-conditioning, tape deck and AM/FM radio, to do it in. As I drove I thought about calling Glen until I realised that that would be as difficult a call as the one to the architect. My ex-wife Cyn had made the point long, long ago.

‘You can’t separate the two, Cliff,’ she’d said. Your grotty professional life and the rest. Anyone involved with you feels like a client or a suspect or a bloody victim. You just haven’t got room for anything else.’

I drove back to the city, immune to the elements in the air-conditioned car and protected from a lot of the normal irritations of driving. The Commodore answered the hands and feet instantly; the power steering made it feel as if I could do a couple of other things while driving- like practise my forehand or throw a triple-twenty. I was in the tunnel before I realised that I’d put myself on that route. It wasn’t intentional; I’d made a vow not to use the thing until I’d heard that the millionth car had passed through it. I was deeply suspicious of the tunnel. It seemed like a denial of the bridge and I was a passionate believer in the bridge. Some Melburnian had told me that his kids were terribly disappointed when they’d first crossed the bridge-they’d expected to drive over the arch. In a way, I sometimes felt that I was driving over the arch when I made the crossing. One of my grandfathers had worked on the ferry that had carried people across before the bridge was built. I learned that after I had worked on a case that had forced me to mug up on the history of the coathanger. I think I’m a throwback to that ancestor.

The tunnel had none of that impact. It was like being on a conveyor belt. I felt as if the smooth tarmac would carry me through to the other side whether I drove the car or not. I found myself speeding up to get through it more quickly, and when I emerged into the light I was exceeding the speed limit by twenty Ks. Dangerous to muck around with the forces of nature like that. I eased back and began to think again of what I might say to Julian Clark. Nothing helpful came to mind. Come to think of it, my record with architects wasn’t so hot. Cyn had been an architect, probably still was, as well as happily remarried and a mother of two.

They say you can buy anything in Chatswood and it’s probably true. Costs you, though. I put the tape and the transcript in my pocket, fed a parking meter a block away from where Clark’s office was located and decided to eat and think first. I was charged enough for a salad sandwich to buy two loaves of bread and a couple of lettuces and tomatoes in Glebe. Virtuously, I drank mineral water, promising myself something stronger when I’d finished with this tricky interview. I strolled through the buying shoppers, who didn’t seem to know that there was a recession on, and the lookers who clearly did.

As I approached the steel and glass tower I saw a clutch of police vehicles parked near the entrance. There were a hundred or more people clustered outside the building, some of whom seemed to be upset. The cops were trying to control the crowd and comfort the distressed. I couldn’t get close enough to see what was going on. I circled around and found a similar scene at the back-a hysterical woman, cops under pressure, talking urgently into their car radios, looking edgy. I returned to the front and pushed through close to the section of pavement that had been roped off. An ambulance was drawn up with its wheels over the kerb and the white coats were clustered around a shape on the ground.

‘What happened?’ I asked the person standing next to me, a tall man in his shirt sleeves. His arms were tanned but his face had lost all colour.

‘He jumped from ten floors up. I was looking out the window and I saw him go past. Christ, it was horrible.’

‘Who is he?’

He shook his head and moved back through the crowd. The paramedics had evidently got the go-ahead to move the body. I couldn’t see much but I heard gasps from the people closer in when they got a clearer look at the jumper. The police shouted for the crowd to move back and leave a path for the ambulance. Most stood rooted to the spot and a young constable advanced threateningly. I looked around for the person who seemed to be taking it most calmly and found him in a motorcycle courier who was leaning against his bike, smoking a cigarette.

‘What’s on the tenth floor, do you know?’

‘Yeah, I know. I go in there all the time. You a reporter?’

‘No, I just had a business appointment in the building and I wondered…’

He blew smoke. He must have been all of nineteen years old but violent death didn’t worry him. ‘All architects up there. This guy must have come from the Clark, Perkins amp; Welsh office.’

‘Wells,’ I said automatically.

‘Hey, that’s right. That where you were going?’

‘No. Who was he?’

He dropped his butt on the ground and put the heel of his boot on it. ‘Heard some dude say it was one of the bosses. Fucker probably deserved to die.’

I squinted up at the glistening pile. ‘I don’t see any broken windows.’

He mounted his bike and kicked the stand away. ‘Nah, you can’t break them or open them, ‘cept in the toilets. That’s gotta be where he went. Probably had a big shit first so he wouldn’t make such a bad mess on the footpath.’

Tough guy. He kicked the starter, pulled down his visor and roared away. The crowd started to break up. I approached the cop who was guarding the main entrance, supervising the journalists and the TV crews that had arrived. I showed him my licence and said I had business in the building. ‘Nothing to do with this,’ I said. ‘At least, I hope not. I was going to see Peter Wilson. Who was it that fell, or did he jump?’

‘Name of Clark,’ the cop said. ‘I think you’d better come back another day.’

‘I suppose you’re right. It’ll keep. Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome,’ he said.

Chatswood, aka New York City.


I hadn’t had the interview, but that didn’t stop me having the drink. The bar called itself a tavern and I wouldn’t have cared if it had called itself a cantina as long as it had dark beer on tap. I drained the first middy more or less straight off and took the second away into a dark corner where the noise of the television didn’t penetrate and there was a solid partition between me and the pinball players.

The older I get the less I believe in coincidence. It offers explanations that are too easy. Things are mostly connected, although the nature of the connection can be mysterious to the point of being unknowable. I was sure that Julian Clark’s death was connected to his difficulties with gambling and with Ken Galvani. Didn’t matter whether he jumped or was pushed, there would be a connection. The trouble with this line of thinking was that it raised the question of a link between his death and my intention to see him. I felt that such a link existed, but I didn’t have the faintest idea of how it operated. One thing was certain- with two deaths racked up, the stakes had to be high, much higher than some competition about what design was chosen for the casino.

I sipped the second beer and considered my options. Being on the inside probably put me in an ideal spot to find out more on the extent and nature of Ken Galvani’s interest in the casino. I could work on that. But Joe Galvani had suddenly moved to centre stage. He was the link between the two deaths. I left half of the drink in deference to the law, and went back to my car, sucking in air and trying to swing my left arm as high as I could and practising taking it up behind my back. Must have looked strange, but the pain-controlled rigidity seemed to be easing.

I got moving and punched in the Greenwich number. Just as the call was answered and I asked for Joe, a truck shot past me, its big wheels were over the line and seemed to be threatening to tear off my side vision mirror. I swore and swerved and heard a very offended woman on the other end of the line.

‘I beg your pardon.’

‘I’m sorry. Is he there?’

‘No, I’m afraid not. He has been ill for several days and is at home. Perhaps you’d care to call back tomorrow.’

She hung up. I tried to remember where Joe lived. I’d been there once with Scott to a barbecue. It was at the time I was between women and Scott had thought to line me up with one of his cousins. I couldn’t remember her name. Gold crosses around necks tend to put me off although Scott had assured me it didn’t mean anything. A mental image of the tiny cross brought back the address-Ryde, near the Field of Mars reserve. I stopped, checked the Gregory’s, and swung off the highway and began the run down to the river. I became conscious of the other car soon after making the turn. When I’m in the Falcon, I check automatically for anything unusual in the traffic, but unfamiliarity with the Commodore had thrown me out of the habit.

It wasn’t that I knew the tan Honda Accord was following me, it was just a sense that the car had been in the traffic longer than it should have been. I didn’t do anything different, that isn’t how it’s done. I kept to a level speed and concentrated on trying to let the Honda make a false move. I still had the map open on the passenger seat and I saw that there was a four-way intersection coming up at the river. I turned hard right-two options rejected. The Honda slowed slightly but came after me. I increased speed wondering what to do. Not close enough for me to see how many in the car and no way to judge the intent. I was on a narrower road with bush growing closely on one side; on the other a high cyclone fence enclosed a nursery. Good spot for establishing that I was being tailed, bad for everything else. I needed people, traffic, cover, and the road was empty.

The Honda moved up closer as I passed the nursery, hoping for houses and getting instead another high fence-a research facility of some kind. I could see now that there were two men in the car. I picked up speed but the Honda was going to be faster. I still had bush on one side, no bends, and up ahead I could see yellow-and-black barriers, aluminium sheds and scraped earth-roadworks, another carriageway being constructed. The tan car was almost alongside me; the windows were tinted and I could only see shadows. I was sweating and gripping the wheel as the Honda pulled out and began to turn to cut me off. I let it go, touched the brake and then floored the accelerator. Now I was the one on the outside and the Honda was slowing down, the driver realising he’d screwed up.

I rammed him, not hard, just at the door pillar, catching it perfectly. The Honda shot through a wooden barrier splintering it as the driver fought for control. I concentrated on getting the Commodore back on a straight track but I saw the Honda out of the corner of my eye, bumping and throwing up dust as it ploughed through the bed of the new road. The work must have been suspended, because there was nobody about- maybe a stop-work meeting was on. I wasn’t out of the woods. The driver had lifted his game; he had the car under control and was heading back towards the road. I’d spent too long watching. Then the Honda wobbled and lost speed as its wheels dropped into some kind of a shallow trench. Broken axle territory. It stopped. I wasn’t more than thirty metres away. A man jumped from the car, levelled what looked like a military carbine, and pumped bullets at me. A window cracked and I heard two rounds tear through the body of the car, entering and exiting. I hit the gas. Not heroic, but if there’s a way for an unarmed man to get the better of one with an automatic weapon I don’t know it. Pity really, because I recognised the guy with the gun-Baldy from the park in Rozelle, and he had one score against me already.

The directory had fallen to the floor. I was unsure of where I was and had no idea of how to get to Joe Galvani’s. I just wanted to keep moving. I became aware of a scraping sound and I pulled into a quiet street and got out to look. I’d crumpled the front panel when I’d hit the Honda and it was rubbing against the tyre. I kicked and pulled it clear. There were two bullet holes in the back window and the back seat had some small pieces of glass on it where the bullet had punched through. I examined the interior and found that the slug that had broken the window had lodged in the dash a few centimetres from me after passing through the seat. Close.

That set me thinking about the timing of Julian Clark’s death. It had happened within two hours of my finding out about his role in the scheme of things. That couldn’t be accidental. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone had lost their life after coming within the scope of one of my investigations. It wasn’t something I liked to think about but I had to. How could it happen? I hadn’t spoken to anybody. I’d just sat in the car, read the transcripts, listened to the tape, made a few phone calls- the car!

Finding it didn’t take long-there are only so many places you can plant a bug in a car and get good reception. The motor noise and the electricals are the problem. This was a state of the art number, located in the roof near the interior light. The fabric where it had been inserted was invisibly mended, almost. I thought back over the phone calls, trying to remember who’d I rung with what results. What names had been mentioned? Clark. I hadn’t got through but I’d announced my interest in him loud and clear. Joe Galvani? I hadn’t got through the first two times and when I had the chances were the passing truck had blotted out the sound. I dismantled the car phone, not being tender with it, but found no device there.

Unpleasant hi-tech thoughts. Then I wondered just how much hi-tech I was up against. I crouched down and stuck my head under the car, locating it almost immediately. The transmitter. Good planning. They knew the car they were looking for and the area to find it in but took no chances. I was about to pull the thing out when I had second thoughts. If they had a backup car they could be here, homing in on the signal pretty quickly. Best to be sure. The short street ran into a grid with a good number of outlets. I could hear the hum of fast-moving traffic but it was a fair way off. Once your quarry was out of that street, no telling where he was. There were houses on one side-big, deep-garden-in-front jobs with lots of trees and shrubs. One the other side was a park with swings and slides and a rollercoaster-style track for BMX bikes. No kids for another half hour or so. A stand of casuarinas behind the park filled in the space between it and a couple of public tennis courts.

I scooted over to the park and ducked into the casuarinas, three deep. I was sure the shadow was sufficient to keep me hidden, especially if I kept dead still, as I intended to do. I waited, squatting. A couple of cars came down the street, moving on through to the highway. A dark Ford Fairmont had the right look but it turned into one of the driveways and a woman got out, pulling plastic shopping bags after her. Never can tell. I had decided to wait for half an hour, before any kids arrived, and was about to move when they showed up.

Another tan Honda. Three men-Baldy and Runty from the park and a driver-tall, wearing dark clothes and a peaked cap. They parked behind the Commodore and approached it carefully. Baldy’s carbine was hidden inside his loose jacket and he moved slightly awkwardly. He looked around a lot, including one piercing gaze straight in my direction. It was like a photographer telling you stand still-you immediately become aware of a gentle sway and of an itch you just have to scratch. I was in range of the gun and it could probably have chopped through the two trees between me and it. I froze.

At a word from Peaked Cap, Baldy stopped surveying the field and joined the others by the driver’s door. It had taken them long enough to get there. At a guess, they might have feared I was inside, wounded or dead. They’d drop that idea when they saw there was no blood. They’d notice that I’d located the bug, then what would they do? What would I have done? I wasn’t sure and neither were they. The decision was made for them by the arrival of a couple of kids, boys, who threw their canvas school bags under the slide and commenced to give the playground a working over. They also displayed some curiosity about the men clustered around the car. Would have been more if they’d been able to see the punctured window and the bullet holes, but it was enough for my threesome. In a move I hadn’t anticipated, Peaked Cap hopped into the Commodore, started it up and drove away. The other two went back to the Honda and followed. Smart move, Cliff, leave the keys so they’ll think you walked or ran away. Didn’t think they’d pinch the bloody thing did you?

That left me stranded somewhere in the back of Lindfield, unarmed except for a Swiss army knife, up against well-armed enemies and needing to get to Joe Galvani fast. I came out from behind the trees and walked along the edge of the park towards the road. The boys stopped playing and looked at me as if I was one of the bad guys. I tried to give them a jaunty wave with my left hand, forgetting about the crook shoulder. It probably looked something like a Nazi salute and they stared after me all the way until I was out of sight. Cabs don’t cruise those kinds of streets and telephone boxes aren’t numerous. I plodded along, moving west. The sun was slanting low and bothering my eyes. The pavement felt hard and the gradient seemed steep.

I spotted a phone box and broke into a jog, sending a bolt of pain through my side, worse than a stitch. I swore and slowed down, praying that a phone box in a nice, middle-class neighbourhood like this would work. It apparently did because a young woman was using it. She stood relaxed with the door open, blowing out smoke. I fretted, pacing around the box, jiggling coins, looking at my watch. Just when I was about to haul her out, she hung up and stepped from the box, gave me a sweet smile and strolled away. I clawed out some money and was about to put it in when I saw that the box worked by phonecard only. I sagged and looked at the instrument, tempted for the first time in my life to vandalise a telephone. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. When I opened the door they were there, all three of them.

Baldy opened his coat just wide enough to let me see the gun. ‘Nice try, Hardy,’ he said. ‘Now I think you’d better come along with us.’


Peaked Cap had a cosh in his hand, meaning they had a noisy and a quiet way to get me to do what they wanted. I didn’t fancy either, so I got in the car. Peaked Cap drove, Runty sat beside him and Baldy got in the back with me, on my right. He took an automatic pistol from his pocket and put the carbine on the floor between his feet.

‘Empty your pockets,’ he said.

I looked at him. ‘Or what?’

He tapped the driver on the shoulder and the cosh was passed back to him. Good teamwork, not much room to swing the cosh in but probably enough. I emptied my pockets. Baldy passed the contents to Runty who shoved them in a plastic bag. Then he swivelled around and gestured for me to hold out my hands. I glanced at Baldy who looked as if cosh-swinging might be one of his specialties along with shooting, and he wasn’t too bad at that either. I stuck my hands out and Runty clamped on a pair of chrome-plated handcuffs. Stone end of the idea of opening the door and jumping or falling out-I couldn’t reach it in time manacled, and even if I could, the fall would be so clumsy I was likely to break my neck.

‘Where are we going?’

Baldy dug me in the ribs with the cosh, a leather-wrapped length of lead pipe or hardwood-it was difficult to tell and it really didn’t matter much.

‘Shut up,’ he said.

I leaned back against the seat. Might as well be comfortable. ‘Abduction’s a serious offence. Ten years I’d say. Make you an old man. You won’t have a hair on your head when you come out.’

He reached across and hit me on the left bicep. I moaned and he did it again.

‘Thought that might hit the spot. You’ve been carrying that shoulder I notice. Now I told you to shut up and I meant just that. Shut up!’

Convincing. We were on the highway now, heading back to the city. My throat was marginally drier than my mouth-fear and anger combined. I had to admire the way they’d done it. Must have had a couple of cars on the job, patrolling the streets. Peaked Cap must have handed the Commodore over to someone else. Organisation. I looked at the other vehicles on the road-taxis, trucks, cars, motorcycles. Drivers and riders without a care in the world except mortgages, redundancy, kids, divorce proceedings, dodgy prostates. I’d have gladly taken on a few of their burdens. Baldy was humming tunelessly under his breath. Irritating, but I didn’t feel in a position to make him stop. I was hoping they’d produce a blindfold. A blindfold means they care about you knowing where they’re taking you. No blindfold means they don’t care, and that means…

We were in North Sydney, approaching the bridge or the tunnel. I stared ahead, wondering. I was aware of a movement from Baldy and turned towards him. Slow, slow, slow. He was much quicker. The syringe glinted and the needle bit into my leg through my pants. He pinned me back with his big left arm and I heard him counting.

‘Ten, nine, eight, seven… ‘

I had time to wonder whether a needle was the same as a blindfold. I knew it was better than a bullet. Then everything went black and my last thought was, Tunnel But how was I to know?

Panic struck me as soon as I became conscious. I was lying on a trolley, a hospital-style gurney, tied down to it by straps that ran around my wrists and ankles. Thick webbing straps, and there was another across my chest and one across my legs just above the knees. The room was dark and smelled of antiseptic. Little chinks of light showed around a doorway. My mouth had been taped shut or I would have yelled my lungs out. I suppose the room was quiet, but there was so much throbbing and booming going on inside my head it was impossible to tell.

I lay very still and tried to get past the panic. After a time it eased and with it the pounding in my skull. Lying still wasn’t much of a problem. I could have lifted my head a few centimetres but I didn’t want to. I could wiggle my fingers and toes, but that wasn’t a very useful thing to do. I concentrated on slow, deep breathing-hard through the nose alone but impossible. I closed my eyes and tried to let a calming tune take hold of me, a folk song or something from the classics:

Dook, Dook, Dook

Dook of Earl, Earl, Earl

Dook of Earl…

It’d just have to do.

I don’t know how long I lay there, but it was long enough for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. I was in an infirmary or clinic. I could see the outline of a sink; the faint light gleamed on polished chrome and the smells were of disinfectant, rubber, bleach. Not reassuring, especially for a hospital-hater like me. I could see heavy gauge pipes overhead indicating that I was well below the surface in a large building. The air-conditioning whispered, the pipes hummed slightly and there were occasional muffled noises coming from far away.

My stiff shoulder and the arm that had been coshed screamed to be eased; prolonged nose breathing was becoming difficult and I was a mass of itches and tics that needed attention. The panic started to rise again and I tried to chew at the tape across my mouth. I pushed at it with my tongue and turned my head, attempting to rub it against the hard surface I was lying on. No luck. All I managed to do was get a foul taste in my mouth and sink a tooth into my bottom lip. I wriggled my fingers and toes and didn’t seem to be getting much wriggle at either end. Sweat broke out on my forehead and ran down into my eyes. Things ere getting worse and it was all my own doing. I struggled for breath and for one second I thought I was going to swallow my tongue. I also thought I was going to shit myself and lose control of my bladder. Couldn’t have that. I’d never done that, not even in Malaya when the bullets were shredding the undergrowth around me.

Dook, Dook, Dook…

The door opened and two men walked in. I recognised one of them-Runty-before the light came on. The light blinded me for a few seconds and I recognised the second man by his voice.

‘I wish I could just slide him into the fucking water, just the way he is.’

Ken Galvani. I blinked and looked at him- a porker, black receding hair brushed back, aftershave on his blue jowls, tuxedo.

‘Yeah, you know me, Hardy. You fucking nuisance. You interfering prick. What did you have to stick your nose in for? You could have told Gina to forget it. Hysterical bloody woman. I told Scott he was a fucking idiot for marrying her. Women belong at home, in the house, in the kitchen, in the fucking bedroom!’

He was working himself up and I hoped it wasn’t to do something I’d regret. I closed my eyes.

‘Christ, what’ve you fuckwits done to him? He’s not going to fucking die, is he?’

The most hopeful sounds I’d heard in how long? Minutes? Hours? Days?

‘Nah,’ Runty said. ‘We never touched him hardly. Just shot some dope into him. He’s all right. Supposed to be pretty tough.’

‘Rip the tape off. I have to talk to the bugger.’

Rip it he did, taking some skin with it. The pain brought tears to my eyes.

‘I dunno about tough,’ Galvani said. ‘Looks to me like he’s crying.’

‘Untie me, get rid of Runty and let me get my circulation back,’ I croaked. ‘Then we can see who’s tough.’

‘What did you call me?’

Galvani thumped the smaller man’s shoulder with a meaty fist. ‘It’s as good a name as any, unless you reckon Fuck-up would be better. Get him some water, I can hardly understand what he’s saying.’

Galvani undid the straps holding me to the trolley, still leaving me tied hand and foot. Slowly and painfully I lifted myself up and swung around so my legs were hanging over the edge. The blood rushing to places where it hadn’t been for a while caused shooting pains and jumping nerves but the movement was still a relief. Runty went to the sink and came back with a plastic cup of water. I tipped my head back and he poured it in, too fast, but I got it down in a couple of gulps.

‘That’s the first nice thing you’ve done for me,’ I said. ‘But I’ll still beat the shit out of you if I get the chance. Where’s your bald-headed mate? I’d like to have a go at him too.’

‘You’re not having a go at anyone, Hardy,’ Galvani said. ‘What I’d really like to do with you is stick you in a barrel and slip you into the harbour somewhere.’

I grinned at him and felt the blood on my mouth from where I’d bitten myself and from where the tape had been ripped away. ‘But you can’t, because if the casino loses two security men in a couple of weeks questions are bound to be asked and you don’t want that.’

He looked at me disgustedly. ‘Christ, you’re a fucking mess. How could someone who’s supposed to be smart like you get yourself so screwed up?’

‘It’s a talent, also Scott was a friend of mine.’

A silence fell in the grey-painted, soulless room. Runty leaned against a wall and looked bored. Galvani took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one with a gold lighter. ‘It was an accident. A bloody awful accident. Should never have happened.’

‘Yeah. What about Clark, the architect?’

‘He jumped.’

‘After someone scared him shitless.’

‘He was shitless, gutless and everything else. I suppose you’ve got it all worked out?’

‘Not by a long way. How about some more water?’

Galvani waved at Runty who complied, but this time I collected a mouthful and sprayed it over him. He got ready to hit me but Galvani stopped him. This was getting better and better all the time, now I was protected property. Any minute he’d be untying me and offering me a real drink.

‘In a way, Hardy, I blame you for getting my brother killed. But we won’t go into that. What I will do is try to keep you alive. You want to stay alive, don’t you?’

I didn’t answer.

‘You do nothing for a month, understand. You just do your job here and that’s all. Plus whatever other shitty little business you’ve got on the side. I don’t care. But you don’t talk to anyone about this-not to your copper mates or your lawyer mates or your journalist mates. No one!’

‘Why would I agree?’

‘Because if you don’t, Gina is dead. As far as I’m concerned she’s a stuck-up northern bitch who’d be no loss. My family’d take care of the kids better than she can. So, you get it? Do fuck-all for a month and she lives, interfere and she’s dead.’

‘Why a month?’

He dropped his cigarette on the highly polished floor and stood on it. ‘No more talk. No explanations. I won’t say take it or leave it because you can’t fucking leave it, can you?’

He was right there. My mind was teeming with questions but I could tell I wasn’t going to get any answers. I’d only learned one thing-he’d said I was to do my job ‘here’, meaning we were somewhere inside the casino. Not much help. I stared at him, trying to think of something to threaten him with, something to exert some leverage. And I didn’t have a cracker. Galvani would have Scott’s notebook and the tape and transcript for sure. If Julian Clark had really jumped there’d be no hard evidence of a connection there. They could patch up the Commodore and I still didn’t know what lay behind it all.

Galvani must have seen the defeat in my face because he smiled. His jowls wobbled a bit and he relaxed his body, letting his belly sag forward. He was a long way from being Pavarotti-shaped, but getting there. I would have liked to swing a couple of punches into his flab. He said something in Italian to Runty.

‘Sorry, I only talk Australian.’

‘Shit,’ Galvani barked. ‘Get the needle. This fucker’s going back to sleep.’


When you wake up from a bad dream, you’re relieved to find that everything you were dreaming about has gone. This was the reverse. I came awake in my own bed and knew instantly that it was all true. The physical evidence was clear-the sore arm, chafed wrists and ankles, dry throat and mouth and a listless feeling, something like a hangover, something like heat exhaustion. My clothes were neatly folded on a chair. Sitting on top of them were Scott’s notebook, a cassette tape and a set of car keys. My watch was on the bedside table-it was 1 p.m. I’d lost about twenty out of the last twenty-four hours. Realising this made me feel weak, as if I was losing control of everything.

I struggled out of bed and picked up the notebook. The pages dealing with Scott’s investigation of his brother had been torn out. It was a fair bet that the cassette had been wiped. I pulled on my tracksuit pants and opened the window onto the balcony. A maroon Commodore, freshly washed, was sitting there behind the dusty Falcon, sparkling in the afternoon sun. I stared down at it, thinking of driving the thing to the casino for the next month while I did nothing about the mess I’d stumbled into. The thought made me feel sick. I wanted to crawl back into bed. I wanted to call Glen and tell her all about it. I wanted to get Ken Galvani into some quiet enclosed space and bounce him off the walls.

Impossible. My metabolism began to return to normal and I realised I was still parched and hungry. I went downstairs and saw the message light blinking on the phone. I hesitated before hitting the button-Glen? Vita? Ken Galvani?

‘Hi, Cliff. O.C. here. Sorry to hear you’re crook. Not to worry. Rest up and get in when you can. Might give me a call if you can’t make it tonight. So long.’

There was nothing edible in the kitchen and I was about to go out shopping when I became aware that I smelled like a hide tanner. I showered, shaved and shopped. Then I made an enormous meal of toast and scrambled eggs and ate it with a glass of white wine cut with mineral water. The cat got a tin of sardines. I cleaned up, washed a pile of dirty clothes and the time to go to work rolled around. Before leaving I checked the cassette and confirmed that it was blank. A thought occurred, the first useful one since waking up. I phoned Primo’s office and got fast-fingers Suzie.

‘Suzie, this is Cliff Hardy.’

‘He’s out, looking at locations, so he says. I bet he’s on the golf course. His wife complains that the pro at Woollahra sees more of him than she does. He’s even talking about going on a diet to improve his swing. I can’t believe it.’

‘Wouldn’t hurt, but I don’t need him. You remember typing something up for me yesterday?’

‘Off a tape, sure.’

‘Have you still got it on the hard disk?’

‘Would have. I don’t wipe ‘em till the end of the week.’

I asked her to run off another copy and send it to my office. It wasn’t much in the way of evidence or defiance, but it was something.

For the next week I walked through the job at the casino like Robert Mitchum in a movie role. I did everything the easy way, trod on no toes but took no shit. Business was good and everyone was happy. Ralston reported to me that he’d narrowed down the list of dark-haired regulars who drove Mercedes to six and he gave me the names. Julian Clark’s was on it. I thanked but didn’t enlighten him and he appeared to be incurious. A guy with his problem gets through one day at a time and doesn’t look for any more trouble than he’s already got. Oscar asked me how I was doing with the Galvani investigation and I studied him closely as he did so. It was an innocent inquiry, I was sure. Oscar was what he seemed- an effective, image-conscious front man, neither more nor less than that.

The casino was equipped with a swimming pool, spa and gym and I spent a lot of time there, freeing my shoulder, making sure the muscles didn’t atrophy, working my body while my mind was on hold. I would have dearly loved to know why Ken Galvani was so anxious to have a free hand for a month, but I didn’t dare ask around. I assumed the new Commodore was bugged and came to dislike driving it. I sang and spouted obscenities for the listeners, if any. Childish stuff. On the roads and moving around generally, I spotted tails a couple of times and did my best to lose them. Sometimes I succeeded. I had the transcript of the tape in my office, but I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with it. The inactivity and frustration drove me mad. I thought of driving to Galvani Senior’s house to check out the security, of contacting Joe, of hiring someone to do these things for me. The trouble was, I believed Ken Galvani’s threat. There had been something implacably cold and bleak and committed about him. I felt guilty enough about Scott and Julian Clark, I didn’t fancy bringing about the orphaning of Scott’s kids. I thought about snatching Ken and reversing the pressure, but I never saw him around the casino and I knew he had considerable backup. I drank a good deal and swam endless laps to work it off.

Saturday morning. I was in Gleebooks, the old shop near St Johns Road where I like the clutter, browsing the second-hand Penguins section, when I was bumped from behind.

‘Don’t turn around. I’ve got my back to you. Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m Joe Galvani.’

The voice was low-pitched, fast and very nervous. I could hear pages turning and I pulled out a copy of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and leafed through it. Although it was more than thirty years old the binding was holding firm, more than you can say for modern paperbacks. I muttered as if I was addressing the printed page. ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’

‘I hope so, too. I have to talk to you. I know I wasn’t followed here. You?’

‘I don’t think so.’

He said nothing for a few seconds and I let my eye run over the passage where Harry Morgan dumps the Chinese illegals overboard. Tough stuff. The shop was busy as always, with people squatting to look at the low shelves, swarming up the ladders for the high ones, pulling out books, reading, checking prices, probably doing a little shop-lifting too, some of them.

‘There’s a park next to the church across the road. Meet me there in a couple of minutes.’

If we hadn’t been followed, what was the point of not looking at each other? I turned round just as he put his book back and headed towards the door. He had the Galvani look all right-the black hair and square shoulders. In build he was somewhere in between Ken the slob and Scott the fit. He had his shoulders hunched and his hands thrust into the pockets of a poplin jacket as if he was trying to make himself invisible- he couldn’t have been more conspicuous if he’d tried. I decided to buy the Hemingway. I had to wait a while to be served. I wandered down the street, crossed at the lights and entered the small park. Good choice, hedges and trees blocking it off from the street and plenty of shaded and sheltered spots within.

Joe was sitting on a bench near the toilet block. He had an open newspaper in his hands but I could tell he wasn’t reading it. From twenty paces away I could see the trembling of his hands and the sweat on his face. He lit a cigarette which seemed to steady him a little. His nervousness got to me and I checked the park out thoroughly before approaching him. Readers, talkers, soft-drink swillers, all clear. I sat down next to him on the bench and watched his smoke drift in the still air.

‘I know what Ken’s doing,’ he said. ‘I know what he’s threatening.’

‘Then you know how dangerous this is.’

‘Yes.’ He smoked for a while, taking deep drags. When he’d smoked the cigarette down almost to the filter, he lit another one from the stub. ‘I gave up this miserable, stupid bloody habit five years ago. Now look at me. I’m back on it worse than ever. My wife can’t stand it. She says kissing me is like licking an ashtray. It’s just one more thing I’ve got against Ken.’

‘I’ve got a few against him myself. What I want to know is why? Why did he put the frighteners on Julian Clark? Why does he need a month’s grace?’

He talked a blue streak, smoking the whole time, still nervous, but relieved to get it off his chest. He said that Ken had a major interest in a site in Ultimo-one of the contenders for the permanent home of the casino. Ken’s holding was concealed by a thick smokescreen of interlocking companies, but he stood to make millions if this site was chosen and to lose heavily if it wasn’t.

‘He owns it, virtually, but it’s costing him a fortune in interest and so on,’ Joe said. You understand?’

I said I’d heard of such things. ‘But I still don’t see why…’

‘The site isn’t near the water. You can’t bloody see the water from it. Julian’s design was brilliant, far and away the best, but it was the worst from Ken’s point of view because it depended on proximity to the harbour. Two of the other sites provide that. Ken had to eliminate it. He’s pulling all sorts of strings to get it to go his way. He’s desperate I think. He… ‘

He stopped, visibly upset. I could see where this train of thought was leading and felt I had to say something to deflect it. ‘That’d be illegal, wouldn’t it-to be a big wheel in the corporation running the casino and owning the site as well.’

Wrong tack, Cliff.

He nodded miserably. ‘The bastard. My guess is that’s what Scott…’

I patted his shoulder as he lit another cigarette. ‘OK, Joe. I get the picture. It sounds as if he’s put everything on the line.’

He threw the cigarette away and crumpled the packet in his hand. ‘I’m fucked if I’m going to do this. He’s cost me a brother. If I go on like this it’s going to cost me a wife as well. Fuck him! Fuck him! Yeah, the rest of his businesses are on the nose. He’s overcommitted in every bloody direction. If he doesn’t get this through he’s down the tubes. Christ. Hardy, you can’t imagine how much I want that to happen.’

I could. I was with him all the way. My life was a mess and I was very eager to make someone else’s the same, worse if possible. But it was one thing to want it and another to bring it about. I watched him as he glanced nervously around the park, twisted his wedding ring and fiddled with his lighter as if he was already regretting the destruction of the cigarettes. As an ally, he wasn’t very inspiring.

‘I tried to get in touch with you just before Ken’s boys got rough with me,’ I said. ‘I was told you were sick.’

‘Yeah. When Scott died I tried to pretend it had nothing to do with Ken. Then Julian came to me again and told me Ken’s latest threat. I couldn’t pretend any more. I went to Ken and he nearly went berserk. He told me about you and said he’d kill Gina if anyone interfered with his plans. Including me. He didn’t threaten my wife and kids, but he wasn’t far off doing it. I had some kind of breakdown. I’m all right now.’

I doubted it. I got up and suggested we walk around a bit. I wanted to see how he moved, how tense he really was. You can tell a lot from the way someone walks and reacts to other moving objects. He welcomed the idea and jumped up jerkily. Worrying. We strolled around the park and he seemed to relax a little as we went. A dog dashed past with its young owner running after it, calling its name. Joe grinned briefly at the sight. A dog-lover or a kid-lover. He wasn’t doing too badly.

‘OK,’ I said. ‘I understand what you’re saying, but nothing’s changed. From what I’ve seen of it, that house of your parents’ makes a pretty good prison and Ken has several nasty types to do the heavy work for him. Gina’s his ace-in-the-hole.

‘If I… if we could get her out things’d be different. But I can’t see how.’

‘There’s a way,’ he said slowly. ‘There’s a way.’

We were at the north end of the park, almost to Glebe Point Road with the Ancient Briton just across the way. It was nearly noon. ‘Come and have a drink, Joe,’ I said, ‘and tell me all about it’


Finding a quiet spot to talk in in the Ancient Briton is no easy matter, what with drinkers, pinball players and the race broadcasts. The best time is in the lull immediately after a race when the winners and losers drift over to the TAB section to collect or attempt to redeem their losses. As a form of gambling it seems to me to have it all over cards and dice and little balls rattling round in a spinning wheel, but to each his own. Joe’s drink was white wine and mine was old beer. We retreated to a dark corner and drank while waiting for the race hubbub to subside. When it was quiet enough, Joe said. ‘They go to church on Sunday. That’s the key to it.’

‘Who does?’

‘My mother and father, Ken and his wife and their kids. Gina doesn’t go. She isn’t a Catholic and she refused to bring the twins up as Catholics. That’s another thing the old people and Ken have got against her. Scott was like me-didn’t care one way or the other. Ken’s a pillar of the church- big contributor, wants one of his boys to be a priest and one of the girls a nun. All that shit. It’s very important to him. He puts on his thousand dollar three-piece and goes to church, no matter what.’

‘That leaves how many watching Gina?’


‘A little guy, bit bandy, looks like he might’ve been a jockey that grew? And a big bald character?’

Joe drank some wine. ‘That’s right. Their names are Lewis and Barbour. They’ve both got criminal records. Ken convinced my dad that they’re needed for protection. There’s a couple of others that spell them from time to time, but they’re the ones on duty on Sundays.’

‘I can’t quite see how Ken keeps Gina penned up in there. She’s a resourceful woman. She must be able to think of some way out.’

Joe shook his head. ‘She’s not well and the twins are sickly. Ken’s threatened to take the kids away and send them to Italy. Gina’s more or less dropped her bundle. She needs help in the worst way.’

I thought about it as I finished my drink. Lewis and Barbour were formidable but not insuperable obstacles, especially if I had a bit of backup. Still tricky, though, and disastrous if it went wrong.

Joe returned with two more drinks. ‘The thing is, you have to understand how Ken thinks. He doesn’t believe anything serious can happen on a Sunday morning. It’s a mind-set with him; he almost changes personality for those couple of hours. Also, there’s a short time, just ten minutes or so, when only Lewis is there. Barbour gets there later, at least he did the last two Sundays.’

‘How do you know this?’

‘I’ve been going to church with them, just to get right up Ken’s nose. He can’t say anything about it. The oldies are so glad to have me along. My father’s failing a bit. Scott’s death hit him hard. Me going to church is a plus. Ken can’t deny him that’

‘I’m encouraged,’ I said. ‘Just what’ve you got in mind?’

‘I think I should check it out again tomorrow. See if there’s still that time gap. Then we should do it the next Sunday. Go in there and take Gina and the kids out. Then heap all the shit on Ken we can.’

‘Sounds good,’ I said and I meant it. Another week of inactivity wouldn’t be so bad with the knowledge that something was going to happen at the end of it. The thought of guns worried me a bit, but it appeared that Barbour was the gunman in the group and we were hoping to avoid him. In an operation like that there’s no certainty. The best you can hope for is a prospect of success and Joe’s plan had that. Besides, I needed Gina out of Ken’s clutches if I was going to get paid.

On Monday there was a message on my answering machine. The voice said, ‘Gleebooks here. The book you ordered has come in, Mr Hardy.’ It was Joe Galvani’s signal that the gap in the security at the Balgowlah house had occurred again. On Tuesday I broke and phoned Glen’s flat. No answer. I tried the Goulburn Academy and was told that Sergeant Withers was on medical leave. I asked what was wrong with her but that was information that could not be divulged. Compassionate leave, perhaps. I rang the house at Whitebridge but if she was there she wasn’t answering the phone. I missed her and I was suffering a bad case of jealousy. I wondered what other members of the force, male, senior rank, were on leave at the moment and who among them had recently done a tour of duty on the south coast. No hope of finding out.

Despite being used to irregular hours, the night duty at the casino threw my sleep patterns out. I found it hard to sleep during the day and was tired just about the time I had to start work. It was lucky there were no crises because I wasn’t in a fit condition to cope with them. I delegated as much as I could and trusted that the system would run smoothly. It did and I got the credit from Oscar Cartwright. I also got an insight into the way executives function and it didn’t increase my respect for them.

The most impressive member of the security staff was Ralston. Edgy, nervous and aggressive, he was on top of everything. He never looked tired and his powers of concentration were amazing. He could sit for hours at a video monitor, making notes and looking for anomalies. He spotted a dodgy blackjack dealer and ran the tape for me.

‘See how he does it?’

‘No,’ I said.

Ralston explained how he manipulated the cards in the shoe and the slight pause that occurred in a part of his routine. It took me three viewings to pick it up.

‘How much is he costing us?’

Ralston checked his notes. ‘Not much. My guess is he’s setting up for one big score.’

I’d been thoroughly briefed on the procedure to cope with this situation. The dealers were on contract; they were unionised and had high-priced lawyers available. It was necessary to go very carefully with them. The drill was for us to investigate the offender before suspending him and calling him to a private session at which he could offer to resign after seeing the evidence. Or he could opt for a hearing, where he could be represented by as many QCs as he could muster. Ralston and I worked together on the matter and it came together easily. The dealer was an unlucky punter in heavy debt to the bookies. He had hired a card sharp to teach him the tricks and was grooming a young woman to play recklessly and one fine night come out a big winner.

Our man took the resignation option. Cartwright congratulated me and I suggested a bonus be paid to Ralston. He came to my office to thank me and accepted a tonic and bitters while I had a light beer.

‘You’ve got me pegged, haven’t you?’

‘I’ve seen it before, Keith. How long’s it been?’

‘Three years, bit more.’

‘You’re making a bloody good fist of it. Good luck to you, I say.’

‘Thanks. It’s hard. The days seem so fucking long, you know? But if I went back on the booze I’d lose everything-wife, family, the lot. I came close before and I know it’s not worth it. But it’s hard. Keeping busy’s the answer, or part of the answer.’

He drank some tonic water. ‘I could use some more responsibility. That’d help, but I doubt I’ll ever get it. I put in for your job, but.. ‘ He shook his head. ‘No way.’

I leaned forward. ‘I’ll put in a word for you when the time comes. Maybe get you the 2IC spot.’

‘That’d be something.’

‘I might need some help soon. It’s to do with the Galvani thing. There’s a bit of risk involved.’

‘I could do with an adrenalin rush.’

‘You’re not a religious man, are you, Keith?’

‘No, not at all. Why?’

‘This goes down next Sunday morning.’

He finished his drink in a long swallow and set the glass firmly down on my desk. ‘Sunday’s the worst,’ he said.

On the Saturday afternoon before we were to make our bid, I sent Ralston off to reconnoitre the Balgowlah house, telling him to make sure the car he used wasn’t wired up in any way. It was risky because Ken and his boys knew him by sight, but if he couldn’t do this without being spotted he wouldn’t be much use to me on the day anyhow. We had a meeting at the casino that night and he had a full account of the layout plus photographs.

‘Amateurs,’ he said.

‘But armed and motivated.’

‘I suppose so. Certainly armed, and there’s a bit of whizz-bang electronics but nothing I can’t cope with. I had a bit of a look around in the garage by the way. The facilities are there to bug and track the cars. It looks like Terry Baxter’s playing games. He’s the boss of the car pool’

I’d met him briefly. A red-faced beefy type who was going to be out of a job if everything went right. Ralston showed no signs of nerves and did his job with the usual precision. I was jumpy. It was a busy night at the casino and the money-counters were flat out. Not long before I was due to knock off Oscar Cartwright got hold of me and took me to his office for a drink.

‘Not long to go now, Cliff. Sure you won’t reconsider and stay on?’

There’s nothing like a single malt at 3 a.m. I rolled it around in my mouth. ‘No thanks, O.C. I’ll miss the cheques and your smiling face, but it’s not really my scene. I’ll break your new boy in and then I’ll get back to gum-shoeing.’

He sighed. ‘You’re a romantic’

‘That’s me,’ I said.

I bade him goodnight and went off to find something to get the smell of the whisky off my breath. I was meeting Ralston and I didn’t want to make it any harder for him than it already was and always would be, forever and ever, amen.

He was making a last check of the monitors, clear-eyed, skinny from the long drying-out process, pale from the night work. “We’ve got a bloke off sick,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to stick around for another hour or two.’

I kept my voice down, although there was no-one else in the room. ‘Won’t give you much time to sleep. We go at eight-thirty.’

‘I wasn’t planning to sleep. I’ll be ready.’

‘OK. See you then.’

We’d arranged to meet at the Spit Bridge at 8 a.m. sharp. He gave me a thumbs-up and turned back to the bank of monitors. Grey shapes drifted down empty corridors and disembodied hands shuffled cards and threw dice. I shivered without knowing why and got out of there.


Our plan had the virtue of simplicity and the element of surprise. We were to roll up to the big double gates, Ralston in his Hiace van and me in the Commodore. Ralston was confident he had a gizmo that would open the gates. That was the surprise. Lewis, who I still thought of as Runty, would have to cope with two armed and determined men. The simple thing for him to do would be to give up.

I’d had a few hours sleep but I hadn’t shaved and I wore jeans, a T-shirt and an old denim jacket. Ralston had shaved and wore a suit, although he’d dispensed with the tie. I’d heard of this before- reformed drunks have to keep themselves spruce as a reminder of what awaits them if they fall off the wagon. We met at the bridge and Ralston produced two balaclavas.

‘What d’you think?’ he said.

I shook my head. ‘I want Gina to recognise me instantly so there’s no frigging around. We want to be in and out before Barbour shows up. What’ve you got that goes bang?’

He threw the balaclavas into the van and invited me to look through the window. On the floor I could see a pump-action shotgun with a barrel not much longer than a stick of cabanossi.

‘Jesus,’ I said. ‘Are you any good with it?’


‘All right, Keith. Let’s do it!’

The street the Galvanis lived in was wide and the property was so big that our area of operations would be well away from the nearest neighbour. A plus. A quiet Sunday morning. Kids don’t play in the street any more, they watch television. No cars parked in the road, of course-this was multiple-garage territory. Ralston took the lead and swung his van into the driveway. I saw his arm go up and the big wrought-iron gates swung open. The van shot through, up the raked gravel drive, and he executed the fastest three-point turn I’ve ever seen. Smart move but I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t have the time or space to do the same. I’d have to back out.

We jumped from the vehicles. Ralston slid open the van’s door and we raced for the back of the big house. I had my. 38 in my hand and was praying I wouldn’t have to use it. Ralston ran briskly ahead of me with the pump in one hand. Joe had told me that the front door was kept locked and was protected by a heavy security screen. The back door was the go. Ralston jerked it open and jumped into the kitchen with the shotgun held low. I had the layout of the house from Joe and we’d agreed on our initial roles. Me to get Gina and the kids, Keith to scare the shit out of Lewis.

As it turned out, the two things happened more or less simultaneously. I ran up the stairs and could hear Ralston pelting through the downstairs room. I opened Gina’s door and found her looking out the window down at the driveway.

‘Gina, it’s Cliff Hardy. Don’t be scared. Where’re the kids?’

She was scared. She was also pale and listless. It seemed to take forever for her to recognise me, but she did and pointed to a door. ‘In there.’

‘Good, get them quick. No clothes, no toys, just get them and we’re going.’

‘But he’s just…’

I heard a noise outside and spun around, bringing the gun up. There was a thud and Ralston showed himself, waving his hand to bring my gun down. ‘Got him,’ he snapped. ‘Let’s make it fast.’

Gina was wearing pyjamas and a light dressing gown. She was barefooted. The babies were in twin cots. She gathered them up, almost dropping one. ‘I’m so weak,’ she moaned.

I took one of the infants and tucked it under my arm.

‘Come on!’ Ralston hissed. ‘I don’t want to have to hit him again.’

I shot a quick glance at Runty as we dashed for the stairs. He was sitting on the floor with his legs splayed out. There was blood running down his face from a gash on his forehead but he was stirring. Both babies started to yell as we hit the stairs and Gina would have stopped if I hadn’t shouted at her to keep going. She stumbled, but kept moving. The kids screamed their heads off and Ralston’s feet thumped on the carpet as he took the last six steps in a jump. We rushed through the hall and dining room and kitchen and out onto the tiled area at the back Ralston was in the lead, bent low with the shotgun amazingly steady as he ran.

We rounded the house and saw a green car come bucketing through the gates. It skidded to a stop a few metres through the gates. ‘Shit,’ Ralston yelled. ‘Get them in the van.’ I bundled Gina and the twins in and slid the door closed. Barbour was out of his car and the stubby carbine was in his hands. I fired at him, knowing I wouldn’t get him at the range. I heard the bullet thud into the brick wall. There was a boom as Ralston sent a shell into the front of Barbour’s car. The bonnet and grille collapsed. Barbour jumped aside and raised his gun. I snapped off another shot and missed again. Ralston had run forward and was close now. He aimed low and fired. Barbour jumped in the air and fell, his gun falling free. Ralston was getting into the van. I ran up to the window. ‘It’s all gone wrong. We can’t leave him.’ Ralston grinned at me as he started the engine. ‘He’ll be OK I loaded every second shell with light birdshot. Let’s get the hell out here.’

Barbour was sitting up now, clutching at his legs. His trouser pants were turning dark but he was swearing and getting ready to crawl across the grass for his gun. The Hiace shot down the drive, swerving around the mangled green car, and I followed. Trying to reverse fast and avoid an obstacle while your hands are shaking isn’t easy, and I clipped the brick pillar on the right-hand side as I went through. As I straightened up I saw that Barbour was on his feet with his gun in his hand. Runty was staggering towards him down the drive. I hoped Baldy wouldn’t blow him away out of sheer disappointment.

I glanced at the dashboard clock as I pulled away and saw that the whole thing had taken eight minutes. We’d allowed ourselves ten. Barbour had arrived about two minutes early, just soon enough to get a couple of dozen pellets in his legs. Tough.

I’d nutted the whole thing out with Joe Galvani in the pub eight days back. We drove directly to the airport where we met up with Joe, who had clothes for Gina and the twins as well as tickets on a flight to Perth. He had people standing by there to take care of them. The kids were still screaming but they calmed down when Joe produced heated bottles. Gina was slowly getting her bearings and taking stock of things. She dressed in the back of the van and got the twins togged up. Joe had a double stroller unfolded and when they were installed with their bottles they looked as if nothing unusual had happened.

We trooped into the terminal and Joe stayed with them until the plane left. Ralston and I drank coffee while we waited for him. He came towards us jauntily, looking ten years younger than when I’d last seen him.

‘To the bar, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘For champagne or whatever pleases you. A fantastic job you blokes did.’

I shook my head. ‘You can get us another coffee, Joe. Keith here doesn’t drink, and it was him that did the hard part.’

Ralston stood up and shook Joe’s hand. ‘I was happy to help, Mr Galvani. You and Cliff should go and have your drink. The worst thing a bloke in my spot can do is be a wet blanket. I’m going home to get some sleep.’

‘Thanks, Keith,’ I said. ‘I’ll get you that job if I have to make O.C. eat the lifts out of his Florsheims.’

He laughed and looked genuinely happy for the first time. ‘One thing, did you see me hesitate before I let go at the car?’


He laughed again. ‘Yeah, in all the excitement I forgot which shell had the birdshot, the first or the second. I bloody nearly gave him the first one.’


Joe Galvani was left holding all the cards and he played them judiciously. There was no way of proving that Ken’s hirelings had killed Scott and Joe did not pursue the matter. He had no wish to devastate his elderly parents by branding their oldest son a fratricide. But he punished Ken severely where it hurt-in his pride and purse. He forced him to withdraw the Ultimo site from consideration as a home for the casino on pain of revealing Ken’s conflict of interest and his intimidation of the dead architect. Ralston’s evidence of Ken’s manipulation of various of the casino’s resources for his own ends also came into play. The creditors came down hard on Ken and his businesses went rapidly into receivership and liquidation.

I gave Gina a full report over the telephone early on in the proceedings. She backed Joe’s decision and we both choked up a bit when she said she thought Scott would have approved of the arrangement. She paid me more money than I’d earned and I kept it because she had more than she needed. I finished my stint at the casino and handed over to Nick Stockley, a New Yorker who looked as if he knew his way around. O.C. approved my recommendations that Keith Ralston be promoted to security 2IC and that the head of the motor pool, Terry Baxter, be sacked.

All of which left me back at square one, with my Glebe house in need of repair, my office under constant threat of demolition, my stiff shoulder and my usual run of clients. One night I walked to the Cafe Napoli and encountered Vita Drewe who was leaving. She looked right through me and Dylan showed his teeth. I still had the cat and the Falcon and several friends, but I was definitely minus Glen Withers. A few weeks after Ken Galvani was declared bankrupt an invitation arrived-to the wedding of Glenys Ernestine Withers and Warren Blake Purcell. Maybe I’ll go and maybe I won’t. What sort of wedding present do you give two coppers?

As for the permanent site for the casino, the selection procedure was delayed when Ken’s bid was withdrawn. Last I heard, they were still talking about it.